The solstice is approaching this week, when the Northern hemisphere earth tips back towards the light. It’s a time of betwixt and between – we’re ending one season, and one calendar year, and there’s often a big fuss to clearly mark the end of one thing and the beginning of the next.
But in the in-between, in the tipping spots, lots of good stuff lives. In ecotones, like salt marshes or mangroves, we see a great buzz of biodiversity and rapid evolution and near-miraculous transformation. Salt water that turns to fresh! Creatures that live on both land and sea!
At the intersections of other systems we see the same kind of potential for transformation, like the fascinating group Health Care Without Harm that I encountered last week. Working at the intersection of environmental health and human health (which, in the end, are not so separate at all), this organization has helped to eliminate mercury from hospitals, eradicate toxic building materials, and even improve hospital food.
It’s uncomfortable, being in that liminal in-between space, where we’ve left one familiar spot but have not yet arrived at the next. To avoid that queasy, floaty feeling, usually we do what we can to hurry through the transition, back to firmer ground. Is it 2018 or 2019? Are we on land or at sea?
But, dear friends, let’s pause here, on the edge the light, for just a moment. Take a deep breath. Feel the turning. Stretch out, and feel the edges on either side. Float in a patch of in-between.
See what might be transformed.
This is the literal translation of “mo sheasamh ort lá no choise tinne,” the Irish phrase for trust, as noted by Pádraig Ó Tuama.
I’ve been thinking a lot about trust lately, partly because every survey and every statistic shows it to be so low. The data of mistrust might be new, but the concept is not: nearly all of our advice and adages caution against too much trust. “Love all, trust a few,” said Shakespeare. “Trust yourself,” said endless others. “Trust but verify,” said Ronald Regan (though it is actually a Russian proverb that he learned during nuclear disarmament talks).
But trust is not the same as foolishness. Trust includes faith, and discernment, and love. Early in my career, a mentor advised me to “presume good intentions.” If I looked for reasons to distrust, she said, there would be plenty. If I started with suspicion, it would be confirmed. If I was attuned to bad intentions, I’d find them everywhere.
This seemed like very bad advice indeed, for a young person just entering the world of finance, where sharpness and vigilance are clear prerequisites for the field. But she was right. If I were sharp but never trustful, simple misunderstandings would harden into meanness. And sometimes they have, much to my dismay.
Of course real trust is earned over long arcs of time, but if our presumption is universal mistrust, if we’re endlessly vigilant, there’s no chance for the earning. Our packs get a little bit heavier, day by day. We carry more and more. And then where do we stand, on the day when our feet are sore?
Dear friends, who do you trust, or what, or where? Let’s start there, and rest our feet.
***You can hear more about this – and many other insights – from the conversation between Pàdraig, Marilyn Nelson, and Krista Tippett at the terrific OnBeing.
When we’re perplexed, it helps to dig down in the roots – and this goes for language, too. One of my favorite lessons from divinity school was a casual conversation about the root words for Bravery and Courage.
The root for brave is linked to a front or face. Bravery is a kind of armor, a game face, an outer shell of strength.
The root for courage is coeur, the French word for heart. It is strength from within, strength of the heart. A totally different root.
It is brave to speak with conviction. It is courageous to say, “I don’t know.”
It is brave to quietly persevere. It is courageous to speak up.
It is brave to forge a new path. It is courageous to continue when no one’s cheering you on.
It is brave to be busy. It is courageous to be still.
It is brave to shout. It is courageous to listen.
It is brave to hold back tears. It is courageous to let them flow.
Dear friends, we have been trained to be endelssly brave.
Let’s train for courage now.
I gave a little talk this fall at the amazing PopTech gathering which featured this theme – here is a short clip, along with many other highlights from that weekend.
If you’re in the United States this week, and you’re lucky,amidst the turkey and pie and traffic jams and football games, you’ve had a moment to actually think about the word Thanksgiving. Thanks. Giving.
One reason this holiday is so treasured is that we feel better when we count our blessings. Research has borne this out time and time again, but as is often the case, you could save some time reading those studies and just listen to your mom or grandma on this count.
But oh, it can be harder to practice. If your gathering included going around the table to name a blessing out loud, it was probably a little forced. And if six people in a row say they are grateful for family, you feel a little rude naming something else, what with your relatives right there looking at you.
This year our family tried a new approach. We all took a pile of paper leaves and wrote down a bunch of things for which we were grateful – and then we attached them to a wreath as we read them out loud and told stories. Hokey? Totally. Awesome? Totally.
You don’t need a big family gathering to do this, and you don’t need a fancy gratitude journal either. Start small: if you zoom in to this photo, you’ll see entries for pickles and mashed potatoes.
The key is, you have to DO IT, not just think about it. Take a piece of paper, right now. Don’t wait for the fancy journal or an official holiday. Even if your list says, “Thanksgiving is over” or “there is coffee” – start.
Before we know it, we go from being thankful for pickles to the pickle makers to the truck driver who brought them to the store to the people who picked the cucumbers to the field where they grew to the sun and the rain… all that, just from one pickle.
Imagine how far our thanks can reach.
Distance might make the heart grow fonder, but there’s something to be said for proximity, too.
Proximity is not the same as cocooning, when we just stay close to the people and places we already love. It’s getting closer to the uncomfortable things (and people) that we’d just as soon avoid.
Beekeeping might provide some good lessons here. To approach a hive, especially one that’s out of sorts, requires steadiness and patience and love and determination. And maybe a protective hat. But once you’re close, woah, you can learn so much more.
Next time we feel that “ooof, get me out of here” feeling, might we stay a little longer? Might we ask a sincere, open question? Might we observe, or listen, instead of galloping ahead to conclusions and dismissal?
If we practice, eventually we might even leave the giant protective suit at home.