Notes of an Urban Hermit (627 words)

A Brain Pickings essay about Pema Chodron prompted me to shift my self-image. Some elements in Maria Popova’s post, “When Things Fall Apart,” that hit me hard include:

  • Use fear to dismantle old ways of thinking.
  • Don’t hold on to arrogant ideas.
  • Face unsettlement with openness to possibility.
  • Get the knack of catching yourself.
  • We can be with what’s happening and not dissociate.
  • Awakeness is found in pleasure and pain.
  • Let concepts and ideals fall apart.
  • Loneliness, fear, and feeling misunderstood and rejected is the heartbeat of all things.
  • When we feel ready to give up, healing can be found in the tenderness of pain itself.
  • Only through self-compassion to our own darkness can we offer light to others.

Those affirmations led me to deepen my commitment to drop my 50-year-old identity as a community organizer. Feeling alone and misunderstood and rejected, I’m ready to give up organizing, catch myself when I’m inclined to initiate a new project, dismantle my old ways of thinking, and no longer hold on to a particular arrogant ideal -- the hope that I might help organize people to promote the holistic transformation of our global social system -- the System.

As I’ve argued: Our problem is ego and the solution is community. The System teaches us to climb a social ladder, look down on those below, dominate others when we can, submit when we cannot, and follow Leaders. In the political arena, ego says, “Me and my people know the answer. We must crush the enemy.”

Community says:

  • Meaningful, lasting change will require deep, widespread solidarity.
  • Grassroots organizations must mobilize the overwhelming majority of Americans behind winnable goals and sustain that unity over time.
  • To build that unity, we must change how we relate to each other.
  • Progressive political activists typically use counterproductive methods rooted in deep-seated habits -- methods ingrained into our psyche from early childhood that lead to widespread scapegoating, demonizing, personal attacks, and zero-sum thinking.
  • To change that behavior, we must undo some of our social conditioning -- how we channel our feelings.
  • To undo that conditioning, we need mutual support.
  • Many of our problems are interwoven into the self-perpetuating System, which is not controlled by any individual or group of individuals.
  • As individuals, we reinforce the System with our daily actions. Each of us is a victim and a perpetrator.
  • Each issue is interwoven with most issues.
  • Agreement about the System and a proposed new mission could help nurture the solidarity that is required for meaningful, lasting change.  

I’m looking for a project that incorporates all of those elements (as illustrated in this chart). Though numerous projects I’ve discovered incorporate many of those elements, none incorporate all of them and explicitly promote the holistic transformation of our global social system. Nor have I found people who want to regularly discuss these ideas.

Given those realities, I plan to pull back, stop trying to recruit others for new projects, build the TransformTheSystem.org website, plant seeds, and compile on that site resources that might be useful in the future. I sense projects dedicated to holistic, systemic, global transformation might emerge soon, or I’ll discover one already operating that does. If and when that happens, I’ll try to support it. I see no other way to maintain my integrity.

So I spend most of my time in my apartment, alone but not lonely, an urban hermit. I read, write, and listen to podcasts daily, watch TV or listen to music in the evening, meditate most nights, hit the treadmill frequently, socialize some, go to cinemas, restaurants, and my therapist weekly, serve as a foot soldier in political actions occasionally, and participate in a small spiritual discussion group monthly.

Overall, except when reality agonizes me, I’m at peace, waiting for a rebirth of wonder.