“Why are you here?” she asked. Pressed for more, I explained: “Because students where I live can afford to pay coaches to perfect their essays, I want to help level an unfair playing field," I responded. “You have really great stories, too, and I want to make sure that they are told well.” Somehow my answer built a bridge of trust encouraging even the most skeptical among the students — a tall, thin, 17-year-old boy who hadn’t yet made eye contact with me. With that, he looked up and shared his essay, telling how the violent death of a family member led to his newfound resolve to attend school and work on time, despite a move requiring a two-hour, four-bus commute. As we reviewed his essay for flow, consistency, grammar, and spelling, he made it absolutely clear that he wanted no pity — none from me and none from the college admissions folks who would be reading this. His point was gratitude: navigating the death of his mother helped him become the man he wants to be.
I love guiding teenagers to discover their unique voices, empowering them to tell their stories while staying sane throughout the college application process. After learning how stressful the process is with my oldest, I became determined to create a more meaningful, mindful process that was child-focused. That’s how I came to support the writing of thousands of beautiful, authentic, college essays.
I begin posing the big questions of life and having the students create an idea bank from which to tell their stories. The first required pivot is to move away from the third person, three-paragraph, mechanically outlined essay they are so used to writing. The next is to explore writing from their own voice, claiming their unique perspective on life. Interestingly, this feels foreign to most, yet once they are given permission, the process becomes enjoyable, even satisfying. The essay is the singular place that does not box them in — by test scores or grades — where they can express their creative selves and make their applications personal. Having a mindful reflection process, supported by caring mentors, that leads to increased self awareness is a critical part of the rite of passage transitioning our children into adulthood.
Helicopter and lawnmower parents, you’ve been outdone by Learjet parents blinded by affluenza and utterly desperate to place their children in pristine places that they will pay millions to influence an already rigged —and clearly broken — system. In addition to the illegality, immorality and inequality of this accidentally discovered fraudulent scheme, the adult involved in Operation Varsity Blues have robbed their children of the right to a critical rite of passage. I hope their punishment includes financial contributions to level the playing field, supporting those who have far less materially — but in my experience, have far more, morally.
“But… what if that’s not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I don’t have enough time or money or the right degree?”
We all have that voice resounding, often growing louder along with our rising enthusiasm about a new possibility. Accompanying people to reconnect to peak moments of flow — when they felt most alive — to discover their unique creative expression we call purpose, it’s imperative to touch into love and desire. My favorite moment of the purpose process is when we stand in awe before their mission.
And then comes the resistance.
The two-step dance goes like this: first the idea, then all the reasons why it’s a terrible idea. This natural reaction presents a problem only when the “yeah but, what if, not good enough” part gets to lead the dance. So, what if we heed Rumi’s sage advice and “let the beauty we love be what we do”? What if today, Valentine's Day, is a reminder to let the part of us that knows what we love and how to love and "kneel and kiss the ground" lead the dance?
Valentine’s Day can also be a day of heartache, which is actually another powerful indicator on the purpose path. What breaks our heart often compels us to give our gifts. For instance, it absolutely aches when I see potential wasted. Here to activate potential, I am motivated by the beautiful vision of the beloved community I know is possible (we are better together) and also moved to take action by unawakened potential — especially people at juicy transition points when even more possibility exists. Both my deep desire and broken heart inform my purpose.
What do you deeply desire? What do you find heartbreakingly beautiful? Why are you still talking yourself out of kneeling and kissing the ground? PLEASE JOIN THE LOVE DANCE... the world needs your beloved PURPOSE now!
You mean I just get to BE ME? — YES!! Exactly!
There’s a familiar longing I hear from everyone I work with: We all yearn for a fuller expression of our true selves. Deep down, when we slow down, we know exactly who we are, what inspires us, and why we are here. Once we have that sense of coming home to ourselves, we are well on our way to becoming our best selves. And the greater our connection to our essence, the greater our sense of belonging and ability to contribute our gifts to the world, which is so hungry for this.
Yet, this is also true: The hardest thing is to become yourself in a world where everyone and everything is trying to get you to become anything else. — ee cummings
For far too long, we have confused our longing to belong with fitting in, working endlessly to look and act like everyone else. The process of becoming requires fierce attunement to your own one-of-a-kind instrument, with occasional experiences of singing with the choir. It’s true that We can’t become ourselves by ourselves. Just like my kids learned to swim — not from expensive private lessons, but by watching their peers at the public pool and swimming with them — we can accelerate becoming our best selves when inspired by others becoming their best selves.
Story is the optimal way we communicate and learn — not those fictional tales we often cling to that say, “I’m not good enough, smart enough, thin enough…” nor the stories that batter and bore our brains with all the ways to stay small and silent and stuck in the same old, same old. But, by changing the conversation and vibration to align with what matters most, by tuning out distractions and all that is not in alignment with your truth, you can tune into your unique essence. That is precisely why you came and what the world most needs now.
In the last 10 years, I have experienced that the very best place to become you is in Circle, where we can slow down to reflect each other’s genius and help each other come home to who we really are. Now’s the time!
JOIN us in Circle:
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end. I became a mother, but I still have a lot to learn from and give to my children. I became a wife, but I continue to adapt to and be humbled by what it means to truly love and make a life with another person. I have become, by certain measures, a person of power, and yet there are moments still when I feel insecure or unheard.
It’s all a process, steps along a path. Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.… I’m an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey. In sharing my story, I hope to help create space for other stories and other voices to widen the pathway for who belongs and why…. Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.” — Michelle Obama
This is the final of many gems Michelle Obama shares in her boldly told purpose journey written with courageous vulnerability in a way that intimately invites you in, as if you have taken the ride with her. And if you are a midlife soul, you undoubtedly have: evolving from Becoming Me, stretching into Becoming Us and finally, craving and dancing into that third chapter, Becoming More. Besides providing a fabulous historic perspective, her voice is real and her struggles resonate deeply.
I remember hugging her in DC at the first inauguration when Barack became Senator Obama. Her gigantic body guard standing watch nearby with such ferocity I wondered what threat I could possibly present, she paused to take off her gorgeous tweed blazer, revealing a fuchsia vest and a bare back. Much taller than I, I reveled in the ease of her beautiful presence, relished her personable warmth. Listening keenly to every speech she’s ever given, I have often basked in her confidence, creativity and caring concern for others. Becoming tells another tale and it brought me to tears. With a bow of deep gratitude for all her sacrifices as she reluctantly released her Barack into the public light because we needed him, I applaud Michelle and highly recommend her exquisite life story!
What begins as a search for purpose, grounded in a lovingly grounded family life, soon becomes a well-lived purposeful life journey, best told by the one who chose to live it all the way out! Her challenges feel so real and her tests of confidence surprising and inspiring given her success. Hesitantly stepping into the public arena, Michelle Obama shines with courage and grace, truly making herself known — whether trying to follow social norms with the Queen of England or Nelson Mandela or sneaking out of the White House for a breath of fresh air or reticently handing over the reigns to uncaring, disgraceful people.
She cares deeply. We all benefited from her caring for eight long, wonderful years and it really took a toll on her, not that she’s complaining. I can’t wait to see what she does next and I feel inspired with more enthusiasm than ever to make myself known and to know the stories of others. Each time that I do, I feel that soulful connection I deeply desire. In fact, just yesterday, a man named Allen was mopping the floors at the gym. Always intent to make sure people who may feel invisible are seen, I smiled at him and thanked him for his service. Later, he came over to talk. “Some people see past all this external stuff,” he said, “They just see spirits.” Our souls connected past all the obvious differences and external strangeness. He shared stories about enjoying four Thanksgiving dinners with family and friends and finally, joining his lonely landlord who was eating all alone. He relayed his recent heart scare and committed to live more fully and healthily. He preached wisely about the dangers of a society trying to steer us away from the truth of our souls: we are One. There, amidst all us sweaty gym rats, working off extra calories from the feast, my soul was fed as Allen spoke his truth, and I was graced in making his known. Together we became the world as it could be, the beloved community.
Who are you becoming?
At a time when the news is nothing but negative — mostly showcasing the darkest corners of our society — I’ve got some uplifting news about events happening here in Sweet Home Chicago. While the headlines focus on harm, experts in restoring that harm recently gathered at the Oak Park Public Library for a Restorative Justice Youth Conference to share inspiring stories of communities creating safe spaces for repairing trauma and restoring justice. OPPL is one of the first Restorative Libraries in the country, paving the way for better communities. We were a gathering of teachers and students, police officers and people with records, elders and newbies, student deans, spoken word artists, bridge-builders, circle keepers and community organizers, telling tales of restorative practices being used in prisons, schools, libraries and all kinds of community places. You just need to hear THIS story. Here are my takeaways:
*The more I know about you, the less likely I am to harm you.
Many of our crises come from a lack of understanding. Creating safe spaces is a proven way to interrupt violence. Restorative justice circles are built by developing trust over time, practicing “listening hard," engaging in real storytelling, and focusing on reinstating relationships. When I know you, I can relate to you. Once I know your story, the risk of me hurting you dramatically decreases. Folks, let’s lean in!
*Ask: How do you feel? and What do you need?
Instead of that tired, old, automatic “How are you?" greeting, why not try a new inquiry — and then listen intently for the response. The best teams are made when everyone feels free to speak, there’s no judgment, and true equity is achieved. Without knowing how people feel or what they need, how can we possible relate? There are so many unheard, silenced voices in our culture; it’s heartbreaking. Give them room to share feelings and needs. And in place of the antiquated “eye for an eye” system of punishment, we need a mindset shift; we need to see eye to eye, to sit in circle, to be face to face and connect heart to heart. We are human beings who need to feel seen and heard, to know each other — it’s time to remember how to be human again. When we meet crisis with compassion, we are on our way to creating a Culture of Care.
*Acknowledge our Elders and those who Contribute
The most soulful parts of the weekend were the opening and closing circles, where we were all seen, heard and connected. We invoked our elders, the indigenous people whose land we now occupy, and those along the way who have added value to our lives. In all of these ways, we felt the web of interconnection — in sharp contrast to that terrible sense of isolation we feel outside of safe spaces. One of the most poignant moments was when Stephen Jackson asked the panelists to name individuals who had guided, inspired, uplifted, and loved them. Hearts broke open with gratitude. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. It turns out that not one of us successfully navigates life solo; we absolutely cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We can’t become ourselves by ourselves. We need each other, which our ancestors knew so well and we seem to have forgotten.
*Know the Story. Those closest to the problems are closest to the solutions …but furthest from resources and power.
From the very beginning, human beings gathered in circles, as peers. The current system of “justice” (AKA “the industrial prison complex”) is broken, ineffective, and UNjust. Furthermore, when it comes to history, much of what we’ve been taught is missing, hiding, or ignoring critical truths. Controlling the story, resources, knowledge, and access to them is a “Power Over” model that succeeds only by distorting truth, inciting fear, and controlling resources. (Sounds scarily familiar, right?) True Justice mandates Empowerment: True leaders empower and engage the people as experts of their own life-lived experience. They hold the solutions. Let’s get busy empowering them and connecting them to resources. Solutions will follow!
*How can I create opportunities to open doors for others?
Story after transformative story included a moment where one human being said to another: “I could see you being a leader… You are smart… You are ready” — where one person poured energy, inspiration, hope, and love into another — helping them to see that another way was possible. This is an easy way to connect with another human every single day. See them, say something. Mentors matter, BIG time. Be a mentor, open a door, whisper hope. You are needed.
*If each of us was held responsible forever for the worst thing we’ve ever done, we’d all be in big trouble!
Just imagine! Know that restorative justice is not about abdicating accountability. Instead, this model relies on proven techniques of forgiveness and empowerment, which are far more successful than our current system of punishment. We are caught in a cycle of violence and trauma, held in place by blame and shame. The US has the largest prison population in the world and the highest per capita incarceration rate! This system is NOT working! Schools practicing RJ replace archaic punishments of suspension and demerits with curiosity, empowerment, compassion and forgiveness. Involving students in the solutions is better for the entire community!
*Always approach things from a position of possibility!
Times of chaos are also great opportunities for creation, given an open mindset. Check out the list of incredibly creative responses to the challenge of violence in our city (below). Reading these stories, feel into the energy of “What’s possible?” Success stories shared included these necessary ingredients: WILL + OPPORTUNITY + SUPPORT + KNOWLEDGE + LUCK. At a time when politicians and police are throwing up their hands at the epidemic of violence — restorative justice circles creating space for understanding in our schools and toughest neighborhoods are working! Imagine what’s possible when we shift our mindset from “I can’t; it’s impossible” to “What else is possible?”
*Question laws that question our worthiness.
Did you know there are more than 48,000 laws, rules and regulations across the USA that keep people imprisoned far beyond serving their sentences, limiting their access to voting, employment, housing?! Heartland Alliance has been a successful advocate questioning laws that question our worthiness. They believe that society is better for everyone when even the most vulnerable among us can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.
*It’s gonna take time. Immeasurable means invaluable.
Implementing a more equitable, human-centered approach requires a paradigm shift — and it’s going to take time. Restoring harm in restorative justice circles cannot be measured; the impact of this work is beyond measure. A young man who works on the South Side shared his reaction when RJ was first proposed to him: “What’s this corny circle crapp?” Now, he says, “IT WORKS!” In the words of other peace circlers, “If you give Life a chance, it will evolve you, move you forward.”
Of all the stories I’ve heard over the past two years, these provide me the most hope. A deep bow of gratitude to Stephen Jackson and his team at the Oak Park Public Library for hosting such an inspiring weekend! What a privilege to be in circle with these courageous, compassionate change-makers!
LINKS: Learn more about some of the amazing people and programs who participated:
The YMCA of Metro Chicago's Bridging the Divide program was developed to help build understanding between youth, law enforcement officials, and other community members — offering opportunities for dialogue through cafés, peace circles, and the exchange of photos and stories. Over the course of the partnership, the YMCA and the Chicago Police Department developed a toolkit to help improve youth and police relationships. (https://www.ymcachicago.org/programs/youth-safety-and-violence-prevention-bridging-the-divide)
Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY) activates youth and surrounding communities in Chicago via: community organizing training and workshops, historical-cultural workshops, and mentorship programs to create revolutionary social change. (https://www.facebook.com/FLYleaders/)
Circles & Ciphers is a hip-hop infused restorative justice organization led by and for young people impacted by violence. Through art-based peace circles, education, and direct action we collectively heal and work to bring about the abolition of the prison-industrial complex. (http://www.circlesandciphers.org/)
Heartland Alliance provides housing, healthcare, jobs and justice services to over 400,000 people in the US and around the world, and leads state and national policy efforts to promote lasting change. (https://www.heartlandalliance.org/vision/) One of its many endeavors is Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois, which successfully passed one of the strongest reentry bills in the country (HB2373), which will allow thousands more Illinoisans the opportunity to seal their record so that they can better find jobs, housing, and go to school. For the 4.1 million Illinois adults with a criminal record, this will be a fundamental shift in opportunity. (https://medium.com/@HeartlandAllianceRP/2018-we-are-up-to-the-challenge-30dec157ca22)
READI Chicago (Rapid Employment And Development Initiative) is an innovative response to reduce gun violence that connects people most at risk of gun violence involvement with paid transitional jobs, cognitive behavioral therapy and supportive services to create viable pathways to a different future. Launched in the fall of 2017 with a goal of reaching 500 men (to date, 377 have been engaged!), the program reaches across North Lawndale, Austin, West Garfield Park and Greater Englewood. (https://www.heartlandalliance.org/press_release/heartland-alliance-announces-innovative-program-designed-to-reduce-gun-violence-and-provide-economic-opportunity-for-those-at-highest-risk-of-gun-violence-involvement/)
A Greater Good Foundation significantly impacts the lives of youth everyday by developing their mind, body, and spirit via a residential extended learning community that focuses on social-emotional learning, financial literacy, community service, and post-secondary college/career navigation. Their goal is to build Chicago’s first private boarding school serving high-risk youth, creating a safe and engaging environment for young people from low-income families to become vulnerable discovering themselves and grow up to become individuals who embody love, courage, and prosperity! (https://www.agreatergoodfoundation.org/)
Pamela Purdie from Alliance Building Inc. and Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (https://pbmr.org/staff/pamela-purdie/) was our wise elder in the room.
Healthier conversations create healthier communities. Think about it. What was the last juicy conversation you had? Who were you with? How did you feel? It’s rare, it’s risky, it’s rewarding — it’s required connective tissue for forming community.
In a time of such polarization and divisiveness, when nearly all systems are crumbling, we are currently in need of connective conversations and community. Consider this the antidote to the circus we watched on TV last week. That was neither conversation nor community. We desperately need to learn how to truly listen to each other, how to be fully present with each other, and how to imagine and create new possibilities.
I recently spent a long weekend on retreat in a remote location a ferry ride from Seattle. 100 folks from around the world and I turned off our phones and tuned into each other, practicing deep listening as many shared stories never before told. Somehow, it was slightly easier to bare our souls with strangers, in an unfamiliar setting. In a simple cabin set on a small lake surrounded by second growth redwoods, we listened to a master storyteller recount an old Native American story explaining the origin of ceremony, and then we practiced belonging to each other.
I heard so many stories of feeling fractured, traumatized, disenfranchised, lost, excluded, disempowered and disconnected. What heavy stories so many of us carry on our hearts! When we practice listening beyond the “Fine” of “How are you?” we help unburden each other from the sense of isolation we feel when walking solo with such tales of trauma. It was challenging and messy work to remain fully present to each other, to listen deeply, and to hold this brave space for four long, intense days. We didn’t fix or rescue each other; we just listened and held each other. The resulting healing and connectivity signaled the presence of true community.
Some say community is a dynamic, momentary experience. Some of us are stuck in roles we’ve outgrown and caught up in patterns of relating too small for our souls. Some say conversation is the practice of being together. Few of us know how to bring our full presence to listen and be with each other. (Turning off our weapons of mass distraction goes a long way to help this, by the by.) Few of us are willing to risk speaking our truth. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford modeled this in a powerful way — and on public TV — last week! Many failed to truly listen; some refused to hear her truth; many seem intent on practicing anything other than truth-telling, to the detriment of our entire community.
Everyone feels a deep longing to belong; yet so few of us experience it. We need to slow down and tune in to first hear our own truth to then be willing to hear the hearts of each other. We need a better opener than “How are you?” We need to discover and practice dynamic ways of being in true relationship and creating authentic conversation. We need to take the risky steps required to practice belonging in community, perhaps at first with strangers where we can shake off the old, familiar ways. We cannot become ourselves by ourselves. We cannot weather these storms or walk through this darkness alone. We need each other to create a culture of belonging.
Our community is bravely leaning into conversations to discuss America to Me (http://www.oprfhs.org/about/America-to-Me-Documentary-Series.cfm) tonite at 7 PM. Some of you are holding these brave spaces — thank you! There are a few more openings in Circles this week and next; sign up here: https://app.acuityscheduling.com/schedule.php?owner=14905854. You are needed.
On Sunday summer mornings, I love to stroll around town at the speed of the soul, with eyes wide open to the world surrounding me. Sweet surprises and soulful conversations abound. On a recent Sunday, the first occurred as I sat on a sunny bench reading a compelling story in Lived Through This: Listening to the Stories of Sexual Violence Survivors, by Anne Ream. I put the book down because a trio of tots came skipping down the sidewalk in front of me, their palpable joy was contagious. (Oh, and I absolutely love little kids!) The minute I began to talk, I noticed that they averted their eyes until their mother said, “It’s OK.” With heart break, I realized that there was an unnamed barrier keeping us from connecting safely. I was a stranger who looked a lot different. With eyes downcast, they sat on the bench next to me and I savored a few stolen moments, learning that their names all began with the letter A and they were skipping off to a spa day at home where mommy would do their hair and nails. Off they went!
My next soulful encounter occurred at the gym. One of the trainers and I shared stories about the critical importance of motivation, persistent daily practice, and engaging mind, body and soul. She works with the body, I work with the soul. Our physical differences are noteworthy but didn't keep us from connecting.
The third of my spontaneous conversations took place at a locally female-owned dress shop, which offered me a multi-sensorial experience thanks to her unique composition of textures and colors and the artistic way Michelle arranges the clothing. We talked about the uprising of women’s voices and noted uptick of women in power and together began to imagine a possible community event, bringing her people and mine together.
The categories and walls separating us are mighty and there’s great work to be done erasing boundaries and borders between us. Each time I lean in and meet eye to eye and heart to heart with another soul, especially one who sees the world, and is seen by the world, differently, the connection is so rich and rewarding.
One of the reasons I chose this community is because of the diversity of perspectives, reflections and experiences of the people who live together here. Each time I leave the comfort of my home, I am guaranteed juicy intersections. Connecting with these soulful women nourished my mind, heart and soul in ways staying at home with people who look, act and think like me cannot. Isn’t it time to break down walls and dream up new possibilities together in the space between us? What if we bring back the town square and make it wide open and inclusive enough to hold all of our fabulously varying views? If we aren’t the people and now isn’t the time, it may never come again.
Have you ever been told “You care too much!” or “Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve!” or “You’re too emotional!”? From an early age, I was warned that my overly emotive self would be a hindrance to the practice of law. Not having a smile on your face at the dinner table could result in being sent to bed with no dinner. For much of my life, I pursued the world of the mind, studying hard, thinking a lot but rarely feeling the depth of any emotion. My superpower—caring deeply—was sent into hibernation. When she occasionally awoke, she roared fiercely. My kids even asked me once if I could not love them so much!
One night in law school, while interning with a lawyer who litigated “bad baby” cases, I found myself worrying about the baby, the mother, the doctor. Thinking that my “caring too much” would interfere with my success as a lawyer, I quickly changed course—to a less heartfelt, more transactional practice. Without my heart in the game, however, it was a job not a calling and I soon lost interest. Years later, becoming a mother opened up a whole new world of undeniable emotions and still does even now as I send them off into the world.
These days, I frequently meet activists who share stories of being told to “dial it down” by (male) lawmakers and corporate leaders. And yet these times evoke huge emotions. I sit in Circle with women overwhelmed by our world in crisis, many of us just beginning to feel and give voice to emotions not easily held and often banished in childhood: hate, anger, outrage. I listen with compassion as my purpose guiding client unpacks trauma from her youth, learning how to feel what she was told so long ago not to. Ours is a crisis of care. If there is a silver lining to the chaos of the trauma we are living through, it is witnessing people act on what they care deeply for, people expressing their care in the streets, on signs, in donations and contributions of all kinds. The power of our CARING is what we need most.
A few Sundays ago, I was visiting my parents in Cincinnati. As we walked up the steps for Palm Sunday mass, Kim approached us with a warm smiling welcome and a copy of Streetvibes. “My poem is on page 13!” she shared excitedly. I opened to that page and invited her to read us her poem aloud. Here it is:
No One Asked
No one asked
How are you today?
No one asked
Because no one cared
Maybe because everyone is too busy
Someone went home today
Feeling sad and empty
No one asked
No one cared
Sometimes no one should have to ask
When was the last time you asked someone
could you help them?
It’s so sad when no one cares enough to ask!
Kim Green, Streetvibes Distributor & Contributing Writer, Cincinnati Ohio
What followed was a caring conversation between two strangers, interrupted by frequent hugs. We shared out hearts on our sleeves. I shared with Kim the synchronicity of what I had just written about the power of CARE that morning in my journal (you just read it). We agreed on the need for more CARE and expressed it to each other in that moment. She invited me to their brand new spoken word night at the library and to be a contributing writer.
We have been socially conditioned to think, but not to feel. Taught that our emotions are dangerous, we have overly developed our minds and forgotten the capacity of our hearts, where we hold compassion, fierce love, deep sadness, humor and gratitude. I have a strong sense that our capacity to CARE is precisely what we need more of now. When I look out into the world and see people making a difference, they are clearly driven by what they care most strongly about. I notice when I have the most energy and focus, it is doing work I care deeply about.
Who or what do you care for deeply? How would I be able to tell? Let’s be the beloved community who discovers together what we care about and risks expressing that care, wearing it openly and visibly on the sleeves with which we embrace each other. I think it all begins by asking each other how we are feeling and taking the time to listen to their answer.
“Simple conversations that originate deep in our caring give birth to powerful actions that change lives and restore hope in the future. There is no power equal to a community discovering what it cares about. When we are brave enough to risk a conversation, we have the change to rediscover what it means to be human. In conversation, we practice good human behaviors, We think, we laugh, we cry, we tell stories of our day. We become visible to one another. We gain insights and new understandings. And as we stay in conversation, we may discover that we want to be activists in our world. We get interested in what we can do to change things. Conversation wakes us up! Conversation helps us reclaim those very human capacities and experiences. Meaningful conversations can change the world! ”
— Margaret Wheatley in Turning to One Another
Ever wonder: “What’s the difference between me and an Olympic athlete?” Watching 17-year-old snowboarder, Red Gerard, win the first US gold-medal winner of the 2018 Games, I did. It’s actually quite simple: our dreams differ dramatically—and he has a whole lot of focus and drive energizing his dream. We all have dreams. Do you remember your first dream? What did you believe was possible when you were younger, not so tired and less corrupted by cultural expectations? In impossible times such as these, our dreams are even more critical.
PyeongChang, "land of prosperity" in Korean, is located 50 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone—the longest militarized border in the world—that separates North and South Korea. Home to several Buddhist temples, PyeongChang is located in one of the least developed provinces in South Korea: Gangwon, in the Taebaek Mountains region. Honestly, I’d never heard of it before Friday night. Within minutes of tuning into the Opening Ceremony, my heart was in my throat with this introduction:
“Go back in time to an age of miracles.
No matter the country, city or town they came from,
remember this more than anything else:
the dreams all began the same way …
and the stories have all taken them to the same place….
to a country seemingly impossible to transform.
But for these two weeks—maybe, just maybe--
this is the perfect place to get you believing again.
Always start with the dream….
that’s how the best in the world get to be that way.
Everyone who wants to can dream.…
Welcome to 18 days and nights of dreams
that have become some of the best stories you’ll ever hear.…
Believe in what can happen when people
refuse to forget who they once wanted to be….
When people have faith in the idea of what can be.
When people come together for a little bit of hope,
some thrill and a whole lot of fun…
It’s what was written in your soul—so go live it… follow your dreams…
You don’t want to be at the finish line saying,
“I could have done more!” …. Welcome to what dreams look like.”
(excerpted from NBC’s intro to opening of PyeongChang 2018)
Those words, those stories, that call to action, awakened something very precious and pressing inside of me. I dream of a world where we are all our best selves, becoming the beloved community together. In a sense, there’s not much standing between me and the 2,952 athletes competing in the land of prosperity considered a war zone until it was reimagined and built into an Olympic Village.
Instead of sitting there just watching—projecting heroic feats on athletes—what would happen if right now, we each stepped into our own story and activated our own dream? While we cheer on our fellow earthlings, let’s join them. Would you? Revive the biggest wondering your child-self imagined…and begin fertilizing it with focus, desire and drive. Before soon, you’ll be living into the biggest story your soul can imagine. What if all 8,000,000,000 humans on the planet created Olympic-sized stories from their own dreams —what would the world be like then? Let’s find out together.
An image of a tsunami-sized wave has been appearing in my consciousness over the past year. Some days it feels like a drowning downturn of sadness and overwhelm eager to swallow me up. Yesterday it felt like a powerful uplifting swell as it embodied us to gather and march the streets of Chicago. Even more people, even more energy, even more of the Beloved Community was on display than in 2017. Last year the theme was Wake Up; this year it was Stay Woke. This morning I woke up, intentionally replaying the felt sense of yesterday’s movement so that I can hold onto and expand it for days to come.
You’ve seen pictures, heard stories or made your own if you marched. Because this experience is so extraordinary, I want to try to paint the picture of the tsunami-sized energy of the collective as we gathered. From my perspective, here’s what happens. For weeks before, we prepare—physically (gathering chapstick, hand warmers, water, snacks and mass transit cards) and also soulfully. It takes quite a bit of reflection to dig deep and choose the one issue that is most deserving of being presented for all the world to see. And the competition is fierce. The creativity on display is unlike anything I’ve witnessed before: Each handmade beautiful sign reflecting the unique, passionate perspective of her creator. What matters most in this moment? What one thing would change everything? Especially at a time when there are so many issues; “too many for one poster board” as some reflected. This year, I chose #metoo, quoting the end of Oprah’s recent Golden Globes’ speech: “Take us to the time when nobody ever has to say, “Me, too" again!” I imagine what a world would be like where men weren’t repeatedly wounding women.
The next step is to decide who to go with, as this is a collective, community-enriching event. It would be hard to just show up as an individual. I love to cast a wide open invitation and allow myself to be surprised by who says YES! I am lucky to live in a community of wonderful women whose YES comes with so much fabulous fun!! Physical needs, poster and peeps prepared, now it’s time to maneuver the masses to discover where to stand. I prefer a sunny spot on the edge of the crowd, where I can see and hear the speakers and also make an exit as needed. We each have our own preferences. Together we come to a consensus and choose our place. The numbers of really young and really old people who come out impress me!
The atmosphere is unique at the Women’s March. People are festive and focused, elated and overwhelmed after a year of activism, individually expressing themselves and eager to chant in unison and move together. We begin to breathe together, to become co-conspirators in this world-changing work. Group mind takes over instantly as we become a WE. An amazing openhearted generosity is displayed through sharing of space, snacks and stories. People literally hand you oranges, wipes, and hugs. There are no strangers here. I imagine this is what it was like to witness the miracle of the loaves and the fishes—realizing that there is enough for everyone. There is no judgment here, no arguing, no debates, only openhearted curiosity and inclusion. We are hungry to capture the experience with photos and new friends. I always learn about another perspective in this space. I meet people who don’t look like me and together we stand under an enormously inclusive and wide-open umbrella of care and concern. WE become ONE.
There is no other place or time when I stop people I don’t know and ask to take pictures of them with their signs, capturing others’ unique perspectives, here equally as valuable as my own. Curious to learn why each other came, our views and values are diverse and deep, we connect. Together we uplift and celebrate all the flavors of being human, except hate and fear are not present here. Prayers and poems and songs and speeches shared, now we march. This, too, is an experience we do not do on an ordinary weekday: today, we flow into the streets, without knowing where we are going or who is leading us, not worrying about traffic or texting, unafraid of the unknown human being walking so close you can feel their breath. We chant, we cheer, raising signs and voices, connecting in an experience beyond the limits of labels, time, space or everyday concerns. And then out of nowhere, a loud, loving “WOO WAVE" suddenly washes over us and I can’t tell whether my feet are even touching the street below. I am carried by the crowd.
There is no shopping only sharing, no conflict only caring. There are people of all sizes, ages, shapes and experiences in this crowd of 300,000+ caring human beings dreaming into a better tomorrow. The helicopters and drones circling overhead see us to count us as individuals, but they have no idea about what we share that moves among us: a wave of heartful humanness I want to find a way to expand into every moment. I deeply desire that these moments become a movement of tsunami proportion so that LOVE trumps the HATE that risks deeply dividing us into isolated, lonely, fearful, self-concerned individuals who forget that THIS is what it is to be human. We are an integral part of a vast web intimately interconnected.
The TRUTH has been turned upside down since the hurricane hit our White House. The TRUTH is in the movement of the MARCH...when we come together to create the Beloved Community. WE are the people to make this dream a reality. WE can become this more often than these few moments. NOW is our time.
Although most of the work I am privileged to do in the world is literally TOO BIG FOR WORDS, occasionally I am inspired to put some words to my experience, and this is the landing place. Chime in on the conversation. Your voice is needed.