Wisdom from elders, elders of the Hopi nation in particular, was the next topic of Margaret Wheatley’s talk. She shared the following Hopi prophecy:
Here is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid, who will try to hold on to the shore. They are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know that the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore. Push off into the middle of the river, and keep our heads above water.
And I say see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves, for the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt. The time for the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves. Banish the word struggle from you attitude and vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. For we are the ones we've been waiting for.
Wheatley’s discussed her book PERSERVERANCE where she used the Hopi wisdom above as a way to inspire readers to persevere. She highlighted that our reason for letting go of the shore is not to save ourselves, but to be available as the middle of the river is a place of service – it is the place where people will be looking for guidance on how to survive out of reach of the shore and follow the rivers destination. We need to banish the word struggle from our vocabulary and we are the ones we have been waiting for.
We need to be aware of our habitual responses to ambiguity and uncertainty and through this awareness we can respond in more meaningful ways. We need to realize we cling to the shore and be willing to let go to reach the place where we can be effective. And we need to develop and name strategies that we can use to help us stay in the middle of the river.
These strategies will include: finding ways to enjoy uncertainty instead of fighting it; finding the experiences of boredom as a reminder to let go of the shore – of the known; paying attention to the need to be responsible to, react to, and enjoy the company of others; and asking for help and guidance from these others. And we need to ask ourselves – how often do we take time to reflect? Awareness gained by reflection is a key to keeping our head above water while we journey in the middle of the river.
The problems we face will require thinking skills that we don’t yet have. Poverty, education, healthcare are but a few of the areas where the problems we face are escalating. And the institutions that are in place to deal with this issues are dysfunctional. So who will we choose to be, and how will we sustain our energy? The tough issues we care about will need us to address these questions if we are to be around for the long term that will be needed to address them.
This is a tough call in these times when self-care and self-sustenance are mis-perceived as selfish. It is often easier to get caught up in becoming the absurd hero – like the mythological character Sisyphus who was condemned by the gods to spend eternity rolling a bolder up a mountain, only to have it roll back down when he got to the top. (For more on the topic see the blog post here.) His eternity of hard work resulted in nothing being accomplished.
The sense of urgency we feel to deal with the issues we are concerned about create failure in our relationships. Motivations from anger or outrage fail to give us to capacity to persevere. The more urgent the issue, the more time we need to take to nurture relationships. And our increasing passions interfere with building and maintaining those relationships. The desperation that fills the voids results in us trying to work harder, and we become judgmental. As the issues take us over, we become ineffective.
Do we choose free will and find ways to nurture ourselves and our relationships or do we accept the condemnation to keep pushing the boulder up the mountain? It is times like this where we need to choose to use our minds and take time to reflect and think like a human being, rather than spending our time spinning mindlessly on the gerbil wheel. We also need to spend time reflecting with our colleagues on what we just did. It is this communal reflection that will be necessary in these times where it is rarely practiced.
Wheatley moved into the final part of her talk with a discussion of the stress that dominates our world today. When we become stressed, we lose the ability to think and we can not connect the dots. We have no sense for the context of where we find ourselves. We no longer possess human brains. We find that our memory loss is equivalent to being distracted. We are simply so distracted that we cannot remember anything.
The sinking of the Titanic is an example of how distraction can sink our ships. Three days prior to the sinking of the Titanic, reports had been issued about icebergs that would be encountered. The captain responded with a minor course correction followed by the order of full steam ahead. Forty minutes prior to the sinking, another shipped radioed the Titanic trying to warn them about the impending icebergs in the area. The Titanic radio operator responded to this warning – “shut up, shut up, I am busy”. We all push things away because we are busy, and we can suffer drastic consequences. The simple solution is to pay attention – and to create conditions that allow us to pay attention, and then to act accordingly. We need to take time to think – personally and collectively.
Too often we focus on the task and forget about the process, the socialization, the community. An example of an organization that understands the importance of process is The GreenBelt Movement founded by Wangari Maathai. It is an organization that was instrumental in inspiring the women of Kenya to plant over 40 million trees as a way to protect their water supplies and provide wood for fuel and materials. They did this by including a celebration as kickoff of the tree planting work. It is through celebration that we come to know peace.
And it is an inner peace that can only come through personal practice that will help us to build community. These practices are many and varied and can include prayer, meditation, walking, spending time with a pet, making music or art, or participating in joyful accomplishment. Whatever the practices, they will need to be increased in order to raise the peace in this increasingly un-peaceful world. Start with finding a daily practice, practice it ten minutes a day, be disciplined in your practice, and practice it – or be eaten alive!
It is up to us. Find a name for what you want to be, and be fearless. Stretch toward service – not profit. With fear and aggression on the rise – take a stand for good human life. Vow not to increase fear and aggression in the world. Adopt values counter to our current culture. Strengthen yourself through practices that increase inner peace. Do this so you can stay in the middle of the river. It is our time to serve the world. Wake up before you die and remember that when you were born – you rejoiced!