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Stories from Stonewall

Yesterday the US got a new National Monument, The Stonewall National Monument, to honor the LGBT/Gay Liberation movement… the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots is coming up. I’ve been educating myself on the role that transgender people of color and homeless youth played in activating this liberation movement… History repeats itself for better and for worse. Let’s pay attention so that we can amplify the elements of history that can guide us (i.e. Seek out and listen to the queer folks of color in your life, they have wisdom that we as a collective need) and, for once and for all, let’s stop repeating these patterns of hate and violence against people that are different. We’re all brothers and sisters here on this earth.
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We Are All In This Together

BoatSinking

This image flashed across my sea of Facebook, labeled as OUR SOCIETY. One of those images that says so much and continues to speak to me long after it has left my field of vision.

 

Other possible captions that I see in my society and feel in myself:
  • “That’s horrible. I don’t know what to do.”
  • “Those poor people. I wish there was some way I could help.”
  • “I feel compassion for their suffering and pain. I will pray for them.”

…and continue living life as if the water is over there.

The structures that are made to hold our society together and take care of our people have gaping holes in them. Healthcare and quality education are not accessible to all. Protection under the law and justice is not accessible to all. The ability to make a living wage, eat a healthy meal or have a place to sleep is not accessible to all. Safety walking down the street or using a public restroom is not accessible to all.

And the planet that we live amongst, that provides us water, oxygen and food to sustain us, shelter from the elements, is being destroyed. The species that live along side us are becoming extinct… “That’s horrible. I wish there was something I could do…”

There are many of us for whom society’s systems do function, the systems adequately serve us.

Privilege1 (1)

We can work hard, get a job, afford healthcare, and walk down the street and enjoy almost any city we visit. We can trust that if we are in trouble and call the police, they will likely act to protect us. If we find ourselves challenged in a court of law, the system will judge us fairly in the ways it holds us accountable for our actions or sees our innocence. We are equipped with good educations that help us to think critically, feel empowered to follow our dreams, and even use our degrees to work our way into or out of situations. We have access to healthy food and even time for leisure that keeps our bodies and minds in good shape to face the challenges inherent in being human. We can kiss the person we love in a public setting and only feel love. We can leave our house when we want to, not hindered by physical or mental challenges. We can take a day off for vacation or self-care and not worry about how our bills will be paid.

These are privileges that should be human rights… but currently are not. There are racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious and ability identifications that make these rights accessible to some and not to others. There are ideologies that support these inequalities — values and mindsets that prop up a system of oppression and superiority, strengthening a system of haves and have-nots, and creating a system that works for some and doesn’t work for others.

I believe there are enough of us with enough privilege that we could stand up to these destructive and violent inequalities.

We have the ability to work together to make being human a more thrivable experience for more people living on the planet… to make life for our grandchildren more bearable. But it requires that we recognize and act on the fact that even when life is working for me, I am still intrinsically connected to those whose boats are sinking. My boat is sinking too.

So many people are stressed and exhausted, pouring all of their life force energy into trying to empty the water out of the boat – trying to survive in systems that are rigged against their success. So many others are trying to save the boat because they know we are all in it together, they are working tirelessly to transform the current systems or create entirely new systems. And there are still many who sit back and continue on with ‘business as usual’, perhaps well-intentioned with compassionate thoughts and genuine uncertainty as to how to contribute, but still without action to stop the sinking boat. In a place of survival, priorities become simple and straight forward. In a place of privilege, options are abundant and priorities have to be intentional.

How are you positioned on the boat? What are your priorities?

Mlk

I am reminded of this quote from Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

If you’re not in the process of bailing out water right now,
please make sure you are actively supporting folks that are.

#TakeCareOfEachOther #WakeUp #WeAreAllSinking  #ThisHasToStop  #SelfCare&CommunityCare

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I Needed to Stop & Recalibrate

eyesOn January 18th in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I had one of those somatic moments where my body vibrates and catches my attention. Often when I look back, it’s moments like that one that indicate my life is about to change. A friend and colleague was talking about the sabbatical she is on, her daily routine, the things she’s saying NO to, and the self-care she is prioritizing. My whole body shivered and bellowing within me I heard, “Is this what you need to do? Can you take 3-6 months to pause?

While the doubting parts of me quickly began discouraging such a dramatic and risky move, the questions didn’t surprise me. A couple days prior I had given a talk about “Living on Purpose” where I admitted to the group of 200 university students that my professional success these last four years has been at the expense of my own self-care and work-life balance. Could I really take 3-6 months to intentionally assess and re-balance my priorities? Could I afford such a shift? What about all of my responsibilities and people that were depending on me? Could I really make caring for me a priority?

Success Checklist

Slide from lecture at Dalhousie University

 

I talked it over with friends and family, prayed on it, and by March 15th I had officially begun my process of Stopping & Recalibrating my priorities. I committed to living with greater health, more creativity and a clarified direction. I was fortunate to be supported by Mycelium in this decision, both financially and energetically.

It is a profound privilege to be able to take this time. I am deeply grateful. I feel that I deserve it. And I have faith that this gift to me will in turn serve others. Here’s more of the story about my process.

There were signs that this change was necessary:

  • I had lost touch with the vibrancy of my life force, life’s colorfulness had dimmed. I felt passionate about my work, but was going through the motions to accomplish what needed to get done. I felt drained even when the content inspired me.
  • I was exhausted and often wanting to sleep.
  • I noticed myself worrying about to-do’s I wasn’t getting to, tasks I hadn’t completed… but I wasn’t worrying about the fact that I hadn’t eaten a healthy meal or gotten up to go for a walk.
  • I hadn’t fully burnt out, but I was on the edge. I would take days to recover, get enough energy to be “back in the game,” but it wasn’t integrated. The renewal was temporary.
  • I was feeling called to a future that I didn’t yet have the spiritual, emotional and physical skills nor the community support to show up for. I needed to spend time focusing on personal practices, creative expression and growing relationships with myself, my spiritual family, and my community in order to show up for the chaos and complexity that I sense will be asked of me.

While I wasn’t certain that I needed to stop working, it was clear I had to stop being a producer for a few months. For me, a producer is someone who can see a big picture vision, articulate a strategy to bring it to life, and oversee the process of it coming to life with integrity. While I am good at this, for big projects it requires a huge amount of energy. Tracking all of the small and deep details of bringing Mycelium the organization to life with integrity while also launching transformative learning programs and tending to the relationships being cultivated required tremendous output. My self-care was frequently falling to the back seat with the wellbeing of the organization and the people we served in the front seat. I was not practicing what I preached. I was not modeling the type of leadership I believe in.

Spending Resources

Slide from lecture at Dalhousie University

 

I recognized that my goal-oriented, product-focused, analytical and logistical brain space was dominating. It was overshadowing my nurturing, creative, emergent tendencies that are also very important to my authentic expression and well-being. I had to stop being at the center of initiatives, leading them forward. I needed time for an out breath from the 4 years I invested in co-founding Mycelium. I needed to focus on the personal, daily practices that keep ME centered in the work I do and life I live. I needed to strengthen my spiritual and emotional practices that deepen my faith and ability to navigate uncertainty and chaos. I needed to strengthen my physical body for more endurance and healthy living. I needed to rest. I needed to trust that even if this move felt irrational and incredibly privileged, it was essential for the long haul.

slow-down-300x200It’s been 7 weeks now. I am seeing and re-writing patterns in myself, forming new neural pathways, letting go of unserving habits and beliefs, grieving and celebrating. I am slowing down, tuning into my heart, and listening to what is really calling to me at this time. I am taking the time to heal and nourish myself. I am reconnecting with my family and community. I am reflecting on my life experiences. I am weaving new possibilities. I am learning how to be me… unapologetically.

While I still have a lot to learn, I am beyond grateful for this time and what has revealed itself so far. So many lessons about myself, my beliefs, my work in the world, the conditions that help or hinder me thriving, and the challenges and learning experiences from starting a social enterprise. I have slowed down, but I don’t believe I’ve fully stopped. I imagine this will be a lifelong lesson for me.

Future possibilities are just beginning to whisper. A warrior in me is being beckoned. Conditions for how I will operate in this next stage of my life are revealing themselves. The focus of my attention is getting clearer. A daily personal practice that can nourish and sustain me is taking shape. I am recalibrating my presence, my frequency, my focus, my expression, who I am in relation to the many parts of myself, who I am in relation to how I work in the world and the type of work I do, who I am in relation to how I engage relationships and cultivate family. I am healing and recalibrating.

I am reflecting on this process as best I can, and I know there is much more to harvest from this time. Thank you for reading about my journey. Please feel free to ask me questions if they arise for you, as they might help me better integrate what this time has been, what I’m learning and where I am right now.

And stay tuned as I share the seeds that are emerging!

sprouting-seed-micro-photography-hd-wallpaper-spring-nature-stock-photo

Image Sources: Eyes, Slow Down, Seed Sprouting

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The Woman is Sacred

Pat McCabe

Six months ago I met Pat McCabe, Woman Stands Shining, at a gathering on the Maternal Roots of the Gift Economy (and Giftival) in Rome, Italy. She showed up as  a powerful and wise teacher and mentor for me… inviting me deeper into my own journey of being a woman honoring the sacred cycle of life I am a part of, and modeling standing fiercely and gracefully in one’s own wisdom, listening to guidance for how to authentically invite healing and ceremony in accessible ways with diverse groups of people.

Yesterday she showed up again as an angel in my life by making some facebook posts that spoke deeply to what I needed to hear. I am humbled for the sharing of this wisdom from Pat – a powerful woman, mother, grandmother, artist, activist, and compassionate leader.

I pray that the sacred feminine and the sacred masculine in each of us can heal and stand with honor. We need each other.

Here are some excerpts from her words and at the bottom you can see her full words with a few comments from others which I HIGHLY encourage you to read.

..much of what is taking place against this Mother Earth is because the masculine aspect, which dominates this Earth at this time, does not truly hold the woman as Sacred.

…The way we treat the women is the way we treat the Mother Earth, the way we treat the Mother Earth is the way that we will treat the women. They are inextricably connected.

..to all the young men who would be warriors on behalf of this Holy Mother Earth: You cannot truly protect Her and abuse women at the same time.

…to the young men, and to the young women, I say: Take heed. I pray for … all the young men who are finding their way. I need you, our daughters need you, all the women need you, to uphold the honor of being Human Being, as the masculine, now more than ever. Step up to your Honor- I know that you can.

…And the corollary to this… is: The way women treat other women is the way that the Earth will be treated as well. If we cannot hold or see ourselves as women as Sacred, we contribute to the violation and degradation also. I gotta step up y’all!!

…{an} understanding of the Sacredness of Women is that unless she is fully informed of the truth and is fully informed of her choice, without deception or violence, or alcohol, or mind-altering substance, any physical relationship that is conducted outside of these boundaries ought to be considered “rape.” It would be taking the most holy gift from a woman, and from life itself, without true permission which does constitute rape.

ORIGINAL POSTS ON FACEBOOK AT THIS LINK

Pat McCabe:

Dear friends, yesterday my daughter posted a warning to her sisters about a young man we met recently. I acknowledge her courage and honesty and a true desire to prevent her sisters from harm. I also had considered posting something about her encounter with this young man because it was very disturbing to me. He is a primary leader in a very necessary action to speak on behalf of the Mother Earth and on behalf of his people as well. His deception, his “sweet talk” of my daughter, including using traditional values such as “I will bring your mother some horses”, is very sad to me. Along with injuring young women by saying this and with talk of marriage to each of them, one after another, in order to get what he wants, he does not understand that much of what is taking place against this Mother Earth is because the masculine aspect, which dominates this Earth at this time, does not truly hold the woman as Sacred. The way we treat the women is the way we treat the Mother Earth, the way we treat the Mother Earth is the way that we will treat the women. They are inextricably connected. What I would say to all the young men, who would be warriors on behalf of this Holy Mother Earth is: You cannot truly protect Her and abuse women at the same time. You are fooling yourself if you think that you can. I would love to see our old traditional courting rituals come back to life. But obviously this is not the way that will happen. This is using something beautiful, and powerful, for selfish and violent purposes. My daughter used the word “rape” in her original post. This is because her understanding of the Sacredness of Women is that unless she is fully informed of the truth and is fully informed of her choice, without deception or violence, or alcohol, or mind-altering substance, any physical relationship that is conducted outside of these boundaries ought to be considered “rape.” It would be taking the most holy gift from a woman, and from life itself, without true permission which does constitute rape. So again, to the young men, and to the young women, I say: Take heed. I pray for this young, confused man, and for all the young men who are finding their way. I need you, our daughters need you, all the women need you, to uphold the honor of being Human Being, as the masculine, now more than ever. Step up to your Honor- I know that you can.

Comment by J Michael Combs:

good words, sister. we have truly lost the path of respect for ourselves, our mother, and one another. it didn’t happen in a week; and it won’t be healed in a week nor in a generation perhaps. but we do have the power to consciously choose our words and actions. the level of awareness we bring to them is the level of sacredness. with all of us weaving together we can heal ourselves, our families, our communities, our nation, and our earth mother. thank you.

Pat McCabe:

And the corollary to this, and I am humbled by this truth, is: The way women treat other women is the way that the Earth will be treated as well. Also, if we cannot hold or see ourselves as women as Sacred, we contribute to the violation and degradation also. A new realization for me as of this weekend with my Sisters from around the world. I gotta step up y’all!!

Comment by Liane Gale:

Phyllis Chesler’s 2009 book “Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman” speaks to this. “Women’s aggression may not take the same form as men’s, but girls and women are indeed aggressive, often indirectly and mainly toward one another. They judge harshly, hold grudges, gossip, exclude, and disconnect from other women.

Like men, women are exposed to the messages of misogyny and sexism that permeate cultures worldwide. Like men, women unconsciously buy into negative images that can trigger abuse and mistreatment of other women. But like other social victims, many do not realize stereotyping affects members within the victimized group as well as those outside the group. They do not realize their behavior reflects society’s biases.

How women view and treat other women matters. Are women oppressed? Yes. Do oppressed people internalize their oppressors’ attitudes? Without a doubt. Prejudice must first be acknowledged before it can be resisted or overcome. More than men, women depend upon one another for emotional intimacy and bonding, and exclusionary and sexist behavior enforces female conformity and discourages independence and psychological growth.”

About Pat McCabe:

Woman Stands Shining (Patricia McCabe), of Diné Nation, living in Taos, NM, is a mother, activist, artist, writer, and international speaker who draws upon the deep Indigenous sciences of thriving life to reframe inquiries about sustainability, and is devoted to next generations, “Women’s Nation” and “Men’s Nation” as functional members of the “Hoop of Life,” upholding the honor of being human.  She speaks on the subject of how gender relates to sustainability, and carries a discourse titled: The Feminine Design and Sustainability.

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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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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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Wiser Together: Partnering Across Generations

This article originally appeared in Fieldnotes

BY JUANITA BROWN & ASHLEY COOPER

Tucked away in the small Appalachian community of Burnsville, North Carolina, is a family farm and a place of meeting that has recently become the new home base for Juanita Brown and David Isaacs, Co-Founders of the World Café. Together with Ashley Cooper, a young educator, community organizer, and Executive Director of TEDxNextGenerationAsheville, they are collaborating with Juanita’s 90-year-old mother and younger members from the nearby community to deepen the legacy of the farm for future generations.

In these “notes from the field,” Ashley and Juanita tell a story that will also be featured in the Innovation Marketplace at the upcoming Summer Institute.

Together for Life from Juanita Brown on Vimeo.

FIELDNOTES: It looks like you’ve made quite a radical change in your life, Juanita. How did you come to be living in the Appalachian mountains?

Juanita: In the early 1970s my parents, Millie and Harold Cowan, civil liberties pioneers from Florida, bought a broken-down 90-acre farm in one of the poorest counties of North Carolina, near Asheville. For the next four decades they worked with others in the community to create a special and welcoming environment for people from all walks of life. After my dad passed away, David and I brought my mom back to the farm and spent the summer here. Late one night, I had an “illumination” in which I felt completely embraced by the love and care that my mom and dad had invested here. In that moment, I realized that we could never sell this farm in our lifetimes—and that David and I had a unique opportunity to discover what wanted to unfold here.

In a purely intuitive leap, we left our home of 35 years in California to “listen the future into being,” and to embody here the principles of multi-generational collaboration that we’d been exploring in our global work with the World Café community. As you know, we’ve co-hosted many multi-generational dialogues since helping to organize the first multi-gen learning program at the Shambhala Institute in 2004. Our farm project is providing a place based learning field for us to deepen into the principles and practices of intergenerational hosting and partnerships. We see this field as having implications for community resilience and for organizations across sectors that are seeking to engage the wisdom and expertise of all of their members in addressing critical challenges.

FN: And what is the path that brought you into this collaboration, Ashley?

Ashley: Growing up in Georgia, the Appalachian mountains have always been my “heart home.” The West Coast swept me away for many years, but my return was inevitable. The timing fortuitously aligned with Juanita and David’s decision to move to the region. They have been colleagues, friends, mentors, and co-inspiritors over the years. I embraced the opportunity to learn and co-create with them while at the same time being adopted by a new “grandmother,” Millie!

The nature of this project and this place drew me in—the intergenerational partnerships and the shared dedication to processes of engagement grounded in principles that nourish life, justice, learning and the common good. It is a unique opportunity to be part of a group of passionate people, as we move between our roles as learners, teachers, friends, mentors, and family. At the core, we are living the practice of mutual partnerships where appreciation and respect for each other’s contributions is based on recognizing that each of us has unique gifts to offer, whatever our age or stage of life.

FN: Why is multi-generational collaboration and partnership so important to you both?

Juanita: I have always been fascinated by large-scale systems change and what might enable whole societies to shift into more life-affirming patterns. Over the years I had the great good fortune to have older corporate and community leaders take me under their professional and personal wings as I engaged with this work.

I began to think abut the challenges we face at every level of system today. I realized that there is a huge untapped large-scale social change potential in the wisdom, experience, and perspective of younger leaders as well as children. I began to ask myself: How can we honor and use the unique contributions and gifts that reside in all of us, as a single generation, alive and awake together—whatever our age or stage of life?

Ashley: Young children are my key teachers. I learn from their honest perception of the world, bright curiosity, and playful ways of engaging life. They keep me attuned —reminding me to be in the present moment and inviting me to enthusiastically engage my whole self in the process of living.

At the same time, I’ve been greatly influenced by many older leaders and colleagues in the fields of education, process arts, conversational leadership and therapy. Relationships that bridge the lifespan have provided a strong foundation for my life and work. Youngers shake up my field of vision and invite me to see things from a totally different angle. Elders have acknowledged the value of my contributions and enabled me to stretch into the unknown edges of my capacities with greater confidence as I learn from their experiences, stories and insights.

At this time of global challenge to our common future it seems irresponsible to believe that we can make wise decisions without listening to contributions from all members of the circle of life. The wisdom of multiple generations is desperately needed. I also find life more personally exciting and fun when I am partnering across generations!

If intergenerational collaborations provide such potential for large-scale social change, why don’t we see more of it?

Juanita: Collaboration between generations has traditionally looked like grandparents reading to small children, a one-way power dynamic between professional mentors and their younger colleagues, and awkward attempts to manage a next-generation workforce. There are also strong beliefs, held by many, that “youngers are to be seen not heard,” or even that the final decision should always be made by the oldest person in the room. These cultural and societal norms and habits seem to shape so much of our thinking.

Ashley: I can relate to this personally. A colleague once said to me, “I’m older than you, I’m supposed to be wiser than you.” Not everyone will say something that direct, but I often feel that tone of a response, and sometimes it even has more of a dismissive edge. The challenge seems to be our willingness to be humble and genuinely recognize when we are learning. If new understanding is igniting inside of me because of something another person is doing or saying, I am learning from them. They are contributing to my knowing and influencing my actions and decisions. This is a precious gift and we have the opportunity to step beyond traditional boundaries and be open to learn from whoever has the wisdom of the moment to share, regardless of their age or background.

FN: Can you describe how you see your vision for the farm unfolding?

Juanita: We aren’t approaching the visioning process in the traditional manner of creating our preferred picture of the future and driving towards it. More, we are together “listening the future into being.” We are experiencing each of the four seasons and asking ourselves questions such as: What is the story of this farm and its role in the local community?  How are we relating to the land and how is the land relating to us?  How can we honor and deepen the legacy of my parents and of those who came before? Assuming the farm has its own voice, what is it saying to us?  Sensing into the whole, what are the minimum, elegant, next steps?

Ashley: In addition to our own listening and imagining, we are inviting people who visit the farm to share their images of possibility and creative inspirations for this place. We are committed to collective intelligence informing our actions and we trust that this intuitive and collaborative approach will yield paths forward that none of us could have imagined on our own. For example, the local members of our team whose families have lived for generations in this mountain culture have helped us “see” different aspects of this place and its possibilities.

FN: What does this look like right now? How are you spending your days on the farm, Juanita?

Juanita: I´m experiencing the skills and wisdom emanating from the younger members of our team.  For example, Justin, age 22, has a unique capacity to find unexpected and innovative solutions to dilemmas related to renovating our 100-year-old barn while keeping its unique character. Not only am I thrilled to learn from him, but the other young carpenter he is working with will often turn to him and ask for his insight. At the same time, when I, as the elder, ask directly for his opinion, I notice that he will sometimes hesitate as I am breaking one of the unspoken cultural rules about relationships between the generations.

Ashley, as a ¨GiGi¨(girl geek!) has become my technical mentor, I am mentoring her in the next stages of her community organizing work, and we are partnering together on this farm project. Another of our team, Thomas Arthur, contributed the short video and photos about the project which accompanies this article, which I could never have imagined! For me, what is unique about these collaborations is that we are each ¨giving it all we´ve got¨ within the context of the cultural and historical factors that have shaped each of our lives.

FN: What have you been learning so far that may have broader organizational, community and societal, implications?

Ashley: We’re discovering that co-mentoring is a more useful construct than traditional mentoring, eldering, or teaching. By being open to fresh perspectives and actively learning from one another’s life experiences and skills, we are accessing leverage points that far exceed our individual capacities.

Juanita: Organizations of all types are facing critical issues as Baby Boomers, now in their 50s and 60s, enter their older years in a world that is dramatically different than the one they have been operating in. Doing it the way we’ve always done it is no longer an option. Younger employees deserve to be considered equal contributors to innovative solutions rather than needing to “wait their turn.” If organizations are to thrive in these uncertain and turbulent times, these new perspectives and redefined partnerships between generations in the workplace are sorely needed.

Elders can enter the legacy stage of their lives by forming alliances with younger leaders around the crucial challenges that not only organizations but also communities are facing today. This will require a new paradigm for all generations and we want to be part of the movement that is responding to this opportunity!

We’d love to hear your reflections and experiences with intergenerational collaboration and learning—in your organizations and in your communities.
Feel free to be in touch with us at:
Ashley: Ashley@easilyamazed.com
Juanita: Juanita@conversationalleadership.com


Juanita BrownAshley Cooper and Samantha Tan will be presenting a Skills and Lenses for Innovation session on Multi-Generational Leadership: Shaping Tomorrow Together at the Innovation Marketplace during the ALIA Summer Institute in Columbus in June.

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