by Miki Kashtan
This post is the third and last in my May travelogue collection.
Following the NGL (Nonviolent Global Liberation) retreat in Poland, eight of us, in various configurations, went on the road via van and train, offering various events over the course of sixteen days. This trip was conceived last August, at the NGL retreat in CA, as an idea about both having fun and sharing the fruits of our NGL learning with others in Europe. The result: five different events in four countries; growing connection between our work and that of Extinction Rebellion; and an experience of community at its most condensed.
I grew up in a family in which pleasure was considered slightly suspicious, within a dominant culture – patriarchy – I now think of as negating life and its joys. It’s not easy or simple for me to start with talking about the pleasures of this trip instead of semi-hiding that joy within a more “serious” narrative about what we did, what we accomplished, and what I learned. I do it because it’s the truth that is falling out of my fingers as I write and because I want to reclaim pleasure, as defiant now in the face of patriarchal training as I was against my father’s authority and attempts to squash life out of his daughters, clearly because of his own fear of life.
The pleasures consisted of beauty, love, deep conversations, and laughter. Especially on the long train rides, my eyes never got too much of the lush green, the forests, the rivers, the lakes, the mountains. These are the landscapes of my longings from early on. Not the arid lands in which I grew up and now live again. Towards the end of the trip, I went for a walk with a local person in Stroud, through the fields and the hills, walking on footpaths that cross what is now known as private property. After reading for years about the commons that this land used to be, and the immense struggles that took place in centuries past, as part of the bloody emergence of capitalism, I was surprised to discover pleasure in these moments, suffused as they were with past pain. The pleasure: that no amount of enclosures was sufficient to fully eradicate the commons here; the footpaths that everyone knows in such rural areas, and other legal wrinkles in the otherwise monolithic victory of capitalism make somewhat visible to the discerning eye both the commons themselves and the struggles. We are still here.
We were almost never alone, except two of us, some of the time, while sleeping. There was challenge, about which I write shortly below. And there was love, overflowing, visible on our faces as you look at the pictures, love untamed by rules about who is supposed to love whom and how. Love that brought us together, time and again, to the other side of conflicts and challenges, through tears, through silence and disconnection, through confusion and overwhelm. Always to more love. I never want to live without community again. I knew this before I left my home in March. And I know this even more now. Aloneness, the condition that makes capitalism and its devastations possible, is not natural to humans. I am ready to let go of the dubious perks that it offers in the form of privacy and surface freedom, so as to embrace the vast horizon of togetherness that then opens up.
All of us, to the one, are products of patriarchal training. Staying in togetherness when our needs are not met, so as to reclaim the fullness of our interdependence, is a discipline few of us have chosen to step into. When we fear that we will be judged, or that our needs would be a burden or simply not taken seriously, we all too easily end up feeling so alone that togetherness fades within us, and we walk away from it not even knowing we do, perceiving, instead, that we are acting to protect ourselves or others.
This happened on this trip on and off between us, in various groupings. It meant, at times, hours of painful conversation to restore togetherness. It meant tension for chunks of time that interfered with pleasure; that even made it challenging, in one instance, to be a team when walking into a room full of people who wanted to learn from us. Our collective willingness to open up our struggle to the organizers of one of the workshops was, despite the pain, a high point for me, as trusting people we knew less to help us sort out some of the sticky issues was a reminder of the glory of being human, of the depth of our hearts’ capacity for reconciliation, for learning, for opening yet again and yet again to life and love.
Aside from the experience of being together, there was also another purpose to our trip. In three spots – Berlin in Germany, Brno in Czechia, and Vienna in Austria – we paused to share with others, mostly activists within Extinction Rebellion, what we have been learning and teaching within NGL. Then, once we got to Stroud, a group of about 50 people, many from Extinction Rebellion, came to be with us for three whole days of immersion. Preparing for, delivering, and reflecting on these events put us in close contact with the subject matter that Extinction Rebellion faces.
This is no idle movement, and the questions people raised at the workshops were significant and pointed. These are people who are aiming to respond to the gravity of the existential threat facing humanity and the entire family of life. Put very simply and starkly, the collective challenge is to find a way to turn around many millennia of patriarchal ways: negation of life; insistence that we are masters of nature and that nature is separate from us; and hubris about our ability to do so without destroying everything on which we depend. If we don’t find our way there, the scientists tell us, our days as a global, interconnected civilization are almost over, and life overall may well disappear from planet Earth.
In the face of this existential dilemma, we invited ourselves, again and again, to active choice. One of the demands of Extinction Rebellion is for all governments to declare climate emergency. Some of us on the trip kept asking, all the way to the end of our time together, pointed questions that continue within me, deep and unequivocal: what would it mean for each of us to declare our own climate emergency? What would we do differently? What would we say “yes” to or “no” to with that awareness of imminent threat at the center of our life? No cohesive response emerged, nor even clear alignment about what the question truly is, yet the centrality of crisis in the human family was fully present for us.
So many of us are facing these hard questions, as often, on our own. Starting in July of this year, one piece of my response to the crisis is to add a new free call which we are naming “Reckoning with Collapse.” This will be an opportunity for anyone to come engage with others who are, also, grappling with the overwhelming information and grim prospects. We will mourn, commit, think together, imagine futures, form teams for projects, and anything else that arises in that context. This is a time for togetherness, for opening our hearts, even to total strangers, for coming into awareness of our shared fate, of being on the same boat even when, as Victor Lewis reminds us, we are not on the same deck.
Meanwhile, the task of supporting Extinction Rebellion is of epic proportions. On the one hand, I am in awe of this initiative. A small group of people came together, creatively designed strategy, agreements, vision, principles, and everything else they could think of, and unleashed a call to action that has inspired tens of thousands already across the globe to take to the streets in nonviolent ways. The speed with which this movement grows is truly breathtaking, and the commitment to nonviolence and to decentralization is inspiring trust in me. On the other hand, as the movement grows, so do the issues and challenges. Just because we know what we are facing doesn’t make patriarchal conditioning go away in an instant. Some people join in anger without vision. Many take to the streets without familiarizing themselves with the carefully designed principles and ways of working together. Patterns of power and privilege reassert themselves within a movement committed to undoing them. Mistrust remains lurking, around the corner, in the same way we encountered it on our trip. None of us are pure or fully free.
Time and again we asked ourselves: what is it that we really have to offer these people intent on changing the course of human evolution? Regularly, we arrived at the same conclusion that led us to start or join NGL: we have tools for restoring togetherness; for embracing the commitment to deep collaboration and growing capacity in moving there; for transforming our internalized obstacles as we face the daunting constraints our societies present; for engaging with people across differences of opinion, culture, or power; for making decisions together, collaboratively, without losing efficiency; and for building systems that are capable of creating the conditions that would make all our struggles easier.
Part of what makes it possible for me to accept the many costs of the choices I make not to walk the path given to me, to us, by patriarchy, is my willingness to compost the challenges and turn them into deeper understanding, growing compassion, more capacity for daring, and overall freedom to be and live. Given the degree of challenge and the intensity of togetherness, I am not surprised that I am left with several areas where I gained new insights or choices, and where more integration remains.
Intuition and Collaboration
I have been cultivating a very strong sense of reverence for my intuition, to the point that, inherently disobedient as I am, I have for years now spoken – and not jokingly – of obeying my intuition. On this trip, I ended up giving up on my intuition within the sphere of the collaboration. I am not surprised, actually, considering that we were on the road, in near constant movement for 8 of those days, with 7 events involving 20 to 75 people each. This involved massive amounts of collaboration on logistics, design and delivery of events, and our collective and individual well being. I simply had no idea how to include my intuition even when I was able to include my needs. This meant losing my power, especially while teaching, since I rely so heavily on intuition. All this came together almost at the end of the trip, when I ended up reconnecting with my intuition in a most inopportune moment. This happened after all the other members of the team left the main group and went to do a piece of very significant work with a subgroup. I was deeply called to be with that group, and I ended up following my intuition and leaving the remaining people on their own, without a facilitator. This is an intense move, and not without cost (though much less than I had imagined). And it led to my energy coming back after weeks, and to many people feeling inspired and moved into taking their own power. I then saw more deeply that for most of the trip, I went along with what “made sense,” and lost my access to intuition in the process, just like I used to do for decades earlier. I also saw why I did it: in obeying my intuition, there can be no dialogue from within it with anyone else. So it is vital to find a way of engaging with my intuition that retains my capacity for dialogue. I can engage with my intuition as if it were a living being, where what it tells me to do is a strategy and I can inquire into the needs within it and engage with others. At the very least, I can put my intuition on the table and say what it says so we can hold it together.
Rank and Needs
One of the repeating themes of conversation on this road trip was the very complex notion of rank, which I obviously have in a circle of people coming together in relation to work that I brought to the world. The topic itself remains gnarly and I plan to come back to it another day. At the very least, how to tease apart rank from the combination of structural power, social location, and natural authority that are key components of it remains an open question to me. Meanwhile, its impacts were painfully visible to all of us on this trip, and I continue to consider how to attend to these impacts.
One direction that rank influences relationships is that whatever the person with rank says, even as an idle thought, suddenly becomes a decision. Gradually on the trip, we learned to slow down any process of decision-making, so that everyone’s needs could, indeed, be considered, instead of automatically going along with anything I said, which people would tend to do regardless of my intentions. We were very much looking for systemic rather than individual solutions, and reached some basic agreements about checking in more slowly and proactively with all. This automatic deference is, likely, a combination of conscious entrustment that is based on full willingness, and unconscious loss of connection with our own priorities that comes from being socialized in patriarchal societies. Like all, it’s work in progress.
Another direction that rank influences relationships is that in some complex way having rank means that the vulnerability and needs of leaders becomes invisible. I had repeated experiences during this trip, familiar from other times, that if I wasn’t somewhere with others, my needs and preferences would easily disappear from the equation of decisions they were making, which had significant impacts on me in some instances. With this rather painful awareness, I have a tiny bit more confidence that I might be able to detect this subtle dehumanizing that happens even while I may be deferred to at other times, and to then make requests that might support everyone in holding both their own and my needs with more soft and choiceful awareness.
Purpose and Priorities
The very last night of this long trip, at the end of a weekend of connection and emergence during which time we all focused on how we, each, are responding to the existential threat(s) facing humanity and life, I asked for and received support from a small group that gathered to give it to me. Prior to this group, I was all knotted up about going back to my life in the US, without a home, and without any clarity about how to navigate the perpetual overwhelm that my life has been even before I released having a permanent home; how to manage the incessant stream of decisions to make about where I put my attention, energy, and resources. For years, I tried to come up with criteria to use. And they mostly didn’t work. Having Rebecca Sutton as my advisor on decisions for which I have neither a 100% yes nor 100% no, has been enormously helpful, and, I still didn’t have sufficient clarity, making those decisions based on ad hoc criteria and intuitive alignment with an amorphously defined sense of purpose rather than any specific criteria I could apply across the board.
With the support of the group that night, I reached what now feels like laser clarity: I will say yes only to things that are directly a response to the mix of crises now bringing us to the brink of collapse, or are one step removed. In that sense, the work I am doing with Extinction Rebellion is direct, in that they are responding to ecological crisis and I am giving to that movement exactly what I have to give to the world: principles, practices, and design in the areas of nonviolence, collaboration, and systems. I can quickly scan and know, immediately, which of my current involvements is only one step removed – such as collaborations that improve capacity for responding; learning that is immediately applicable; connections that are no more than one step removed from people I want to reach. And I can clearly see what new requests to say no to because they are not sufficiently aligned. It’s really hard to do, and I am fully mobilized to do it. What it would take to disentangle myself from existing commitments that are not sufficiently aligned with this clarity of purpose, or where my writing fits in, writing which I simply long to do more and more of the time, remains unclear. And I trust I’ll gain more clarity over time. For now, I am celebrating that I am already noticing the difference this is making in my life. It took me less than a week to “land” despite not having a home. It took me less than this time to decide and begin executing wrapping up my involvement in a project that previously seemed so exciting and important. And I feel the shift in my energy, my sense of focus, something I had previously resisted for decades, a family pattern of spreading too thin and not completing things. I am here, I am clear, and I am ready to do the work.
Stepping into Shared Risk
Despite how challenging for me much of our time on this road trip was, the togetherness within which we struggled grew by the day. I was with friends, with community, in togetherness. I wasn’t alone living my life, the way it’s been for me for decades. I left my home wanting to move into community. I am now more than ready to sustain this commitment. I never want to go back into being a single individual fending for herself in the capitalist housing market.
Given my history and experience, this is a huge accomplishment. Although I’ve been speaking of, longing for, imagining, and supporting community for decades, I secretly never believed that I would ever get to a place of moving from vague notion to concrete reality. I thought to myself, for years, that I will need to mourn, one day, that I will die without this happening. I was an ostracized and bullied girl; I am highly sensitive; and I like a high degree of togetherness in relationships. I also have deep commitments to nonviolence, the gift economy, and feminism. Just to engage in conversations about this, let alone believe that something like this could come together in one group that I can actually be part of, is a monumental step forward.
To then also experience being met by people who say they want the same thing is quite outside what my traumatized self would have been able to imagine even a year ago. I had to walk through massive humiliation to share with the group that came together for that weekend the document that Emma Quayle and I had prepared about what we are looking for in community. The trigger for the humiliation was the thought that I would be so willing and open to enter shared risk, on the material plane, with people who would then not want to do it with me. And I did share. And then two additional women joined our shared-risk group, and there are four others who are seriously considering it.
Before I left, we sat together, connected around our purpose and intentions, shared intimate information about our resources, work, life choices, and commitments to people in our lives. I experience this sharing as simple and somber, loving and trusting. Since then, it was members of that group that have held me, daily, until I fully made the transition to being back here in Oakland and away from the amorphous community I was part of, intensively, for almost a month. When I had a significant financial decision to make, I intuitively turned to this group even while knowing they couldn’t possibly participate in the actual weighing of the decision, because they didn’t know enough about the circumstances. I received unexpected connection and wisdom. We have started weekly meetings to connect, to come to decisions together about our emerging shared future, and to support each other in our journeys of responding to life in these times. I am not alone.
INVITATION: To discuss this and other posts with me and other readers of this blog, check in to the free Fearless Heart Teleseminars. Next date: Sunday, July 14, 10:30am – Noon PT
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