When I take the time to really slow down and tune into my breath, the silence, nature, I begin to experience myself as part of the larger whole of life. I feel power, depth, connection. I feel alive. I sense what the poet Joy Harjo described “That you can’t see, can’t hear; Can’t know except in moments steadily growing, and in languages that aren’t always sound but other circles of motion.” When I am in the presence of redwood, hawk, mountain or river, the politics of division loosen their grip on me. I lean in to the collaborative nature of life, the universe breathing through me, my inherent capacity to connect and transform.
This year has challenged me in just about every way possible. I’ve been shaken to my core, deeply uncertain at times how to show up for myself, much less my family, my work, the world. I’ve made choices that don’t support my personal wellbeing, and have been forced to reckon with the consequences. I’ve disappointed people and I’ve doubted myself in the process. As a result, I’m actively choosing to let go of parts of my life that don’t sustain me. I hope to start the next year in a healthier place, with greater capacity to face the challenges to come, and perhaps most importantly, to show up for my family in a time of need.
When I have the opportunity, I take my questions and my pain to the land and into ceremony. I seek the wisdom of what is greater than me, my ego and whatever story I find myself stuck in. I have generally found ease, comfort and alignment in wild places, so returning to these places is a natural field of practice for me. Feeling into my own experience of pain, story and shadow inevitably opens and reopens me to the grief and complexity that exists in the world. I can be present to what is moving in me – and be vulnerable, release, heal. I am able to move through the current of discomfort, informed, transformed, and into new patterns of awareness.
This is aspirational practice, to be clear. I’m laying out what it looks like at its best, when I carve out the time and space, and turn inward for guidance. There are reasons why “practice” is practice. And the practice of awareness, bringing my full presence to connecting to land and place grounds me, heals me, and strengthens my resolve to show up every day to help bend the arc towards justice.
The majority of the current news in this country shows a nation out of alignment, an ever-increasing consolidation of wealth and power, and the exploitation of nature for short-term corporate gains – at the expense of the people and at the mercy of all species whose life depends on healthy ecosystems. The halls of justice have become theaters of injustice, perpetuating inequality on a scale that threatens the future of life on Earth.
But the heart of our movements for equity, liberation, resiliency is increasingly finding its polyrhythmic alliance. I feel honored to contribute towards this healing through my work with Center for Whole Communities.
Our theory of change states “there is an enduring wholeness that exists alongside the challenges we face, revealing pathways across these divides.” This is a deep reminder at a time when the challenges can feel paralyzing. The pathways include compassion, connection, listening, gratitude, humility, fierceness. Cultivating our capacity to show up and be present forms a foundation that helps us imagine and design a future that harmonizes the human experience on this magnificently beautiful planet. We are not separate, and the more fully we allow this truth back into our bodies, the better equipped we will be to be the kind of warriors for justice that our ancestors and future generations are praying for.
The natural world models so much of what we need to dig ourselves out of this increasingly hostile, divisive, unsafe world. No matter who we are or what we believe, and how polarized we may be, we are made of the same stuff. The building blocks of our bodies have literally evolved for connection, adaptation and resilience. Practice gives me a place to remember.
As we move through the solstice and welcome the returning light, can we be courageous enough to lay down our assumptions, listen, build bridges, make mistakes, be humbled, and rewrite the story of our time? I know that I am going to continue practicing and finding new pathways. I hope that you will join me, and us, in that polyrhythmic alliance.
CWC Senior Fellow, Kristin Rothballer, is a transformative social change leader, with a focus on where care for the planet meets advocacy for equality and justice. She consults on strategy, programs and organizational development for nonprofits, foundations and social and land-based enterprises. Her current projects include serving as a Senior Fellow for Center for Whole Communities; helping to design FIREROCK, a musical to engage people around climate change. She is also on the teaching team of Ecology of Awakening, a program through Edge at Commonweal. Full bio here.
Muir Beach, Solstice 2017 photo by Kristin Rothballer