Doing my best

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is my best.

When I was young it was clearly laid out for me what the best was, there were prizes and gold stars and north stars and ways to measure: grades, parental smiles, degrees, solos. I can count my not-best moments (when I saw the failure coming and did not change course) from birth through college on one hand. Generally, I was ambitious because I thought that was good.

Then began a dance, a crumbling of drive, a dusting off of something essential which appeared like an inner resistance. I would achieve some honor, title, position, or acknowledgement and feel erased by it, instead of seen. That I was conforming to other people’s idea of the best, in a society which measured things in ways that didn’t resonate with me.

This has been slow, and its ongoing. It has meant rejecting or sidestepping degrees, money, and certain spotlights. I am beginning to tease out what feels right after years of just being able to sense what didn’t resonate. There are two aspects which are emerging, which work in tandem as a compass towards doing my best: love and dignity.

These two aspects work in a couple of ways – as I follow them, when I feel them in myself or sense them in others, they are leading me to the best life I’ve known. And tasting these feelings, I want more of them – I want to let love grow through me, and guide me. I want to stand in my dignity against all the odds.

If I ask, ‘Is love here?’ and/or ‘Am I in my dignity here?’, I can feel answers that help me move towards my truth and back away from future regrets. I still do things that might be morally questionable, all the time. But with intention, with the consideration of love and dignity being present, I am learning to trust myself to do my best.

Last week my friend dream posted a mini rant about the ways people judge each other’s work and passions. She was responding to general local critiques of folks who aren’t in the streets over the emergency manager in Detroit, among other things.

I was really moved by her words, probably in part because I haven’t been in the streets. To a large extent I see the EM as a distraction, pulling people away from their work to create a future for this city rooted in abundance and community, to fight for a symbol of power instead of continuing to learn how we generate and hold power in community.

But I care about a lot of the people impacted by, displaced by, and focused on resistance to the EM. I’ve been reflecting and writing and meditating and praying on the well-being of all the people I love here who are internalizing this period of Detroit’s history, taking it into their breaking hearts.

I also care about gender justice, which dream named as one of her core passions. And Assata. And the men in Guantanamo Bay. And the sexual health of black women and girls. And people impacted by terrorism and violence the world over. And Palestine. And the tar sands pipeline, environment, trans liberation, combating obesity and fat phobia, education and so many more things.

I want to do my best by these things.

I actually think most people want to do their best, to be good people and create a good society. But there are so many paths to do that good. Is it by being a body in the streets, or infiltrating the school system with radical content, or making new media, or creating more art, or opening cooperative businesses, or raising awareness on social media, or disrupting every city council meeting, or writing science fiction about new worlds, or, or, or?

How to choose? What is the best way?

What I have been exploring over the past few years is that the work I do best is that which I am most passionate about, work which encourages my health and well-being, affirms my power and the power of everyone else, and keeps me in a space of creativity and solutions.

I don’t think this is unique to me. In my heart I feel there are a thousand paths towards justice and liberation. Yes to all of those things, all of that work, all of those strategies. All of these issues need to evolve – which means they each need people who are most passionate about them, people who feel powerful in moving the work forward, who are healthy enough to do the work well, who are creating solutions.

This happens, for me, at the smallest scale. It has felt hard to explain, unimportant after some of the national and/or urgent work I have done in my life – where I felt special and smart and strategic and at the table. But I am beginning to really understand how political it is to do personal emergency management.

Detroit is one epicenter amongst many – we are in the midst of systems which are imploding. Systems which we – well I, and I suspect/hope many of you dear readers – know better than to want to save, because these are systems which rely on our oppression and inequality, on seeing each other as competition rather than family.

So we are working to remember and create new ways to manage our shared home together. And yet many of us are still in the elementary stage of learning how to manage our personal homes – our bodies and health, our relationships, our movement work, our hearts. Not to mention our actual homes and our finances.

I might be in pre-K.

In this chaotic state we try to create change in the world and find ourselves stretched, tired, demoralized, and unable to create the transformations we yearn for, though we feel the possibility within ourselves. But in the lack of knowing how to do things differently, too many of us still do our work from places of fear, obligation or anger. From no, instead of from yes.

I am sitting now with the question of what it means to do my best, as an adult in a world full of crisis and tragedy. I’ve written about cultivating joy as a weapon, as a frontline. And here I don’t mean a general upbeatness. I mean joy powerful enough to generate authentic resistance in the face of hopelessness. Joy that makes people want to create new worlds and new life together.

I think a first step in cultivating that joy is measuring my best based on how well I can manage my personal state. I was in an emergency state for a decade – my mental, emotional and physical health were deteriorating and I wasn’t even really aware of it except occasionally as a badge of honor to mark how dedicated I was to the work. I was, like many activists I love and respect, doing my best impression of eeyore-on-speed.

eeyore

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I am on the journey now of getting my health, spirit, heart and finances together, with the belief that the more grounded, joyful and dignified I am, the better I can live and lead. The more clearly I can apply my gifts and energy towards work I am passionate about, making the most of my miraculous and limited human capacity. Then, the more inviting my futures become. And the stronger my emergent strategies can be.

Because when it is time for us to manage it all – whatever we call it, our neighborhoods, our cities, our sovereign collaborative tribes – I want to be capable of the task, I want to be experienced, I want to be trustworthy. I want it to feel like love and dignity are there.

I suspect we won’t even get a real chance to manage it all until we have generated so much love and dignity and joy that our future is the irresistible one.

I see everything I am doing now as learning, as preparation. Now, and then, I want to do my best.

21 observations for a new day

i love days like this, uplifted as something special – winter solstice, new calendar, mom’s birthday, named in time. here are 21 current observations from my life.

1 there is no silence, but it is good to quiet ourselves enough to hear the night animals hunting, the snow melting, the vibrant pounding of our own hearts.

2 there are moments which cannot be thought through, must be felt through. this becomes more apparent as i am growing my capacity to feel.

3 i am starting to ask children the questions i really hold. their answers delight me. i highly recommend this.

4 ‘so now i am older/than my mother and father/when they had their daughter’ – fleet fox, ‘montezuma’. when i remember this, i feel such compassion for my parents.

5 it comforts me to imagine that thousands of years ago, people sensed that humans would need thousands of years to work out our worst tendencies, but longing for a compassionate resilient way of being was present even then.

6 that said, i don’t presume to understand what was known then. it makes me nervous when people speak too definitively of what someone in the past was thinking, knowing how often i am mysterious and misunderstood in this time.

7 every single day that i begin with meditation and/or yoga is better than days i don’t. writing is a meditation some days, jo others.

8 it is taking me a long time to apply that lesson to my morning routines. but i am aware now, and feel the immensity of choice in me, that any time things aren’t feeling right i can return to breath, begin again, and again.

9 dignity is becoming very important to me. i notice it in posture, in the way people meet my eyes without falling in or falling away, in the pull of gravity and dreams. i want to be of a dignified people.

10 i’m not the only one who hears music all the time inside. when i let my ‘soft animal body love what it loves,’ i am always dancing. (mary oliver, a beast among poets, wrote those words in her poem ‘wild geese’)

11 i really do hope i was foreseen, and am worthy of my time.

12 home is an internal condition, and a way of being in relationship, for me.

13 fashion is a communication of home, beauty and vision. my fashion, which i am finally allowing to matter to me and for me, was shaped by marilyn monroe, new york city, and images of the future from the past: star wars, star trek, idoru.

14 i prefer to be part of the beauty, not part of the background.

15 ‘we must keep in mind that we are not going to be free – we already are free. every idea that we are bound is a delusion.’ swami vivekananda

and

16 ‘the only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.’ camus

17 complexity is liberating me. i now hold that there is an absolute freedom, some place we are all driven to, and a relative freedom, the freest we think we can get given our conditions. taking steps towards the relative freedom can move us towards the absolute.

18 i love love. it feels really essential to being alive, to risk the vulnerability and the heartbreak, to actually live in love with others.

19 i love this body of mine, part of the greater human body. the more i feel, the more i realize every cell is full of stories, and more are coming.

20 i have, so far, avoided getting so serious i can’t laugh at these efforts of ours to make meaning of our seeming insignificance. we are completely hilarious.

21 i have, so far, avoided getting so cynical i can’t feel the miraculousness of my life, and of our efforts to understand and evolve what it means to live. we are utterly incredible.