Falling down as a leader and getting up again

Falling down and getting up again is one of the hallmarks of the Nondual Kabbalistic Healing community that is my home.

This morning I fell down as a leader, and my healer-colleagues caught me.

And this is how it works among the imperfect humans that we are.

 

I always, always want to be at my best when I facilitate a meeting.

Clear intention. Clear agenda. Clear (preferably flawless) communication. Definitely flawless documents that reach participants in time to prepare. Show up knowing what I want, ready to state it and also make plenty of room for others to state their views. Open to learning and to changing my mind. But still, as a leader, I expect myself to be able to confidently say: we are going in this direction!

Oh, and presence. Taking in what is going on, considering it with wisdom, and…well, you get the picture (aka fantasy) in play here.

 

Today’s reality: unrelated to any meeting anxiety, I ‘d been awake since 3:00 am before this 8:30 meeting. Still recuperating from a respiratory bug, with a muzzy head and bleary eyes. With an unstable internet connection that could (and did) drop me from the meeting at any moment. I wasn’t the only one. A mom’s cancer surgery. A newborn grandson. A dog’s death. Everyone had Life going on.

One issue on the agenda – creating a Master Calendar for projects, was a big departure for this all-volunteer group’s working style. I expected a range of resistances to this proposal. There was none. On the contrary, people saw the need and how it would help. Exhale.

It had taken me a week to drop into how to frame a second major issue. That involved our vision for the community that we serve, and how to bring it alive in the biennial gathering we are planning for next summer. I felt very clear that offering attendees different creative ways to explore the theme of the gathering – movement, mask-making, a community mural – was the way to go. But in the service of what intention, with what goal? I was alarmed to find that as the chair I was coming up empty. I felt the best I could offer was an empty form. Ugh.

 

So here’s what happened.

My energies were low, my mind not too sharp, my level of presence questionable. I simply could not run the meeting in whatever my usual style is.  This left room for different conversations and inventiveness. Many dots were connected about how this could support that. Oh and of course the theme of the meeting could play out in this inspired way so it was really an integrated part of the whole. And oh this and that person have wonderful artistic specialties they might offer. In fact, that community resourcefulness is precisely what we want to harbor at the big gathering. Oh!

Lesson of the day: I was off my game, and this made room for fresh movement, new information, originality, heartfelt desires, initiative, skills, engagement. What a rich stew. An outcome that helped me get up, and left all of us uplifted, and in awe of one another.

I became useful in a different way when I fell down – off my own standards for myself. My colleagues picked me up and the whole committee enterprise too. Next time you feel off your game, consider you might be making room for something wholly new and brilliant to emerge. Including enlivened trust and intimacy in your group.

 

How to wake up in the middle of waking up

This morning I woke up in the middle of waking up.

I realized that I was making a series of definitive statements to myself, declarations about the state of my body and my relationship with the world. I was reconstructing my very identity for the day! The questions to which the statements appear to be answers were either understood, implied, or went by too fast to be noticed.

I have a bit of a headache. That’s unusual. That pain in my left arm that I got up to take care of in the middle of the night doesn’t hurt. The St. John’s Wort Oil I rubbed in must have worked.  My sinuses are less congested. That osteopathic treatment yesterday helped. I have a whole day to finish those two essays for my homework assignment. The uninterrupted hours are nervous-making. I’ve worked the Kabbalistic Universes to death figuring out how they relate to personal and social identity. What I’ve got is far too complicated. I just want to give this group what they need to know now. I want to leave out a bunch of the usual stuff but I’m afraid of over-simplifying it. That other piece – on my relationship with the unknown: I’ve hardly thought about it. The house is really cold this morning.

Then the cat jumped up on me, having noticed I was stirring. She roused me to get her breakfast, ending this bit of waking up in the middle of waking up.

I regularly sleep through this process in the morning when I wake from sleep. What is really going on here?! 

I am reconstituting a self that I recognize, and a life that I recognize. I am naming and rating various body sensations, and in the process making judgments about actions I’ve taken – in this case in the prior twenty-our hours. I am translating certain sensations into recognizable anxieties so readily that I now suspect that I have paired them habitually: only this white wine pairs with that fish. There’s a thing I have to get done, and it has to meet certain standards – of usefulness and clarity that are good enough, close enough to perfection. I am naming an anxiety that sets up my relationship for the whole day – this thing I gotta do, I don’t know how I’m gonna get it done. All this brings alive muscle memory, posture, ways of sitting/sitting out and walking towards/away that shape how I move through life.

There are a whole lot of unthought knowns operating here.

They underlie the process I have described, and they love statements. Subject. Object. Definitiveness indicated by the period at the end. Period. Distinctions. Judgments. Interpretations. And every one of them sets me up to go about my day assuming them to be reality.

I didn’t stop to question the validity of any of it. I didn’t stop to question what I was including or leaving out. I didn’t stop to question the meaning I assigned to a sensation or the judgement I paired with a thought.

Question? Introduce something curvy to slow my speedy process?

I didn’t pause to let in more information or to allow for possibility, until it occurred to me I’d better get right to the computer before these insights could sink unexamined back into unconsciousness.

Then I went into the kitchen and fed the cat.


Read more on other ways of Not Knowing: https://alifeofpractice.com/daily-practices/i-dont-knows-small-life-stopping-and-life-giving/

 

Growing up racist in Post-World War II America

Banner photo: Girl holding a child  Arkansas, ca 1855, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

I am grateful to white historian Charles B. Dew for The Making of a Racist, a stark and insightful guide to his personal acculturation to the Southern story of slavery and the civil war, and to his profound cognitive dissonance on waking up to it. His primary sources, documents of the slave trade in Richmond, Virginia, chill Dew and the reader alike with what was their obviously pedestrian nature at the time.

 

Raised in the industrial midwest, I have my own version of growing up racist.

When I saw the banner photo above, I immediately recognized its personal significance. Somewhere in my family album was a picture of a dark-skinned Fannie Mae holding a white baby – my older sister. It would have been taken in Cleveland, late in 1938, 83 years after Girl Holding a Child. By my birth in 1944, someone replaced Fannie Mae, and I think she was white.

I was in 11th grade before I met Paul, the first black student I ever went to school with – seven years after Brown v. the Board of Education.  The only other direct contact I had with African-Americans growing up was with Gertrude, the cleaning woman who worked for us for many years. She was kind, friendly, reliable, and just about as distant from my world as any other adult. My mother referred to her as “the Woman,” which even as a kid I thought was strange. And the feeling of how I remember this is that my mother also seemed to make a point of fixing lunch for Gertrude, same as she would for me, an act that carried some unspecified moral weight.

 

And somehow I imbibed that by weekly proximity to my white family, Gertrude was blessed to have escaped a fate of poor character or bad luck.

A few years ago, I wrote the following vignette:

According to Historic District documents,  I grew up at an aspirational address. My parents had been among “newly married couples of social prominence” drawn more to “the street of the brides” than to any other real estate in late 1920s Cleveland. The Winslow Road house stood on a prominent corner, one convenient block from the Lynnfield Rapid Transit stop. Convenient also for the Shaker Heights police, whose black and white cruiser regularly sat for hours just past our driveway, ready to spring right or left onto the nearby boulevard in chase of – something. It was the 1950s, suburbia: segregated from despair, violence, and color.

Loudly enough to be shushed, I used to ask my mother about the poor people as the Rapid took us through trash-strewn gullies and neighborhoods of shabby, grey, tilted homes. I hit a rust spot in my imagination when I try to recall, or reconstruct, her answer.

The civil rights movement was in full swing, heady and terrible, by the time my own children were born, and I can note only these tiny incremental changes, and with the same unspecified moral weight I had sensed from my mother: It was always Mrs. Bond. And we often sat down to lunch together.

Not surprisingly, Dew is never quite able to reconcile his love of his parents and his admiration of his mother’s kindness with the stories he was fed (including the same Little Black Sambo of my childhood) and the way his father treated the black gardener for coming to the front door. Over and over again he asks, “How could they?”

I understand his dilemma. They” could and my mother could, because they didn’t question. For way too long I didn’t either.

What did you take in about race while you were growing up?


More on our cultural stories:

https://alifeofpractice.com/daily-practices/stories-to-heal-what-ails-me-what-ails-america/

https://alifeofpractice.com/bend-the-arc/getting-to-justice-stories-that-heal-me-heal-america-part-2/

“I don’t knows” small, life-stopping, and life-giving

The small I don’t know

“I don’t know” surely ranks as among the most difficult phrases for many of us to utter. Our families and culture indoctrinate us, implicitly or explicitly, in one or another story of the associated dangers. Test anxiety, performance anxiety, terror of public speaking are some of the common ways this shows up in our lives: the unknown is an enemy.

I grew up shaped by an absolute certainty that personal calamity would result from not knowing. My very existence depended on knowing. Knowing what was in family members’ minds and hearts but was taboo to speak. Knowing when I was needed where and for what without being told. Knowing the right answer. Knowing with precision. Anticipating what I needed to know and maintaining a constant state of readiness. Exhausting. No wonder I had bags under my eyes even as a kid.

Eventually I found that when I could let go of the certainty of calamity, I was not an irredeemable failure. Instead I might learn something about myself, another human being, or the world. Being open to learning and possibility sometimes serves me as inspiration, other times as aspiration. It is a practice that I have at different times pursued cheerfully, doggedly, grumbling to myself.

And if I don’t garner new information, I have the chance to practice something else: patience, and humility.

 

The life-stopping I don’t know 

Being recalled for a mammogram. Knowing a loved one is in harm’s way. A sudden loss of security, health, relationship, function. I find this I don’t know mixed with bargaining prayers, grief, courage, urgency, helplessness, trust, terror. The very quality of time and space shifts. It seems odd if the sun is shining and the weather perfect.

I may have to mobilize my inner resources and outer supports. I may spend a lot of my energies figuring out what is the next right thing to do. I may need to weep or howl or break plates.

Yet somehow the quality of persistence pervades such times. The persistence of sunrise and sunset, sleeping and waking, breath.

 

…somehow becomes the life-giving I don’t know

The small I don’t knows have been swallowed by the mother of “I Don’t Knows” – which I can only call Mystery. I can make no sense of my life, of the world, of Life. My sense-making mechanisms don’t function normally. It’s not exactly that I lose my senses, my mind, and the defenses that I built upon them.

They are just not the right tool for this I Don’t Know.

 

What does seem to work is this: I rest my head up against the unknown

This unknown is so solid that as I do this, I can actually rest. I am comforted. I relax, physically. There is nothing for me to figure out. I do not need to listen in the way I’ve thought of listening. I do not need to open my heart or even be concerned about whether it is open or closed. There is neither pattern nor meaning to seek out. An open mouth. No words. Neither are words precluded nor actions hindered. Just my head resting up against the unknown, on the shoulder of a rock-solid friendship.