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What Is This Moment Calling For?

Ashley041417-219As 2018 walks into my life, making herself at home like she’s been here all along, I’m reaching out to you, most of the people that I know, because now feels like the time.

As I see it, we are facing an opportunity of our lifetime: Can we learn or remember how to take better care of one another and guide ourselves towards a future that is more humane than this moment we are living now?

Most days, I have hope that it’s possible. In my 40 years of life, I’ve been blessed to meet thousands of incredible people all around the world. I’m in awe of how many folks from different backgrounds and life experiences are actively investing their energy and resources towards creating a more compassionate future. I hypothesize that perhaps the majority of people on this planet have good in our hearts and are capable of acting in ways that bring out the positive side of humanity.

So in 2018 – that’s a question that I’m exploring and where I will continue to focus my attention. Here are a few things that I believe which guide me:

  • People are amazing and capable of so much goodness
  • We are wiser together — the challenges that we face at this time are solvable when lead by the collective wisdom of diverse groups
  • If we face the truth of the past and present, then we are capable of imagining a future and working together to create the world we dream of
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Turning Inward

UnderEarth

Right now I’m under my brown earth blanket with 3 journals open, reflecting on life, what I’m learning, this year, these last 3 years… synthesizing, drawing pictures, conjuring… cozy and incredibly grateful for this season of slowing down and turning inward.

Photo source

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Staying Engaged in Local Politics

Black_Lives_Matter_And_Occupy_Wall_StreetI’m at fault. For the majority of my 8 years of living in Asheville, I was not involved in government politics. I was absorbed in my own life and work and field of perceptions and not paying attention to the laws and policies being passed, enforced or not enforced locally. I paid my taxes, but paid little attention to how city officials voted or how city staff performed their jobs. I trusted that other people were paying attention while I was paying attention to other things. And here we are.

Now I wake up at 5am imagining how hotels could be transformed into affordable housing and staffed with the healers so prolific in asheville, folks providing services to those living in financial poverty instead of just financial wealth. I think about all these hotels that don’t pay a living wage. I think about the rapidly decreasing numbers of people of color in the city and the rapidly increasing numbers of white folks flooding in. And reading an article like this one, how our city manager and police chief wouldn’t step in to help when their help was requested, I have to reckon with the fact that I, and people like me, are at fault. We who are comfortable enough in our life bubbles rationalize not paying attention. That said, while I will take some of the blame. I won’t stop there. I won’t get stuck in my emotions, feel ashamed of my inaction, overwhelmed by the truth, and thus continue not to act, not pay attention, or not be involved.

I invite you to join me in paying attention and placing our hearts upon these issues in our city, if you aren’t already. We could really be a remarkable, model city for innovative solutions to some of the toughest challenges cities across the country are facing. Or we can be a beer, tourist city for white folks while increasing the numbers of children living in poverty and families living on the streets and move from the #2 most gentrified city into first place. The choice is made in each of our actions and inactions. My vote is for innovative, radical change that is rooted in moral actions that further the wellbeing of all humans, that looks at the nuances of our history and makes decisions about the future that take into consideration that history… and much more to this vision of what could be, but this post is long enough.

Article that inspired some of this sharing and reflection: Mt. Zion says hotel encroaching on church property

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I’m Learning About Being a White Woman

I am devoted to creating a more loving and equitable world.
Navigating this commitment can be challenging. The purpose of this post is to share some things I am learning as a White, middle-class, cis-gendered, able-bodied woman saying yes to the challenges, staying committed to running this marathon, and making every effort to keep my heart open and to keep learning.
 
ChallengeStaying involved amidst the challenges means I am willing to face the realities of injustice and violence that folks who have been marginalized face daily and for centuries. It means recognizing when my actions play into those patterns of behavior and being humble when I make mistakes, growing beyond my sheltered life experiences, learning from my mis-steps and from others, showing up to the best of my capacity even when it’s hard and uncomfortable, bearing the emotional weight of keeping my eyes and heart open, staying active, listening deeply for what is being called of me, and remembering that the challenges I feel are nothing compared to what people of color and other marginalized folks face all the time. Lately I’ve been called out and called in for my mistakes, I’ve been mucking through the messiness of equity and justice work in a small community, and I’ve been struggling to get clear about where is ‘my place’ as a White woman committed to racial equity.

As Glenn Singleton said, “We have never lived a day without White supremacy. This will not come easily.” None of us know for sure how to create a more equitable and just world. Some have more relevant experience than others. And, as Marisol Jimenez said in a recent conversation (something to the effect of), at some level, we’re all bumbling around trying to figure this out.

Lessons I’m learning/ things becoming clearer:

  • It will get personal. Don’t stop because it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes I mess up and that sucks. People are mad or upset or frustrated with me. Relationships get strained. Some folks want to address the conflict. Some folks don’t want to address the tension and the issues don’t have closure. Sometimes I see a mistake I made and feel remorse. Sometimes I feel that I am being misunderstood. And yet, to be in the work I must accept that it will get personal, it will be uncomfortable and don’t give up when that happens.
  •  

  • Screen Shot 2017-06-30 at 2.10.41 PMAll levels all the time. My mentor and friend, Tuesday Ryan-Hart, stresses that when working together across differences, we must pay attention to and recognize that “all levels all the time” are operating and influencing one another — the personal, interpersonal, organizational, systemic, and structural. Sometimes people are upset about something that I, Ashley, did. Sometimes they are upset that I did something that “White people often do.” If I am part of a group or in a relationship with someone, I might think we are interacting strictly as people who are friends or colleagues with history to our relationship (personal/interpersonal) and I lose sight that my Whiteness is playing into the interaction (systemic or structural). As a White woman, I can forget that systemic oppression, a long history of discrimination, ignorance, defensiveness and denial can be effecting my interactions with people of color. It’s not just the intentions that I, Ashley, have when I do something. My actions also carry the baggage that comes from a long legacy of systemic ways that White people have been given access and ease, have used and abused our power, have taken advantage of other people, and the list goes on. And I am seeped in the socialization and point of view afforded me by my White skin and so there are things that I do that are hurtful and I am unaware. Sometimes I act in ways that are hurtful or harmful to another person or larger equity goals. Sometimes I take action and another person sees my actions as what White women do. The lines between what is personal and what is systemic can get blurred. And… The systemic is personal. The personal is systemic.
     
    What I have learned through many of these experiences is that when this happens, the primary thing I need to do is sit with the discomfort and keep listening. Allow it to be personal – to be about Ashley. Listen for where there is something for me to learn, where perhaps there is something that I am missing, where I am perpetuating patterns of inequity. And also to recognize in my core (and not necessarily out loud) and discern when it is about “White women” or “White people” and not necessarily just about Ashley.
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  • History matters, whether it’s history from centuries ago or from a few days ago. historypic2
    I can’t run away from the fact that the ways my skinfolk acted in the past deeply influences the way someone perceives my actions in the present. Even if I have a relationship or friendship with someone, that will not necessarily be at the forefront when I take actions that are similar to or actually are ways of oppressing other people. It is extremely unhelpful to my longterm goals if I am defensive or surprised when I am called out because my actions resemble the actions of other people with light skin who made efforts to keep power and maintain dominance. Part of being in this work is that I want to short circuit some of the entrenched historical patterns of power, money, and influence remaining in the hands of people of European descent. This means I must be keenly aware of how history is playing into the present.
  •  

  • My view of social change is becoming clearer. I believe it will take all of us.
    My perspective is that for humans to experience freedom from oppressive systems and biased beliefs that tare apart the heart and soul of humanity, change must involve liberation for those most oppressed. And the process of getting there involves all of us working together. I am devoted to doing all that I can to cultivate a world that works for all, to bring about societies/communities/groups that operate with more equity, justice, love and compassion. When it comes to changing the dominating and destructive systems that society is currently built upon, I believe that those who have been the most marginalized and have found ways to survive and even thrive — those people are the leaders to follow. They have had to navigate outside of the dominant culture and thus their wisdom is tested and proven. Often these are folks of color. My path forward is deeply guided by the wisdom of these people. That said, I also feel that I have gifts to contribute. I am called and trust the calling that there is a place for me in liberation work.
     
    HandsMyceliumFacing my Whiteness and its implications is a mandatory first – and never ending – step in this work. Showing up with humility is a close second step. This is the pre-work required for me to be part of inter-racial, equity and justice work that has any depth and hope for developing trusting working relationships. (What else is necessary pre-work?) Sometimes it will be essential for people to gather in closed groups like all Black folks together and all White folks together or queer folks together and straight folks together. Other times it is most valuable for us to work together across our differences. In order for us to work across differences and not replicate patterns of White Supremacy and Whiteness, there is a lot of experimenting that we must do — trying out different ways of being in meetings, getting work done, making progress, listening to one another, addressing conflict, being in relationship and so much more. We haven’t done this before and it will not be easy. Marisol Jimenez caught my heart when she said “Where does mercy meet accountability meet grace meet growth?” I feel that we are all in this together and it will take all of us to see change. I am drawn to grow and build with other people who are devoted to finding those places where mercy meets accountability, meets grace, meets growth… the places where we might actually experience living as Beloved Community.

So… in this time of learning lots of lessons, I am also seeing some reactive patterns that I’m not proud of but are real. I have to learn how to navigate these urges inside of me. I’m not proud of them because I feel weak and fragile. I look at the constant onslaught of discrimination, racism, threat to personal safety, and injustice that people of color face all the time and I feel the contrast of my daily privilege. It illuminates for me how fragile I can be when things get hard. And, I have to be real that I am a sensitive human being, these are some responses that come up for me, and it is my journey to learn ways to navigate these responses.

  • Sometimes I feel paralyzed by overwhelm. I am flooded by emotional responses and reactions – both personal and systemic. I feel overwhelmed by too much stimulation from staying attuned to all that is happening for individual people and society at large. The weight of the grief and loss is crushing. I feel intimidated by the height of the mountain we are trying to climb, shook at my core by anger and sadness for the unjust and cruel systems that have so much power and control and impact on people’s lives. And I feel discouraged when I make mistakes, folks are angered by my actions, or when I can’t discern where to invest my energy and efforts.
  • Sometimes I want to shut off. Go back to my White, middle-class, the-world-generally-works-for-me bubble. I want to reconnect with my (White) friends who I feel estranged from that seem to be living such happy and joyful lives. I want to find a way to pretend, for even a moment, that the horrors and traumas aren’t happening. I want to pretend to be in a place where I don’t know how bad it really is.
  • Sometimes it just hurts and I have to sit with the discomfort. Embarrassment. Regret. Confusion. I make mistakes. My actions or presence causes pain, mistrust, agitation, or anger for someone else. My intention was ultimately to create a more loving and equitable world, but I act in ways that cause others to feel harmed or triggered. It pains me to know that I am the cause for another person’s suffering or anger. I don’t like getting it “wrong”. Perfectionism. Saving face. Being seen in a positive light. My ego gets hurt. My feelings get hurt. And I can loop in my mind. Worry.

Here’s the thing. All of this is worth it to me, because I believe that another world is possible. 2010 Tee Shirt art id 8287412
I believe that we have the power to see one another as humans and create a world that works for all of us — or at least more of us. And, I know that in order for us to get there, it will take facing these dark realities, allowing our minds and cells to be unsettled and disturbed, and being bold enough to try new things and genuinely connect across our differences. In order for us to actually embody new ways of being with each other, seeing each other, and creating social systems that are rooted in love, equity and fairness — we must see and walk away from the cultural and behavioral patterns of White Supremacy (patriarchy, colonialism, capitalism, etc.). We must be unsettled by the challenges in order to truly shake off these vicious and deceptive ways of acting and perceiving. And then we must be vulnerable and courageous to experiment with new ways of showing up, interacting, and taking action.

As I continue to take steps forward, I am currently wondering — Where do my gifts fit? Some feel there is no place for White folks in racial justice work. I know that I am called to contribute to seeing change in this unjust and inequitable local community and world I am living in. In addition to continuing to work on myself, I wonder –

  • Should I focus on working with other White folks, creating spaces for education, learning, practice?
  • Should I focus on using my light skin advantage to navigate the systems of power and influence, to encourage change in institutions through working with local government, business owners, people in positions of power in our local institutions?
  • Should I focus on trying to create more economical opportunities for people of color? More equitable and fair learning opportunities for youth of color?
  • Should I be more of a worker bee, following the leadership of people of color in organizations and efforts they are leading?
  • Do I keep trying to find and build with others who are also committed to living the vision of Beloved Community, learning and practicing together, discovering what can translate into other environments?
  • Where do my skills fit? Where are my contributions valuable and where are they harmful because they are delivered through my White skin?
  • How can there be more financial support for this work, particularly for people of color, and also for folks like myself who would make this their full time job if it also covered costs of living?
  • What combination of all of the above is sustainable for me and allows me to live in ways that are healthy for my body, heart, nervous system, and quality of life?

Thank you for reading my reflections and thus being on this journey with me. Putting the content of my inner world and the complexity of what I’m learning and experiencing into words has been a task. I am sure my words are imperfect, but they offer a taste. As always I welcome your feedback, insight, curiosities and stories of your own about what you are learning these days. May more and more of us with pale skin find the courage and strength to be with the discomfort, commit ourselves to learning and changing, and find the strength and grace to be even more courageous and effective for the marathon that we are running together.

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2017 Reflections and an Invitation

humanityMy sense is that 2017 will (continue to) test our humanity and our devotion to freedom for all on this planet. Here in the United States, a question seems to be around how much do we truly believe in a democracy, in some version of this radical experiment of a government for and by the people? What are we willing to do do make it happen? How do we make it happen when the people are so diverse?

I feel the core challenge of this year will be to our sense of humanity. How far are we willing to go to support the health and well-being of other people and this living planet? How much violence targeted at specific people or groups of people will we tolerate? When is enough enough? When will enough of us unite to create realities that are more compassionate and considerate of the well-being of all living on this planet? What will motivate us to organize in ways that are effective at protecting people who are being violated and harmed? How creative can we be in this process?

I believe that we are actively controlling how long it will be before the human race is extinct. And some races are at threat of becoming extinct faster than others. I think we have some critical choices to make this year that will have broad future implications… that will influence the kind of suffering that our future generations will have to endure or not. Your children, grandchildren, and the children and grandchildren of people you don’t know.

Some Miriam-Webster definitions:

humanity
1: the quality or state of being humane
2: the quality or state of being human

humane
1: marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals
2: characterized by or tending to broad humanistic culture

As I was sensing into 2017, three phrases spoke to me.

Spiritually Guided - As I see it, we are in way over our heads. The challenges that we face are immense and the complexities are so intricate. While our logic will be pivotal for wise action, I believe that we need to be sourcing our guidance from that which is beyond logic. For me, that is a spiritual source. I believe that my actions and those who I am acting with will best serve if we are being spiritually guided.

Wiser Together - The wisdom of lone leaders does not get us to a place of collective liberation. Nor does the wisdom of lone cultures. Now is the time for groups of diverse people who are able to be wise together. Groups of people that can listen deeply, learn from each other, and act together. Groups that are stronger and wiser because of their differences and are able to work and learn from and with one another.

Fluid Communication - The more effective we are at communicating with each other, at passing important information and fine-tuning our interactions so that we can work well, live well, and speak well to each other… the more we will be capable of collectively achieving. This also helps us to be informed about what is really needed and what is and isn’t working.

An Invitation

IMG_0684

This year is going to require all of us to be taking the best care of ourselves as we are able and to be supporting one another and the neighbors that we don’t yet know in taking care of themselves as well. It will also require, as in the definition of humane above, that we tend to the broad humanistic culture.

If there is kindness in your heart that is able to feel compassion, empathy and consideration for humans and animals, please don’t look away this year. Please see the other humans on the planet with you, as much as is possible. And when your heart feels moved, step towards them. Stand up for their right to a quality life, the right for their culture to exist, the right for them to experience freedoms or support that you experience. Let’s flow together with whatever 2017 brings us, with love, courage, creativity and compassion.

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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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Sequoia Prayer

MY SEQUOIA PRAYER

When I feel tiny, weak and trembling
Or pulled this way and that by swirls of change,
Too insignificant to be of service,
Too “uprooted” to hold my ground,
.     I pray my Sequoia prayer.

Sitting quietly, breathing normally, becoming centered in the present moment–
in this holy instant –
My mind’s eye gradually forms an image of a giant Sequoia.
My Sequoia prayer takes form in my heart and soul
As the image forms and fleshes out to fill my being.

Centuries-old roots so wide and deep they have become part of the earth.
Supporting enormous, gnarled trunk that soars into the sky,
Eternity wrinkles carved into its surface, holding character markings for the ages,
Thick, porous bark skin covering the body, letting the trunk breathe,
protecting it from the fires that must come to support its growth.
Green leaves gushing out the top, reaching to the heavens,
Nurturing birds and other beings, offering up limbs as if in prayer.

Awareness of God fills my soul.
Sequoia image fills my being.

Spreading
.     Down into the Earth,
.     Deep into the Soul,
.     Strong into the body,

Breathing calmly. sitting quietly, praying trustingly, becoming
.     Grounded in humanity,
.     Rooted in God,
.     Striving ever upward,

My Sequoia prayer fills my cells, my lungs, my heart, my brain,
my soul, my being.

.     With love, grace and light.
.     With joy and hope.

.     With the strength of God I need to go on! Thank you, God!

Amen

~Dr. Monteen Lucas From Women’s Uncommon Prayers, an Episcopal Women’s Prayer Guide

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