A short walk from where I work there is a bridge from which I can witness a miracle of nature—the tidal flow between fresh spring water and salty ocean water. The direction of the movement is quite clear at rising tide. But there is a transitional moment at the turn of tide in which the laminar flow turns chaotic, an indication of directional change. As an observer, it is an opportune, powerful, and absorbing process that is both specific to place and time, and yet has all the feel of something deeper and archetypal. I can see and participate in the “both-and” of sweet and salty water, the cosmic rhythm that harmonizes them even as there are very different ecosystems that live in and around them. As witness, I celebrate such a transitional moment as sacred and recognize in it a sense of joy.
Such places and experiences are becoming increasingly important for wellbeing. And, I do not believe I have heard the word joy spoken much recently. Maybe we just don’t think about it very much, and maybe the broader undercurrent of cultural anxiety has made the sounding of joy a little tinny. There does seems to be a little edge about everything these days.
As much as anyone can find joy in a direct personal experience of nature, nature is also in a state of turmoil. Not far from the tidal spot on the San Francisco Bay, the smoke of rampant wildfires filters the sunlight into a strange mix of eventide light and oppressive air. From where I stand as a not so distant observer, this is a more localized version of the devastation wrought by recent hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods. Something is ecologically amiss and we are part of it whether we imagine us as cause of or suffering from, or both. Nature only works as whole system—no matter how we break apart aspects of it for study or economic gain. Change one part and the whole changes. Without the power of imagination, discipline and ethical foundation to think and act holistically or systemically, we will continue to live with short-term outcomes and long-term consequences. The arc of time has been bent to support gain in capital without regard for tremendous loss in the value of life.
There is so much electromagnetic and media static in the air, it is increasingly hard to focus, to pay attention, to relax, and to simply find joy in the present. With commerce and consumerism as the wizards behind the curtains, everything material is competing for our attention. Distraction is the name of the game; and we are being played. I think this is one of the major reasons that yoga in in its many forms and other spiritual practices have landed so broadly. And there is a rapidly expanding demand for learning meditation, in person and through digital media. Meditation in this modality is a form of remediation; that is, through the practice we can regain our sense of being whole against the damaging impulses of day to day life. It is a little like the rise of organic farming with its attendant principle of “do no harm to the field.” This is all to the good and necessary, but still focused on the individual. And I am assuming a lot about who may be included in or excluded from this picture. Who has the time and feels the spaciousness or, even, the cultural value of the experience of nature? Odd, but what one might think of as a right, or simply normal, now feels like a privilege.
It has taken some very forthright, inner-directed younger people to point this out to me. And I feel honored to be so awakened into the discomfort. It’s not the first time for me, but I can easily fall back to sleep into the comfort of the intensity of the work I am doing. That is until someone says: “You work with money. I want to know the secrets white people have about money. I want to know when we are having a conversation, whose rules govern?” At that moment life becomes an archeology of assumptions. This is work that takes us beyond ourselves and into the social system which we have created, participate in, and either reinforce by inaction or attempt to change. Meditation and reflection may prepare us for this work, it may give us the equanimity to meet conflict, but this inner work is not the end.
Self-knowledge is the key to serving the world, to perceiving and understanding the needs of others. This concept is the spirit behind social justice, and what these younger people have taught me is that social justice is a practice, not an end or outcome. The threefoldness of diversity, equity, and inclusion are guiding principles. Social enterprises which engage younger people in leadership roles, such as Elderberries Threefold Cafe in Los Angeles, are founded on this practice. While there is an economic component as they create the menu based on their food system values, an equally important focus is a transformation from the inside out of their operating social structure. How they engage young people who come to find meaningful work and meaning in life, how they make their business decisions, and set the house rules for the café are all designed to humanize reality and celebrate human nature.
I recognize something of a tidal shift in my experience at Elderberries and of the extraordinary people who are making it happen. The sweet and salty of the food is reflected in the flow of the social reality. Young people arrive seeking something, maybe a refuge from risk, and meet a quality of acceptance and opportunity that is transformational in nature. Several of them told their stories at the recent Annual General Gathering in Phoenix, Arizona. In many ways, they embodied the theme of the gathering, “Rise Up! Life As A Labor of Love.” They brought to the gathering a sense of the future even as we experienced the richness of the wisdom of numerous anthroposophical elders. There were some powerful moments of meeting and collaboration between generations. One conclusion I took take away from the gathering, what was speaking through the encounters, is a recognition of the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion—in culture and in enterprise—as a solution to the social and ecological challenges we face. Through engagement, such as happened in Phoenix, perhaps we can encourage and witness the return of joy, a tidal change that marks the transformation of our labors and the love of capital into the capital of love.
John Bloom is the General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in America and Vice President, Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance
* This article was originally published October 24, 2017 at anthroposophy.org and has been reprinted here with permission from the author.