Protecting The Feminine

There’s a dance I go to every Wednesday and Sunday called Ecstatic Dance. A DJ plays evocative music from all kinds of genres and everyone dances in their own way. It’s complete freedom. No one drinks at this dance or smokes. Women do not worry about being teased or stalked for their gender, dress, or style of movement. Men may dance with other men and no one categorizes their sexuality. One does not have to wait for a partner; people joyfully dance alone or with another of either sex or in a group.

April162014 Ecstatic dance

The people who come to this dance are often creative, sensitive, sensual, and passionately working on creating a culture that feels safe and welcoming to all types of people.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about this culture recently…how fragile it is. Every week we come together and do a personal, spontaneous, creative, and sensual dance. And there are unspoken understandings: that we will not judge another’s dance, that we will not sexually objectify anyone, that we have room for differently raced or gendered people. Women, in particular, feel free to express their sensuality in the form of clothes and movement without fear of shame, violence, or exploitation. After 5,000 years or so of being bought and sold as chattel, the freedom to be sensual for oneself is extraordinary for women, especially in contrast to parts of the world where women must be fully covered in public or have their sexual parts cut out.

However, as our dances become more and more popular, new people enter the dance and some are not aware of the unspoken rules of this new culture. Every once in a while I hear about someone pressuring a woman for her number or some other more mainstream behavior and I realize that we have something quite precious to protect.

As a group we are swimming upstream from mainstream culture…not an easy task in itself, and we must work to overturn even our own habitual notions around domination, control, acceptance, ownership, and sensuality. Acceptance, sensuality, non-judgment, empathy, and presence are generally defined as feminine traits in our culture. Poetically we could call it protecting the divine feminine and I mean the divine feminine in both men and women. As women, we are used to feeling marginalized in the media for these qualities, however we forget that men with these qualities also feel pushed out. Some of the most distressed men I know are sensitive, feeling types who have been bullied by their more aggressive, masculinized counterparts.

One way to think of these feminine qualities is as those human behaviors that would not be encouraged for making war. For eight thousand years, our kings have pushed onto men the characteristics needed to make good soldiers– duty, ability to follow orders, organized action, thinking over feeling, alcohol to numb feelings, narcissism, deliberate avoidance of feeling what another feels (no empathy or compassion) and judgment over acceptance. These are essentially the traits of all of our heroic soldier types in the media. Men are not inherently these masculine characteristics; they have to be cornered into these stereotypes from childbirth.

April162014 Receptivity

How do we protect this precious culture that allows, even celebrates the divine feminine? I have been pondering this question for the past several months. Do we create rules and then enforce them? Do we make a judging body? Do we require people to go to meetings? I am inclined to try a completely different way to approach this issue of promoting and maintaining a different culture, something a bit more, well, feminine; something that has gentleness, fun, receptivity, and diversity in it.

I am especially interested in finding a feminine way, because our culture thinks of feminine as weak and ineffective. I suspect that the opposite is true. Receptivity, the ability to surrender to the present, acceptance, non-judgment, sensuality, and empathy are the very traits needed to connect to one another, to the planet, and to a larger consciousness. How can we survive into the future disconnected from one another? How can we survive if we are not present to the planet now, not receptive to its feedback systems, and deaf to the cries of our fellow animals? How can we find the flow needed to survive if we cannot stop following duty, rules, and “how we’ve always done things” long enough to be present to the soft voice of Life and Spirit?

It may be that the qualities that the kings labeled weak and bad for successful war making are the very qualities that have the most strength for any kind of human future. Personally, I’d like to find out. I have some ideas about how to protect the divine feminine in a feminine way that I will post in the future. I am interested in your ideas as well and hope you will feel free to communicate with me.

 

 

Self-awareness and Rightful Boundaries

Boundaries are my parameters for personal safety, autonomy, and privacy. Most of the conflicts that I encounter involve boundary violations or imagined boundary violations. It takes a lot of thought to figure out what is rightfully yours and what is rightfully mine. For example one of my boundaries is smoking in my home. My safety in my home is rightfully mine. However, I don’t say anything to friends who smoke outside of my home, their right to their own choices is their boundary.

The above example is easier to see, but here’s one that’s more difficult. I have a friend whose partner is not close to her grown children. She wants him to make more of an effort and continually presses him to change. But how he conducts his relationship with others, even her kids, is his personal right. By pushing him to act differently she is overstepping a boundary.

A way to think about boundaries is this: We are responsible for our own autonomy, safety, and privacy. A boundary violation can occur when someone interferes with our efforts to achieve safety, autonomy, and privacy, but only when they are actively interfering. We have to be really honest with ourselves about the difference between what is or isn’t active interfering. A gay marriage for instance, does not interfere with anyone else’s ability to have a happy marriage. An obese person does not interfere with anyone else’s boundaries by being fat, however when she is cruelly treated for her weight, her boundaries for safety are the ones being violated.

Many times we violate our own boundaries. For example, when I force myself to listen to someone talking on and on without stop, when I help someone to move out of guilt, when I share my food while feeling resentment, etc….I am willfully violating my own boundaries to save the feelings of someone else.

April92014 Save yourself

Ultimately, it’s not my feelings of guilt that trip me up so much as my self-identity as a good person. Many of us, especially the people who show up for inner work classes, want to be good. Holding a boundary seems to directly oppose that culturally defined “good” identity.

Then there are challenges around status. We have a difficult to impossible time confronting someone with higher status. Recently I was visiting a woman’s home where a bunch of people were exhibiting their wares. I bought a small treat from a Vegan baker. The owner of the home greeted me ebulliently, saw my treat, mentioned how good they were and then leaned down and snagged a bite of my very small, expensive treat. I had a second to pull my treat away and say “No!” but I didn’t. It was her home and she is a leader in my community, both of which gave her higher status than me. So I just stood and watched in horror as half my treat disappeared. I didn’t hold my boundary with someone with higher status.

 

 

 

 

 

Sliding Scale: The Power To be Fair

The going myth is that we all have the same opportunity and that if we work hard enough, we will earn our way into wealth. The reality is that many of my college-educated friends have no full time jobs at all or do have jobs that pay very low wages. Meanwhile my son goes to a stressed inner city school that can’t afford text books for the teens. The fact is our system isn’t fair and people don’t improve their financial situation very easily at all. And these days, many of us are making less than ever, while the money they earn with their intelligence and creativity gets siphoned to a few.

So what can anyone do about the current inequity? Paul Cienfuegos says that when folks price a class, the people with little money wind up subsidizing people with a lot more money. Here’s how: Let’s say that the lowest price an educator can price a class and still pay expenses and salary is $20. For an underemployed person, that $20 might represent a lot of money, but for a person earning around $40,000 or more a year, that $20 is about what they make in one hour. Which means the underemployed person or even the millions of people who work full time and earn low wage either can’t attend the class or have to endure hardship to attend the class. I know many people who live with a small carbon footprint in intentional communities where they contribute by growing food for their community, but don’t have much cash. They can’t go to a class on communication skills when the class costs $20. So in effect, when a person who doesn’t have cash scrapes together the money for these kinds of classes they are paying more in hours than the cash rich person.
march282014 real costsTo fix this inequity, Paul suggests a sliding scale based on income in a one to three, one to five, or one to ten ratio. Therefore the above described $20 class could be broken into several categories: incomes of $15, 000 and less, $15,000 to 25,000, 25,000 to 40,000, 40,000 to 70,000, 70,000 to 100,000, and 100,000 on up. People earning $15,000 and below might pay $10 for the class, while people in the $100,000 and up range might pay $50. In this way, each person is paying about what they make per one hour.

march282014 sliding scale3 When the sliding scale is done in this way, our wealthier friends are paying the same or almost the same amount in hours as those with less cash amongst us, thus helping to make an unfair system fairer. Furthermore, if the wealthier people can pay the amount they make in hours, a more diverse group of people will arrive to the workshop and cash will not determine participation. It is up to the cash wealthy among us to help make our culture more sustainable.

To find out more about Paul: PaulCienfuegos.com

 

The Effect of Privilege on Relationships

I am working on a post about how we can alleviate the unfairness of our economic system, at least in our personal groups. Meanwhile, a student at the Process Work Institute sent this out and I think it has a vital message about the effects of privilege for people working in groups. The link is: http://www.robot-hugs.com/privilege/

The cartoon is by Robot Hugs. What I like about this cartoon essay is that the burden of change is put on the shoulders of the privileged rather than the already burdened shoulders of the lower ranked. Typically, people with low rank are told that they have to fix the bullies, the unfairness, their invisibility, and so on. Process Work and Robot Hugs sees the privileged among us as needing to be responsible for change. Furthermore, in certain settings, you may be the most privileged person.

Some people are experiencing problems with interfering pop-ups on that web-site, so I have pasted jpg’s of the cartoon below. I’m sorry to iphone owners, because I know the jpg images don’t show up on your phone, but maybe the above link address will work.

Robot Hugs 1

 

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Robot Hugs 3

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Money Makes Our Hearts Break

In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer. ~Forbes

I love the deep democracy work practiced and taught by the Process Work Institute. The facilitator creates safety for authentic sharing from the heart. It can sometimes take a while for people to realize that they can speak honestly, even if what they are saying isn’t politically correct.

By the end of a recent meeting people were really sharing. Money, unsurprisingly, was the topic with the most poignant emotions, in particular, how much it cost to go to workshops. One woman shared that she was homeless and that the $10 it cost to go to this particular gathering was an enormous amount of money. Another woman shared that she thought the gathering was worth $300, that we should have charged that much, and that she wouldn’t have thought twice about paying it. We had charged $10 to $30 sliding scale and the majority of people had paid the lower amount.

mar202014 all mine

One teacher shared, with tears in his eyes, that he was barely living himself on what he charged and yet he knew that many could still not afford his workshops. He said that he lived with a broken heart in this economic system that we have. The entire group nodded. It was true. We all know that Nonviolent Communication is one of the best tools out there for improving relationships, we want very much to help people by getting the information to them and yet, we too, must earn a living. We are all trapped within this unfair economic system. We, all of us who are helpers and healers, live daily with broken hearts when we can’t reach the people who need us the most because of our own and their poverty. Being in the bottom 90% has real consequences.

I wrote in the previous post that competition within human groups is irrational and goes against common sense.  Groups that survive the longest in harsh conditions must be collaborative. But I don’t have to give statistics to prove that competition doesn’t work for us. Our own bodies tell us by how we feel every time we see someone begging on the street or sleeping on the sidewalk. Our hearts break.

For those of us trying to create a new, more sustainable culture, poverty makes it harder and harder for us to teach and harder for the people who are interested to afford to learn. In the next post, I will talk about a possible way for us in the sustainable community to help make things fairer, at least within our own group.

 

 

Competition Is Not The Goal

In the 1800’s a missionary teacher kept a journal on her interactions with the Inuit people in northern Canada. They couldn’t get the basic concepts of competition, she declared. The children helped each other across the finish line, even though she explained the whole point of winning a race over and over again; a clear indication, she thought, of their backwardness. The Inuit, a people who have survived harsh environmental conditions for thousands of years, could not imagine competing against one another. We cannot imagine anything else but competition.

mar152014 way more fun

Competition is not the grand goal in an evolutionary track­ – cooperation is, according to Elisabet Sahtouris’ book EarthDance. Nature is fundamentally cooperative. Where we find intense competition, she says, there has usually been some sort of crisis or environmental alteration that has thrown things into a temporary flux of competition.

It occurs to me that a mere 10,000 or so years ago, a furless tribe of primates discovered how to grow food that could be stored. The ability to store food, lock it up somewhere, trade it, protect it, and steal it created an ability to accumulate wealth, which created a crisis. We can reproduce that crisis and do with other primates. When Jane Goodall began observing chimpanzees in the wild, she never saw a fight. Over a decade later, her students saw fights routinely. The difference? The students began bringing piles of food and dumping it in one place in order to keep the chimps in one place for easier observation. Faced with such wealth, a complete impossibility in nature, the primates began competing over it.

We used to think that all of nature competed. Competition was the pinnacle of an advanced system, we thought. I was taught that trees competed for water and shade, for instance. However, better observation techniques show a completely different picture. Check out this story from The December 23rd, 2014 edition of the New Yorker, from an article called The Intelligent Plant by Michael Pollan:

“The most bracing part of Mancuso’s talk on bioinspiration came when he discussed underground plant networks. Citing the research of Suzanne Simard, a forest ecologist at the University of British Columbia, and her colleagues, Mancuso showed a slide depicting how trees in a forest organize themselves into far flung networks, using the underground web of mycorrhizal fungi which connects their roots to exchange information and even goods. This “wood wide web,” as the title of one paper put it, allows scores of trees in a forest to convey warnings of insect attacks, and also to deliver carbon, nitrogen, and water to trees in need. (emphasis is mine)

…Every tree in a plot thirty metres square was connected to the network; the oldest trees functioned as hubs, some with as many as forty-seven connections. The diagram of the forest floor resembled an airline route map.

…fir trees were using the fungal web to trade nutrients with paper-bark birch trees over the course of a season. The evergreen species will tide over the deciduous one when it has sugars to spare, and then call in the debt later in the season. For the forest community, the value of this cooperative underground economy appears to be better over-all health, more total photosynthesis, and greater resilience in the face of disturbance.”

mar152014 trees compete1

“Greater resilience in the face of disturbance.” That is a very important statement to me. When we make sure that everyone is fed and taken care of, when we make sure that everyone has access to the same quality level of education (there’s a huge difference between inner city schools in the ghetto and suburban public schools in America), when we share resources for health care, we create a human system with greater resilience. Right now, as a group, we are fragile. As a group, we are so stretched thin with stress, that one major flu epidemic, one more major drought in an important food region, or one more economic bubble bust could completely undo the majority of us, sending the entire group of us, including the upper classes, into chaos.

We are a group animal. We were meant to cooperate. We were not meant to take advantage of one another. Our final destination evolutionarily is not competition, but cooperation.

Times Are Tough

I don’t know what the pundits are saying on TV, but here in reality the times are tough. I’ve never known so many people out of work or underemployed. People who are college educated. The other day I gave a dollar to a well-spoken homeless man standing on a street corner with a ‘help me’ sign, who sounded like an old teacher of mine.

For twenty years I’ve anticipated the day when my friends would start falling through the cracks. I knew it was inevitable with the third world-ization of our country by the industrial-military complex. A ridiculously low minimum wage, expensive health care, fast environmental changes, and lack of safety nets would all eventually reach the people I personally knew. But it’s one thing to imagine the future and it is another thing to live it.

I am seeing stress levels sky rocket all around me. One friend tells me that the stress is so high in his life he occasionally blacks out. Relationships are falling apart. Stress causes serious health problems. But many of my friends are too poor to get medical care. My heart breaks to see so many of my friends who followed the rules lose their health and then their homes. They got high grades, so that they could go to college to get the good job. Just recently, yet another friend with years of training was laid off, so that his job could be outsourced to India.

Which is why, dear readers, I started this blog in the first place. No one can manage stress alone. No one can face this onslaught of pressures alone. We need one another. Only together can we figure out what to do. I write about how to relate one on one and in groups, because we started out eons ago as a group animal and that’s what we need to continue. Somewhere along the lines, someone got the idea that it is survival of the fittest individual. Maybe for tigers that is the case, but for us, it’s survival of the fittest group. Corporations are thriving because they are a group working together to compete against us. Unfortunately, corporations are not alive, they are more of an idea, so that they cannot easily absorb new information, they can’t be spontaneous, they can’t flex and bend with changing times. They are more like cancerous growths. They are fit all right, but they are mindlessly destroying everything.

So it’s up to us, our families, and our friends to come together and help one another. And a good starting place is to at least talk about what is actually happening in our lives and how what is happening in the outer society with wages, inflation, and loss of jobs is affecting inner experiences in the form of loss of health, stress, and depression.

Caring Less Leads to Loving More

The following article from Oprah.com explains how caring less leads to loving more. Byron Katie offers the same wisdom. When we try to change people, they simply cannot feel our pressure to change as love. Even if we are doing it in the name of love. As Martha Beck affirms, “Love is pure acceptance.”

Mar32014 stop difference

If we can learn to accept our loved ones just as they are, our families and intentional communities will flourish. One caveat: I do not mean that abusive family members may abuse you. Accepting that they are abusive is not the same as accepting abuse. You may walk away. I love tigers, as an example of dangerous beings, but I keep bars between us.

I remember one intentional community struggling over a member who would not attend meetings. They did everything in their power to change his behavior. Even though he could accept the consequences of not attending a meeting, such as not having a say in what happens, they could not accept his decision. He was a fine member in every other way. They needed clarity as to what the real purpose was in insisting upon his attendance.

Mar32014 difference

Most of the time, if we are clear and truthful with ourselves, we will see that our lives aren’t really impacted by what the other person is doing. In that community’s case, they just wanted the member to follow all the rules, because they had made them. In groups, there is often a tendency to insist that everyone do and believe the same thing. I suspect this tendency is what makes individuals drop out of groups or leave small towns. So it’s a beautiful thing when a group can allow it’s members maximum freedom to express their own nature, while still finding creative ways to cooperate.

…Shift Your Focus from Controlling Your Loved One’s Behavior to Creating Your Own Happiness 

When I make this suggestion to my clients, they tend to take umbrage. “I always focus on creating my own happiness!” they insist. “That’s precisely why I’m trying to get my grandchildren to visit, and my cat to stop biting, and Justin Bieber to engage with me in a mutually rewarding exchange of personal e-mails!” 

Best of luck with that. Because as AA or any other 12-step group will tell you, sanity begins the moment you admit you’re powerless over other people. This is the moment you become mentally free to start trying new ideas, building new relationships, experimenting to see what situations feel better than the hopeless deadlock of depending on change from someone you can’t control.

Read more: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/How-to-Love-Unconditionally-Martha-Becks-Advice/2#ixzz2uYW7qZ5q

Teachers I Can Trust

I remember being a young person in my twenties and thirties and what I wanted most of all was to be “good”. Good is a bit vague, but it’s the best way I know how to describe the need to know that I was a good person, that I was doing what Spirit or Higher Consciousness wanted, that if I went to trial (so to speak) the judge would say that I had contributed to goodness in the world. The following link to this Alanis Morissette song probably says it best: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMZReI2QrlQ

In my search to be good, I went to all kinds of self-described gurus. Unfortunately, some of those teachers were not to be trusted. One teacher said he had cured himself of herpes, a friend of mine trusted his pronouncement and found out the hard way that he hadn’t. Another teacher confused many women by sleeping with them for “spiritual” purposes. Another teacher persuaded a young woman to give up all of her money and possessions until she was destitute and hopeless.

feb252014 teachers

It took a while, but eventually I found my own bullshit detector. When I encounter certain types of teachers, the detector goes off. Since so many groups are often looking for teachers to lead them, I thought I would share some of the red flag behaviors that I have learned to distrust.

Probably the reddest, red flag is someone with a great deal of charisma, charm, and theatrical ability. Many of the trustworthy teachers I’ve encountered are kind of drab in person. Think Eckhart Tolle. They don’t need the spotlight to fulfill their ego, so they don’t wear flashy clothes and they aren’t particularly riveting in their personal presentation. They don’t try to be humble either. They just don’t seem to need to appear like anything. My teacher, Robert Gonzales, is very ordinary in his dress, is introverted even shy, and has a rather quiet presentation. You wouldn’t pay much attention to him at a bus stop. My other teacher, Arnold Mindell, is playful, silly, and wears knit caps over his bald head.

Teachers that I trust are willing to appear foolish, to admit that they don’t know something, and to laugh at themselves. They are often in strong relationships with a significant other or with friends. Their personal lives tend not to be glamorous or reminiscent of the lives of the rich and famous. I realize that not every trustworthy teacher follows this description to the letter, but I suspect that most follow it somewhat.

Teachers that I trust walk their talk. If they profess nonviolence, then they are not violent to anyone or any animal at any time, or else they humbly admit that they are working on nonviolence like everyone else and that they fail sometimes. A trustworthy teacher is transparent in their process, and even more importantly, transparent when they do not live up to their own teachings. A trustworthy teacher is compassionate and empathetic. They do not make big promises and they do not suggest that they know the way to perpetual happiness. Sociopaths, on the other hand, can pretend to empathize, but can’t actually feel compassion. Sociopaths care very much about what people think of them and are quite susceptible to flattery. A sociopath can never admit to doing anything wrong and can therefore never apologize. And finally, sociopaths have difficulty feeling gratitude for anything.