Malnourished in the midst of plenty

I watched A Place at the Table a few weeks ago. Yesterday, a friend mentioned the adage that if you are not at the table then you are likely on the menu. In this society of excess, imbalance and unroofed eating habits that is not a desirable place to be.

It occurs to me that the same imbalances ailing food systems affect the nonprofit sector and civic life. Both have a dire unevenness of diet, there is a fixation on certain elements to the detriment of the broader, holistic wellbeing, and we chase some short-term goals that afflict harm when not aligned with long-term health and vitality.

The ills of the corporate good system are reasonably well known. My focus here is how the food system is a metaphor for a cancerous, blighted nonprofit sector.

Inputs: The over-reliance on foundation grants equate to the dominance of carbohydrates in nonprofit’s heavy and heavily imbalanced diet. Instead, of a plethora of sources for nourishing foods, fresh foods rich in vitamins and minerals, most nonprofits depend on a few starches. Grantwriting is essentially highly processed foods composed with strange ingredients, cumbersome production processes and deceptive packaging. What goes into an organization’s coffers is the result of great manipulation resulting in an unnatural shelf life, where the taste, texture and quality are an afterthought.

Energy: This imbalanced diet is exacerbated by where most nonprofits direct our attention. Evaluation is the nonprofit form of cholesterol — it is talked about a lot, with little bearing on overall vitality. In nonprofits, certain information gets monitored and is the basis for evaluation. The fixation with an academic style of evaluation is a distraction from the original factors motivating a small group of people to start an organization. Book knowledge trumps street smarts because there is a logic mind bias against learning from our lived experiences as much as from books. And in a crisis-saddled society, we scurry from one crisis to the next giving ourselves little space or patience to reflect on how we use our energies.

A Place at the Table summarized the profound changes to the food system that have occurred in the last 30 years. Hunger and food insecurity have skyrocketed in spite of the proliferation of food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency food providers, which numbered [a few dozen?] in the early 1980s and exceed [40,000?] today.

The most insidious manifestation of the food/nonprofit mimicry is our habitual concern with problem diagnosis, rather than problem solving. Instead of pursuing solutions, the sector is mired in recording social dysfunction. This mirrors the national attention on illness and manifestations of physical health, environmental degradation and how sick, obese, diabetic, cancerous we are.

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Just as grassroots alternatives to the traditional food system of the late 20th Century exist, alternatives to a grant-heavy, evaluation-fixated and problem-saddled social profit paradigm are expanding.

Alternatives for the here and now begin with:

  • an asset-based approach (rather than problem-based)
  • recognizing access and privileges that each of us have (instead of running from or denying them)
  • embracing the many identities and multiple issues alive in each of us (instead of the myths that there is most important issue or single most affected community)
  • embarking on radical changes that occur at many levels simultaneously (rather than the faulty and imposed notion that change happens in an incremental, sequential fashion)
  • aligning efforts across different groups, populations and industries (rather than perpetuating silos)
  • recognizing that faith, people power and humility are as important, if not more so, than money
  • yet making tremendous financial investments in experiments to spawn wholly new approaches, ecosystems, paradigms, and ways of living, working and being
  • harnessing the lived experience of our bodies and the wisdom of the Earth (instead of preferring the logic-mind).
  • The choice is ours. To continue on the same old, same old do loop. Or we can embark on the paths less traveled.

on cholesterol rather than general

War reflections in Milwaukee

They asked me for a six word story, after 10 hours. So what I told ’em was:

Investing in 21st Century multiracial leadership

In terms of class identity and race, I grew up in a middle class and multiracial family. I studied Economics and History. One part of my military story is that I am the grandson of a Tuskegee Airman.

History teaches us that at the end of the Vietnam War, the Army was a powder keg of animosity and racial strife on the cusp of tremendous violence. I recall one historian stating that Black veterans were so radicalized that 70% of them planned on joining the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense upon returning stateside.

As a result, the armed forces embarked on an unprecedented intervention to train, recruit and support a new wave of Black officers and officers of color in order to abate the festering race dynamics between Black soldiers and an overwhelmingly white class of officers that was the legacy of Jim Crow. The efforts to support and cultivate leadership for people of color was more successful than in any other aspect of society. A soldier in the military is more likely to have a person of color as a supervisor than someone in any other field, profession or realm of life.

The military’s intervention is a lesson of how dedicated resources can result in systemic change, when we so choose. There is an opportunity for society and a nation to invest in multiracial leadership to heal a wounded and traumatized nation that is still hobbling into the 21st Century.

Further investments in leadership and communities throughout the country and the globe could mean that we invest in our daughters as much as drones. That Corner Store initiatives are as pervasive as guns in communities. That we would treat PTSD as quickly as we discipline students and detain immigrants.

Investing in life, rather than war, would mean that less goes to automatic weapons, flak jackets and SWAT teams so that we invest more in shovels, straw hats and wheelbarrows. Where we invest in community organizing and agronomy and less in surveillance and military intelligence.

After a day like today in Milwaukee, I have hope that in the years ahead we will invest in the War on Poverty and War on Hunger with the gusto and at the levels of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs in recent decades.

The choice is our’s to make: do we want to dedicate our resources to death and destruction or life and love?

Shocks to the system after systems failure

For months, an acute pain has arisen in the fleshy palm of my left hand. The swelling in a capillary bloats stands of tissue that reside beneath my epidermis. Skin over a swollen, small vein is sensitive to touch in a way that other skin is not.
Last month, the shooting, throbbing pain on less than a square inch had company. I noticed tightness in some strands of tissue on my inner bicep. A tightness that I could mistake for muscle tautness, except that there is no similar strand in the bicep of my dominant, right arm. This self-noticing, which was palpable to the touch of my external hand, led me to trace my right hand further over the adjacent muscles of my chest, shoulder, and back that form my physical body. As my fingertips investigated, I noted lines of tightness spewing from my armpit in two directions: across my chest, and a band of muscles down my back.
My intuitive sense revealed that these were interwoven symptoms of muscles beholden to a particular tension. What minutes earlier was only a throb in my palm was showing itself now that I was seeing with the fingers of my right hand and listening with my right hand. This is what sensing looks (feels, tastes and soothes) like in the body.
I sat with the discomfort, which now tasted slightly different thanks to my recent curiosity. I was unsure of what to make of it. I pulled my thumb to “pop” the joint (or pop the knuckle, although I see the uniqueness of the thumb give this joint a different name rather than be one of five knuckles) for momentary relief. “Popping my knuckles” has been a way to realign, reconfigure and redesign the spaces in between my skeleton I learned how to contort my fingers to make an audible adjustment. I pop knuckles considerably less as an adult than I did as a child, though I “pop” or open up space between vertebrae in my lower back, mid-back and neck daily. I open up spaces surrounding my sternum by spreading my shoulders back and apart in such a way on most mornings that I can hear the reconfiguration within my chest.
But this popping of my thumb has been different. The realignment of my joint provides some relief to the tissues that are two inches away. However, after the energy moves, the pain returns soon after.
Then last Monday, I placed my hands underneath my shoulders while laying on my back. Knees bent. Soles of my feet on the floor. A position called wheel pose, when I use my hands and feet to push my body up off of the floor and out. I could stay up briefly. And came crashing town to the ground once or twice.
The sensations of coaxing a throb began soon after. Previously, I had begun and ended multiple yoga classes by rubbing the flesh of my palm or yanking on my left thumb (frantically). This morning was the first time that I could feel the tightness dissipating as blood flowed through my palm, my thumb, my bicep, my armpit, my pectoral and my back.
____

One pose stretches my wrist and calls upon the needed force of select muscles to hold my body up in a new and different way. Holding me in a certain position for a matter of seconds, yet rippling throughout my day.
The vein in my left palm palpates now. Rarely it is visible to my eye. Yet, I am learning my own body. Learning how the sorenss of my left thumb cascades up into my chest and back. Similarly, I am learning how new poses and new stretches are like math problems, spelling contests and reading comprehension. New assignments and new challenges are needed in order for me to keep on learning. My body self-organizes the programming of my DNA and the coding of my musculature in this moment-by-moment school of learning.

Moment-by-moment rules

In this busying, dizzying era of this civilization, choosing differently is essential to have days be spacious, patient, serene, promising.

Moment-by-moment living equates to a life full of possibilities. Each day is chock-full of possibility. Moment by moment allows me to quiet the volume of anxiety in my soul’s voice, my heart’s voice and brain’s voice.

Drop the same ol, same ol. It doesn’t provide despite all of its promises and pleading to stay still, stagnate and stick with it.

spacious in the morning

I awoke and did yoga this morning. It is barely 8:30 and i can already sense the spaciousness in my body that feels differently. Rather than feeling cramped or tight, there is a lightness as a result of it. In muscles and joints that can be lethargic, especially after four days on the road in four beds in different rooms in two cities.

As much as I want to attribute this to a single thing, this is another instance where there are a multiplicity of factors culminating in this experience, in this moment. I may have slept in a more comfortable bed last night, which factored into choosing to stretch this morning.

Spaciousness accompanies flexibility and fluidity for me. I can hear my body flowing, which is a softer, gentler sound than the creaking that happens when I am slow struggling in the morning. My muscles feel limber rather than taut. Taut is a bizarre feeling when I have been awake and out of bed for less than 120 minutes.

sharing the love of meetings and meals

It does not work for me when two people, in a group of eight, are responsible for the brunt of an eight hour meeting. It results in poor design, poor execution. I find it frustrating, whether I am 1 of the 2 attempting to carry all, or 1 of the other 6 flabbergasted at the self-imposed exclusive, isolation.

In another light, it would be if I were to cook a meal at home, for 7 others, and only rely on one other person to assist with cooking, setting the table, and clean-up afterwards. Such, hoarding of activities results in people feeling less connected, having less of a stake in the taste, quality of the food and the caliber of the experience.

Having people choose silence because what they eat is so tasty is a far different choice and a different silence than when people are mum because of discomfort, awkwardness or not knowing how to connect with the others at the table. Similarly, people can shut down in a meeting when they feel uncomfortable what is not working for them. Or when people have been shunned from the design of a meeting, and therefore lob facilitator’s grenades nit-picking over what could have been different.
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i have identified 6 preferred go-to metaphors, which are body, sex, relationships, meals, ecosystems and ____ (I have forgotten the sixth, as I fly at 30,000 feet). in light of my recent activities, such out-of-whack behavior would look like the following:

  • in the body, it would be using one-quarter of my body while the other 3/4 sit idle.
  • in relationships, it is when one person talks 3/4s of the time.
  • in ecosystems, where an environment is so harsh because one of the four elements of fire, land, water and air dominates the three others. resulting in desert, tundra, flooding or windstorms.
  • in sex, it would be an encounter where one person is responsible for three quarters of the foreplay.

When these things happen, they are extreme occurrences of imbalanced arrangements. Interactions that are unnatural, awkward and coerced. It is necessary to be so unattuned to what is happening outside of ourselves in order to assert our own way.

Slowing Down

So, what is this, this slowing down?

I have considered myself an old soul for a few decades. Part of that old-ness has been a proclivity to chillax, and take things slowly. When I was a teenager, my older brother used to assert that i wasn’t running my fastest and hardest up and down the basketball court. When I look back upon it now, it is not surprising that my norm seemed slower-than-most to others.

The single simplest way that I embrace slowing down is by refraining from multi-tasking. After being conditioned to praise multi-tasking, I try to avoid it these days. When I brush my teeth, I no longer do calf lifts in order to build muscles in my legs as I tried to do at 17. I don’t brush my teeth while putting on socks and shoes as my 24 year-old self did. Instead, I brush my teeth, and allow my attention to feel the sensations of toothpaste, enamel and the stretch of my cheeks.

There is a geography to slowing down. The Southwest and Mountain West flows at its own rate. I sense the attraction and the fit now that I have returned after being gone for more than a decade. The hustle and bustle on the coasts is a different wavelength than what I flow on, with my flyover country ways. Thirteen years after leaving Barbados, a Bajan proverb of tekkin tyme ent lazyness resonates now more than it did when I lived there in 1998.

But it isn’t only due to the pace of the world outside. For the first time in my life, I am living without a television in my home. It has all sorts of consequences, only a few that I anticipated. Then, there are countless benefits of living free of cable, channel surfing and the echo chamber of the 24 hour news cycle. A few glimpses of what it means to not have a tv are: (1) I do not plop down on the sofa when I am exhausted — whether it is a weeknight, a Sunday morning or the middle of the night. (2) television has a powerful, addictive quality with my psyche, which used to keep me seated in front of it, long after I was actually choosing to watch. (3) As a result of the minutes and hours that I used to spend in front of a television, my days fill with hours and minutes that i sit, stand or lie elsewhere.

Other ways of slowing down range from reading, laying down and closing my eyes to baking or going for a walk. As a result, a slower lifestyle subjects me to fewer external stimuli, which keeps my internal systems (my circadian rhythym, I believe) lower. My mind, nor my days, are not as frantic nor as herky jerky as they once were.

I commit to fewer appointments, phone calls and obligations each day. This results in a slower morning, a relaxed afternoon and a soothing evening most days. A year ago, I was amazed to find that I had the time one evening to listen to how tired my body was when it was 8:06 p.m. As a result, 8:06 became a joke about my preferred bedtime.

Instead of having to scramble to honor commitments that had been made, I choose to be spontaneous instead. I can have a hunch of what I may get in to this afternoon or over the weekend, yet I refrain from fillinig it up like an itinerary. Fewer commitments allows for more spontaneity when living moment-by-moment.

More openness results in being able to cook and prepare meals more readily, and more easily. Whether it is the 5 minutes to toast bread for a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich or 30-60 minutes for baking or a stew, food takes a precedence in my slower schedule. It is no surprise that I make more pancakes and french toast, bake more (cookies, brownies and breads), and eat more vegetables made in all sorts of ways. I choose to make time for meals, cooking and eating well.

I realize how much of lifestyle is about choice. The choice of whether to grab food out, or choose to eat a meal at home. The choice to get the groceries to be able to prepare a meal in as little as 2, 5 or 25 minutes makes home cooked meals much tastier.

I can choose to stop working at a designated hour, rather than allow my day job to encroach on my evenings. It is not the same hour every day, but I am content to leave my work alone when the time is right.

—–
A few years ago, a friend told me how he and all of his coworkers were revising their job descriptions. What was memorable, was that they were cutting away one-third or half of what was on their old job descriptions in order to focus on what was essential, and what was desirable to them in their work. This, is the kind of cutting back that we need.

This is the kind of cutting back that slowing down invites.

Credit + Access, a Marley fable (aka access to credit)

There are two memorable moments (among oh-so many) in the 2012 documentary, Marley. The two that my mind/heart/soul has linked are from two very different phases of Bob Marley’s life and career. He certainly lived as a musician, but I was reminded how he was and is a spiritual figure and global icon for love, nonviolence, and freedom. Freedom of nations, of people, and of our souls. Now, for the two moments, which have to do with credit.

#1 — As Bob, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer are first embarking as an independent three-man band in Kingston of the early 1960s, the documentary recounts the story, told by a distant cousin, of how Bob went to see some of his extended family asking for some support or a loan. The Wailers wanted/needed the capital to buy a car that they could use to independently distribute to clubs, and radio stations across Kingston. Yet, the white Marleys wanted nothing to do with this mulatto son of one of their deceased members. (note: I had not known that Bob had a white father, nevermind one who was so much older than his mother, until watching the movie) Despite their tremendous wealth and plenty of assets that would have made a car loan an insignificant amount, Bob was turned away from the Marley Construction Company empty-handed. The Wailers had to find other means to distribute their newly recorded singles.

#2 — Years later, Bob is cash rich. So much so, that when a Zimbabwean delegation visit him to ask him to perform at their independence concert and ceremony in 1980, Marley is keen. So eager to do so that he/the band cover all of the $80,000 in 1980 dollars (which is approximately $208,888 in 2010 dollars) to ship their instruments and sound equipment from Kingston to Harare.

The Zimbabwean delegation did not have the cash. But that did not stop the Wailers from being at a national liberation concert on the Mother Continent. It is ironic and tragic to see a much younger Robert Mugabe, circa 1980, proclaiming freedom, independence and democracy; how much can change in three decades.

The ensuing concert and historic occasion — of Zimbabwe’s independence and of a free Bob Marley and the Wailers concert for a newly independent nation, that is no longer colonized, and no longer Rhodesia — is also an instance of spiritual transcendence. At least, that is how it seems to me, witnessing history through the movie’s storytelling.

~~~~

The trajectory of Bob, who is one of the rare humans who is on a first name (or single names) basis with much of the globe (along with Madiba, Evita or Barack), was marked by his access to capital, and to the other means of production. Those means of production being land, labor and capital. The Wailers’ rise within Jamaica’s domestic music scene took longer because of the bottlenecks and constraints that a young, independent band faced.

Conversely, the people of Zimbabwe would not have had the enduring joy of Bob’s only live performance in 1980, had he been cash poor or debt-strapped.

I am inspired by the story of how even a global phenomenon such as the Wailers faced obstacles such as lacking a car, and the gasoline to distribute their music. The status quo had wanted to control the distribution, release and promotion of Kingston’s musical acts. Much like the 20th Century industry titans who want to impede the innovative people, ideas and companies that nurture the creative destruction today that will hasten the demise of the old ideas of yesteryear, and yester-century.

Ultimately, limited and constrained access to capital is a norm in our economy (and in capitalism). Too few lending dollars provided to small ventures and enterprising individuals. As a result, a bias towards that results in any loans considered being lent to the bigger entities who can either point to previous financial records or who already have the assets that serve as collateral. As a result, those with existing assets have the access to capital. Capital that makes it much easier to grow, or experiment on a new idea. Ideas that can be business or cultural and art ventures such as The Wailers.

Some may suggest that the status quo demands that musicians or entrepreneurs have to show grit, hustle and finesse needed to persevere. Yet, an uneven playing field means that the very subjective nature of lending is not done evenly. It is subjective because lending is, after all, one person making a subjective decision about another person. Instances where a new venture may not have the financial records to demonstrate the return, or safety of such an investment. The current set-up squashes dreams and aspirations when capital is so hard to come by. When the pools of who has access continue to be so dependent on the Old Boy Network.

Writing is water

Writing is easy yet so difficult, depending on the circumstances and relationship that I have to it. In simile speak: water is like water. Let me count the ways.

Stagnant water breeds cholera, or mosquitoes. Neither of which serve me that well. Similarly, stagnation in writing is stifling. I had years, if not decades, of writer’s block. The words that convey emotion, experience and life swelled within me. The festering conditions disrupted my homeostasis such that my feelings frustrated, trapped, confused and disillusioned me. There is so much in this world, and writing in channeled bursts has altered the topography of my psyche just as a river cuts through the earth’s crust. Trapped writing became poisoned by the ills of the world because of my exposure to the noxious elements. Unable to find a writing outlet, I could not filter out the toxins that multiplied inside of the idle body of water that was/is my consciousness. Like many water-borne illnesses, it severely weakened me.

My struggles with writing were a form of illiteracy where I had some tools, I knew the letters of the alphabet, verb conjugation and sentence structure. Much like water can be life-nourishing, thirst-abetting for plants and animals alike. There have been phases where my written word was ‘not potable.’ I’ve been told for years how powerfully i can convey messages in spoken communication. But, that didn’t translate into fluid ease of writing. It was much like being out at sea, surrounded by all that salt water. Yet, with no fresh water to drink. No filtration or desalination. The salt in the oceans is not lethal, of course. Just like life experiences of struggle, trauma and isolation are not inherently life-threatening. However, without a writing outlet to process and therefore, synthesize and integrate the immense and intense, I was stranded. Oftentimes, it felt to me like I was stranded at sea in an abyss that I could not convey.

Without writing, I had no map to understand where I was, where i had been or where I was headed. One of the early cracks in the dam of my trapped writing was when asked if ‘I was a writer?’ Before I could answer another person commented that yes, i was.

They had observed how I took notes, made lists, copied quotes and inspiring passages on all these pieces of paper from the backs of envelopes to sticky notes. I’d never considered that worthy of being called writing. All of a sudden someone else pointed out how I had the ability to doggy paddle. I’d waded into the shallow water, but was convinced that I wasn’t capable of doing that much.

That friend’s comment shook me, much like a tremor shakes any body of water. I couldn’t forget it. A fissure in the crust of my self-narratives was exposed that would not be sealed. It would never return to the state that it had previously been in. Though, it did get muddled and clogged for months.

However, the fissure made me begin to write more. My written communication thawed as quotes and lists began to drip, changing form from frozen solid to liquid. The little bits of writing began to find their way into longer sentences. Sentences became short paragraphs. Short paragraphs became longer paragraphs just as creeks feed into rivers.

This parched blog that had been under-utilized for many seasons began to be rained upon with torrential downpours. Blogging need not be a daily activity. However, a great downpour of fresh rain water can nourish roots, and fill water tables. Or snowfall that sits atop a mountain that thaws in the spring.

Writing is an exercise where my mind selects words, much like a cloud is the place where raindrops come from. But that moisture is a part of a cycle beginning long before and far away. The moisture in a cloud arises from an interdependence of earth’s crust, oceans, and the sun rays shining down upon us.

Even with traces of acid rain, writing extracts some of the poison of life. In fact, the cycle of rainfall to seeping through the soil, evaporation and regeneration is how my writing is becoming like fresh water. It gives new life, and completes a cycle by having ripple effects and consequences. Sometimes these are so big and so vast, and trickle from one place to the next that the result cannot be fully comprehended. Similarly, water is comprehensible to us in so many ways, yet so big that there are aspects of it that we cannot know.

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Post-script: A quote of science fiction author William Gibson is, “the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.” This metaphor is becoming more and more evident in my life: in water resources, in moments of inspiration, beauty, and economic resources. Natural resources, wealth and economic power are here aplenty, they are just unevenly distributed.

what is movement?

The wisdom of the body. The body is always speaking. What is one movement that brought you here?

Opening the oven to pull a pumpkin pie out.

***
how do we get to emotional excellence? not emotional intelligence.

Emotions are like a nice sports car. To not use them, is like burying the car keys, and not driving it. Not wanting to get the tires dusty.

No one takes courageous acts without feeling fear first.