When you’re deep in the woods, unsure of which way is forward, what guides you: the direction of the sun, the needle on the compass, the sounds of civilization (or silence). These are reference points that help you choose where to direct your steps based on your goal.
When you’re deep in disruption, as we are now, the plans we made a week ago no longer suffice. Those presentations we’d scheduled, those trips we arranged, those purchases we’d saved for, all make less sense, if any.
Until recently I lived a sort of life-outside-my-life on the island of Oahu. By 2016 decisions I had made to leave behind my previous life, plus some natural changes, had me unmoored, with no dependents and no anchors. The only constants at the time were love for my family and friends, the work contained within my computer, and a commitment to cultural institutions and the environment. In the absence of any expectations, how could I choose my next acts of responsibility or fulfillment?
How would you choose what to do next when you are fortunate enough to have a choice?
The only guideposts, then, were the ones inside me. They were the only clear, positive signals I could find in the new void. So, the choices were in line with those guideposts, my values. I value the natural world, Indigenous ways of knowing, and a diversity of people and places where culture is visible and vibrant. I value a more mindful life than the East Coast encouraged, one with less congestion and more natural spaces, and one with fewer selections at every turn. So I went to Oahu.
After an extremely challenging transition over more than a year, I found I was able to live and learn in the setting of a Native community, to be in nature (but with an office) all the day, and to swim with the sea turtles in the afternoon after a mountain hike in the morning. I learned how to paddle and race a six-woman outrigger canoe. I owned a machete and knew how to use it. I ate from trees with avocados, mangoes, and palmelos (sp?). I found lilikoi on my walks, and bought fresh fish off the back of pickups. I learned Native words, crafts, history and attitudes. I lived and worked with a smaller footprint. And I also ate up my savings, and I began to travel more for climate work: 1.25 tons of CO2 every time I left the island.
Pursuing my values became unsustainable in that place for me after three years, so I let my values choose again for me. This time the Pacific Northwest. I would be with family, could afford to live there, could still race canoe and be on my beloved ocean, and adopt a stunning view of Mt. Rainier. I could support a local farmer’s CSA, buy clean energy, see Native culture all around me. And, I would be closer to the work of We Are Still In, allowing me to be more engaged and productive on behalf of the planet.
Now, we’re all faced with no clear path, but in a different way: how do we survive and find ways to thrive in these COVID-19 conditions? Well, while planning is hard, thoughtful choices remain viable, ones that create space for stronger comebacks post-COVID, ones that make us and our communities and economy and biosphere resilient.
I hope that as you make choices, where you are able, you can listen for the sounds of what you value – places, people, practices, actions, attitudes – in case there are signals there that help.
How am I making choices this time? Well I’m not moving again, that’s for sure. So that means making choices using this mantra:
- Be kind
- Be positive
- Be regenerative
This means that I choose to be as generous as possible, and patient and compassionate where that is all I can offer; that I am pursuing only the positive and hopeful: the co-benefits of those choices are far greater than those from pessimistic ones; and that I am aggressively searching and advocating for only those responses and solutions, of whatever size or scope, that embody a regenerative approach to life on Earth. So Carbon Over Culture, my work focus for the year, will continue, and with new emphasis on a regenerative recovery for our sector and any others focused on regenerative choices.
We cannot afford to make choices that return us to status quo or make a repeat of this mess worse.
So, when planning makes no sense, choosing with forethought is paramount. I/we won’t always be able to, but where we can, we must.
I hope you are able to do this more and more in the coming weeks.