#26: A Year in Review & Naive Optimism...Check!
As the sun is about to set on 2019, there are no shortage of pieces online that take a look back in the rearview mirror and provide insights on this past year or decade and offer various reflections and commentaries. I'll throw my hat in the ring as well.
In reflecting on this year, I've received quite a bit of clarity. It's hard to drive and see when your windshield is caked with mud and crud, and to discard some of that baggage is priceless.
One of the things I ask everyone who comes to SpiritQuest to share with the group is a simultaneously straightforward and yet complex question: Why are you here?
For yours truly, the initial answer that I provided was a convoluted mess. I had an epiphany on a Huachuma boat ride in which the answer became all too clear: I am at SpiritQuest because I strive to be the best version of myself, and it's at SpiritQuest where I am the best version of myself. The place in which I'm the second-best version of myself - wherever that may be - is light years away from that SpiritQuest best version of myself. When I'm the best version of myself, I am, by its fundamental definition, doing my part to empower others to be the best version of themselves.
I'd be severely remiss if I didn't mention Don Howard in this Year in Review. I could spill much ink on an innumerable amount of things about the Maestro, but one moment from this past year is currently standing out for some reason. Our July of 2019 retreat was the last time Don Howard physically was able to visit the Sanctuary. The participants in that group got to do a Q&A with the Maestro, and one person asked Don Howard his opinion on whether humanity had already surpassed the tipping point in terms of being royally screwed with respect to trashing our environment. Don Howard conceded that he wasn't entirely sure.
We certainly lost our share of greats this year, with Don Howard, Ram Dass, and many other legends transitioning from their bodies. You'd be very hard-pressed to find anyone more prepared to make that transition than either Ram Dass or Don Howard.
Ram Dass firmly believed that the universe is unfolding perfectly. A few people who have come to SpiritQuest this year have told me that they believe that if we are on the verge of an environmental crisis, that's how it's supposed to unfold in a the-universe-is-unfolding-just-as-it-should manner, and we should surrender to that.
I can't speak for Don Howard, but I don't think he would have completely concurred with that sentiment. Why do I say that? As Don Howard famously said, "In order to be of service, one must become fit for service," and he continued to be utterly devoted to service until his last breath. He mentioned to many people how he was perfectly fine putting his own health needs on the back burner because he felt such a pressing need for service. He felt that we were all on borrowed time merely trying to borrow a little more, and he fiercely sought to do everything that he could to continue to be of service despite all of his physical setbacks.
Perhaps it's possible to reconcile a belief that the universe is unfolding perfectly in a "This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you" Hafiz kind of way. There's nothing inconsistent with recognizing that we may be where we are supposed to be right now and also acknowledging that we can, should, and must raise the bar.
We’re the ultimate work in progress, and I strongly contend that we've got a lot of work to do. As a member of Team Earth and Team People, I want to do my part to bring out the beauty in the world in a "Live to Rise" Avengers-style way. "Do not go gentle into that good night," as Dylan Thomas wrote, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
We all have our blind spots, and I know that I'm siloed in my own echo chambers. For instance, a pathetic 2.7% of American adults meet all four traditional markers of living a healthy lifestyle. For SpiritQuest participants, that number is probably around 90%. Accordingly, the SpiritQuest community is not representative of society at large. I'd be breathtakingly disingenuous if I didn't mention that I'm grateful for that and thankful that I'm constantly around such interesting, kindhearted people who dramatically spark the spark in me.
While I’m on my 50-foot-high horse, I don’t think it’s at all inaccurate to tell you that we are in the midst of an environmental upheaval, we are bogged down in a political quagmire, and we are experiencing a disturbing social and relational crisis. We’re deeply fragmented from each other.
And yet, I can't help but express that I feel a palpable renaissance of consciousness. We need more of it, no doubt, and need catalysts in all areas, but there are enough signs of this renaissance that there's no denying it.
The examples in you give me strength and a resolve to step up my game some more. I think of Selva impeccably performing a Huachuma mesada a couple hours after learning her father had passed away. I think of my friend David, who during that same day, felt compelled to give back to the mesa during the final phase of the mesada. Notwithstanding that the mesa is so superhumanly supercharged, he had so much love and positivity that he felt fully comfortable giving his energy to the table, and that audacious image has been permanently implanted onto my retinas. There were so many examples this past year when I would literally and figuratively see people walking each other back to their rooms after a ceremony in a Ram Dass "we're all just walking each other home" mold that was supremely admirable. And to consistently see the synergy of our groups - people of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life - become a family in such a short period of time, always blows me away.
In addition to clarity, the other large helping on my plate this year was a profound sense of gratitude. There have been times this year - and not solely a fleeting moment or two, but prolonged stretches of times - in which I've been able to maintain a feeling of such immense gratitude that an irrational part of me wondered whether I'd ever feel any other emotion for the rest of my life. Spoiler alert: I definitely did! The pettiness and the ego invariably return and demand to get in on the action. In no way have I bypassed that at all. I can say that I'm more cognizant of when that happens, and that enhanced awareness is a gift.
Thank you for all of your support, love, and kind messages. And for the people who think I totally suck - thankfully there were only a couple of people who expressly told me that they are not big fans of mine - I'm even grateful for them. They've legitimately kept me grounded and made me reexamine ways in which I can improve. There's a lot of room for improvement, and my own room for improvement is probably the largest room in the cosmos. Those people also enabled me to recognize that my style doesn't work for everyone and that it would be a fool's errand to think that it ever could. Having those realizations has been incredibly liberating.
To be completely candid, I think a lot of people probably overrate me. What they underrate is the effort and courage that they've put into the work that I'm a very small part of facilitating, whereas the work that they do is what's actually deserving of praise. Some people probably properly rate me, and I'm probably a little bit better and underrated in the eyes of a few detractors. That's all been a significant lesson; others may pump your tires, or others may lambaste the GOATs and the best to ever perform their craft. It's not the critic who counts, and only you can honestly assess your performance, how you're doing, and how you're being. No need to be a tyrant about it, and if you constantly command that you only attain absolute perfection in every single aspect in the Art of Being Human, maybe it's time to give that inner judge a vacation.
I sincerely appreciate all of your notes, your optimism, and your positive examples. They fuel the fire, and that collective fire rises! Being around so many of you makes me naively optimistic that we can really turn this around. And not barely scrape by, but really fourish. As Maya Angelou expressed, "My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style." Packing a sense of enthusiasm along the journey is a critical component. We not only have a right to our own happiness, but an obligation to pursue that zealously. Having a childlike wonder of the world isn't a bad place to start.
We do have our problems. At the same time, it's not your responsibility to fix every one of them. You don't have to be Atlas, carrying the weight of the entire sky on your shoulders, and no one person should carry the burden of having to rectify everything that's wrong.
I'm not clairvoyant. But in 2020, the one preordained item I can guarantee that's in the cards for you is that it won't be all smooth sailing. It is a metaphysical, cosmic certainty that each one of us will have setbacks. Challenges. Darkness. Fog. Resistance. Bumps and obstacles along the path. Our own unique moments of frustration and doubt. I don't want to be a party pooper, or to rain on your parade, but all of those will be on the menu, and it's up to you how you choose to alchemize those inevitabilities for your benefit or choose to adopt a defeatist attitude about it. It is a choice, so choose wisely.
Chief Justice John Roberts summed this sentiment up in a powerful way. In giving a commencement address, he saliently observed how "Commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes."
The world desperately needs your light and your love. For you to sing your song. For you to bring forth and express your authenticity to the marketplace of the world. For you to share your triumphs and failures with your fellow human beings (even, or perhaps especially, with people that you consider to be unsavory), and for us to collectively share our triumphs and failures in a Don Rober "todos somos una familia" (we are all one family) way.
It is a daunting task to try and make the world a better place in a heart forward and head up way. But that wouldn't stop a woman or a man like you, would it? 😀🦸♀️🦸🦸♂️
One final note that hopefully is apropos in this season of giving. Our indigenous neighbors and friends used to humbly make various financial requests to Don Howard. Now, they ultimately land on my desk. In the last month, both the Alamas tribe and the Muruy Huitoto tribe reached out to me. The Alamas would love some assistance to repair their maloca, which has seen much better days due to severe storm damage over the years. The Muruy Huitoto have aspirations of erecting a maloca in their current meeting place where the benches low to the ground currently exist, just up the hill from the Enchanted Stream. Our Bora, Kukama, and Yahua friends also have various projects for which they'd be eternally grateful for a bit of funding as well. Financial resources that can be allocated to smaller ticket items like school supplies, clothing, and miscellaneous tools would be most welcomed.
In being as real as I can be, the odds that they could acquire the necessary resources to fund these projects themselves in the short term are not plausible. However, a few donations of a few dollars can make an enormous impact. A number of SpiritQuest alums, without any prompting from me, told me that they would like to financially support our local friends, and I figure this makes too much sense not to happen.
Maybe our neighbors' kindness impacted you positively, or the way that they live life with an abundance mindset and an open heart gave you a helpful blueprint to follow. If you're feeling generous this holiday season, or at any time, please go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/assistance-for-spiritquest039s-indigenous-neighbors and donate and share this GoFundMe with anyone in your network! I'll make sure to provide periodic updates as this fully gets off the ground.
Much love and gratitude, familia! Wishing you and yours a terrific 2020!