“Knowing what must be done does away with fear.” Rosa Parks
*Note: for those of you feeling oversaturated with content and looking for something actionable, please scroll to the end where I’ve written a summary and bullet point process you can try out. For those of you who feel you might find inspiration in reading about someone else’s process, read on!
I was sitting in my bright little apartment in rural Québec scrolling through yet another opinion piece online when it hit me: we’re missing something here! Within the tangled web of information and stories being woven out of the current situation there is a recurring thread begging people not to go back to “Normal” because “Normal is the problem.” While I may heartily agree with this sentiment, I’ve found myself wondering how many of us are taking this to its conclusion and actually doing the work of hashing out what our ideal world would really look like? How are we going to avoid going back to “normal” if we don’t create spaces, within ourselves and with others, to envision the changes we would like to see, and be, in the world? How do we move from a state of reaction to one of empowered choice and conscious evolution? I figured the best thing I could do, as always, was to start with myself and hope it might provide an example you can adapt for yourself…
The First Step Is To Go Deeper…
“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Jane Goodall
When I start shifting my focus from the current chaos to explore my deeper desires and dreams, energy returns to my body. Inspiration and lightness that I haven’t felt since the beginning of this mess wells up inside me like water from a mountain spring. Bubbling. Energized. Playful. The aura of fear, the sense of prolonged uncertainty bogging down the collective unconscious and clouding my thoughts, suddenly clears. I think of it this way: even if the world we want may not magically appear before us with a snap of our fingers, if we can begin to see it clearly then we can also begin taking steps towards it in our daily lives. In a moment of generalized disempowerment, reclaiming every possible iota of personal power is essential to individual sanity & collective health on all levels.
I invite you to also take a few moments to connect with this part of yourself. The part that feels excited by the possibility & potential of change! The part that knows we, as a global community, are being offered a small window of incredible opportunity to make major shifts moving forward. The part of you that knows that in order to not return to a “normal” based on systemic inequality and the disregard of all forms of life & beauty You, and I, and everyone who wants to see this system change, need to sit down and figure out, not what the problems are (I think we have a pretty good idea at this point!), but what we can do now, in our humble little lives, to be part of the solution! Ecologist and writer Wendell Berry says “We do not need to plan or devise a “world of the future”; if we take care of the world of the present, the future will have received full justice from us.” What can we do in the present to embody our authentic selves, those selves that link us to the universal values connecting all of humanity?
Transformation is often painful and challenging. There’s no getting out of it. There will be discomfort! There will be uncertainty! You, and I, will have to actually change unhealthy habits and patterns we’ve been inventing excuses about for years. But there’s also a profound joy, strength and sense of purpose that comes with knowing we are acting in integrity with our authentic selves. For me, this feeling is what makes life worth living.
And so, I breathe deeply and begin to sink into the process. I first need to connect to the solid base of my core values that will clear the way for actual decision-making. What are these values? What are the things that I most urgently want to see reflected in the world around me? “Well, Love & Gratitude! Duh!” says the inner voice. My inner voice can be a bit snarky. “Yeah, that’s a great start, but what if we elaborate?” I reply patiently. “What does seeing love reflected in the world mean to you?”
It means I want to see people making choices based on a profound awareness of how these choices impact the rest of life on earth! I want to see a collective sense of interconnection deep enough that we know, in a visceral way, that causing pain to another being, directly or indirectly, is the same as causing pain to ourselves! I want to see our hearts fill with gratitude for any and all people, plants and animals whose bodies and labor allow us to have food, shelter and security! I want us to actively express gratitude, both in word and through reciprocal action! As spiritual activist and monk Thich Nhat Hahn puts it, “A community practicing understanding and loving kindness may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the Earth.” I truly believe this and want to be part of that community.
Wait! Does This Mean I Have To Love…Myself???
“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” C.G. Jung
If we were to sum up everything I just said as “love others as you love yourself,” then we may have a bit of an “ick”. The majority of the world has been very well programmed at this point to not love themselves! This is, in fact, one of the problematic foundations of the current “normal” that absolutely has to shift! If we don’t love ourselves, how are we supposed to care about other people, let alone plants, animals and the planet? When you live in a state of self-loathing, abject insecurity or the “love scarcity” paradigm, how can you be expected to make choices based in love for the rest of life? You don’t even have “enough” for yourself!
Many of us get stuck on this point believing we have to heal all our inner demons and be impeccable of heart and mind before stepping up to the plate and being actors of change. Ummm….no! There’s a great quote from the children’s book character Lemony Snicket that says “Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby- awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.” To continue the analogy, you don’t just get off with changing (them or yourself) once! We need to embrace the mess and ongoing process of self-love and healing in order to step into the great blessing and responsibility of caring for Life, in whatever ways we can. That’s not to say that there aren’t some situations where our trauma is so deep that we do need to spend some time focused solely on healing. But don’t just stop there!
Of course by doing the work of personal healing you’re already contributing to change externally as well as internally. Never doubt the impact that one conscious, connected person can have on their family, community and social network! But the really interesting piece is that self-love can grow exponentially when we align our life choices with our core values. As Charlie Chaplin’s beautiful poem states,“As I began to love myself I found that anguish and emotional suffering are only warning signs that I was living against my own truth. Today, I know, this is “Authenticity.” You may be surprised how much easier self-love gets simply by building a life that’s in line with your true self! In other words, personal healing and changing the way we manifest in the world go hand in hand!
Tapping In To The Creative Power of Thought
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Albert Einstein
A lot of my songwriting work has been oriented around the idea of “calling worlds into being”: How what we think and how we choose to perceive our experiences shapes our reality. For me it seems clear that the first step in changing anything I see as incoherent in the outside world is to look at my own inner world and see if I’m living the values I want to see around me. How can I commit more fully to these values so that “the right action rises up by itself” as Lao Tsu puts it? If we look at what I laid out above, my first question for myself is: how do I actively cultivate the awareness that my choices impact the rest of life on earth? I do this by spending time in nature, by reading material that reminds me of this reality and deepens my layers of awareness, by consciously reflecting (you could call it meditation or simply contemplation) on this reality daily, both internally and in written form as well as in conversation. I do my best to make choices from this awareness (doesn’t mean I always succeed, but the best we can do is our best, n’est ce pas?).
Secondly, do I know and feel when I cause pain, directly or indirectly, to another being, I cause pain to myself? Yes I do, though I admittedly ignore my impact sometimes so as not to fall into overwhelm. Unfortunately, the society we live in still requires certain compromises of us if we choose not to live purely in survival mode. This is what we want to change! I also know that, as Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, “Just about everything we use is the result of another’s life, but that simple reality is rarely acknowledged in our society.” There’s a distinction to be made between the natural give and take of life (reciprocity) versus compromising our connection to the Whole by ignoring harm caused by our individual and collective choices. This is also where gratitude and reciprocity come into play. Why? Because, as Kimmerer says, “…while expressing gratitude may seem innocent enough, it is a revolutionary idea. In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires.” How do we actively express thanks, and how do we give back, for everything we receive that allows us to live?
Aside from making a point of personally practicing gratitude on the regular, one of the ways to start amplifying love and gratitude in and around me is by creating rituals of gratitude with others (shout out to the team at Spiralis whose Non-Violent Communication (NVC) training focused around gratitude brought me back to this realization!). I’m starting with an exchange of gratitudes with a good friend via email once a week & journaling at least one gratitude every night before bed. I’ve also, for a long time, made a practice of expressing my love, gratitude and appreciation to people when I feel any of the above! It can be surprisingly challenging as it puts us into a space of vulnerability, but it can also lead to much deeper, stronger connections with your fellow beings. If this resonates with you I strongly encourage you to create your own gratitude & love reinforcement strategies!
We also need to let go of our limited concept of giving and receiving. There are times when we may be able to give back directly to whatever person or plant has enriched our life (clearing around the generously sweet strawberries or returning favour for favour with a neighbour, etc.). But reciprocity is not the same as “repaying a debt,” which emerges from the feeling of discomfort or unworthiness related to receiving. When we feel we “owe” something it’s because what we received was not in fact given “freely”. Reciprocity is what happens when your “cup runeth over” with gratitude for all you’ve received and that energy manifests itself in action. Again, “the right action arises by itself!” What would the world be like if people received freely all that life has to offer and gave back to the world simply because they feel so darn grateful for the gifts of life? What would the world be like if our days were bookended by feeling grateful for everything we already have instead of wishing for more, or different, things or circumstances? Seems to me we’d be in a completely different situation!
Love-Based Choice Making Can Transform You and The World!
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
As hinted at, once we’ve thoroughly explored our inner worlds and begun creating the right conditions for our core values to flourish, we become naturally inclined to make different choices. It’s actually that simple. When you’re committed to living in integrity with your authentic self your being can literally no longer tolerate making choices that go against that integrity! That’s why it’s so important to first identify the values that nourish and motivate us. They become our compass for clear intention and action. That’s not to say there will not be times when we still have to make compromises, especially in the current times when we haven’t yet transitioned into a world where love-based choice-making is the norm. But the lines we’re unwilling to cross will be clearer.
I can’t tell you what love-based choice making would like for you but I think many of us are in the midst of reconsidering our choices around work and lifestyle. Being thrown into the urgency of the present, being confronted with the reality of death, has led us to this place of serious re-examination of priorities. With your core value barometer newly installed, it’s time for you to see what tangible changes you can make to realign your life with those values! This is a great “creative design” opportunity, and a great time to practice the process of “letting go.” What comforts are you willing to let go of in order to make space for more meaning and coherency in your life? What aspects of your career, home life, lifestyle would need to shift in order for you to feel at peace with your choices?
For me, this looks like becoming a place-based creature, connecting to the land and putting down roots. It means building community and creating long-term relationships based on trust and mutual support. I’ve been a nomadic singer-songwriter my entire adult life and have often felt the incoherence of travelling hundreds of miles per year to go sing about universal love and interconnectedness, even if for the first decade I stubbornly refused to buy a car and did it all by public transportation, lugging my albums and gear on my back (ah, the energy of youth). I’m committed to finding ways to continue “making a living” in ways that are meaningful to me and that also prioritize Life, Health and Beauty on a global scale. This means diversifying my income sources and likely means no longer being a full-time performing artist (don’t panic folks! I’ll still be making music, just getting it to you in different ways perhaps…).
It also definitely means growing a garden and being involved in as many small-scale, local, organic food-producing initiatives as possible! One of the most direct and effective ways for all of us to reconnect to the sacredness and cycles of the earth is to grow things! – be it a bucket garden, an acre plot or a bunch of houseplants! Building a relationship with non-human beings is an essential part of remembering how reciprocity works…they give you food, you give them water….they give you beauty and clean air, you give them protection and propagation. What could make more sense or be more simple?
That doesn’t mean your primary focus has to be farming! Your primary focus is this: what natural gifts do you have? What can you do that will add meaning & coherency to your life & allow you to feel of service in the world (hint: what makes your whole being come alive?!)? Maybe you’re already doing it! If so, great! If not, this blog has hopefully provided you with some ideas on moving towards doing it! If this situation has given us anything I hope it’s a sense of urgency great enough to get everyone doing work they hate and living lives that feel like prison sentences to shake themselves free and at least try a new strategy! As poet Jill Scott’s powerful piece “Ain’t a Ceiling” puts it…“If our ancestors could walk, barefoot, afraid in the dark, for miles and miles and miles…then I know we can do this…come on, let’s start.”
Action Point Summary:
- Take some focused time to sit with yourself and connect to the physical feeling of hope, inspiration & curiosity (or whatever words resonate for you that’ll help you connect to your place of visioning!). Where do these live in your body? What are the sensations associated with them? Come back to this feeling whenever you start to spin off in your mind and limit yourself (i.e. self-talk like “that’s not realistic,” “you could never make that happen,”etc.).
- When you think about your ideal world, what are some of the words that emerge? What are the main values you’d like to see prioritized that you feel would change our collective way of being in the world? You can always get out a pen and paper and brainstorm until a few specific themes emerge for you to work with (Tip: if you pay attention to the sensations in your body you will likely feel some kind of noticeable physical reaction when you touch on the values that resonate for you! Tingling, warmth, an opening of the chest area, lightening of the shoulders, etc. ).
- How are these core values reflected in the way you feel about yourself? For example, If you want to see peace, harmony, solidarity (or whatever else!) in the world, first take stock of how at peace, in harmony, in solidarity you are with all aspects of yourself! Just observe where you’re at, with as little judgement as possible. Take note of where you still need to give yourself some love. Do you have a practice in place and access to the tools you need to support whatever healing work you may need to do? If not, now would be the time to commit to yourself in a bigger way and find the resources you need to move forward! (P.S. When we don’t deal with our shadows they always come up in our projects and relationships until we finally make time to face them! So might as well start now! 🙂
- How are these values reflected in the way you think about and perceive others, the world, your experiences? What are some tangible practices you can put into place to help you cultivate a way of thinking/perceiving more in line with your core values? What rituals or habits can create with yourself and others to anchor these values in your daily life? Again, pen + paper brainstorm, draw, or talk it out with someone as needed! Try and come up with one or two things you can start now!
- Finally, when you sit with the knowledge of these super important values of yours, what things in your current life do you obviously need, and want!, to shift? Are there habits or patterns you’ve grown accustomed to that are out of sync with the world you want to help birth? What alternatives can you put in place? What gifts do you have that you aren’t yet manifesting? How do you feel you could best be of service in the world? Focus on what makes your being come alive! Where does that thread lead? Again, if your inner critic and doubt-master starts rambling, go back to the beginning of this process and sit with the feelings in your body that connect you to the joy, lightness and expansion of whatever values resonate most for you right now. Then, let the right action arise from that place…
I leave you with the words from the Dalai Lama: “It is not enough to be compassionate – you must act!” May this time renew each of our commitment to our authentic selves and the new world we’re creating with our every thought, choice and action!
P.S. If you’d like to use or share any quotes from this piece, feel free, but/and please include a link back to this blog and my website 🙂 Thanks for your continued support!