Excerpted from More Together than Alone by Mark Nepo (Atria/Simon & Schuster, July 2018)
In America, our sense of self-reliance is so embedded in our “Live free or die” ethic that, when we mean to honor what we’ve been through as a society, we often re-enact the conflict and the suffering rather than the freedom we won through the conflict. For example, there are annual re-enactments of the Civil War battle at Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) rather than annual healing conversations about race. And there are annual re-enactments of the Revolutionary War battles at Saratoga (September 19 and October 7, 1777) rather than public forums on the deeper meanings of freedom.
Perhaps we distort what matters because, as National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones points out, we as a culture are obsessed with “being the best in the world” rather than “being the best for the world.” It seems that whenever we compare and count, we lose access to the depth of our kinship. This doesn’t mean we never have to compare or count, just that we have to be wary of making these mind-sets codes to live by.
Other cultures have done a better job of caring for each other. In his classic, The Practice of the Wild, Gary Snyder tells us of a practice of common care that’s still part of Swedish law, which “allows anyone to enter private farmland to pick berries or mushrooms, to cross on foot, and to camp out of sight of the house.”
This custom turned law makes room for the stranger passing through.
In Africa, Osusu is a community practice of pooling savings and sharing those monies with those of the group who are in need. Members will give what they can, as little as one dollar or as much as a hundred dollars a month. The communal pot is then given to one member of the group. The next month, the communal pot will be given to the next member of the group. This will continue till everyone in the group receives the pot. Then the cycle will begin again.
Osusu has been practiced for generations in Nigeria and has long been part of the Yoruba tradition. Osusu groups depend on trust and cooperation. Such communal sharing rises out of a belief that each person’s survival is tied to everyone else.
So what do we model and what do we imitate? Again, we’re brought back to the core question: Are we in this together or are we fighting to make it alone? What do we place value on and what do we pass on to our children: that sharing or hoarding is the way to survive? It’s a strange truth that those with less tend to share more. Perhaps because once we’ve suffered, we understand and feel each other’s fate more easily.
In our modern Western culture, fear isolates us from each other so much that it’s difficult to discern when it’s safe to reach out to others. Yet we so desperately need the balm and care of community. How do we undo these tangles? How do we recover our common sense of living? What skills are necessary to find each other and to feed each other? What can we do in our day-to-day lives to reconnect and share some of what we have?
To surmount our isolation and fear, we could learn from the monarch butterfly who migrates over four generations across an entire continent. Amazingly, the next butterfly, born where the last one died, knows innately where to go and picks up the path of migration where the last left off. If one butterfly dies in a meadow and the next is born there a month later, the newborn still knows where to go and how to continue the path of its ancestor.
How does this happen? No one really knows. With a delicate persistence, the first three generations of butterflies live from two to six weeks, and the fourth butterfly completes the migration to warmer climates such as Mexico and California, living six to eight months until the whole process begins again. Often, these butterflies land in the same trees, year after year, the way humans learn the same lessons time and time again.
The summer breeding ground for monarchs can span more than a million acres. And every fall, the monarch makes its way south, traveling up to 3000 miles to refind its winter roost, the way seekers make pilgrimage to ancient holy sites.
The question remains: How can we resolve our differences, from one generation to the next, passing on our Collective Wisdom, while inhabiting our very individual lives? Perhaps lineage is the migration of human nature across generations. If so, how can we participate more fully in this journey?
Once the noise of our pain and discord is settled, there is something in each of us that knows where to go as soon as we’re born and where to keep going when feeling lost. Some call this migration of heart—resilience. Others call this dynamic participation in the life that moves through us—the reseeding of Spirit from one awakened being to the next. Together, the migration of wisdom and care from one generation to the next—until the child assumes what the parent has learned—is what the best of tradition tries to evoke.
The small things we can share and model will make a difference.
Upcoming Programs with Mark Nepo
Friday, October 26, 7:00 – 9:30 pm
More Together Than Alone: Discovering the Power & Spirit of Community
Click here to register
Saturday, October 27, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
The Power of Community to Heal Pathways that Bring Us Together
Click here to register
Perhaps lineage is the migration of human nature across generations. If so, how can we participate more fully in this journey?
“allows anyone to enter private farmland…” Practice of the Wild, Gary Snyder. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1990, p. 35.
“Osusu…” Details about the practice of Osusu are from “OSUSU, A Traditional Way Of Saving In Africa,” Oumou, in Lives Of African Women, 2011, http://ritesritualsanddailylife.blogspot.com/2011/07/osusu-traditional-way-of-saving-in.html; Women and Collective Action in Africa, Filomina Chioma Steady. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006; “The Esusu: A Credit Institution of the Yoruba.” William R Bascom, in The Journal of the Royal Anthropoligical Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 1952; and Susu and Susunomics, Paul Barton. Lincoln, NE: Authors Choice Press, 2001.
“every fall, the monarch…” Details from “The Life Cycle(s) of a Monarch Butterfly,” Monarch Butterfly Website. http://www.monarch-butterfly.com/.
Mark Nepo is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, The Book of Awakening, and 19 other books including More Together Than Alone: Discovering the Power & Spirit of Community in Our Lives and in the World, Things That Join the Sea and the Sky and The One Life We’re Given. For more information, please visit: MarkNepo.com and ThreeIntentions.com