Monthly Archives: December 2020

Year of activism #51

This is the last blog post for this year of activism and typically by now I have started to discern what the next year’s blog theme will be … and I can feel something emerging …but not yet arrived. To enable something to emerge requires some things to fall away and others to become more clear as fog lifts, or clouds part. The word comes from Latin meaning become known, come to light. The idea of something coming to light holds an interesting movement – the light already being and a hint that the light might be stationary, and the coming a travelling towards what is already there but only visible when the movement of going forward to burn off ignorance or spark the new insight. The whole process may often be quite painful, it can equally be liberating as if a load has been lifted, either way once you come into the light there is a shift of arriving at a new threshold. For the activist this brings an invitation to be tested and practiced in the glow of a new vantage point.

A leading activist is often in the role of mid-wife helping to bring out of the dark what was emerging into the light something new, something challenging, something that will support the system taking its next steps. Once the midwifery is done, this kind of activist may well be no longer needed and the work naturally transfers to others to make the laws, codify behaviours, institute processes and mechanisms to keep necessary evolution flowing. You have come to a place where you are no longer needed, and the hard prophetic walk of making a path is ready for others tread and make strong. Just as ideas begin on virgin synapses so the trajectory towards justice needs to be thought more than once and consolidated by action, reflection and more action and more reflection.

Contemplation and action, the practice of being still and still moving, is central to the life of an activist and the season that arrives at the end of each year, spilling over into a new year is a gift. It is the integration of both contemplation and action that matters. The practice is the integration and to recognize when the pendulum has swung too much one way and to correct that so the emergent can keep emerging. When you notice you are staying in one place more than the other, it is quite likely your ego is inviting you to get into check – too much navel gazing, too much action – both states are not good for you. I am often intrigued how introverts and extroverts name themselves as reflectors or actors – but this is a cop out. Introverts who hide behind reflection and extroverts who hide as busy prophets – both need to get their egos out of the way. Both states are ringing warning bells and if you notice these in your activism, be compassionate to yourself and then make a corrective tilt towards integration.

I am going to be reflecting over the next few days how to keep my pendulum swinging in even time, because there are always bursts of activism and reflection, constantly integrating and finding their way inside of me to stillness and movement. Acts of compassion rising from reflection start with each of us and together all those acts birth movements towards justice when they are grounded in a critical and structural assessment of causes, blocks and barriers. And then in the next cycle of reflection those same acts, causes, blocks and barriers are evaluated to help the path to justice become more visible. I find in the fields I am often working, there is an over emphasis on the evaluation component and not enough on the assessment. I notice this in particular, when the practitioners are professionals and not grassroots activists or coming from lived experience. Helping to correct this imbalance, I know has been a feature of my practice and one that will trip me up from time to time. When I want to stay a little longer, it is usually my ego getting in the way. As this year ends I will be relinquishing some roles and responsibilities, taking up others and finding myself looking to horizons which I can’t quite clearly see and while there is some discomfort, it is a reminder of the calibration of integration, a never ending process of renewal.

Thank you for reading and travelling with me in this year’s blog and I wonder what will emerge before the new year begins?

The Journey

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.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver

Silver Sands, April 2020 – Remains of the Day

Year of activism #50

The season of love and light is upon us and with it capitalism is rampant with its images and drive around consumption, lost amidst the jungle of jingling bells and northern hemisphere images of snow and sleighs, you might find the odd candle, star or nativity scene. I have always loved the season of advent from the Christian tradition which are where my roots are, for me it is taken on the idea of adventure, waiting, getting ready to enter into a journey that begins with a twinkle in the sky and inevitably leads to being called to go beyond yourself. It is a journey of embodiment, not a sickly sweet or sentimental act of sacrifice, but one where you bring yourself wholehearted to the table.

The symbolism of the Christian nativity is instruction to all activists, regardless of roots – it has it all. The first direction is to go native, to come into the world you are imaging as a child, receiving and soaking up all the story around you, in the company of all creatures, noticing the strangers arriving with gifts that don’t really make sense for what is needed, being comfortable to ask for what you need and it may even be a roof over your head for something new emerging inside of you. You join the world as a full participant and don’t watch from the sidelines. The second direction in the story for me is to be, not do. Receive all that comes your way, soak up the joy of arriving, notice adoration, notice how others might now be able to have a break from pushing and welcome your arrival. Pay attention who else is arriving and who is already there and what roles they are playing. The third direction is to look up. See the star that has guided those before you and those coming in after you to this place. What is the star made of and who else is following it? What mesmerising powers does it seem to hold and what is the counter-intelligence squad plotting because of that same star?

This story is embedded in mine. It is fundamental to my activism, and while it may not be your story, or your tradition, it has been a source for many activists to take up the mantle of the little one born in a manger to parents who had to make their way in an occupied territory to be counted. When we show up as activists, we too are arriving because others have journeyed to justice to be counted among the ones who want to birth something new.

I am always encouraged that in my tradition the instruction manual arrived in the form of a baby. When the work gets complicated or even chaotic, I call myself back to the idea of arriving as a child and try to tap into the wonder and awe in what I have arrived into and trust that if I can bring my inner child to the situation I might be able to scoop up some new insight, energy or get a glimpse of a promise or gift arriving from some wise person dressed exotically and perhaps not even speaking my language. It helps me keep a look out for the unexpected and to be open to possibilities.

The solstice is near and so look up to see Saturn and Jupiter form their own version of the Christmas Star, it was in Galileo’s time that these were so close. It will be another 800 years before it comes around again. That feels like an invitation to look up in wonder and awe. The calendar year is nearly over and with it this year’s theme of writing will come to an end too. As well as looking up, I am looking into the manger and wondering what is being birthed in me for the year ahead and as I take time for that adventure to be made visible to me. I trust that in the dark the skies will come to life and show me a star to guide me.

Year of activism #49

In the spaces between being awake and being asleep, fully present and day dreaming, fully rested and alert, there are tiny insights to catch like butterflies in a net. I have written about this before and I find the season at the end of the calendar year a time where there is a lot of these spaces. Some people are turning off and tuning out and others are gearing up for what might be waiting around the corner – the ongoing pandemic, bushfire preparations, aching of separation of the holiday season. Counting our blessings may be more ritualised this year for some and the losses of the year crippling for others. It is in these spaces, the activists wholeheartedness, intuition and imagination are tapped. Glimpses of transformational possibilities dawn.

A few times over the years in this space I have referred to David Whyte’s poem What to Remember when Waking (here, here, here), and I find it as good an instruction manual for any activist as the Marshall Ganz, Stacey Abrams, Gandhi playbooks on mobilising and movement building. This poem is about visibility and invisibility, what you hold close, what you notice, the outstretched and always accessible invitation to contribute, not ask for permission to be fully yourself to bring all you can muster to any given situation, to receive the invitation as a gift in waiting for others to receive. That gift needs to be carefully chosen, appreciated by you so you can give it away with all the joy and detachment any gift giving genuinely requires for it to be fully received. (A hint for those who are sharing in this season of love and light.)

What requires our immediate attention in these times and then leading with that in our activism is often the way I answer those people who ask me – but what can I do? And then ask yourself – and what invitations are coming my way? What gifts are ready to be given? I am forever grateful to the poets, the songwriters, painters and prophets who find their imaginations translated onto pages, imagines, sounds, as they guide me, energise me, soothe me when I am weary. Forever grateful to all the creatives who have generously unlocked their gifts and then released their art into the wild.

Remembering is the act of joining past and present, to put back into place something that is required to hold what has been for a reckoning with the present, and potentially restitution in the future. It is a central theme for any activist to not go back to when injustices still needed to be righted, and to be inspired by those acts that did right them in the first place. In the areas of activism that I find myself contributing too, the act of remembering and calling on the leaders who made the path is so important. I am reading Obama’s A Promised Land and I am struck how often he recalls the heroes and heroines who have gone before civil right activists, children, family members, legislators, founding fathers and mothers, to call them into the moment when history is being made. This has been a lifetime practice of mine too, not to just make sure I don’t forget who has gone before and made possibilities and potentialities for me and my generation, but to re-member, to bring those witnesses into real time, to savour and celebrate the moment and to take care in the moment. So to follow Whyte’s instruction to remember when waking, is to bring in the dream world, your yet to be fully formed unconscious thoughts, the deepest and darkest messages to your truest self.

What to Remember When Waking

by David Whyte

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

from The House of Belonging, Many Rivers Press

Sunrise at Sellicks Beach, South Australia – Watawali – Kaurna 10 Dec 2020

Year of activism #48

Visiting Kangaroo Island this week was like opening a portal to possibilities. My purpose was to meet with women entrepreneurs and there are ideas, collaborations, emergent enterprises and the environment calling to eek out regenerative offerings not just to the island but for the whole planet. These women are inside bottle of fizz being shaken up and about to go pop. They recognise they need to organise, unleash their potential, create their own ways of working to support their creativity, families, community, land and sea. They have everything they need – each other. I had an insight into a role I might play stepping into my wisdom, experience, eldership and cheer leading and the huge value this is in that time when the bottle is being shaken, when anticipation is building and before the power of of what has been dissolved in the liquid, then kept under pressure finds it way through the neck of a bottle and the blockage is removed and all the power of that energy is released. I seemed to have played a shaking up role on this occasion and clear disruptive moment, with a few more shakes before moxie shows up fully and the impact these women will have on the world will be visible to everyone.

There is an active agent inside all of us, waiting to be shaken up, or sometimes to be split into the atmosphere, perhaps already released and transformed circulating the in the atmosphere, being poured into glasses and being celebrated. The year is coming to a close and there are lots of moments to meet and greet others face to face or in real time if your circumstances allow it. As the calendar year retreats into memory, integration, maybe even some revisions will take place, editing of a recollection to better fit how the narrative end – when something that happened may now be reframed as a silver lining – I find it is time to consider what might be dissolved or trapped and held under pressure, like the carbon dioxide in the water pre-fizz and pop.

Breathing out is the exhale, the release of carbon dioxide, the circular economy of breathing. Might the pop waiting in your life to come out, be your contribution to shifting something in the world around you so that with the release comes something to celebrate? I think it is time to treat CO2 with more respect and not terming it a waste product when considering it leaving our body, but as fuel for life, an exchange between inner and outer worlds, an invitation to recreate, regenerate, renew.

Breathing in and breathing out as a lesson is with us each and every day. And if you have ever had a cold, a respiratory condition, or watched someone finding it hard to breathe, you know how precious and fragile this gift is. You also know it is finite and will one day come to an end. As a child I had chronic asthma, hospitalised several times and near death experiences, so grateful for those now to have taught me early in life to value the inhalation and the exhalation in equal measure. As a singer, learning when to take a breath, when to hold on and when to let go I recognise this requires practice, instruction and paying attention. As I cared for a man whose life left him breath by breath for ten years I saw close at hand what happens being hooked up to external sources of oxygen and how you drown without releasing carbon dioxide. I have the credentials to give this advice:

Breathe in

Breathe out

what is held under pressure can be shaken up

once shaken (not stirred)

let the energy find its way through a channel

notice who, what, where, when and why the cork is being removed

be ready to be released

explode into the world showering all around you with all that was into all that is

accept the invitation to be poured into glasses that can hold your essence

Celebrate and be celebrated.

Photo by Amy Shamblen on Unsplash