The Antidote to Exhaustion is Not Rest

“Tell me about exhaustion,” I said. He looked at me with an acute, searching, compassionate ferocity for the briefest of moments, as if trying to sum up the entirety of the situation and without missing a beat, as if he had been waiting all along, to say a life-changing thing to me. He said, in the form both of a question and an assertion: “You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest?” “The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest,” I repeated woodenly, as if I might exhaust myself completely before I reached the end of the sentence. “What is it, then?” “The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”
He looked at me for a wholehearted moment, as if I should fill in the blanks. But I was a blank to be filled at that moment, and though I knew something pivotal had been said, I had not the wherewithal to say anything in reply. So he carried on:

“You are so tired through and through because a good half of what you do here in this organization has nothing to do with your true powers, or the place you have reached in your life. You are only half here, and half here will kill you after a while. You need something to which you can give your full powers. You know what that is; I don’t have to tell you.”

He looked up again, warming to the theme, I was getting a good talking-to. “This nervously letting yourself down, this ängst -lichen Sich-Niederlassen, as it says in the German, takes courage, and the word courage in English comes from the old French word cuer, heart. You must do something heartfelt, and you must do it soon. Let go of all this effort, and let yourself down, however awkwardly, into the waters of the work you want for yourself. It’s all right, you know, to support yourself with something secondary until your work has ripened, but once it has ripened to a transparent fullness, it has to be gathered in. You have ripened already, and you are waiting to be brought in. Your exhaustion is a form of inner fermentation. You are beginning, ever so slowly” he hesitated “to rot on the vine.”

-Excerpt from The Heart Aroused by David Whyte

Form follows function: When the function changes, drop the form

The purpose of a fish trap 
is to catch fish,

And when the fish are caught

The trap is forgotten.

The purpose of a rabbit snare
Is to catch rabbits. 

When the rabbits are caught

The snare is forgotten.

The purpose of words
 is to convey ideas.

When the ideas are grasped

The words are forgotten.

Where can I find a man
 who has forgotten words?

He is the one I would like to talk to.”

- Chuang Tzu

The Leader's Teachers

“They practiced meditation. Meditation made them good at seeing how things happen. Meditation grounded them in the infinite. That is why they sometimes appeared deep and inscrutable, sometimes even great.
Their leadership did not rest on technique or on theatrics, but on silence and on their ability to pay attention.
They moved with grace and awareness, and they were able to negotiate complex situations safely.
They were considerate. They did no injury. They were courteous and quiet, like guests. They knew how to yield gracefully and how to be natural and inconspicuous. They were as open and receptive and available as the valleys that lie among the hills.
They could clarify events for others, because they had done it for themselves. They could speak to the depths of another person, because they had known their own deeper conflicts and blocks.
Because they had given up selfishness, they could enhance others.
They were not trying to become enlightened, because they were enlightened.

-Excerpt from The Tao of Leadership by John Heider (#15: The Leader’s Teachers)

A Lineage of Standing for Life: Following in the Footsteps of Spiritual Leaders

This Alliance for a Viable Future (AVF) is about communicating, transmitting, renewing and passing on the lineage of spiritual leaders who have taken a stand for justice - for their people, for all people, and for the dignity of Life, as a whole.

As a young boy I heard the story of Moses freeing the Israelites, and it captivated my imagination. For years, he has played a key role in my life. Since first hearing about him, he has always fascinated me, compelled me, nurtured and re-assured me, with his humility and sense of not being enough for the magnitude of the task-at-hand.

But, then, he pulls it off, with great power - he overthrow the economic structure of a great and powerful civilization - Egypt, the Pharaoh. To do this, he utilized a spiritual power, rooted in justice, and a quality of leadership that though is far from perfect, gives us a sense of his deep devotion to the principles of integrity, humility, courage and wisdom.

A rabbinic teaching that has always stuck in mind says that he “knew” the whole Torah before it ever was written down or told to him by God. The understanding is that the six-hundred and thirteen commandments (good deeds and prohibitions) that are recorded in the old testament correspond to the exact amount of sinews, ligaments, and bones of our body. The deeper meaning here, is that he was a living embodiment of the natural Law, the Way of Life or the pathway towards a viable future.

From this, I have learned the tremendous importance of embodiment - walking my talk, learning to be humble, cultivating a simple mind and a simplicity in my life. It is through this simplicity that a clear and potent force emerges that has the capacity to lead in the direction of a pristine wisdom - the wisdom of the human awareness that is attuned to the permeating wisdom of nature, the deep quiet of an old-growth forest. This sacred sound of silence holds a deep wisdom that takes time and effort to translate into expression and life-affirming action.

This lineage of spiritual leadership is the guiding hand of justice in the world: Buddha, Jesus, the Prophets, Muhammed, The Peacemaker of the Iroquois Confederacy, Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, Teillard de Chardin, Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Chief Leonard Crow Dog, Malcolm X, Huey Newton, and now, in our times, the young braves, the International Indigenous Youth Council who initiated the stand at Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, the Me Too Movement, and many many more. All of the partners who stood behind the leaders, in support, and all the friends and colleagues who worked side-by-side to bring waves upon waves of change into our world. Forgive me for the names that I have not mentioned that are in your heart, as you read this list. Please leave a comment at the bottom and include those who inspire you to keep moving.

AVF humbly stands in this lineage of freedom fighters, activists and leaders who stand for the dignity of life and protect the space where we are able to listen to the voices of the generations to come. We stand, unabashed, and hold up the need to sacrifice ourselves and our comforts in order to stand for Life.

In my own life, I see that my own family lineage endured to the persecution of Jews in the Ukraine, just over a hundred years ago, and before that, the persecution of Kabbalists and Jewish Mystics throughout history - Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai, the Baal Shem Tov, and Rebbe Nachman of Brastlav - who stated connected to their Life-Giving Pathway, the teachings and practices that cultivate spiritual clarity and aliveness, justice and leadership that charts a course towards wisdom.

This path is called by many names - in Hebrew it is Halacha, literally The Walk, but usually translated as The Law, and the Torah which usually translated as the bible or old testament, but literally means to flow or throw something - like a bow-and-arrow or a teacher who is pointing our the direction to walk in. In Chinese philosophy, this “way” is simply called the Tao, in Native American wisdom teachings I have heard it translated as The Red Road or The Beauty Way, and so on, all around the world, there is a description of the Road of Life, the Pathway of Wisdom that then leads to the Tree of Life and the Life-Giving Waters.

I chose the words Viable Future to name this Alliance because viable refers to a seed that will take root and grow or pregnancy that will bring for a living child. Viable also comes from the latin word “via” which means path or way. So, as members of this Alliance for a Viable Future, we are simply choosing to stand together, and walk on this life-giving path into the future.

It’s important to make a clear distinction at this point. The dominant culture of which we are participants is not on this path, by and large. We are headed for an iceberg, metaphorically speaking. In literal terms, we are on a death revering path - a path of destruction: poising the waters, stripping away the soils and forests - the skin of our Mother Earth - and our wisdom teachings of indigenous, shamanic and mystical traditions have consistently been threatened and persecuted over the course of the development of the modern, industrial world.

Nevertheless, the awakening is happing. The ancient teachings, the elders and the prophecies that have been passed down for generations are still here, perhaps stronger than ever. They hold a truth, a spiritual power, an aliveness and realness that renews faith. I feel it in my bones and blood.

This is where AVF is standing. This is what we see a need for - to stand with the lineage of spiritual wisdom that has kept the songs and stories alive - and bring this cultural medicine into our organizations, businesses, and communities, so that, as social impact leaders and holistic practitioners, we have the courage to consistently bring dignity, humanity, and love into our workplaces and into the commons.

Without this spiritual power from our heritage of ancestral wisdom teachings and pathways, the effort to humanize the workplace and foster green and sustainable solutions will not have the strength, depth and realness that it needs, to turn the tide. In Climate: A New Story, Charles Eisenstein asks us (paraphrased):

Why are we asking the question - how can we create a technological world that will offset carbon emissions, so we can continue to live in this grew, robotic, computer/iPhone-addicted world? Why wouldn’t we ask the question - what world do we truly want to create, that is beautiful, wholesome, pure and sacred? If we can really create anything that we put our hearts and minds to, why not invest our efforts into the full-bodied 100% life of beauty that allows us to walk on the path towards the Tree of Life?

I will tell you that it’s taken me many years to allow myself to be so clear and simple and just say it. It is scary and for me to reveal these thoughts and feelings, and to stand wholeheartedly with this lieage of spiritual leaders who walk on this path of wisdom to the universal and sacred Tree of Life.

Just a few years ago, I was so scared to speak my truth that I contemplated suicide. Through this direct experience, I understood these words from the Gospel of Thomas:

“If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will heal you. If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.”

It was at this point in my life that I made the choice to begin a life-long commitment as a Sundancer and Pipe-Carrier in the Lakota Native American tradition. This is a choice to participate in a once-a-year ceremony that includes four days of fasting without food or water, dancing out in the hot sun, in order to make a good prayer for the renewal of life for the people, for the years to come. Before I did it, it sounded unimaginable and actually impossible. But, right before my eyes, I saw regular men and women doing it, simply because they care.

I thought I could die, I was scared. But, I had already faced death - my own inner urge to give up and commit suicide. So, having defeated that voice, I was able to face death again, for the sake of Life continuing in a good way, for the generations to come.

I tell you this because the choice to go for it - with my heart and soul - has been quite different than the intellectual and technological fix that is proposed by much of the modern world as the “solution” to our whole systems crisis.

It is scary to go for it - all the way.

It was really scary, for me. But, I did it, and that has allowed me to do it, again and again - to choose the path of courage, to be real, to show up, to actually be vulnerable, and to honest-to-goodness admit that I don’t know and that I don’t have control. What I’ve found is that becoming practiced in not knowing has opened doorways and pathways to possibilities that never would have existed on the well-marked route.

What I sense that we are terrified of, in this modern culture is death and authentic initiation. Initiation is similar to death, in that in a real initiation you go through an ego-death. So the mind sees initiation as a killing of the ego, and it becomes terribly frightened.

Yet, initiation is essential for the health of the individual, the community and the culture as a whole. Without it, a boy does not become a man and a girl does not become a woman. This is why we have boys walking around in adult bodies in our culture.

It’s not about macho toughness - that is the old “toxic masculinity” game. It’s about learning to develop the courage to be humble and to sacrifice your ego-wants for the needs of the people, the community and the whole web of life. I am not talking about martyrdom and activist burnout. I prioritize that which truly nourishes me, and allows me to have the energy and resources to do my good work in the world.

Making this choice has liberated me, and I am sharing this with you, to invite you to join me, stand with me, and stand with us in this growing Alliance for a Viable Future.

To continue along this line of thinking, I invite you to learn about our AVF language.

   The Journey by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew what you had to do,
and began,
though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice --
though the whole house began to tremble
and you felt the old tugat your ankles.
"Mend my life!"each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations,
though their melancholy was terrible.
It was already late enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
But little by little, as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save the only life that you could save.

On Materialism: An Excerpt from The Tao of Leadership by John Heider

The wise leader leads a quiet and meditative life. But most people are busy getting as many possessions as they can.

The quiet path leads towards a more conscious existence. The busy path creates an exaggerated materialism.

Becoming more conscious leads toward God and a sense of the unity of all creation. But excessive consumption is only possible by exploiting someone.

The world’s goods are unevenly distributed. Some have a great deal. Most have very little. We are running out of enough resources to go around. Everyone know that.

Yet those who are already encumbered by possessions get more and more. They even brag about how much they have. Don’t they know what stealing is?

Owning lots of possessions does not come from God. People get it by manipulating other people.

Pema Chodron on Compassion

May the roots of suffering diminish. May warfare, violence, neglect, indifference, and addiction also decrease.
May the wisdom and compassion of all beings increase, now and in the future.
May we clearly see all the barriers we erect between ourselves and others to be as insubstantial as our dreams.
May we appreciate the great perfection of all phenomena.
May we continue to open our hearts and minds, in order to work ceaselessly for the benefit of all beings.
May we go to the places that scare us.
May we lead the life of a warrior. -- Pema Chodron