“What human wants to have that much consequence in the world?
A little local life… informed by the understanding that the ripples of your days are not for you to decide their meaning. They are for you to labor in the presence of the meaning of other people- the ones who came before you. And understanding all the while that the meaning of your life is in the hands of those to come. That you don’t have an authoritative voice in the meaning of your life. You don’t, and it’s proper that you don’t.
And there’s humility, yes, but there’s no humiliation in that. The humiliation comes in when you try to compensate for feeling impotent by overstating your consequence, overstating how important you are in the scheme of things.
It’s your humanity, baby. It’s not you. It’s your humanity that the world needs. It’s. Not. You.
You’re free to be your small self. Let the world be fed by your humanity. Not a bad deal for all concerned.” (Stephen Jenkinson)
I heard this quote from Stephen Jenkinson a few months back, just one of those mind-blowing things he says during an interview, and I rewound the podcast over and over so I could scribble it all down. I’ve been comforted lately by the idea that I can trust the deeper elements of myself, that I can allow ideas to seed inside of me without intellectualizing everything on the spot (or worse, deferring to someone else’s supposed expertise). It’s the idea that I don’t have to struggle to figure this whole thing out, that if I’m honest and the thing is true, it’ll all be apparent and deliver when it needs to. It will show up for me, again and again, confirming its significance and purpose in my life. When I heard the words above, my intuition fired up telling me that this- each concept individually and the statement as a whole- was one of those seeds I needed to plunge deep into my consciousness and allow it to root and do its work on me.
And, oh my, it has. So much so that I’ve been dealing with some level of existential crisis ever since. I have been feeling deeply irrelevant, isolated, and lonely in my purpose. I’ve also been feeling more joyful, more spiritually alive, more integrated with this place and with my family, more myself. I’ve been juggling a kind of deep conviction in my values/beliefs/work with an equally weighted feeling that the world (at this moment in time) doesn’t care, and that the lack of care is progressive. I say this without need for reassurance, and it doesn’t feel personal or condemning. I know that there is care out there on an individual basis, and there is certainly care coming from the living world. I feel loved and supported and purposeful, and I like to believe that people are mostly good. I’m talking about the dominant human culture that, when it comes to the tangible love of the living world… we are coming up not just empty, but deeply in debt.
It hasn’t been a bad thing to feel this- I need to move through it. I’m done with the stories that I’ll somehow save the world with my choices or words, or that I’ll make a good living in this culture by treating the earth well, or that my humble domestic calling will yield me some reward. I am slowly unraveling these stories that held me in a kind of false hope/pride, and I’m gaining access to what’s underneath. This is good and heartbreaking medicine.
What’s left is this- a series of questions that I’m continually working to answer from the deepest places inside of me. Can I still commit to my purpose even if it won’t save anyone or anything? Can I do it even if it brings me no credit, no recognition beyond the sore muscles in my body? Can I be a servant, can I ally myself with life, can I reject the metrics of success given to me by an insane culture and still show up? Can I be wrong, and can my wrongness be something I offer up with humility? Can I find love in the most dismal of scenarios, and even more, can I sow it? What does it mean to be human, and to let the world be fed by my humanity? Can I belong to my own death in the same way I want to belong to my life?
On my relationship with sharing:
I was listening to an interview of a songwriter recently and he said something that really resonated. He said “I write because it helps me to live more attentively.” It brought my mind back to this neglected space, to the good that existed for me here and my gratitude for how it served my life. Regular writing and sharing certainly enhanced my ability to live more attentively. It was also a very valuable practice for me as a historically shy person. Getting “outside of myself” is necessary for my mental and emotional health, and regularly sharing here did help to flex that muscle. There’s a very weird relationship between shyness and self-importance that I’m painfully working to deconstruct. Again, the “It’s. Not. You.” piece.
Over the past two years I really deconstructed and experimented with my relationship to sharing. Not just in terms of writing- I also let go of my microgreen business and stopped going to farmer’s markets. These shifts were pretty large in terms of how I thought about myself and my contributions to the world. I had many good reasons for moving in this direction, and I look back on it and feel very curious and trusting. I became restless in a way that really beckoned me into action. I started to feel that much of what I was doing was too abstract to really match my values. How could I spend all this time growing a novelty product and not have enough time to really grow food for my family? I started to see this disconnect in nearly every area of my life.
Wendell Berry said in one of his essays “Abstraction is the enemy, wherever it is found.” I unconsciously hung on to this statement, testing it out everywhere I went. It transformed for me into something that was true and alive, a diagnostic tool I could use. As a person who tends to have a pretty rich internal and intellectual life, so much so that I often forget my body, this was a sobering and important development that quieted me. I started trying to reframe everything into a more relational context. This thinking brought me to a highly critical place when it came to technology and our online personas, and I withdrew somewhat, more out of confusion than a sense of conviction. I really wanted to deconstruct some of the internal hierarchies that I felt got in the way. Essentially I think I just needed to be quiet for a while, to exercise my “no” so I could gain better access to my authentic “yes”.
In that process, I came up a new and different kind of empty. Some things definitely felt more peaceful and aligned, and others did not. The contrast was valuable, and it left me thinking this: It’s a tricky thing to try to withdraw from the elements of the world you disagree with. I’m not actually sure it’s always the right choice, it’s become that complicated. As another testament to the deeply tricky territory we find ourselves in, I realized that in some ways I was reinforcing the very consumerist thinking I was working to reject by having an attitude that assessed these things like consumables. You can’t just yank something out without recognizing that you’ve left open a space that must be filled. Upon “simplifying” my life in certain ways in favor of tangible human connection, I found I hadn’t actually built the community infrastructure to support what I was craving, and it wasn’t going to come to me. In many ways I found it harder to communicate and connect with people in my community… go figure. I also found myself feeling intensely thirsty for inspiration, and I sought out teachers/elders, mostly through the internet. I also had to face the fact that all of these teachers I so admired had taken the time to *share*- to offer something up, and I am so grateful. We are where we are.
All of this to say, I do believe we each enter the world with a unique gift to offer- an inheritance of love that is meant to spill out of us in the form of a vocation, and that the world is a poorer place if we don’t live into it. In the interview that I participated in last year with Ethan Hughes (one of those teachers I sought out), he mentions that vocation is “where your gifts and passions meet the needs of the world”. He said that it’s a balance, because if we only realize our gifts and passions but don’t find a way to let them meet the needs of the world, it becomes hollow. At the same time, if we are only working to meet the needs of the world but it’s not in a way that nurtures your gifts and passions, it’s a recipe for burnout and is arguably less effective. Again, the world steadily whispering to us all: Let the world be fed by your humanity.
Here are the links to the two-part podcast with Ethan Hughes of the Possibility Alliance that I did last year with my friend Amy. It felt like an important conversation at the time and I think it’s only increased in relevancy. If you end up listening and want to discuss, I’d love to connect.