Cultural limitations: Through the male lense

There is something very strange about the Western cultural lens through which we – as women and per default – judge our own behaviour and most importantly establish our sense of worthiness. I was talking to my therapist the other day (how 21st century is that statement right there!?) about the intensity of my emotions and emotionality in general. “I’m constantly paying attention to my feelings and easily cry if I feel strongly about something, I just can’t help it. I feel like I’m crying ever second day.” To which she replied “Yes, and…? Why is that such a bad thing?” “Well, because I’m tired of being weak and fragile”, I said. “Do YOU think you’re being weak and fragile by crying?” she asked.

And that’s where the discussion on the limitations of our Western culture kicked off.

I confessed that I’m simply a very emotional and sensitive person and always have been. The conversation took an unexpected turn when I was reminded that these qualities of mine could actually be seen as an incredible asset and source of strength. Now I’m someone who thinks a lot about culture dynamics, I’ve done studies on the topic and taken particular interest in the history and evolution of Western culture which has resulted in a predominantly patriarchal approach today.

So I was surprised when my therapist invited me to review my attitude towards that ‘weakness of mine’.

“Have you thought about what a gift it is to be able to tune into your environment and your Self the way you do? Rather than judge, can you imagine yourself simply noticing feelings of pain and anger and going…wow, what a powerful thing it is to be able to feel so much in this world.”

I was so relieved to turn to my Self and say “You’re ok. No, actually you’re quite strong.”

Despite my awareness around our culture’s masculine disposition, I have in no way been able to internalize that understanding. Up until now, I haven’t been able to conceive of an alternative ‘measuring stick’ other than the one that males made up in the first place.

Mind you this is not a story for the “angry feminist” box. It is simply a request for us all to honor the multitude of ways of seeing ourselves and the world. More than ever, we need to embrace new (but actually very old) ways of being and with that a different set of norms and expectations that foster respect and understanding.

One of the most touching and inspiring things I’ve seen this week was a haka wedding video from New Zealand that went viral – in less than 24 hours it was seen more than 19 million times.

Watching a group of mature men in shirts&ties make crazy faces, beat their chests and utter the strangest sounds isn’t exactly what we’re used to seeing. So what does our fascination with this sort of event tell us?

Perhaps that there is a different life out there – there is a way of being that allows you to behave like an animal, to unleash your inner wild one, to act crazy (and not blame booze for it) and to do so in the support of a loving and encouraging group. I watch that clip and so wish I could do that too – despite not being Maori or knowing anything about haka traditions – I wish there was a space where we didn’t have to conform. Where we could be wild and crazy and emotional.

So whether it’s about a woman’s emotionality or the animalistic war cries in a haka dance, we need lots more stories encouraging a diversity of being in this world.

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When can we P L A Y?

I’m back in crazy London town after spending a week at the New Story Summit at the Findhorn Foundation in beautiful northern Scotland.
I don’t know how or where to start processing the events of the past week.

Basically, the summit was a gathering of about 350 people from around the world – indigenous peoples including Native Americans and Andeans, Aboriginals, Africans and Asians as well as White Caucasians mostly from Europe and North America (how strange in hindsight it is to categorize all of us according to these labels).
Never before have I been in a room with so many intelligent, highly-evolved and wise human beings – every single one of them so unique there was no room for comparison or competition. Just tremendous compassion and gratitude for the gifts all of these individuals chose to share through their voices and their silence, their doing and non-doing.
So what went down?
Memories that stand out are the grief ceremony held by the indigenous elders in the sunny outdoors which had all of us sobbing loudly as the pains of the past and present were called out: rape, pillage and separation of traditional communities, the sense of disconnection and lack of belonging in modern society and the one thing that seemed to really bind us all together – the destruction of our great mother, the Earth. Not only did this grief ceremony tap into superficial personal pains but the deep collective pain that felt like a vast and raging internal ocean – once the gates were opened, there was no way of stopping the floods.
So many more precious moments come to my mind.
An ‘Exploring the Feminine’ workshop that involved uncomfortable honesty and healing touch and intimacy between women in the most sacred way….
Reconnecting with my own inner wisdom during a chat with one of the indigenous elders telling me about the woman being at her most powerful and intimately connected with the Earth when on her period…
Leaving behind the “me vs them” perception in realizing that an indigenous person is no different from me and that I don’t need to give away my power to anyone…
Cuddling up in a lodge around a burning fire talking about matriarchy with a Hawaiian medicine man introducing us to the Hawaiian term for “Woman” which is “Wahine” which means “Mouth of the Goddess” which results in any man coming to talk to a woman knows she carries with her a hidden message and so he must remain patient to receive that message from her…
Moving away from knowing and controlling with the mind to trusting my heart, body and soul to find myself in the right situation, in front of the right person at any given and therefore right time…meeting individuals in what seemed like a reunion with a past life-time and knowing that we had been brought together by a higher force, call it synchronicity or fate…
Deeply connecting with the sacred forests and nature around Findhorn – singing and dancing with the nature spirits and bowing down to tall beautiful pines that could only be the knights of the forest kingdom, running naked into the embrace of the big Mama Ocean and feeling so very alive…

The New Story Summit was (dare I say) an attempt to narrow down the very essence of life, individually and collectively. Assuming that stories are what provide the framework for all our systems ranging from the personal to global governance, what might a new story for human civilization look like as we move forward? Is it even another story or the end of all stories? A storyteller at the gathering framed it so well. “People welcome the truth when it comes with a story.”

I left the New Story Summit with a new sense of being in and with the world, the challenge now is to actually LIVE IT.
In the “More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible” Charles Eisenstein writes – ‘Our healing will come from the margins. It will embody and validate marginalized parts of life, the things we neglect in the rush and press of modernity: qualities of spontaneity, patience, slowness, sensuality, and play. Beware of any revolution that doesn’t embody these qualities: it may be no revolution at all.’

So when will we actually slow down and start to play? When will we actually let go and flow with spontaneity to allow life to occasionally take the lead? When will we allow ourselves to indulge in the sensuality of life and ourselves in the divine pursuit of pleasure? I’m ready to BE and DO all of that.

On the matter of time

Lately, the idea of time has been a lot on my mind – the concept of time, the cultural construct of time, the passing of time and more than anything the lack of time.
And then, conveniently the other day a friend read out this quote by Alan Watts to me:

“Time is a measure of energy, a measure of motion. And we have agreed internationally on the speed of the clock. And I want you to think about clocks and watches for a moment. We are of course slaves to them. And you will notice that your watch is a circle, and that it is calibrated, and that each minute, or second, is marked by a hairline which is made as narrow as possible, as yet to be consistent with being visible.

And when we think of a moment of time, when we think what we mean by the word “now”; we think of the shortest possible instant that is here and gone, because that corresponds with the hairline on the watch. And as a result of this fabulous idea, we are a people who feel that we don’t have any present, because the present is instantly vanishing – it goes so quickly. It is always becoming past. And we have the sensation, therefore, of our lives as something that is constantly flowing away from us. We are constantly losing time. And so we have a sense of urgency. Time is not to be wasted. Time is money. And so, because of the tyranny of this thing, we feel that we have a past, and we know who we are in terms of our past. Nobody can ever tell you who they are, they can only tell you who they were.

And we think we also have a future. And that is terribly important, because we have a naive hope that the future is somehow going to supply what we are looking for. You see, if you live in a present that is so short that it is not really here at all, you will always feel vaguely frustrated.”

That quote to me demonstrates that time indeed is a concept and cultural construct – that perspectives and experiences of it will vary depending on where you find yourself in the world. Watts speaks of an ‘international agreement on the speed of the clock’, however I think it’s important to emphasize the Western standpoint here. So when I then read in Charles Eisenstein’s book “The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible” about native people who live in a timeless world, about these supposedly less civilized humans that are content to literally sit and watch the grass grow, it evokes in me a sense of jealousy – like I don’t want to be part of my culture because theirs feels much more real than mine.

I have a hard time understanding how I at age 26 find myself not having enough of this thing called time. There are too many e-mails to write, too many calls to make and people to meet. I thought that sort of stress only accumulated eventually, with the years and was reserved for the CEOs and hot shots of big companies who were at least getting paid to be busy?

Watts quote is a good example of how we in Western society associate time, by default, with scarcity.
Today – with it being a holy granted Sunday – I actively chose nondoing and more being, with time as opposed to fighting against it. Tomorrow morning I will probably suffer the consequences of today’s decision with delayed stuff that needs catching up with.
I wonder how to deal with the matter of time in the right time (without stressing to find a solution)?

Because if I were to project my life in a linear fashion – pointless, yes, nevertheless – then there will only be more e-mails and stuff to do in the future and even less time on my hands.
And if that would indeed become the case then I’m checking out of this culture and joining the more humane folks to watch the grass grow. After all and most essentially, I came here to live and that’s not something I want to “make time for”.

Compassion via time.

The other day a friend posted this Buckminster Fuller quote on FB:

“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognising this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”

Work that justifies your right to exist. Because if we don’t work, what is left but time? And time to do what…?

The connecting of the dots happened over dinner with a friend telling me about his experience of a personal development workshop he attended some years ago where the passing and embracing of time, i.e. giving yourself enough time, was the pathway to compassion and acceptance. Taking the time to get to know somebody meant going beyond first impressions and hasty judgements to discover there’s was so much more than what met the eye. And of course there had to be. There always is – if we give ourselves and others a chance to be with each other, the perceived differences between us start to fade and the obvious similarities become apparent. We move away from the dualist perception into the absolute awareness. That’s also what happened to me to during the course of that dinner, that no matter what the person opposite from me was saying I could understand and accept, all of it, completely. What I was left with was a sensation of indifference, that everything is ok and the way it has to be, it’s neither good nor bad. On the surface you would think I was disengaged or even disconnected, yet to the contrary, I felt a level of acceptance that brought about an incredible sense of freedom. Thank you, time.

A wonderful life.

I’m a big Brené Brown fan and have previously blogged about her. To recap, in her first TED talk she spoke about honouring authenticity and vulnerability in ourselves in order for connection to happen, which is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives – it’s why we are here. Furthermore she described the wholehearted as a group of people who have a sense of worthiness which enables them to feel connection and belonging. The wholehearted are characterized as fully embracing vulnerability; as authentic individuals who have the courage to be imperfect. In her words, we need to acknowledge that we are enough – worthy – as well as “dare greatly” to be vulnerable and belong.

Lately I have been exploring the connections between what Brené advocates on authenticity and vulnerability and our relationship with the natural world.

Brené’s work is revolutionary because it has shaken up the Western culture and exposed its cracks which are at the root of so many problems in the world today, e.g. obesity, addiction and over-consumption as consequences of numbing negative emotions out of fear of vulnerability.
So how does being vulnerable and being enough relate to not only changing this world and our culture but saving (humans as part of) the environment?

Some time back, I did a course on Ecophilosophy which looks at how different cultures relate to the natural environment. In that field of study, most people agree that the environmental problems of today are a cultural issue. The Western culture with its mechanical way of life and assumptions about a fundamentally selfish human nature that is ruled by competition has come to dominate the global culture. In social terms, we are experiencing an impoverished cultural landscape with a Western monoculture that is subtly but increasingly forcing the world to comply with its own set of values.
We are therefore moving away from a natural (e.g. how we grow foods) and cultural biodiversity that honours a variety of approaches and multitude of solutions.

Essentially we need to start contributing to a diversity in the cultural landscape by cultivating a new Western way of being that is conducive not only to real human needs but which also allows us to live within the planetary boundaries – the latter event being a consequence of the first.

Because when we address our real needs – needs to connect, to be deeply seen etc – we fill a self-perceived lack within us to become more complete or enough as we are. Individuals perceiving themselves as being enough don’t make decisions based on lack or inadequacy, to the contrary, as self-accepting human beings we engage with the world more holistically.
As balanced beings we make balanced decisions and take balanced actions. E.g. we don’t overconsume foods or clothes to make up for a bad self-esteem. We don’t surrender to the influence of beauty adverts because there are no holes in us to fill to reach artificial perfection. We know we are enough as we are and we embrace and honour our imperfections.

“We are not beautiful despite our flaws but because of them.”

It’s a fundamental change in the way we perceive human nature and its default mode – imperfection must be it.
In the process of acknowledging our sense of self-worth, we start consuming less and maintaining more. We use less resources and focus on improving what we already have. At this stage we realize that our real well being and the ability to connect and belong is also linked to all other living entities’ ability to connect and belong – including our environment, it forms an intrinsic part of our own nature. So our sense of Self expands to include not only ourselves and our kinship but our communities and eventually the family across the globe.
When we deal with our Selves and Other respectfully, we enter a new relationship with everything in our surroundings. It’s an act of honouring life and the wonder that comes with it.

The degradation of the environment, the political challenges we face, the social inequality we all suffer from and the wars we fight are symptomatic of a world out-of-balance and human beings out-of-balance.
All in all, we need to start telling a new story about who we are with a culture that encourages authenticity and honours the ability to be vulnerable and imperfect.

What does all of this mean in practical terms, how do we apply this mindset as individuals?

Individual action is often undermined for the sole reason of not having a big enough (noticeable?) impact. However the reason for engaging with life more authentically should not be driven by a concern for the scope of impact – this forms part of the old paradigm where we demand functionality and measurability (along the lines of “it only exists if you can measure it”). Authenticity should not have to be validated – instead let us call upon our own sense of wisdom. After all, how else should life be lived if not authentically? We are here to connect and belong, how else if not by being truthful to our Selves?

Both the seemingly small and big actions count, but more importantly than what you do is how you approach every situation, e.g. how you engage with your Self and the people (animals, things etc) in your life – respectfully, compassionately and transparently.
Essentially it’s about developing a sensitivity that surrounds you as a sacred being walking on sacred Earth – not because it’s dictated by any religious beliefs or other forms of idealism – but because life needs to become full of wonder again.

Life is no thing.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference with Lynne McTaggart delivering a presentation on, amongst other topics, the seemingly smallest existing ‘thing’ – ‘seemingly a thing’ because a thing is what science would like us to believe the smallest entity to be.

McTaggart described how scientific efforts with a mission of finding THE smallest particle had failed as the breaking down of atomic particles had only resulted in perpetually smaller particles. Conclusion – there is no one smallest thing or unit or particle. Instead some few scientists are now coming to terms with the idea that the smallest existing thing actually isn’t a thing but a relationship – between protons, electrons and neutrons. At this point Lynne took to Ellen Page’s juggling skills to help visualise.

It’s a new-found reality that fundamentally changes how we perceive human nature and the many ideas we currently hold about life.
For starters, as McTaggart explained, if we’re not made up of static, defined units but instead of a more fluid nature then what happens to the notion of separate identities?

The idea of a ME vs YOU ceases to make sense. The new age anthem of “We’re all one and connected” – which I’ve always fancied conceptually, but never quite understood practically – now stands on firmer grounds of reason. Moreover, if we are constant movement of endless particles then what happens to the concept of change? After all, we ourselves are continuous change! Could our resistance to deal with change be a culturally conditioned reaction that fundamentally goes against what nature would have us do, which is just going with the flow? And who is really served by the upholding of ideas surrounding separate identities, what kind of behaviours are encouraged with this flawed story about who we are?

I wonder and I dream what a world, in which we consciously relate to everything at an ever-changing rate – from the micro cellular level processes to macro planetary events, would look like…

Embracing my own insanity.

Last week I attended the launch of IFLAS (Institute of Leadership and Sustainability) organized by Jem Bendell from the University of Cumbria at the Royal Geographical Society.

The theme was ‘Adventures in Sustainability’, which all of the speakers delivered in their own inspirational way. However, it was some of the things Jamie Catto – previously to me known through his blog – said that really caught my attention.

He spoke of a sustainability that starts at home, with yourself. Not the usual ‘walk your talk’ line but the idea that living sustainably means being ALL of who we are to 100 %. He gathered we are currently living 20 % size versions of ourselves, that we aren’t being all we were born to be. And so he wished for us to embrace our own insanity, to step outside of the box and our comfort zone, to drop the masks (in this setting, the suits and job titles) and just BE – as crazy, as weird, as inappropriate as we might actually be. Forget norms and should-be’s for real sustainability.

What a RELIEF. Someone addressing what, to me, is at the bottom of all the world’s present challenges – the relationship with Self.

Little did I know that a chance to embrace Jamie’s words would arise so shortly after the event. It was at the event’s post-mingle session that I found myself trying to embrace my own insanity. I’m not sure whether I ended up honouring that part of me or desperately escaping it.

I have a hard time with mingle networking sessions. I consider myself an outgoing, self-secure person who doesn’t usually find it hard striking up new conversations with seemingly strangers but it is on occasions like these that I felt like a complete alien. Like a kid stuck with the grown ups who don’t understand me. People mingle away, catch up, talk about stuff and I can’t help but feel so out-of-place and so incredibly disconnected from the whole.

Am I the only one who feels empty, who doesn’t get the point of the chit-chat? I don’t know. As Jamie says and I agree with, as much as we work outside to improve the world, we must also work inside with ourselves – otherwise the outside actions “just won’t fly”.
This reaction of mine may very well be a result of personal insecurities and projections…but I sense there is something bigger and saddening about how we connect with each other today, how often it lacks sensitivity, depth and authenticity. This, I feel is the issue that needs to be addressed before anything else – it’s at the root of our problems. If we don’t start to really relate to ourselves and each other, authentically, then what is the point of the rest of it?

I think I embraced and honoured some of my insanity today when I walked away from there – as an expression of who I am and what I believe (or don’t believe) in . Or maybe I was just afraid to jump a hurdle. Time will tell…