No Shortcuts to Whole-Heartedness


By Kristin Rothballer

These are wild days indeed.

From the killings this week in Aleppo, to reports of Russians hacking the US election, to the water protectors at Standing Rock, to the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, to the President-Elect’s unfathomable Cabinet nominees, reality has become difficult to stay fully present to. Grief and overwhelm arrive on the daily. I am generally oriented towards hope, but it’s taking deeper and deeper work to source it. I have been turning to love and prayer, not as passive or sentimental acts, but as practices that root me in true power. The reverence I have for the earth and the resiliency of life help me find hope.

The arc of justice is long, yes. And there are no shortcuts.

I have learned some of the most valuable lessons about social change in my own family. Coming out queer was excruciating for me. The reality of homophobia kept me closeted for a dozen years, pretending not to be myself with my family, while simultaneously becoming proud and politicized about my identity everywhere else. When I finally faced head-on the threats that had kept me silent for so long and came out to my parents, what I found was deep fear. They just didn’t know how to handle having a queer daughter.

The next couple of years taught me a lot about patience and forgiveness, and taking a stand for the truth while not compromising nor alienating. It was deeply painful for all of us, but ultimately it has been a journey of healing and reconciliation. Changing hearts and minds takes honesty, courage, listening, love. Those of us who dedicate our lives to justice know this.

I’ve spent over 20 years working alongside brilliant people to heal relationships between people, and between people and the Earth. It’s hard work. It’s beautiful work. We take gargantuan steps forward, and then slip backwards beyond what we thought was possible. We make mistakes and hurt each other, and we love on each other hard. We don’t back down. We get fiercer about our goals and collaborate in ways that are magnetic, inspiring. And while we know that the arc bends towards justice, we meet things along the way that confound us: greed, exploitation, genocide, racism. We remind ourselves there are no shortcuts.

What is undeniable is that there is deep pain in the heart of America.
There is deep pain in the heart of the world.
Much of this is rooted in ancestry,
calling for a deep engagement with our histories to meet and unwind it.

I am working to develop the literacy of my heart – to stay open to the grief and fear I feel, and not shut down. To open to the fear that others feel, even when it is in direct opposition to liberation, equality, peace. To hold my heart open to what is hardest, to allow it to break, and to protect it just enough so that the aching doesn’t derail me. The more our hearts break open, the more we can hold. And we are being asked to hold so much right now.

Center for Whole Communities is a refuge in these complex and wild times. It is a place to practice with rigor and reflection, to bump up against our shadows – individual and collective – and strengthen our ability to be in this work over the long arc. We support the multifaceted work of social and environmental change by creating spaces for telling our stories to each other, bridging difference, clearing our minds through awareness practice, encouraging our imaginative capacities through creativity, and engaging in meaningful dialogue with each other.

We are dedicated to “whole” communities – a mission that is calling for deep collective inquiry, as so much of the noise and news that is calling for our attention these days is rooted in the systemic fracturing of community. As our team has been exploring this Fall, there are no shortcuts to wholeness. No shortcuts to whole-heartedness.

We invite you into deeper relationship with your own heart, and with ours.

With love & solidarity,

Kristin Rothballer
Senior Fellow, Center for Whole Communities

“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.”

– Terry Tempest Williams

Please support our work cultivating whole communities.

Image from the Mural at The Mexican Museum, San Francisco Artists: Susan Kelk Cervantes, Fred Alvarado, and Suaro Luis Cervantes Photo credit: Kristin Rothballer