Belonging as an Ecosystem

Belonging as an Ecosystem

I believe a huge part of our collective feeling of emptiness comes from living in a self-centred phase of our evolution as a species, where everything begins with I. I want this object, I want to succeed. I want to improve myself. Even: I want to belong. Artwork by Max Reed But true belonging depends upon our reciprocity with the environment in which we are embedded, and unto which we are indebted. In the same way that mitochondria work to break down nutrients and turn it into energy for our bodies, we too are but a single component of a greater biosphere that sees no hierarchy between ferns and redwoods, worms and eagles. If we imagine an invisible mycelial network under the visible surface of things, of which we are but fruiting bodies, then we see how our lives should be in service to feeding the whole forest together. Our negligence of that reciprocity is, more than any other factor, what fosters unbelonging. It is at the root of loneliness, because without the greater intelligence of the mission coursing through our veins, making our purpose meaningful, we are but isolated bodies going through empty motions. This is why people who experience tremendous success can still feel...
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Your Vibratory Signature

Your Vibratory Signature

Artwork by Emily Howard There is an energetic stamp or vibratory signature behind every act of creation. Though difficult to perceive, it is like the wind blowing through a valley, touching everything we do. Although we create in a multitude of ways, it is what’s felt first by others. My partner Craig is a master flute maker, and though his creations are incredibly beautiful to listen to and behold, people often receive one of his flutes and are struck by the instrument’s kindness. Because of the man he is, committed to a life of heart, every simple thing he creates and attends to carries this signature of warmth. Inasmuch as we are searching for our purpose and occupation in the world, the more salient pursuit is in the who we are becoming. It is the vibratory signature behind our enterprise that has the most impact. So the real art form is a kind of open question to the needs of the larger Self: How can I serve you? Do you feel understood? Where is your rapture? What are the conditions necessary for your expression and well-being? Though we may think of questions like this as self-absorbed, they are actually what lead us to our greater nature that is in service to the broader...
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Bearing the Pleasure

Bearing the Pleasure

Yellow Matisse Cut-out Nude Our capacity for embodied pleasure depends on our ability to receive, which is like a muscle that can atrophy if it’s been habitually contracted. A learned sense of unworthiness can act as a barrier against our well-being, keeping us from opening to the beauty that’s all around us. Whether it’s our ability to receive positive feedback and support, or to expect things to work out in our favour, we may be distrustful of goodness even when it stands on our doorstep. But this doesn’t have to be a permanent condition. With practice, we can learn how to welcome beauty and receive pleasure wholeheartedly. With the expanded capacity to receive comes the awareness of how long one has lived constricted. How long one has felt unseen. How long one has hidden their tender parts away from hostility and invalidation. Imagine the enormity of grief and gratitude that flow in simultaneously, stretching the receiving muscle. As the poet Nikki Giovanni says, “We must learn to bear the pleasures as we have borne the pains.” Bearing the pleasure means beginning to invite a gentle exploration of love into those jumpy places that anticipate pain, expect abandonment, and...
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Belonging to Your Place

Belonging to Your Place

Artwork by Cathy McClelland To belong to a place is to be embedded in it. Its struggles are your contentions, its harvests your wealth, its needs your purpose. Your place’s history is the story of your own becoming. If the cloud gods move in, your own mood is grey. If the year suffers with drought, you feel the desperation of thirst in your own skin. There is no separation from the place where we live, except for the one made by our own forgetting. It’s said that after arriving in a new place, we will have replaced the entirety of the water in our bodies with that of the local watershed in just a few days. Though these adaptations happen at a biological level, we are vastly unconscious of the implications a place has on our psyche. Just as humans carry an energetic signature, so too do geographies. However, like fish swimming in water, we are rarely aware of what energy a place holds until we leave it, or return to it after time away. I remember a number of years ago travelling from the city where I’d been living for fifteen years to spend time with friends in the country. It was a very heart-opening visit, which must have contributed to my porousness upon returning, because I...
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Pain: The Unwelcome Guest

Pain: The Unwelcome Guest

Artwork by Edel Rodriguez The great Sufi poet Rumi teaches, “This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes As an unexpected visitor.” But of all the visitors who arrive unbidden on our doorstep, pain is perhaps the least welcome. It can show up suddenly, debilitating us physically as well as energetically, sapping our ability to attend to anything else—and it can be dogged in its determination to never leave. For the person in pain, there is nothing more immediate. Pain can feel malevolent as it holds you hostage. In extreme cases, like the biblical suffering of Job, a person can even feel tortured by some punishing upper hand. Many will counsel you that there is a reason for your pain and that if you could only heal your underlying emotional wounds, pain would leave you alone. But the body is not an abstraction, and pain laughs at the over-simplicity of this way of thinking. The body is the first gate of belonging. And though so many people struggle to feel at home in their own bodies, I am amazed at how rarely it is mentioned in the many conversations I have on belonging with others....
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The Black Sheep Gospel

The Black Sheep Gospel

1. Give up your vows of silence which only serve to protect the old and the stale. 2. Unwind your vigilance, soften your belly, open your jaw and speak the truth you long to hear. 3. Be the champion of your right to be here. 4. Know that it is you who must first accept your rejected qualities, adopting them with the totality of your love and commitment. Aspire to let them never feel outside of love again. 5. Venerate your too-muchness with an ever-renewing vow to become increasingly weird and eccentric. 6. Send out your signals of originality with frequency and constancy, honouring whatever small trickle of response you may get until it becomes a momentum. 7. Notice your helpers and not your unbelievers. 8. Remember that your offering needs no explanation. It is its own explanation. 9. Go it alone until you are alone with others. Support each other without hesitation. 10. Become a crack in the network that undermines the great towers of Establishment. 11. Make your life a wayfinding, proof that we can live outside the usual grooves. 12. Brag about your escape. 13. Send your missives into the network to be reproduced. Let your symbols be adopted and adapted and transmitted broadly...
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Grief is Healing in Motion

Grief is Healing in Motion

Grief is the response to a broken bond of belonging. Whether through the loss of a loved one, a way of life, or a cherished community, grief is the reaction to being torn from what you love. As Martín Prechtel teaches, the words for grief and praise are the same in the Tz’utujil language because you can only grieve what you have dearly loved. We grieve the loves we’ve lost. We grieve our abilities vanishing through illness or age. We grieve the loss of faith in our religion. We grieve our children leaving home. We grieve the paths we didn’t walk. We grieve the family we never had. We grieve the suffering of the planet. But while grief may look like an expression of pain that serves no purpose, it is actually the soul’s acknowledgment of what we value. Grief is the honour we pay to that which is dear to us. And it is only through the connection to what we cherish that we can know how to move forward. In this way, grief is motion. Artwork by Inhyuk Jo Yet in our culture, we are deeply unskilled with grief. We hold it at a distance as best we can, both in ourselves and in each other, treating it as, Joanna Macy says, like “an enemy of cheerfulness.” There is unspoken shame...
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An Invitational Presence

An Invitational Presence

We spend so much time worrying about how to approach our future that we rarely consider how approachable we might be. We armour ourselves with savvy, strength, and certification so that when our moment arrives we feel sufficiently prepared. But with our shoulder always to the wheel of life, we can miss the very encounter we’ve been preparing for.  To be approachable to life, to each other, and to mystery, we have to cultivate an inner hospitality. Like the host who prepares an extra helping of food, a fire in the hearth, and a seat at the table even when guests aren’t expected, belonging always begins with an invitation. Artwork by Brunna Mancuso When a person extends an invitation to us, we immediately feel welcomed into their world. In fact, much of the loneliness people feel is the result of not being invited. It seems our culture has lost the skillfulness of hospitality.  Whether we are looking to create closeness with others, with nature, or with the living mystery, an invitational presence is the prerequisite to any form of intimacy. Like the physical flinging open of our doors to guests, we can cultivate a quality of hospitality in our presence which signals to...
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Your Creative Origins

Your Creative Origins

Creativity is one of those intimidating words, like artist, musician, writer, and so on, which has been co-opted to mean something rarefied and unreachable. We think of ourselves as being ‘a creative type’ or not, as if it were a quality bestowed on the chosen few. But if we take the word back to its true origins, we find the root “crescere,” a word which means to come forth, spring up, grow, thrive, swell. Like the crescent moon, creativity is the living impulse in each of us which continually begins again. Artwork by Tetsuhiro Wakabayashi Whether we are inventing a new recipe, combining outfits, or simply looking at things in a new way, we are compelled to recreate our world again and again. When things get too stagnant or comfortable, we begin to feel restless and wild. Our vitality is inextricably bound up with creativity. The instinct to create is what keeps life pulsing through our veins. Like Kahlil Gibran writes about trees in an orchard, “They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish. As children, these impulses are strong and intrinsic. We leap wholeheartedly into what amazes us, and disagree loudly with anything we don’t like! We can also spend hours lost...
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The Wilderness Within

The Wilderness Within

There is a wilderness in every person. A way of walking, a set of spots, an inclination, a blinking impulse that silently draws us forward. Like an elephant finding water in a desert it has never travelled, or a bird coming to fly with brand new wings, we all have this instinctual capacity. It is the animal in us that knows what it knows, and it’s the origin from which all creativity is expressed. Artwork by Dai Ruiz Instinct is the part of us, as in all animals, that knows without thinking what and when to do something, how to respond, which way to go. Like the salmon that swims its way across hundreds of river miles to its birthplace, we too have inborn impulses that don’t require thinking to get us there. Instinct is our “right responsiveness’ guiding us towards our yesses, and away from our noes. It is through this instinctual nature that our soul’s medicine for the world flows. For many of us, however, this wilderness within has been so domesticated and harnessed for its resources that we barely recognize its call. But just as a plot of land can be rewilded by a kind of leaving it alone, so too can we rewild our psyches by ceasing “self-development” and...
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Conscious Eldering

Conscious Eldering

One of the worst griefs people feel is the longing for elders in their lives. How many times do we find ourselves in conflict, fear, or despair and wish we could receive guidance from someone who knows better? There is no shortage of older people in our communities, but what differentiates an elder from an older is not just age, but the wisdom they carry and the position they hold in their community. Among other qualities, an elder is someone who is committed to staying put, who has lived into the competencies of belonging and made an invitation of their lives to the young ones growing up around them. Less interested in the ambitions we associate with the first half of life, elders value inner development. They are curious about others, generous with their listening, and invested in helping young people stay on course to reach their potential. Artwork by Miles Toland But an elder can only exist within a community that values them. Elders need youngers in order to fulfill their purpose. If we deprive elders of our admiration, hiding them away in old folks’ homes, we are in part responsible for their absence in our lives. Without the presence of elders in our becoming, we can...
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Your Rebellion is Necessary

Your Rebellion is Necessary

The pathologizing of rebellion in teenagers is one of the great harms we inflict upon our children. As the future shapers of our culture, there is a reason why so many cultures perform ritual initiations into adulthood. Rebellion, if given proper reverence, is the necessary confrontation with society that ensures our sustainability. Just as any relationship must allow for the tension of conflict to deepen our intimacy, so must our young people be invited to contribute their disagreements to our shared aliveness. Artwork by Valistika Studio This is the threshold in a young person’s life when the dynamic between elders and youngers reverses. No longer is the old one in the position to teach, but now must become the listener. After all these elders have imparted, personally and vicariously through culture, they now have the chance at hearing from the young ones how they’ve been doing. It is here that the ache and rage of unbelonging is most needed. In the young person’s disagreements and willingness to talk back to injustice, a wild storehouse of creative energy lives and thrives. While other cultures treat this transition with enormous significance, we make a tragic mess of it,...
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Beauty-making as Medicine

Beauty-making as Medicine

There is really only one way to restore a world that is dying and in disrepair: to make beauty where ugliness has set in. By beauty, I don’t mean a superficial attractiveness, though the word is commonly used in this way. Beauty is a loveliness admired in its entirety, not just at face value. The beauty I’m referring to is metabolized grief. It includes brokenness and fallibility, and in so doing, conveys for us something deliciously real. Like kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, what is normally seen as a fatal flaw is distinguished with value. When we come into contact with this kind of beauty, it serves as a medicine for the brokenness in ourselves, which then gives us the courage to live in greater intimacy with the world’s wounds. To become a fully fledged member of the ecosphere, each of us must find a way to make a contribution of beauty medicine to the world. Most of us don’t think of our gifts as contributions, though they are clearly called ‘gifts’ for a reason, but this may be because they’ve never been properly received. I’ve heard it said that home is the place where your gifts are received. Indeed, for those who have never...
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Ancestral Longing

Ancestral Longing

It’s a fundamental mistake to believe that unbelonging begins with the self, because although we are stewards of this perpetual missing, it did not begin with us. Our first experience of unbelonging is like a pattern in our substrate which, like rocks in the soil, causes everything to grow awkwardly around it. Tracing our longing back to its origins, reconciling it to its history, is an important step to healing belonging forward. This missing has been passed on, gaining in momentum through the generations, starting with an actual exile of your people’s people. Perhaps when your village was made to flee from the humble patch of land to which they were promised, separated from the faces that looked like their own, distanced from the secret ways in which they attuned to and praised beauty. Maybe they were once a people made proud by their numbers and shared identity, a compendium of songs and myth and an unrequited debt—the cherished kind—which kept them bound to the holy, which showed them how to walk on the earth knowing their magnificence. Perhaps your people were broken apart by the betrayal of your own brothers and sisters, your elegant compendium suddenly and irreparably...
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Getting Closure from a Ghost

Getting Closure from a Ghost

Artwork by Owen Gent Closure normally requires two or more people coming together to consider each other’s points of view and come to a consensual agreement for how to move forward, together or separately. But if one or more people are unwilling or unable to undergo this ritual, we can be left with a lack of closure. When someone has ghosted on a conversation, commitment or conflict, it’s important to realize this as an act of indifference that counters belonging. Ghosting is all we believe we owe to a world on which we don’t feel we’ve made an impact. In a sense, it is to make yourself a ghost in your own life, dissociating from the importance of your presence in others’ lives. It is to withhold your disagreements, your longing to be seen, and to make yourself and others around you disposable. Unless someone is willing to hold you accountable, and be accountable themselves, they can never take a seat at the table of belonging. We need to show each other that love is worth wrestling for, braving ourselves into the fires of intimacy. We are not expendable. And we shall know each other every time we show up for conflict, hurt, and confusion. If you have invited such a...
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Circular Leadership

Circular Leadership

Leadership is essential to community, but in the reciprocal model, this role can rotate between members, depending on the needs of the group. Unlike the way we normally think of leadership, as one person telling others what to do, reciprocal leadership is about engaging everyone to find the way forward. It is spherical in nature, rather than hierarchical. In this way of seeing things, a great leader is an expression of their collective, not its star. If done well a leader should oversee, guide, and represent the collective vision. But the right person for that role might also change as the group needs change. At times, we may need a confident and outspoken leader to power us through a tangled passage, but other times we need the leader who quietly sees the network of connections within the whole. Sometimes we need a leader who hangs back so another may practice at stepping forward, challenging us to been better than we think possible. Reciprocal leadership ultimately recognizes the circle itself as the teacher.   There is a genius that can only be found in our coming together, and it’s our combined abilities that elevate and strenghten us. True humility doesn’t mean...
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Your Rhythm is your Legacy

Your Rhythm is your Legacy

Painting by Aleksander Lindeberg I wanted to share this glorious teaching I came across recently from professor Patricia Arah Ann Taylor, in “Seeing in the Dark.” In her essay, she traces back the origin of the word enough, to the German & Sanskrit ge’noh, meaning “together reaching.” Rather than thinking of enoughness as something we have to attain, Taylor invites us to think of it as a reaching together with our soul. In a series of imaginal dialogues, Taylor responds to a young department supervisor who’s been critical of her organisational habits. In a powerful and poetic voice, she explains how her internal rhythm is her legacy. How generations of women before her had liberated themselves from slavery, communed with nature, and become educators for the orphaned and excluded. How their rhythms were the legacy they’d earned. And how that legacy required her to be a compassioned advocate for herself, and others, before taking any commands from calendars and clocks. I leave you with a brief meditation below in the hopes that it inspires you to command respect for the legacy of your own inclinations. Full moon love, Toko-pa Enough is...
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Embodying Ambiguity

Embodying Ambiguity

The initiated adult is one who learns to withstand uncertainty, embody ambiguity, and straddle paradox. In dreamwork, the ability to hold the tension of the opposites is essential. We let contradictions have out their mythical argument until paradox can be held—until harmony can be struck. Until a creative third solution has a chance at appearing. But modernity is infatuated with binary thinking: we erect and uphold opposition in politics, religion, race, gender, and perhaps most insidiously, in education itself. We begin to educate our young people in the ways of exclusion from the outset, by teaching subjects as separate from each other with an emphasis on categorization. This is a quiet, insidious form of Othering that breeds in our mental processes. We teach that whatever category we are inside, it is different, and often superior, to those outside of us. Our entire socio-economic system of power relies on this kind of factional thinking. Imagine an education system that does not treat subjects as separate but as belonging to each other. Contextualizing a topic within the greater whole creates a ‘point of entry’ for every type of learner. For example, in the reading of a...
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Embodiment is the new Enlightenment

Embodiment is the new Enlightenment

Much has been written about the art of mindfulness, especially focusing on how to create wiggle-room between an event and our reaction to it. We are asked to consider: Who is the “I” that experiences the event? And can we find the inner witness who sees oneself experiencing? All of this valid, important work takes us deeper into the seat of this “silent witness” so that we’ll be less governed by the unpredictable ebbs and swells of the emotional life. It can be a tremendous tool for moving through difficult passages with equanimity. But more often than not, I see this practice creating a kind of dissociation or detachment from the feeling life. Especially in folks who haven’t done the hard and dirty work of integrating their shadow, meditation can be used like any other form of escapism, to circumvent the true encounter with our less-than-desirable inner (and outer) guests. The result of this brand of presence often creates the opposite of what it intends. Rather than fostering the oneness it exalts, it feeds the very separation we are trying to heal by creating an image of spirituality that is unattainable. The focus on enlightenment rather...
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2017 Women’s Retreat in Photos

2017 Women’s Retreat in Photos

“Tucked inside the hills and valleys of that wooded fairytale island was a different way of life, and at night, the trees whispered words from the fairy godmothers, enticing me to stay. Our journey brought me into dark spaces through the wilderness that surround me, but I was held and protected by the council of women I joined there. About 20 of us gathered at a beautiful farm, sharing food and dreams and the desire for connecting to something more meaningful than what most of us found at home in our busy lives. As powerful dream symbols reverberated among us throughout the weekend, I was reminded that our humanity is found in community, in reciprocity, and in remembering that we are not alone. The grief of our separateness was healed through our mutual witnessing, and in our willingness to receive as much as we tend to give. My time away sung my soul back to life, and I was amazed with my changing reflection in the mirror each night. Stress, anxiety, and the need for constant doing melted away, leaving nothing but beauty in its place. As I continue to integrate what was discovered on that island into my city life, I’m graced with the imprint that remains. Burning...
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