Friday, February 27, 2009

Living the new normal

To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there. Kofi Annan
We were in the recording studio again yesterday. As we sat around, chatting, listening to the performers who had come in to support the project, one of the musicians from the shelter said, "The hard part about doing this is going back to the second floor and being part of that chaos."

Another musician chimed in. "Yeah. It's so tough to be in that place where everyone is depressed. It used to feel so normal. Now, it feels the opposite."

"I was just talking about that last night with one of the floor staff," the first guy answered. "She was telling me that normal becomes what I get used to. And after awhile, I get used to that chaos as being normal, and then, my will to change it starts to ebb away. My choices all start to support the normal I'm accepting as being what I've got. And nothing is what I've got."

It was an inspiring afternoon. When we left the studio around 6:30, I drove the musicians back to the shelter. "Whew. At least we can go right up to our floor without having to spend time on second," one of the guys sighed as we pulled into the driveway.

The second floor is the 'day area' at the shelter. It is a place where clients can hang out. Sit at a table. Read a book. Chat. Play cards. Do nothing.

It is a safe place. Warm. In from the elements. It is also a place where 'nothing' happens because those who are there have little to do. They have begun to accept 'nothingness' as a state of being in their lives. Having nothing has become their new normal.

In a place where resources are continually stretched, where staff to client ratios range from 1:50 to upwards of 1:100, there are few extra resources to devote to finding ways to inspire people to 'do something'.

And yet, doing anything is better than doing nothing.

Lao Tzu, philosopher and founder of Taoism wrote, "Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing."

There is always a place for 'doing nothing'. For quietly sitting in meditation, letting your mind wander in fields of wildflowers under clear blue skies. There is always a time for stepping back, sitting it out and letting the game pass by without you in it.

In the world of homelessness, however, those times yawn into tomorrow. Those times for doing nothing become the very time when you need to be doing something, anything, to change where you're at, to grow wings, to sprout ideas, to leap into action.

In the normal of a shelter, doing nothing becomes the end of doing anything.

Doing nothing keeps you stuck in believing there is nothing you can do. That where you're at is where you're destined to always be. That who you are is nobody but the nobody you appear to be through the homelessness that has infected your thinking.

I read somewere that 'we are always one choice away from making our next choice.' In homelessness, the choices made are always built upon the choice that began as an impossibiliy, being homeless, and grew into reality, being homeless. When normal becomes the thing you fear the most, changing away from what you know becomes a distant horizon. Choices become limited by the reality of where you're at.

On the second floor of the shelter, there is time to do nothing, and little opportunity to find the will to do something about the nothingness in each person's life.

The art program. The various learning opportunities we present, the writing workshops and even the video production, are all opportunities for something to take birth.

How do we keep the energy flowing? How do we encourage people to think beyond the limits of the nothingness of their environment, to see the possibilities of life beyond homelessness?

There is a bigger idea here. A thought that is taking seed. A dream that is quietly being born. I can feel it. Sense it. Shimmering at the edges of my consciousness. Glimmering in the glow of a dawn rising.

Now is the time for me to do nothing. To let the idea take seed. To let it ground itself in my subconscious mind so it can expand with the possibilities pushing at my consciousness, leaping forward into expression. This is not about 'doing nothing'. It is about letting 'the universe', that collective consciousness to which all things are connected to all things, have the time and space to breathe.

That's my question for today. What's something that can be done to change nothing into something? Can you see it?

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