stories from omega

omega retreat center in ny’s hudson valley has been the location for some pivotal moments in my life. here are a few stories:

10 years ago: i’m here for early meetings of the league of young voters. we’re working on a book, hundreds of printed out pages in stacks around the room for editing. several of us are experiencing culture shock at the rural health culture of this place. two brave members of our group take a canoe out onto the lake and get stuck, while others map out where to smoke and get burgers in the onslaught of healthy air and vegetarian food. we all dash to the nearest bathroom often. there’s no where to dash away from the other aspects of culture shock – strangers smiling at me, being out in nature with no access to technology. we believe we have a sacred call to intervene against the bush administration on behalf of our communities.

9 years ago: after hours of nervousness, i give a speech on weaving together electoral, community organizing and business strategies at the social venture network gathering. it is a dynamic and breathless moment, even for me…a standing ovation moment. i surprise myself with the energy moving through me. i can’t focus on any face in the crowd but feel the energy as a whole swelling. is that hope? i don’t know it yet but several people in the audience that night are from my future.

the next day i sneak off with a new friend for a joint in the parking lot. he makes me laugh harder than anyone else i know, and he inspires me with his radical commitment to action. his name is john sellers. he doesn’t ask me to compromise my values, he makes demands. a year after this i join his board. within two years i am executive director of the organization he had held and shaped for a decade – the ruckus society. this will be the practice ground where i learn to walk my ideas of collaborative leadership and organizational development.

6 years ago: i join a circle of people who were discussing governance models for intentional communities. one of them was with me years before, in my nervousness, in my speech. i am skeptical because – what do i know about intentional community? and why are they all crying and opening up so much? within three days i will be in love with these people and call them family, the people of common fire. they carry the radical vision i associate with the zapatistas, with all who reject the mainstream society and choose to live their values in the current moment.

5 years ago: i’m returning as a board member of common fire, my fourth (or fifth) board commitment. knowing these two founders, kavitha rao and jeff golden, is changing my life, making me think about where and how i live, the resources i use, what i eat, my war tax resistance, and particularly the skill of how to be vulnerable with other people for the sake of sharing my life. this time they have a newborn baby, samiha, and she lives on the soft shelf of my breasts the whole meeting. my partner is recording drafts of their shapeshifters album in a studio magicked together with a lamp stand, microphone and some towels.

yesterday: i’m holding my blue eyed mixed race niece on my lap, talking with friends about the ‘luxury item timeshare system’ from the utopia in woman on the edge of time. a woman comes up too close to mairead’s face, saying how beautiful she is. she doesn’t speak to me but to her credit i am ignoring her, continuing my story. this trip i am more aware of the white-people-seeking-enlightenment pattern of this and other retreat centers, full of beautiful intention and sloppy mid-transformation interactions. she then asks my friend sean, a tall redhead, if he’s the father. she completely ignores my sister, sitting on the other side of sean, and explicitly doesn’t see the baby autumn is holding. that baby is our friends’ newborn, a gorgeous black baby girl. the woman moves past them as if they don’t exist. anger, hurt, exhaustion…i work through to generate compassion for that woman, who has not yet learned to see so much beauty. i wonder what i still don’t see.

today: i finished facilitating the common fire board through a beautiful transition retreat. i moved off the board two years ago, along with any of the other boards or national roles which so enticed me a decade ago. my sister autumn is now a part of the board, which means my niece mairead is the newborn baby on my shelf. babies are a major part of my spiritual and political work these days. common fire is thinking within and beyond non-profits as the form for transformative movement building. the integrity and self-awareness i experience with this circle is still refreshing, even when the lessons they have to share are learned in hard ways. its powerful to see a vision at four years old, six years old, a decade old…to watch children come into the world and grow up in the container of a shared vision.

i wonder about the spiritual paths that call to us, and why so many do their spiritual work outside of political commitment. i wonder how the workers here feel about their workloads, their power and access to the offerings here. i balk a bit at the cost of things sold here, from massages to yoga pants to workshops. i notice the small details of beauty everywhere. i finally find the laundromat.

i feel how much can shift in a decade, strategically, contextually, personally.

i’m sure i’ll be back again.

raising tomorrow

Pt 1

I wish I didn’t have to ask
I wish you believed
already
Wanted it as deeply as I do

The longing for that
other way
Throbs in me
Pulses and quakes
Moves me

Don’t you feel it?
Don’t make me carry it all
And you too
Don’t you feel it?

Are you sleeping?
When I’m so tired
Are you sleeping
on my chest, in my arms
When I’m so tired?

Pt 2

Abundance
in everything
You have enough

What is extra
We will put into our new world
Where there will be a room for you
And your enough
And anything more that you need
And nothing that will empty you
Of yourself

Together
‘we will live
And not die’
Together
We won’t sit in the death
Of false love
We won’t sit in the death
Of greed’s dream

We wake up
We choose to wake up
That is our power

We only have a lifetime
An entire lifetime
That is our power

on the road again

i have been traveling a lot this past few weeks. the ruckus camp was incredible, and then i was at web of change up off the coast of british columbia, which was fascinating.

i sat on a panel at web of change which really challenged me – which is righteous i suppose because it was called Our Challenge, and the 3 of us were talking about what we see as the key challenges of this time. there ended up being a real sense of a dichotomy on the panel, which i didn’t expect. one panelist spoke of the importance of failing and being able to admit it and learn from it – michael silberman – i thought this was SO important. if we could see our failures as an equally important (or more important) part of our experiment at living/organizing than our wins, i think we could grow.

the other 2 of us…i think it felt like a reform vs revolution conversation (with me holding down the revolution part)…or maybe an electoral vs community organizing thing. but for me it was really a lesson in how to communicate what i am feeling and thinking about right now, which feels like it goes beyond those old dichotomies. i want us to think deeply about what we really mean by success, and no matter what type of work we are doing – electoral, community organizing, reform, revolution, or work that may not be called organizing – that we are embodying a new way of relating to each other, to the way we think of “success/winning”. i feel hopeless when i see how many of the oppressive practices we say we are trying to change/stop that we are actively engaging in within our organizations and campaigns. even if we are doing electoral/reform level work, are we challenging the models that we know are not working? or we doing work that is DEEP, or just trying to get as big as possible without knowing what we are leading folks towards?

i loved the level of conversation we got to have at web of change, but i am still really worried about our collective eagerness to scale everything up without actually practicing it at a small and deep level – like in our organizations. i see so many organizations where we don’t practice transparency around money or power, and yet we want to gain control over the money and power of our cities, states, country. i see so many of us resort to emotional manipulation and violence in order to move our ideas forward at an organizational level, and then we want to talk about nonviolence and cooperation between nations and in our domestic and foreign policies. its not that our desires are wrong, i just don’t think we can get there wishing/hoping/demanding it of others…i think we have to “transform ourselves to transform the world” as grace lee boggs says.

i will publish my notes from web of change before this week is out.

my trip to ny was wonderful because the whole time it was like – i am not an ED of anything, so i can just see my friends for once!! so that’s all i did, one deep conversation after another, which a few hours at the russian baths thrown in. totally indulgent and awesome and i spent a lot of time walking and feeling glam like i only do in ny, paris and tokyo.

now i am at the common fire board meeting, which is already a good and challenging space for me. we’re on a gorgeous farm in upstate ny where the leaves are all turning into gorgeous shades of sun and fire. rain and wind are my constant companions these days, and this place is no exception.

learning and thinking about what it means to form communities that are intentional about sharing resources, centering the wisdom and experience of impacted communities…this feels like my most octavia butler work. but its also hard, because i am wondering how those communities can serve folks like me who are more nomadic, naughty, occasionally glam, urban, folks who don’t want to have a bunch of house meetings as the main way of being in relationships, folks who do long to change. i’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

tonight one of our board members, esther, who is one of the most inspiring women i have ever met – she lives a zero waste life in a forest home with no electricity and at 57 is the healthiest person i know, all of which she learned from her life as a peasant, not from sustainability theory…she led our opening ceremony, and she said, “if you are moving with spirit, listening to spirit, then you are going in the right direction.” this was so perfect for me to hear because i don’t know how to describe the magnitude of what i am being called to do, but i do feel like its an operation of faith, of listening, of following feelings more than logic. it’s marvelous.

we went through the four agreements tonight, toltec wisdom brought to today’s masses by don miguel ruiz. the agreements are always liberating for me, bring such peace into my life when i actually bring them to mind:

– always do your best
– be impeccable with your word
– don’t make assumptions
– don’t take things personally

simple to say, harder to practice, liberating to embody.

common fire

i’m at the common fire board retreat, building with old friends and new ones around of vision of developing intentional communities that are grounded with and led by urban, grassroots folks. it’s a really inspirational process to go through, as part of a set of communities across the country learning and figuring this out.

my friends, jeff and kavitha, founded a coop house in ny which was one of the greenest buildings on the east coast when it was built. now there are two further communities – one in beacon, near nyc, and the other is common fire west, growing in oakland, both just getting started.

a vision document was developed, and a video, both of which lay out deeply and specifically what the essential criteria of communities needs to be in order to support a truly radical vision for a new world.

we are not the first to think on these things, or the last. but we are doing a ton of research, reading octavia butler, traveling around the world to see how intentional communities look in other places and thinking about what that could really look like in the u.s. and how communities can get started…

the essential characteristics that have been identified thus far are:

1. true diversity and accessibility [not surface, and not token, but really a variety of race, class, ability, sexuality, spiritual, age and gender voices in leadership]
2. ongoing personal growth and interpersonal dialogue. [many of the folks in common fire use the Be Present model of deep listening and direct, emotional, wholistic communication. but other models are present as well.]
3. aligning actions with values, or achieving means-to-ends consistency. that the community doesn’t espouse one set of values while practicing another…for me this is deeply aligned with ruckus’s “actions speak louder than words” value which has repeatedly shown up in my life and is how i grant credibility to folks i come across.
4. bridging transformation in the community with transformation in the world…for me this directly addresses the way that transformation is often an internal process – for a person or a small community – and that we have to be more accountable to playing a political and relevant role for the world which is full of people we love.

i am thinking a lot about octavia butler’s acorn communities, and the earthseed belief system she puts forth there in the parable series, and how crucial it is for a community to develop a shared culture that honors the divinity and beauty and brilliance and offerings of each member of the community.

this work is deeply tied to food justice, to self-sufficiency, to health at a community level, to birth and life and retreat and teaching and learning. it’s super inspiring and we’re just figuring out the very beginnings of this – but it is so crucial that this vision sparks in our hearts and minds to hold in light of racial profiling in arizona, in light of the world we are in right now.

i’ll keep you posted!

morph

tonight was a microcosm of my whole life.

first i went to a house where i took my shoes off, climbed stairs, met up with people shifting through a potluck dinner gathered in the kitchen talking about the most cutting edge nontraditional intentional communities to be dreamed up. im a little soloist in my studio who struggles with interacting with people at all. i love my cave. but politically, i am aligned with the idea of shared space and resources. i may always be a transient being, but i want to land in a place that is home and sustainable and peopled by folks i would want to be around.

a woman i met there said she heard my kfpa interview the other night, speaking as someone who runs a nonprofit (www.ruckus.org) in this new economy. i talk about ways we have focused our resources, strengthened our network, and generally approached this as a moment to look forward to community, rather than try to look back at false economic stability with longing. when i find the archive i will post it.

then i got lost in berkeley looking for the 700 block of 65th street.

then i met up with one of my favorite displaced detroiters at the brothers and sisters in brooklyn. house music, which i have a new york affinity for. i hear soulful house and i am in a basement in brooklyn, or a too small apartment in chelsea, or a club where everyone’s a welcoming well-dressed smile. another displaced detroiter snapped across the dance floor, and joined us. i really love that city, detroit, more each time i go.

on the way home i heard an announcement for “Financial Assistane Awareness Month”. the existence of this month, to me, is the single greatest argument against having black history month, or women’s month.

then i ran home, so tired, but once i got in bed the sleep was just beyond me. i think i’ve caught it now.