The need for compassion in the midst of bureaucracy.

My community organizer work has been particularly frustrating as of late, due to roadblocks and unsuccessful attempts at funding and change for two different projects.  My (and I think many people’s) first instinct is anger, frustration.  I want to find someone to blame.  Not getting what I/we want must be someone’s fault, right?

Not really.  Through several melancholy yet still productive conversations it has become glaringly clear that unsuccessful work with the City is rarely if ever the problem of one person.  In fact, more often than not the immediate City staff are doing the best that their excessive work load and limited job scope allow to help make the work of neighborhoods as fruitful as possible.  Problem is, so much bureaucracy and hierarchy has been created in even the local government that the hands of each individual civil worker are essentially tied when it comes to making more than basic changes to City policy and strategy.  Communication between departments about shared issues is not well established (though it’s getting better), so smaller scale stakeholders sometimes don’t enter into the conversation until the pivotal decision point has been passed.

So what now?  I can’t blame individuals (and in fact like many of the City staff very much), can’t blame particular departments, and can’t upend the system as a whole because 1) such things only occur during riots, revolutions, and the like and often result in chaos, at least for a time and 2) I don’t yet feel prepared to offer a holistic, viable alternative.  What I can do is practice compassion- compassion for the City staff I interact with, for my co-community organizers, for the residents and business owners in my work and home neighborhoods.

I’m not sure what compassion looks like, and I’m certain it manifests differently depending on the situation.  I do know it includes lots of listening, much less speaking than I’m used to, and holding myself accountable to promises that are made.  Hopefully if I can practice compassion in my work it will not only change my internal response to the situation but slowly yet surely will filter into the way that conversations and interactions happen City-wide.

What am I doing?  Breathing and smiling.  Thanks Thich Nhat Hahn.

Meanwhile I’ll be working on that re-visioning the City plan 🙂

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Plant friends and a surprising precursor.

Plant friends and a surprising precursor.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts (albeit briefly) that I’m becoming increasingly interested in herbalism.  Moreover, it is quite exciting to walk around and feel as though the surrounding plants are friends, or acquaintances at the very least.

Plantain, a common weed to most that grows in impacted soil pretty much everywhere, is particularly useful for cleaning out cuts and helping to remove splinters and such.  I have a clump of it taped to my foot right now in hopes that it will pull out the splinter/stone that lodged itself in my heel on Sunday.

Dandelion!  Previously thought to be even more of a pest than plantain, this plant is almost magical in its food and medicinal abilities.  The root can be roasted and ground up as a coffee substitute (I have not yet tried this because I’m somewhat particular about my coffee- dark or French roast made in a french press is my brew of choice), the leaves are edible and incredibly healthy, the flowers can be made into an oil, and I have been told and am presently testing the validity of the white sap-like substance that comes from the stem being used to get rid of warts.

And last of my new yet common friends is STINGING NETTLE (in all capitals because I decided at this moment that it should be a metal band name as well).  I’m planning to walk down by Minnehaha Creek later today to collect some nettle tops- the larger part of the plant has gotten woody by now- to steam with brown rice, tofu, and mushrooms for lunch/dinner.  Nettles have an amazing amount of protein, minerals, and all around goodness.  Plus most people unfortunately despise them for their sting, so you might be doing humanity a favor by picking them.

Apparently I shouldn’t be surprised by my recent dedication to herbalism as a calling.  Upon reading my college-era Livejournal I discovered this little tidbit, dated January 12, 2006:
“Today I spent the whole of 8th period sitting in my same spot in the Naperville North library (hiding behind one of the bookshelves) reading about herbal medicine. It is so exciting to learn about these things because I am a firm believer in using herbs as medicine rather than chemicals that have been formulated in a laboratory. Granted many of our conventional medicines come from plants initially but nothing will ever be the same as tea and poultices. So I am going to do further research and begin compiling a list. Susan and I have decided that it will be quite grand when we have our own places to live, and my most recent excitement regarding this will be my ability to grow plants in a window box. There is no light for that in my dorm and it makes me miss growing green things. Until then I will drink my peppermint tea, delight in the tingle it leaves in my throat, and gain knowledge about possibilities.”

Everything I am and everything I love has always been there, I think, some of it just takes its time to blossom.

Two Challenges

I’m still in the midst of my year of reading books by non-straight white men, but in response to recent life changes want to add a couple more challenges to my plate.

First, an exercise in financial discipline.  I’m not buying anything for a week (today is Day 1) other than groceries this Friday, because it feels like money has been falling out of my pockets and account as of late.  It’s not for lack of disposable income (which, come to think of it, is a very strange phrase…are we insinuating that purchases other than basic needs are inherently garbage?) but between Craft Beer Week, Art-a-Whirl, and my general penchant for the multitudes of amazing restaurants in the Twin Cities, my weekly spending has risen substantially.  So- no cookies, coffeeshops, restaurants or thrift stores this week.

The second challenge: figuring out what to do with my non-working hours.  Due to the summer return of a couple coworkers, I now pretty much work three days a week, with four off.  Wonderful, right?  Only if I can actually DO something meaningful with that time.

  • Fridays and Saturdays will still be my weekend, for shows and friends and fun, and over the summer almost all of my weekends are committed to trips of various sorts.
  • Tuesdays are generally my get-stuff-done-around-the-house day while Benjamin is at work.  They also used to be for journalling/letter writing, a practice that went by the wayside in the midst of wedding planning but deserves revival.
  • Sundays are the new free day, a day of promise, a day I want to claim as something before too many submit to lethargy or menial chores.  Possibilities: herbal medicine collection/creation, spiritual reflection time and/or meditation, more focused writing time, long walks.  What else might one do with newly freed up Sundays?

Right Now I’m Reading: The Ragged Edge of Silence

Brain Pickings came through for me again, reviewing and recommending a marvelous book, the second written by radical walker and activist John Francis.

The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World is, in a word,  centering.  In precisely the way I’ve been looking for as of late.  Through a combination of memoir and practice sharing, John Francis tells his story of choosing silence for a birthday, a year, and eventually seventeen years of his life.

Before choosing silence, John Francis became a committed walker of the world.  After the oil spill of ’71 in San Francisco Bay, Francis committed to never driving or riding in a oil-driven vehicle again.  Despite being a year-round bicyclist and happily car-free individual, I’m not sure I’d be able to take a similar stand, more for the barrier it would put on visiting family and friends than anything else.  However, Francis shares deeply personal stories of the challenges and conversations with his loved ones after taking both the vow of oil-free transportation and, later silence.  Through his willingness to lay bare the struggles in understanding and communication that he experiences, I have found myself contemplating the possibility of some kind of similar commitment.  For now I feel my transportation choices are enough of a positive challenge- I spend quite a bit of time already advocating for a car-free lifestyle, and answering questions about why I do what I do.  Silence, however, is another story.

I am not quite a born talker (in fact, back in middle school I received a written comment from a teacher that I needed to more of a shark and less of a minnow) but have become as good as one.  Listening fully has always been a challenge for me, and particularly in these first few months and years of marriage and something resembling adulthood, I want to commit to listening deeply, truly, with my whole being.  Inspired by the practices, stories, and lessons from John Francis, I’m considering committing one day of every month to silence.  Our loved ones, strangers, and the earth itself have much to say if we can learn how to listen, and I hope that if I can find it within myself to open my ears and eyes through silence I will begin to touch the ‘ragged edge’ that Francis speaks of.

“I couldn’t help smiling at myself as I asked internally, ‘Why am I in such a hurry?’  Yes, perhaps it was ursaphobia, the fear of bears, but it felt more like being on the ragged edge, where silence and awareness come and go, where one gets lost and then is found.  It was not simply black and white; it was more like peace, real peace: alive and dynamic, a state where one can discover and explore one’s true self.”

In a word, perfect.

Simple.

Sustainable.

Beautiful.

Quirky.

And joyous.

To all our friends and family, thank you for being the most important part of such a spectacular day.  To all those getting married in the coming months/years, know that it truly is possible to celebrate with everyone you love in a simple, sustainable, beautiful and quirky way without tons of stress and expense.  Remember what is important:
THE PEOPLE.

Just in Time for the Wedding

I’m very nearly done with my hand-stitched quilt, just in time to gift it to the intended family member that I’m not going to name at present just in case they are reading this…  My quilting class is a happy memory at this point because my present-moment brain space has been thoroughly absconded by the final weeks of wedding planning.  But we were a lovely group, don’t you think?

Photo from my co-quilter’s great craft blog

I’m finding that the last week or two of planning the wedding (happening near you- if you’re in the Twin Cities- this Saturday!) have been less stressful than the month or so before that.  Maybe because we’re now past the big decision making and all that’s left is relatively simple things (at least in the decision making camp, probably not so much in the labor requirement camp) like purchasing candles, finding daisies for my hair, and making sure we have enough cupcakes for everyone.

Certain large-ish pieces have waited until the last minute, such as collecting everyone’s readings for the ceremony and, er, the final language for Benjamin and my vows.  At times I’m almost tempted to do it impromptu style, because all of the words and feeling are there, and are expressed to each other so often in our daily life.  But I suppose for the sake of our wonderful friends and family that will be in attendance it would only be fair to actually collect said words and feelings beforehand so that our declaration makes sense to someone other than Benjamin and me.

Please think sunny thoughts for this weekend!