Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Starting the Future Today

by Miki Kashtan

(I am back from a three-week hiatus. For the time being, I am not writing about the Occupy Movement, though I imagine I will return to this theme.)

In April, 2004, in the last week of her life, my former colleague Julie Greene participated, with my sister Inbal and with me, at one of our intensive residential retreats. We all listened for those few moments when she would wake up and speak to us from wherever she was. More than once, she repeated this one sentence which I still carry: “There is no reason to wait even one minute longer.”
I know very well about waiting, because it’s one of my coping mechanisms I acquired as a child. I learned to endure hardships by knowing they will end, and counting the minutes, or days, or even years at times. I learned to survive having no capacity to change circumstances, and in the process lost some of my sense of power to create change. I still, to this day, continue to wait, though less and less, in all aspects of my life. For a less stressful time in which I can finally shift an inner pattern, or the compatible people with whom I can connect, or the circumstances that will bring more ease into my life, or the perfect opportunity for making a difference. What would it mean to shift that habit completely and bring the future into the present?

When I remember Julie’s words and leave behind my habit of waiting, I sometimes experience a kind of glee, like a child that just discovered a new way to climb on the counter and get the goodies that were previously out of reach. This is a subversive act, because it means embracing my power, releasing the shackles of helplessness, becoming an agent in my life and beyond. It’s a way to move to another story, of living as if the future, previously a dream, is truly here, now.

There are very personal, almost private, moments of new choices in this new possibility. Sometimes it takes the form of choosing to follow the radical practice recently given to me, the practice of wasting time, for fifteen minutes a day. When so much is at stake in the world, when the organization I co-founded is struggling financially, and when my beloved sister is continuing to struggle with ovarian cancer, it’s no small feat to waste time. I rarely manage, maybe once a month, so far. Because I wait to be done, which never happens, and then the day is over and I “forgot” again.

Sometimes living the way I want the future to be means taking enormous risks in relationships, such as revealing myself to people who may not appreciate who I am, what I do, how I think, what my feelings and dreams are, instead of waiting for people to first show me that they can receive me. Or the risk of loving and trusting and opening to another even when they are so different from me that I experience them as foreign. Or speaking with strangers, often, comfortably, as if we truly are fellow humans instead of waiting until some day when polite disconnection is no longer the norm.

Sometimes it means being willing to take material risks. I have committed myself to a maximum wage (about which topic I plan on writing soon), beyond which everything goes to feed the projects about which I am passionate. I am not accumulating any savings, entrusting myself instead to the radical idea that security lies in community and relationships and not in money, knowing full well this may not work out and I may be one day alone and without the resources to care for my well being.

Sometimes it means refusing to accept so many either/or no-win options we are told are all there is, working instead to find new paths. Are directive leadership or no leadership the only two options, as some would have us believe? I continually strive to increase my own power and leadership while at the same time inviting and expecting others to claim theirs. Are so-called free markets and state planning the only two options for creating viable economies? I envision and, in my own small and largely ineffectual way, coax into being a gift economy, based on needs and natural generosity. Can the whole world be structured without coercion? I experiment, on whatever scale I encounter, with basing everything on true willingness. What systems, structures, and relationships can we have in a world without coercion? I can dream and wait for the day, likely long past my death (if we survive, that is), or I can play, experiment, use every grouping, large or small, to see how it all works, to examine how we can truly work together without even a shred of “should” or “have to.”

I know what I could continue to wait for and won’t any more. For the anxiety to go away that we all have about not having our needs met, because so much of the time that is our common experience in the modern world, especially in childhood. Functioning in a group, any group, with or without leadership, can so easily result in losing all our personal skill, and reverting to separation, mistrust, and judgment.
Living the future, now, means recognizing that those of us who’ve had access to transformation, whether through Nonviolent Communication, like me and many who read this blog, or using some other method, are privileged. Choosing not to wait means taking on the joyful responsibility of stewarding the needs of everyone with whom I interact. It means going beyond any notion of fairness to recognize that my training and my skill confer a unique advantage to me in terms of my capacity to work internally with whatever triggers I find and show up for the amazing opportunity almost invariably present of doing the sacred work of creating solutions that address everyone’s needs.

Lastly, on the biggest sphere at which I operate, I can stop waiting for the right person with the right connections to the right other people to be open and receptive to my suggestions. The future will not be significantly different from the present if we all act as if change is not possible or only possible after it’s already happened... I can begin, instead and immediately, to consider everything I do to be the possible seed of change beyond my wildest dreams, and use all the tools available to me within my actual sphere of influence. Creating meaningful relationships with the actual people that interact with me I learn that my sphere of influence is almost always larger than I take note of even if it’s smaller than my wishes. If I bring to bear, with support and community from others, my vision and its application to the specific moment in which I find myself, then I continually take steps towards this vision. A different future is then born, again and again, in each of my small and meaningful acts.