Six months in, finding wisdom in the land of the heart
I’ve been living in the mountains now for almost six months now, a break from almost a decade of a life of activism, advocacy, and institutionalism, crusading for good causes. Or so I thought. Taking this respite has caused me to rethink everything about who I’ve been and what I’ve been doing, working of late in the policy and activism trenches of Washington DC.
In defense of my leaving Washington. Right now, I have never been happier. This happiness is coming off of my skin, in the star-like sheen coming off of the plants in my garden, in the eyes of those who I hold with my smile. I didn’t actually realize that happiness could be this attainable in the life of one whose eyes have been opened to all of the injustices of the world. Even as these injustices, pain, deaths, occur each moment, there is a way to move forward in happiness. Humans have been doing so since the beginning of time.
I had to put down the burden I’d shouldered — one that activists know well. That burden to somehow fix everything, to help everyone, that feeling of urgency to chase every injustice as if it were the last, greatest fight on earth. I was starting to really falter under that burden. Like a hiker stumbling wildly under a heavy backpack, my legs were giving way. I wasn’t able to clearly see where I was going. I wasn’t able to make sense of the map. I was going to die out there in the wilderness. Something had to be done.
After six months of meditation, yoga, and daily connection with Mother Earth, I am actually getting somewhere. Now I walk every day through forest full of birdsong, the sound of rushing water, and nothing else. I do not carry a backpack at all. I have less responsibility than I’ve had since high school. Of course, I also have no money, but that’s another story!
Ten years ago, as I meditated in a feral corner of the Pacific Northwest of the US, overlooking redwoods and ferns the size of grizzly bears, I heard Mother Earth clearly speak to me. She told me that I should be a warrior, acting in her defense and on her behalf. I’d never felt so certain about anything in my life. I commenced in organizing everything around that singular purpose. This took me in so many unexpected directions, and, truly, I do not regret any of them.
Then, this past autumn, I climbed a mountain alone, again in the Pacific Northwest. It was raining and the small cedar trees clinging to this rocky mountaintop were swaying gently in strong winds. Mother Earth again spoke to me in an undeniable voice as loud as an avalanche. It was time. I was released from her service. It was time to let myself go deeply into my own soul and beyond, to learn the secrets of the universe and keep them as a monk keeps temple secrets. At least for this year. Or more. Or less. But now, until I hear again that clear voice louder than sound.
Every activist should take a fallow year. A year to let your soil recharge, to let the plants grow feral. See what flowers grow there. See what enchantments lie in the wild, undisciplined spaces in between. See what you can learn.
I know that this requires privilege. I am of course not blind to that. I was lucky to have friends who live far out in the country, in a little spiritual intentional community where my work is my rent. I have no children. My family has been a bit flustered by my bold moves, but they did not stop me.
I hope that we can all work toward a world in which all of us have equal opportunity to live our dreams. I still believe in the mantra “live your dreams.” The fact that the oppressive status quo denies many people from doing that does not mean that I believe that no one should be living their dreams. It means that we should all demand the right to live our dreams.
Busting apart the oppressive mega-system will take time and bold moves. Me, I’m starting to understand the trajectory of my life’s work, and how to live in a holistic way that nurtures real wisdom and real understanding. I’m starting to see that my life had been conducted in a way that made me feel like I couldn’t truly be myself. I couldn’t indulge in living my dreams, I thought, my dreams are too far out, too wild. My version of utopia, seen in my far-flying meditations, was just too good to be true, I thought. And even if we as a society could get there, wouldn’t it take too long? Humanity can only change so fast, after all…
My true activism seemed too far fetched. The things that I felt were worthwhile as causes were being denied. I wound up working on things I didn’t actually believe in, that reinforced the status quo. I told myself that our movement was taking baby steps, like the healthcare program and working toward immigration reform. Meanwhile I thought that making the changes that were really needed, like seeking to live truly in healthy bodies and physical expression, and eliminating borders altogether, were just asking too much. These changes might take a long time, but we must move towards them. And we’re not going to do so in the same old institutional ways that we’ve been working.
On a personal level, the fantasies that swirled through my mind for my own life, ways of housing oneself, feeding oneself, loving others, and all of the beautiful, creative ways that one can live, were dismissed as unattainable. I’m no conformist, but even my romantic life had veered way off course and I found myself in odd pairings, living as someone completely different.
Like a true warrior, I had subverted my true desires and true self in the service of the greater cause. And again, I have no regrets. But the other me was just under the surface. The huntress who hears plant spirits and knows how to wield a sword. The deeply radical anarchist who longs to live in true connection with community and the earth, whose great-grandfather was spoken to by fairies and who might just be keeping the family tradition. The spirit-dancer who can spend all night in qigong trance under the moonlight, being spoken to by ancestor stars.
So now, I’m starting to truly understand that living a life of fantasy starts within, and starts by simply stepping away from that institutional way of living, and galloping fearlessly in the direction of that which makes your soul sing. Taking a departure, a sabbatical, a pilgrimage to the land of your own heart.
Happiness might just be waiting there. Here. In the depths of your own soul.