How do we come together in a changing world? As editors and publishers working through this question, we turned to Lucía Oliva Hennelly, climate strategist with the Grassroots Power Project and Zen practitioner, for guidance.
Kate: You turned to your Zen studies in part because you felt like there was a deeper sense of solidarity that was missing from your political education and experience. Can you share more about what a politics of solidarity means—particularly in this moment?
Lucía: I first want to foreground that one of the catalysts in my personal and political experience that intersected with a certain spiritual upswell, or an enlivening of my interior life, was that I was at an organization that was incredibly well positioned and resourced—and so much of what constrained the organization was the individuals in it. A lot of our top leadership had an ego orientation to their own positioning––jockeying for power relative to other director-level folks. There was a real inability to be in more of a learning posture. That raised the question for me of what is required, from us as individuals, to actually be stewards. To be flexible and nimble enough to learn in service of the different world we’re trying to create, rather than constraining it by who we already are, which has been driven by the conditions, often oppressive, that we find ourselves in.
In these broader systems that constrain our capacities in certain ways, we can turn inward and look into this infinite well that we have within ourselves for our own transformation, our own awakening, our own potential to be different and more whole. For me, that has been a seed for thinking differently about the work that we do, because in one sense, we’re just not enough. We are seeing that even if we have majorities on our sides with respect to people concerned about climate change and wanting to see political climate action, it doesn’t matter that we’ve got majorities if we’re not sufficiently organized and in formation with one another to actually manifest change through our systems, through the values that we share.
Because of that I wasn’t finding the answers to the questions that I was holding in my political realm and communities. Call it luck, call it karma, but life happened in a way that led me into Zen practice, which has so much more of a framework for how to study ourselves in service of transformation. The tradition that I practice in, Rinzai Zen, gives us a concrete methodology to practice examining ourselves so that we can create more space to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing: to understand our habituated responses, our thought patterns, the things that our mind wants to tell us that are not necessarily always true. Through that process I’ve developed a skill set that I’ve been able to take into political work.
In most of the political spaces that I occupy, this kind of work is not what’s foregrounded. Sometimes we do check-ins, an acknowledgement of emotional intelligence, but a lot of people either don’t want to spend time on the process and just want to get to the outcomes, or just want to be in the process and don’t want to focus on the outcomes. So, for me, thinking about how we develop a deeper sense of solidarity is very much grounded in the proposition that we don’t currently have the power to win the demands that we need, not only to live out our values, but also to continue existing on this planet as a species. To do that, we need to ask how do we actually understand one another in a more caring, compassionate, empathetic way? How do we start to give ourselves a direct experience where we’re not actually separate from one another? This is what Zen practice, over time, can afford. So much of that is in the process of realizing that likely everyone is having the same crazy monkey-mind thoughts that I’m having, and suffering in some way that’s similar to, if distinct from, the ways that I suffer. Through Zen practice, we can realize that everyone is having the same fundamental experience in some way, shape, or form.
That’s how I’ve started to consider this interplay between what I think of as “externally facing political work” and what I think of as “internally facing personal introspection.” And, in fact, they have to go hand-in-hand for us to be capable as individuals and as collectives of the things that we aspire to.
Kailea: I heard something in there about compassion, in terms of arriving at a moment of realization that we’re actually, of course, contextualized to our own day-to-day life, our own cultures or worldviews but also that we share this monkey mind, this chatter. We’re having some very similar experiences, more similar than we might want to think that they are, especially in a moment of division when we really feel that another person really has no idea who I am, or no idea what I’m going through. Did moving towards Zen practice help you arrive at a scaffolding of compassion?
Lucía: For me, and I think this is true for a lot of people, we would say that yes, I value compassion. That’s a thing that I want to do. But we all have so many contradictions in our lives. We can be the biggest assholes!
The thing that made compassion embodied and not only intellectual for me was moving to a training monastery. I live on the grounds of a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monastery in upstate New York, and we are one of the few Zen training monasteries in this country that have a facility that’s built around the forms of how this practice has been traditionally done. There’s mindfulness woven into everything we do. There’s sitting practice each day, but there’s also work practice, communal living, and an ethic of service and of generosity.
In the spring and fall, once a month, we sit a full seven-day sesshin, or silent retreat. Through sesshin, we seek to become less reactive and less judgmental—more accepting of what is happening as it arises, more able to see nothing as wrong and nothing separate. But sesshin really challenges you on multiple levels.
Every time during one of these sesshin, there’s a new person there that we haven’t met before. We’re going through this sesshin trying to do our internal excavation, trying to sit still for hours a day, with all this stuff coming up— and it can seem like there’s this one asshole that’s slamming every door in the building that they walk through. It’s just like, come on! Are you not clear that everyone’s supposed to observe silence?
For me, what completely reoriented how I interpret those things—both in Zen sesshin, but also out in the world—is that so often, the people that are that “asshole” come out of sesshin only to share that they are going through the hardest experiences. Like: I lost my son three weeks ago in a car accident. The week before I came, I was admitted for a suicide attempt. So I learned that often, the people who I perceived to be having a hard time in sesshin are genuinely having a hard time; the things that people are dealing with are severe and real and difficult. And you’re like, Oh, my God, I thought you were so annoying all week. And now that I’m outside of myself a little bit more, and understand you just a tiny bit more, I feel such a depth of, not only compassion for what you’ve gone through, but also deep respect and care that you put yourself through this grueling process of quieting your mind and opening your heart.
It’s so easy to be like this person in my work environment is so annoying, but we often don’t give ourselves an opportunity to understand what that person’s experience really is, and what is driving these behaviors. We also don’t give ourselves an opportunity to look at how our own mind, our habituated behaviors, our patterns are also shaping how we experience that person. We start to realize how subtly our lived experience can impact how we show up in community, in collective, how aware we are of ourselves. And rather than separating ourselves from it—literally, rather than trying to avoid that annoying person, or spare ourselves the annoyance, or trying to actually change the situation—we learn to just be with it, to work with reality as it is: right here, right now. And that’s the definition of compassion: to be with the suffering of others. In Zen, there are “three treasures,” one of which is the Sangha, the community. We can’t do it alone: We can’t practice—we can’t win politically—without one another.
In that sense, some of the people that I’ve seen in my life with the greatest compassion are Zen teachers, and I’ve also seen that capacity in extremely skilled organizers. By organizers I don’t mean political operatives, I don’t mean the VP of political campaigns of a nonprofit. I mean, people who are in the practice, over years, of knocking on people’s doors and being in community meetings, and listening to people’s stories and understanding that our worldviews and our political perspectives are full of contradictions and informed by people’s direct experience. In that sense, we can’t just write people off who are not agreeing with us, who “aren’t doing it right.” We have to commit to a different type of struggle.
A friend recently reminded me of Diane Hamilton, an award-winning mediator and Zen teacher, who says that compassion is just doing what is necessary. And I love that definition. What is necessary in any given moment is going to change. But having clarity about why you’re taking the action that you’re taking, and having an ethic of understanding that what people are presenting on the surface probably has something at a much deeper level that is influencing it—understanding that for me, was a total game changer, and has totally reoriented how I show up from a place of thinking about values. Theoretically, I value inclusivity; theoretically, I value compassion. But to feel the most visceral, most basic compassion is to recognize that when someone’s literally not treading softly on the earth, there’s probably something going on there.
Kate: That’s such a beautiful frame, Lucía, that compassion is just doing what is necessary. And as you were sharing that some of the most compassionate people that you’ve met are skilled organizers, that made me curious if you could offer any examples of what compassion looks like in practice for people who are organizers or facilitators. How do you see that embodied?
Lucía: The answer to that is different for me based on the role. Just yesterday, I was talking to one of my colleagues about the role of a facilitator and there’s a real value of neutrality there; your role is to facilitate—to make easier—a conversation that needs to happen. But in our political work, we do strategic facilitation, which means that most of the time, we’re not actually neutral in what we’re facilitating. What becomes very important in that space as a facilitator—as a vehicle for a democratic process, for helping people struggle through and debate and discuss differences—is how you steward that process. The compassion piece is creating space for all of the perspectives.
That said there are some perspectives that are not grounded or that are not specific enough to be useful. There’s a lot of sense right now in our political spaces of we want Black leadership, we want Indigenous leadership. And the nuance that we have to get to is which Black leadership, which Indigenous leadership? So then how has it become a progressive thesis to gesture at the leadership of this type of person of color, or this type of gender of person, and say that somehow, that alone is going to bring us into a greater level of political clarity? It’s just not grounded.
But as facilitators, we have to bring in those perspectives. I’ve been fortunate to study something known as Integral Theory, and one of the insights from this that I find really valid is that every perspective is true but partial. And there can be perspectives that are more true, in the sense that they may be more comprehensive, but they are still partial. So that’s how I think about compassion as a facilitator. In that role, you have a responsibility to help facilitate a democratic process and give people an experience of what it looks like to struggle through differences and come out on the other side of that, which doesn’t happen through flattening difference, but by finding ways to allow them all to be brought in and moved through.
I think the answer is different for an organizer. In some ways, that’s an area that I have a lot less experience in, because I’ve never had a full-time gig. But I think part of the question of compassion for organizers is: Do we have the patience and the tolerance to listen to the truth of the perspectives of the everyday working people that we’re trying to connect with? One of the things we’re seeing in our movement spaces is that a lot of paid organizers, many of whom are in more urban areas, who might have gone to a college and studied political science or something like that—our politics are farther left than the base that we’re trying to organize. So then we’re alienating working-class people, working families, and wondering why the right is effectively peeling off people who have been part of a more progressive base.
So in that sense the question becomes: Do we have the tolerance to really meet people where they’re at? To be patient with that process, even if they’re “not as awake” to all the different political ideas and frameworks and theories that we have the privilege of having encountered in formal education, or through leadership development programs, or by being lucky enough to connect with someone who had a political formation and was willing to help us develop our own? We can’t be surprised as organizers when people don’t have a different orientation to what the government can be, what the collective can be, what the state could provide.
Kate: Right now, the issue of identity politics, which you were just naming within our movement spaces, is very prominent. Although race and gender often figure into how we conceptualize identity, we don’t talk about class enough. The need for developing a class analysis that can help us show solidarity with people in this country and throughout the world is vital. So what does cultivating a true class analysis look like? And how can that actually support a culture of care?
Lucía: Even a few decades ago, how classes were broken down looked very different. A lot of Marx’s analysis was looking at working class people moving into factories in industrializing England, industrializing nations. That was just a different moment in history.
Now we’re trying to parse out what is class when we’ve got a professional managerial class, we’ve got gig workers, we’ve got downwardly mobile white people for the first time, ever, in the United States, when we have an enormous amount of wealth consolidated in the ruling class. There’s all these dynamics that don’t fit neatly into the owning class and the working class in the same way.
For me, the core definition that’s been really important is, what is your structural relationship to capital? When we start thinking about it in that way, we realize we’re not part of the 1%. We have been fed an illusion that we’re just one entrepreneurial breakthrough away from becoming part of the ruling and owning class when, in fact, we are so far away from owning the means of production, from controlling capital, in this country. It’s not just that you own a home, if you’re lucky enough to own a home, consider: Do you have control of the entire means of how the system reproduces itself? The answer to that, for most of us—for 99 percent of us—is hell no.
Historically, the problem with class analysis has been that it leaves out race and gender. So our class analysis has to be combined with a racial analysis and a gender analysis. But by bringing class into the conversation, we start to see the shared interests that we have with other people who we have been led to believe are different from ourselves in the system of capitalism in which we find ourselves.
What’s really healthy about where progressive spaces have taken an appreciation of identity is honoring that there are differences in our identities and experiences and what we can offer. These differences are extraordinarily valuable. But we can’t get stuck in the unique and the particular. We have to constantly be coming back and forth to what is universal? What puts us into relationship with one another?
This becomes really important when we don’t have enough of a sense of who we do have shared interests with. Who are we aligned with, even if it’s not with every single last little footnote of our ideological manifesto? Who do we have enough shared interest with to build something big and ambitious, and move it forward, and then defend it? In the political space that we’re in right now, we have to look at the outcomes that we’re seeing, not solely as results of far-right folks winning. We have to really look at who is in control of making those decisions that shirk us. And once we look at that, how do we regroup with people and really start thinking about what it takes to win?
That work involves a level of conversation that all of us need to grow into. And it’s a real edge for our movements. I don’t think anyone right now can even remotely claim to have the grasp on how you build a really robust, vibrant and durable multiracial, gender-inclusive cross-class space. So in that sense, it’s a project that we all have to take up to understand what is class in the time, place, and conditions that we live in.
And there are at least two practices we have to take up with this: the practice of being able to identify what we share in common with one another and the practice of both tolerating and appreciating our differences—not ignoring them or letting them divide us. We have to evolve that understanding because it gives us a shared basis for finding commonalities with other people that allow us to go beyond our differences. Not because we’re obfuscating our differences, but because we’re moving through them with a shared sense of common interest.
This is where we come back to Zen practice and spiritual insight. While we are working through the material world, through our identities, through our differences and commonalities, what we cultivate through spiritual insight can bolster us to come through this difficult work because we know that at the deepest level, we are all the same—or, to put it more precisely, there is no separate self.
Kailea: That makes me want to ask you a question around a word that I have been exploring for the last six years, sometimes quietly, and sometimes out loud, but always aware of the weight— and even the potential judgment of—compromise. I’m very curious to hear what your thoughts are on that word.
As you shared, we’re actually trying to figure out what brings us together. And when you said that, I could hear, not my internal voice, but the voice of people who I think would consider themselves really down for the movement, and very much in a space of “here’s the red line, and you don’t cross that line” who would react to the possibility of commonality because we don’t even consider putting a toe over that line. What comes up when I bring up that word?
Lucía: The closest I come to it is understanding, at a deeper level, the first of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, which is that all life is suffering. I used to think that sounded really hyperbolic, and then I began to understand that you can translate that differently, that all life is dissatisfaction. Some people think that’s more appropriate. But either way, there’s an understanding that something is inherently not complete, not right, not full in how we exist in this human experience—and no one is free of that.
In this dualistic reality that we live in, we create winners and, consequently, we create losers when we make big collective decisions on a policy fight or campaign. And I haven’t totally squared how we hold the losing side of that. Our collective community is not at a place where we’ve gotten really good at eliminating that. And we don’t just mean people, right, we also mean the rest of our kin that gets affected by trains full of explosive chemicals that completely destroy an ecosystem when they blow up. I haven’t reconciled that in the political domain; on the other hand, the spiritual domain offers a taste of a reality that goes beyond all those dualisms, beyond all limitations.
The flip side of that, because we run into this all the time in the work that we’re doing, is what some people call purity politics. Show me what you’re winning. You know, if your red line is nothing less than the whole package, then show me your gains. Because we do live in a world with differences where not everyone is going to agree with you. And that means that if you’re going to hold red lines around so much territory, for one thing, the people who are with you are an incredibly small number of people, and for another, you don’t actually have the power—and are not exercising the power—to win those demands. This means that we’re left with what we see a lot of progressive movements facing on the left, which are enormous, beautiful visions that are eighty to one hundred years away from being viable—with no idea how to take a concrete step to move in that direction.
I don’t just mean “oh, so much needs to change.” It’s going to take decades to transition. You can’t just shut down the entire fossil fuel economy and expect people to still have electricity tomorrow. That’s real. So we have some growth to do there in how we conceptualize change and recognize that compromise comes with certain gains and losses.
Something that we take into our political world is intolerance. And this is where we have to be very, very nuanced and appreciate that we, too, can be intolerant. And it might be the intelligence of an intolerant stance, that our intolerance is actually protecting our community, actually doing something for us by setting a boundary. But if we look at how we operate day-to-day, we can’t not compromise on anything. From who’s making dinner to getting the groceries to what we’re doing on a Saturday afternoon, in the words of Octavio Paz, what sets the world in motion is the interplay of difference.
So part of it is really looking at our lives and understanding that there is compromise inherent in what it is to be here. And to the extent that we’re going to create a bunch of unmovable conditions for people to interact with us, we have to test it. This is, again, where we can go back to Zen practice because it’s not a hypothetical, right? Actually experiment with setting boundaries and cultivating compromise. See what it feels like in your body. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to say, “Be yourself; life will give you feedback.” Do we see both the value of compromise and its limitations?
The other part of it is, if our unwillingness to compromise means that we are not making any gains, we have to really question whether that’s an effective strategy for moving forward. And that’s what we see in a lot of spaces that have really radical ideas about what the world could look like. That said, some of them are manifesting these ideas on scale! So I would argue we also have to be careful because it’s important to have examples of different possible ways of building economies or structuring relationships that are relevant to the scale of the crises that we’re facing.
We have to start thinking about what is compromisable. If I’m not clear on what I’m trying to get done today, nothing gets done. And because I can’t do it all in the same hour, I have to choose. The same holds when we get into spaces where we’re building out twenty “priorities.” When no one’s willing to say “my issue or this orientation is less urgent than the rest of it,” we’re stuck holding this huge thing that’s unmovable because it’s too big.
I feel very fortunate to be part of an organizational and political home right now where we’re really serious about power. And we push people—when they’re trying to develop campaigns, or agendas, or demands—to assess what is most urgent? If the agenda is everything, that goes nowhere. So we focus on what are the conditions that I’m in? Where’s the opposition strong? Where’s the movement strong? Where can we create wedges in the opposition? What type of power do we want to build? Do we want to try something that’s not just about shifting the narrative, but that actually builds and aggregates power?
Going back to compromise—we also have to compromise if we want to be able to govern. And for me, there is a real ceding of terrain when we don’t look at the state as a site to contest for power. For anyone who’s actually had experience trying to cut policy, trying to pass something, trying to govern in any way, you have to compromise.
Compromise is something that I would really want to encourage us to be in an active practice around, so that we can get into our bodies and find real clarity about what is the boundary that we have to hold and be unmovable around, and what is the boundary we can cede?
When we do that, we realize that there might be a boundary that we can be flexible on, either because it’s not that ultimate of a boundary, or because we don’t have enough power to enforce it. If we don’t practice that, then we’re holding a boundary around an abstract, ideological version of what we want reality to be rather than building toward it.
I’m really curious how that lands with you, because I feel so much resonance around that question of compromise. It’s so easy to talk shit about people who compromise. But in a position of leadership, you can’t please everyone. So what’s the best way of recognizing it’s going to have limitations and utility? Curious what’s coming up for you.
Kailea: There’s this idea that if you compromise, that you somehow have lost a sense of self or are not in integrity anymore. And that’s something I’ve been personally challenging through my own experiences when I am in a space where what I do might be considered a compromise. I’m thinking of sitting on the Petaluma Climate Action Commission and moving forward with projects that were not the best version of what I wanted to see. I had to compromise in a space like that, and what it did was support the clarification of what and where my integrity is situated in my body. But what it is I do stand for and what it is I don’t is a complicated truth that I spent two and a half years muddling through. And I don’t know if other people would arrive at that same conclusion.
When I think of strategy and the word “compromise” within our own movement spaces, I think of taking turns. When you were talking about prioritization, that’s a process also of discernment and getting really clear about what it is that we do need to be uplifting. I think we’re not very good at taking turns, even though that’s base level learning that we were introduced to in kindergarten. But that’s because it’s really hard. Ask people who have been systematically marginalized—who have been disinvested in—to take a turn with getting to win or raise their issue, especially when their issue is relating to basic human rights. That’s something I have not been able to figure out.
What also came up during your share is decentering of self. A few years ago, I had this realization that—when I say it out loud, maybe sounds terrible in some ways, but was instead really relieving—I don’t matter, on a personal level. Connection to other people around me, to my community, to my family, that matters. I had this moment where I just lost interest in myself, in me needing to be at the forefront of even my own mind, my own life. It probably had something to do with becoming a parent and realizing that I don’t matter on a day-to-day level. Of course, I have my own basic needs that I try to take care of. But I feel like a lot of the way that my partner and I co-parent, it’s about being a living organism, being a team, and trying to move forward together. It’s about trying to keep this child at the center.
The last point I want to make is around scale. When you talk about power, I realized that in some ways, what you’re actually bringing up is the potential for scale. Some people really don’t want to work at scale. I have gone through waves of that, moments where I have really been oriented in my corner, living on a piece of land. And it’s just been about that land and those friends and that community where we’re doing this one thing. It felt good to not have to think at scale. And then, of course, there have been other moments, where I’m sitting on a body that is within local governance, and really thinking at the scale of a city and trying to think about how do we meet people, the most people possible, in their needs all at once?
It’s okay that not everyone wants to think or have more understanding of that scale. But I think what might be missing is an understanding of the connection to the greater body that always exists. So even if you’re just taking care of one area in the world, there still has to be some understanding that you are in a greater relationship, even if you don’t want to be. There’s still this greater connection.
I feel like this is a really beautiful bridge into the last question, which is oriented around the theme of the “we.” A lot of your work is about building a “bigger we” rather than a “bigger me.” What does your Zen practice and political education teach you about navigating relationships so that we can make that shift from “me” to “we”?
Lucía: There are so many awesome threads in what you said, Kailea, that walk us right into this question. When you’re talking about being on the Petaluma Climate Action Commission, what I love about that muddling through is your recognition that it would be very, very easy to sit here and read whatever policy or plan you all came up with and critique it. The greatest antidote that I have for that is giving people responsibility or leadership. That was one of the first things I learned when I interned in DC in college and realized that, for all the failures around the immigration reform fights I was working on in 2009 and 2010, the people I was seeing on a day-to-day basis who were in Washington, trying to move a solutions forward—I had never seen anyone work that hard on such an enormous issue. So that’s one piece of it.
The other piece is about the interplay between practice and theory. It’s about direct experience and being able to manifest insight in the moment. This for me is, again, where my politics and my spirituality have started to intertwine. I used to feel very pulled in two separate directions. But now the two are braiding together.
By definition, Zen is a practice. Politics is a practice. What is your practice? If you’re going to critique people, how are you putting your different, ostensibly better and more enlightened perspective, into practice? Because it’s so difficult, it is incredibly humbling to do that. Moving from that place of humility seeds a greater sense of compassion, because other people are struggling to try to do the same things we are, and it’s a lot easier to yell at them from the sidelines than to be in the game together.
The piece you said about taking turns really not being possible for people who are like, everyone else has had a turn, we’ve never had a turn—I don’t want to dismiss that. I don’t know how we move out of that space, except through clear assessment. Taking turns requires a sober assessment of power. And so maybe we need a more sophisticated metaphor than just taking turns, right? What type of power do we have to build and aggregate? Because it’s not going to be given to us. And I think that speaks to the intersections of Zen practice and Marxist analysis, which both demand that we look at the concrete, material conditions as they are, not as we would like them to be.
That’s where scale comes into play. Because if you’re really assessing the conditions, and want to uphold your values in a particular way, you have to have a really clear hypothesis about what the most urgent task is. And right now, in this country, that is making sure that there’s not a complete takeover of our systems of government by the most right-wing, fascist, authoritarian, white-supremacist sectors of society. The most urgent task is what brings you into a relationship to the whole. Because we have a responsibility to something bigger than ourselves.
I love what you said about selflessness, about softening your actual sense of self. To not have your sense of self be at the center is such a great place to be in, because it’s so limiting otherwise. I’ve been really influenced by the body of research on adult development: how, as adults, we continue our developmental trajectory. With children, we understand how they’re developing in real time, but somehow, with adults, we don’t allow for that. We think people are done, fully baked. In the context of identity politics, developmental theory allows us to see that there’s a value that emerges for plurality, for taking into account different perspectives. A toddler doesn’t have that capacity; adults have to continue to cultivate it for greater and greater complexity. Of course, the downside is that we become intolerant of the prior stages that don’t necessarily have the capacity for holding those differences.
And what pushes us into the next stage of development, where there’s an integration of that, is the downsides—what analytical psychology refers to as “shadow.” We get so tired of all of the suffering that is rooted in our limited, unsatisfactory sense of identity, and start to see that there is something on the other side of that, and that is to hold the sense of self a lot more softly. This is why spiritual traditions are so helpful: they actually offer a map beyond a limited, individuated sense of self. And because spirituality is the domain that supports us to confront the fact of our own deaths to ask ourselves, in that moment, when we’re passing into something completely unknown, unknowable, will we be able to face that ourselves? No one else will be able to walk us through that. But there is some absolute that is ultimately greater than our sense of self.
Through that process, we realize our individual lives are not that significant. Not in a nihilistic way, but in a deeply relieving way, where all the shit that we’ve experienced, it’s going to come and it’s gonna go: We will be soil again and that is okay. So, paradoxically, what we do with this finite lifetime is super valuable and super precious and not as serious. Because aren’t we at our best when we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and can laugh about things, and remember that moment to moment? It’s such a precious place to be, wherever it is that we are.
How do we get to building a sense of deeper connection to a collective? There’s a question for me in there about what, really, are the conditions of this time? And for me, the biggest one is what we’re doing to the ecology of the planet. That for me differs from what’s happening politically. I know that other people would look at the political moment differently, in some ways, because of the way that it constrains what’s possible. But they’re interconnected, and that orientation to what is really happening in the world that we live in, day-to-day matters. We’ve had a winter with almost no snow in the Catskills, which is just creepy. Because of that, I’m having a clear assessment about what is needed in our time, place, and conditions, and for me, that is a bigger sense of collective, a more organized collective, a greater capacity to find shared interests with other people, a curiosity about how we can forge demands that bring more people in, and a willingness to have more complicated conversations.
That piece for me becomes the razor’s edge between what is our political work and what is our personal transformative work. Because our capacity to show up in political spaces has everything to do with the amount of work that we’re willing to take up for ourselves, not in isolation, not absent community, not absent organization. But no one can do that work for us. No one can help us to navigate the discomfort we feel in our bodies when we run into conflict; that’s different for each of us. So, we have to get really intimate with discomfort in order to not just break down, be triggered, reactive. That’s something that Zen practice helps us learn. Sitting still, for hours and hours a day can actually be wildly uncomfortable. Zen helps us develop a capacity for discomfort, which is necessary, because we often experience discomfort when we encounter difference—but difference is where creativity comes through.
So much of the nexus for where this change happens is through the vehicle of our bodies and how we show up. We have to have a practice, a place, where it’s okay to feel all of those things and become acquainted with them.
We also have to assess: What power do we need to win? Building that power requires a lot of other people, which requires building bridges, reinspiring, and organizing throughout our movements. That’s what we mean by a “bigger we”—that we bring more people in; rather than a “bigger me”—that somehow, magically, more people are going to agree with my perspective and in that completely fantastical way, allow me to avoid encountering any difference, to avoid feeling any discomfort.
We have to be really, really, really clear about the scale that will be required to confront the most urgent issues of our time. And we have to be okay with taking up that work, because it is what is material and right in front of us, even if it is not the thing that we really want to be doing. I would love to live in my own little neck of the woods and have some kids and not worry too much about the way the world is going. But for me, that’s not real right now because my reproductive rights are threatened, and we have no idea what having kids would entail for them going into the future, and even if I just gardened out here in the back, like, how long are we going to get by on that before the weather completely changes and I’m going to need support from somewhere else?
This is why we need a sober assessment of what’s going on. Part of that involves the grief of recognizing that there will still be losses and we have to fight like hell, to work toward things that we care about knowing that we’re not going to get 100 percent of what we’re looking for right now.
Kailea: The whole purpose of this publication project and question is to let it be complicated. Working in putting out published material over the years, a core theme that has come up for us is the fear around continuing to place the reader at the center and be so careful about them when, oftentimes, we don’t even know who they are. I don’t think that centering always serves the work. So right now the purpose of the project is to let people experience and process how they want to. To bring complication in and let that be okay.