Posts tagged Working assumptions
Struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people

Thomas Merton:

Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not, perhaps, results opposite to what you expect.

As you get used to this idea of your work achieving nothing, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great deal has to be gone through, as, gradually, you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

What I find most beautiful about this lately is that if, by chance, someone’s heart is newly opened to the joy of nonviolence, stewardship, social justice, sustainability, etc. it would be their opportunity and their task to bring forward whatever creativity they had for turning that love into action—within the context of their “one wild and precious life” (to quote Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day).

They may even come up with entirely new ways of living in meaningful relationship with nature and each other. How much better than giving someone a shortlist of things that "count" as contributing to climate action.

You have to laugh much harder.

Gilbert Walking Bull as quoted by Jon Young, 512 Project

I hear you guys talking about how you’re helping young people; how you’re going to save Mother Earth and do all these great things.  But those children are looking at you. You guys are always in a bad mood, you’re always working so hard, you’re always tired. You’ve always got a bad taste in your mouth about what’s happening to Mother Earth.  And you’re angry at the people. Those children are looking at you and saying I’m not following that person because they’re miserable. My people know this. You guys have to understand no matter what you think you’re doing, you’re turning them off.  You have to play more music. You have to dance more. You have to laugh much harder. Your not laughing half the time, you’re so serious about everything, like end of the world is coming. Those kids are watching. You’re worried about them, but they’re worried about you.  You guys need to learn to get over yourselves, overcome that feeling inside you that your heart is so heavy with grief about the future, about the land, about the people, about work. But think about my people. What we had to overcome. We were hunted by your ancestors; we were killed in cold blood.  Our own ancestral land taken from us; we were put in reservations like prisons. You know, my people suffered under this. But we maintained a happiness inside ourselves because our children have to see that in us. It’s the only hope they have. So you have to learn this, this is role modeling. This is how culture comes alive.  Without it, this doesn’t work. It’s a hard life, but we’re going to laugh anyway. If you’re going to tell a story, tell it with everything you have. If you’re going to sing a song, sing it with everything you’ve got. And if you’re going to dance, you dance. If you’re going to laugh, laugh hard.

Create Islands of Sanity wherever possible.

Meg Wheatley on training to be of service to our times:

Wherever we are, whatever our work, we train to be able to offer ourselves in two essential ways:

- Through our presence, we serve as reminders and role models of who every human being is capable of being.

- With our leadership, we bravely stand in stark contrast to the current practices and dynamics of this age. We know what must be remembered and preserved to create good human lives and societies, and we embody this wisdom in our work.

As we do our current work, and find new places of contribution, we strive to:

- be present with compassion and discernment in all situations

- refrain from using fear and aggression to accomplish our ends

- create Islands of Sanity wherever possible

- do our work with greater commitment and different skills, including patience, clear seeing, compassion

- refrain from fixing, staying present, supporting others to find their own solutions

- stay in situations which triggered us or from which we fled but where we still want to contribute

- maintain a keen sense of humor

- rely on moments of grace and joy

In this spirit: I choose not to perpetuate fear based attempts to manipulate and move people to action. These are often pandered by well meaning nonprofits trying to convince a largely apathetic public that something matters. It does matter and we do need to act, but we already lost 20 years of activism thinking that urgency and fear would move people. It hasn’t. Except in a few rare cases, I see folks wake up when their lives are touched personally by climate changes or are inspired by the joy they see in others brought by this work.

I also choose not to perpetuate narratives of victimhood and powerlessness. These are so often pandered by mainstream media, which reports on what’s broken, what’s “happening to us,” and what’s out of reach, instead of reporting on the myriad ways people can participate in good efforts, already underway, closer to home. Or on the ways people are asserting their strengths and exhibiting ingenuity and resilience.

Our power lies not in getting global decision makers to do what we want, but in our ability to transmit to others, including to younger generations, in our presence: our love, sources of joy and sources of resilience.

All flourishing is mutual

Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer

How is it possible that in twenty years of education [my students] cannot think of any beneficial relationship between people and the environment? Perhaps the negative examples they see every day--brownfields, factory farms, suburban sprawl--truncated their ability to see some good between humans and the earth. As the land becomes impoverished, so too does the scope of their vision. When we talked about this after class, I realized that they could not even imagine what beneficial relationships between their species and others might look like. How can we begin to move toward ecological and cultural sustainability if we cannot even imagine what that path feels like? If we can’t imagine the generosity of geese?

Braiding Sweetgrass is so many variations on the theme of imagining, and really remembering, beneficial relationships between people and place.

How generous that they [fruiting trees] shower us with food, literally giving themselves so that we can live.  But in the giving their lives are also ensured. Our taking returns benefit to them in the circle of life making life, the chain of reciprocity.  Living by the precepts of the Honorable Harvest--to take only what is given, to use it well, to be grateful for the gift, and to reciprocate the gift--is easy in a pecan grove.  We reciprocate the gift by taking care of the grove, protecting it from harm, planting seeds so that new groves will shade the prairie and feed the squirrels.

Reciprocity is a thread woven through so many of her stories. It describes relationships that form from necessarily taking life to live, but also developing gratitude and exercising our power to care for and give back.

Gifts from the earth or from each other establish a particular relationship, an obligation of sorts to give, to receive, and to reciprocate.

Whatever we have been given is supposed to be given away again.

When the food does not come from a flock in the sky, when you don’t feel the warm feathers cool in your hand and know that a life has been given for yours, when there is no gratitude in return--that food may not satisfy. It may leave the spirit hungry while the belly is full.

Her vision is not one of relating to nature at arms length. The natural world provides so much more than opportunities for spiritual connection and moments of transcendence. Ecological systems provide the fabric and foundation for all life. We don’t step into them or visit them. They are part of who we are and re-establishing relationships of gratitude and reciprocity helps us regain that experience of belonging in a much larger web of life.

Some of the many links between a Western Grey Squirrel and their ecosystem.

Some of the many links between a Western Grey Squirrel and their ecosystem.

See a beautiful, nature-filled future

Richard Louv, items on his list of barriers to envisioning a regenerative future (blog)

Ecophobia: children are conditioned at an early age to associate nature with environmental doom.

Our engagement with nature is being replaced by solastalgia – the pain of seeing natural areas disappear, and the disengagement that goes with that.

Lack of cultural and ethnic diversity within the environmental movement and conservation agencies.


It's time to create that vision. It's time to bring down the barriers. Hard? Of course. But we can do the best we can while we're here on Earth, and millions of children will surely experience the wonder of nature that past generations took for granted.

On the same topic, elsewhere (article)

No future is guaranteed to happen. One thing is for sure: A greener future will not happen unless we can see it in our mind’s eye, unless we can imagine it. Today, if you ask people to describe images of the far future, many and perhaps most people immediately describe a postapocalyptic future. What happens to a culture that can no longer see a beautiful, nature-filled future? Despair is addictive. The challenge is not only to oppose the current trajectory, but to escape the dystopian trance.

KellieWorking assumptions
The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace.

Thomas Merton

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

KellieWorking assumptions
Mother Earth has been and is trying to save us all the time.

Tiokosan Ghosthorse, speaking to One Earth Sangha community

Hidden in the salvation mentality, saving the Earth, is control through Western ego, religion, politics and their view of spirituality.  To solve this precarious situation we have put ourselves as a human species, wherever we have placed ourselves is still not adequate. And I think that has to do with where my thinking process begins and originates, which is from the land.  I thank therefore I am, rather than I think therefore I am. We have lost this kind of relational thinking. But we are also regaining relational thinking. Has to do with the birthright that we have survived whatever it was necessary for us to survive.  We respect Mother Earth but we’re not paying homage to Mother Earth as if she is dying. We always say we’re going to save the Earth, we’re going to save the forest, we’re going to save a tree, we’re going to save ourselves, we have that idea of saving as if we’re the next messiah as a people.  Mother Earth has been and is trying to save us all the time. We just haven’t yet learned how to let go because our ideas of ownership are still in place. And we’ve educated the wisdom out of a human being, out of ourselves.

KellieWorking assumptions
It is possible that this whole book is about love.

Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown

“It feels important to end this book with an admission.  It is possible that this whole book is about love. My love of this planet, my love of human beings and creatures and the idea of there being a future in which this planet is still home to living things.  My love of the humans who have taught me to be awake and to feel the world around me, and clued me in to both caring more about life and being less attached to the outcomes of life. My love of Black people and Detroit and liberation.  This is, finally, a book about the preciousness of time. It’s limited and it’s so sacred, friends. And everything we do, every single thought and action and relationship and institution, everything is practice ground. So practice emergent strategy, yes, but only as much as you understand that it is a way to practice love.  For this, for all of this.”

KellieWorking assumptions

I find how to live a better question than how not to die. I am not so interested in worrying about human extinction. People are dying now from climate change.

I’m not interested either in feeling guilty about destroying life on Earth.  I’ve found this kind of guilt debilitating, and from a Universal frame of mind, believe the forces that created life on Earth will do so again when the conditions are right.

If not to save humanity from extinction, then what?  Because the path of living in relationship with nature, ourselves, and each other brings more joy. Especially, when we see the ways it encourages life in others.

When I mentioned to a teacher how sad I am to see so many trees dying in our nearby forest, he asked I look for any signs of life growing out of who and what had fallen. Here is what I found.

Hairy curtain crust growing on an oak branch that fell more than two years ago.

Hairy curtain crust growing on an oak branch that fell more than two years ago.

KellieWorking assumptions