This past weekend was Easter, as I’m sure you’re well aware, if nothing else from the barrage of candy and Easter trinkets that have confronted us at the grocery store for the past month or so. For some of us, Easter is a holiday that resonates to our own spiritual practice, for others it is a time to eat candy and color hard-boiled eggs. Though my own spiritual practice knows no religious home, I find holidays of any religious affiliation (Passover, Easter, Eid) a time to reflect on the things that are important in my life: family and relationships, love and work, food.
My main guru at the moment for all things spiritual is a woman who goes by the name of Tara Brach. She has removed the pain from my meditation practice and has blown my mind on topics on everything from kindness and forgiveness to global conflict and strategies for carving something beautiful into this world. This past week her talk on “Practical Dharma for Stressful Times” included one of the most beautiful, moving poems I’ve ever heard. I’d like to pass it along to you.
Why is this poem so important to me? Well this pretty much sums up the confusion of the first decade of my adult life. For those of you who know about my past career, I was very recently fully committed to global women’s reproductive health, a nobel cause.
I loved biomedical health, particularly women’s health. I love law and I am very passionate about social justice. In college I traveled around the world to many developing countries and was startled by my level of privilege. Understanding this was a gift, but it also led me to heap an enormous burden on myself: I was responsible for making things better.
After college I wanted to experience what it was like to live somewhere where everyone struggles to meet their basic needs, to have a better understanding of what this is like. I joined the Peace Corps and moved to Togo in West Africa. I lived in a tiny village of 700 people out in the bushes with a cluster of villages in the Plateau region of Togo. Subsistence farmers, no running water, no electricity. Mud huts, grass roofs, dirt floors.
My Peace Corps experience could fill a book. But the short take-away to mention here is that my work in the Peace Corps allowed me to see the incredible strength of women and how – given the time, space, education, health, power – they can and will change the world. This is not to discount the work of men – I met incredible men as well. It is just to say that the strength of the woman – raising children, cooking and cleaning for large families with no electricity or running water, farming, selling goods to make ends meet, raising neighborhood children, orphaned children, going non-stop – just blew my mind. What was almost funny is that women in Togo experience the similar freedom to live and love life at 70 that American woman often get in their 20s. At 70, their children have moved on to their own families, their husbands have died, they are being fed and cared for. So, they go out drinking and dancing with their fellow 70 year old ladies – overdoing it with the local brew and dancing the night away.
In Togo, I created training programs for woman so that they could educate their fellow villagers and families on basic health issues. This was the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done. I left Togo determined to improve the health of woman so that they could be freed up to change the world. I literally set the goal of improving the reproductive health of woman, starting in Africa and then EVERYWHERE. Woah. It is insane to think about now, and yet we hear that it is good to set big goals. We worship people who, we’re told, have singlehandedly changed the world.
So, fast forward 2 years, and I’m out of my Master’s in Public Health working in Geneva for the World Health Organization in the Department of Reproductive Health and Research. I thought that this was my dream job. I could not believe my luck when I was packing my belongs straight away out of my Master’s program to go work on my dream project researching how phone technology can exponentially improve the potential for information and service delivery for women and children in developing countries. And then I got there and became miserable. The work at the WHO was extremely disconnected from what I had experienced in Togo.
I moved to a different organization, to a new team, but little by little I began to see that public health was not a fit. I am extremely impatient, very action oriented, I am bossy, bureaucracies go against my very being. I am very creative, I want to imagine something and create it, I am very good at building relationships, I don’t really care about credentials – real experience is much more important to me. AND I am extremely honest and place a premium on this quality in other people and organizations. (If there is B.S. with development funding I want to pull my hair out if no-one is acknowledging it.) I could go on, but by now you’ve probably had plenty of this negativity for a Monday.
I got to the very end, the summer of 2014. I started to think about starting my own business. Something in biking. Something for women. (As a broke graduate student I became a passionate bike commuter, spending my rides imagining how biking could be more awesome, more creative, more beautiful.)
Well the rest is history. I finally got out. I finally tapped into my REAL passion. I finally started to work with people from my creative tribe, that see the problems and solutions of this word in similar terms. (I’ve had to relearn the word “collaboration” to mean more, beautiful, creative, together vs. interminable meetings or email chains to nowhere.)
Why am I sharing all this now? Well my new friend and wise mentor, Lee Anne McClymont, the host of an awesome radio program called Courage Cocktail, pointed out that the true origins of my current work began with the women in Togo, and she is right. But it wasn’t until very recently that I’ve begun to realize what to do with this inspiring experience. And it is not to save the whole world, to solve health issues for women everywhere, to suffer as I “serve” others. It is to take that inspiration and marry it with my passions. To begin to learn my song for this world.