When I Hear the Calling…

Life continues to be a roller coaster. I feel inclined to write… and tell you about parts of this journey I am living.

I live a life of service. I listen for signs of where I am to show up… how I am to give my gifts in this world. And when I hear a calling, I do my best to show up for what is being asked.

This has resulted in major moves in my life such as leaving beautiful land that I love for graduate school in Denton, Texas. Quitting a great job and leaving Seattle at a peek in my professional career to return to Asheville with no job, no place to live, no clear direction — but a calling. It’s the reason I spearheaded TEDxNextGenerationAsheville and it’s definitely the force behind the last  3 years of intensive dedication to giving life and shape to Mycelium the organization — born out of a love affair with mycelium the organism.

This pattern of listening and acting shows up in small ways too — but this post is about the latest major life calling that is propelling my actions at this time.

Within the last 9 months to a year, there’s been a gentle tap on my shoulder – “You should be working with White people around racial justice.” I’ve listened and taken this tap seriously. The first line of action was to face my own personal lack of confidence and capability. I am not an expert in anti-oppression and anti-racism theory. I do not know the models and frameworks, the right language to use, the depths of the history that has gotten us here, the skillful approaches to engage these conversations. I’m not experienced enough for this work, I felt. So I’ve immersed myself in learning. Reading articles, books, watching videos, listening to podcasts and countless conversations with people already in the work… people who are deeply aware of how their life is effected by racial injustice everyday… people who are courageous and taking bold actions to pave the way for a different way of being.

About 3 months ago, the game changed again. The gentle but consistent tap on my shoulder shifted into a large man’s hand on by back, behind my heart, compassionately but forcefully shoving me forward. I tremble as I write, being honest with the fact that I am still afraid that “I’m not ready. I’m not an expert. What if I don’t have what it takes?” And yet… Here I am. Breathing. And knowing that I have value to give.

A month ago I was expressing to a friend my concerns about not being an expert in this work. She said, “You’re looking at expert from a Euro-centric perspective based in academics and logic. You have a different type of expertise.” This hit me as true. The authenticity I bring, my own experience, the compassion I feel for all involved and my dedication to learning are areas that I have great faith in myself. And so again… Here I am.

While looking at and addressing systems of oppression and creating more equitable and diverse learning environments has been a deep part of my professional path for the last 9 years, the terrain is shifting right now.

And this shift has me living on a roller coaster. Some days filled with hope and inspiration, motivated with courage and passion. And other days curled up in depression, tears streaming and my heart hurting. As I continue to wake up more and more to the realities that we are living in and listen to the call of what is being asked of me, I realize how much I don’t know and how intense and heartbreaking the complex dynamics really are.

At the same time, new role models and inspiration show up, new friends appear along the path. As with all the challenges that face us at this time on the planet, there are incredible leaders paving the way and offering guidance for how to get to the world we want to live in.

Yesterday was a heavy day, while also highlighted with moments of inspiration. I began with a prayer-mediation conference call with Gibran Rivera – Love Black Lives. I watched the livestream of the Movement for Black Lives convening in Cleveland and listened to the strong imperative to love ALL BLACK LIVES, explaining the plight of trans and queer People of Color, illustrating how powerful their voices are and listening to their pleas for us to stand up, speak out and help end the murdering of their people as well. I watched on twitter as the joy, healing, regeneration and gratitude poured in of Black people at the convening who are so thankful to be with one another, with their people, over 1000 of them… rebuilding their life force, receiving love and nourishment, and finding strength to continue leading this movement. I was also feeling as Sandra Bland’s family and friends were gathering to lay her body to rest at her funeral. Her dedication to fight injustice meant that she is now dead… and it is the loss of her life that will be her namesake’s fight. And I watched as the streets of Newark filled and countless people spoke at the Million People’s March Against Police Brutality, Racial Injustice, And Economic Inequality. The movement is alive. I am not alone.

And yet… when I went to a party last night to see friends I love and say goodbye to dear souls that are moving… I didn’t know how to connect beyond a surface level. My body trembles and tears well as I try and put words to this feeling that is pulsing through me. To interact in the everyday White/dominant culture world, I feel like I have to push these realities I am living to the back, not yet clear of how to bring them forward or be real to my lief experience in “not so intense” ways. I don’t know how to just shake it off and have a good time when conversation is involved.

And at the same time, so many of my dear friends of color are in so much pain and grief right now. I can’t even imagine what it is like for them to walk the streets and try and be normal and interact with people as they cope with the intensity that is stirring inside them. I deeply understand their requests for space and their need to turn inward and care for themselves. I witness as they do everything they know how – dance, pray, self-care, fellowship, ceremony, time with friends and family – to breathe life into their tired bodies and passion into their daily actions. I witness the depths of their faith and resilience and am inspired and grateful.

….

I shall bring this writing to a close for now. Thank you for reading if you’ve made it this far. Thank you for your love and care. Thank you for understanding that there are many of us who need love and support right now. You may be one of these people. So many folks have said to me, “I’m so thankful that there’s people like you doing this work.” I genuinely appreciate this recognition and gratitude. And I would like to have more people join me, to have more caring souls in the work with us. I’m seeking to grow my own support network and discover who are the folks that are available with love and support for me to call on these heavy days, who will call and check in on me, willing to come and give a hug, sit in silence with understanding eyes or be present with rage and anger?

Who is willing to walk with us as we dedicate our lives to bringing more love, justice, healing and freedom to those who walk the Earth at this time and the future generations to come?

 

 

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I Don’t Know How to ‘Carry On’

Warning: Triggering content.

I have work to do. I have a proposal deadline for tomorrow morning. It’s for a good project, one that is large in scope and significantly relevant for these times we are living.

I went to facebook before diving into the work. And now I’m stuck. I can’t move on. I’m writing this post to try and get myself unstuck.

I just learned about Sandra Bland’s death. The story that I am seeing: A young woman from Illinois speaks out on social media about police brutality and racial injustice. She gets her dream job working on outreach at her Alma Mater university. On Friday, she’s driving from Chicago to her new job in Texas and gets pulled over for improper use of a signal. (One article mentioned that she had made a fb status update with the Texas county she was in.) There’s video of her arrest, her pinned to the ground and speaking up about being in pain. 3 days later (the same day her bail was to be posted, 3 days ago), she’s found dead in her cell. Officials indicate a suicide, asphyxiation…

What? I start googling. Looking to learn more. Searching for facts. Seeing what people are saying. And feeling crushed. Here we are again. We don’t know the whole story yet, but fuck.

Meanwhile, there’s also a facebook invitation that I realize I’ve been avoiding giving conscious thought to. The KKK have a permit for a rally on Saturday at the Statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina. There are people organizing to go and rally in response. Should I be going?

I’m bouncing back between the links, learning about both of these situations. I’m looking to understand…

And meanwhile… my spirit is crumbling inside. I’m hit with fits of sobbing. My body heaving. What the fuck is going on here? Two hours and 15 minutes from my house is a city where the state has sanctioned the gathering of known terrorists and simultaneously Black people can be murdered, abused and arrested at will by officials. (My mind starts spinning at this sentence. I can’t even go into naming all of the inhumane actions against Black people that are sanctioned.)

What is this power and governance system that I live in? What do I do? Should I be going to the rally on Saturday? Call the Sheriff’s office? I’ve signed a petition (sarcastic laugh and truthful statement).

My mind (and body) is flooded with images of hangings, lynchings, Klan rallies… mashed up with images from now, the modern day version that is happening.

To refocus my attention and get back to my work, I have to stop feeling all that I’m feeling. I have to pull myself away and redirect my brain to stop sensing into this horror that is going on around me and flooding me in this moment. But the thoughts and emotions keep spinning. And I realize how privileged I am to know that I do have the ability to turn it off, at least at a surface level.

It’s hard to feel paralyzed. To feel heart broken and inadequate, wanting to close my eyes and shut down, while rage fumes inside.

My prayer for this moment: May we open our eyes and see what is happening around us. Wherever we live – our homes, our cities, our countries. May we wake up to the abuse of power that is destroying so much life… at alarming rates and in horrific ways. May we have love and support around us, as we bare witness to this state and turn compassionately towards one another to take care of each other and the living world that is our home.

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Shifting Perspective

In the flow
instead of on the go –
recognizing that my attention is what runs the show

What’s calling to me is for me to see
to open my eyes and allow life to be

Meditate
Recreate
Consolidate
Don’t Hesitate

There’s a passion, a fire, a soul’s knowing glow
Pouring through my cells
encouraging me to grow

Slow down
Tune in
Let the river guide

Trust
Allow
Listen to the silence

Discipline is an art
And in this area I have little practice

Practice is what is calling
The motivation to say yes, knocks at the door

So if you’re reading – please be my friend
If you feel inspired, offer me support
Encourage me on this journey to say YES and jump in
Help me nurture and embrace this emergence growing from within

I have the courage
I’m hearing the call
I trust the messenger
It’s time to stand tall

With deep love and gratitude,
Ashley

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The Old Trans-forming into the New

I write this post as a prayer… an invocation… one deep breath after another… allowing the prayer to fill my cells, creating spaciousness and love within me.

I stand at the edge of my own personal universe.

The rhythms and contours of being a human – the unique constellation of being me, Ashley Cooper, coursing through my cells.

Solid… I feel my feet on the ground -
my commitment to be here and be my path.

Shaky… I feel eruptions of unknown, doubt and fear - a chained fence guising as my companion, a crutch I lean upon.

Vulnerable… I feel raw and revealed -
standing at the edge of faith and uncertainty.

Inspired… I feel called by a mission that brings me to tears and fills my soul with inspiration and motivation

It’s time to JUMP


This is the dance of transformation. I am not yet this new version that I feel emerging through me and I am no longer the old conditioned puppet of habits and historical contortions. I am both of these still.

Glimpses of bold action guided by empowered thoughts and reverent listening. Feeling a centered, radiant soul: breathing the fire of her battle cry, powered by divine life force, vital energy of love, friendship, joy and togetherness. Breathing deep in sacred unity and feeling moved by our collective wisdom. Out of the way. In service. Listening. Guided. Surrendering. Trusting, trusting, trusting.

And the little voice says: “I’m there. I did it. Hard work pays off. I’m here. I’m home.”

Just as quickly as she speaks, the earth shakes, territory unknown. Looking around, I find my butt thumped on the ground, bruised from the fall and feeling afraid, doubting. Trust slid out beneath me. Old thoughts of not good enough, confusion, fear, loneliness take over. I’m here. Again. I’m familiar with this place.

This is the dance of TRANSFORMATION

Being conscious of this process, I don’t experience it as a magical step into a new world. I’m not suddenly taking flight as a new butterfly. It’s a gradual growth. Feeling new life emerge as me while old habits weaken. Awakening to new ways of being.

52482Tomasz Alen Kopera tearsTears pouring forth as I grieve and mourn. There is sadness in my body. There is wounding that needs to heal. There is a little girl who wants to be seen, heard and loved. There is love that has been trapped. Healing is necessary and essential. Facing these realities are scary, humiliating, illuminating and ultimately freeing.

AC b&w

And… I’m opening, returning to the beauty of myself, embracing the light and the shadows, loving my own face, owning the radiance of love that I am. 

I am walking the edge between these worlds, feeling my cells reconfigure as new form sprouts within me, around me and as me. I am stepping beyond the walls of me and growing as the Soul I’m here to be.

 

Thank you for witnessing me on this journey. With love and gratitude…

Photo credits – Click on the images to go to their original source. Transformation and tears art is by Tomasz Alen Kopera photo of me is by Erica Mueller

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Highlights from 2013

My latest newsletter update with a glimpse into 2013 and the launch of Mycelium Learning Journey. Highlights from 2013 include:

    • The Mycelium vision continues to evolve and find form
    • The Compass Project – A one week intensive for 18-24 year olds

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Community-Based Education and Regenerative Business

For those of you who know me or have been following me for may years,  you know that my work has been focused on young children and social and emotional learning for the last 15 years. How is it that I am now launching a school for 18-35 year old leaders that is also an alternative to a traditional MBA program? There are two parts to this answer.

First, all my experience has lead me to firmly believe that the future of education lies in community-based learning practices. There is a wealth of information stored in every region’s human capital. People with skills and passions have wisdom and knowledge to share. While children are obviously learning about how to be productive citizens in today’s world, there are necessary skills that people of all ages are also learning. Learners can be any age, teachers can be any age, the necessary component is ripe conditions for trust, experimentation, self-discovery, and concrete tools, lessons and frameworks that are relevant and meaningful. In this same vane, young people have tremendous insight to contribute to public conversations and civic discord. Education that is both personally meaningful and socially relevant, connected to the real people and issues of a region, is the form of education that I am interested in learning more about.

Second, it is clear to me that the current power structures on our planet are heavily rooted in the infrastructures of business. How then can these pillars of influence be a positive force towards creating a world that provides the maximum benefit for everyone, without social or economic offense to anyone? It seems clear to me that for rapid and dynamic change to happen, the field of business must continue to evolve with private and public sectors redefining each other and focusing attention towards regenerative and resilient practices. At The Mycelium School we see social entrepreneurship as a powerful vehicle for social change. However, this is just one piece of the puzzle. Obviously this is a big topic, you can hear my business partner, Matthew Abrams, speak about this at Queens College in the video below. And I’d be happy to keep the conversation going with you if you’re interested.

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Ideas That Move Youth Challenge

Working with real people in real communities making real efforts to take action that will support the maximum benefit for everyone is what inspires me, lights me up, brings me to life. How do we really take action that brings about well-being and positive movement for 100% of humanity?

What I know is that there is no single answer. There is no direct path there. And there is no shortage of amazing, intelligent, compassionate humans on this planet to invest themselves in truly making a difference. How do we continue to find one another, find the small things we can do that contribute to the larger story? Find the unique piece that we each have to offer and give our whole hearts towards making that contribution to the world? And how do we enjoy life, honor love and connectivity, and celebrate beauty as much as possible while on the journey?

One initiative that I’m working on now that is deeply inspiring me is the Ideas That Move Youth Challenge. Public schools and private schools collaborating together to create a platform where young voices can be heard and their efforts to be leaders are supported.

Check out some of the ideas they have to make Asheville healthier and more sustainable:

  • Aquaponics as Food Insecurity Solution
    Problem: One out of every six people in Western North Carolina suffers food insecurity, not having an adequate healthy food resource.Solution: An urban solution we propose is to create aquaponic farms in Asheville or other urban areas in Buncombe County, particularly areas with low socio-economic demographics. This will produce fish (i.e Tilapia) as well as vegetables (i.e. lettuce, other greens, tomatoes, peppers, etc.). It can even be completely off the grid and therefore provide a stable food source during conditions of extreme weather.
  • Swim For Life
    Problem: Every year hundreds of stories about people drowning are reported in our area. We see this as a preventable tragedy. Youth need to acquire the ability to swim as a survival skill. Due to income and opportunity limitations many young people would benefit from free swimming lessons.Solution: We would like to create a community service project that would work with local public schools to provide free swimming lessons to students who may not have the opportunity to take them otherwise. This would benefit students in many ways, such as increasing their self-confidence, keeping them safe and providing an exercise outlet for the future.
  • Youth Diversity in the Classroom and School Community
    Problem: Many students who attend SILSA do not realize the issues that arise regarding an equal learning environment for all, due to the segregation of social groups and diversity problems on campus. All students need to feel as if they have the same opportunity as others in order to be successful in high school and beyond.Solution: Our idea is to start a Diversity group on the AHS/SILSA campus. We will meet twice a week to discuss current adolescent issues with people from different backgrounds. It will also be a great opportunity to build new friendships with people of various cultures and build more community on our campus. We will also discuss possible ways to address issues that face teens on our campus.
  • Switching Asheville City Schools buses from diesel to biodiesel
    Problem: Asheville City School buses run on diesel fuel which is a nonrenewable resource and creates air pollution. If we continue using diesel fuel in our buses, our air quality will continue to worsen and we will continue using harmful nonrenewable resources. Western North Carolina is known for clean, healthy air. Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen, which is dangerous for students to be breathing.Solution: Asheville City School buses run on diesel fuel which emits harmful pollutants into our clean air. Diesel exhaust harms our environment and everyone exposed to it, including the 25 million children that are transported by diesel fueled school buses. Particulate matter in diesel exhaust has links to causing asthma, bronchitis, and even lung cancer. Biodiesel is a clean, renewable alternative that reduces diesel air pollution. Biodiesel contains virtually no sulfur. This reduces the amount of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matter released.
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