13 Aug Aligning To Purpose | Living into the world I long for
Aligning my life to my purpose and values is an expression of my deep commitment to living into the world I long for. Purpose, for me, is not simply an expression of my desire for contribution to an external cause or object, on which I fix my attention and which I persist at. It is the intricate dance of the development of my muscles for conscious choice, with deepening self-awareness of what moves from me as unconditional gift, that ignites with love my inner furnace, and how I then embed what I need to tend to that fire, through aligned agreements, into the fabric of my life. In this sense, I become purpose.
Aligning to purpose, within this framework, subverts patriarchal conditioning, in particular around how we express our capacity for choice. In conversation with Miki recently, the idea arose of the possibility that at the time when patriarchy emerged, human beings were in a pivotal moment of evolution; emerging from being in pure flow and developing our capacity for conscious choice; our capacity to make considered decisions. When conscious choice expresses from a place of reverence in relation to life, and within togetherness – a state of deep listening, connection, and responsiveness to self, other, and life, it becomes play. We imagined that when whatever calamity befell us at this pivotal time, our collective capacity was simply not enough to metabolise its impact while remaining in a state of togetherness. We separated from one another and life (as the organic flow of resources moving to where there are needs), cast into a state of scarcity in relation to resources, and collectively powerless to do anything about it.
At this time, our not-yet-fully integrated capacity for conscious choice would organically orient to aligning with life in the ways available and familiar to us; within an experience of unmetabolised trauma, a more limited world of possibility, and the narrative of our evolving dominance and submission consciousness. This is what I believe became and which I refer to as patriarchy, which essentially spins a narrative saying that from the interpersonal to the systemic, force is the necessary driver for change; that to have our needs met equates to imposing force over something else.
Within this state, The subsequent results of this tear in our human fabric are catastrophic; a systemic stratification and attempt to create our world based on the collectively suicidal exploitation of people and planet.
The framework I am working to does not attempt to deny our capacity for conscious choice, but to reorient with tenderness to an integrative expression of it that is aligned with life.
For patriarchy to continue, it is necessary for each of us to be socialised into the systems of oppression that perpetuate it; this socialisation begins the moment we are born, “the conditioning of..the target group and the non-target group of any given oppression, takes place through a specific form of oppression, the oppression of young people. In a society in which there is oppression, all young people will be the targets of the systematic mistreatment, i.e. all young people will be oppressed.” (Erica Sherover-Marcuse). Arnina Kashtan’s work “The Compass”, has helped me to see, within my own experience, how this socialisation is embedded into the fabric of our lives in three ways; within our brains, our families, and societally.
In the brain
From The body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk. B: “The most primitive part…[is the] reptilian brain…responsible for all the things that newborn babies can do: eat, sleep, wake, cry, breathe; feel temperature, hunger, wetness…
Right above the reptilian brain is the limbic system….the seat of the emotions, the monitor of danger, the judge of what is pleasure or scary, the arbiter of what is or is not important for survival purposes…
Taken together the reptilian brain and limbic system make up…the “emotional brain“… The emotional brain is at the heart of the central nervous system and its key task is to look out for your welfare. If it detects danger [it releases] a squirt of hormones. The resulting visceral sensations… will interfere with whatever your mind is currently focused on and get you moving-physically and mentally-in a different direction. Even at the most subtle, the sensations have a huge influence on the small and large decisions we make throughout our lives…
The emotional brain’s cellular organisation and biochemistry are simpler than those of the neocortex or rational brain…As a result, it jumps to conclusions based on rough similarities…
The frontal lobes…enable us to use language and abstract thought. They give us our ability to absorb and integrate vast amounts of information and attach meaning to it.”
My understanding through The Compass is that patriarchal conditioning (the narrative that we need to use force to create change) is socialised into the meaning making of our frontal lobes with good/bad, right/wrong thinking. With this orientation as our filter, we then respond to parts of ourself and others as dangerous or not (emotional brain) depending on how we have internalised patriarchal conditioning. This internalisation shapes the expression of our being as according to the patriarchal narrative.
The internalisation of this narrative begins when we are young and impressionable as we interface with our families. Our primary care-givers are all that we have for our survival, so maintaining some kind of togetherness with them in order to have our needs met truly is a life/death situation. Unless they have a deep practice of orientation and commitment to needs consciousness, such as with NVC, the patriarchal narrative in which they live is the narrative of beliefs and sense-making available to them, and this is the relational-narrative that I will grow in as a child. Within this, I have no choice but to internalise this narrative, as it is the only one there is. Depending on the environment and my constitution, I will do this in varying ways and to varying degrees. This invariably looks like giving up on my needs in some aspects of life in order to maintain others, and developing patterns of thinking and behaviour that keep this patriarchally adjusted way of being in place. I, for example, have known for a long time that entering into vulnerable connection with other people is extremely challenging for me – on gaining visceral awareness of patriarchy as a child, it was terrifying for me to see how people behaved towards one another and so I decided, in a very constrained sort of way, that connection with people was basically not a safe, and I somewhat withdrew. I also know that I have a very intimate connection with nature. What I discovered through this work is that I gave up on freedom through connection in relation to people and developed it completely in relation to nature. To nestle in place the belief that connection with people was dangerous, I developed extreme reactions of anxiety and panic attacks whenever I truly opened vulnerably to connection with people. This meant that any time I went near that edge, I would be thrown back from it by my own internalised fear. The path of shifting this pattern has been one of understanding with deep compassion the little Emma that made that constrained choice and grieving with her the loss, celebrating what she held onto as a result, and simultaneously carving out a pathway of new experience where I have gradually internalised the new awareness that vulnerability in connection does not result in the world ending or me dying, and has in fact brought me in touch with a world of joy within people connection that I didn’t know was possible.
The third way in which the narrative is embedded is within society where the very institutions and systems that hold and govern our lives are more often than not built within patriarchy and as such are control based; dependent on separation, scarcity, and powerlessness for legitimacy. It is within this world that we invariably need to operate and live our lives, and this world which we replicate for our survival.
The impacts of this world-view on everything from the structuring of our brains, to the access we have to the expression of our full humanity, and how we steward our capacity for choice in relation to all beings and the planet are mammoth. It is what I call and mourn as “the beast”.
While the work I am doing in one sense feels very small- as I write this I am working with a handful of individuals and within three organisations- it also feels pretty huge systemically within the context of all I write above. Working with purpose in the ways that I do requires faith that the spark of humanness which is still there within us, on which patriarchy piggybacks in order to exploit and survive, can be reached and stoked. It asks me to trust that by understanding the nature by which this spark longs to give, we can support its growth by subverting patriarchal conditioning and creating new pathways in the direction of what supports life rather than what is a reproduction of patriarchy.
This is what Miki and I have come to call purpose based trauma healing and is the deeper understanding I have found over the last 6 months within the wisdom I received from my time in the desert and that I wrote about in my previous post: “…listen for the patterns that are most conducive to purpose…design along them.”; that what my spark asks that I bring to the world is a way of using purpose as an orienting principle, a lighthouse by which to recalibrate to our humanness by strengthening our capacity for choice through the creation of conscious agreements and patterns of behavior that are in alignment with life.
Van der Kolk, B.A., 1994. The body keeps the score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology of posttraumatic stress. Harvard review of psychiatry, 1(5), pp.56-58