Archive for category Reframing

Now Is Not Then

This week, I find myself poised to be named Acting Director at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. It’s a temporary solution to support another staff member who will be on leave. We’re hoping this distribution of leadership will jump start our intended move to a staff collective this year.

I feel deeply honored to be asked to step up in this way. And deeply in awe of everything that has unfolded over the past two years, since I decided to move to the Bay Area to be more connected day to day with socially engaged Buddhists. I’m in an even more strategic position to fulfill my dream of trying out new models of governance in a Buddhist organization.

But it’s not all easy. I’ve been sitting with a lot of dread in my chest and throat, a sense of fear and trepidation about what I am getting myself into.

A certain amount of this is normal. There’s a lot of work to be done, and I’m not sure that I’ll be able to get it all done in a 40 hour work week. There are a lot of unanswered questions about how much others will be able to step up to help. I may be shouldering a lot in the next few weeks.

But a large part of this is not about now.

1. What does this remind me of?

So much of this is unprocessed anger and fear from my past experience with nonprofits. Some of it is directed outward at nonprofits that continue to work people until they burn out, unwilling to make the hard decisions that would make our work more sustainable. Some of it is directed toward me too – can I trust myself to really take care of myself this time?

2. How is now not then?

Now – I have a huge set of practices that I didn’t even have a clue about when I was last an executive director. Meditation, compassion, equanimity, lovingkindness. When I learned those practices, I was blown away. “If only I had known about these when I was a director, my experience would have been completely different!” Now I get to learn just how different they might be.

Now – I work in an environment that supports me in using these practices. Even ASKS me to incorporate these practices throughout my work.

Now – I also have a whole set of practices for interacting with my stuff. Talking with monsters and walls, learning the patterns with Shiva Nata, emergency calming techniques, how to enter and exit consciously. And a million other helpful things that I had never even heard about, much less practiced for the past year or more.

Now – I know going in the problems of burnout, overwork, and how nonprofits struggle to make hard decisions. I can enter as I wish to be in it. Which probably means doing less, more slowly, but more deeply. There will be more practice of saying no to say yes.

3. What qualities do I want to bring to this encounter?

Courage. Love. Sovereignty. Possibility.

Presence. Laughter. Sustainability. Fierceness.

4. What do I want?

To midwife the organization into its next iteration. To stay open to not knowing what that actually looks like or how much of this process is mine to do.

To find my practices of self care so solid, so natural, that I stop telling the story that “I can not be trusted to take care of myself.”

5. What do we have in common?

(I’m reading this as “what do I have in common with this role of Acting Director”). Ten things:

  1. We meditate
  2. We use other self-reflective practices to bring our best selves to work
  3. We open our hearts with practices of compassion, loving kindness, joy & equanimity
  4. We’re interested in non-hierarchial leadership models
  5. We need to get more rooted after a period of transition
  6. We need to not get so rooted that we can’t still be transplanted as things continue to transition
  7. We need to ask for help from others as a way to be less hierarchical
  8. We are both terrified and hopeful about the future of the organization
  9. We are walking forward into a dark forest full of unknowns, slowly feeling our way
  10. We are resting in a larger field of interconnected, supportive people.

6. And how will this experience help me in the future?

I will certainly be learning a lot more about my practices of self care. Even if they completely fall apart, I’ll have new information about how to retool my self care tools to be more effective the next time.

I also am getting another set of lessons about nonprofit management. Even if things completely fall apart, I’ll have new information about what works and doesn’t work when trying to shore up a nonprofit.

7. Without having to appreciate this situation, what might be useful about it?

I don’t love that I’m feeling so much dread about taking on this role. I wish I could be unabashedly enthusiastic about it.

But having to process this old dread is really forcing me to think about how critical my self-care is going to be in this, and how important it’s going to be for me to start saying no to many upcoming things. I’m wanting to carve out lots of time for self care and reflection. And I wouldn’t be quite so intentional about this if it didn’t feel quite so dire.

8. What might help this encounter be less agonizing more harmonious?

I could ask Slightly Future Me who knows more about how we are aligned with this role of Acting Director in cool and amazing unanticipated ways.

I could refresh my memory of some good Emergency Calming Techniques, so they are easy to access when I am in a panic.

I could make a bag of slips specific to self care, and pull one out every day plus every time I find myself in a panic.

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Endurance + Precision

I am good at endurance. I am not a naturally gifted athlete, but in late 2006 I found myself signing up for the Iron Horse Training Class. At the end of six months, I would be prepared to ride my bike (which I didn’t own yet) up a mountain (climbing 6,650 feet) and if I was lucky I’d beat the train (or finish in 6 hours before I got swept off the road).

I was terrified, but also excited about the possibilities. What wells of endurance would I find deep within my body? Who would I be if I was able to complete this Herculean task?

I was going through a tough breakup and dealing with funding challenges at work. It was easy to get down on my life and focus in on all that was frustrating. I knew I needed a big anchor to keep me focused on what was still amazing in my life, and training for the Iron Horse provided that.

Sure, it was hard. Physically and emotionally.

I still remember the terror I felt the morning of our first outdoor ride after four months of training on indoor cycles. I came to work and felt the ever increasing dread in the pit of my stomach. My coworker who was also my teammate in training asked if I was ready to ride and I burst into tears and sobbed for a solid hour.

Or the training day when we climbed a ridiculously tough hill, a 10%+ grade all the way up for 6 miles – tougher than anything we would face on the actual ride. We rode up the hill as the April snow started to fall, and I WISHED it was uphill both ways as my sweaty gloves were actively working to freeze my fingers as I coasted down and tried not to crash on any of the tight curves.

I was already hurting just 10 miles in to the actual ride, during the “easy” flat section that had given us a vicious headwind all the way through the valley. As we entered the remaining 40 miles of rolling hills and steep mountains, I was already ready to quit. But I had told everyone I knew that I was doing this race, so I thought I’d just go a little farther and maybe quit when I got to Purgatory, the aptly named ski resort that marked the bottom of the steep climbs. And by the time I got to Purgatory, my thighs were burning and my lungs hot. But I thought I could go a little further and at least say I tackled part of the mountain. So I rode on.

And so it went. Just committing to a little more each time. Even as I was about to summit the final pass, I was watching the clock. There was a chance I would not make the 12:40pm cutoff to continue. At the time, I was READY for the van to come pick me up. Sure, I was just a mile from the summit, and it was then just an easy ride in to town. I was so close! Yet I was so ready to be done. But not so ready that I would get off my bike and just stand there waiting to be picked up. I rode on.

I came around the final curve, saw the stately mountains ringing Molas Pass and started to cry. I could see the top. It was 12:39. I was going to make it. I was going to finish the Iron Horse. I had endured.

Endurance is awesome. I’m glad I have it in my skill set.

But sometimes it’s not awesome. Like when I know grad school is not right for me, and I stay for five more years. Or when I know a job isn’t the right fit, but I feel like I should try to make it work.

Then endurance is being sentenced to twenty years of hard labor. It’s putting my limited energy straight down the drain. There is no flexibility to gather new in-the-moment information that might change my mind.

Do I throw out endurance?

No. I just need to add something. Precision. Endurance for the wrong reasons is painful. It is precision that helps me know what work is right for me, what activities bring me energy, or whether my body is hurting but feels okay enough to keep riding.

Sometimes these energies feel at odds. I am good at endurance, so sometimes I am imprecise in stating what I need. I’m pretty good at putting up with less than ideal conditions, and it often feels easier to go with the flow rather than asking for change. Precision takes a lot of internal tracking, a lot of attention and mindfulness, a lot of care. It’s usually not something I can know for sure ahead of time. It takes trying something out before I can even do the internal tracking necessary to know whether it works for me or not. Precision requires experimentation, trying something and adjusting on the fly.

I want to be more precise.

I’m entering into a period where I want to be clearer about what I want, about what will work for me and what just won’t. I keep waiting for clarity to descend into my brain, the fog lifting and everything to be obvious. But it seems that what is more called for is a mountain of experimentation, with detailed tracking and attention to what works best.

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(D)anger

Basilisk
Creative Commons License photo credit: asra_valorshon

Yesterday’s post on anger as a force for change sparked some spirited discussion among my facebook friends. One of the most brilliant and successful community activists I know said it best, “The problem is with this idea of ‘transmuting’ anger – like it must be changed or named something different (like judgment) to be ‘okay’ or ‘good.’ …. My anger simply is. And I will not call it anything but what it is – anger (and sometimes rage). No ‘transmuting’ for me because if my anger is the power that moves me then our anger can move the world.”

Anger is not my strong suit. Part of me has worked hard to be more comfortable with anger. But there is part of me that would feel happiest safest if I could just eliminate anger altogether. Some small part of me still links anger with danger. While I’ve found no etymological connection between these two words, the small ‘d’ that separates them evokes words like disaster, dire, deadly.

Yet I know this is my own reactivity. Instead of seeing anger plainly, I see it through the fear-soaked lizard brain that runs for cover, certain I’m going to be eaten. And perhaps this response ensures that I am eaten – hiding under the couch, eaten up inside that I couldn’t respond appropriately to anger. I might as well have served as someone’s fuel for all the good I’m able to do from under the couch.

To by angry in both smart and heart-felt ways, I first need to relish the full enjoyment of anger. What makes anger gorgeous? Who does anger well? When am I overjoyed to hear an angry word? More thoughts to come, and I would appreciate hearing what you love about anger!

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Anger as a Force for Change

salt march memorial, Delhi
Creative Commons License photo credit: nilachseall

“Anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world” – Mahatmas Gandhi

I have struggled to understand the role of anger in my work as a social justice activist. As a woman in US culture, even the act of expressing anger is radical. It goes completely against my Midwestern cultural upbringing to express anger visibly. I learned the fine arts of passive-aggression and transmuting anger into self-loathing at an early age. Every time I say, “I’m angry …” I feel like I’m finally expressing myself more fully.

Yet I have also watched activists full of anger get nowhere fast. The people they want to reach avoid them, dismiss them, and generally do their best to pretend they don’t exist. Sounds exactly like how we treated anger in my Midwestern family – if we ignore it, it will hopefully just disappear.

I made more sense of anger and social justice after hearing Donald Rothberg talk about the judgmental mind. Donald describes judgments as having two parts: one part insight, and one part reactivity. Most of my anger takes the form of judgment – it holds both a piercing truth and a volcano of emotion. Those who might have been interested in my insight are burned up by the explosion of hot pulsing lava. Those who were running away because they’d rather not hear my insight feel fully justified in their decision to flee. I’m left feeling terribly frustrated and unheard, and likely to explode even bigger next time since I’ve added the judgment “They don’t listen to me” to my long list of complaints.

What happens if I can tease apart my anger into these two components, separating the insight from the emotional reactivity? Can my insight – my “controlled anger” – be more fully heard by those who need to hear it? Can my emotional reactivity be healed and cared for, rather than spewed on others?

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