loosening my fingers around abundance

Mon, Feb 8, 2021 6-minute read

I’m in a love affair with life right now and she’s giving me an abundance to muse upon.

The fullness of the love affair is also making me feel strangely bloated and impatient – I have about six different pieces of writing that I’ve started that I want to finish, and I sense this weird pressure to metabolize all of the fullness inside of me before she leaves me. 

Before she leaves me…

I have an image that I return to when I feel this grasping desire to hold and contain all the knowledge, love and magic: No matter how tightly I cup my hands and press my fingers together, the water will slip through the cracks. So I close my eyes and let go of this desire to contain. My fingers loosen, and I trail my hands into the well, reverently as though I’m praying. I bring what I can hold to my lips and I drink it in. I can barely catch it all, but what I cradle in my mouth and on my tongue is delicious. I let the rest of it drip abundantly down my face, stream in rivulets back into the source.

My hands will never be able to contain the ocean, but I can pour my whole body into the cool water, and dissolve gloriously into it. I’ll let the current to carry me here.

This undulating relationship between holding and releasing, receiving and giving is a part of the fluid reciprocity between the myself and the larger body,  the drop of water in the ocean, the particle and the wave, the in and out of the same breath. I shared Nora Bateson’s definition of generosity, where giving within a radically entangled system is closer to a heart pumping blood to a toe, rather than the altruism of a benevolent philanthropist. The heart moves blood to the toe through the fractal branching of blood vessels through the larger body – the blood is not being “shared”, it is not transactional – this is mutualistic symbiosis, and interdependent co-arising. I give and I receive, because I am contained in and contain the entanglement of a larger body. 

Why do we focus our energies and desires so much on containing and holding my perfect ideas, the precious love of another person, toilet paper in the pandemic, the savings in a bank account? I create walls and boundaries – sealing all the cracks between my fingers – so that I can hold everything I’ve earned and deserve through my depth, my hard work, my networks, my cleverness. 

I’m still in the process of unlearning the wiley scarcity built inside of me.

Okay, clenching up again. Let’s slow down, close our eyes for a moment. I breathe in sweet air and let it expand the lungs, notice the sun gently warming my face. Release. 

In these pauses where I let my body expand and my membrane become more porous – I notice that I’m receiving this air, this sun, these ideas and insights – all for free. I am not the sole creator, the earner of these blessings. I have always been receiving so much, in abundance, since the moment I was born. Yet why is the practice of recognizing and acknowledging reception so hard? 

I grew up with a shrine to Independence in my bank account, working jobs in high school and university because I believed that success meant self-sufficiency. I wanted to become socially, emotionally, physically, financially sovereign enough to be able to magnanimously help and support others. Yet receiving help? I sense the tightening in my chest: reluctance. 

The art of receiving is frowned upon in the paradigm of Neoliberal Independence, enshrined with the core values of self-sovereignty, individual autonomy and freedom. The position of needing or asking for help is correlated with weakness or helplessness – if you can’t take care of yourself or your family, you have to rely on government handouts, social welfare and charity. Shame! 

Yet in the hidden architectures of how we live together, we are constantly feeding and drinking from systems that many disparage, despise and fight to defund (if they can even see them). We drive on roads that are paved by public infrastructure, we pour water from our taps through public utilities. I feel liberated to go skating on an ice rink in a public park, because even if I know that I might fall and break an arm, I am a call away from a Canadian health care system that will take care of me without bankrupting me. These systems of course, are so far from perfect, but they provide the robust, invisible infrastructures of support that – like the elaborate branching of the vascular system in our bodies – have been circulating what is needed in the Collective Body to survive and thrive.

Our reluctance to receive is hard-coded with the fear of debt and owe-ing – we resist being burdened by taxes, costs, favours, labour. But owing is only hard-coded within conditions of scarcity – when there isn’t enough. Not enough is a story we need to heal from, because it makes us want to reinforce our walls, harden the boundaries, tighten the fists and guard the heart. This is a profoundly lonely condition.

Robin Wall Kimmerer has described this isolation as species loneliness:

“Philosophers call this state of isolation and disconnection “species loneliness”—a deep, unnamed sadness stemming from estrangement from the rest of Creation, from the loss of relationship. As our human dominance of the world has grown, we have become more isolated, more lonely when we can no longer call out to our neighbors.
― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants 

Yes, let’s widen the aperture even further now and move beyond human systems, the human species.

We are always receiving gifts from nature, whether we acknowledge it or not: the warmth of sunlight, the nourishment of water, the joyful surprise of spotting the glistening jewels of blueberries and raspberries on forest hikes, and popping them sumptuously into our mouths. The trees that branch out into the air like lungs, turning our carbon excrements into life-giving oxygen. And underground, the wisps of mycelium weaving and braiding through roots, feeding us, composting us. 

When I read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer for the first time, I felt this intense, heart-wrenching longing to be in the world of reciprocity that she describes. In this world of abundance, giving and receiving is life life-ing. There is no fanfare in this kind of giving. There is no building named after you. 

You take care and are taken care of. You heal and you are healed. You give, and you receive.

I will no longer try to contain or capture my muse. I write this as a love letter to her instead, light candles around the brimming well, and drink in the blissful abundance of receiving.

I’ll allow myself to love and be loved, in this small and expansive moment. 

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