angel Kyodo williams

the practice of inconvenience

In culture, money, relationship, spirit on August 7, 2009 at 5:57 am

what’s in your wallet?

Years ago, Gloria Steinem, the formidable godmother of modern feminism posed a query that my fading memory won’t recall exactly, but it irrevocably changed how I view my life. The gist of it was this: if life came to an end for you, if you were hit by a car or something less tragic, but equally sudden while out in the world, and someone had to go through your wallet to find out who you are, would your checkbook reflect your values? Would your statement make a statement and is it the one you would want shared? What story would the carbon copies of what you sign on the dotted line for tell about what matters to you? Not the story of a year ago before the massive nosedive we’re in became clear. Today. Now.

I know, i know….many of us are so politically correct that we don’t write paper checks and maybe haven’t for years, but you get my drift: whether its paper, plastic, prepaid or PayPal…

What’s in YOUR wallet?

Later this month, Muslims all over the world will begin Ramadan, the annual 30-day observance of a daylight fast. Neither food nor water passes the lips from sun up to sun down. The same goes for sex and any unlawful, unkind or distasteful acts. Things of pleasure and things of pain are released equally in a daily commitment to taking in less while directing one’s energy inwards for reflection, prayer and renewal. Since September 2001, I’ve engaged this deep practice of total abstinence intermittently, regaining consistency in the last few years.

When I commented on it beginning soon (August 22nd in North America), a community member scoffed at its inconvenience: it lands just as we are preparing for our own Fall Practice Period, not to mention working feverishly on our single biggest event of the year. Her concern is well-placed. The outcome of this year’s event matters like no other before: like many smart but small organizations, we’re sitting on a financial precipice looking over the edge.

This is, more often than not, the nature of deep practice: It isn’t convenient. It doesn’t fit your schedule. It doesn’t conform to your whim. It isn’t selectable for good days instead of bad. In short, it isn’t a hobby…it’s a practice.

And owing to this practice, as deeply as we are in a literal existential crisis, we are happy. Not happy to be facing the jaws of organizational Death (or Rebirth as the case may be) but happy with who we are, what we do and HOW we show up in the world. I’ve made peace with the fact that one of the reasons we’re in a tight place is because we gave up the Game of jumping through money hoops. We continue to honor our commitment to change from the inside. Daily. 5:40am wakeup bell. 6am yoga. 7am meditation. Week after week. When the bills come and when they go.

If not as dramatic, remaining committed to established personal and organizational practice–especially in the face of challenge–is a stance no less determined than that of Gandhi’s Salt Marchers, or those folks that continued to cross the bridge in Selma. We put our butts on the line and on the cushion to usher forth a new way of Being Change. Facing financial firing squads, we stand (and sit) committed to finding Right Relationship through real partnership with a community of practitioners, participants and donors that care enough to support this new way even when it is neither easy nor convenient. In the process, we stand committed to maintaining Right Relationship with ourselves.

While Ramadan is a fasting practice, it’s not about holding back–it’s about reconnecting with the places within us that have tightened over the year and re-learning to give generously from that place of connection that knows that we ourselves own nothing. We belong to and are of the Divine and are infinitely blessed to express that Divinity here on Earth. On our knees, with foreheads touching the earth, palms turned toward the sky, our very breath is a celebration of Life. Each morning, we meet the darkness in symbolic solitude and contemplate the challenge before us: a day without eating. As days come and go, humbled in the face of our increasing frailty, physical strength tapped, endurance tested, we meet our humanity. Each night, our commitment is rewarded only by the opportunity to renew ourselves to meet the challenge again. The iftar meal breaks the fast in community, a bonding together to regain strength from not only the food but the energy of shared commitment. Ramadan is ended with a feast, but also with alms-giving–sharing of whatever we have–regardless of how much, an equally significant practice of commitment that brings balance.

In an essay on The Transformative Power of Practice Staci Haines and Ng’ethe Maina, two leaders in the field of Transformative Social Change, talk about two kinds of practice: Default Practices are “deeply rooted behaviors that we do automatically, consistently, and unconsciously in response to any given situation” and Intentional Practices are ” those that we choose to do in order to transform the way we show up in the world. Through new practices we increase choice and alignment with our values.” When we are faced with challenge, it’s especially easy to return to–and justify–deeply rooted unconscious practices: fear, contraction, a sense of lack and a resulting need to control. Ramadan shows up every year with a fresh invitation to let go of craving, control and excess with no pat-on-the-back congratulations, no true witness but that of your own deepening alignment with your commitment to Change.

Now is not the time to hold out. Not on your commitments, not on your practice and not on change. Change IS on the horizon. The best thing about it is that at this moment, we can’t actually make out what it’s going to look like. Like much of the unknown, we can take that to be a mark of real danger or of real hope. I’m opting for the latter, but I’m practicing come what may.

Are you practicing what you are committed to?
or, in other words:

What’s in YOUR wallet?

Sure, the best things in life are free. And someone pays–through hard work, advocacy and showing up–for equitable access to much of it. Even if you have a little, break off a little bit of that something. Put your cash where your heart is. We need a little change to bring about big change.

To start you off, here’s what’s in my wallet. While there were others, I am now reorganzing my priorities to support those that need it most:

In no particular order, these are organizations that need support today. Now. Of all the great work out there, I used three criteria to bring these to the top in addition to financial need:

1. Their leadership takes less, little or even no pay, not out of martyrdom, but from a place of studied consideration of what is needed and what is enough. Each brings not only depth of experience, but extraordinarily unique lenses to personal practice as the fundamental basis of systemic change.

2. Their staff, if they have one, are deeply committed to the work, giving of their time and energy generously and unequivocably. The collaborative nature, unpaid volunteers and networks of support make each organization’s impact in their fields much greater than their budgets. There’s a lot more bang for your buck with them.

but most importantly,

3. Their vision is one that holds a unique place for the new change that is still taking shape. They are holding open the doorway to new organizational ways of being, making their practice–how they are being–as important as what they are doing.

Simply said, should these uniquely situated organizations disappear, they cannot be replicated and they would take with them a bright lens into all of our future. Every dollar given to these organizations would be multiplied ten-fold by the devoted thoughtfulness, hard work, deep practice, ingenious creativity and sheer will of these organizations and their leaders, the integrity of each of whom i can vouch for personally:

Ruckus Society
Oakland-based Ruckus provides environmental, human rights, and social justice organizers of impacted communities nationally and beyond with the tools, training, and support needed to achieve their goals. Through these trainings, we help people learn the skills they need to practice nonviolent direct action safely and effectively.

La Plazita Institute
Based in Albuquerque, Designed around the philosophy of la cultura cura or culture cures, La Plazita’s programs strengthen community, families and enable youth to leave behind a destructive lifestyle by tapping into their own roots to express core traditional values of respect, honor, love, family, and community.

the stone house: a center for spiritual life and strategic action @ stone circles
Just outside the NC Triangle, the stone house is rooted in place. Movements for social justice have always thrived in places of sustenance and safety where people can deepen relationships and envision new strategies for political organizing.

and naturally our very own:

Center for Transformative Change (CXC)

Click to donate:

Holding it down on the South Berkeley/North Oakland border, CXC is the first national center entirely dedicated to bridging the inner and outer lives of social change agents, activists and allies to support a more effective, more sustainable social justice movement. As a meta-intermediary, this unique hybrid organization is both a residentially-based community of practice (not just theory!) and an astute articulator of the growing movement toward Transformative Social Change.

copyright MMIX. angel Kyodo williams.

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher, author, social visionary and
founder of the Center for Transformative Change.
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