I’ve been struggling with how to get these words out for nearly a week. So finally, I decided I’d let them arise naturally, and follow Seth Godin’s advice to, “only do it”. The ideas and words swell and swirl inside my mind in so many directions it can be hard to grasp one and roll with it in a logical manner, but who needs logic?
For months I was planning, emailing, designing, updating, and posting to create awareness about the Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival. I got the social media role first as a volunteer, and later moved into the Festival Organizer role through my business, Small Acts Media. I have Better World Betty and the Zero Waste Warriors to thank for the introduction with Dave Redding. My whole world changed that night we watched The Story of Stuff.
On festival day last weekend, during perhaps the 120th question I’d been asked that day about "Where does it go? Where is my canopy? I’m a volunteer, what should I do?" I realized I was organizing this thing. Everyone was looking to me for the answers and sometimes I just plain did not have them. It was one of the most exhausting and exciting, but meaningful days I’ve had.
Life is a string of experiences
Almost a year ago I started this blog. I set out to use it as a means to recount my experience toward making positive change, both in my environment by volunteering and now working, and in myself by being more open, connecting with people, and practicing Small Acts. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about practicing Small Acts. I’m not a master of this, just a practitioner, and hopelessly romantic soul.
I want so much for our world to stay beautiful and inhabitable, and more than that I want so much to be able to love myself and others without condition, be in the present and let go of my past, and be comfortable being me.
How to genuinely and permanently do either of those things? I don’t have the answer.
I started reading, Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown. I’ve read a third of it. My initial realization, based on her more than a decade’s worth of vulnerability and shame research, is that somewhere down the line, we (mostly Americans) have lost sight of our empathy. We’re not necessarily narcissistic, we just don’t want to face our true feelings and raw emotion. We cover it up. We make fun of others for expressing it. We stigmatize it. Our culture has driven us to be so, almost subconsciously, competitive that we feel showing and sharing our true selves is no longer socially acceptable. There are so many ideals to uphold, latest hottest things to buy, stereotypes to fit, labels to stick on that we do the best we can to be who we’re supposed to be, not who we are.
I don’t have the answer for overcoming that on a cultural level, but I believe, and I think Dr. Brown would agree, that we need to unlearn the critic and relearn the listener. Listen to ourselves and others without judgement. Be gentle with ourselves as we listen. Be more present so that we can experience the emotions rather than be controlled by them. Be courageous as we experience life's pain and beauty.
Is that easy for me? No. I definitely do not have the answer to that one. Last month was mental health awareness and suicide prevention month. With both of those in my friend and family history, as I’m sure many of you can relate, I think about it often, not just during the designated awareness month. I think about my own mental health. I believe it’s not just a term to communicate the state of those who have mental illness, it’s applicable to everyone. Some days I struggle.
I would guess, although I’m not a scientist, that our influx of mental health decline (26% of Americans have some diagnosed mental health disorder, highest in the world) stems from our deteriorating practice of empathy. There are tons of other factors, but it doesn’t help. Of course everyone has off days, but as a whole we need some TLC.
So how do we do it?
I practice Small Acts. To get out of bed this morning I had to recite this mantra to myself for about a minute. Small Acts, Small Acts, Small Acts. We volunteer. We grow and cook our own food. We build climate change resilience. We visit the Veg Fest to learn about a healthier lifestyle. We register and vote. We open our hearts to each other. We get mad at each other and talk about it and forgive. We face our fears. We ride our bikes across America. We reach out for support. We practice self-love. We pause and self-reflect. We do our best, and when we stumble, we get back up. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We admit it when we don't know. We accept the dark, but seek the light.