When Everyone’s Included

“Those who are weak have great difficulty finding their place in our society. The image of the ideal human as powerful and capable disenfranchises the old, the sick, the less-abled. For me, society must, by definition, be inclusive of the needs and gifts of all its members. How can we lay claim to making an open and friendly society where human rights are respected and fostered when, by the values we teach and foster, we systematically exclude segments of our population? I believe that those we most often exclude from the normal life of society, people with disabilities, have profound lessons to teach us. When we do include them, they add richly to our lives and add immensely to our world.”


― Jean Vanier, Becoming Human

What is one to do when the weight of the world and the anxiety it can provoke begins to take a toll on you?

It’s a question that has been at the forefront of my mind over the last weeks which have been punctuated with Greta Thunberg’s startling reminders of the impact our arrogance is having on every organism on the planet. Her calls to action to wake up have both inspired and unsettled me. The planet is on fire and the sociopathic Cheeto in Chief appears to be derailing.

And here in my own world I’ve sailed into what a client just referred to as a “fun shit!” realm of packing my things up to be placed in storage. The casita I’ve enjoyed and the beloved apricot tree who has seen me through one of the toughest transitions in my life is going to be prepared for sale this winter. And so I’m being asked to leave the place which has held and nourished me back to a realm of confidence and creativity, as well a deepening awareness of what matters most to me.

I will miss the tree who befriended me.

Letting go is difficult. When swept into a place of uncertainty we enter a land of limbo between the death of the comfort of what’s known and the birth of the unknown. Buddhists call this space the bardo – a realm between the passing away of the old self and the emergence of a new one.

I intentionally turned the photograph of the flock of snow geese above upside down because bardos can be immensely disorienting. What once seemed so solid is revealed to be soluble. We all know change can be thrilling but it’s also scary. So scary, in fact, we are inclined to resist, to deny, to escape – to run away from the wilderness and back to a mental garden of solidity. But there’s much to learn in the bardos of our personal lives. And in some ways, there’s even more to learn from the upheavals within the prevailing culture.

Although I know exactly where I will be staying and I’m excited by the working trips I’ll be taking as I turn the next page, I’m not absolutely sure of where I will land come springtime. How could I be? There is a world of possibility unfolding in front of me which I am grateful for, but I’m also agitated as my heart continues to turn toward “the others” who don’t share my sense of opportunity and choices.

I’m a white woman – a single woman of a certain age without fame or covetable status who worries about ageism, sexism, and singledom as the years creep by. But the invisible barriers I perceive standing in my way are a far cry from the experience of so many others here at home and most certainly in the world at large.

What are they feeling during this tumultuous time?

What is their bardo like?

Our system doesn’t include the outsiders – people who aren’t seen as beneficial or valuable to the prevailing status quo. Who exactly are they? The 99% who stand outside the power of the oligarchy? If we expand our awareness beyond the arrogance of our own species we might easily come to the conclusion that 100% of the wildlife and fauna living alongside us have been categorized as outsiders. Inanimate plastics? Ah, those are insiders! Harmful chemicals and excessive packaging? Cherished insiders, all of them. Our oceans are so filled with plastics and garbage the species sharing the water with it is getting pushed out.

There are many forms a bardo can take over the course of a lifetime and I think it’s clear we entered a collective groundless shift a long time ago. We’re in a time where the uncertainty that has always been with us has become starkly apparent to many of us.

The truth is we are and have always been held in a delicate balance of groundlessness which is tied to and dependent upon the survival of others. And although I know this note contains observations that aren’t easy to digest, none of us can afford to see ourselves as holding a place of supreme importance any longer.

Can our system transform into a format that includes everyone? Do we need to dismantle our systems in a radical way and adopt a completely new model? Is this even possible? What questions do we need to slow down long enough to ask ourselves?

If we don’t allow ourselves to see radical transformation as a possibility we’ll continue flying upside down, making it impossible to create a new way forward.

If we resist the invitation to let the outdated and unsuccessful versions of ourselves die away and choose the sacrifices that are necessary for the human species to survive, the rebirth we say we hope for will remain a sophomoric figment in our collective lack of compassionate imagination.

What can you do today to take care of your body and mind so that you will be able to think more intelligently and clearly tomorrow?

What small step can you take today to notice the other? In what ways are you just like your neighbor? Can you locate the suffering polar bear within yourself?

What respectful and honest conversations can you have to help bend the arc of the culture toward peace and justice?

I would love to hear from you in the comments below or via email. 

Photo Credits:  Everyone’s Included, by Susan J. Preston, Bosque del Apache © 2019, all rights reserved
Technical: Fuji XT-3 | Forthcoming