Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Envisioning What is Possible, Together

In 2004, I was invited to congratulate a class of community Fellows in the upper Northwest who were completing a local fellowship program that brought them together to explore the transformation of their community through collaboration and sharing of resources. This is what I wrote for them...

Fellows, Beloved Family Members, and Community Friends, a good evening to each of you as we gather here to celebrate these Fellows and their commitment to the community. One of my favorite songs by Sweet Honey in the Rock begins by saying…

If you want change in your life, walk into it. If you get on the other side, you will be different. If you want change in your life and you are avoiding the trouble, you can forget it. So as Harriet Tubman would say, “wade on in the water”.

Our dear Fellows have accepted Harriet’s invitation and have made it to the other side. They were different from the moment they chose to say “yes” and make the appropriate arrangements necessary to “wade into it”. For this alone, they deserve a heartfelt applause.

The imagery of wading in the water is powerful. We know that our bodies are made up of 95% water, suggesting that “wading in the water” is an invitation for us to be present. Present in our body, our mind, and our spirit. You may be asking, “What is the benefit of being “present”?” I can only answer from the experiences I have had with others when we have given each other, as That Nich Hahn says, the most precious gift---our presence. Though there are many gifts I experience in those moments, tonight I will name only three…

The first gift I experience is the incredible gift of relief---relief from realizing I am not alone. I am not alone in my daily struggles regarding the responsibilities I hold in my work, in my family, or in my community. Nor am I alone in the questions I have about the decisions I am trying to make in my life personally and professionally. The relief of knowing that I am not alone is enriched by the other person’s relief in knowing that they are also not alone. A reciprocal relief!

The second gift I experience is a deep sense of normality. In those moments I hear my self saying, “Oh, this is normal for me to be experiencing what ever the “issue or emotion” is at the moment.” At a deeper level, I know this “sense of normality” is really a profound awareness of being human. To discover and explore our humanness with another is a sometimes scary and fraught filled proposition. It means we might reveal the ego side that is not always becoming, or that we might expose our true intentions, which are different from how we have been presenting them, or that we might uncover what is truly holding us back from fulfilling why we are here on this earth. When one discovers their own humanness and can recognize this within another, especially one that does not look like them, it is a powerful and life-changing moment that leaves a deep impression.

The third gift is the gift of “deep knowing”. By deep knowing, I mean my intuition is very alert. I move from a place of confidence in making a decision and at a faster speed. My thoughts and actions are guided by the values I hold most dear – the unimportant thoughts fall away – and I am left with only what is vital; the essence of my being. In those moments, I work hard to be mindful of what is happening in my body so that I can create a physical memory that I can recall during those times when my “deep knowing” is needed to guide me.

I have a sense that you Fellows understand what I am talking about. During the last year, you have experienced profound moments of being present with one another. I implore you to treat those experiences as if they are a seed of a large oak tree. Do not let yourself believe for a moment that they required a trained facilitator, a retreat facility, or a monthly gathering to create those bonds. The moment when you share the gift of “presence” with one another you have created a connection that transcends the boundaries of being in a formal “program” – it is a relationship based on fellowship, a word meaning “a partner or shareholder of any kind.” So in essence, the gift of presence is the initiation of a partnership – it is an act that says we have an interest in one another. In the context of the fellowship program, it is a stake grounded in wanting to collectively enrich the community. This leads me to the question, “What is required to enrich community, together?"

Research on collective action states that shared vision and shared values is imperative to be successful in collective endeavors; I would add that a commitment to staying the course you are all called to be on and a sense of adventure is a must.

In 1997 my husband, Ward, and I went on a weekend hiking trip to Mt. Baldly in New Mexico. We chose a hiking trail that we thought would be challenging but doable. Our hiking guidebook forewarned us that the first 1/8 of a mile was extremely difficult but we thought, “It’s only the first 1/8 of a mile of the whole trail and that we can endure.” As we drove up Mt. Baldy, each switchback revealed the vastness of the New Mexico sky and the beauty of rocky pine country. We were happy, enthusiastic, and looking forward to the hike. We parked near the trail head, placed the gear on our backs, and began the climb, which was extremely difficult. Happiness and enthusiasm quickly turned to “Oh, my God, what are we doing?” and “Keep going. Keep going. Stop looking back at the car.” The hike had barely begun.

Longer than expected but shorter than it felt, we finally reached the first crest of the trail. As we looked back at the car with racing hearts and rasping breath, we laughed at how much we had underestimated that first 1/8 of a mile and Ward asked, “Did I want to continue up the mountain to the ridge?” Which I knew had an incredible view. The answer was “yes”. Yes, not to conquer a mountain, or to prove I could do it, or because it was there to do, but a yes, because it took me outside of myself and what I thought was physically and mentally possible for me to do. Even now, I can see me standing at the first crest and standing at the car at the same time—both of me looking at each other. A quantum mechanics moment, knowing both realities existed at the same time and it was I, the observer, which would ultimately determine which reality would manifest in this earthly dimension. I am sure that in many ways, much of this year for you Fellows have paralleled that first 1/8 of a mile. Wondering if you could really do it, what was the point, letting go, and believing, as Alan Watts says, that it is the mountain, as much as your own legs that lifts you upwards and forward.

I would suggest that for the Fellows, the mountain is not just the familiar symbol of the issues you will address, the opponents that you will encounter, or the perception of one’s own might; Instead let the mountain be a symbol of the possible connections between people who stand together and apart on the same land – all of us have the potential to lift us upward and forward. Fellows, it is your charge to create new paths on the mountain that encourages us to come together. It is equally important for you to know the trails that currently exist – the well traveled paths that will beckon you to only tread where there is comfort, security, known elements. Some of these paths lead you to each other, some are dead ends, and others go nowhere.

As graduates of the Community Fellowship Program, you are called, individually and collectively, to discern which of these paths is worthy of your time and energy; you are called to envision the new paths that must be created… together.

May you be blessed by the adventure of creation and may you compassionately extend your hand to another so no one will have to walk alone.

I will close with a poem I wrote a few year's ago for some young leaders from around the country who were honored for their exemplary work in their communities. It is in the style of Pablo Neruda’ Ode’s. Tonight, I dedicate it to the Fellows.

Ode to My Path

Oh my path,
You glorious beacon of light
leading me to my hearts desire,
to my universal invocation.

A brown earthen road
for which my toes to dig
into the earth and
keep my balance.

Oh yes, my path.
The place where I return to
time and time again,
only to find myself
somewhere else completely.

The path with dark places.
Where I feel lost, unsure, unkind.
A path where I persist to feel
found, certain, love.

Oh my path,
You stretch back before time.
When I am present on you,
I can clearly see through rocks
in my view and I bow to all
those who came before.

Like a long road extending
out into the desert landscape,
I see the beauty of my path
moving between rounded
earth and blue sky.

Oh yes, my path.
My refuge, my tempest, my lost and found.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I live you and the universe is fulfilled.

1 comment:

Youth Action Research Group said...

Being present can be such hard work. I have been able to do it a bit more often lately, but sometimes I forget how I got there last time and I become frustrated feeling as though I am always starting fresh and creating entirely new routes. Thanks for reminding me why it is so important and giving me renewed energy to practice.
Love, -d