Year of activism #6

There is loss and grief in the life of any activist.  The feelings that you haven’t done enough, the expectations that are met (mostly of yourself over others), the fraud you seem to be by not completely walking the talk … the litany goes on.

I was reminded this week of Teddy Roosevelt’s quote: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. And that is more than enough.  It’s not too different to Mother (now St) Teresa of Calcutta’s mantra: Bloom where you are planted. When I was young mother I held onto these instructions and took up the mantel of trying to be a household that had at its centre the notions of justice and peace (and the truth that there can be no peace without justice). I had plenty to guide me, especially once the children were in kindy – the local kindergarten was a school for us all – we all learnt about community there. I also had my Catholic social teaching to draw on and the local library which is where I found the McGinnis book Parenting for Justice and Peace, it was the only parenting book I ever really had. It was the crucible of my activism and set many of the foundations for the decades ahead.

This weekend has been filled to the brim with responses to the bushfires. I was involved in a fundraiser at Mt Compass where the locals through their Supper Club and the generosity of singers and musicians raised funds and had an entertaining evening. The choir I belong to belted out tunes and enjoyed having the opportunity to make a contribution. With my pals at Collab4Good we hosted a Heal and Hustle day with activators who shared lessons and provided spaces for reflection and learning starting with an expose of where unexpressed loss and grief comes from and how its suppression through the centuries via colonisation has led to destruction of our Mother Earth.  It was quite a day.

I am truly tired to the bone. It is time to rest, to put down the lyre and sob on the banks of the river. To feel the loss. To be sad. To bleed. To grieve.   I am hearing despair in many voices, and anger and frustration is just below the surface in so many people I meet and they are falling away from hope. I hear them clinging on to despair, for fear if they let go of despair then the abyss will appear.

David Whyte writes: Despair is a necessary and seasonal state of repair, a temporary healing absence, an internal physiological and psychological winter when our previous forms of participation in the world take a rest; it is a loss of horizon.  I am developing an understanding of the necessity of despair as an activist. In the northern hemisphere it is seasonally connected to winter as Whyte figures, I think the season of despair in Australia, is summer. Our horizon has been lost in the smoke and in places where day felt like night and where the land and the sea and the sky all fused into one … and no horizon to be seen.  The externalities finding their way into our lungs at our most cellular level.  We are exhausted by the heat and horror. It turns us inwards just so we can catch our breath and dig deep to refuel – but we cross over into despair before we can find our way back. It is a way for us to have some respite. We become separated from hope when we are in despair, we have reached a rock bottom and so the only way left is up. In fact the word despair comes from the Latin to come down from hope.  Maybe it is the moment of a reality check, that calls you to humility about what you can and can’t do, or perhaps the moment that holds your hand gently and reassuringly that you are not alone.

My experience of despair is it can be very bleak, and it needs to befriended and understood as loss, then grief and it needs to be treated as a season, and like any season will evolve and take shape over time as something new. It is not resilience or recovery that despair calls for, it is renewal.

Just like the child who grows into an adult and the reminders I had in my parenting, there are many seasons and moments of despair in parenting. And there are days when it feels like four seasons in one day!  This revelation might be a takeaway for an activist too.

 

 

Year of activism #5

I have been watching out for people recently who deflect an argument and instead start blaming the other, squirming and twisting their original position to introduce another idea or perhaps say they haven’t been heard and begin to make the conversation a battle of wits. It has been pointed out to me this is a good way of detecting narcissism or at the very least gaslighting. What is the antidote when we are faced with this as activists as well? My memory goes to Al Gore being called out for having high usage light bulbs at his place at the same time as spreading the inconvenient truth about climate change, of to people who still use terms like dole bludger and blame the victim for structural inequality. Maybe each of us from time to time use this tactic when we are failing to get our argument across the line and so resort to base behaviour and blame the other person for problems they have made a contribution too. Then there is the bullying, at whole population levels too, and we see this in governments and political and business leaders around the world. The most famous one occupying the White House.

What can we do when we hear, see and experience this behaviour? I have been thinking about this a lot as I know I usually give people the benefit of the doubt, then look to myself first at what I might have done or are doing to contribute and then by the time I might have cycled through all those examinations, I am the frog in boiling water who didn’t notice the temperature going up and I have drowned … or a nation that elects a fascist because we didn’t call it out early enough.

First things first, inoculate yourself. If you are wondering if it is you, check yourself against your own record of behaviour, ask a few trusted friends to give you feedback and listen to what they tell you. Ask them to notice, witness and reflect back what they see. Build in some feedback loops into your system and then use them. This might be creating some policies, procedures for yourself, the system and when they are put to the test, do it all again – test, refine, improve and then apply – it is all in the execution. Do this with compassion for yourself and the other, enter with curiosity not to shame. Be focussed on the truth in these post-truth times. Build the evidence and point it out and keep the arc of history bending towards justice. We are building our language around this practice by asking for Fact Checks and lets keep doing that, in a public way, exposing the truths. This requires consistency and to quote the RSL, it requires eternal vigilance. Ask people to take personal responsibility where you can and don’t undo their behaviour for them. If the facts don’t add up, tell them, ask them to withdraw or apologise or re-state the truth. This will often be met with disappointment, anger, outright denial or an escalation in the behaviour – and if it does you can be reassured it is not you – and you now know what you are dealing with. It is an exercise worth doing if only to check this phenomena.

When this intersection arrives it is time for more self-protection and to call on all you can inside yourself and ask others to join you. Keep the fact checking up. Make the facts visible. Don’t go in alone. Join others who have the same issue – this is the beginning of a movement, or a class action or some transformational change. Notice that shift and mark it in some way. Keep on moving forward, and keep taking a breath, stop and rest when you need to because by now you are not alone and you can take a moment to recover and refuel, there will still be room for you when you are ready to come back … don’t forget to come back.

The political discourse is full of bullies and gaslighters and they are in many of the conversations we are having, what might start out as feeling like we have an ally, ends up horribly and we are busy trying to protect ourselves and have lost sight of how it all started. If you notice these behaviours of distracting, deflecting, stalling and distortions of the truth, start with the fact checking, it may not be enough to end it, but it will be enough for you to stop checking yourself. You will be able to land back into your self-respect and get a dose of psychological salts for your well-being which at a minimum will help make your stronger for the next time. Fact checking is for the system as well as for your self.

Year of activism #4

For those following along at home, you will know I have moved house. Moving is very disruptive and many a psychological survey put it in the top three stressful things alongside death and divorce. The buying, selling, moving weren’t that stressful, but the settling in has been tougher. Adaptation doesn’t come easily. It is a consequence of my privilege to be able to be unsettled. Not everyone can move when they want to and not everyone has the luxury of moving to somewhere safe, near family and the beauty of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Being unsettled for a while is a small price to pay at one level, but the existential challenge to ‘land’ is real, and it is taking time.

In this year of activism I am reflecting on this privilege. Those in islands, close to coastlines and living on deltas around the world world are the first to be bearing the consequences of our common home having the sea levels rise. Those fleeing from war, famine and drought and looking for a safer place to raise a family don’t have the same number of choices open to me. Those with an Australian passport, or indeed any passport still have a place to call on to give them refuge.

Unpacking what I have, finding the seeds of ideas and poems first sown in old note books, I am still throwing things away. I even managed to fill another bin yesterday as I begun to set up a space where I can work. I mused about what I was discarding and why. Not quite setting a criteria but saving blank pages in half filled note books took priority over the pages that has been scribbled on. One thing I did not throw away and was really pleased to discover was an original paper I had written in October 1992 (and then was reworked and published by Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace in 1993). I have mentioned this previously in a post last year, ironically on Mother’s Day. I presented it at an ecumenical Economics and Ethics workshop in North Adelaide when I had just turned 34. I was a mum of four children by then ranging in age from 12 to 5. I had completed a Masters degree in Peace Studies a few years earlier and was really keen to keep refining my thinking around economics and ethics from a Christian perspective, especially factoring in new thinking on environmental and feminist theologies that were emerging. I am a little surprised I didn’t keep going with this work and have no real idea why I started to dilute its place in my thinking … well apart from the dysfunction of the patriarchal church I found myself in, little kids and life!

In the paper I opted for an organic gardening book‘s analysis of the difference of what was and mostly still is, dominant paradigm of Newtonian physics, from quantum physics. Where an approach to change was from continuous to discontinuous and from uniform to quantum leaps; and the source of power from entropy to creative power; and problem solving being approached from either/or to both/ and. I backed my thinking by invoking economist and futurist Hazel Henderson and a few theologians like Sallie McFague, Tom Berry and eco-feminists like Carolyn Merchant and Charlene Spretnak. I built a framework from the effects of others and added in an ecumencial perspective, and that being the principle to do whatever we could together and only stand apart when it was impossible from a doctrinal point of view not to act together. My thesis being that the planet is our common home, gifted to all of us and that we should treat the earth as our mother and all the global commons as our sisters and brothers. The reason I was giving this workshop was to support the combined churches in my home town to discern a strategy and course of action to support our planet, respect our humanity and foster or even perhaps create, inclusive models of economic development. Finding this paper has shown me the depth of my roots and also caused me concern about how I have left so much of this to lie fallow, or at least not well attended to in the most recent years.

The pillars I promulgated were:

  • Shifting from Father Right to Nature Right
  • Working for justice, peace and the integrity of creation
  • Inclusion of the other
  • Remembering the future

And the questions to assist discernment to be:

  • Is our reflection coming from a breakdown or breakthrough analysis of the signs of the times?
  • Are we taking into account the integrated nature of social, economic, cultural and environmental variables?
  • Are we questioning Father Right and therefore including feminine, global and intergenerational variables?
  • What are the global commons, common wealth, common good and common security implications of the idea?

I think these have held up pretty well over these last nearly thirty years and is causing me to reflect on what I have done to keep these questions and practices alive and what it means to rediscover them in this move. The paper is a note to self from the past. It also feels that perhaps one of its purposes was to be a note to self for the future as well and that is it not an accident it has been called out of the recesses of boxes long closed and I am being prompted to learn and discern again as this year of activism unfolds. These were not new ideas at the time and they certainly aren’t now, however they are giving me comfort and helping me to land as I recalibrate and get settled.

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Year of Activism #3

January 26 is a day Australia sets aside as a public holiday to mark the invasion of the British onto the east coast by rogue Captain who didn’t follow orders and make a treaty or alliance with any locals he encountered. Like all colonial acts lies and miscommunications, failures in the authorisation processes lead to damage of the land, people and all species.

I grew up under the southern cross and always feel disorientated when I can’t see her in the skies when I travel outside my skies. I can’t imagine the awe and wonder of arriving to this land and seeing for the first time so many strange and awesome sights. What began in the name of science set a trajectory of death and survival.

Today I want to acknowledge the men and women who have taught me and been willing to forgive my ancestry and apprecenticed me into more understanding and invited me into ways forward both together and apart.  People like the late Sonny Flynn, Bruce Hammond, Rosemary Wanganeen and the writers, poets and leaders I don’t know personally but who have shaped and influenced me such as Stan Grant, Anita Heiss, Bruce Pascoe, sporting stars like Nicky Winmar and Adam Goodes and all the people along the way who have come into my life and offered up their knowledge and guidance so generously to support my learning and correct misunderstandings.

I got quite active in the movement first during 1988 – the bicentennial of Capt Arthur Philip’s arrival into Botany Bay with what is known as the First Fleet. I participated in all kinds of events, learnings and actions. When I was  a member of the Adelaide Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission for the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide, I wrote a ten point plan of action which included things like having the Aboriginal flag fly at the Cathedral (and for the record it still does).

I am struck at this moment, about how much I have to learn about the land. Having moved to a new place I am very conscious of how nude it is. There is almost no habitat for birds and bugs and that is my first priority.  What belongs here and how can planting and be healing and restorative will help heal and restore me too. The inextricable bond between land and people is so familiar to indigenous people who have not been severed from their connection and I am yearning to get more connected.  I have an inkling this is at the heart of what is needed to help us take the steps we need to take to protect our species and be able to live on this planet.  It is time for us to care for the earth.

In theological terms we are shifting from stewardship to care. We have to give up the lording over and having dominion mind sets and behaviours to be in collaboration, partnership, tender care for our home. The evangelical call is clear from the voices of young ones through the ancient cloisters of the Vatican – even the same family who sent Cook and Phillip to our shores is divesting from fossil fuels!

Colonisation and racism and environmental justice are inextricably linked. Brown and black lives matter – they are the ones who have lost their forests first, their food bowls; they are the first climate refugees and we know they have already paid the price in disease and death of their ancestors as extraction and exploitation spread like wildfire as land, oil, gas, minerals were pillaged throughout the ages.  It has been universal and Australia has had its dreadful moments.  For me one such moment was in 1997 when  Prime Minister John Howard, going against a High Court decision came up with a ten point plan of his own to correct (in his words) : The fact is that the Wik decision pushed the pendulum too far in the Aboriginal direction. The 10 point plan will return the pendulum to the centre. The plan included an adjustment that would impact on mining, land, air and water resources. While there have been many legislative and public policy moments in Australia, this one still stands out to me as one of the best examples of how authority was misused, the courts dis-respected and colonisation, racism and environmental injustice perpetuated.

I am heartened by the growing number of people in our land who commemorate rather than celebrate this day, who mark the occasion with reflection on who we are and who we are becoming as a country, who take the time to wonder what will it take to find just settlement, who explore what restitution and healing is even possible.  To be active in these times, requires all kinds of help and calling on the Divine won’t hurt either. Even the great coloniser’s of the past are returning to their roots to their essence of fidelity to our only home.  It’s not a bad place to start on this day to incant a prayer for our planet and our times where we are in so in awe of the land we are impatient to care for her and in doing so reach our human potential – which I can’t see is possible without the decolonisation we all have to do inside and out.

A prayer from Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.

You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.

Pour out upon us the power of your love,

that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with peace, that we may live

as brothers and sisters, harming no one.

O God of the poor,

help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.

Bring healing to our lives,

that we may protect the world and not prey on it,

that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts

of those who look only for gain

at the expense of the poor and the earth.

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

to be filled with awe and contemplation,

to recognize that we are profoundly united

with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.

We thank you for being with us each day.

Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle

for justice, love and peace.

 

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Year of activism #2

With the words: It is not a drill Greta Thunberg opens the video message she and George Monbiot have prepared to highlight the need to protect, restore and enable our natural environment to tackle the climate crisis. The video is a must see for it’s direct and explicit messaging. The communicators are essential for mobilising. Their advice in this little video is to plant trees. Such a simple act. The stages are protect, restore, act.

I have just moved into a new home and the garden is a literal desert, save for a beautiful flowering gum that belongs next door and has found a way for some of its branches to fall over the fence. On my first Saturday here I went to find things to plant and support for the soil which has had no love in years it seems. Over the coming year this will be part of my own response to protect, restore and act.

These steps are steps for the activist too. We must protect ourselves from the loss and grief we are encountering lest it render us to a state of paralysis. This will mean going deep into our sense of regret, sadness, despair – that last bastion of hope. David Whyte writes Despair is a difficult, beautiful necessity a binding understanding between human beings caught in a fierce and difficult world where half of our experience is mediated by loss, but it is a season, a wave form passing through the body, not a prison surrounding us (from Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words).

When we face facts, it is in not a drill, we look at what we have done to get us to this point. It is personal, it is political. We move to protect ourselves so we can own the despair, move through it a pace where it can be integrated and take us to the place where we can be restored to our best version of ourselves. To that place where we can find the good in us to lead us to action. Protecting ourselves invokes poetry, music, beauty in our surrounds and in our relationships. To be there for each other without judgement or blame. To be seen sobbing and to be heard cursing. To be in the shelter of each other as we each fumble and find our way to restoration.

Restoring our selves – bringing ourselves back to a former state – a state of childlike wonder, a state of union with all that is needed to sustain us, a state of appreciation for all that connects us. Inside the process of restoration lies forgiveness, appreciation of all that has gone before, a eye to potential and discovery of essence. The acts that follow are grounded in fundamental, although occasionally some inconvenient truths as well, but they are acts with integrity and ones evolved through a process of recovery and renewal.

I am reminded of the principles of any 12 step program – admitting we have a problem, seeking support and guidance from and with peers, recognising we are not alone and calling on a higher power to get us through, making amends and evangelising to bring others to the process. It starts with despair though and this is a step we can’t skip over as it is fuel for hope. When we get to rock bottom, and the sirens are sounding, our vulnerability arrives with all its fragility, complexity, tears and tantrums and we know we can’t do it alone, then we can begin to road back to Eden.

As I am making a new home I am wondering what has been before, that can be protected and restored and have begun a little research in these first few days. I have been lent a copy of RetroSuburbia, joined a couple of Facebook groups about butterflies and gardening, turned up at a local nursery and had some loam and compost delivered. I have been blessed by dear friends with John O’Donohue’s Elemental Blessing for a New Home. It is a beginning, in this year of activism.

Elemental Blessing for A New Home

Before a human voice was ever heard here,
This place has known the respect of stone,
The friendship of the wind, always returning
With news of elsewhere, whispered in seed and pollen,
The thin symphonies of birdsong softening the silence,
The litanies of rain rearranging the air,
Cascades of sunlight opening and closing days,
And the glow of the moon gazing through darkness.
May all that elemental enrichment
Bless the foundation and standing of your home.

Before you came here, this place has known
The wonder of children’s eyes,
The hope of mornings in troubled hearts,
The tranquility of twilight easing the night,
The drama of dreams under sleeping eyelids,
The generous disturbance of birth,
The anxieties of old age unclenching into grace
And the final elegance of calmly embraced death.
May the life of you new home enter
Into this inheritance of spirit.

May the rain fall kindly,
May daylight illuminate your hearts,
May the darkness never burden.

May those who dwell here in the unseen
Watch over your coming and going,
May your lives of love and promise
Refine and deepen the mind of the land.

John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

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2020 Year of activism #1

The year has started for me in Mexico City and it is a fine place to get an apprenticeship in revolution. From bullet holes attributed to Pancho to the student protests of 68, to the countless acts of courage against state and organised crime violence, there is no doubting the human spirit is constantly seeking to be liberated from oppression of all kinds.

One of the lessons in revolution, is there is a cost. Sometimes that cost is in lives. And in my own country Australia, and so close to home, those who have lost their lives in the fires and may come to be known by future generations as climate change martyrs. They aren’t the first and they won’t be the last. If Mexico is going to provide me with another lesson on this front, I am worried that we don’t learn and in fact just keep repeating our mistakes and there is no real turn around in power, equity and justice.

Another lesson is the importance of sticking together and being family where-ever you can. Family comes in many forms, but the centrality of making decisions from the perspective of a child and what they will inherit is as good a compass as any. One of my lessons from my Aboriginal friends is the essential connection of being family and if it is not in the DNA then it comes by the relationship – through desgnations of aunty, uncle, sister, brother. If we think of everyone as family where will that take us? The centrality of Earth as our Mother can only help us take the steps we need to take to heal and build a future not so anthropocentric.

A third lesson is air quality – and not just the amount of toxins in the air – but how we share air space in conversaions and where the air stops us in our tracks to get down deep inside of us to ensure our body knows just what it means to have the life sucked out of us if we keep behaving like we do – polluting the air with words that don’t serve us and poisons to kill us. Mexico City is a place traditionally known for its poor air quality was not the worst place on the planet this past week, in fact my home town of Adelaide took that honour as the smoke and ash from Kangaroo Island blew into town. The pristine ecologically significant place now wrestling with some species at the point of extinction and with almost half of the land burnt, literally millions of creatures dead including two humans – a father and son – another example of what it means to be family.

The quality of conversations, sharing the air space, making room for the quiet voices, listening with a compassionate heart, finding ways for all the voices to be heard and coming to clarity that is greater than the sum of all the voices into one united voice is one of the great challenges of our time in the crowded spaces. High quality space and holding spaces where diversity can co-exist and anxieties can come to rest with compassion are skills for this time.

While I have been on the other side of the planet, and the irony of this experience is not lost on me, another lesson I have been gifted is the gift of distance. Being outside of your own context often gives you some time and space to see things a little more clearly. It doesn’t need to disconnect you from what is going on (thank you email, social media and internet). In spite of being here to be with some of my family, I have also been supporting the online community I founded to write a climate emergency statement, get organised and continue sharing their goals and aspirations. I have also been able to dip into actions of others and bring my values and experience to decision making for events and governance in organisations that I am involved with. Different time zones have their advantages and I have benefiited from that for decades now, this really helps me connect to the global citizenship experience. For me, it is the act local, think global adage, in practice.

The practice of staying connected, and being apart, feels like the heart of my reflection this week. Keeping space for both is the balancing act. I arrived when the moon was new and am leaving when it is full, having been at the steps of the Pyramid to the Moon in between.

A Blessing for Stability

May you have time to be still, when the world is a whirlwind.

May you have space to stand, when the Cathedral is choking with bodies.

May you have stairs to climb, when the ancients call you.

May you have tears to spare, when young ones seek you.

May you have internet access, when your signature is needed.

May you have funds to donate, when your House is on fire.

May you have a laugh in your belly, when the sobs stop falling.

May you have sun rays and moon light, when darkness descends.

May you have generous guides, when you don’t know what you are in for.

May you have the wisdom to know this is all an apprenticeship.

May you have seeds offered to you, when you have no idea of what they might yield.

And may you be blessed with a compass stable enough, to point you in the direction you need to revolve towards.

Seeds from Erythrina Americana a plant that is native to Mexico, attracts hummingbirds, provides colour and is used by children in play as little weapons because of its spiky flowers. These seeds were at the Teotihuacan Pryamids.

Sparks will fly #transit #52

My 2019 begun in NYC and ends in Mexico City. In between these two incredible locations I was fortunate to visit Portugal, Spain, Germany as well as Aussie cities, regional centres and a few country towns as wildly different as Coober Pedy and Katoomba. Being in transit has been a feature of my pilgrim life in 2019.

I have had spectacles with transition lens for more than a decade. The light hits my glasses, and with no effort on my part, makes the necessary adjustment to enable my eyes to have no trouble coping with glare and changing light conditions. This is one of my favourite daily pieces of technology.

Not all transitions are that easy, although there is light and shade in them all.This has been a year of living in transit. From one state to another – some soft and some hard landings. Many with the magic and drama of a Tolkein novel marked with elfen mischief to distract me from dark and dangerous encounters with history. There has been enough light to guide me out of burrows and to be a lamp unto my feet, as the psalmist would say.

Transition is the in-between time, like the thresholds in my Celtic dreaming marking the space between one world and another – the Wardrobe leading to Narnia. The fellowship of my travelling companions has been all gift and while I may not have been as faithful to them all as they have to me, I am glad of their witness, wise counsel and kindness. Com-panion, to be with bread, is exactly how it is for me, they have been sustenance whether a morsel or a loaf.

The bread has taken so many shapes and textures – gluten free to pumpineckel, French sticks to multigrain rolls. A cornucopia of delicious, warmth, straight out of the oven, offered up to be broken and shared. My kind of eucharist. It isn’t possible to be in transit without food for the journey, and I have been generously endowed.I have needed every crumb of sustenance to get me through this transition. In reality, there has been multiple transitions, not just one.

The year began with an Australian honour and I was humbled to have the recognition for my life and work. Quite something to be able to put letters after your name and wear a badge! The transition of going from one home to another with a season on the road and house hopping, being a swaggie of sorts. Finding a new place to live, in a new location and the promise this brings of new possibilities. Taking on a new role in one job and winding down my consulting business. Changing board roles and responsibilities in more than one set of governance arrangements. Establishing a new entity to take my efforts to contribute to closing the gender investment gap into a new direction. There is the metastory though of one over arching transition, the one that sees moving from the fog and paralysis of grief to the tentative and intentional lintel where a new door is ajar calling to be pushed. And with the push comes invitations to openness.

What lies beyond the door?

My discernment strategies are laid on ancient foundations and may require more bread to be broken. More sparks will fly as we all transit to a new year.

Blessing for Transit

May you be ready when the time comes

May you pack what you need

May you leave behind what no longer serves you

May you have a story to hold you

May you notice the door’s invitation

May you smell freshly baked bread

May you have companions waiting for you on the otherside

And may you be transformed through the alchemy of transit.