How are we fueling the fires of beloved community?

Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives. ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Beloved community. 

What is beloved community? I think of it as community where the art and practice of love is woven into a community’s fabric. Is beloved community all peace, love and light? Nope. Beloved community is practicing love, cultivating peace and shedding light. Over and over again. As a way of meeting the fear, anger, shame, sadness, guilt, violence and injustice that are inherent to being human.

Beloved community is an intention and a practice. 

Last week, I wrote about the community we cultivated in BUST.  The intention was to create a healthy and nurturing community. The daily practice was explicitly rooted in supporting one another to act from and unleash our highest selves. Wise Fool NM, with programs like BUST, seeks to give people the opportunity to experience beloved community – a safe space for risk-taking, for reflection, for play, for struggle, for imaginative leaps, for standing in our power, for standing in our vulnerability. 

The idea is for participants to feel cared for, nurtured and attended to – to feel loved and held. 

Currently, I’m writing about CWL – Cultivating Women’s Leadership. Last month, I attended a CWL retreat. This retreat involved twenty three women in total, as participants and facilitators (not including the staff of the Ocamora retreat center, who were in daily service to looking after our well-being in a variety of ways). In my experience, CWL is rooted in the intention of creating beloved community. Living together – working and playing – for five days we had the opportunity to practice cultivating beloved community as a group of women, ages twenty four to sixty three. 

Daily – momentarily, that is, in each moment –  around the world, women are undermining our selves and each other in a variety (often rather imaginative) ways. So many reasons for why we do this. A crucial reason is that in reaction to the oppression we experience collective and individually from toxic cultures and systems, we lash out. It isn’t just women who do this. We all do this – men and women around the world. But I’m here talking about cultivating beloved community among women. 

CWL offers up a counter-narrative to women lashing out at each other: women being allies – to our selves and one another. 

Ally – The noun means one in helpful association to another (www.freedictionary.com). 

In other words, we set the intention of trying to be helpful to one another. I prefer the idea of being in service to one another. These days ‘help’ feels like a loaded worded to me. Because frequently in the name of ‘helping’ others, we are very destructive. But that’s fodder for another blog post. 

Not just any kind of service. I’m talking here about being in service to beloved community by specifically setting an intention to be more loving with our selves and other women. What about the men? Yes, well – I’m not excluding them and I don’t encourage anyone to exclude them. At the same time, I’m increasingly thinking about how through the millenia women have had strong circles with each other. I don’t want to romanticize women’s relationships or the past. I do want to place value on strong, healthy women’s circles. These circles symbolize containers for cultivating healthy community through cultivating our relationships with our selves, one another, the planet and spirit. 

In industrialized cultures we have lost and devalued women’s circles, our ties with what we call nature (as though nature and human beings are separate), and the importance of tending to the fires.

Fire. Fire is at the center of the earth. Fire harms – certainly. Fire also cleanses and creates clearings. Fire illuminates. Fire warms. Fire nourishes. Fire is magic. Fire is an essential source of life. 

This past summer, I’ve come to see how, driven by rage and fear, I was on fire – I’ve been on fire much of my life. I’ve continued fueling this fire that burns and harms. I’m still on fire. Only now, I am the other kind of fire – driven by love, beauty, play. Wanting to be nourishing and nurturing. 

Cultivating beloved community, if I may riff on Dr. King’s words, requires that I, you, we put out some fires and ignite others. Cultivating beloved community requires that we re-form strong and healthy women’s circles. 

What kind of fires burn within you most of the time? What kinds of fires are fueling the different communities you inhabit? How can you be fuel for the flames that give rise to beloved community? What’s your experience of being in a nurturing circle of women? Where around you do you see circles of women through which nurturing and nourishing flames are being tended and fueled? 

Open fire as part of Santa Fe, New Mexico Christmas celebrations (December 2014)

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The Art of Creating Healthy and Nurturing Community

BUST, a six week circus intensive for women, finished at the end of June. All of us participants had the opportunity to learn partner acrobatics, stilt-walking, clowning, trapeze and aerial fabric. We were encouraged to push ourselves physically. Often, our physical pushes often were entwined with mental and emotional pushes. I remember this aspect of BUST and I think about my relationships with the different activities and my relationship with my self. What about my relationships with others – with the teachers, with other students? Lately, I’ve been thinking about BUST and community.  What kind of community did we create over those six weeks? In what ways did we have to push ourselves, go out of our comfort zones, exercise extra discipline in order to create healthy, nurturing community? What went wrong? What went right?

We were a group of people voluntarily coming together for our individual reasons. From the very beginning – the opening circle – the teachers underplayed the performance that would take place at the end of the intensive. They told us that the performance wasn’t the main point of this intensive. Yet, I believe that the fact that we had before us the task of creating a show together put a particular emphasis on community. And in this way, the performance at the end of the intensive is a big part of the BUST experience.

Community. In social policy circles, community is a sort of buzz word. “How do we build community?” is a frequently asked question. For me, community is a neutral word. A gang, for example, is a community. I prefer the question, “How do we create and nurture healthy and restorative communities?”

At the beginning of our BUST journey, we were steered by a guiding principle: tap into our highest or best selves and support each other to do the same. Even without the task of creating a performance, this direction would have played an important role in creating an atmosphere of acceptance, support and encouragement. With a performance added into the mix, this direction took on an extra weight.

In a performance, it is in the collective interest that everyone shines, everyone gives their best, everyone takes responsibility for making the show happen and run smoothly. The way BUST works, we were trying to all be stars -whatever that meant for each of us. Everyone performed. We didn’t have lead roles. We were given a strong sense that bringing out the best in ourselves involved bringing out the best in others.

What kind of community were we building?

One where my rising didn’t involve someone else getting pushed down (well, maybe, in certain acrobatic moves…).  One where we sought to create a safe physical and emotional environment for us to take risks and go to our edges. Because in going to our edges, we were expanding our potential as individuals and a collective.

Did we simply have six weeks of a love-in, while we developed our skills and abilities in the circus arts? No. Because that’s not how the spectacle that is real life and how we live together works. We had to navigate the rough waters of personal relationships.

If we listened to our own voices, we would hear: That woman there, she drives me batty with all her self-loathing talk. That one there, really??? Does she really have no clue that she kind of self-absorbed? Oh, and that one there, she knew I wanted to wear that costume but she took it anyway. She’s so needy! She can do everything, but it always takes me forever to learn things. She’s so much better than I am.

Inhale. Exhale.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that part of my BUST experience was about enhancing my skills and ability to show up in a community as someone who has a nurturing and restorative presence. Like everyone else, I had many a time when I didn’t get it right. Yet, I tried. I tried to be nurturing and restorative. I tried to keep learning about what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes, the exact action that I thought would be helpful was actually irritating as heck to the person on the receiving end.

Trying. Succeeding. Trying. Failing. Continuous experiments. Continuous learning. In the course of BUST, I expanded my awareness about my self and the process of creating healthy relationships with others.

What worked? What didn’t? Ahh, yes. Those questions. I’ll save that for future posts.

How do you show up in the different communities you inhabit? What do you aspire to bring to them? What do you actually bring to them? How might you show up differently?

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(a picture backstage during a BUST show, having just performed an act with stiltwalking and clowning)

 

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Letting go of shame-full beliefs…

A few weeks ago, our BUST circus intensive class did three public performances. This is how, in one sense, we brought BUST to a close. I’ve been blogging about the six-week experience throughout. When it came to an end, I was overflowing with experiences I wanted to share. I decided to pause to let the exhilarating buzz soften into into me, before writing anything. Now, the stories feel ready to be told. I’ve chosen to begin with a story of concretely stepping out of one belief and into another.

A couple of years ago, I learned that I have been holding a deep-rooted belief that vulnerability is shameful. As a person who has struggled much of my life with anxiety, this belief in some way must have been leading me to be ashamed of my self. Anxiety is fear. When we are afraid, we are feeling vulnerable. Particularly in the past year, I’ve been inquiring into this belief to try and understand it.

Since January 2014, I’ve been studying the art of clowning (or red nose, as my Wise Fool teacher – Sarah Jane Moody –  calls it). I began this study during a two week Wise Fool intensive. After the intensive I did two rounds of eight week classes. In this time, I developed a clown character I call Matilda.

Matilda wears a white dress with thin, blue vertical stripes (that ties in back) and pink tights. She wears sneakers and her hair in pigtails. Matilda tends to be joyful – she loves to say hello to people and to smile and be excited about what’s going on around her. She is also often befuddled by the world around her – people seem so strange and perplexing sometimes. She likes to try new things, but can be timid and a bit nervous about doing so.

Nudged on by fellow BUSTers, I chose to do two acts in our public performances as Matilda. Matilda was on stilts and she performed with two other clowns in an acrobatic act. In both these acts, Matilda was not at all reluctant to let her fellow players and the audience know what she was feeling: fear, shyness, excitement, surprise, joy, disappointment, befuddlement.

My Matilda make up consisted of a darkening and enlargement of my eyebrows, false eyelashes, bright red circles to highlight my cheeks, and deep red lipstick. The idea was to accentuate my facial expressions.

After one of the shows, a woman I did not know came up to me and said: “I really enjoyed your clown. Thank you. You know, I often feel scared like that, too.” I heard this comment and thought “Wow! How fabulous! Matilda possibly left someone feeling less alone in their fears.”

I then reflected on my journey with Matilda and her presence in our performances. I was struck by the idea that when I am in Matilda or Matilda is in me, I play with fear. I play with all my emotions. And I do it publicly. I publicly play with the joy which, until recently, often eluded me. The fear which often paralyzed me. The sadness which often collapsed me.

I play with these emotions – and in doing so feel liberated, connected, confident and whole.

Instead of ashamed, stuck, isolated and like I’m falling apart.

As I delved into this experience, I was hit by the understanding: Matilda has been able to emerge with such brightness and clarity because I have let go of, or been let go by, the belief that vulnerability is shameful. If I really believed that, I could not hold a space for Matilda to emerge within me and then share her with others.

What has replaced the belief that vulnerability is shameful? I haven’t really thought about that until now. I guess it is this belief: I am human, therefore I am vulnerable like everyone else. It’s not good. It’s not bad. Being vulnerable is simply part of what it means to be human.

And it is this belief: Vulnerability contains within it seeds for beauty.

Did a six week non-residential circus intensive dismantle a belief that I’ve possibly being carrying within me for over forty years. I don’t think so – I think it would be misleading to say that is what happened. Much soul work led up to this paradigm shift. That said, BUST certainly was a space where I took crucial steps in embodying a new restorative belief, via Matilda.  BUST has been an important part of my [r]evolutionary journey.

I busted through an old belief system and into a new one, in the course of the BUST adventure.

What fundamental beliefs do you carry deep within you that drive you into isolation, shame, fear, rage and whatever else there might be? What’s your experience of letting go of, or being let go by, such beliefs? How do you imagine we create significant shifts in our beliefs at a collective level? What collective beliefs are playing the biggest roles in creating toxicity and oppression in the different communities you inhabit?

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[R]evolution Road

The Centre for Welfare Reform, in association with Compass, recently published a paper: [R]evolution Road – travelling the terrains of creativity, power and love. The paper is the first one I’ve written about my journeys into being the change I want to see in the world, creating changes within my self and the relationship between individual internal change and a collective dismantling of oppressive systems, structures and institutions.

I think of this paper as a part of various experiments I am conducting, all of which are underpinned by a desire to live in ways that are more nurturing and restorative. I am experimenting with my relationships with my self and others. I am experimenting with my relationship with the planet. I am experimenting with rooting social activism in the practice of love. I am experimenting with how I write about these experiments.

For over fifteen years, I was a professional in the social policy industry. As time passed, I increasingly struggled with being in a culture dominated by rigid directives, manifestos and explicit, time-limited plans and for fixing social and economic problems. In contrast, I wanted to enter into meandering explorations of what is it about who and how we are being that is giving rise to the problems which keep plaguing us.

In 2010, I left the social policy industry and turned my attention to thinking about movement in hearts and minds – which I now think of in terms of evolution and shifts in consciousness. To paraphrase Einstein: the same consciousness that created the oppressive systems and institutions, which guide how we live together, is not the one that will create meaningful alternatives.

In the spirit of being experimental, I consciously chose in [R]evolution Road to focus on presenting reflections and questions rather than outlining a change model or making explicit recommendations.

Some people – mainly male readers, I’ve noticed – have said they find the lack of explicit conclusions, recommendations or templates perplexing and awkward. One reader questioned the utility of such an honest personal disclosure. He suggested that, in the future, I go the route of anthropological Margaret Meade-esque cultural anthropology. He advised that personal stories can be offered up as useful lead-ins, but not be the main content.

So why have I written the paper the way I’ve written it?

I am inclined to believe that how we experience change in ourselves – shifts in how any of us go about being human – is mirrored at the collective level. In [R]evolution Road, I tell a very personal story about a radical shift (a.k.a., revolution) in how I relate to fear, hate and sadness. I tell this story to illustrate a type of struggle with oppression.

I tell this personal story because I believe that my, your, everybody’s stories are heavily entwined with the oppressive cultural norms many of us say we are trying to dismantle. I tell it because I believe my story is non-unique and potentially informative about different journeys that might be part of collective liberation from the toxic and oppressive ways of living we have created for ourselves.

I also share my story in the hope that [R]evolution Road draws people to step into a set of questions which I do not explicitly pose within it: To what extent and in what ways, do we root our collective creativity and power in fear, hate, loathing and separation? What results from this kind of rootedness? How are these roots reflected in our organizations, systems and institutions?

[R]evolution Road is meant to be what it says on the tin – a discussion paper. I hope it encourages its readers (individually and within groups) to explore and reflect on its themes openly and with a sense of daring.

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Still Being

Today is Wednesday. Our first BUST performance is on Friday. As the teachers told us would happen, we’ve more or less moved through the chaos of collective creativity. We have created a show with a number of different acts and transitions – much of which didn’t exist even a week ago. Throughout, the teachers have been reminding us about the importance of stillness. 

Usually these reminders are for when we are performing our pieces. Movement, movement, movement. Exhale. Stillness. Why? Why be still when we are so excited and energized? Why? Well, I think I’m starting to understand that when it comes to performing, the moments of stillness are like spotlights on all the movement. The pause, the being still gives the audience a chance to take in what they’ve been seeing. And to take in us, the performers. In stillness, we become more present to each other. 

Stillness. Being still. Still being. 

Stillness can act like a punctuation mark. A full stop, as they say in England to refer to what we call a period in the USA. Stillness asks for attention. Imagine you are in a space where a group of people are moving about and you choose to ignore them. You are doing your own thing while they are constantly in their own motions. Suddenly, they all stop moving. Isn’t this when you stop doing what you are doing, to look up and see? Don’t you wonder – “What happened? Why did they stop?” 

You might look up and turn to them only to see that they are all staring in the same direction. You follow the gaze. In their stillness, they have definitely grabbed your attention. 

Inhale. Exhale.

To invite the audience to connect with us, we are repeatedly being reminded to be still.

As I type, I’m thinking about the value of stillness to connect us – BUSTers – with one another. Particularly this past week, a little bit more of each of ourselves has been brought to light through the chaos. Fear bubbles up. Sometimes it subsides. Sometimes it doesn’t. Excitement. Discoveries of imagination we did not know was inside us. Connections made. Connections broken. Buttons being pushed, triggers set off. Sometimes we react. Sometimes we respond. 

As we get closer to showtime, I imagine we’ll become both more nervous and excited. Energies will be high. I imagine we could easily each get caught up in our own inner frenzies.  

Stillness.

If we remind ourselves regularly to be still, we might increase our chances of hearing our selves and one another. Of needs getting met. Of having clarity on what we need. Of attention to details being paid. Of allowing wise answers to rise through the silences. 

Ahhh. I think that I’m starting to understand how it is that unleashing brilliance involves practicing the art of balancing stillness with movement and doing.  

In the UK and more so in the USA, we place much value on doing and action. What would happen to our collective creativity if we gave more value to stillness? When you reflect on the different communities you inhabit, what is the balance between stillness and movment or doing? What would happen to you, if you were to put more attention to practicing the art of being still? 

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(A painting at Peñasco Theater, New Mexico – part of the Wise Fool NM family)

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From Fear-Full to Fear-Less…

I first got on stilts in January, doing the Wise Fool NM program, ELEVATE. The very first time, I was relatively comfortable on them. The second time – a few days later, perhaps – I was terrified. I felt anxiety where I’ve been feeling it strongly in recent years, the center of my chest. It took a lot of mental something or other to get me to leave the support of the wall. I saw a video of our end of program performance and my ears were up in my shoulders and my movements halting.  Six months later, I’m stilting again in a program performance (BUST). Getting back on stilts has been the equivalent of saying “Ok. I’m going to step into the ring with fear.”

Only, this time, it hasn’t felt like a boxing match.

The first day we got on stilts, I felt wobbly and nervous, but definitely more comfortable than previously. Every saturday, for the past five weeks, we’ve been getting up on stilts. Each time, I have felt a bit more comfortable, while also being aware of the Nerves paying a visit. Sometimes a specific new move might call in the Nerves. Sometimes, they just pop up. Yet, I have been determined. During open studio evenings, I made a point of strapping on stilts. The Nerves, clingy couple that they are, tended to come along.

They persisted. I persisted.

Something that made a difference was music. One evening, Dee brought some earphones and we started dancing to music on her phone. I found that this tended to relax me – particularly when I thought about a teacher’s (Alessandra from Peñasco Theater) comment that if you can move it off stilts, you can move it on stilts. Focusing on dancing tended to push the Nerves into a dark corner where it was hard to see or hear them.

A few days ago, we were having a practice for our stilt act. Yes, I chose to be in a stilt act for our BUST performance. You know, pushing myself. Also, though, I’ve come to enjoy stilts. This isn’t to say, however, that the Nerves have totally gone away. Nope. They definitely still hang around. They popped up in this practice session the other day. The task at hand was to get down to the ground using a person as a base. The base is on hands and needs. The stilter leans over and lowers down to the ground by pressing on their upper and lower back. The first few times I did this, the Nerves were in a frenzy.

Two days later, during a rehearsal for our Act, I had to use this lowering technique.  I started out by doing the descent using mats on the other side of the room from where we were practicing our acts. The mats are higher than using a person as a base and,  thus, less scary. Eventually a teacher said “Come over here and I’ll be your base. If you keep working on the mats to get down over there, you’ll keep spending a lot of time and effort crawling on the floor to get back over here. ” I stilt walked over and to her, while she got down on all fours to base my descent. With wide eyes, I stared at her back, all laid out for me to drop down onto it. It seemed very far away.

I felt the Nerves tug on me for a second. I exhaled. The Nerves went away. I leaned over without hesitating and did my descent.

I can’t exactly tell you what is now allowing me to do that move fearlessly. I can’t be sure that the Nerves won’t come back while doing the same move.

I can tell you that the experience is liberating. One day something terrifies me. Two days later it doesn’t.

I’ve just had imprinted on me the experience of being released from the shackles of fear. Maybe this has happened before in other ways. Maybe this isn’t the first time I’ve gone from fear into security. Yet, this particular experience is resonating strongly with me right now. My mind is going “If that can happen in this instance, in what other instances might it happen? In what other spaces am I able to step out of fear, to keep the Nerves at bay?”

And from those thoughts rises the question: “What kind of possibilities might open up to me, the more I become released from the shackles of fear?”

And from those thoughts rises a smile. The kind that starts in the center of my chest – in the same place that fear normally hangs out – and moves through me, turning up the corners of my mouth, flashing my big teeth and then continues to rise until it shines through my large eyes.

BUSTing out of the shackles of fear. Experiencing the freedom of busting out of the shackles of fear.

The USA is a country with many fear-full people. This fear shackles us, doesn’t it? This taste of fearlessness makes me wonder how different our lives and ways of living together would be if we weren’t so fear-full.

What are the ways in which fear keeps you in shackles? Keeps communities in shackles? Keeps an entire nation in shackles?

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(photo of mural at Peñasco Theater, painted by Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski and Rebekah Tarín)

 

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When does self-care turn into self-indulgence?

In this last post from the BUST diaries (as I think of this series of postings), I wrote about the balancing act of self-care and serving the collective. I’ve continued to think a lot about this theme. Sometimes don’t we have to put the needs of the community over our own? Is it really such a clear this or that type choice? When does self-care turn into self-indulgence?

I have had a few conversations with different BUST participants and teachers about what it means to show up. One Monday, I wanted to pick up my housemate from the shuttle stop here in town. The timing worked out that I could go during the evening session’s break time, perhaps missing a bit of the aerial work that was after break. Due to delays, missed texts and the like, the picking up of housemate took longer than anticipated. However, I still could have ended up back at the Wise Fool studio and participate in the aerial practice session.

But I didn’t do that. I didn’t go back that evening. Why? Because I had made a choice to avoid aerial work all together. I have had a strong sense that my back isn’t up to it. Two days later, I oped out of that evening’s aerial work. With gentle nudging from fellow BUSTer, I stuck around to take pictures of people. In that way, I wasn’t doing what everyone else was doing, but I was participating and being supportive.

Another aerial practice, I stayed for a little bit and then just left. Yes, I had something to work on, but I could have stayed and pulled a late night. Instead, I chose to opt out all together. I allowed BUST  to turn into ‘choose when I want to participate and feel free to opt out’ experience.

A fellow BUSTer who is experienced with being in performances, pointed out that people coming and going according to their own needs can be demoralizing to everyone else.  A few people – as said, myself included – opted out in a few different sessions. Sometimes people didn’t turn up because they were too tired. A teacher suggested to me that when that happens, they would prefer that people turn up and flop out on the sidelines of the practice. The point is: you show up in solidarity with your community.

Another thing that has happened is  people turning up but then leaving because they felt overwhelmed by their emotions. We don’t do that in other spaces in our lives, do we? We don’t just think “I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’m leaving.” Is this a thing that has to do with people having so-called artistic temperaments? Is this because unlike other environments, in this kind of workshop no one has a role of demanding that we stay. We are all grown ups who chose to make a commitment to this particular workshop; we are being asked and expected to manage ourselves accordingly.

I’m not writing this to criticize anyone. Rather, I’m writing this to ponder out loud. I am wondering what I am being shown and what I can learn about consciously being in and striving to do best for the collective. I’m wondering – as said earlier in this post – when does giving attention to self cross over from being self-care to self-indulgence? I am wondering how often I cross boundary. How often have I crossed it in BUST? How often do I cross it in other parts of my life?

At the same time, all these questions about showing up have me wondering about the ways in which we physically show up but are still absent. We are focused on the thoughts running through our heads, the emotions moving through our bodies. In our most recent session together – as a full group – we did an exercise where we reviewed a list we each had done on the first day. These lists set out how we show up in the world when we are at our best. We were asked to find a word to capture the different elements on our lists. I remember at the time feeling a bit odd by what kept coming up for me: present. When I am at my best, I am present.

This doesn’t seem like a particularly vibrant word to encompass me at my best.

Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who landed on present. First, a person across the room shared that word. Then the person next to me brought her present into the circle. I felt encouraged by this and choose to go with it.

What’s my point? I think I’m wanting to say that  another way of describing the balancing act of self-care and caring for the collective is to say that the task at hand is to be present with what is alive within ourselves and be present with the world around us. Striking this balance, I imagine, requires being in a deep state of awareness.

And I’m thinking this is a particular type of awareness. It is, for example, about being aware that I’m feeling angry without latching onto the anger and following it wherever it wants to take me physically and mentally.

Perhaps you have read to this point and feel like you’ve been taken here and there and all over the place. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the case – I’m feeling bit befuddled by the terrains through which I’ve been traveling this past week in BUST.

What are your reflections on these balancing acts that are part of being in service to collective and caring for self? How do you assess when self-care has crossed over into self-indulgence? What one word would you use to describe how and how you are when you are bringing your best self forward?

 

 

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A Balancing Act -the art of caring for self while serving the collective

A lot of what we are doing in BUST – a six week intensive circus camp at Wise Fool NM – involves finding your balance. This week, I’m thinking about the balance between pushing myself and self-care. BUST as a word conjures up images of breaking loose. The words “I can’t” are ready made shackles. Much of the BUST experience is about saying “I’ll try” and often finding out that, in fact, “I can.” I’ve opted out of the aerial activities – fabric and trapeze. Even if you aren’t performing on these in the show, you are encouraged to keep working with them. At first, I thought “C’mon, Veena, push yourself.” Then I decided, “You know what, I’m not going to do these things – my body isn’t up for it.” This choice has got me thinking about the line between self-care and not stepping up to the plate when I could. 

The story I’ve created is this: Had I been more conscious before BUST began, I would have gotten some serious body work done to open up my lower back. My lower back is totally compressed and even with a lot of regular stretching, it isn’t going to open up. I’m pretty sure it won’t open up enough to enable me to enjoy the aerial activities and also to be able to do them with minimal risk of hurting myself. I say all this in the context of having broke my back over ten years ago and being very clued-in to looking after it. And the truth is, this past year generally, I haven’t been looking after it. Consequently, I have some constraints at the moment.

Initially, I wanted to be critical of my self for a whole host of things – for not looking after my back generally, letting it get compressed after having done a lot of work in decompressing it in the years previous; for bowing out of aerial activities rather than pushing myself; for failing to meet the challenges before me. After giving it a lot of thought and landing on the perspective in the above story, I think that I am meeting the challenges before me – just not in the way I had anticipated I would. I decided simply to acknowledge this is where I’m at. As recently as January, I might have been inclined to get wrapped up in a whole cycle of blame and judgement, I’m not going there this time. I’m just choosing in this instance to opt out. I think I am probably making a good judgement call in not forcing myself to persist in doing aerial. 

Sometimes, though, I’m sure I do choose to walk away from something for other reasons. Out of fear, mainly. Or out of rooting myself in a story of “I can’t” when actually, I can. How do I know if that’s what I’m doing? Increasingly, I’m learning to connect more clearly with my internal wisdom and I follow that. Sometimes, perhaps, I can’t really know. Sometimes, perhaps, I will shrink away when I could actually stand up large. Whichever I do, I’m starting to think what’s important is awareness of what I’m doing and how I’m being. If I’d like to do differently, then I need to own up to the reality of what is and take responsibility to work on being different – coming from a more expanded consciousness in order to DO differently. 

All of that said, I’m also very conscious this week that so much of the angst that can arise in something like BUST is starting to seem trivial to me. Sure, it might be indicative in me and others of genuine stories and beliefs that hold us back from living our full potential. Busting out of these stories and beliefs is an important and essential part of self-evolution. Yet, the fact that I have time and space to put energy into contemplating at length something like do I do the aerial circus arts or don’t I – well, it makes me feel a little bit indulgent and silly, if I’m honest. 

Which, in a way, is linked to this theme of balancing and crossing fine lines. I’ve been fairly inward-focused in recent years. Some of it has been needed and constructive. Some of it has been at best navel-gazing and at worst narcissism (which doesn’t mean, by the way, spending time in the mirror admiring my own beauty. I’ll save the meaning of narcissism for another post).  Rather than focus on wrapping my own knuckles for being overly self-focused (which then simply becomes more self-focus!), I’m wanting to acknowledge that I’m itching to be much more out in the world in service to others. In fact, I’m aware that some of the inner-work actually requires me to be more active in the world around me – otherwise it is an excuse to be disconnected and self-centered.  

This week, BUST is reminding me that when I’m out in the world, knowing when to retreat to practice self-care is important. Caring for myself enables me to give more to others. Equally, stepping out into the world and standing firmly in my values in service to the collective is important. 

A balancing act. 

In what parts of your life – in the different communities you inhabit – do you sense that you are out of balance? 

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Ugly is a Ugly does….

We are into week three of BUST circus camp at Wise Fool NM. So much I can write about. What’s front of mind right now is the ways in which we can be so hard on ourselves. I’m thinking about how ugly it is. I’ve written about the ugly before, with The Ugly in Beauty. I’m paying a lot of attention to observing my fellow students. The other day someone was clearly struggling with an activity. I watched and listened to her agitation with herself. I remember thinking, “Wow. That’s really ugly.” I told myself, “There, that’s it. See, see what it looks like. Choose beauty.”

This might sound mean-spirited. But it isn’t. I watched my compañera and knew I was looking in the mirror. I did ELEVATE – the two week Wise Fool NM circus boot camp – in January.  At the time, I was very uncomfortable in my body. In the previous six months, I had put on a lot of weight (for me, anyway) and I was out of shape.

One objective of ELEVATE is to increase one’s fitness. I repeatedly criticized myself for things like having poor flexibility. When I did so, my fellow ELEVATORS (as it were) would encourage me to take a different perspective. They would tell me to focus on the fact that I was showing up and I was stepping in the direction of fitness. They encouraged me to give myself some credit for taking steps in a different direction.

I’m grateful for their encouragement.

Notwithstanding the ELEVATE experience, I’ve made some “I’m really frustrated with myself and my limits” comments during BUST. The other day, when I saw someone else doing this, I was jolted. I saw how ugly it is. The tone of voice, the look on her face, the visible tension in her body. I was watching someone expressing self-loathing rather than self-love. Not a pretty sight. I thought – geez, I don’t want to be that way. I don’t want to embed it into my self. What struck me even more, was the sense that I don’t want to send that ugliness out into the world.

I want to send beauty out to the world.  I want to send beauty in the world in order to play a nurturing role in the collective. Why use creativity (the ability or power to bring things into being) to give rise to ugliness? I say this and then I think “Whoaa, hang on!” I’m inclined to pause because I don’t want to be an advocate for turning love into a practice of sweet words and affirmations. Yes, they have a role to play in generating love and beauty.

At the same time, both love and beauty ask more of us. What I liked about the way fellow ELEVATORS responded to my ugliness – that is, the negative self-talk I was generating – is that they didn’t latch onto what I was saying one way or another. The didn’t try and cover up what I was thinking and feeling with sweet compliments. They didn’t say “no, no, no, you look great.” Nor did they try to reinforce my negativity. They didn’t say “Oh yeh, I know what you are saying” and then throw in their own version of ugliness.

They nudged me to respond lovingly to what I was feeling and experiencing in the moment – in all its ugliness. I’ve noticed this kind of response happening with our BUST women, too.

Again, I am grateful for it.

How conscious are you of the ways in which you create ugliness in thoughts, words and actions? When the ugliness bubbles up, what kind of reactions do you have that fuel it? What kind of responses could you have instead? What does it mean to you to give rise to beauty in your self and others? Image

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Roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour…

Yesterday we had a full group session of BUST. I started writing about BUST last week, with the post What Does it Take to Support it Each Other to Rise and Shine? Since then, I’ve experienced two beginners’ group training sessions on aerial fabric, trapeze, partner acrobatics and stilt walking. Yesterday we had a full group session working with physical theater. As people reflected on their first week of BUST, tears were shed. Everyone is on their own journey and some people are in one of those times in life when we feel we’re at sea in rather turbulent waters. Tears were shed while people talked about BUST as an anchor in the storm. At the same time that BUST is for many a bit of grounding in the chaos, I’m conscious that we are a community of people on a journey to creating a quality performance. Right now, it is a bit hard to imagine how it will all come together. 

Yesterday, for example, we had different stations for training in physical theater. We could learn and practice juggling, the hula hoop, the diablo and rola-bola. As with all the arts we are learning, we clearly have varying degrees of skill. I had a stab at rola-bola. It consists of a wooden plank and a sturdy plastic cylinder. They cylinder is on the floor and you place the plank on top of it, cylinder more or less in the middle of the plank. On the plank are places at each end to put your feet – points where there is a bit of gripping material. Your task is to do a balancing act on the plank. With slightly bent knees, arms out, back straight, you teeter-totter on this mini see-saw. Eventually, you might juggle while doing this balancing act. Or you might have someone stand on your shoulders. 

Me, I was just starting. I was happy to be able to weeble-wobble for a little bit. Eventually, I could sustain it for a respectable amount of time. Yet, I’m far from integrating my weeble-wobble into a peformance. At one point, I looked around the room and saw the mayhem of people practicing this and that, to varying levels of success. I said to Victoria, one of the teachers: “I’m curious to see how all this will unfold. I mean, the other day someone I know told me that when they came to BUST last year they were impressed by the quality of the performance. They had expected a roughly done variety show experience, but it was at a much higher level than that.” Victoria simply responded: “That’s the magic, the mystery.” 

Magic. Mystery. This morning, I’m thinking about BUST and our performance and I’m thinking about people on their ships in the turbulent waters. We’re all in the same boat, as it were. We don’t know, we can’t know. Life and theater are both like that, aren’t they? In BUST we are creating as we live, by stepping into chaos, mayhem, uncertainty and unknowing.

I touched on this subject in a recent post, The Mystery. Brilliant theatre performance arises out of mystery and magic. Performers understand this. In the world of social policy, I don’t think I ever talked with anyone about magic and mystery. We talked and gave a lot of time to planning. We set up projects by listing our outcomes. We must all know from our own lives about the inevitability of chaos, mayhem and uncertainty. Yet, we’ve created institutional cultures that seem geared towards keeping chaos out. We’ve created institutional cultures where chaos is bad, where “I don’t know” is not said and where we relish in having total control. 

As I think about it now, the word delusion comes to mind. 

At this stage, I’m understanding that BUST has two essential ingredients: (1) teachers and students use the question “What do we need to do in any given moment to bring out our best selves?” and (2) a tacit agreement that we will trust in, and hold a space for, the involvement of magic and mystery.

How does this compare and contrast to the ways in which we tend to work together to promote social justice?  Image

 

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