This is a Manifesto to help me continue to live a connected life. This document accounts some of the experiences and source materials I have digested over the past summer that have affected my interactions with others. I am writing this field journal as a testament to the ways I have started a path of more genuine connection and intentional living. The Manifesto is a summary of my findings. I am asking of myself, of any reader, to continue on a path led by tapas – fiery compassion – while working in tandem with a heart that is okay with letting go. I have found they are one in the same.
• Be sure to take note of what intoxicates you and be mindful of these habits
• When a guest enters your home offer them tea. Offer all of them team not just the parts you like
• Imagine a cohort of people who love you. Imagine one of those people always walking ten breaths behind you, and another ten breaths behind that person, and so on.
• Use eye contact often, calmly, and wisely
• Practice “smile yoga” (credit to Thich Nhat Hanh)
• Act selflessly often, for others and for yourself – know that this is different than being selfish
• Spend at least 1/11th of each month by a body of water, in a body of water, on the top of a mountain, or in the woods, and find pleasure in the people you meet there
• Tell people often how your love for them feels, or how it is changing
• When someone is speaking to you, do not think about what you are going to say next
• In the hurtling “nowness” of each moment, your body never gets pulled away. Your body is always there. Your body abides. Remains. Always come back to your body and you will always be present
Experiences and Materials:
Source A. Sounding Board Parties
Note 1. In May I decided to host monthly gatherings in my apartment with close friends. Initially I hoped that these would be a place where, as artists, we could share work and have a checkpoint to encourage us to continue making work. I told people to bring anything they wanted to share – a recipe, an idea, a poem, a play, a riddle, a story. After the first Sounding Board, many people expressed wanting to do this on a monthly basis. It was a success
Note 2. A third thing had happened in the room. There were listeners and sharers and then a third feeling that filled my apartment. We were intentionally holding space for each other in a way that we don’t make time for on a day-to-day basis. I am now on a curiosity mission to find out more about that third thing – intentional coexisting…bliss.
Source B. Social Meditation and Leadership Meditation Retreat, Shambhala Center at Sky Lake, NY
Note 1. A social meditation in serving tea:
Mitchell and I were instructed to one at a time stand up, fetch a tea bag, hot water, and mug for the other and serve them tea exactly how they wanted it. For Mitchell that was no honey, no sugar, just tea. The practice occurred in silence. When Mitchell looked me in the eye and placed my tea in front of me, his mouth corners tensed and his lips gently drew back into a soft smile-gaze I will never forget. He then proceeded to un-tuck the tea tag from under the mug and lay it neatly on the tablecloth. His hand slowly released from the tea tag and he took his seat. I never felt so held by someone’s presence. When we spoke again I told him of the wash of care I felt fall over me due to his delicate actions to care for my tea. “Life is all about the little things,” he said.
Note 2. The Little Things:
Deer running through the woods that were not a coincidence
Anu retrieving me from my diad with a butterfly
Waking up to the rain in the trees in my sleeping bag on the floor in the shrine room
Crying the middle of the circle with Karla
Wishing this wouldn’t end
Being okay with that
Note 3. We did a “walk through the woods” practice. One person started walking into the woods. 10 breaths later someone followed. And so on and so on. We had no destination, just the support of walking with each other, 10 breaths away. Being with these people, in this way, allowed me to finally be with myself.
Note 4. Geoff Cox, our retreat leader, started crying when he was summarizing our experience on Sunday afternoon. Together we had not only created a community, we had created a culture. This is that “third thing” I felt was happening at my Sounding Board parties. He described that when we practice fierce gentleness, toward others and ourselves, we can start to open a crack and peer into our gentle basic goodness – our light. He said, “the moment you glimpse that crack stick your foot in. Invite the whole lineage in, all of this community, and all the people who you love to help keep it opening. The door will close sometimes but notice if it is your fear that is holding it closed as you try to push it open with the other hand.”
Note 5. A poem to reflect on this retreat:
Welcome to Rosendale
We crashed a wedding
Tattoo artist party
It is okay to be entirely yourself
We don’t look up at the clouds
We look down at them as the earth
Hugs us in
If we all reached out our right hands
Would we touch?
Writing under the stars is easier
You can’t see the words
As they fall short.
When you take the night sea journey
You must exile no part of you
Bring it all on board
Grief can take the captain’s quarters
Waterlogged by joy
A stranger’s smile
And where will happiness stay?
Source C. Tribe by Sebastian Junger
Note 1. Junger’s book claims that PTSD is not entirely a function of what happens to a soldier overseas but greatly a function of the type of society he returns to. I read Tribe in July while on a sailboat in the Pacific Ocean for two weeks. Here people are not distracted by technology or worried about their hair. Here you have your boat and your charts and your anchor and your community. Tribe detailed some interesting points about my existing thoughts on our lack of community in modern society. Below are some relevant excerpts.
“First agriculture, and then industry, changed two fundamental things about the human experience, the accumulation of personal property allowed people to make more and more individualistic choices about their lives, and those choices unavoidably diminished group efforts toward a common good. And as society modernized, people found themselves able to live independently from any communal group… They can be surrounded by others and yet feel deeply, dangerously alone.”
“Self-determination theory holds that human beings need three basic thing in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; the need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered intrinsic to human happiness and far outweigh “extrinsic” values such as beauty, money, and statues. Bluntly put, modern society seems to emphasize extrinsic values over intrinsic ones…”
“ ‘Why do large-scale disasters produce such mentally healthy conditions?’…Fritz’s theory [about social resilience] was that modern society has gravely disrupted the social bonds that have always characterized the human experience, and that disasters thrust people back into a more ancient, organic ways of relating… It is a kind of fleeting social utopia that is enormously gratifying to the average person and downright therapeutic to the people suffering from mental illness.”
“The beauty and the tragedy of the modern world is that it eliminates many situations that require people to demonstrate a commitment to the collective good.”
“The earliest and most basic definition of community – of tribe – would be the group of people that you would both help feed and help defend. A society that doesn’t offer its members the chance to act selflessly in these ways isn’t a society in any tribal sense of the word; it’s just a political entity that, lacking enemies, will probably fall apart on its own.”
Source D. A personal anecdote
Note 1. In June my dad raced in a regatta in Newport, RI and I joined him for the weekend. He drove me back to New York at the end of the weekend to help me install my air conditioner. It was 95 degrees and many parts were missing. We tore up an old Styrofoam Seattle Seahawk cutout and tied string to the window to make it fit. As we said goodbye on the steps to my apartment I could see tears welling in his eyes. He proclaimed how proud he was of me, to see the life I was making for myself and all the adventures I was going on. Instead of shying away from the moment I fixed strong on his gaze and spoke honestly. “That adventure is all from you dad.”
Source E. Minds I cannot miss crediting:
Thich Nhat Hanh
My dog, Leo
My father, Brian Ledbetter
Every person who joined me on the Social Meditation Retreat whose names are: