“What is your journey around activism as an educator? What are its milestones, its epiphanies?” is our question this week, and I will address this by through a recapitulation of my journey, not by telling particular stories.
First of all, I have worked in what are often considered different fields–social services and education–but to me they are more alike than different. They both involve relationships as their main conduit of exchange and as fulcrums of change. Both also exist under the premise that they have something of worth to offer communities–health and education. And in most cases both systems fail.
Thus, as a young hopeful dreamer I entered into these systems with the illusions that I would find kindred spirits bringing forth the change the world needed. Sane people helping others to also gain sanity whether through therapeutic techniques or learning experiences. This was not the case. I quickly learned how saddled both systems are with insanity, there is no other way to put it. Whether it is the bureaucratic mess made of these good intentions, the businesses made of them that become more worried about their own existence than actually delivering the services they were designed to, or the actual people running the shows, it is just a mess out there people. I mean a god-damned mess.
So in my earliest professional years, I had to deal with reconciling my hopes and dreams with the reality I was faced with. I had to become discerning between health and insanity, while developing a core or “unwobbling pivot” as Confucius called it. That no matter what was happening externally or internally (e.g. emotions) I could remain balanced and centered within these circumstances.
I had numerous experiences which revealed the interconnectedness of everything, in science called ecological understandings; in religion called mystic experiences. I learned with shamans and healers, monks and philosophers, trees and rivers. Through the study of consciousness and the development of personal discipline I came to be more resilient in the face of adversity. As Martin Buber wrote:
Difficulties aren’t hurdles on the road to god; they are the road.
Maturity can be measured by the degree to which we are able to master ourselves in the face of frustration and adversity. How well we can navigate chaos, avoiding what can be avoided, and dealing with what cannot be with integrity. So the bumps and bruises came to be my lessons, not only of what could change externally, but internally as well.
So in my early days it is very safe to say, I had a lot of maturing to do. My reactions to various stimuli–injustice, love, beauty–were all severe, in a wonderful youthful manner. The intensity I experienced the world with was raw and invigorating. It pushed me on to grow, to learn, to understand and to be able to act. I investigated the webs within which I was a part. Why were certain regulations in place? Why were certain protections not in place? Who were the people who wrote them? Enforced them? What could be done about them?
This rigorous investigation of the world around persists to this day and I hope always will. However, my concept of the systems I am a part of has widened and deepened. I first thought of myself as a very small nucleus bound to my biological parents, but this has widened to encompass my cosmic heritage of stars, my evolutionary kinship with every living thing on Earth, and thus my responsibility to every living thing that is now and ever will be.
As my purview changed so did my focus. I no longer had time for ridiculous policies and procedures that wasted my and everyone else’s time, I learned how to more quickly dissect them to either not be bothered with them or to get them changed. I came to learn where time and energy could be spent productively and where it would not be. I come more quickly to recognize where creativity is flourishing or where it is cut off and stagnation prevails. This is the creativity that David Bohm and Ken Robinson discuss, “the process of having original ideas that have value.” (from Robinson’s The Element)
I have come to understand that any segment of society may contain the kindred spirits I look for (or the insane), and what marks them is a tendency towards health. Health defined as a creative response to maintain integrity and balance to what otherwise would be harmful or destructive. These are people orientated towards goodness actualized in the service to others; care for themselves, others, and vulnerable populations; and innovation towards the ends of justice, balance, and peace.
When I come across these blessed people I quickly bond with them and discover what work we can do together to grow and contribute positively to the world (this blog is an example). When I come across those who are more confused than they are able to deal with (i.e. insane), I have great sympathy for them, but don’t confuse them any longer to be able helpers in doing other than crazy.
The I Ching or Chinese Book of Changes states that the best way to combat evil is to make energetic progress in the good. Just like in Star Wars, evil destroys itself in the end (Darth Vader’s death), thus I need not go after it, but to ensure that I don’t get taken by it. I look for opportunities every day to be radically kind to people, to authentically listen to them, and to advocate for those who are barely heard (e.g. kids, whales, the poor, the entire biosphere). I call on people frankly to be responsible and point out when they are not, because I believe in people to have the capacity to act ethically. And I understand that first and foremost, it is my responsibility to do so, to be an example and beacon.
A little inspiration from another beacon of hope and medicine man to start off your week.