forest in France — photo by Luca Montanari
Go for long walks.
Indulge in hot baths.
Question your assumptions,
Be kind to yourself,
Live for the moment,
Loosen up, scream,
Curse the world,
Count your blessings,
Just let go. Just be.
— Carol Shields
For more than eight years now this blog has chronicled my discovery of, and attempts to articulate, how the world really works, and how we might find ways to live better. It’s mainly been written as a public diary of my personal journey of learning and self-discovery, and my search for what I’m meant to do, and how I’m meant to be of use to the world.
When I retired from paid work a year ago, I thought I knew what I would do with my time. I was wrong. Instead of giving back to the world, and working on the projects (like stopping the Alberta Tar Sands, and ending factory farming) I had intended to work on, I have spent most of the past year doing nothing, and wondering why. It is likely a combination of exhaustion, anxiety, inability to handle the sudden freedom, and bewilderment at having too many choices, and not enough.
So for the past six months I’ve been trying to follow a set of principles of personal awareness and behaviour. My hope is that, if I can learn to be truly myself, in the moment, aware and relaxed, I will best be able to see what is, and hence know what I should do, both in the moment, every moment, and intentionally over the longer term.
Those principles are:
- [In relationship to self]: To self-accept and self-manage, and let go of stories. I have been trying to understand myself better, and not try to change or “improve” myself. I now accept that I am most “myself” in warm, beautiful places, and when I am in love. I accept that I handle stress badly, and that I cannot hope to avoid stress in my life, so I need to be aware of it, and of whatever I’m feeling and thinking, and assess and cope with it appropriately. And I have been working to let go of the stories I’ve come to believe about Gaia’s dying, about (what I perceive as) people’s cruel and stupid behaviours and beliefs and unreasonable expectations, about what I imagine will happen if my worst fears are realized, and about my own perceived “failings”.
- [In relationship to others]: To be generous and appreciative. I have been trying to help others, to give, to share, to be open, to see the best in people and situations, to be thankful, and to help radically imagine and generate new things and ideas and possibilities.
- [In relationship to Earth]: To live naturally and presently. I have been trying to reconnect with my senses, my emotions, and with all-life-on-Earth, to trust my instincts, to value my time and enjoy its passage, to live sufficiently and sustainably and resiliently and not fearfully, and to learn to be more present in the moment.
I am told I have been modestly successful in doing these things recently, largely, I suspect, because they don’t require me to be anything other than who I am or do anything I am not inclined to do anyway.
Yet I have a long way to go. I’m not a patient person. I keep making the same mistakes, of unawareness and insensitivity, of inarticulateness, of inattention, of inappropriate reaction, of mismanagement of my time. I’m behind in my blogging and in my project work, and haven’t allowed enough time for reflection and creative writing. I have tried and pretended to be somebody else for so long it’s infuriatingly difficult to just be myself, to just be. I can’t “just be” until I have a good sense of who I really am, under all the “not-me” gunk that has become, over the years, attached to me.
So now I’m forgiving myself. I’m doing the best that I can. The work of saving the world, or my tiny portion of it at least, will inevitably go better when I’m present and ready for it, and when I know at least a bit better what “it” is.
What might “it” be? Damned if I know. I’ve decided to let go of presupposing to know what I’m intended to do to be of use to the world. I have some thoughts, but my sense is that if these things were really my intended purpose I would already be pursuing them, relentlessly. Here are a few things that might be my intended purpose, and why they might not:
- Writing a collection of poetry and songs, or a film. But isn’t this just a self-indulgence? What are the chances my work will be good enough, and sufficiently recognized as such, to make a real difference?
- Developing a series of games that are collaborative instead of competitive, consensual instead of violent, clever instead of derivative, experiential and immersive instead of pedagogical, that could improve how we learn about ecological, social and other complex systems. Such games could allow us to learn more powerfully and enjoyably about transition, about effective facilitation, about living in community, or even about ourselves (I’ll be writing soon about a project I’m working on to create a metaphoric “letting go” experience in Second Life.) Such games might even enable us to shift our perception in important ways that traditional learning tools (courses, books) can’t do. Imagine for example if we could, by entering into a simulated world that has no “clock time” but operates in the “Now time” of wild creatures, completely change our sense of time and free ourselves from its control over our lives, and its constraints? All interesting ideas, but would our dumbed-down, incurious, complexity-loathing culture ever accept such an innovation? And can we really be radical and bold enough in what we imagine to deliver on such a promise anyway?
I believe that my ability to write and to imagine possibilities are my gifts to the world, the things I do uniquely well. Perhaps my way of being of use to the world involves applying both gifts in ways that no one has ever done quite the same way before. Perhaps instead of writing words I’m meant to write musical notes, or images, or scripts of one sort or another, or some new construct for communicating meaning and for imagining that hasn’t even been invented yet.
I believe the key to resilience in the coming decades will be our ability, in the moment, to imagine ways around the crises we cannot prevent, predict or plan for. Maybe I can help with that.
I am hopeful enough these days to believe I could yet become the existential creature I once aspired to be: just “the space through which stuff passes, touching the right stuff in just the right way as it passes through.”
But I think I must start with the work of self-knowledge and self-acceptance, generosity and appreciation and imagination, living naturally and presently. That’s the road I am, at last, falteringly, taking.
PS: Last month my friend Joe Bageant died. I had the privilege of visiting Joe in his tiny writing studio in Hopkins Village, Belize. Joe taught me the importance of understanding why things (and people) are the way they are, before we begin any work to try to change them. And he taught me that community is born of necessity, so, while we might imagine it, we cannot hope to build a sustainable community-based society until the fall of our globalized industrial society is well-advanced. Damn. We will miss you, Joe.