“When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”~Eleanor Roosevelt
Are you a ‘giver’? Do you often put other people’s needs before your own? How much emphasis do you put on your own self-care?
We’ve all heard the old saying that “life is a game of give and take.” And as we all know, some of us are far more comfortable in the ’taking’ role than others. Obviously, the range of behaviors around this dynamic are a wide spectrum, and hardly anyone achieves a perfect balance.
It’s the age old tug-of-war between contribution and entitlement. Some people feel like the world owes them everything, and that other people are only there to serve their needs, while others over-extend themselves helping everyone around them to the point that all of their own hopes and dreams and goals are put on the back burner until it’s too late.
Nowadays there is certainly more awareness of the extremes when it comes to human behavior, the media, news, and politics are full of public figures who embody the best and worst of these traits. Sometimes we don’t give credit where it is due until it’s too late, the legacy of a great leader is often unexamined until after they pass away.
Entitlement taken to its pathological extreme can devolve into what the great psychoanalyst and Holocaust surviver Erich Fromm called “malignant narcissism.” Fortunately few of us face this worst-case-scenario of humanity in-person, although examples abound of the crisis of culture that can occur when this type of person ascends to a position of power.
In our personal circles of personal and professional relationships it’s helpful to remember that life is not a zero-sum game. The essence of understanding contribution and having a healthy balance in our lives is to know that the transactional life is no life at all.
Terms like “that was very big of him” describes magnanimity or “she’s being really small about that” is another way of saying she’s being petty. When the metaphor of relative size is applied to human behavior it’s a descriptor of generosity (or lack thereof).
Relating transactionally means thinking that there’s no way to give without losing something. That if there’s a winner, someone else had to lose. It betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of abundance.
To live abundantly is to look for the win-win. Or better yet, the win-win-win! The ability to recognize what you have a plentiful supply of, and knowing how to apply it in other people’s lives for the maximum positive leverage is the key to contribution.
This all came to mind when I was driving around with Teresa’s 12-year-old son Elliot the other day. Here in the Bay Area we have an unfortunately large and growing homeless population, to the point of virtual tent-cities stretching block after block in some areas.
Quite often at intersections or freeway off-ramps there will be some troubled soul with a handmade sign hoping for a handout. I generally have some change in my car door, occasionally an apple, or sometimes a loose dollar bill to pass along. Many of these folks are disabled, elderly, or women with small children in tow who can’t hide their hunger. It’s heartbreaking to wonder about their stories of woe.
So when I rolled past a healthy looking fellow holding a sign, my window stayed up and I started a conversation with Elliot instead. First of all, there are sadly so many unfortunates that one does have to be somewhat selective. This particular strapping young lad on the corner appeared to be in mid-twenties, and he was sporting a backpack, a bushy red beard and a grin.
We talked about what kind of things could happen in a persons life to put them in that situation. About how enough misfortune, abuse, or bad habits could land them there. The fragile nature of our society’s fraying safety net and how almost anyone is only an injury or job loss away from spiraling down to the lowest rung on the ladder. Inevitably it was a “stay in school, kid!” moment.
Elliot pointed out quite accurately how hard it must be for someone like that to find a job if they have no place to take a shower, no place to wash their clothes, no address to get mail, or no money to afford a phone. I agreed completely and told him how much I’m in favor of what some progressive communities are doing at the bare minimum, which is to provide drop-in centers with showers, laundry, PO boxes, voice-mail and internet access. Creating adequate support structures that can help deal with the many issues that hold people down is something every compassionate and wealthy culture such as our should prioritize.
Seeing this hearty young fellow resorting to begging on the corner with a sign made me sad, and sparked a memory of myself when I was about his age. I told Elliot the story of how I had reached rock bottom in San Francisco in the mid-80s. Looking back, it was obviously my own wrong-headed thinking and decision making that had brought me low, regardless, the fact of the matter was that I was broke, dirty, and living on the streets. Estranged from my family in Colorado, unable to control my bad habits, and totally lacking in direction, I was barely getting by.
I was a regular for the free lunch at the Hamilton Baptist “Zoop Kitchen” in the Haight Ashbury, and showed up on Sundays and Wednesdays without fail to “The Church of John Coltrane” on Masonic Avenue where they served a free supper of red beans and rice to be eaten quietly while an improv jazz band played. I seldom slept outside or in the park, in those days wanna-be artists or punk rockers like me sought out ’squats’ which were empty houses or abandoned buildings we could hole up in.
My most secure and long-lived squat was a metal building South of Market that had formerly been the Yellow Cab garage. I’d recently became acquainted with Mark Pauline and his crew at SRL, (Survival Research Laboratories ), and helped them with one of their mechanical performance art spectacles that they had held on that site. After the post-show cleanup was over and they left the site, I simply put my own lock on the door and lived there undetected for many months. Having a place to hide out with running water and a bathroom (but no shower!) was a luxury, I dealt with the lack of electricity by rigging up a 12-volt car battery and a junked television for light.
So I told Elliot that at that point, broke, dirty, and hungry most of the time, I made a discovery. Over at the SRL workshop, volunteers would get in on the daily burrito runs they provided for the crew. There was no pay for helping out, at the same time Mark had no judgement about my appearance. No matter how frazzled or burnt-out I was, he would always find some parts for me to clean or some rust to grind, and I soon found a sense of belonging to his rag-tag crew.
The things I did have in abundance at that point was time and energy. Contributing that was the first step in the slow climb up from the bottom. Homeless, dirty, but with a burrito in my belly was better than homeless, dirty, and starving. I never resorted to actually panhandling or asking strangers for handouts. It became clear right away that it was much more exciting to fill my belly by helping with Mark’s crazy SRL projects than it was to wait in a boring line for a free meal. The shift in self-esteem was like fuel in my tank, there’s a lot to be said for a sense of self-worth.
I leaned into the work, and piece by piece my new life came together. When my squat was torn down, Mark let me sleep on a loft in the warehouse between the old tools and spare parts. That meant coffee in the morning too! One day a friend of his who did paid metalwork for architects came by needing help at her shop. Now I was still ragged and dirty, but with a full belly and some money in my pocket!
Fast-forward another year or so, and I’d left the worst of my bad habits behind, moved into a small room in a flat with friends from SRL, (complete with a kitchen, heat, and a shower!), and met the woman designer from New Zealand who would become the mother of my older daughter Isabelle. We started a clothing business together, and opened Ameba, a shop on Haight Street that would become the epicenter of the electronic music underground of the early 90’s. I started writing about dance and consciousness, and the rest is history… My upward spiral began by deciding it would be more fun to offer help than ask for it.
If I could go back to the corner and talk to the young guy holding the sign, or really anyone else who is maybe not too far along the path to down-and-out, I’d encourage them to reframe the big question they’re asking. Instead of asking “Who can help me?” look around and ask “Who can I help?” I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s the first switch to flip. The gods and goddesses of good luck will listen.
It’s counterintuitive to realize that the best way to take care of your own needs is to find a way to contribute. But that’s the energetic nature of the universe. When you discover that place you can push on outside of yourself, your inner world begins to shift. Remember to take care of yourself, remember that there’s a win-win out there for you, and remember — it’s an abundant universe and it’s listening!
Kindly contributing to your consciousness until next week!
Dance First Member Spotlight – Brietta Leader and WildCore Movement!
This week’s Dance First Member Spotlight shines on Brietta Leader creator of WildCore Movement ! Brietta has been an active member of the conscious dance community for many years. Wildcore is a “dance-based practice that explores the wilderness of body and soul.”
This nature-infused mind-body-spirit modality that brings together elements of conscious dance, choreography, breath work, and belonging to “lead you on a path of untamed self-discovery, healing, and expressive movement using the power of metaphor as a bridge between the physical and energetic bodies.
Brietta is a long-time member of the conscious dance community with a background in a variety of practices including Nia, Soul Motion, massage therapy, shamanism, yoga, pranic healing, reiki, and performance. All of her work has a strong nature element, drawing from her experience living in Idaho, leading river trips, and her frequent forays into Alaska and the Rocky Mountains.
You’ve got several great opportunities coming up to connect and learn with Brietta, starting with her innovative hybrid training program that kicks off October 1st . This is the beginning of a one-year journey that starts with an online Self-Study program that runs until April of 2019. Then comes the Creative Empowerment 5-Day Retreat April 23-28th held at the Eureka Center in Sagle, Idaho. After that there is a Summer Mentorship from June through October. The last piece of this comprehensive and multi-faceted journey is the Teacher Training 5-Day module held at Embody Yoga and Brietta’s Movement Yurt in Sandpoint Idaho from Oct. 22-27, 2019.
Right around the corner is WildCore on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho from August 29-September 2. This is a wilderness river trip co-hosted by Pend d’ Oreille Winery with Middle Fork River Tours taking you on a 5 day rafting adventure of a Lifetime.
Then comes the WildCore Creative Empowerment Retreat at the Yoga Yurt on Chilkat Inlet in Haines, Alaska from September 26 to 30th. This is a prerequisite for the Teacher Training, that can be taken alone or in combination with the Self-Study program.
Plan ahead for the Fuel Your Passion Retreat happening March 2-9, 2019, at Mar de Jade in Chacala, Mexico. The 5 Layers of Fuel Your Passion are Unwinding, Clearing, Fueling, Firing, and Integrating. This adventure is designed to help you “ignite your clarity of purpose and offer valuable refueling techniques so you can claim your passionate expression and share it with the world.”
Your days will include movement, ritual, journaling, relaxing, delicious meals and time in nature. Brietta’s husband Rick will be available to lead hikes and outdoor adventures for any spouse that may not want to be involved in the retreat, but would still like to enjoy Mar de Jade.
Thats off for all your great work and innovation Brietta! You’re an inspiration to movement facilitators and aspiring modality founders everywhere! Thanks for being a member of Dance First!
WildCore on the Middle Fork
Aug 29-Sept 2, Salmon River, Idaho
WildCore Creative Empowerment Retreat on Chilkat Inlet
Sept 26-30, Haines, Alaska
WildCore One-Year Teacher Training Journey including Self-Study Program and Summer Mentorship
Oct 1st ’18 thru Oct 27 ’19, Online and in Idaho
WildCore Fuel Your Passion Retreat
March 2-9, ’19, Mar de Jade Retreat Center, Chacala, Mexico