To start, check out my first post in this series, Awakening from the Dream, part 1.
And where does this mulling over of these deafening alarm bells the most recent cycles of natural disasters and destruction lead me to? What am I motivated to do when I am so painfully reminded that the earth has its own plans for the lands I call “my” home, and there’s very little I can do to predict or control them? I can’t pretend to have many answers, except the same one I’ve been coming back to over and over: nurturing some sense of community and coming into right relationship with the lands and resources that sustain my life.
There was a time when communities and the land they lived on would sustain generation after generation, when you could spend a whole lifetime living off the same lands with your grandparents and your children and even your grandchildren too. There are stronger remnants of this way of life in Louisiana than most places in America. I mean if you have ever been to New Orleans or Southern Louisiana in general (and many other places throughout the south) and fallen in love with the people and way of life here, understand that these old ways are a huge part of this, and the disasters that people have always wrestled with to live here are too. Disasters create family, disasters remind us of why we need community in the first place. But this way of being is not supported by the current form of capitalism in America, that teaches us that personal achievement, land ownership, wealth accumulation, even being of service to society-at-large, through activism/politics/art/spirituality/wellness, etc., are more valuable than investment in your local community and coming into to righteous relationship with the resources that sustain your life.
The society and social media makes it very hard to feel like you are achieving something worthwhile when “all” you are doing is trying to take good care of the land you live off and the people that you consider part of your community. It’s a sickness that lives deep within myself for sure. I have been conditioned since going to ‘grade’ school to believe in a particular level of achievement and/or wider contribution will make me feel like I am okay, successful, acceptable, etc. And of course, there’s the conditioned sense that if I do not match a certain level of productivity as prescribed by capitalism, I will always be financially insecure. At the same time, I feel so desperate to reclaim the old, interconnected, interdependent way of being human that it seems the collective misses terribly. We all crave being a part of, a tribe, a village, a community, a group of people that we can rely on when we need support—and a group that we can contribute to, where we feel our gifts are seen and are useful to the greater whole. And perhaps most potent, we miss being connected and in right relationship with the lands that sustain us and give us life. We long for it, we feel it even when we are doing just the smallest things, like buying something “organic” or sitting in a circle for an hour around a fire.
This is why we hear the word community being tossed around so often in healing, spiritual, and activist groups, there’s an acknowledgement that there’s a need. A need to be part of, to have a tribe, to be held. At the same time, we have to be wary when we hear this word, because it is often said in a way that obscures the difficulty of community. Community isn’t something that gets created in a weekend, or even over the period of months. It’s something that takes years. And when community is divorced from shared land and/or resources, or it is predicated on the leadership of just a few, it has no real teeth and is as flimsy as the wind or a passing fad.
How do you know when you are actually building a community? When it bites you in the ass and hurts like hell. The work of community is NOT glamorous and certainly does not lead to riches. There is a reason why our ancestors rejected the village. It’s confining and limiting. It means sacrificing aspects of your freedom, material comfort, and personal agency for the sake of others needs. It means sticking around when people treat you shitty (which they will, they are people remember.). It means sticking around when you have treated people shitty (which you will, you are a person remember). It means awkward conversations and conflicts and difficulty seeing eye to eye. It means people knowing your business, being all up in it, putting their nose and mouth all over it. It means fewer boundaries and less privacy. It means having to learn to live with things that aren’t perfect or beautiful all of the time. It means having to listen, it means having to talk it out even when you don’t want to. It means embracing the contradictions our fellow humans demonstrate to us and choosing to love them anyway.
There is a sliver of hope during this tense time of devastation, shock, grief, and nerve wracking anticipation–the stories Rebecca Solnit tells in “A Paradise Built in Hell”– and the reality I felt so potently after Katrina: humanity does not degrade into Lord of the Flies when we are faced with disaster. We awaken to our abundance, our generosity, and our instinctive empathy for our fellow humans. We’re reminded of what we have, and what we have to give. I am not by any means trying to gloss over the devastating grief that disasters cause, but they also always bring change. And to me, change is love, because change, or transformation, is the act of imagining and then trusting that things could be a different way, and taking actions like you believe in it. Believing that the dream is real causes change.
With all of my love