Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Conversation: Finding My Center - A Lesson in Being

This past fall, I started on a journey to explore rejuvenation and self care through the collaborative work of The S. Kitchen and Youth Worker Collective. It has been an amazing journey over the last five months that brought together over 30 people to help define what it is, connect personal definitions to a larger narrative, and build a network of folks practicing rejuvenation and self care. I am honored to be among such an clever, intelligent, and heartfelt family.

I am, by nature, a workaholic. I dive in to everything I do and give more of my self than I sometimes think is physically possible. It is a cycle that has ruined relationships, given me many restless nights thanks to insomnia and heartburn, and made me feel like I am crazy. It is an aspect of my life that I want to change.

I justified my workaholism because I was doing social change/justice work. I took on the role of a martyr always putting my self on a shelf in order to do more for others. I would come home from a long day working in a middle school mediating fights, supervising in-school tutoring, running after school programs, setting up mental health referral systems, and talking to parents and open up my computer to do the email I couldn't do at work because I didn't have an internet connection. I would wake up the next morning at 6:30 and be out the door by 7:00 and not come home until after 8:00pm.

I moved on to a part-time job but still put in over 60 hours a week trying to get the organization off the ground. I told myself I loved it, and I did. I loved being out in the community meeting people and hearing their stories. I loved doing important and creative work. I loved supporting those that received little support. I lost a lot of my self in this work. I also found that I was perpetuating a type of behavior I was hoping to alleviate: capitalistic ways of being that thrive on constant "doing" and "consuming". I knew that if I wanted to truly support the change I wanted to see -- more compassionate living and being in community with fellow comrades -- something needed to change.

I was laid off from my job in July of 2010 due to funding cuts, so I took this opportunity to change my being. I decided that I wasn't going to continue "doing" as usual that instead I would slow down and take a little time to find where I am. I decided that I would keep engaged in the same projects I was involved in, but the way I would show up would change. I knew that if I wanted to really make a transformation I needed to transform in the realms I already reside in rather than find a whole new realm to occupy. If I just moved, I would most likely end up in old patterns, and that isn't what I wanted.

Luckily, everything I was involved in was also going through a change thanks in large part to economics and unknown directions. This meant there were many ways to reshape intentionality, slowness, and purpose. It also meant that I would have a community of folks that would be sharing this journey with me. For that, I am eternally grateful.

In this process of slowing down and listening, I heard more and more from folks that rejuvenation and self care is important and crucial to living. I heard it from sectors across the board -- youth development, theater, arts education, small business, health, consultants, faith-based organizations. I started hearing that rejuvenation and self care is both singular and beyond the singular. I knew that there was possibly a there there (in the famous speak of business). I just needed to take my time and explore it more thoroughly.

Youth Worker Collective, an organization of which I have been a part for almost 7 years, has a 5+-year legacy of providing Days of Rejuvenation and Self Care for youth workers across the Bay Area. These days were sparked by a Singhashri Gazmuri and a partnership with the San Francisco Buddhist Center, grew stronger from a partnership with Niroga Institute, and then finally became their own thanks in large part to the wonderful work of Victoria Welle, Margaret Schulze, Sangita Kumar, Andrea Juarez, Jonathan Owens, Liane Louie, and myself. Over the course of two years these Days rooted themselves in multiple faith (and non-faith) perspectives, integrated arts education principles, started including an exploration of resistance, and addressed how the personal is organizational and vice versa. These Days turned into FREE curriculum that others can take and use. (Email me at queerlycomplex@gmail.com if you would like a copy!)

Youth Worker Collective was where I worked and from where I was laid off. We had to change the way we did our work now that we no longer had paid staff, so we reevaluated everything that we were doing and started focusing on what we could accomplish. Given our long legacy of Days of Rejuvenation and Self Care, we decided to focus there. It was a simpler starting point than any other. Looking over our work, we realized we didn't have a definition. That seemed like one of the best places to start.

Tina Mahle and I met over dinner to plan a course of action. I am not going to go into the full detail of what we developed. If you want to read more about that, please click here. Instead, I want to focus on how I changed as a result of going on this journey.

I have grown tremendously. This experiment I call my life is changing everything. For the first time, I feel grounded. I feel like I cannot be swayed. This doesn't mean that I can't bend or compromise. Rather, I feel like I know more about what I can and can't compromise or bend on. I know that I believe, truly believe, that only way we are going to change this world is by being that change we wish to see right here and right now. I know that the competitive nature of non-profit fundraising is hurting our ability to achieve our missions. I know that going slow in a society based on capitalism is counter-cultural and that it make others uncomfortable. I know that this isn't easy.

These past five months have been wonderful and challenging. I have little money in my pocketbook to do anything other than have an occasional night out, pay rent and bills, and put food on the table. At times, I find myself sitting at home anxiety coursing through my body wondering if I have made the right choice and eager to step up and do more. I want to pack my days full with meetings and other "stuff". I call friends freaked out and needing comfort. I have to resist this urge to just fill, fill, fill and do, do, do. And when the anxiety parts, after I have allowed it to just be, I find myself renewed. I find that I don't need to cure it. This is liberating and reflective of how I want my self and my work to show up in the world: being is sometimes the best course and not everything needs fixing.

In a culture that needs a quick fix or just throws a band-aide over a festering wound or is always seeking the newest fad, the most revolutionary thing to do is let it be. I know that this path I am on will lead me to greater possibilities. I know that even though it is occasionally rocky right now in this time and space, it will be different in the future. It is always different for we don't know where the future leads. By simply being, I can respond. I can listen to the nuances and the tiny shifts made over time and adjust my self accordingly. When I am lost in doing, I can't be this response for I cannot hear or feel it.

I am excited to keep on this path. I am glad to have family that is going along on this journey. I believe a tide is turning: people are searching for solutions to societal problems raised by our ever increasing consumerism. The time is now to become that solution. And in the words of Lao Tzu, the solution is to "become the center". For the solution will not be found externally. It can only be found in each one of us.

I am happy to be finding and living my truth, and I am happy to be sharing that truth alongside my family both of choice and of origin. For together as each of us realizes our own personal truths and realize our own center, we are changing the world. And the most beautiful thing about this experiment is that it is rooted in both the personal and collective. For I wouldn't have realized my truth/center without the support of those around me.

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