I would like to talk some & reflect upon 2007. You are welcome to join me.
When I think about the year 2007, two things strike me the most. It is that I did a lot of traveling across the country in hopes of discovering a new way of life and "what to do with my life." The assumption was that if I figured out one, then the other would be easier to get as well. This isn't all that 2007 was about for me, of course, but this is what jumps out at me as being the lesson for me to learn for the year.
2007 began for me high & embittered & alone at a party at Twin Oaks Community. My experience at that party was not quite what I had wanted, and I ended up sleeping in the back seat of a van curled up in a fetal position to stay warm in the early hours of the morning.
The year exists within an incredible context - the fact that everything is going to hell. People everywhere tell me not to read the news, that I'd be happier that way. But I can not ignore the world that we live in. Everything is just so amazing. So the context is always on my mind, not out of wanting to overwhelm, but out of a desire for... Realism?
My first big journey of the year began in January to go to California to visit my romantic partner. Most of my time there was spent with her, and that really was my primary focus for that trip. That time there, and the relationship throughout the rest of the year, was characterized by a lot of caution, intensity, and pain. Vacillations between wonderful connection & agonizing disconnection.
Coming out of that relationship, I seriously question now how, or if, it is best for me to relate with the concept of "romantic relationships". My history with these things, when involved, is for me to put in far more time, energy and feeling than what in retrospect I think is healthy. I get consumed by them. In 2006 I went through a vasectomy operation so that I can guard against a possible situation where raising a child would be my (or someone else's) primary use of attention. Perhaps it would be wise for me to draw a similar clear-cut line against my involvement in romantic relationships? (what would the physical surgical equivalent be - castration?) Perhaps it would be best for me to put my attention onto other things?
After California, I went to Florida. This marked the beginning of a pattern for me. You see, when I say that I went "across the country", that is not really true. There are certain places that I went to again & again throughout the year. All in all, in 2007, I went to Mississippi & Michigan once, California & up-state New York twice, New York City, New Orleans and Florida three times each, and Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC countless times. The rest of the country was pretty much unseen by my eyes, or at most was a brief passing-through.
Why did I do all this travel? A lot of it was circumstance - so-and-so was going to such-and-such and I was invited to go along. A lot of it was event-oriented, a specific event was happening at a specific place and I was encouraged to attend. The rest of it was me drifting, just floating along following the strongest currents.
As I said earlier, I did a lot of my travel with an underlying theme of "searching" going on in my mind. Wanting to know what to do with my life & energy. Hoping that going to a certain place would reveal it to me, or that at the very least I would have a profound revelation along the way, at some airport, bus or gas station. Things never quite worked out that way, although I did find a lot of my experiences to be quite meaningful nonetheless.
One of the most powerful things to strike me this year is the sheer potential behind what I call "dispelling the illusions". By this, I mean what Nonviolent Communication calls "observation without evaluation or interpretation" or what others call E-Prime. In other words, being able to identify exactly what happened and not mixing that in with what we think about what happened, or any supposed meaning behind what happened. I have been talking about this principle for years, and am just now realizing how very little I have been applying it in my own life. This seems to me to be an un-used foot-hold to use to walk out of the cloud of incessant thinking, back into the world of tangible reality.
For the sake of transparency, most of my year when looking back at it from this lens without illusions, has been spent by me sitting down, reading, walking, talking - all-the-while thinking thoughts. That's what a camera would show. Well, I guess that a camera couldn't "show" the enormous role that thoughts have in my life, but that's how I experience it. To use an analytical term, I have been lost in a cloud of thoughts. The impetus behind these thoughts, generally-speaking, has been me wanting to find meaning & direction.
One thing that I have wanted to find meaning & direction with is regarding the issue of group identity. This year I made my own list of fundamental human needs(you can see the list here) and one of the needs that I listed there, in the "social" category, is "group identity". This is important.
Group identity, the story of who "we" are together, provides a sense of purpose & strengthened cohesion to a group. Groups sometimes go to war with each-other or persecute individuals when they sense that their group identity is threatened. For me, this has always been a very important need of mine, and much of 2007 was spent with me trying to find ways to meet that need.
Throughout the year I have had different experiences with different groups, resulting in this need not being met for me. With CapitolNVC there never fully evolved a story of "we" that everybody agreed to and felt good about, although people certainly did try! With the Finders we eventually discovered that the story that I wanted and the story that others had didn't exactly match up, even though there are some strong over-lapping similarities. The story that Common Ground tells I like a great deal, however the pain:processing ratio was not balanced enough within that group to have it be sustainable for me. I like the Baha'i story of "we" for humanity, but the story of what it means to be a Baha'i does not fit for me. Other groups that I have been involved in initiating have not sufficiently cohered, with enough subscribers and faith invested, for me to have this need met through it.
The romantic relationship thing that I was talking about earlier is a kind of group identity, I believe. It is a story of "us", of two. It is precisely the collective identification within this kind of relationship that I am questioning.
All of this aside, I also want to acknowledge that a great deal of pleasure, and pain, can be had from these group relationships regardless of identification. Heart-felt connection is the key. A strong group identity just adds a certain magical something special to it - the magic kiss that turns the living beautiful frog into the living beautiful prince. I got a great deal out of my relationships with my partner, the Finders, and then later Common Ground. It has been very hard and painful for me to have all of these different relationships end this year, or rather, transitioning-out-of-intimacy.
What I want is this - an intimate (not to be confused with sexual) relationship with a group of people, consciously committed to supporting each-other through pains & hardships, all subscribing to a story of "we", a group identity, that matches up with the meaning & purpose that I personally find in life. The meaning and purpose that I find important is grounded in values of sharing, respecting autonomy, and mutual care, while directly addressing the situation of the world. Using the mindset of "dispelling the illusions", I would have to translate what this would look like into terms of concrete doable actions. I have not found the mental stamina to do this yet.
One experience that had a big impact on me this year, that I am still trying to make sense of & orient myself around, was my time spent in New Orleans. Both my experience at Common Ground as well talking with different activists & organizers there, left me very shaken up by the real-life effects of violence & social disintegration. At Common Ground there were sexual assaults, fights waking me up in the middle of the night, open alcoholism, unexpected expulsions and a large bloody fight that happened among a large group of volunteers. In New Orleans itself outside of Common Ground, I knew people who were assaulted on the street, witnessed open gang warfare, locked away in jail for a month for no real reason, had their neighbors unexpectedly murdered in their own home, and who had their house torn down without their permission.
Within myself as well, in New Orleans I also felt myself disintegrate. I felt more anger there, more contempt, and more desire to commit physical violence than I have in a very long time. All my compassionate values, my Nonviolent Communication training, my Rogerian revolutionary aspirations, was not strong enough for me to embody it and bring it out into the world. In New Orleans, I felt as if I was living within a fractal reality of violence & disintegration. Within myself, a group of 30 people, a group of 274,000 people, and a group of 6.6 billion people, the same fundamental dynamics & patterns were playing themselves out simultaneously. I can not live like this. This experience more than anything re-affirmed for me the importance of having a conscious & committed social support structure.
Throughout the year I have met a few people through which I have found inspiration to continue pursuing the above-mentioned vision. I will name two.
On July 4th I met Dominic Barter in Oakland, California. This guy is a Nonviolent Communication trainer currently living in Brazil, originally from England. Dominic is well-known for developing & implementing a widely-used Restorative Justice process for the education & criminal justice ministries of Brazil. He is also an anarchist, was once a squatter, and has an interest in the work of Carl Rogers, similar to myself.
What I like about Dominic Barter, what I find to be personally meaningful, is the clarity through which he thinks and the fearlessness through which he acts. I like his beliefs & values, of course, but it seems as if he has somehow applied them in a way that so far I have only aspired to.
Dominic has a process that he calls "Walking in the Dark", which consists of identifying your fears and going towards them instead of habitually away from them. You identify whatever blocks that you have which keep you from doing that, and you address them. Then you find someone who has power in the situation that you are afraid of, and you have a direct conversation with them. You make clear doable requests of them, and you stay within an NVC-style dialogue. I would like to do this.
The other person is Lost. This is someone that I met in New Orleans, an ex-Common Ground volunteer, and someone who I interviewed for the "Just and Sustainable New Orleans" radio project. Lost is the founder and main person of the Termite & Vine: Home for Lost Girls & Boys", the "Re-Thinking the House" project, as well as a well-known advocate for "homesteading"(the term here referring to a more sophisticated version of squatting) in New Orleans.
I was struck - I had just come from the Finders, and here was "the home for Lost Girls & Boys". The sub-title of Dominic Barter's "Walking in the Dark" process is "Without Getting Lost", and here, was Lost. The name seemed fitting though, because all of New Orleans, including myself there, and especially the local anarchist scene, all seemed so very... Lost.
What I like about Lost, find inspiring, is the open-ended creativity that I see in her and her fearlessness. I mentioned "fearlessness" with both Dominic & Lost, so I guess that this is a big thing for me. Both of them have the ability to talk with bureaucrats & cops as well as criminals & drug addicts. They both can establish working relationships with people on the top & the bottom of the social hierarchy, and still remain true to their anarchist principles. With Lost I perceive a creative imagination that sees a million ways to express one's self, a million ways to potentially meet the need for housing, and a million ways to make things work.
There are two authors who made a big impact on me in 2007 - and these ones aren't dead guys for a change! They are Doris Lessing and Manfred Max-Neef. Lessing showed me that it is possible to think comprehensively about spirituality, sociology, and psychology and still express it in a poetic & compelling way. Max-Neef is the originator of the list of fundamental human needs that Nonviolent Communication is based upon, but he is not an NVC guy. He is concerned primarily with local community development in areas with very little monetary resources, and he is essentially anarchist. Now that really got me thinking...
2008 rolls around, and I am on the moon-lit sand dunes of Jacksonville Beach, Florida. The waves of the ocean are whispering behind me and the conversations of small groups are murmuring around me. The clock strikes midnight and loud electronic music starts thudding wildly in front of me, spark-blasters begin at full-force to my sides, and rockets take off into the sky behind me. I walk through the enormous iron gates into the rave of well-groomed yuppies.
So, then, where now? I don't know. I have a bunch of different options before me, and a bunch of different things that I can say. I don't know where I am going to live or what I am going to do. I don't want to buy into any of the pre-fabricated options before me, because that just wouldn't feel right. I feel as if I have all of the thousand puzzle pieces out on a table in front of me, and I don't want to just give up & buy a sleek pre-made print.
Dominic Barter says to have your requests be as clear & specific as driving directions. In order to write that out, I first need to consult the map, my heart. If there is any lesson that I can draw from 2007 it is that my own guide is within me. We just need to talk.