Subtle Shifts

Looking at life under one roof

One of the articles in The Way Of Learning (IC#6)
Originally published in Summer 1984 on page 15
Copyright (c)1984, 1997 by Context Institute

Cultural change doesn’t require the existence of morphogenetic fields for its explanation, but suppose these fields do exist. What then does it feel like to be "inside" a changing cultural field, to be both affected by and helping to create those changes? The following story, with its combination of responsiveness and creative choice, could be told, with minor variations, by many people across the country. Peg Goldman lives in Tucson, AZ.

PLAYS LIKE Thornton Wilder’s Our Town remind us that there are dramatic things happening in nooks and crannies all over the world. I think of that with my own life and sometimes wonder if a modern playwright might not be intrigued to lift our roof, doll-house style, and watch the antics of this 10-year divorcee and her two teenagers.

Yet, we are ordinary. Upper-middle class house, neighborhood, school and job. Two blocks by car to the supermarket and exercise salon. In a world where people’s backyards are sprouting vegetable gardens, where experiments in making yogurt and learning to live together communally are becoming common, and where women such as I are depending on themselves to fix the car and toilet, where is the drama in my life?

I only began to look around eight or nine years ago, eyeing these lifestyle changes from a safe distance. Through my single-parent eyes, the view was too scary out there – just beginning to be comfortable within. It was more often that I thought "I can do it" and "I’m really OK!", a dramatic change for me, yet common as told in books about personal growth following divorce.

I congratulated friends for dietary changes and continued to enjoy my ice cream binges and diet sodas. My parents had always stressed that one didn’t waste food. Heaven forbid! I ate it, and I also watched enviously the lithe movements and slim bodies of people I knew who were living by discipline and by choice in ways less consumptive than mine. I did want to be in the mainstream, the "new age," and that desire was at least partly satisfied by engaging in the easier conservation practices such as saving cans, bottles, newspaper, plastic bags, etc.

Still, the stories of people giving up attachments and city comforts for shelter and food of their own creation seemed tales of courage. I admired them. As a "child" of the 60s who had not reacted against societal norms, I nevertheless respected the motives of the hippy and considered myself to be gutless for not joining in. I have felt separate and unworthy in my comfortable life. Now, I see some of these same people as they’ve grown older adopting again the self- serving practices they had turned away from before. The media bring to our attention the more extreme flip-flops. But in homes such as mine even retaining our "queen-sized" waterbeds and enjoying periodic retreats into television hypnotism, in small, subtle ways a transformation is in process.

Somehow, it’s been possible to hear above the din of advertising the simple truths about our capacity for caring. While outwardly living by the "rules" of society as they are now, we are changing those rules on a deeper but still imperceptible level. In my home and (I’m willing to bet) in countless others, people are discovering connectedness to all of life. Maybe the seeds of discovery are planted in our reading as children, being inspired by various characters, true as well as fictional, who do with little and give immeasurably. Sharing goes on around us in many forms. Ahead of us in the grocery store line someone is short 3 pennies. The person behind says "Here!" Despite the violence that we see in our television dramas, often there is an enduring message "in the end." We can’t help but notice.

We increasingly recognize our own personal power. We rise above adversity such as divorce and other major life changes, finding the courage to begin anew – returning to school, creating a new career, venturing into our own businesses. Our friends take risks and we are inspired. Though these accomplishments do not seem monumental considering the challenges we face as planetary people, they may be developing a greater openness to other responsibilities. We are learning about the destructiveness of fear in our own lives, as we fight our personal dragons. Coming through unscathed, we may be willing to take on more.

I have had the experience of exhibiting more confidence than I felt. I’ve worked at training my thoughts toward positive directions. I have consciously tuned into the feelings and desires of a prospective employer and concentrated my caring in his/her direction; and I associate these with having landed the job! It was part of learning about another dimension of creativity and responsibility. Isn’t it possible that this knowledge is being transferred gradually into a larger realm? Rather than reacting against the seemingly selfish choices of our society, it could be that we are bringing forth human capabilities which are more firmly grounded, deeply rooted. Out of greater certainty of our individual power, from experience with connectedness to people, and from some knowledge of conditions which exist in other parts of our planet – we see new options.

I see myself and others making different choices involving concern and consciousness. Spending part of Christmas holidays preparing baskets and delivering them to the home-bound and elderly, donating time and money to feed our transient population, writing letters to governmental officials fully intending that they affect decision-making. We check to see if something can be fixed and try to do it ourselves. We recycle everything that someone might use. We have resisted another implanted fear – having strangers in our home – by housing a family of refugees for a few days. All have been richly rewarding, learning experiences for me and my children.

The pattern of serving myself and gathering around me the things and people who will sound-proof and cushion my life is a habit being broken in the quietly dramatic changes under our roof.