I recently read a thought-provoking article titled ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.’ It was about a high profile woman (first female director of policy planning at the State Department in the US), who after two years in Washington, decided to return home to her husband and two teenage sons, because there was not enough time in a day, or a week or a month for the demands of the job as well as being the kind of mother or partner that she wishes to be. She spoke of how many of her female friends had scorned her decision, and several of her feminist friends, had lamented her inability to prove that women can indeed ‘have it all.’
I can’t begin to imagine why anyone would want the kind of job she described, rising daily at 4.20 to get to the office, and working til late into the night. For two years she only saw her family on weekends, and during vacation amounting to six days a year(!).
Soon after reading this article, I came upon a quote by Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430). He stated that:
“If we live good lives, the times are also good.
As we are such are the times.”
As we are such are the times… I believe that a part of our challenge is that we are trying to figure out how to run the world, fix the world, make the world as we would like it to be – in a way that will ultimately not lead to anything but more of the same. I believe that the quality of what we create is determined directly by the quality of the act of creation. I wrote about this recently in ‘What if being human is enough?‘. I quote from that post:
“Wholeness cannot be in what we create, if it is not in the process of creation. Thus the future is not divorced from the present, the end cannot justify the means, if it is not carried out in the same spirit of that which we are seeking. As we dive whole-heartedly into our change initiatives, many of them are characterized by an absence of wholeness, an absence of balance, and an absence of sustainable vibrant aliveness. How then can we create that which we long for – if we are not learning to live it today?”
It is similar in many respects to Peter Block’s work with citizenship, in which each gathering has to become a lived example of the future we wish to create, and also architect Christopher Alexander’s work in which wholeness, which has an inherent quality of aliveness has to be present in each step of the design and process of forward movement, for it to be present in the final product (or building as is the work of Alexander).
Wholeness to me is not waking a 4.20 each morning, and only seeing my family on weekends, and having 6 days of vacation in a year. Thus if stepping away from this is equal to not having it all, or to being a failure – then by all means let me ‘fail’.
As soon as I say that, I do wish to revoke it though by saying that it is not a failure. It is perhaps the first step towards a more whole world, a world which many of us believe to be possible. A world which we know to be on her way.
“Another world is not only possible,
she is on her way,
and on a quiet day, if you really listen,
you can hear her coming.”
“If you are looking for the new, look to the edges”
My experience is increasingly of learning to trust a different kind of wisdom as we move to a more whole world.
I recently co-hosted a workshop with 10 amazing women. It was a workshop of slowing down, of reconnecting with ourselves, each other, the natural world of which we are a part and our stories. The intention was to be able to – in that place of deeper connection – find the clarity of our voice, and our self. To reconnect with the deeper truth of who we are and why we are here. (Read Bev’s wonderful poem of that rich time). Several of the women spoke of feeling a little self-indulgent in taking this time. Even I did not expect it to be a very practically minded workshop – it was about reconnecting after all – and yet what I found as we journeyed together was that the fruit of this time were incredibly practical inclinations towards a future we long for.
We found ourselves entering questions of how to preserve a wetland in our city, which has been demarcated for ‘development; of how to break the chain of factory schooling, which may well keep our children in the same rut as so much of society is finding itself today; of how to release ourselves from the limitations of money in enabling us to live our dreams; of how to build community in an urban environment around good, organic, local food… and more. Not that we returned with answers or clear plans, but it was the beginning of a conversation, which will undoubtedly spark and stimulate initiatives, and collaboration. And it was a conversation that sprung from a different place than problem solving. Thus I noted that from a place of stillness and deep connection arose impulses for different forms of connected action, that is ultimately based on our hearts’ deepest desire.
To the outside world, perhaps having stepped out of the track of career (I suppose I may have never really entered that realm :), living on a farm in rural Zimbabwe, and choosing to live more slowly – even as I work for change – may seem like a cop-out. To me, in this place, with these people, many of whom live lives that can best be described as being on the fringe, it seems that we have a possibility to create something fresh, something new, something sacred.
“Are we so broken, that we would aspire to anything less than a sacred world?”
It seems to me, that at this time, or perhaps for as long as we can remember, the feminine impulse (which resides more strongly in women, but is not exclusive to them), is one that intuits, senses, and knows how to build in accordance with life. We are lost – as a world – so terribly lost, and so we try to work harder, faster, with less and less clarity, with less and less success. I could – but I shan’t dredge up the stats of how the income gap has grown steadily during the last decades, or how the planet is suffering under our aim for relentless growth, or how children are dying in every corner of the earth, although food and medicine actually exist in abundance. Faster is obviously not the answer to our challenge.
“Wholeness cannot be in what we create, if it is not in the process of creation.”
Thus as I sit in my circle of women, moving my body to the slow motions of Tai Chi, listening to the stories and questions of my sisters and friends, as I am learning once more to grow my own food, and to make my own medicine, I know that there is something here, that is needed in the world. And it makes me want to call more circles – initially of women – but eventually with anyone who is willing to learn to listen to the wisdom of the feminine impulse, and begin to discern what it has to say to us about the very real challenges that we are facing.
It cannot be an intellectual exercise. The feminine principle does not reside in the intellect. It is a whole body, multi-generational, connected to nature, communal exercise. It will be messy. It will be sweet.
It feels like it is learning to move a muscle that we did not even know was there.
And so as our former Director of Policy Planning leaves the white house to be with her family – in essence seeking more ‘wholeness’, I say let’s celebrate. Let us take it not as a failure, but as yet another human being listening to the wisdom of her heart. Seeking to live a life that accords with the clarity of her soul.
“As we are such are the times.”
I am not belittling the need for wider systems change, for us to redesign our monetary systems and our systems of governance, etc.. Not at all – this is indeed needed. But as we learn our way into what is needed, I am asking us to not belittle or disregard our inner voices of wisdom, even as they goes against the grain of our modern culture which hails growth, and defines success as something that can be measured by dollars and cents and titles. This will not take us to where our hearts are biding us to go.
I am inviting others to join the growing multitudes as we make our small – and large – experiments of what is needed to live with wholeness and beauty and joy today.
Stay tuned as we share our lessons 🙂