Finding Her: Reflections on social permaculture in action.

Reflection today by one of our Creative Advisory Council members, Ana Neto:

There’s this photo.  One, out of about a million I must have taken on my trip.  The day was warm, clear. Maybe 11 am and still early for the old wharf; quiet.  The photo is of the railing. The one I had been leaning on, holding on to as I was heading down the stairs.  The one I used as leverage to pivot back around upon deciding to stay a minute longer. I let my phone rest on it, and looking at the screen, realized that I enjoyed the angular look it added to the shot.  Somehow geometric and abstract, the focal point became it’s paint reflecting colors from the sky and red building next to me, old and peeling from years of salt air, weather, and hand holding. Everything outside of this center was dreamlike, a faded cloudy haze.  Shapes that vaguely made out to be fishing boats at anchor, breaks in color that could be nothing else besides that point where sea kisses sky. Shadows and silhouettes of two lovers enjoying the view. It was beautiful, all so obviously there and yet details mysterious.  Details that would come into focus only when I took a step. When I trust. When I move forward into that space of uncertainty, a little more clarity, with each small step.

anaFor so long my life has been inverted.  I was not on the railing, present with what is taking up space here, now.  Quite the opposite, instead I was inside it. A long dark tunnel, with a dim light at the end.  One that seemed to get farther away the harder I struggled towards it. Moments, months, years passing me by.  Gone forever as I desperately tried to get THERE. Like my life depended on it. Living towards unattainable, an image of perfection that was never mine to begin with.  I set myself up for failure every time. One thing I knew for sure. Everything I needed to be happy, to feel full, to feel worthy of moving and breathing in this world.  I would find it, out there. Consuming. Absolutely draining and exhausting. I found myself trying to force my way into a school I didn’t even want to go to, staying at a job that was toxic and deeply triggering, obsessively working towards an image that never would be good enough, towards approvals of others that never would quench my thirst for validation.  Outward, pushing, forcing, fighting, energy focused external external external. Until inevitably imploding into my emptiness and falling “victim” to it again. It. Any flicker of light I could grasp from the outside. Substances, men, food, stuff. Whatever vice I clung to dependent on the seasons of my life. Something, anything to make existence more bearable.  Anything, all to be absorbed again and almost immediately by the vaccuum in my chest.

Observe and interact.  The first principle in permaculture design, applied with honesty towards my life.  For me this was painful because I had never slowed down for long enough to get present, or better yet get real, with myself and what stories and assumptions about life, about my life, were fueling these behaviors, this suffering.  And also, this meant I had to take responsibility. I was accountable. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Awareness always is.

I started paying attention. Listening.  Challenging. Learning. I was not, I had not been, the subject of my own life, for most of my life.  My wants my needs my dreams; they weren’t worth it; I wasn’t worth it. Because I was impractical and frivolous, because I couldn’t be trusted.  Growing up in a severely dysfunctional home, with a beautiful mother who struggled deeply with untreated mental illness, no father present and a sister to take care of, my whole life was about frantically seeking out safety.  So my actions all became about SURVIVAL, running on fear in a world so unpredictable and terrifying. The obsession then becomes, what do you do, how do you do it, what do you think is right, ok, proper? And how do I measure up?  How can I get through life with the LEAST amount of collateral damage? How can I get through today meeting your standards? Because when I am as you want me, I am safe.

And the closer I got to fitting into this box made for me, by me, the emptier I felt.  And every time I wouldn’t meet your expectations, I would hurt myself. It used to be through substances.  Any, all. Whatever you’ve got, so long as it shifted that noise to a low frequency buzzing in my head, soothing and sleepy.  

Now, I am in recovery, in my fifth year sober.  The, ”this” and “that” of my previous years gave way to new forms of self-soothing.  Bulimia, mostly. I would binge. Throw up. Pinch and pull at myself, curse the mirror for the empty whoever the fuck I saw staring back at me. Try and fill that space again.  With anything I could find. The insatiable hunger for fucking life. MY life. And the desperate need to numb the self-hatred I felt for letting it all pass me by.

This might sound raw still, that’s because it is.  Learning these things about myself, taking the veil away and honestly looking at the undercurrents that I was allowing dictate my life was not comfortable.  It felt deeply just YUCK, at best. All the way down to my bones.

When coming direct and seeing clearly the effects of societal, communal, familial oppressive forces, living in alignment with truth becomes a form of wild rebellion.  Having heard this before, it took until this moment for me to relate to it in this way. I had always considered myself a rebel, an activist. This was a part of me that I could truly say I loved and yet she had become so tame.  I would start there. By loving that wild, rebellious activist back into existence. By getting curious with her, exploring her. By giving her attention and space to grow. By experimenting with what gives her energy, life force; with what fills her up, in a sustainable way.

It turns out that I feel good, emotionally and physically, when I SLEEP.  When I make the conscious decision to turn off social media and read before bed instead.  When I make time for REST! When I make time to get creative, time for music, for yummy smells, for deep breaths and mugs of tea that fill both hands.  When I feed my body the nutrient rich foods she craves. When I ALLOW the occasional dark chocolate salted caramel treat because, because YOLO.  It turns out that writing and reflection, communion with nature mama, dedicated time weekly to connect with the women in my life, these things feed me in a way that a large pizza and two pints of ice cream never could.  And it turns out that when my need for fulfillment, when my soul’s need for care is tended to a day at a time; when I consciously choose love–Love that starts with me–I shift.  

No longer trapped by fear, I found myself on my railing. Uncertain, yes. Details obscure and indistinct, absolutely.  But surrounded by color, and air and light. Sweet spaciousness radiating, potential. Reflecting out, that renewable well of energy.  Of inspiration accessed by learning to feel into and inhabit my own body, to live according to my own soul. Non-material connection.

Conveniently, and just prior to beginning my personal journey with the social permaculture curriculum, I was laid off from my job.  An incident that, while at first sent me into a tailspin of “less than,” and “inadequate,” ultimately gifted me with just enough emotional pain to motivate growth.  (For me, pain always does.) As well as time and lots of it. Time to think, time to dream, time to listen. To wake up to life. A full blown Aries, to say I am an extremist may be an understatement.  But for the first time in such a long time, I could hear her. I could feel her. And I had the beautiful opportunity to know her. So I took it.

She asked for open roads, jagged mountain skylines, to dance with new people and drink new air.  She begged for soil and sun, dirty fingernails and open fields. She screamed and howled for less.  Less noise, less clutter, less worry, less head. More simplicity, laughter, connection, joy. More heart.  And together we left the temptations of sunny southern California. Together we abandoned comfort and safety.  Together we felt the fear that comes with taking that first step, that leap of faith, into the unknown. Together we chose not to let it drive.  She held my hand, and guided me. And I trusted. One step at a time. A little more into focus, the rest surrendered to mystery.

Time spent on the farm, I’ll never forget.  Hands on and tangible. Planting, watering, sprouting.  The vast amounts of growth I had experienced since winter.  Weeding, and the importance of consistency, commitment. To make time for work, for rest.  Learning and relearning, lessons ancient and timeless. Harvesting, washing, and absorbing the fruits of labor.  Digesting the nutrients of the work. Letting it all feed and fuel my body. Witnessing alchemy as waste breaks down, decomposes.  Composts into soil, rich and fertile for healthy germination of the new season’s seeds to be sewn. Processes deeply reflective and reminiscent of my own.   Learning my rhythm’s. Connecting with my cycles. Letting nature teach me, I began to come home.

Over and over again.  Because I forget, often.  I still find myself caught up in old ways of thinking, of self judgement and shame.  I still struggle with image, with dysmorphia of body and life alike. I still have days lacking gratitude, perception still skews.  But I’m not falling backwards anymore, no longer grasping desperately at glimmers of light from out there. I am moving, spiraling forward.  I have cloudy, rainy, stormy days still, yes. There are times where focusing at my feet is next to impossible and I rack my brain for ways to control the clarity of my horizon.  The difference is, that today I have a horizon. I have hope. I am on my railing. And that is everything.

Yoga. Reflections on the Golden Rule.

Today I joined Heidi McNeely of the Worcester County Warriors Against Opioid Addiction for Holy Yoga.  It’s the first time I’ve practiced in OC since I got home from the west coast.  It was Divine!

Of the many life teachers I have been blessed enough to walk beside, Heidi has a boundless enthusiasm that anchors her dedication.  She is a true reminder of life’s gifts.

 Yoga always makes me remember Jasmine, Bobby Ray, and Father Ed, my first spiritual teachers.  Jas’ presence was to be inside a great, hidden city of dark curls.  You ended up feeling exotic yourself, touched by a bit of her calm.  She was my intro to yoga.  These were the early days when I quit drinking.  Life can be so thrilling you know, if you let in what is trying to happen for you.

This was the same time in my life I met Bobby Ray.  People in the Benfield area of Anne Arundel, Maryland, know of this man.  The first thing Bobby ever said that stuck with me was, “the past is full of regret and the future is full of worry. Both are caused by fear. So the present moment is the only moment you can be fully with god, or full of love.”

I think that last sentence I am paraphrasing.  You get the point, I hope~

I was 23, 24ish.   Learning to breathe from a novice yogi, learning to meditate from a guy they called Shaman Bob, and elsewhere, learning to utilize my power of choice in my reactions and interactions, while out experiencing my day-to-day life.

Jasmine and I lived together my senior year of college. This is when I learned that the word Yoga has its origins in Sanskrit.  An awesome poet—he would call himself a poet and deep ecologist—his name is Gary Snyder, was my favorite reading back then.   I was getting a degree in writing.  Gary Snyder is how I learned yoga means to yoke, or as Snyder described, make union.

So I was learning from Jasmine how to use my breath during yoga, to practice union by feeling a deeper sense of being present in my body.

Back then I was also receiving free therapy, from a priest, this was Father Ed. I love the Christian context for the word yoke. The denotation is a wooden tool used to link oxens together.  The connotation is to yoke, or connect the heavy weight of what you carry, to Christ.

That brings faith into the conversation.

Life has taught some people, maybe many?  That we can’t trust treating one another as we would like to be treated because we always have to be on the look out, defending ourselves in order to meet our own safety and survival needs.

To me, when I practice doing unto others, it is a day-by-day, experience-by-experience, chance-after-chance to bring love and kindness. I challenge myself daily to align my behaviors and reactions with these principals.  Prayer, after all, is one thing.  How I act however, that’s on me.  It is how I pay forward my thanks for getting to live.

Probably my most oft-used adage is Begin Within.  This is because doing so gives me the chance to get present with what is real for me.  Is it an old story, what’s going on in my head right now?  Regret or worry—fear-based?  Written in my body by my life’s experiences, hanging out on the neuropeptides of my emotions, too close to my surface for my liking?  Making me uncomfortable?  I was a black out drunk you know, so I keep a close eye on these things…to avoid picking up my favorite or at least easiest way of checking-out.

Deep yogic union can be a way of reminding me that in the present moment, breath is healing.  It is truly all I actually have.  It can be all I need. I believe that life is a gift.  Lots of loss taught me that.  To live today the very best I can and enjoy myself as much as possible while I am–usually requires me to get real with me, then to turn my intentions towards how I want to behave today.  Doing unto others ensures I enjoy my life more because it makes me soft and open, which is the direct result of lightly practicing love and kindness over and over.

Abidingly human, or Aries, or Irish Catholic, or whatever else it is that I am I remember to hold gently the fact that I’m also totally imperfect as it gets.  Angry, lazy, self-righteous, selfish, arrogant, rigid, overindulgent, super anxious, too controlling.  All of these things.  I keep my own self-understanding close, so that compassion for others is never too far behind.

When I get caught up in fear, which always makes my imperfections worse, my work is to begin within.  Being a jerk is easy.  What I don’t work out I will act out.  Taking responsibility for this takes committed return from beginning within to the question, how am I behaving right now?  I begin again with this present moment, using my breath.  For me, it doesn’t take long in the present moment to get grateful for having access to it.

Doing unto others by becoming deeply present to right now.  Giving thanks for the chance to get to do so.  That’s really all it takes.  I think it’s one of perhaps the most simple and simultaneously most challenging acts there is.