I’m on a break from blogging at this site – I ought to have posted this at the beginning of September 2016.

I’ll either return to the this space or re-direct readers to another blog site. Not yet sure of the timetable.

Thank you for stopping by here. I look forward to writing for you again, in the near future.

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Stepping into the Question: How do we become our most powerful selves?

Toward the Next Jewish Rebellion. – An article posing this question.

Extract from this article: As April Rosenblum writes in her groundbreaking pamphlet: “Attacks come in waves; but each time things calm down and Jews are able to blend in or succeed in society again, it gives the appearance that antisemitism is ‘over.’ In some of the most famous examples of anti-Jewish expulsion and mass murder (i.e., medieval Spain or modern Germany), just prior to the attacks, Jews appeared to be one of society’s most successful, comfortable, well-integrated minorities.


Two days ago, a friend brought to my attention the heated exchanges taking place around the Black Live Matter Platform – specifically a policy position on Palestine-Israel. I don’t feel it is for me to try and capture the discussion here or to tell this friend’s story. As a result of hearing their story, I will say, I went online and started reading the exchanges between Black BLM folks and Jewish BLM folks – some of whom were saying they had to step back from BLM because of the reference to Palestine-Israel (again, not for me to try and articulate their perspectives) in the platform, some of whom were critical of those who are stepping back.

In one of those articles, the author referred to the success of Jewish people in the USA (I believe it was specific to the USA) – their wealth and power. When I read that, I sat up in my seat and literally talked to my computer screen: “But, such economic integration was there at the time of the Holocaust – in fact, it fact didn’t it play a role in the narratives spun by Hitler which coaxed (if that is the word) people into playing their role in acts of genocide?”

There have been a few times since I’ve arrived in Santa Fe, when I have been with people who have made offhand remarks about Jewish people and – I vaguely recall – money or business. I remember at least once saying something like “I don’t understand how their being Jewish has anything to do with what you are talking about” (I don’t remember the specifics). I remember thinking – “Whoa. Is this anti-semitism?” I repeat: this has happened a few times. Like it is socially acceptable to make wise-cracks about Jewish people…cracks that are meant light heartedly and are rooted in stereotypes which might seem harmless in the whole scheme of things – but to me such comments are on a spectrum which has violence at one end of it.

The purpose of this post isn’t to present a position of any kind on the deliberations-exchanges going on around the BLM policy platform. As an activist, and a recovering social policy professional, I think the Movement ought to have stayed away from articulating specific policy demands – just as I thought Occupy London should have stayed away from it…but that’s fodder for another post and – frankly – my take on a tactical choice made by BLM doesn’t matter.

My point is: I invite you to read the article at the top of this page – which (and I’m making an uneducated assumption here), if you are not Jewish, you might normally not stumble across, let alone read. I invite you to read it to take in a perspective on what we – whoever we are – collectively are grappling with, summed up I think with this extract from the article:

“And this is where the lesson transcends the question of Jewishness and anti-Semitism and goes hand in hand with the most essential questions the movement must ask itself today: What do we — each and every one of us — have to do to become our most powerful selves? We had better have a good answer, because becoming our most powerful selves is the only chance we have at winning the world we all deserve.”

Though I don’t think we ‘win’ anything – we collectively create the world. We are, as we always have been, in a dance of collective creativity. Of course, yes, at times the dance feels like a never ending series of battles and an all out war…

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#Blacklivesmatter – a collective affirmation?

The USA is pretty well known for its people having passion for the self-help and self-improvement industry. In a way, this isn’t surprising – we are country plagued by depression and anxiety. People are grasping for ways to feel better about being alive, to feel better in their lives, to feel better about who they are.

I’m not surprised – we are a country riddled with fear and loathing. People fearing and loathing other people. People fearing and loathing their lives and their selves. People grasping the tools of self-improvement/development/help because they are believing: I am not worthy. My life is worthless. I’m ugly. I’m scary. I’m undeserving of love.

In this realm, a widely recommended tool is the use of affirmations. Affirmations can take the form of positive self-talk: I am beautiful or I am worthy, for example. Affirmations are statements to affirm. To affirm means to assert as a fact, to state strongly and publicly.

Some people might think it odd or feel uncomfortable with the idea of affirmations. I don’t think, however, when people work with such affirmations, other people find offense.

Nor, at least in my experience, are people compelled to challenge other people’s affirmations. Someone you care about says to you “You know what – My life matters.” This someone has experienced a lifetime of abuse in different forms. Would you say “Yes, of course, all life matters”? I don’t think most people would, though admittedly some might. I imagine you might be inclined to instead shout it from the roof tops with that person. “Yes! Your life matters!!” You might even be thinking – this is a really important step to this person ending cycles of abuse.

Presumably – if you were standing in full awareness of what this person has been experiencing – you wouldn’t say “What are you saying that for?”  or “Stop saying that!”

If in reading this, you are distracted by my making generalizations, I can put it another way. I’ve been riddled by fear and loathing in my life. I’ve turned to affirmations to help me step into a loving rather than hateful and fearful relationship with my self,  with life and with others. If you heard me working with my affirmations, would you get angry with me? Would you tell me to stop?

I’ve started seeing #Blacklivesmatter as – at one level – a collective affirmation. I understand it as a form of collective positive self-talk. A collective challenge to the fear and loathing which is inside violence and abuse directed at Black people in the USA. Violence woven into our culture through the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Violence rooted in a set of beliefs: Black people are not worthy of respect, love, kindness, dignity. Black people’s lives are worth less than White lives. Black people are Ugly. Black people are scary.

We’ve had (and still have) Black is Beautiful as a collective affirmation. Now we have #Blacklivesmatter. And it isn’t simply positive self talk done publicly. #Blacklivesmatter is a fact and a belief being stated strongly. And it is a fact-belief being stated to draw attention to the countervailing fact-beliefs (per previous paragraph) which perpetuate violence and abuse against Black people because they are Black.

I am wondering why is the use of affirmations in one context lauded, but in another is causing a big kerfuffle? Perhaps it is because when it comes to #Blacklivesmatter, we are all implicated. We are all being asked to look in the mirror and review our own beliefs and actions – conscious and unconscious. We are being invited to ask ourselves: In what ways are we/am I complicit in perpetuating a set of dehumanizing, oppressive and diminishing beliefs – which at their best give rise to what we now call micro-aggressions and at their worst kill?

A collective affirmation is being shouted from the rooftops and through the airwaves: #Blacklivesmatter. I hear it. I inhale deeply. I exhale deeply. I exclaim: “Yes, they do.”

[As part of my commitment to supporting this collective affirmation, I’ve taken the pledge to stand with The Movement for Black Lives – a link brought to me by the US Department of Arts and Culture.]

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The Vagina Monologues of Climate Change

I haven’t posted since January. I spent February and March in the north Chicago suburbs helping my mom through shoulder replacement surgery. While I was there, my dad – very unexpectedly – ended up in hospital. I put blog posting on hold at that time, and I look forward to returning to it in the coming week. In the meantime, I’ve just published an article in Open Democracy about a wonderful and inspiring artivist project- COAL: the vagina monologues of climate change. 

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I am your crazy

Last Saturday night, I went to a performance of monologues at Teatro Paraguas in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In “Bodies of art: women of ink tell their stories,” five women shared stories about their relationship to tattoos. I’m here now writing about Charlotte Jusinski’s story about a the tattoo on her left shoulder of a semicolon followed by the word rest – ;rest.

After the performance in this intimate black box theater, I went onto the stage and gave Charlotte a hug. “We don’t know each other, but I’ve had a lifetime dance with anxiety and I value that you spoke about your experience with it. Thank you.”

A half an hour later, I was on my way out of the theater and stopped to listen to Charlotte talking with a few people. She explained that she is nervous about the performances appearing on YouTube. “My colleagues from the job, they didn’t know why I was off work for so long – just that I was ill. They didn’t know I was crazy.”

Charlotte had an extended period off work because some days getting out of bed was a huge feat, because she had episodes where she had been driving and her arms went numb, because she had reached a point where she no longer had capacity for work.  The doctors ran test after test and all came up clear. The final diagnosis, as it were, was stress and anxiety.

A nervous system gone crazy.

Her tattoo represents her response to this craziness. The semi-colon is an instruction in life as it is in a sentence: pause. ‘Rest’ is the command they use at the dog-training center where she worked – particularly for a breed of dogs (I think it is german shepherds) who get very hyped up when being confined. The hand does a gentle up-down gesture, while the person commands ‘Rest. Rest. Rest.’ until the creature settles.

Charlotte explained that she would like to say she’s “all better now” – only she isn’t. She continues to grapple with the over-charged nervous system or what we tend to call ‘anxiety’ and daily life can be challenging. She is taking, by the sounds of it, one step at a time and finding her way. As and when needed, she commands herself: “Rest. Rest. Rest.”


When I overheard Charlotte express her concern about putting the monologues on YouTube, I inserted myself into the conversation.

“This thing we are calling craziness, many people struggle with and there is a stigma around it. Going public, speaking out, sharing our stories is brave, courageous and needed. There’s that point. And, well, what is crazy? Who is crazy? So many people leading lives that numb them, cut themselves off from the world around them, exhaust them.”

And then Charlotte inserted something to the effect of, “Yeh. Who are the crazy ones? They’re crazy, too. We’re all crazy.”

Yes, I do believe a lot of people in the United States are living with nervous systems gone out of control, bodies exhausted, spirits diminished.

Well done, Charlotte. For getting up and speaking our truth, for speaking our crazy.





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Spilling tea, laughing, and remembering who I am

Every morning, I get up from bed, turn on the kettle, brush my teeth, make a cup of tea and sit down – in bed, admittedly – with a notebook and pen. I do a writing meditation while I’m drinking this first cup of tea for the day.

The other day,  I spilled tea on a silk bedspread given to me by a friend. I spilled it the first time because in my left hand, I held a cup of tea – a small cup not a mug – and in my right hand I shook the oat milk carton. As the right hand shook the milk, the other shook the teacup and out came the tea.

After doing it once, I did it again! It was as if I completely had forgotten what caused the first spillage. And then somehow, without shaking any containers, I had a third spill. Thankfully, each time it cleaned up easily. No stains – or perhaps very slight stains that thankfully blend in with the colors of the fabric.

Why am I blogging about this? Because in the past, repeat mishaps – particularly spills – would have left me very angry with myself. I would have beat myself up at the time it happened and then perhaps throughout the day. Instead, I laughed at each spill.

At the same time, I was and I am not all that keen to repeat the same mistakes over and over again – especially ones that have more significance than tea on a bedspread. Yet, they do happen. I have and will repeat actions which I’d rather not repeat – until I give them enough awareness and consideration to embody whatever lesson is at hand to be learned.

And one of my most persistent repeats much of my life has been to be very hard on myself. Of course, discipline and boundaries are required and important; firmness is an essential element of love.  Directing blame, judgement and belittling thoughts at my self is not.

In the mornings, I now make a point of putting the cup down before I do any milk shaking. A simple correction that prevents more tea spillage. This is discipline. Cleaning up the spills right away was discipline. Laughing at the incident was discipline – in the sense that rather than berating myself, I chose to laugh tenderly and compassionately.

In a world with so much violence, mayhem and mistakes which can be deadly, spilling tea on a bedspread might seem irrelevant. In many ways it is. What’s more, it  draws attention to the fact that I have a kind of cushioned life where I can freely choose to spend my first waking minutes drinking tea and writing. Where I take for granted access to clean drinking water and electricity to boil it. Where…well, I could go on, but I won’t.

I am writing about those tea spilling moments that morning because they were a revelation for me.

I spilled tea and I laughed. I cleaned up spilled tea and I laughed. I found joy owning a bedspread which has silk threads that seem to provide a good camouflage for spilled black West Yorkshire tea. I sensed at the time that my relationship to the spilled tea reflected a shift in my relationship to life.

I’ve at last begun to let go of feeling shame and guilt for being a creature who stumbles, falls, trips, mis-steps and lands on my butt or my head or my side and then knocks into something or someone. To be this creature is to periodically give rise to such calamity – in small and large ways. To be this creature is to be human.

To evolve as this creature is to pay attention and to endeavor to take thoughtful action where and when possible in order to avoid repeating the same errors.  Of course, with some of the bigger stumbles and falls, there will be tears and anger and frustration – and serious consequences. All the same, I sense right now that to evolve is to keep loving – by being aware, taking different paths of action, by practicing forgiveness, by laughing a lot.  999968_10153244775596828_3471275144831160781_n.jpg


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What does it mean to choose love?

“Love, community, and connection are the only things powerful enough to overcome fear and terror. In the face of fear I choose love.”

This quote is extracted from the article “Love versus Fear” recently published in OpenDemocracy-Transformation. Yesterday, I laughed when the Transformation email popped into my inbox and this was the first article listed. That morning, I had been writing to a dear friend about how I’m no longer going to frame my personal story as about being a woman who has had a lifetime struggle with anxiety and depression. Instead, I see my life to date as a heartbreaking dance with fear and love.

Once upon a time, I found solace in the clinical labels of depression and anxiety – “Oh, that’s what I’ve been doing, why I have suffered so much in a life that in many ways ought to have been a life of ease, grace and joy.” Now, I find them constraining. At the root of anxiety is fear and at the root of depression is loathing or what Freud deemed “anger turned inwards.” I’ve been moving about in the world afraid of life and being angry with myself, sometimes to the point of being hateful. [As an aside,  I’m not exaggerating when I write hateful. I am aware it is the kind of statement that can shock people. I am also aware that many people grapple with self hate or self loathing and it isn’t something we talk about out loud very often. I think it would do us some good to be more honest about the prevalence of this in the USA.]

The result has been a great deal of suffering – I became a kind of mini-terrorist in my own life. Most of my aggression was directed inwards, though it of course impacted on people around me and sometimes was externally targeted. I never went to the extreme of physical violence, let alone murderous violence. Yet, I believe my behaviors have sat somewhere along the same spectrum which at one end has the extremes.

The author of the OpenDemocracy article is pointing towards a collective choosing of love to respond to the fear-inducing and perhaps fear-based actions around us – to shootings, to bombings, to terrorism. I wholeheartedly agree with this perspective. A critical question for us as humans beings is “How do we respond to fear with love –  both our own fears and fear in the hearts of others?”

And I speculate that the vast majority of us – at least in the United States, where I grew up – know what it is to react to the feeling of fear with hate, blame, judgement and aggression. I know I have done this repeatedly  in how I relate to my self and how I relate to others and to life. Where there is fear, I often have found there is also loathing or hate.

I am increasingly hearing that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. Thus, an article titled “Love versus Fear.” I’m not so sure it is that clear cut. I’d like to see us – collectively – engaging with the anger, rage, loathing and hate that is woven into our dances with love and fear. I, too, aspire to choose love in the face of fear. For me, this entails holding the fear, the rage, the pain in a container of love. Eventually love will triumph and the fear, anger, rage, pain will dissipate.  Yet, for a spell we find ourselves standing in all of it trying to figure out what a loving response to being in the muck and the mire looks like in practice.

And life is like this. Over and over again, we are faced with feeling the fear (and anger, rage, pain) in ourselves and bearing witness to it in others. Over and over again, we must call on our capacity to be loving in the face of the seemingly unbearable and unacceptable.

Thing is, as a human being who has been in a heartbreaking dance with fear and love for decades (I’m 45), I will readily attest to how challenging it can be to choose love. Right now I feel more able to do so than I ever have been. Particularly in the past year, I’ve come a long way on this front. The journey to get here, though – to a meaningfully expanded capacity to choose love in any given moment – has been long and hard and continues to require much vigilance and discipline on my part.

Julie Quiroz’s (author of  Love versus Fear) wrote: “Does this mean we are nice but weak? No. It means we are smart enough to understand that our collective existence on this planet depends on our mutuality and the humanity of each and every one of us. It means we are courageous and bold enough to lead and love even those who aren’t yet seeking our love and leadership.”

I’m not sure, to be honest, about the last line – something feels patronizing about it – ‘love even those who aren’t yet seeking our love and leadership.” Who are we to know who requires our leadership? And why should anyone seek our love? This bit of semantics notwithstanding, I embrace what I understand to be the underlying intention of Quiroz’s words.  I take away  a call out for us to be bold enough to practice the art of love because life itself depends on it.

It also requires compassion, which is not the same as being nice.  As the women of Bioneers’ Cultivating Women’s Leadership advise, we need not be nice, but we can aspire to be kind.

And I add, at the risk of repeating myself, that this practice is a tough one. Choosing love takes strength – strength of conviction and often a firm hand. The practice requires discipline to not confuse being kind with being nice and to make choices which – in following the path of love – can seem unfamiliar, give rise to much criticism and feel outright uncomfortable.

Until the other day, I would say to people that in the USA we generally aren’t well equipped for this practice. However, I was rightly corrected by New Mexico- based filmmaker Miguel Grunstein who said to me “We are equipped. The challenge is that we don’t know how to work very well with the equipment.”


The vast majority of human beings are wired to love – to be loving in our relationships.  Many of us, however, are not well-versed in what this means in practice, including in our relationships with our selves. In this way, the calls for courage, boldness and strength are in my mind tied to acknowledging the ways in which we have forgotten how to work with our intrinsic capacity to love. And to acknowledging that it is a tall order to root community and connection in love (noting that community and connection are not themselves inherently positive  – think Jim Jones/Jonestown).

Thing is, we have the capacity to meet this tall order. What we need is commitment to the daily practice of working with our inbuilt equipment. Though we might like to think love is effortless, we get to the effortless through a lot of hard work (the details of which are the content for a future post). For now, I’ll end this with saying that to me [r]evolution is a daily practice of rooting our creativity, power and imagination in love.

Though it isn’t easy, we CAN do it.



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Community is a Verb

I am about to move into a co-housing community here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is called The Commons.  Technically, I currently live in a co-housing community. However, by all accounts over the years, the one I’ve been living in these last two years has lost many of its co-housing aspects. One resident recently described it to me as being more like a neighborhood than co-houseing. The co-housing community into which I’ll be moving has been going since 1998 (building started in 1991). I’m looking forward to experiencing the community, including the business meetings which are run using consensus.

I’ve been told that it once took five years to get it agreed that they would create a clothes line for the shared laundry facilitates. How realistic and practical is it to cultivate consensus-based community?

Twenty eight homes share four and half acres of land. I’ve read that sometimes co-housing centers around creating affordable housing. This community doesn’t fall into that category. As far as I can tell, I’m moving into a predominantly White middle class community. Some might call it upper middle class, if you go by the average cost to rent or purchase these houses. I’m sure that within this broad umbrella of “What middle class” is a degree of diversity and I look forward to getting to know other residents and hearing their stories.

Co-housing, after all, isn’t for the faint hearted and is a distinct conscious living choice. Who are these people who have made this choice?

Presently, the community has plenty of elders and only a handful of children. Some children are in two parent homes, some are in single parent families. I know the community would like to see more diversity in age – more young families moving in, perhaps. I was told that once upon a time, the population was very international – in the sense that it had many residents from different European countries.

Twice a week, dinners are held in the communal dining area, cooked by residents who volunteer. Well, they volunteer as part of their commitment to doing at least six hours of work per month – work that serves the collective. I’m told that everyone residing in The Commons, including renters, commits to these hours. I noticed that in looking to rent at The Commons, prospective landlords were very keen that their tenants understood the ethos of co-housing and would participate actively in the community.

Communal space includes the kitchen and dining hall, a small exercise room, a children’s play room, guest rooms, a sitting room and laundry facilities (though most people seem to have washers and dryers in their homes). People in the community are encouraged to hold events in the common space – the dining hall can be space for a yoga class, an art workshop, a spoken word performance evening, a guest lecturer.

Community, as UC -Irvine Professor Michael Montoya says, is a verb. Yet, often we like to think that community exists outside of us and we walk into it to feel its warm embrace. We search for community. We crave community. This – as Parker Palmer observes in The Promise of Paradox -is subscribing to a myth. When we pursue this myth, turning to community for comfort, we often find ourselves disappointed. We enter into community wanting to be passive recipients of its benevolence. We seek solace in community.

Yet, community is a verb. We don’t stand there and receive it like we might a blessing from a priest. We weave it into how we be and do on a daily basis. Community is a continuous dance of giving and receiving and of negotiating.  I’ve been told that sometimes the people most excited about moving into The Commons are the ones who end up not liking it. I haven’t heard any specific stories to back that up, but I can imagine it. I can imagine people moving in with high expectations of pleasant gatherings, warm greetings as you open your front door and a sense of belonging.

They enter into community oblivious of the tensions that will inevitably arise in themselves and with others. As Parker Palmer explains, moving into an intentional community gave him and his family everything they had hoped for and the exact opposite of those very same desires.

I am moving into a tiny one room + bathroom house in The Commons. I’ll be using the communal laundry facilities. When the weather gets warm, I’ll likely be sitting outside in my tiny patio. I am unlikely to to hole myself up because I’ll want physical space and human connection. This will no doubt be a key determining factor in how I experience The Commons co-housing community.

What will I find? How will I experience being in this particular community? What will I bring to it? How will I play a role in cultivating nourishing community? You see, community is a neutral word – it isn’t inherently healthy or life affirming. After all, Jonestown was a community.

Community is a verb. I community. I commit to unity. Unity with whom? And in what ways? Questions. Questions. Questions. I’m looking forward to living into them.

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What is pain to the collective body?

Today is 21 November 2015. I haven’t posted since June – six months.

What has been going on in the meantime? Lots of chronic nerve pain in my legs which has meant I’ve stayed away from my computer – even with efforts to create an ergonomic set up and notwithstanding technology for dictation and the like. Chronic pain at a high level in these months has meant I was unable to concentrate, as well as experiencing major physical discomfort.

I still have chronic pain, and at times at high levels. I’m back at the keyboard, however, because my concentration seems to have returned. And I’m learning to live with the pain – to do activities despite it.

What does it mean to live with constant pain? How does this impact on how I show up in the world? With how I interact with others?

I ask these questions to myself while also thinking about the notion of chronic pain in terms of collective identity, behaviors and dynamics. Two years ago, I moved to New Mexico in the southwest United States. In spring 2014, I attended a training session with community organizers. In one exercise we put ourselves into groups. Each group was ask to give two presentations: (1) how do others perceive your group and (2) how does your group perceive itself?

One group described how the outside world spoke about them with words including lazy, scroungers thieves. They used similar words to articulate how they describe themselves. Many of us cried as we listened to and watched this group express nothing less than self-loathing.

One of the organizers would later comment that in his decades of doing organizing across the USA, he had rarely felt such deep pain in a community.


I am learning to live with it.  Sometimes, I get to points where I can’t imagine not having it. Sometimes, I create stories that tell me I deserve it or its somehow my fault. Sometimes, I become ashamed of being in pain and I deepen the burden of the pain by chastising my self for it.

How might such behaviors, akin to those I’ve been giving life to, manifest collectively? How do we work constructively with emotional and physical pain in a collective body?

We are a world experiencing great, heartbreaking pain. What exactly is the impact of this pain on us all? On how we be and create together?

Pain in my legs and back, I’m nevertheless stepping into these questions.



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A USAmerican story…

In February 1992, I left the USA to go live in Europe. I started out in Germany and then went to England to do an MA. I stayed. In October 2000, I moved back to the USA to do human rights and anti-racism work. I lasted 18 months and returned to London. Fast forward to summer 2013. It wasn’t really planned, but I returned to the USA and this time it feels like I might have moved back to create a home here for a significant amount of time.

I have regularly been coming back to the USA while living in the UK. I slip easily (to my dismay, sometimes) back into my midwestern accent. For almost twenty years, I was living in a country where English is the dominant language and where most of the people are White and Christian (which is the demographic of the town where I grew up in the USA).  In other words, I rarely felt totally distanced or detached from life in the USA – though there were no shortages of very significant social and political differences, i.e. the National Health Service in the UK is radically different to USA healthcare systems.

Despite my regular returns to these shores and my living in a not so radically different country, I’m in a state of shock by being back here.

I am continually trying to make sense of life in these United States (to borrow from a Reader’s Digest title). Of course, with our wondrously diverse population, many different lives are lived out here. However, I do speculate that the vast majority of people living in the USA are strongly impacted by a small number of narratives. I am constantly talking with people to try and get clarity on these narratives, these story lines that are woven into our lives and shape our culture.

In the past couple of weeks, I think I have arrived at a greater understanding of one of them.

This prevalent story begins with the nuclear family – our immediate relatives of parents and siblings. We have ritual to bring us into wider tribe, e.g. pledge of allegiance at school or the national anthem at a baseball game or the baseball game itself. Yet, our primary tribe seems to be this nuclear family or that has at least been the ideal, the aspiration.  The fenced-in house with one family in it and maybe even a dog or cat. Definitely, this was a dominant image of the USAmerican dream when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.

And it seems that in the USA, many people very early on (and I’m not at all being scientific here, I’m speculating – BIG TIME) acquire a fear. They become afraid of being rejected by tribe. This fear might start within this nuclear family. It then expands out into the other communities-families we inhabit. This fear is cultivated in our school system. Going to school becomes about popularity and fitting in, about doing better than one another because that makes you more worthy of being a member of the tribe.

The fear of getting kicked out of tribe is a powerful one. Back in our early days as a species, getting kicked out of tribe meant death. You couldn’t survive alone in the wilderness. You would very quickly die.

These days, I’m not sure it is much different. Despite the emphasis in the USA on the lone ranger (who wasn’t lone at all, was he? but that is by the by),  the independent individual and the primacy of the nuclear family looking after itself, we cannot live alone and in isolation. People may not quickly die physically. Instead, we die slow spiritual deaths. Spirit refers to animating life force. Isolated and alone -even when surrounded by people – we become half alive, less of who we can be as living and breathing creatures capable of consciousness and autonomy. We are slowly suffocated. Some of us can be described as sleep-walkers. Others as zombies – the walking dead.

Many people (yes, yes, still speculating BIG TIME) grow up in the USA desperate to be in tribe.   We adapt all sorts of behaviors to ensure we aren’t kicked out – be it by our nuclear family or our peers in one community or another. Or we create tribes. And often these tribes are rooted not in love, but in the fear and sense of worthlessness that unconsciously led us to create them or be drawn to them in the first place.

At the heart of this desperation, is the nagging sense that we are not good enough and not worthy of belonging. The vast self-help industry in the USA has much of its foundation rooted in the existence of this widespread condition: fear of, or sense of, abandonment and rejection and the accompanying sense of  worthlessness. At its root, I get the impression we could also interpret this condition as a fear of not being loved or loveable. We believe we are going to get kicked out of tribe or have been kicked out of tribe because we are not worthy of tribal love.

Chicano artivist Israel Franscico Haros Lopez and I recently started talking about this subject. We began to explore how it is that in other cultures – ones we often label ‘traditional’ – the sense of belonging is deeply instilled in the human being from birth. This sense of belonging extends well beyond a nuclear family and even beyond a tribe of people. This sense of belong extends to all creation. In some cultures, my life as a human being is understood to be interconnected with all life – before and after I came into being.

In summer 2013, I had an experience walking in the mountains, while visiting the Peñasco Theater Collective, of sensing that I am from the earth upon which I was walking and from the sun that was shining on my face. My blood and bones are made of the food my mother ate, which is grown in the land, which was fertilized by who knows what animals, which contains the blood and bones of who knows what creatures, which gave rise to plants and trees and all sorts that fed on the sun and the water. Like that I am one with all creation – before I was born, while I am a live, and after I die.

When I experienced this sense, I felt an astonishing sense of security through connectedness. My then anxiety-riddled self breathed a sigh of relief, felt at ease and gave rise to the thought: “My gosh, how can I ever think I’m alone when I am made up of and connected to so much!”

Admittedly, that belief can be too abstract at times to offer up comfort. It does, however, put me in my place as being no more no less than a tree or a piece of dirt. But I won’t go further into this idea, which is related but different fodder for another blog post – the inflated sense of self people often create in the USA, as a reaction to their overwhelming sense of worthlessness and their fear of being rejected by tribe.

Ahh, yes, let me return to this story of abandonment and rejection.

I have this sense that many of us living here in the USA show up in our lives fueled by this sense of worthlessness and this fear of deadly rejection and abandonment. And this fear and self-rejection is constantly toyed with, taken advantage of and even cultivated by people in positions of power within our systems – political, economic and social.  In short, from birth to death, we are encouraged to stay afraid and to strive for worthiness and acceptance and affirmation through superficial means, e.g., status, money, power over others, submission to others. We end up constantly grasping for that-which-will-save-us-or-keep-us-alive.

Like this, the average teen-ager in the USA (and often the average adult) seeks to construct a distinct identity – figure out “Who am I” while also trying to understand what it takes to survive, to stay in tribe. And when the individual does not have a way of connecting with a sense of belonging to something larger than their own life and experience, they look to the world around them for clues and for affirmation. A fundamental question for people here, starting at a young age and often carrying on through adulthood is: What do I need to do or how do I need to be in order to be loved, valued and accepted by tribe?

Israel and I contrasted this with other cultures where the teenager’s primary question might instead be: What is my role in this tribe, in this community? What is my fundamental purpose to serve us all? As an adult, the question lingers: How can I serve the tribe better? People ask these questions while having a firm sense of belonging to and interconnectedness not just with tribe, but with all of creation, with ancestors and with spirits (animating life forces) that are beyond the reach of our five basic senses.

I say this, aware that in some so-called traditional communities, people experience oppression doled out in the name of the collective or in the name of cultural-traditional norms.  I mention this point because I don’t want the narrative I’m trying to highlight here to be missed or tossed aside because your attention is now focusing on making a challenge to me: You are romanticizing communities that have strong roots in the collective (as opposed to the individual).

I’m doing no such thing – but I won’t go into that subject further.

Instead, I want to bring your attention back to the narrative. Back to a story of the fear of abandonment and rejection, a story of a desire to be loved, wanted, deemed worthwhile to belong to tribe and thus allowed to live. When we are fear-full and grasping for a sense of worth, we tend to wear either the hat of oppressor or oppressed. We, the people of the United States of America, are prone to being in fight or flight mode – to being jittery and insecure grasping to be saved or to exert power.

My, my, what wretched state of being. And what an awful condition for democracy.

Which is why, I want to pose questions that I, Israel and others I’ve been talking with about in relation to this story: What rites of passage and cultural norms do we need to create here in the USA for young people -whatever their background- to be able to embody an intrinsic sense of belonging and connection with community, tribe, planet and forces bigger than their and all our tiny selves?  How do we, the people of the United States of America, live into a different story?  How do we transform from a culture of fear and self-loathing (when a sense of worthlessness is taken to the extreme) into a culture of love, acceptance and unconditional belonging?

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