What would happen if everyone decided to stop working and started taking care of themselves?
Well, the banks wouldn’t work. There would probably be no electricity. Nobody would bother taking oil out of the ground, so fossil fuel extraction and use would come to a halt. People would sit and eat by candlelight. Some would fast – accidentally, of course – and discover the serenity and spirituality of releasing excess. There would be nothing to do, nothing that had to be done, except walks in the sunshine, sleeping, spending time with family, writing, drawing, making love, meditating and reading.
Eye bags would become a thing of the past. Government would become a thing of the past. Obesity and chronic disease would become a thing of the past. We would congregate in local groups; communities would take care of themselves and everyone would be nourished by the bioregion. We would take up gardening again – not ornamentals, but edibles. Flights would halt and a brave few would rediscover the indigenous wisdom of the ancients and sail the seas again. We would bike more, hike more, forage more. We would learn what the native, edible plants and mushrooms and animals of our areas are.
Taking care of ourselves would become our new, full-time job.
I imagine, too, that the internet would become a thing of the past. Or who knows, maybe AI will automate it. But let’s imagine communication technology also dies down, because all of the human infrastructure supporting it are now…enjoying the sunshine and playing with their puppies. No more spending hours scrolling through website after website. No more emails. No more Youtube. We might look at the stars at night again. We might remember to connect with our creativity and make music ourselves. Who knows – maybe not staring into a screen every night will re-adjust our sleep cycle and circadian rhythm, allow us to sleep when its dark and wake up feeling superhuman. We would have endless energy – we wouldn’t know what to do with it all. We might realise that everything we had considered ‘reality’ on the internet and television was just a pale imitation of the real thing, that even the best HD videos couldn’t capture the visceral, messy reality of life.
Gone would be an endless need to acquire. More information. More likes. More money. More vacations. All of life would become a big vacation. Would people specialise and trade? Probably. But not “working” at it. There would be something more adaptive, more fluid about it. Doing the same thing over and over for trade would give way to spontaneous emergence and ‘generalist specialists’ – people who had the capacity to do anything they put themselves to, simply because they have learnt how to learn. Play, love, laughter and lightness would become the norm. We wouldn’t slave away doing the same repetitive tasks everyday because self-care would become the number one priority. Even the obsessive clockmaker or photographer would put their feet up to rest, listen keenly to their needs and be ready to change course when called.
Since everyone would live in more localised communities, it would become clear that taking care of ourselves and taking care of our immediate surroundings and fellow humans were synonymous. We would realise that our present and future survival depended on the health of our local stream, forest or grassland, so we couldn’t help but rehabilitate it until it was thriving. Since we would spend hours hiking and foraging in the wilderness anyway, we would develop an irresistible attachment to it. We wouldn’t be able to help but take care of it. John Seed’s suggestion to move from ecological ideas to ecological identity would come naturally.
‘Within the context of deep ecology, the view that values are inherent in all of living nature is based on the spiritual experience that nature and the self are one. This expansion of the self all the way to the identification with nature is the proper grounding of ecological ethics, as Arne Naess clearly recognized:
‘Care flows naturally if the “self” is widened and deepened so that protection of free Nature is felt and conceived as protection of ourselves . . . Just as we need no morals to make us breathe . . . [so] if your “self” in the wide sense embraces another being, you need no moral exhortation to show care . . . You care for yourself without feeling any moral pressure to do it.’
(quoted by Fox, 1990, p. 217)
Gone would be school, jobs and institutionalised oppression. Self-care – as people would fast discover – would involve having a wide emotional vocabulary and being proficient in skills such as non-violent communication and re-evaluation counseling. And, best of all, we would have the luxury of the time and space to unlearn a history of bias, discrimination, stereotyping and violence embedded in the collective consciousness. It would become impossible to hold such conditioning, since doing so would mean being out of sync with our own healing and our quality of connection with ourselves and our loved ones. Conflict wouldn’t end, necessarily, but its scale would be smaller – internal conflict, conflict with our friends and loved ones, with our neighbours – and we would all have the tools to deal with it because we had spent hours learning how to be emotionally sensitive and intelligent beings again. Wars would cease.
Healthcare would evolve. With more people spending more time outdoors boosting Vitamin D and immunity to epic proportions, making luxurious lunches, drinking water, fasting, sleeping soundly, chronic disease could all but disappear. Gone would be the need for pharmaceuticals and operations that address chronic illness – it would simply not exist. Our medicine cabinets would be in the fields, in the water and in the light; in healing, loving relationships and practices that cultivate mindfulness. People would be released from the stress of work and the tyranny of debt and not-enoughness. We would wonder what we were doing locked up in offices in front of desks and screens for all those hours every week. Perhaps for acute trauma and accidents, there would still be those few who knew how to fix a bone or deliver a child.
We might realise how precious life is, when we actually have the time to bear witness to its endless comings and goings on a daily basis – a hawk dying on our prairie, tending to the dying grandmother rather than putting her in a rest home, the effort in planting a tree from seed and watching it grow. We might recognise both the beauty and the total fragility of life, and allow ourselves to be vulnerable on a daily basis. We might play a song and bawl our eyes out because it’s the most evocative thing we have heard. We might be moved to tears by a cloud formation, a spider web or the sight of earth teeming with worms and beetles at last. We might tell one another how we really feel and take off the masks and walls we have created in order to protect the illusion of separation, hierarchy and control that “work” is currently built on.
We might stop trying to control everything. We might actually listen. We might let go and be present and let come. We might discover that we can communicate in ways other than ICT. That the shamans already had – and still have – ways of calling across distance, courageous dreaming, speaking with spirits, projection and metamorphosis, energy work. Perhaps if we had the time and space to hone these skills, we would all learn to be energy healers also, healing ourselves and the planet even more.
Of course, such a transformation would not be without its inequities. Those in the Third World often bear the brunt of environmental injustice through loss of precious resources and materials, total disruption to environments, and environmental ‘bads’ such as waste traditionally flowing from the Global North to the Global South. So not everyone would start this Great Self-Care Experiment on an equal footing, with equal access to resources necessary for basic survival. Not everyone has access to clean drinking water already, or even has a roof over their heads as they sleep. What would happen to these people? They would have only their immediate brothers and sisters, initially. Then the brothers and sisters a little further away. Then, as the radical young sailors trying to learn the constellations landed, they would have more brothers and sisters still. Energy healers from afar would hear the ‘sounds of the Earth crying’ and help heal distorted landscapes from a distance. If the concept of money disappeared…would the concept of poverty disappear? Perhaps there would be local currencies. Perhaps these humans, also released from the tyranny of slave labour, would also have the time and luxury to focus on making their landscapes thriving again, so that they could, in time, seek food and shelter from them also.
But it’s clear, regardless, that such a transition would not be without its teething problems.
Even in the so-called ‘First World,’ there would be an awkward, adolescent phase as humanity jumps from egocentric to eco-centric life. We would have a dearth of seeds. What would we eat, in the beginning? The soils would be poor. They would need a few years to regenerate them. It would take time to disseminate local and traditional knowledge, so initially, not everyone would know how to dig a compost toilet, build an earth house or a solar cooker. Perhaps people would starve…or perhaps they would enter nutritional ketosis. Either way, there are lessons to be learnt there, too. Shared experience is the beginning of empathy. The longest recorded time for a water fast is, after all, is when a 456 pound male shrunk to 180 pounds over 382 days…and felt absolutely fine.
A total focus on self-care would not result in ‘chaos,’ as some might fear. It would result in what my second mother Baksho calls ‘divine order.’ Divine, not because there is a God involved necessarily, but because what self-care grants us is luxurious, sublime and near spiritual. Rather than totalitarian order or a frantic effort to control all outcomes at all costs, on the one hand, and rather than a total go-with-the-flow non-action on the other, we would have a kind of emergent design, and deep action based on presencing. To provide for our basic life needs – and ensure there is plenty of time left for the higher needs – we would need some foresight and forethought, some listening to seasons and changes.
Image credit: Jennifer English Morgan, Gaia University, from Emergent Design – Finding the White Tiger.
We would, at the very least, be more connected to ourselves and what we value in life, what really matters.
This is in stark contrast to how most change-making efforts generally operate today, both on a political level and also in the NGO and social enterprise space. I have yet to meet anyone ‘successfully’ enacting change in this field who has stunning health, who rarely stresses and has the luxury of spending lots of time away from the computer. In a hyperactive world where ‘busy-ness’ is a status symbol, self-care is a radical act. Sarah Longbottom writes:
“I believe that truly, madly, deeply caring for yourself is a mark of human evolution; it is how we shed our skin to become refined and better versions of ourselves, and effectively contribute to the lives of others. For inclusive and transformative leaders, self-care is not something you do so you can keep on working. Self-care is the work. The love, kindness and compassion manifested in caring for yourself will permeate the chinks in the armour of the status quo, resulting in the true and sustainable change we seek.
“At a transformational level, the work of self-care must become more than something we ‘do’ to armour up and go back out into the battlefield to fight for what we believe in. It must be something we intentionally become so that the battlefield itself transforms. We can elevate the micro practices of self to a macro evolution of society by embodying self-care at an intrinsic level, being vigilant in following the breadcrumbs back to where the stories we tell ourselves are first written, and holding space for all others to do the same.”
Her words send shivers down my spine every time I read them.
Self-care would be a total act of resistance, not unlike Gandhi’s ‘peaceful protest’ invoking nothing more than prayer and fasting. In the documentary, Gandhi, he emphasises that this is not a passive way of changing the world. It’s an active way of being the change.
I am writing about this after three long months where I have been wholly dedicated to self-care perhaps for the first time in my life. I returned from South America, tired, inflamed, anxious. A tarantella of crazy jungle parasites had destroyed my gut, leading to diarrhea over a dozen times, my thyroid being out of whack, adrenals and insulin response messed up, and chronic fatigue that meant I slept for 14 hours a night, couldn’t walk up a hill with a small pack and feeling constantly anxious. The grain-and-sugar-and-potato-based diet at my volunteering sites hardly helped – only serving to compound the inflammation, feed the bad bacteria and lead to a cycle of weight gain, feeling out of control and shame.
It was funny, because, on all accounts, I was ‘living in paradise and eating like a king.’
I lived on $2-$3 a day, often in remote and breathtaking places. I had no worries. I had no emails. No stress. No exams. No assignments. No to-do lists – besides feeding chickens, watering the nursery, bagging mushrooms – physical things. I spent most of my time outside in the sunshine. I was in South America – home of superfoods such as cacao and noni and sacha inchi and chia seeds. I had the planet’s lungs at my fingertips and the world’s greatest outdoor medicine cabinet in the forests and mountains. I volunteered in exchange for food and a place to sleep. I was embodying a lot of self-care already.
But there were things outside my control. My father always says, “When you say you don’t have time for your health, life will make you sick and give you time for your health.” I was still running – running from one volunteer site to the next, from one country to the next when my visa ran out or civil strikes forced me to flee. I had a sense of failure, in that I wasn’t really learning what I had come here to learn: about permaculture and spirituality. I was go-go-go. Despite spending so little, I still worried about money. Fire energy, Mariana told me, needs to be balanced with water. To clear your field. To put out your fire, just for a few moments. Because right now, you are a big bonfire, like an antenna; you capture everything. And all kinds of cosmic crap – ‘entities’ – come and attach themselves to you – everything is drawn to the fire. A fire is big and warm and inviting. It’s also messy and big and chaotic. You need to sweep your chakras clear, and for that, you need water energy.
It’s true – I had not connected with water much in my trip. I had stopped taking showers more than once every few weeks and I didn’t bathe in rivers or waterfalls. It was an experiment, I reasoned with myself, in the first few weeks, or, my health is important and I don’t really want to catch a cold from ice-cold showers. But the truth was, that as my body changed from the vicious cycle of parasites / bacteria leading to weight gain and anxiety, I didn’t really want to face my body in the shower. That would be admitting the worst truth I could think of: that I had not been taking care of myself. That all the salads and broths and ferments I had made were for nothing, when I had already subconsciously become addicted to grains and starches.
People saw me as the ‘crazy Amazon jungle eco-warrior woman’ living a life that was free and pure and idyllic. They did not realise that I had gained my freedom and lost my health – and hence lost everything. They had no idea that I was struggling, everyday, just to make it through.
My social change work in the Amazon and Andes had become more important than self-care. My environmental work was more important than self-care. I had left behind one kind of madness – that of NGOs, youth organisations and social enterprises – for another, one in which my fundamental needs as a human being were still subordinate to something else. It didn’t matter that I was living in the Sacred Valley at the foot of a holy mountain or in the rainforest of northern Patagonia. I had lost touch with myself and it took so much grieving to understand that I was truly sick and tired of being sick and tired.
So I bought a ticket back to New Zealand. I abandoned my plans of sailing back from Panama to New Zealand, passing through the Galapagos, the Pacific Islands, and doing circus arts and learning permaculture along the way. I abandoned my dream of low-carbon travel and living my values through radical actions such as boycotting flights and hence fossil fuels.
I came home…and devoted myself to doing absolutely nothing.
This was hard. I came from a family where my parents always encouraged me to ‘get involved in lots of extracurriculars to have a good CV to get a scholarship for university’ and so on. When I realised how FUN I found those ‘extracurriculars’ – things like gymnastics, dance, singing, playing the piano and hiking – I kept doing them, not because they would be something nice to have on my CV but because they were the snippets of time in my jam-packed high school schedule that I could do ‘self-care.’ I studied tens subjects at Level Three NCEA – twice any other high school student – and aced them all. I worked hard. I worked hard at university too, doing everything at the same time, it seemed, and also somehow excelling.
I have little idea of what I learnt, back then.
I cannot remember much of calculus or statistics. It seems strange that something I spent so many hours studying (and loving) – even to university second-year level – is now but a distant memory. It seems strange that we teach our children to ‘do do do’ so much that they forget to be, forget to play, forget to listen to their bodies and their hearts and their souls, forget how to say, I’m tired, I’ve had enough, it’s sleep time now. And the greatest irony is that they not only forget self-care, but also – further down the line – forget the majority of the ‘stuff’ they were cramming into their heads in the first place.
So I have been home and I have been healing. Or was, anyway, until my old pattern of ‘doing doing doing’ suddenly took over about a month ago. I slept at 7pm – two hours after sunset – and woke up at 4am, which was a about two hours before sunrise. I used candles at night to adjust my circadian rhythm. I took a shit ton of supplements. I fermented my foods. I dedicated myself to doing nothing, so learnt to be fully present, and forgave my mother for much of the way I was brought up, and in doing so, released so much pain and sadness I had been carrying. I made broths and went to local markets and ate vegetables from our garden. I ate almost 100% organic, for the first time in my life. I read, jumped on the trampoline, walked daily, danced in ice-cold showers. For the first time, I was actually free. I felt superhuman.
It seemed like all the symptoms vanished within a week.
It took longer, of course. It’s always so much easier to destroy than heal. I got to the point where I would feel dissatisfied if I hadn’t moved for at least three and a half hours a day – that much “exercise” sounds crazy in a world where work rules life, but was nothing compared to hunter-gatherer or even general farm life. We are animals, and meant to move. I felt glorious.
I thought I could conquer anything.
And I lost it all.
I became obsessed with possibilities for the future, the constant question everyone asked me: what are you going to do next? I became the question. I worried that I was not following my vocation, yet had a crystal clear idea of what that was and what the looked like, and the first chance a shiny carrot was dangled in front of my nose to achieve it, I pounced.
It required money, of course. So then came the endless applications, rejection letters, interviews. Then came late nights and early mornings, and abandoning health, once again, in favour of money – in this case, to serve a greater social- or environmental good. Then came hours spent in front of a computer, staring at a computer screen. This is not what I wanted, a niggling voice at the back of my head kept saying, this is not who you are. This is not what makes you come alive.
The truth is, that I have never felt more alive than when I dedicated myself to doing nothing more than self-care.
There is a broader narrative here. That is the narrative of our failed social relationship with money and not-enoughness. That is the narrative of ‘if you can’t pay for it, it’s not worth anything.’ That is the narrative of ‘saving my health is for when I am really fucking sick – as soon as I get better, it’s back to work.’ That is the narrative of, ‘I’ll sleep when I die.’ It is the narrative of, ‘Be wiling to sacrifice relationships in the short term for long term financial success – especially your parents, because they don’t matter. They’ll always be there.’ It is the narrative of, ‘You need to have money to be independent and financial independence is more important than self-care.’
When we live individualistically, we have to do it all by ourselves. Ironically, it’s when the ‘global’ economy suddenly crumbles to an army of human beings engaged wholeheartedly in self-care, that we realise the ‘connectivity’ of globalisation didn’t mean much. It didn’t help us care for ourselves any better. We realise that it is precisely through engaging in something that seems so selfish as self-care that we rediscover community and interdependence – we realise that we cannot ‘go it alone.’
Self-care takes time. I am not much use to the planet or its people if I am not well. Being well – or wellbeing – is a fairly full-time job. I know – because it takes hours everyday. If I approach it with the same neoliberal capitalist mindset of ‘maximising efficiency,’ and see how much self-care I can get done in how short a period of time, I have missed the point. All resilient systems have built in redundancy, buffers. When people tell me that what I propose is an impossible way to live (three to four hours of walking and playing and moving a day? gardening? listening to your body in every moment? crying when it hurts? lying in the sun for hours? why take a twelve minute ice-cold shower when a four minute one does the job?), I point out that I have never felt better than when I have done this.
For young people who are just waking up to global issues, self-care is anathema. There is a constant race – a race to end poverty, a race to save the last white rhino, a race to get funds for your NGO before the next one does. Even social enterprise – which was supposed to offer a more balanced work-life blend, a more stable financial situation for social and environmental change agents – also often involves 6 hours or more a day staring at a computer screen under artificial lights and air con. We are all running. Time is what we are running against and money is what we are running towards.
The indigenous think this is hilarious. The quote below translate to: “How strange civilised people are. All of them have clocks but none of them have time.”
As I wrote in the Matrix, “When you’re in the game, it’s harder to question the game – hence harder to fight and harder to leave. When you’re out of the game, you look at everyone who’s playing and think, gee, how ludicrous it all is. I walked through university after finishing my degree, confused, thinking what are all these crazy people doing with their lives? Andrew Saul says, in the film FoodMatters, “The only way to win is not to play.””
But the finite games are enticing. They come with drama and suspense and uncertainty. Infinite games come with uncertainty too, but there isn’t a juicy reward at the end. There is an ecstatic, almost buoyant joy, but not the thrill of winning or the thrill of work – nor the anticipation, which, by all accounts, seems to matter much more than the working or the having.
There is the paradox that everybody recognises – the idea that we can ‘have it all’. For women, especially, there is a total paradox of expectations in finite games, and managing to miraculously somehow achieve all of them simultaneously would likely lead to sending self-care to hell in a handbasket. Brené Brown writes on the paradoxical expectations placed on women:
“Be perfect, but don’t make a fuss about it and don’t take time away from anything, lie your family or your partner or your work, to achieve your perfection. It you’re really good, perfection should be easy.
“Don’t upset anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings but say what’s on your mind.
“Dial the sexuality way up (after the kids are down, the dog is walked and the house is clean) but dial it way down at the PTO meeting.
“Just be yourself, but not if it means being shy or unsure. There’s nothing sexier than self confidence, especially if you’re young and smokin’ hot.
“Don’t make people feel uncomfortable, but be honest.
“Don’t get too emotional, but don’t be too detached either. Too emotional and you’re hysterical. To detached and you’re a coldhearted bitch.”
— Brené Brown, from pp 88-89 in Daring Greatly, “Understanding and Combating Shame”.
I used to find talk of self-care maddening. Whenever Rebecca Clark, a psychology teacher at school, would ask me how I was getting ‘me’ time and what I did to ‘recharge,’ I would list the choir and the piano and the dancing and the gymnastics and the reading and the writing. I was good at pretending I had it together. I was 15. My most usual response to the question how are you was, I am tired. I was constantly exhausted. I was one of the best students, but even I slept in class – literally.
Looking back, I think, perhaps, I reacted not to self-care, but to the marketing of self-care. Every man and his cat and dog and armchair were doing self-care. Everyone I knew seemed to be shouting about ‘me time’ and ‘saying no’ and ‘needs’ and ‘health comes first’ from the rooftops. Self-care was a concept and an abstraction: packaged, sold and ultimately discarded. Moreover, the almost military imposition of the concept of self-care became ‘just another way adults tried to control me, who I was and how I lived my life.’ The constant berating did not help. Instead, it left me dismissing the idea altogether and continuing to run through life as if that was the way it was supposed to be all along. I thought that if I could just run a bit faster, breathe more efficiently, buy better running shoes, pray for sunnier days…everything would be fine. I thought that not running was weakness. We equate ‘not running’ with lack of motivation, laziness, sloth, greed and selfishness, because ‘not running’ immediately becomes equated to ‘being a bum.’ Our greatest fear is the shame of being ‘on the dole’ or homelessness. We are terrified of being vulnerable, embracing nothingness, silence and the void. We think these things will leave us ultimately inadequate and unworthy of love, connection, belonging and acceptance.
Why are we running, anyway? Why is self-care so hard, especially when we are fighting to make the world a better place? Charles Eisenstein writes that hurrying itself may be part of the problem:
“After all, why is global warming happening? There are the proximate causes: the burning of fossil fuels, and the assault on the forests and biodiversity that maintain climate homeostasis. And why are these happening? It is all in the name of efficiency: labor efficiency (doing more work per unit of labor) and economic efficiency (maximizing the short-term return on capital). And efficiency is just another name for getting it done faster.
“One might wish to think that there is good hurrying (to save the planet) and bad hurrying (to use machines to get things done with less work), but maybe the underlying mindset behind both kinds of hurrying is the problem. This mindset is one of the habits of separation, the next theme of this book.
“There is a time to act, and a time to wait, to listen, to observe. Then understanding and clarity can grow. From understanding, action arises that is purposeful, firm, and powerful.”
“From what I’ve witnessed in the birth of my children, when the time comes to push, the urge to push is unstoppable. Here is the very epitome of urgency. Between contractions the mother rests. Can you imagine saying to her, “Don’t stop now! You have to make an effort. What happens if the urge doesn’t arise again? You can’t just push when you feel like it!”
“You can’t just do whatever you feel like.” “You can’t just do anything you want.” “You have to learn self-restraint.” “You’re only interested in gratifying your desires.” “You don’t care about anything but your own pleasure.” Can you hear the judgmentality in these admonitions? Can you see how they reproduce the mentality of domination that runs our civilization? Goodness comes through conquest. Health comes through conquering bacteria. Agriculture is improved by eliminating pests. Society is made safe by winning the war on crime. On my walk today, students accosted me, asking if I wanted to join the “fight” against pediatric cancer. There are so many fights, crusades, campaigns, so many calls to overcome the enemy by force. No wonder we apply the same strategy to ourselves. Thus it is that the inner devastation of the Western psyche matches exactly the outer devastation it has wreaked upon the planet. Wouldn’t you like to be part of a different kind of revolution?”
— Charles Eisenstein, Chapter 17 “Urgency” from The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible
So the use of urgency to solve global problems created by urgency (or rather, the scarcity mentality applied to time) is counter-intuitive and counter-productive. When the threat is clear and the action is obvious – such as a house being on fire – there is time to act in an instant. That is the time for urgency. You know what to do – grab the extinguisher, or drop and roll, or run in and get the children out. But, as Charles Eisenstein writes, what about when the cause of the threat is less clear and the ‘correct’ solution even less so? What then? Our Earth is our house, and it is on fire. Does anyone actually know with dead certainty what to do? Does scurrying and hurrying in the name of ‘fixing it’ help or does it perpetuate the Story of Separation?
“When we know the true cause of a problem and what to do about it, then everything the young man said is true. That is the time to act, and perhaps to act urgently. But when we haven’t penetrated to the true cause, or when we don’t know what to do, then it might be counterproductive to jump into action. The young man’s words might actually apply to himself: the appearance of frenetic action placates the conscience, creating the illusion that one is part of the solution, but are these actions doing any good? Imagine someone heroically waving a fire extinguisher at a giant inferno—maybe at such a moment words and not “actions” are the best action; maybe it is time to gather some help. And what if we don’t know what kind of fire it is? Electrical, grease, wood? And what if there are fires everywhere, some more advanced than others? And what if there are children in some of the houses? And what if three-quarters of the people don’t even believe that their houses are on fire? What if putting out the fire is hopeless, and it would be more useful to give it up and design better houses instead?
“Could it even be that our urgent scurrying to solve one problem after another is stoking the fire? Perhaps global warming is a symptomatic fever of our hurrying.”
— Charles Eisenstein, Chapter 17 “Urgency” from The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible
I stand in the space between stories. I stand in a world where I have noted, time and time again, that a total dedication to self-care brings about the most extraordinary quality of presence I have ever experienced. I am also deeply privileged, that my family supports me in such a space – for now, anyway. I stand on the brink of my dreams, looking out, wondering if I will ever manifest them in a way that continues to allow me this level of self-care and this quality of presence.
Nothingness is a beautiful place. Eisenstein goes on to say:
“Do not be afraid of the empty place. It is the source we must return to if we are to be free of the stories and habits that entrap us.
“If we are stuck and do not choose to visit the empty place, eventually we will end up there anyway. You may be familiar with this process on a personal level. The old world falls apart, but the new has not emerged. Everything that once seemed permanent and real is revealed as a kind of hallucination. You don’t know what to think, what to do; you don’t know what anything means anymore. The life trajectory you had plotted out seems absurd, and you can’t imagine another one. Everything is uncertain. Your time frame shrinks from years to this month, this week, today, maybe even to the present moment. Without the mirages of order that once seemed to protect you and filter reality, you feel naked and vulnerable, but also a kind of freedom. Possibilities that didn’t even exist in the old story lie before you, even if you have no idea how to get there. The challenge in our culture is to allow yourself to be in that space, to trust that the next story will emerge when the time in between has ended, and that you will recognize it. Our culture wants us to move on, to do. The old story we leave behind, which is usually part of the consensus Story of the People, releases us with great reluctance. So please, if you are in the sacred space between stories, allow yourself to be there. It is frightening to lose the old structures of security, but you will find that even as you might lose things that were unthinkable to lose, you will be okay. There is a kind of grace that protects us in the space between stories. It is not that you won’t lose your marriage, your money, your job, or your health. In fact, it is very likely that you will lose one of these things. It is that you will discover that even having lost that, you are still okay. You will find yourself in closer contact to something much more precious, something that fires cannot burn and thieves cannot steal, something that no one can take and cannot be lost. We might lose sight of it sometimes, but it is always there waiting for us. This is the resting place we return to when the old story falls apart. Clear of its fog, we can now receive a true vision of the next world, the next story, the next phase of life. From the marriage of this vision and this emptiness, a great power is born.”
— Charles Eisenstein, Chapter 20: “Nondoing” from The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible
Yet I am afraid. I have glimpsed the more beautiful world my heart knows is possible. I have felt it and lived it. I have been to places so abundant with life that I could imagine easily living in nature. I have felt the power of emptiness and the intensity of energy that comes with it.
I am afraid, because we are all in the space between stories. Some have realised. Some have not. Social change, for the most part, is a frantic circus – get more volunteers, get more money, make shit happen, please the donors, please the funders, show you’re doing stuff, constantly update Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the blog, the website, reply to emails, reply to texts, make videos, show you are doing stuff, take photographs, show you are doing stuff, write sponsorship applications, show you are doing stuff…
‘Creating a movement’ seems like too lofty a goal for my life’s purpose – or at least, a healthy manifestation of it. But that is the kind of vision that sponsors and funders demand, alongside the millions of ways that one must ‘prove’ they are ‘making impact.’ All of this sounds like work to me. Moreover, it sounds like hours in front of a computer screen. Not pursuing money and working off our backs alone, as volunteers, means someone else buys our food – unless we all happen to live on permaculture farms which give us enough time off to hitchhike to the towns we facilitate in and couchsurf – we dedicate our life and love full-time to what we do, and hope someone will ensure our basic needs for self-care are met along the way. It’s a tricky relationship. We pay it forward and someone pays it forward for us in return. Not everyone has that luxury. Nor does everyone wish to live semi-nomadically in their own country. Not everyone feels comfortable receiving.
I realise, also, there is a whole ‘Abundance’ movement. Lynne Twist’s Soul of Money comes to mind, as with the Abundance Code, and other programs that help people lose their ‘narratives around money,’ and embrace abundance in all its forms, and redefine “success” – not to exclude money, but to include it amongst various other aspects.
But this isn’t about narratives. It is about practicalities. I have, at best, just a few hours a day to spend on ‘something other than self-care’ and I would rather that be something that makes me come alive and serves my mission, than something that doesn’t. My gift to the world is facilitation, art, story, poetry, love. My gift is presence. My gift is tears. My gift is daring greatly. If those few precious hours could be spent in service of what truly brings me to life and serves those around me directly, that would be a miracle. I don’t want to spend hours in ‘administration’ or ‘marketing’ or ‘logistics’ or ‘fundraising’ or ‘sponsorship’ to make that happen. I have been there, done that, and realised it does not make me come alive. Instead, it drains me. It puts me back in the Story of Separation embodied by urgency and absence. Staring at a screen for hours makes me lose the quality of relationships I have with myself and with others around me, as well as my health and mental and emotional wellbeing. I am tired of campaigning. I am tired of hustling. I am tired of shouting from the rooftops. I am tired of living in a world where impact is another word for showing off and a necessary condition for money – or, in fancier terms, organisational sustainability.
I want my changemaking work to be spontaneous and emergent. I want to be able to say yes to opportunities as they arise. I want to be able to say no when all I feel like doing is reading Charles Eisenstein or Carolyn Baker and bursting into tears in my room. I want to be able to say yes when I am still and centred, and no when the garden needs my attention, when I’d rather rehearse performance poetry, when a mountain calls and I want to take off for a month in silence. I don’t want to lead anything. I want to seed it. I don’t want to manage. I just want to facilitate. Or perform. Without the hustle of looming deadlines, Excel documents, Loomio, Trello, Dropbox and Google Drive. But as long as I am caught between stories – in a place where money still exists, despite almost everyone realising how futile it is – I want to be able to buy glass jars when I need to. I want to be able to buy seeds, art supplies and travel to see those I love.
I want to be able to thrive – both in the space between worlds, and in the next one.