Summer is a season ripe with a certain kind of nostalgia. The delicious garden produce of the here and now shares my consciousness with fond reminiscence of sleep-away camps and running around the neighborhood with friends from sun-up to sun-down. It’s been a long time since I was on summer vacation, and proportionately I have experienced a great many more summers of just working indoors at the office. Adults don’t do summer vacation the same way school children do, but maybe we should.
Some places outside the US seem to have the right idea. Last time I was in France (also the only time I was in France), a local told me half the country takes the entire month of July off and the other half takes August. Apparently 4 weeks of paid vacation is a minimum requirement in the European Union. There is no such vacation guarantee in the US, so I’m sure I’m not alone in wistful pining for the freedom and adventure of a whole summer off.
I’m also probably not alone in my longing for a summer with predictable weather. So far this year has been a complete guessing game. A very late frost made for a very delayed start to the growing season. The weeks and weeks of torrential rain that followed were also out of the ordinary, so all my starts were pale and washed-out until just a couple weeks ago when the sun finally made a showing. This week the pendulum has swung and we’re under a heat advisory, so I’m hoping all my under-sized produce makes it through the roller-coaster and into my kitchen.
Climate change is just one reason a person might long for a time before, but humans are generally disposed to experience nostalgia about a lot of things. For the most part that seems fine. It’s enjoyable to get the warm fuzzies about good times come and gone. Those positive memories can also inspire us to build the opportunity for similar experiences into the future. The problem arises when folks try to cling too insistently to the past. Or make current policy out of it after it no longer applies.
There is a whole swath of the US citizenry committed to bringing back a time in America that never actually existed. A time of general innocence and harmony when there wasn’t so much bad shit on the news every day. A time of great prosperity for all, where hard work was all you needed to guarantee success. A time of The Land of Milk and Honey. A fantasy.
Perhaps it’s their way to envision a future they want to live in. Perhaps they just bought the snake oil from the peddler because they don’t know enough about their own national history. It’s probably some of both, and most definitely the latter. It’s hard to buy-in to a false reality when you are grounded in the actual truth. And it’s incredibly easy to be taken-in by the fantasy when you don’t know what really happened.
This is why it’s so important to continue learning all the time, and equally important to spread that knowledge. For example, this week I learned it was common practice at a certain point in US history for white folks to don blackface, commit a crime, then blame it on a black person and lead a mob to murder that black person. It’s a strategy that was undoubtedly effective given the circumstances in late nineteenth century America, and a reality that makes my stomach turn and my skin crawl. I wasn’t looking for this info specifically, I happened upon it while reading an essay by Ida Wells-Barnett published in 1900.
I've read about Ida B Wells, and I've read what other smart people think of her reporting and other writing, but it was a different experience to read her thoughts written in her own words. This was no nostalgia-coated version of what was happening in the US at the time she lived and wrote. It was what she saw and heard and what she thought about it. It’s important to absorb pieces of contemporaneous history any time you can because the revisionist versions dilute or erase the lessons we learned (or could have learned) from the events and people in those times.
Unfortunately, this is true even for folks who lived through history and are still around to talk about it. Every time we recollect something, our brain forms that memory afresh from all the associated pieces. It's a truly remarkable process, but it's also malleable. We are not looking back through our memory like video records in a vault. We are almost reliving the circumstances of the past as our current selves. Sometimes that means we have new insights about old happenings and get to grow a little from the revelation. Other times, it means we try to apply outdated strategies to current problems.
It seems like this is happening more often in politics. Some politicians have just been around so long, they are still playing by the old set of rules even though the game has changed a few times over. I want to be rooted in my past so my branches can reach up and out toward the future. But I don't want to be stuck there. The world is constantly changing and growing, and so am I. It makes no sense to try to cram the world into a box it already outgrew, even if we were fond of that box once upon a time.
Information and Inspiration
Ever since the Supreme Court ruled on Dobbs v Jackson's Women's Health, I have heard a near constant refrain of we've been here before. And that's basically true: there was another time when abortion was illegal in a many states and inaccessible to some people no matter where they lived. But what gives me comfort and hope right now is that we actually haven't been here before. We have never been here, today, in this moment, before. We have never stood at the precipice of this exact moment with all these particular yesterdays at our back.
Which means... it's different this time.
It took me a while to see them, but the signs are clear. A few weeks ago when the supreme court draft decision was first leaked I didn't go to a women's rights rally, I went to a reproductive rights rally. That's a small word difference but a big ideological distinction. It's not just women who are affected by this madness, trans folks and non-binary humans also need access to safe, affordable abortions. And while this was also true half a century ago, the effort at that time centered around women and left those other folks mostly out of the discussion.
In 1973 we didn't have the expanded vocabulary we do today. Queer was still a pejorative and the gender binary was not yet up for broader discussion. Of course all the many flavors of human still existed, they just weren't recognized in popular language or mainstream media. But we've got the words today. And queer, trans, and non-binary humans are all over every kind of modern media. So it's different this time.
At the reproductive rights rally, one of the speakers made note of the folks who came dressed as characters from “The Handmaid's Tale” (Margaret Atwood's novel about a dystopian future ruled by patriarchal white supremacists who rigidly control people with the capacity for pregnancy and dictate how and when they will use their body for reproduction). The speaker pointed out that many marginalized folks have already been living a Handmaid's Tale-esq reproductive reality for quite some time.
It was a nice reminder that the tent is bigger now and there are more kinds of people standing together under it. It was also reassuring. The more factions supporting human rights for everyone, the more likely we are to succeed. It’s going to take everyone coming together to create the long-lasting social change we so desperately need in this area. Just like it will take everyone coming together to dismantle white supremacy and overcome racism.
There are some people still beating that tired, old drum of fewer rights for certain other people. But the resistance is playing a new tune with a completely different array of instruments because this time it’s different. That doesn't mean we're guaranteed to win, but it does mean the old script no longer applies. I’m comforted by the variety and volume of different voices writing the new one. Lead on, you beautiful blend of humanity, lead on.
Information and Inspiration
I was listening to a program on the BBC about how artists and regular folks in Helsinki are coping with the ongoing and unnerving Russian military aggression so close to their home. When the host asked for a show of hands for who feels the tension in their lives, only a small number of hands went into the air. One audience member explained their lack of worry and it struck me as especially poignant: in a crisis "if you know what to do, you don’t worry; you just do it." It got me thinking about the value of practice.
I just spent a couple weeks out of town for a variety of reasons: work conference, Taiji workshop, and my cousin's wedding. Each event had a completely different vibe and took place in very different locations. Some things about my regular life are hard to practice while traveling, like eating food that I'm not at least a little bit allergic to, or getting decent sleep without my pillow. Other things are much easier, like wearing a mask in public indoor spaces and working out in the surprisingly well-equipped hotel gym.
Even as I adapted to each set of new surroundings, I tried to seed my adaptation with the same intentions I use at home. Start the day with qigong. Eat leafy greens. Move my body. Show appreciation for the folks facilitating the many facets of my experience. Occupy my whole personal space. See the fullness of other people's humanity. Help if I can. And all those things are much easier to live-out in unfamiliar surroundings because they are so well rehearsed.
I didn't get to make my signature kale smoothy every day, but I found some kind of salad. The conference hotel had an amazing workout room, so I put on my mask and got to lifting, pressing, and sweating. There are any number of humans taking care of logistical minutia at any conference or hotel, so I had no shortage of opportunities to doll-out thank-yous. I asked for food accommodations for my allergies and said no to activities out of line with my desires or current Covid protocols. And I helped a couple more privileged folks see with a little more compassion the struggle of some other folks clearly living on the streets.
Even though the specific things I did were completely different manifestations, most things felt like the usual stuff I get up to. And it felt for the most part like I was continuing to cultivate things that are important to me. I especially enjoyed spending most of last week recharging my Taiji practice with a visit to my teacher for our annual whole-system camp. It was several days of taking really good care of myself and resting-in to deeper awareness and presence.
My Taiji practice in particular is extremely valuable. Feeling maximally centered and grounded makes absolutely every other part of my life experience richer and more rewarding. Not to mention the increased resilience and ability to better manage stress. If I don't practice every day in both small and big ways, my ability to be present for whatever comes my way is instead encumbered by the chaos and tragedy of living in tumultuous times. I want my experience of life to feel meaningful. And being present for whatever is happening allows that.
It's important to acknowledge the current iteration of my groundedness didn't just pop into existence one day. I built it slowly over time and out of many deliberate actions. I practiced being this way. I did small things in the beginning, just thinking about doing my qigong and showing up inconsistently to actually do it. Then I did it more regularly and for a little longer. Eventually I began to pay more attention while I did it and incorporate it into the rest of my daily life. As I grow, so does my practice. It is where it is today, and whatever I give to it will be what it is in the future.
I saw a short video in which a fitness coach told the story of a client who showed up at the gym, changed, put their stuff in a locker, spent 5 minutes exercising, then packed it all in and left. On its face, that 5 minutes doesn't seem like it will make a noticeable impact on that person's strength or fitness. But the fitness coach recognized that client was practicing the skill of showing up and commended that client. All other fitness and gym skills are built on top of that foundation, so it was the first and most important thing to practice.
Finland has been named the happiest country for several years running and people in the know seem quite keen to explain the sources of all that contentment. At its root is what the Finns are practicing. Over time they have built societal systems that ensure everyone's basic needs are met and every has access to health and education. Some of those systems, like education-for-all, began half a century ago and they persist today because individual Finns participate in maintaining those systems.
Recently I have been yearning for a significant shift in some parts of my life. Like a lot of people I am trying to figure out who I am and where I fit in to this not-quite-post Covid world. This week I realized I was looking for too big a change, so I missed all the fine detail of what my life is actually constructed from. Instead of asking whether I should go back to college or relocate to a new area, it will be much more valuable to consider all of what I am practicing. By examining all my intentional actions and unconscious defaults I can identify whether those practices are growing the life I want to live.
We are what we practice, both the things we knowingly and actively do and all the things we cultivate unconsciously. As a society we've done quite a lot of world-building unconsciously. We could all stand to be a little more aware of what towers we're constructing as we lay down each emotional and cultural brick. If enough of us pay enough attention enough of the time, we can build sparkle castles in the sky. So keep practicing what keeps you the most human, and continue to ask if those practices are serving the outcome you’re after.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.