July 20, 2016.
The First Day of the Fellowship:
The Spiritual Ecology Fellowship has begun today as I turn 25 and I am told that we are here to change the four pillars of: Story, Leadership, Action and Education... I could cry. I am so ready.
We are so ready.
There is so much joy to be had in the responses we are bringing forward.
Our sleeping tents are situated in a small grove of high grass interspersed with shade from a ring of surrounding trees. There are 11 of us here on a farm just off the road on Whideby Island. I have had this feeling only once before when meeting a group of people. The nearly surreal knowing that each person in the room with you is going to become one of your life long allies before you know everyone’s full name. To add to the oddity of this feeling it also happens to be my 25th birthday and after I walk into the room of hugs and greetings a berry crisp with candles is ushered towards me and this room of nearly strangers burst into “Happy Birthday” surrounding me with their warmth and newness. This is the first in- person day of the Spiritual Ecology Youth Fellowship, an entirely emergent 9- month program that has gathered myself and 10 other young adults from across our country onto this forest bordered farm off the coast of Washington. In the whirlwind of arriving and the richness of our beginning I feel a sudden bout of my childhood shyness began to overcome me. The entirety of what has lead me to this moment has been largely based on trust as we are the first cohort and what is being offered to our group is nothing short of revolutionary. In one of the warmest welcomes that I have ever experienced I feel self conscious and almost confused at the fact that I am sitting in a kitchen beginning my 25th year with what already seems to be shaping up to be an incredible adventure.
Later that evening we find ourselves in a beautiful old barn that has been remodeled into a spacious meditation room with an adjoining small kitchen space. Here we sit in the first of many circles, politeness and awe biting at the air as we move around each other still feeling into our surroundings. We are told again and again by our hosts to make ourselves comfortable, to grab a blanket from the shelf if we are cold. There is a pitcher of water in the small kitchen space and cups and spoons for tea. In this first circle we are more formerly welcomed to the property and to the Fellowship. We do a round here where we each share a bit of our story, how it came to be that we found ourselves in this room. We are a medley of students, storytellers, activists, educators, gardeners and artists. At one point, Charlotte one of the Fellows shares token words that were given to her on her own journey. “Three words” she says as she holds up three fingers, “Find The Others,” at which through all of our uncertainty a collective smile spreads warmth through our circle. Yes, this is why we are here, to find the others, to find each other. Through what may be initially perceived as differences in each of our work and the way we choose to apply ourselves, for me this is the moment in which I began to feel into the sweetness of this particular collection of individuals. For the past 3 years I have been largely orientated on collecting the story of what it means to come into adulthood today. I have had the pleasure of helping to create spaces to host this question and the opportunity of posing this query to youth from around our world, curious to understand in myself just a bit better the overwhelm that at times sweeps through the entirety of my being. “What does it mean to be a ‘Digital Native’ in the age of information? How does it feel to be so critically aware of ones own position within the many tiers of privilege, while simultaneously witnessing injustice spread on every level? How does one continue to walk through feelings of helplessness and where does this all root from? How do I relate the feeling of being so madly in love with our earth that a life of dedication seems hardly enough?” These are some of the questions that have brought me to this group and lead me on my personal quest to “find the others,” to find out who else is yearning to understand within their own beings what their contribution might be.
Below is just a small harvest of our initial 7 days together.
A few images and notes from the quest.
One morning I am lured to the ground beneath a giant bright yellow flowering tree. The sky above is the most fantastic contrast of clear blue, creating an electric current from heaven to earth. I lie below and look up past the tree. I close my eyes, I open my eyes. I adjust my spine along the ground. It is becoming more and more rare these moments alone. I speak out loud to myself, "Will my children know you? Will they understand you?" A few days later as I sit aboard a small plane headed to Alaska I write these words recalling these long precious minutes.
As we inherit this earth
We must be brave enough to reinvent our fear
We must learn how to dance
And most importantly while trees fall.
we must learn to conquer the idea
That our children will only know you through story
And their children through lore.
One of the Spiritual Ecology Practitioners that comes to share with us is a woman named Dekila Chungyalpa.
Dekila gives a lot of herself to us in a short amount of time and I am completely awed by the scope of her work. Among her many drops of wisdom was her sharing on activism and burnout. I learn that many activists showcase signs of PTSD through personal harm such as alcoholism, other substance abuse and un-safe sex. Learning this made me re-question some of my own behaviors and how I continuously push my own boundaries around what I say "yes" to. How it has become too easy to undervalue quality time with my family and quality time with myself. Terminology like 'self flagellation' was helpful for me here in order to bring a more urgent focus to how I spend my time.
I must love my human form and take care of myself in order to continue doing this work.
"The duty of privilege is absolute integrity," says Sophie one afternoon. I am thinking these words before Sophie speaks them. Sometimes while sitting together here in this room there is the image that I can almost see the thoughts and words before they are spoken. It is just a matter of who picks them first. The idea of ownership is quickly falling away as we build upon each others ideas and offer over what seems a never ending string of resources. Within our small room it seems we touch the whole of the United States and beyond. Just in this thought there is a little more space to breathe.
I am not alone.
Zilong, one of the Fellows shares with us about his life and project. It is all intertwined into one.
He is on a pilgrimage which involves his bike, a journey, incredible distances and the desire to "be in service to the ecological and spiritual awakening." He tells us, "I'm trying to cultivate a mind that won't burn out." I find myself thinking, "Thank you Zilong for doing this so that I don't have to. Thank you for being a pilgrim and journeying way into the unknown, beyond discomfort, beyond certainty." It scares me somehow, his words and his actions because they ring so true into my deepest sense of what service means. I ask myself, "Could I be in service without it being scary?" I want the answer to be yes but I know I'm just kidding myself. I tuck the thought away a bit afraid of the answer below my contrived one.
A few days ago I surprisingly realized that I am moving along in a similar direction as Zilong. I am getting rid of my possessions while I simultaneously let go of my home for the past 6 years. I am leaving Maui with no promise of a date to return. I am stepping into the unknown with only one prayer and it has to do with service. Somewhere in the past weeks since our time on Whideby, I have stopped thinking about my orientation with this world within the confines of a "contribution." "What could it mean to give without the idea that you are giving, but instead to live within the giving?" I feel curious. Dekila at one point said aloud to our group, "the sacred is fluid," and we all put our pens to paper, entirely aware that we had been gifted with a fundamental truth. Within that statement lies the beginning of a new thought structure for me. I want to journey a bit to Zilong's questioning. I want to know for myself what is possible here. What would happen if I were to hand myself over to the sacred? What could it feel like to live within absolute fluidity, while still keeping focused on one's purpose? Could it be possible that within the continued practice of service there is reprieve?
Tonight I still find myself tucked away into the comfort and warmth of my bed. I will wake up here tomorrow, I will go to work and on my way home I will look up at the Mountain and let my eyes roll across the ridges. I know them all so well and there is a deep pleasure and resonance in that. There are other feelings there now as well. I would not call them new, but instead buried. Buried thoughts on what might be possible that make me feel tingly and excited. Most days I carry questions with me. The idea is not to create or even to find the answers but more so to have them serve as guiding points along the path. Up ahead I can see quite a bit beyond my initial departure and then there is a rounding that only my feet can know.
"What could it mean to hand myself over to the service of the sacred?"
I feel ready to walk.