What it takes to Thrive (and survive)

Oof… I needed a break to get this piece finished. And I’m happy to say I rested very deeply.  More often in thisspace I am focused exploring how we cultivate the inner resources needed for a satisfied and meaningful life, and untangling the mixture of beliefs we develop in our environments and those in alignment with our core self. (My attempt at being succinct here!).

I think all of that is vitally important, trancework is like hacking your nervous system in a way that is deeply respectful of its various forms of functioning and learning to collaborate to move through a wide range of situations. Energy work also cultivates a collaborative, reciprocal, and honoring relationship with your surroundings and all the beings living around you. But even as the pandemic is “stabilizing” (maybe? whatever that means?) the fact remains that on the planetary level nothing is really resolved compared to a few years ago. We are in the midst of a mass extinction event, climate crisis, possibly the start of a world war, multiple famines, and the continued horrors of colonialism and White Supremacy, transphobia, ableism, and overall rising violence raging on seemingly everywhere. To name a few crises. There’s a balance between the need to detach enough to maintain ability to function, and the need to stay connected enough to care and move towards the future that is reality. Often times we are pendulating between them and this in itself is a skill to cultivate.  It can’t end with Mindfulness.

I’m seriously late to the game in reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, but after a conversation that reminded me I had started but not finished the excellent podcast Octavia’s Parables I went back to the beginning and read along with the episodes.  They are eerily poignant in their prediction of many of the challenges we face now, as an inevitable development of what was already taking place 30 years ago. We, of course, are not exactly at the apocalyptic scenes deprived in the Parables but it’s a reminder of how quickly things can devolve, and it’s a call to readiness and knowing what we need to know.  

One of the most soothing and nourishing things I did in 2021 was enroll in the Buckskin Revolution Online Gathering (wilderness living and “survival” skills) with Woniya Thibeault. [I realized in the writing of this that I was unconsciously influenced in my title by her other amazing class, “Connection is a survival skill”]. It offered some structure and community to take a hard look at what it would really mean to live in reciprocity with the land. I’ve thought about this a lot since being disabled following an accident, because although I was fortunate to grow up in an environment where I was exposed to a lot of wilderness living skills (like butchering deer and tanning hides, smoking and food preservation, etc) I am a lot less physically capable of doing those things myself now.

If I were thrust into a situation where I needed to source my own food and shelter I would need a lot of help, and I would also need to know enough to be able to explain what I know. In a throwback to recent thoughts on “manifesting,” sheer grit and hard work would not be enough, I would have to be much more thoughtful. So much of what Woniya speaks to is equally helpful in a short-term crisis situation as long-term living off the grid, but more importantly it reminded me that we cannot separate these skills. Because connection is a double edged sword, you can’t just connect to “what feels good” and forget about everything and everyone else.

Maybe what I’m saying seems alarmist and far fetched, but when a true crisis or disaster unfolds it can happen quickly. I don’t endorse being in a state of ongoing panic or dread, but I do think it’s very important to be in relationship with our vulnerabilities and reliance on systems that cannot last forever. I think that this is part of the mindset that grows alongside deepening empathy and compassion. Essential listening on this topic might include this excellent episode from Carmen Spagnola on Collapse.  

Preparedness and spiritual development are linked, they inform and deepen each other, and when practiced alone they can start to become rigid. Spirituality can become a way of detaching from reality, and preparedness can become an obsession with control and domination over your surroundings. Together I believe they allow us to be grounded in multiple realities. One of the points that Carmen makes in her podcast that I really love, is that we need multiple ways to collaborate with our nervous systems, depending on the conditions. I often say this in my reiki trainings, that the ability to move into freeze and hyperarousal states, even collapse states, are HIGHLY adaptive in the appropriate circumstances. It is practically magic. That harnessing of nervous system functioning is what allows free divers to hold their breath for minutes while swimming, it’s what allows us to go a week without food and still walk around if we need to, it what allows us to be protected from some of the worst memory aspects of trauma. Even for those of us with chronic post-traumatic stress responses, there is way to collaborate with those responses rather than feeling paralyzed and crushed by them. I believe this has the potential to be an incredible survival skill in a crisis. It can even be a sort of superpower for connection, if we can resist isolating ourselves in fear.

Ever the student, I have been digging into some books to deepen my understanding reiki and energy, and ways that different folks tap into their intuitive capacities. But also I’ve been deepening my daily rituals. I’ve actually not had much success in the past with a consistent “every day” routine. I think this is because I was in such a chronic state of overworking myself to exhaustion for…ever? Since childhood maybe? In this years-long deprogramming from capitalistic beliefs, it has taken a very long time to get to a point where I believe and feel that “I have time.” Lately a number of people have said almost the exact same framing of words when asking if we could chat or connect, something like “I’m sure you’re very busy…” and I’ll say “not really!” 

That’s not exactly true in that I do a lot of things but I don’t do them in a busy way and so usually I don’t feel busy. I do what’s necessary, slowing down or speeding up depending on what my body is initiating. I’m positive I’m not the first person to think or say this, but another essential skill is to be able to consciously rest, and consciously tap into energy reserves when you need to. And maybe more importantly, learn how to not exert maximum energy into everything as a matter of course. When I start to feel busy that’s a cue to reevaluate where I’m directing my energy.

Forming new habits takes a lot of effort at first, some say it take anywhere from 90-1000 repetitions for a habit to become unconscious. That’s a lot of time spent in active repatterning! So it makes sense that it’s hard to change routines when we are depleted. At least this is what I tell myself when I feel like I “should’ve started doing this a long time ago because it’s so easy.” Easy is relative. Anything can be easy or hard.

Mind over matter? Sometimes… and also, changing material conditions takes just as long if not longer than changing habits.

In an homage to Octavia’s Parables I’d like to end here with some questions for reflection and strategizing:

What are the skills and strengths you have?

What are those that you need?

What’s the balance for you between being anesthetized to the collapse spiral vs taking healthy breaks to grow and thrive in areas where you can?

Where are you expending more energy than necessary?

Where are you struggling to mobilize energy?

What constitutes having “enough time?” 

What would you do differently if you did have enough time? Is there a way to make space for that?

How are you nourishing and listening to your physical body?

How much are your routines, actions, and thoughts connected and in relationship with your current experience/environment/conditions?

How do you rest deeply?

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