Simplicity vs. Generativity

Well, I wrote one day of the March writing challenge, then forgot for 3 days, but at least I came back within a week!

Lately I’ve been thinking about needs and feelings. I’ve been doing a Nonviolent Communication training with 3 of my housemates at the Dharma House. I was definitely excited going into the training, and also curious as to whether or not it was going to be helpful or cheesy or enlightening or what. It’s been some of all three, though even when it’s cheesy it’s still helpful. That label of cheesy is actually interesting, as I think it has a lot to do with the idea that talking about emotions is syrupy. Or maybe the label of cheesy had something to do with the fact that we use giraffe and jackal puppets to represent different types of communication and thought processes… Either way, more than anything this training is changing the way I think and act, for the better. Of all the things I thought to expect, I didn’t expect that I would be able to learn and apply so much so quickly.

In summary, what I’ve learned so far is the idea that all of our feelings stem from needs we have, either met or unmet, and finding the need beneath the feeling is key to being able to work with our emotions and get our needs met. It also gives us the opportunity to take ownership over our experience instead of blaming our feelings on other people or outside situations. I find this rather empowering. It’s not to say that what other people say and do can’t and shouldn’t affect us, but that it affects us because of a need WE have. It also means that the same is true for all people, and understanding this can help us to understand others’ needs and empathize with their feelings. All of this leads to better communication and a greater depth of connection in relationships.

So, in all of this work I’m doing around needs and feelings, I’ve found it interesting to examine some of my needs, and two in particular have started to become of interest to me: my need to simplify my life, and my need to contribute to making the world a better place. Now, in the ways that I’ve chosen to contribute to my vision of a better world, I seem to have lost an element of simplicity. Or every last trace of simplicity. I didn’t know when I decided to start an intentional community, exactly what that would mean. All I really had a sense of was that it was a beautiful vision that if successfully executed could vastly improve my life and the lives of others, and that it was definitely going to be more work than I could anticipate at the onset.

So now we are over a year into this process and I find myself alternately reflecting on all we’ve done and how in the world I got to be a part of this, and being so in it that it’s hard to really see anything beyond the day to day. And some days it feels simple, and some days I’m so overwhelmed by the complexity and demand of the project that I have to fetal up. It’s the overwhelming days when I escape to Costa Rica in my mind and spend my days reading, surfing, doing yoga, and living a simple life of contentment. It’s very appealing, and I know some day I will do that, if only for a few months, but when that will be, I’m less sure of now than I used to be. Some days I fear it won’t happen if I don’t do it soon, but even writing that it doesn’t seem true. I know that i’ll do whatever I want if I have a strong enough desire, it’s simply a matter of when. It’s interesting to me how I’ve had a desire for a very long time to simplify my life, and yet I continue to make decisions that complicate my world. I haven’t figured out yet what that means, but I’m learning that answers come most easily when I choose to wait for them to arrive, instead of chasing after them. So this is one I’m going to wait out.

I do find it interesting though, how at this point in my life those two needs are in conflict. I wonder if they must always be. If I am to choose between tending to myself and living simply, or making moves big enough to hopefully start to change the functioning of society as we know it. The more I think about and work toward this goal of creating the kind of community that I want to live in, the more I believe that it can’t be done without a lot of hard work and sacrifice. On the days when I feel motivated enough to plug away at the work, it feeds and energizes me and has a powerful momentum. But then there are the days when I feel stretched and tired; when I long for Costa Rica and it’s easy to float off into the fantasy of how that kind of life would be so much easier, and therefore “better”. Again, I don’t know what the answer is. If I think in terms of the future, I imagine that I would feel most fulfilled by choosing to put my energy into realizing a goal of creating a sustainable, cooperative, and loving society, and that maybe that means that my now isn’t going to be as easy as my “one day”. But I also strive to live in the moment, and if I tend to the present without concern or expectation for the future, then I might make a different choice in how to spend my time. I also might not, as my time in this community has been rich with love, meaning, learning experiences, and genuine human interaction.

There is also the thought that no matter how hard I work I’m not ever going to be able to see the changes that I hope for in the world. This makes me think of a quote “The meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit”. It’s a wonderful and noble idea, and one I want to buy into, but I can’t say there’s not a part of me that also believes that it’s possible that my life would be best spent by doing only the things that make me happy in the immediacy of each moment. While I can say that in general I enjoy this work i’m doing, I can’t say that every little part of it makes me happy every day. I don’t actually believe that there is any work in the world for which that is true. And I also know that if I neglect to work and do the things that annoy me, then I actually don’t feel all that happy. This is a whole other topic, about our innate need as humans to work and be productive (which so often means doing things we don’t like), in order to be able to enjoy play and relaxation. That irritates the shit out of me sometimes. Maybe the most worthwhile thing to do with my time would be to figure out how to trick that part of my brain that tells me that I have to produce things in order to lead a meaningful life. Can’t I just do things I love and send that love out to the people around me and that would be enough? Even as I move through this thought process right now there is a voice in my head yelling “of course you can’t do that lazy! if you want the world to change there is much work to be done and we all have to contribute to make it happen!” But I wanna be lazy! My yoga teacher once said something to the effect of laziness actually being considered a characteristic of enlightenment. I sure do like that.

As I said, I don’t aim to find an answer to this right now, I simply think the question is an interesting one to ask. I have to imagine that the beginning of the answer, like most, will be to find a way to strike a balance and meet both needs. I think that is going to be the biggest challenge. I also have a sinking feeling that a very likely possibility for finding my answer may lie in my ability to find and connect to an inner calm that can weather any outside situation without crumbling. I think that might be the hardest work of all. It remains to be seen if the best place to cultivate that calm is in the midst of chaos, but I imagine if I can do it there, then it will be as strong and unshakable a core as I could ever hope to build anywhere.

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