Sunday, August 23, 2020

"We inter-are"

For weeks now I've been in the midsummer madness of my tomato vines, which want to encompass all of New Jersey. It's been terrifying and I understand why Shakespeare wrote that play. But the days are getting shorter and school is about to start. I have to turn my attention to my "to-do" list. As people who work with me know, I'm a devotee of the Planner Pad, one of those systems of productivity, guaranteeing flow from concept to product. I love products, which is why I've written over 100 papers and eight books, the latest of which, Main Street: How a City's Heart Connects Us All, comes out September 8th. 

This afternoon I was talking to Buddhist teacher Dr. Marisela Gomez, whose research team had started using Microsoft Planner, which I gather is something like my analog book. She was talking about going from buckets to tasks. "But Marisela," I asked, "is this maybe a neoliberal plot to keep us focused on little buckets instead of the big picture of what's happening to the ecosystem?" (We'd been talking earlier about the evils of neoliberalism, which is probably why I made that connection.) 

She reflected for a moment and then said, "Yes. We inter-are." She was taught by Thich Naht Hanh, who developed the expression. She had explained this phrase to me some time ago, that we do not live as isolated, atomistic individuals, but rather as an interdependent web of life. The reality is that we are not independent beings, we are interdependent beings -- "we inter-are."  In Thich Naht Hanh's calligraphy:

We talked about what an Inter-Are page might look like in a planner. I was so inspired by this way to open my frame of reference that I used the Design Sketchbook technique I learned from Dan Rothschild to make a collage about the Big Picture. I clipped some images that resonated: some graphs and text boxes from Shelterforce, and two images from the Times, one of a person picking cherries and the other of convict firefighters going to fight the raging fires in California. 

These captured for me the call from Rev Brian McLaren, one of my teachers at the Living School, that we strive to see and hear, “the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed.”

As the song, "Let there be peace on Earth," was earworming me, I added that. It makes a difference to look at the little buckets of work that lie ahead -- reading a dissertation, writing a paper, attending meetings -- with this big picture in mind. What if this were a practice -- to start my week on Sundays by looking at the stories that have passed my way and considering the Inter-Are of it all? Would I learn to hold this Big Picture without flinching, able to be a source of peace and love? Would I just veer off into escapist TV? (God, I hope not.) 

And what if all of us added an Inter-Are page to our planners? I am hoping the Dr. Gomez will invent a new planner for us, help us see that's it all more fragile than we thought, without being swamped by the truth.