Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Adding the blessed to my unrest

The first time I heard the term "blessed unrest" was at a Pachamama Alliance seminar called Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream. The Alliance's work is based on the prophecy of the eagle and the condor  and is rooted in social justice, environmental sustainability and spiritual fulfillment--for all people. I remember at the time saying to my husband who facilitated the seminar that it was too depressing looking at injustice in the world without a path for where to go and what to do (at that time the format was high on generating unrest but low on generating blessedness). I didn't feel blessed when I left. I felt overwhelmed.

For the past six months I have been growing my own brand of unrest. I haven't slept a full night since June. I am awful without sleep. I am sick about the disappearance of decency that accompanied the recent contentious presidential election, and yet I couldn't keep myself from reading every torrid detail. I hyperventilated and exhaled in despair. Tears developed just under the surface leaving me to cry at the littlest provocation. I worried about the vulnerable people being targeted by the hate--women, people of color, people with disabilities, the LGBT community, immigrants. In the end someone was elected to the office of president that does not share my values for social justice, environmental sustainability and spiritual fulfillment for all people.

So for six months I withdrew. From friends, from my exercise routine, from my art, from my normal life, feeling hopeless. The unrest was consuming my life. 

And then encouraging words. Organizations I have contributed to in the past, those focused on shared principles, sent me words of hope. As it turns out they are not going to give up their causes, in fact, are using the upheavel to galvanize support with people like me who are stuck in sinking unrest. Their messages chipped away at my solitude. They reminded me I have the ability to make blessed my unrest. I have some skills and talents and I have some convictions and I can channel those to prepare for and participate like never before.

Start small

I started small. I heard of the safety pin "flag" that started in Great Britain after Brexit. People like me can wear a safety pin to show quietly, outwardly our willingness to help others be safe. In the words of @cheeahs, the Twitter user who launched the trend, the idea was that anyone against the sort of nationalistic, racist violence we've been seeing could identify themselves as a safe ally. Though I also read negative comments about such a practice, I decided that if I could help one person it was worth the small investment. And it made me feel like I was doing something.

Grow courage and range

At a potluck gathering for an unrelated reason a few days after the election, I was reminded of the importance of holding space for people who hurt, need to be heard, and want to do something. People with personal stories of coping and action inspired each other. 

Dialogue can transcend differences and it's good practice for future reconciliation and inclusiveness. Public, respectful discourse is mandatory for our collective future.

Jump on local, moving bandwagons

Momentum is a lovely thing that takes what you are doing and gives it a booster shot. In this case, headlines proved there were others preparing for attacks against their principles. Portland Public Schools and Portland State University (PSU) shortly announced their plans to make their campuses safe places for immigrants, and their decision to resist immigration attacks on students. I teach for PSU, and have a good friend inside the school district, and can easily join in. I don't have to create my own movement.

Volunteer for passion work

I know the power of working toward passion and so I've begun the search for my new normal, dedicated time spent working for social justice, environmental sustainability and spiritual fulfillment--beyond the compost bin and being kind. I am looking for options that are not just a contribution of time, but a supercharged contribution of passion. is one organization that has a plethora of opportunities to channel my energy. I am currently weighing several postings: writing for the ACLU, shooting pictures for Habitat for Humanity, overseeing culture kits for the World Affairs Council.  While I may take part in protest "against," I am looking for opportunities to work "for." I am also clear I will have the most to offer if I can work 1:1 some of the time, in groups some of the time, and in solitude being creative some of the time. Passion overcomes obstacles.

Rekindle the unrest

In all of this I need to walk a line between obsessing over every scary action (and overdosing on the pundits) on the one hand, and practicing overwhelm-induced-apathy on the other. I need to know enough to keep my motivation up and the citizen within me inspired to act. I can't do this if I am paralyzed, but I also cannot allow myself to be complicit in a new normal that is a violation of my values by standing by letting it happen.

Finally my unrest feels blessed.

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The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.