I always hope to use this blog to write quickly and in the moment – writing as process rather than reflection. Somehow, it usually still takes me months to get anything up. But in this moment, I offer this from right here. Because this is a special moment. Things are changing quickly. These words will resonate so differently, even in a week. So here are some thoughts, from where I am right now, March 21st, a marker of Spring or Autumn in some places. 2020, a marker of change on this planet. Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. Alone in my apartment. Falling through uncertainty.
I’ll tell you a secret, something I’ve always been a bit ashamed of. When things fall apart, when projects fail, or plans – even big ones – fall through, a small part of me rises up. I feel excited by change, by the possibiltiies of thinking wider, of cancelling and finding another route at another time, of starting all over again. I think of myself as a good leader in these moments because even as I might feel challenged, I love feeling new futures emerge.
But this time, none of that. Just grief for a whole life lost. My plans this year – to deliver listening workshops and a beautiful symposium, to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday, to be with my family who live in other countries – all cancelled. Universities closing. Borders closing. Everything closing. I am left with some hard decisions about whether I can or should travel to be with loved ones. And even harder decisions to come.
When the wildfires raged earlier this year where I and others were living, I thought: this is a time of reckoning. I wrote the last blog post in response to that moment, while wondering how to write from what felt like the end of a world. At that time, I felt a certain horror that everything kept functioning while the world was on fire. But now I feel the horror of everything shutting down and breaking apart. It is this, it turns out, this virus moving very much like wildfire, that provides the moment of reckoning. And I am not ready for how much that reckoning hurts.
I have a cardboard sign I made for the climate march in Montreal last year. It was the first sign I ever made for a rally. I felt so proud of it. I brought it with me to a performance I did that night, and then I brought it home with me. Ever since, I have looked at it and it has looked at me. A kind of daily impasse has developed. I started to wonder what it even meant.
But now everything has changed. And I have to change.
What I haven’t done yet is slowed down enough to really feel the shifting rhythms of this city, this mountain, to know these birds. What I haven’t done, in a long time, is felt into the rhythms of sleeping and waking without electronic input. What I haven’t done is let go of my plans. Instead, I have postponed them in my mind, to carry on with later.
Some plans will get postponed.
Some plans will get postponed indefinitely.
I want to remember that I have everything I need inside me, now and always – not in a ‘my’ and ‘mine’ kind of way, but in the sense that we are universes. In the sense that looking in is already also looking out, if we let it be that way. In the sense that my inside is not separate from the world. And the world as I have known and lived it is breaking open.
Many years ago my friend Mark Trezona gave me a pack of cards he had made. They were designed to help with running an Action Learning Set, so each had an open question that would help someone think through a problem they were confronting in their lives. I still use this pack often, and treasure it. But there are two questions from the pack that I carry inside me:
What is the most radical thing you could do?and
What is the simplest thing you could do?*
I wrote in my last blog post that I have been struggling to argue for listening in a world that needs action. I was thinking about the way that listening in a time of urgency sometimes feels inadequate or even silly. And I still feel it. I feel the trace of those thoughts in here, in this moment. But I also feel something different. I feel that listening is here, right here, urgently and proudly present in this moment. It’s not feeling ashamed any more in the face of activism. Today listening and being are activism. This moment, a deep acknowledgment that we are intricately bound whether we like it or not. That my touch, my breath itself, affect your breath, your capacity to live. The virus and its behaviours are us.
As we find ourselves in global shutdown, breakdown, and the sorrows that come with this collapse, I have a feeling that we must do what is at once simplest and most radical. Take to the roots. Know or trust that we have what we need within us, and therefore without. And listen in before we move forward.
*It turns out the actual questions are: ‘What is the most radical thing you could do to get what you want?’ and ‘What is the simplest useful thing you could do?’ but they have simplified in my head