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.