Spiritualist, author and divine teacher Octavia Butler reminds us in Parable of the Sower, "All that you touch you Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God Is Change.” Beautiful to read and yet so hard to live into when the stakes are high and the road feels so long.

2023 greets many of us at a time when the promise of a fulfilled spiritual and political life has not been met. Even worse, rather than momentum towards inclusion and acceptance in society, narrow-minded conspiracy theorists control much of the daily narrative. This insidious narrative and current bleak reality have impacted our physical, political, emotional and spiritual lives, and those of our societies. To turn on the news is to deal with the chaos and uncertainty of these times. From ongoing pandemics, endemic racism and heteropatriarchy, oligarchy and the vestiges of imperialism, and empowered willful ignorance, it is not surprising that despair is rampant. We thought change would come at so many junctures, but when it did it felt like “change” for the worse, not better. Legislation has been stymied, the impacts of bad policy continue and even our connections to one another feel more frayed.

Predictably, weariness followed by apathy followed by more weariness is the outcome. Furthermore, we feel disappointed: just a few years ago many of us believed we were on the edge of an inevitable beautiful future. This combination of weariness, apathy and disappointment makes it easy to turn inward for the purpose of protecting ourselves (like a turtle in its shell) to the point of disengagement. Either that, or we vent our anger and despair with our energies focused completely outward. Inward allows us to tend to our own self-care but disengages us from the benefits of being in community. Outward keeps us in the forefront of the fight but can be a mechanism for avoiding our inner pains and fears. At times, these are perfectly acceptable choices, but in the long term neither are fully aligned to what we are seeking. Ultimately, in broadest terms, our goal is personal lives and societies where the individual and collective are distinctly and divinely valued, with politics, policies and daily connections rooted in those values. 

In most social movements that reach for an expansive visionary future like this, there are periods of time that are quiet. Past movements have had these “lulls” too. Far from inactive periods, they were times when changemakers were learning, teaching and growing. While that was happening in their communities, it was also happening in their own inner worlds. These periods of inner reflection, work and metamorphosis are essential for the community and societal transformations we seek. In these moments, we receive the greatest return if we hold these quiet lulls as a necessary part of the process rather than a waste of time. Because of the loss of what some call (what Lindsay calls) our “original instructions,” we have not remembered this essential aspect of the ritual of change. As much as we wish it to be different, we will experience much more before we see the full realization of the changes we seek. There will be more push and more pull. There will be bypass and blowback. There will likely be more loss and disappointment. Even though our cause is righteous and we pray for grace and ease along the journey, we are in essence being refined and internally we all must change. Our collective must buoy us along.

Over many years in my work with movements, I have learned that the change and transformation we want to see externally must be preceded by internal change, individually as well as collectively. The “big shoes” our new world requires us to walk in also require “big feet.” Blessedly, this is not a new journey we have to do alone. Our ancestors, guides and our own deep knowing wait for us to understand the ebbs and flows that true transformation requires. They wait for us to listen, to use the tools that are right at our disposal and to hold the journey with both hands as lightly as we can. And we have one another. Each one of us came into form at this time for this purpose. We laid this path before our very own feet.

So, the real question before us is: can we walk a path where we both need to turn inward for our guidance as well as connect to one another? Can we truly link our self-care and inner work to our commitment to community care and a radical shift in power and values in our societies? Can we mine the depths of the lulls for wisdom, growth and guidance? I believe not only that we can, but that we must. There is no way through to the promised land for the individual that does not also provide a way there for the collective. There is no collective gain without each individual tending with love and care to their own inner work.

ABOUT Nicole Lee  

Nicole Lee is a diversity, equity and inclusion expert, leadership coach, nationally recognized speaker and strategist who regularly consults with nonprofits, schools, businesses, political and social movements to improve their climate for themselves and all those that they serve.schools, businesses, political and social movements to improve their climate for themselves and all those that they serve.

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