it is easy to think everything is a miracle during a moment of external joy – falling in love, welcoming new life into the world, celebrating a major accomplishment, seeing a wonder of the world, being part of a successful march or action…those moments when rightness flows through my body and i feel connected to the great way/force/energy that makes us all one.
what is harder is to bring my miraculous perspective to grief, to injustice, to delayed travel, to broken technology, to conflict, to changes of plans, to mercury retrograde – things that can be filed under ‘bad day’ or ‘bad life’.
mindful adaptation, however, makes it possible to experience the miraculous more often, if not constantly.
here’s a little story about this:
i offered an emergent strategy training hosted by the group intelligent mischief in boston. it was full of opportunities to practice adaptation and other emergent strategies, none of which were expected.
first, i was late.
generally i am becoming a late person as i age. i don’t want to sound shady, but basically i have been adapting because i was tired of being the only person on time.
kidding! mostly kidding…
i just haven’t fully accepted that i need more time, and slower time, to live my life. i have been trying to adjust around this slower self, so this morning i’d scheduled myself to arrive an hour early.
(i am going to try to tell this story without ‘bad at math’ feelings)
i know that the commute from my parents’ house to downtown boston is usually 45 minutes, even with traffic. i left home about 15 minutes behind schedule because i was catching up with my mama, and when i plugged in the address it said 1 hr 15 min commute. my gut made the ‘ruh-roh’ scooby doo sound (my nibbling mairead loves scooby doo so this sound is running fresh grooves in my brain), but my mind overrode that with lots of rational options for the added time, including but not limited to traffic and the grandiose nature of boston and how everything in life is a mystery.
as i flew through the tunnels under downtown and my directions said i had 30 minutes left, my intuition got louder – something is wrong.
but i couldn’t figure out how to change the situation while moving at that speed without endangering everyone. also, i didn’t have time to be wrong.
so i kept going.
i finally pulled up to what i really wanted to be the downtown seiu building. instead it was a residential white clapboard house with laundry blowing on the line out front in a near-rural enclave south of the city.
my mind immediately conceded to my gut (as opposed to making an argument to go knock on the door) which i appreciated. i figured out that my error was an understandable one – there are two ’26 west streets’ in boston in different neighborhoods. only one is downtown. now i was 30 minutes from the training which was scheduled to start in 15 minutes.
this is where i adapted towards pleasure.
well, first i yelled. one good strong wordless yell that filled up the car and released the tension that had been building between my mind and my gut. this is something i have been working on, to engage my anger. actually releasing it when it’s live in me.
then i emailed and called the organizers, to say where i was and to adjust the start time. they didn’t sound stressed at all, which helped.
then i had the thought that often shifts my mood – this is all the miracle.
these 30 minutes of being late to a meeting in boston traffic is being lived by my miraculous irreplaceable body in a dynamic and outstanding system of life moving towards life.
what i mean is, i think it’s my choice…if i spend these 30 minutes berating myself for not triple checking the directions or in some other way not being myself (because most of my stress takes the shape of self attack – ‘why don’t you have a better memory?’ ‘why don’t you prepare your travel better?’ ‘why aren’t you more like [insert superior human of the moment]?’ ‘why don’t you listen to your gut more?’) i will just show up feeling funky, lesser than, and like my life has been wasted.
i don’t want to waste any of this precious stuff, especially not in a context where i am asserting that my life matters.
so i put on alabama shakes.
the last song on their new album sound and color is something perfect called ‘over my head‘ (go watch the video) – it is about that kind of love so good ‘i feel it through all my past lives’. brittany howard sings like she is putting her heart on her lover’s table as a post-patriarchal dowry.
i have been listening to the whole album on repeat, but that song in particular has all this space for me to add my own vocal flourishes to it. so i put it on repeat and i sang it all the way back to boston.
i sang it while playing my video for it in my head. in my video, the song is a slave ship love ode where, in excruciating slow motion full of thick glances and the movement of sun in water, we watch an enslaved woman leap off the side of a slave ship after her love, who thrashes in the ocean waiting to die with her. once they hold each other they surrender and sink together away from the murderous light into the beautiful blackness of freedom.
i also sang it while imagining performing it on the voice someday, which i suppose is a regular activity for everyone who can kind of sing.
suffice it to say, i arrived at the actual seiu building for my training feeling gloriously alive, flushed in the cheeks, laughing, clicking together the mind heels of the body in my head that can achieve enough height to click heels together. i walked in the room and…everyone else was late!
the rest of the day was a shapeshifting adaptation fest.
emergent strategy is something i am still discovering, but a lot of it for me feels like tuning into the natural operating systems of this universe and being humbled, as opposed to trying to barrel through and against all the change, trying to best nature. i am learning to see human behavior, even my own mistakes, as part of a larger natural order. leaning towards rihanna’s tattoo wisdom: ‘never a failure, always a lesson’.
also, i am wondering where i have agency, where i am moving and where i am being moved. i keep making decisions and declarations about my life, and then that larger force deftly, elegantly adjusts me on my path.
i keep coming back to response and reaction as the place where i have the most agency, where, as octavia puts it, i can ‘shape god’. i am moving towards the horizon of the end of my life, i am generating as much liberation as i can on that journey.
i choose what to embody, what to long for, even as the horizon shifts before me. the adaptation is up to me. the laughter between grieving friends, the justice of advancing a righteous anger, the first moments of surrender into new love, the opportunity inside of apparent failure…how often, how quickly, can i become aware of the miraculous nature of the moment i am in, and adapt towards the pleasure available in that awareness?
this is also what i mean by pleasure activism: in addition to turning up the sensual and erotic experiences of life, i choose to experience pleasure in the onslaught of reality, finding the people and places with whom pleasure comes easily and giving them all my attention, extracting and/or growing pleasure as a radical act, a radical claim of what the miracle of my existence convinces me i am due.