Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Staying centered and sane

Sustainability as a concept is both regaled and reviled in environmental circles. For me it’s really about what can be maintained over time without harming myself, my community, or the planet, and I haven't been doing it lately. A deep inner drive about my work, which I love, feels at cross purposes with a deep part of my soul that needs life to slow down. That inner struggle is amplified by a similar one I feel in the outer world, where mixed messages abound and we are, for example, simultaneously rewarded and chastised for being stressed out or where taking a break can be both verbally encouraged and subtly discouraged. After sputtering around in overwhelm for what can be days and weeks at a time, what brings me the most peace are the moments when I can surrender and just let it – whatever I can do – be enough.

I have been working like crazy since the start of the new year as the drought in California has become more and more of a reality. The work I do is a very personal practice for me and I'm passionate about it. And, at the same time, right now I especially feel the repercussions of overwork and the emotion that accompanies live-tweeting a slow moving natural disaster, particularly in the way that it manifests as breathlessness and pain. So, how to reconcile this split between the work that I love with the fact that my body and psyche seem to be rebelling against too much of it?

For some reason, I've been thinking a lot about an image from the "Power of Myth" - Bill Moyers series of interviews with Joseph Campbell. The image is, in essence, a beautiful rendering of the "wheel of fortune." Though this symbol is ubiquitous and can be interpreted in many ways, the one that resonates with me right now is Campbell's; the idea that there is a being in the center of the wheel who remains stable and present as parts of the self rise, reign, and fall. From this perspective, it is about a deep knowing that even as life moves through natural cycles of rise and fall -- some parts of you are always on the upswing while others are on the downswing, and what goes up must come down -- it is possible to stay in touch with that center and not identify too much with being at a high point or a low point, or anywhere in between.

Getting to this center is both harder and easier than it seems, and a lot of it for me comes down to self-care. Especially as a person who grew up in a working class family, working your body to death just seems to be a way of life. So, when I'm really out of whack, I start small by just trying to ask “how can I best take care of myself right now?” It then helps if I can actually do whatever it is, even though the reality is that there are many times when I have to postpone whatever I need for bit. But, honestly, even stopping to contemplate and reflect seems to give my body and soul some reassurance that I give a shit. My heart rate slows, my heart softens, and sometimes it leads to taking a day or two in silence, sometimes it’s enough just to connect with a friend via text. Hopefully someday it will be an actual vacation.

We live during a time where constantly “doing” is culturally supported, confused even more by platitudes about slowing down. For me, there are also just a lot of interesting things happening in the world that I want to be a part of. But, effort that starts from even the best intention can kick into overdrive and become harmful – it really is possible to yield even the best action as a weapon.

Too often, a move toward what is more sustainable is framed around scarcity. While there certainly can be a giving up, with its attendant loss and grief, there can also be deep relief with re-centering and yielding to what is actually possible, which is actually likely much more than we can ever imagine from a place of deep exhaustion. For those of us that know there has to be another way and use our lives to work toward it, surrendering to what is sustainable within our own bodies and psyches seems a big part of the journey.

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