Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Traveling & Circling: Some Reflections on 2013

I often have this ritual at the end of each year where I write out my thoughts and reflections of the year that just ended. In this case the year is 2013.

I began 2013 in a very positive way. Shortly after the year started I gave an introduction to Nonviolent Communication workshop that went really well. Doing that workshop was also a nice way for me to commemorate my ten years of being an NVC aficionado. And soon after that, I left Minneapolis to go to the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center where I was at for a very long time. First I served a 10-day course there, then I sat one, and finally I served at a service period there, during which I was fortunate enough to be joined by my friend Seth.

After the time at the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center, and then a week visiting my friend Dan in Bloomington, Indiana after that, I finally returned back to Minneapolis. That was certainly a very long time for me to away from home, and in particular it was a very long time for me to be away from my partner Liz, whom I missed terribly.

At the same time, beginning around then was the start of one big conflict that was to be one very big thing for me throughout the year. I am referring to here the Sisters Camelot / IWW conflict. Sisters Camelot was a group that I regularly worked with, and I was proud to tell people about this organization when I explained to people what I do in Minneapolis. Sisters Camelot and the IWW both had very deep ties in with the activist/radical/anarchist scenes, both locally in the Twin Cities and beyond. So when this whole thing blew up both myself and a number of other people I know were hurt and devastated by it all.

It was then a very fortuitous timing of events for me that I was called up out of the blue one day and invited to serve at a ten-day course at the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center in April. I went out there, taking them up on that offer, and that was really one of the most positive experiences I had during the year. It was all very much hard work, with little personal space, but the benefits that I received from that experience I am still processing.

I did go back to the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center one more time this year, in May I went with Liz and my uncle Allyn to the annual Open House event that takes place there. That in itself was a wonderful experience for me, since I got to show two people whom I care about so deeply and whom have been an important part of my life this place that I care about very deeply and that has also been an important part of my life.

In June I was off traveling again, this time also with Liz. First we went to Michigan where we saw aunts, uncles and cousins on my mom's side in Ann Arbor, and then where we saw aunts, uncles, cousins, and most importantly my 90-year-old grandmother in the suburbs outside of Detroit. After Michigan we then went to Pittsburgh where we saw my friend Artnoose, met her new baby and saw the new house that she bought.

From there we went on to the small little town of Folsom, West Virginia where my two brothers, mother, step-father and his two parents were. We spent a good chunk of July out there, but we were busy with a project that we had to do. This project is in many ways a continuation of one that I had embarked on five years previously, in 2008.

What it essentially involved was sorting through many many different boxes of papers and belongings that my family had accumulated over the decades of their existence. The goal was to find some very old letters that my now-deceased grand parents on my mother's side had written to each other back when they were a newly married couple. Our secondary goal was to help my mother and step-father better organize their belongings out there in the various houses that they own out there in Folsom, West Virginia. We never did find those old letters out there, so our secondary objective ended up becoming our primary one.

In many ways our time spent out there in that small rural and isolated mountain town was the climax and pinnacle of my experience of the year. I found all kinds of different old things from my childhood and past as well as from the childhoods and pasts of all the rest of my family members as well. Add on top of that the fact that for essentially a month Liz and I were basically trapped in the middle of nowhere with my family. So whatever old family dynamics and issues there was were forced to come to the surface and be dealt with somehow.

Eventually that whole thing was over, and I ended up injuring myself shortly before leaving as well. This resulted in Liz and I then going on to Camphill Soltane with me in a sub-optimal state. We were out there for about a month as well, for most of August, volunteering at the "August Program" there as well as hanging out with people there before and after that program took place. This experience was not the same kind of magical and wonderful experience that it was for me the previous summer, in 2012. Mainly this was because I was injured this time around, so I was not in my prime condition. Also, this summer my time in Camphill Soltane was at the very end of my period of summer travels, not in the very beginning of it like it was in 2012. I was definitely missing Minneapolis and ready to go back home by the time all of that was over.

Coming back to Minneapolis at the end of August, Liz and I went to a wedding, and we went to the Minnesota State Fair as well. But aside from that, it really became a time for me to confront my situation of where I was living and what I was doing there. I had no more big travel plans to distract me from that.

Over the course of the year, starting with the Sisters Camelot controversy and continuing on with other things, it became increasingly apparent to me that the anarchist/activist/radical sub-culture is not a place that I want to continue to turn to in order to meet most of my social needs or to base my personal sense of identity around. I had taken a break from this sub-culture before when I lived/worked at Camphill Soltane from 2009 - 2011, and now I was ready for another break from it. The thing is, I did not know how to break from it without slipping into total social isolation and alienation from people.

Then, in late September, I was offered a job, and everything changed. I can not underscore what a major thing this job offer was for me, since it was literally over ten years, since 2003, when I last was employed. I believe that with such a great period of time since when I last had a job, I just assumed that I must be somehow permanently unemployable. But that turned out to not be the case.

The job is a full-time one where I work at a group home supporting adults with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses. From October to now, the end of 2013, this job has been the place where most of my time and energy has been channeled towards. I do not necessarily want that to be the case for me for the rest of my life, but for the time being it works.

That's all for this year - MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY!!!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Losing the Elders

One thing has struck me about this year, 2013. This seems to be the year in which various people who've occupied the role of being an elder have passed on. I am referring mainly to the various sub-cultures that I am connected with, but also to some extent I am referring to the larger world outside of them as well.

Within the anarchist scene there was Audrey Goodfriend, a 93-year-old life-long anarchist who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. Within the egalitarian communities movement there was Piper Martin a long-time member of Twin Oaks Community in Virginia. Within the world of Carl Rogers' 'Person-Centered Approach' this year Delbert Tibbs, a man who was better known outside of that scene for other reasons, has also died. In the world of Vipassana Meditation the charismatic teacher who did so much to spread this practice, S.N. Goenka, died this year. And Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of Nonviolent Communication, although he has not died, he has basically retired from the field.

In a more mainstream light, there is Doris Lessing, an author who defies categorization, yet who has done so much to influence different people in different ways. Also related to the literary world, Carolyn Cassady, who was one of the last remaining members of the Beat Generation, has also died. And then of course there is the international leftist icon Hugo Chavez who died, as well as the nonviolence icon Nelson Mandela.

Taken altogether, I have a sense that we are losing our elders. These different pioneering, ground-breaking people are all dying off. And who are we left with instead? Who can we turn to for guidance, inspiration and wisdom?

I say this all within a certain context here. For one, the generations of people immediately following the one that is going away does not seem to me to be of the same stature or character as the preceding generations. Corresponding with that is the fact that we are now seeing the rise of the Millenials, a generation that has come of age in such a vastly different world compared to all of the generations previous to it that it is hard to tell where it where go or what it will do.

This seems to leave us with a sense of the unknown, The Void, if you will. The elders have left us, the past is past, that part of history is now over with. Those of us who have survived thus far are here now. What will we do next?