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Hospicing Modernity: Facing Humanity’s Wrongs and the Implications for Social Activism

Vanessa Andreotti, S1 Episode 3

What is modernity? The modern age is characterized specifically by capitalism, consumerism, and individualism as well as the destruction of the planet and natural world by human behavior. Rather than trying to escape the grief and violence we have caused, instead it’s necessary to face it, grieve it, and make space for the unimaginable potential that follows.

Vanessa Machado de Olivera Andreotti is the Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria. Dr. Andreotti is a former Canada Research Chair in Race, Inequalities, and Global Change and is the author of Hospicing Modernity: Facing Humanity’s Wrongs and the Implications for Social Activism. She is also one of the founders of the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures (GTDF) Arts and Research Collective.

Jesse Marshall Markowitz is a somatic coach, bodyworker and facilitator living on unceded Ohlone territory. He supports individuals engaged in embodied healing and transformation, and consults with organisations working to distribute leadership and foster resilient relationships.

Full transcript between Vanessa Machado de Olivera Andreotti and Authors on Climate Words guest host, Jesse Marshall Markowitz, recorded on December 18, 2023.

            Jesse: Well, welcome, Vanessa. It's really good to be with you. We will be talking today about your book, Hospicing Modernity: Facing Humanities Wrongs and the Implications for Social Activism. I think I'll just start by having you introduce yourself however you would like to, and maybe give us a little bit of a sense of your path into this work.

            Vanessa: Where do I start? The book actually starts with a preface about the gifts of my grandmas and the fact that I come from a mixed heritage family of German ancestry, Guaraní Ancestry. Guaraní are indigenous people from Brazil. And from a family where my dad married my mom with paradoxical desire.

The desire was to make a stand against state sanctioned violence against indigenous peoples. But the other desire was to engage in genetic enfranchisement - so help the indigenous people, through the stairs of social mobility, by basically a project of whitening. Because he did believe that German culture carried this sense of superiority in terms of progress and advancement of civilization.

So being born in this paradox of contradictory desires, something very progressive and very not progressive, at the same time, led me to be raised in a family where this was very present, right, two cultures in the ascendance, that felt very present. My Mom also disidentified with the indigenous culture. My grandmother pushed back on the situation, my indigenous grandmother. I had a German grandmother also part of this configuration.

And as a child I had to learn to read the room and understand how that dynamic was playing out. Because when we have these colonial and racial dynamics playing out, there is an issue of safety, physical safety too, that is part of the calculation. Emotional safety, psychological safety, how you see your identity, your sense of belonging and everything else.

So the book is a telling of stories about how I grappled with all this complexity and paradoxes and contradictions. Not only in my family, but also in my work and in my existence as a human being, but also as an educator, somebody who works in education, and who came to education, not necessarily because education works for me, but because I wanted to change education.

So I worked a lot across sectors of NGOs because I'm a researcher. I work at the university. I worked at schools. And there were lots of stories there that were telling stories of how this dynamic operates in society. And so I retell some of the learnings and the insights that I encountered in this context.

But basically, the book is also about the story of a story. Hence modernity is presented as a very compelling story, that points towards a very singular notion of a progressive, intense civilization. And it's a story that imposes a set of separation between humans in nature that then creates rankings of value between people and the land, and the land becomes property. But also between different species, cultures and peoples.

And it's a story also related to the history of the modern nation state in terms of its protection of property and, of course, also our economic system of global shareholder, speculative, algorithmic capitalism. The story of the book, in relationship to the story of modernity, which is the story that I just described, talks about how modernity has crossed the boundaries of the planet or exceeded the limits of the planet. And why, because of that, it's a story that is in dis-ease and it is this seizing or dying. And it invites people to sit with that death both around them and within about because our structure, our internal structures and psycho-effective structures, are conditioned by modernity, in the same way that our imagination and our relationships, our unconscious, are also conditioned by modernity. And with modernity dying there's something dying within us. And there's many things dying around us as well.

So the book has lots of exercises for us to try to identify the structures and figure out how to sit at the edge. That's why it invites us to hospice, or offer palliative care, to the dystopic system that is dying, and to offer prenatal care to what's being born. But it's inviting us to understand that what's being born is being born from the land itself, from the planet, rather than from human beings and human constructs. So we talk about offering prenatal care without suffocating what's being born with projections and idealizations. We also talk about something that is gestating is something unimaginable and that is potentially, but not necessarily, wiser. The wisdom of this thing is going to depend a lot on how we can learn from the mistakes of the past in order to make all different mistakes in the future. So there's a lot of work to be done in this hospicing process, both in terms of disinvesting in the future of the current structures, but also in terms of activating or reactivating capacities that have been exiled from the system. And I’m talking not just about thinking or concepts, but reactivating a neurophysiology and neurochemistry and our individual and collective bodies or the metabolism of the planet that could open up different possibilities of existence and coexistence for a different future. Yeah, I think that's what the book is about.

            Jesse: I'm so impressed with your ability. Having facilitated some gatherings around your books, it's so big. You're asking us to look at what we're immersed in. The story that we're immersed and sit on the edge as you said. And I'm just really kind of in awe of your ability to, I know you have a lot of practice, but to just articulate it in such clear and concise terms. I guess there's a couple of directions that I want to go, but I think first, well, let's start here since, I mean, this is a podcast about the climate crisis and also about words.

Let's dive into modernity a little bit more and talk about the role that language and words play inside of this story that we're immersed in, this way of being and knowing.

            Vanessa:That's a big one. It's the most difficult part for most people to understand, that our relationship with words, with labels, with language, is also something that has been conditioned by modernity and that there are other possibilities for different types of relationship with language.

So the relationship with language that is prioritized in modernity is actually called logo-centrism. The focus on the idea that we can index the world into language. It's like trying to put the world into an encyclopedia or the dictionary, right? And when we do that, we do that in order to be able to control the world and control reality, right? But if you prioritize that too much, we forget a few things. One of the things we forget is that what we can articulate in language is just a fraction of what we can think, what we’re thinking. And what we are thinking is just a fraction of what we are perceiving. And what we are perceiving is just a fraction of what actually is, right?

So we are reducing and reducing and reducing to something that we then believe will be interpreted the same way by different people. And I know how compelling it is to believe that, but interpretation of words happens in context depending on a number of different factors. So, on the one hand, the languaging is already very limited as a possibility of labeling. On the other hand, even the labels themselves cannot be fixed in one interpretation, right? We have layers and layers of interpretation and they are moving. So another way to be relating to words, which in linguistics is called a polysemic way, a way that opens up these layers, is to think about words as entities and stories as entities.

So instead of word-ing the world to control it, this entity of word-ing and languag-ing and stories, would be world-ing the world. They are playing their part of the world and they're playing with us, and with the world itself, to move things in the world. So in this way of thinking about language, we are focusing on the movement of what words mobilize, how words dance with us.

In the logo-centric understanding, we are trying to fix the words into a form and then we're putting the swarms of the interpretations of the meanings in the dictionary. And it's kind of that we’re capturing them, so that they remain stable. However, with more complexity and more and more change, and as we are facing the limits of the planet and everything else, there is a proliferation of interpretations of meanings and it can't…all these mechanisms that we have to capture the words and to make them stay in one form, in one place, these mechanisms fail, right? We have these words rebelling and becoming other things.

So this is part of the problem. There are different layers to the problem as well, in terms of when we think about meaning, for example, within modernity, anything that is not…we associate what's important with what's meaningful, right? If it's not fitting into a meaning it's meaningless, so therefore unimportant. So we are editing out a lot of things that can be super important, but because they do not fit in our relationship with language we're not considering them. And there is a correlation between how we relate to this meaning in a logocentric way, in a way that is form, with how we relate to truth and how we seek certainty and how we relate with knowledge.

So for example, when I was thinking about a context that has multiple moving layers of complexity, like the climate and biodiversity catastrophes we are seeing, the tendency, if you want that fixed meaning, the tendency would be to collapse all of these layers of complexity into one layer and then in this one layer you will impose one narrative of coherence. And this narrative of coherence edits out what does not fit in this narrative. And then you police the borders and you become very defensive when you are challenged. So you get into tunnel vision or tunnel thinking and this universalism, that is also very characteristic of modernity, that will not be conducive to either navigating or addressing complexity. So if we look at the climate catastrophe and the biodiversity catastrophe through this tunnel vision, our ability to address it is going to be extremely limited.

And unless we both open up the way we relate to meaning and to language and the way we relate to knowledge and reality in a defractive way, in a prismatic way, where we can see all the different layers; when you're not trying to impose coherence; where you have capacity to hold paradoxes and tensions and contradictions. Unless we do that, we cannot address climate change or the biodiversity apocalypse as super wicked challenges that do not have, they cannot have simple solutions. Where, when you address something in one way, you create a problem in another layer. Where there's no authority that is going to sort it all out for us. Where we are always deferring addressing the problem to future generations, right?

So we end up in a very limited and tunnel vision way of addressing the problem because of this conditioning. Yeah. And I think that is the first challenge and it's an educational challenge. And I'm speaking as an educational researcher because I can say with as much knowledge as I have of the field, it is an educational problem. Our education systems, K-12 and higher education, they bring forth this way of thinking, this way of reasoning and this way of feeling and this way of relating to the world, to our own detriment. And when we look at other communities, including indigenous communities that have a reciprocal relationship with the land, you see different things, different possibilities, different possibilities of relating to language, different possibilities of relating to reality, different possibilities of relating and being as part of the land.

And here I'm not saying we should just go and appropriate these ways and just use them and conceal them here. But we should be paying attention to the fact that what they are showing us is that there are other ways, other ways are possible, right?

In Brazil we have this saying that in a flood situation, it's only when the water reaches our bum that we can actually swim. Before that, we can only walk our weight. So as the water is rising, it is important to look at other people who have been swimming for a long time. Because the waters have risen for people for a long time. But we are not going there, even to learn to swim, because their currents, their rivers, their floods are very different from the floods we're going to have. But we're going there to learn that our bodies can swim, that our bodies are mostly water, and that we are not just our bodies being water, we are the water and all the contaminants that we have put in the water. We have created the sludge and now we are part of that. So I think that's what we can respectfully be doing in these circumstances is just to be reminded that it's possible and that we can, but it's also hard, and that we also have a responsibility to learn the swimming that will be necessary in the floods we are going to encounter.

            Jesse: Right. So when I hear you talk about the way that modernity indexes reality through worlds and creates this tunnel vision, I think about climate, I think about, all right, so climate change is the result of the greenhouse gas emissions, the greenhouse effect, which as a result of our emissions of carbon from the atmosphere, which is a result of burning fossil fuels. So we need to burn fewer fossil fuels, right? And the whole discourse around climate change gets reduced to this question of carbon emissions, ignoring the biodiversity collapses that would also mean probably the end of our civilization, even if the climate remained stable. And also, as you're saying, kind of policing out any question about, is there something deeper happening here and how we relate to a finite planet, to one another, etcetera.

            Vanessa: To ourselves too. Yeah. I was in a meeting, a climate gathering, where somebody had said something that I hadn't really thought about in terms of climate change. He was mentioning that climate change we can mitigate or adapt, but the biodiversity apocalypse, which is the term used by the UN, we can't. If the pollinators are gone, we're gone, right? And we won't be able to do mini-drops to do the pollination in time, I don't think. And even if we do, it's a problem there too.

So the question that I often hear in climate gatherings is like it's always focused on solutions, but they're not asking the question. We're not spending time asking questions or sitting with the issue, with the challenge. And then we do have, like carbon tunnel vision is endemic, right? If we just reduce emissions. And the idea is always how do we keep consuming as much as we're consuming, or more, because we need to grow the economy too, right? So the carbon emissions are always tied to the growth of the economy and nobody is talking about the fact that the economic model that you have of infinite growth doesn't fit a closed system which is the planet, right? And we end up in this circular movement where it's very difficult to talk about the reality that doesn't fit, which is a reality of an economic system that doesn't fit on our planet.

And why is this so difficult to talk about? And I think it's because it still seems possible for some people to advance and to create more capital and more value out of the crisis too. And this needs to be exhausted. It feels like we’re only going to start talking about anything else when all these possibilities for creating more profit out of the crisis becomes exhausted. And that's where the water reaches your bum, right? Flood situation.

On the other hand, most of the people, in education, that reach that level of the water reaching the bum, are people who are facing an eternal crisis, too. So what we think about collapse, we generally think about the lack of access to water, energy, goods, mobility or anything in that realm. But we forget that there is an internal infrastructure that can collapse much quicker than this. And if you look at young people, today, right? And the rising levels of anxiety, at the levels of depression and self-harm. If we’re thinking about education, these are the kinds of teachers who have noticed that, who say what worked in the past is not going to work anymore. We need something different. We need to figure out how to ground as the familiar is dying.

So in my in my work as an educational leader and researcher, as the dean of the faculty of education, I think my task, the most responsible thing for me to do, is to ask the question like, if we knew in our bones not just in the head, that major social and ecological breakdown, which is already happening and has happened for us to be here, right? But it's only going to expand because we don't have mechanisms to actually collectively hold this yet. But if it's the only way to expand, and that in 10 to 20 years, what's viable will no longer be possible, right? What then would we be teaching or advocating for? How would we be working right now? And what if we could respond culturally from a space of emotional sobriety, of relation of maturity, of intellectual discernment, and of intergenerational responsibility? So how would that change what we do? And I think the work of education is those four things. It's bringing people together back together into a space of sobriety, maturity, discernment, accountability and responsibility, right? So that you can face this without turning on each other.

            Jesse: You know, just sitting with that prospect, it strikes me that ultimately what we're talking about here is modernity and by extension, the climate crisis, as a crisis of relationship.

            Vanessa: Yes, not an informational problem, but a relational problem. And that starts with how, for example, our identities and sense of belonging within modernity have been grounded on human constructs, and that these human constructs can never fulfill their promise, right? Of identity, of belonging. So the Huniquipi people of the Amazon who are very close collaborators, they talk about this being a problem. So they say, okay, there's the sense of identity or something clunky that depends on this human construct. And we can’t just forget, we can’t just throw them away, because they carry with them all the things that haven't been composted yet, all the conflict and the dissonances between cultures and the past and the traumas and everything. So we have to kind of hold them. But they say there is a deeper sense of identity and belonging that is not languageable, which is our umbilical cord, metaphorically, this umbilical cord that we have with the core of the earth. And that umbilical cord is something material that cannot… any kind of human construction of it, even umbilical cord, doesn't capture what this thing is about, right? The miracle of life and death. So unless we reconnect with this sense of materiality, of us belonging to another material living entity that is, I generally refer to it as the metabolism of the planet. And metabolism is used to talk about, it's not this organism still kind of pulls towards identity, right? But metabolism is always changing and we are part of this changing shifts of energy and matter shifting, and shape shifting right?

So modernity has tried to fix things so that we could, as human beings, defeat the number one control, metabolic thing and defeat death, right? And be able to have some buffer against loss and grief and all of that. But in doing that, the project of modernity created more violence and grief and death. And also some gifts, like some it tried and it succeeded to a certain extent, but it failed in its totality to do it because death is inevitable. And our relationship with death then changed in the process. So if we believe we can be protected from it, or that we can avoid it, or deny it, we don't develop our relationship with dying that is necessary for us to live life well. It's so the people in the Andes have this Sumak Kaswach, which is what they say is that a well lived life is also dependent on a well died death. So it cannot be separate. And for all of that to happen, there is a direction of life that is a direction towards death, not towards remaining young. It's not about youngering, it's about eldering.

And so the education of children from the day they are born needs to be oriented towards that eldering. And that eldering means more responsibility, not less. Whereas within modernity, because of the hyper individualism and this sense of an individual life, an individuated life, that responsibility is neglected. The sense of accountability is very restricted to your own success, to your own family, your social mobility, your consumption and your status or your competition in meritocracy, right? Rather than an expansion of responsibilities towards not only your family, but the land and the whole planet as another living entity.

So that movement from, kind of the ship is going in the direction of modernity, to turn the ship around and say we actually need the direction of eldering and of growing up and showing up differently to each other and to the planet, is a huge educational task that requires both unlearning a number of things. And learning, reactivating, being taught other things that we have forgotten or neglected.

            Jesse: I'm watching myself get caught in the death denial loop while I'm listening to you. Like if we can just figure out, if we can just make this transition, then we'll avert catastrophe and we'll save our way of life.

            Vanessa: Yes, the way of life is the important thing because we can't imagine, because our imagination has been also impacted by modernity's colonialism. We can't imagine being well outside of the system, right? So there are other possibilities of being well that have been exiled from our understanding of being well. And we will defend that and try to protect that for dear life. And that's why people who are feeling the insecurity of the futurity of this way of life, they will fall to people who will promise to fix it, right? And that is one of the most dangerous things and that's very much related to the relationship with language and knowledge and reality in the tunnel vision thing. In that sense the weight of the layers of complexity that have been added, they are weighing on people's backs and they are breaking their backs. So unless we can bear this weight and develop the muscles and the posture to lay it down safely, like weight lifting safety, and hold it together, like collectively to compost in a collective way what's in there, we may have humanity's back broken by modernity’s inability to deal with the magnitude of the problem that it has created. And this focus on the desire for simple solutions that can secure our way of life, right?

But what if the invitation is for us to learn how to act as we have set ourselves on the path of premature extinction, in slow motion for some and an accelerated version for others. Then what if the invitation is to learn how to die well?

And maybe, instead of relying on a teleology, which is this idea of this is going to happen or this is going to happen, learning to breathe and to move together, step by step, small step by small step, and all together, well. And in this process, not feeling that this is about changing things or even dying because that can also be a teleology, but figuring something out without investing so much in the destination, focusing on the process of developing the capacity to be emotionally sober, relationally mature, intellectually discerning and intergenerationally responsible. Then I believe something unimaginable today might become possible. But if we seek the outcome, the result, or the arrival of the destination, we will limit, again, what’s possible to what we can imagine from the outset.

            Jesse: So for people who care, and who feel the pain of what's happening, who want to make a difference and have an impact and create change. What is your invitation? What I'm hearing is partly a different relationship to the future.

            Vanessa: And a different relationship to yourself. If you are engaging in the climate context, but you’re coming at it from a space of neurosis. It's this neurosis going to drive the process. So part of the idea is to do the internal work to calm it down and to actually know yourself better. But in order for you to know yourself, if you do it through the cartesian subject, which is this idea that your identity and belonging is grounded in human constructs, that you’re self transparent, that's only going to reinforce the neurosis.

So the invitation is for you to look at reality in its multiple layers, to look at yourself in multiple layers, in your multiple layers, discover many layered parts of you that you have neglected and hold space for that. In order to do that you need to extend your capacity to sit with and hold space and have the stomach to face what’s difficult and painful without running away, without feeling immobilized, and without feeling overwhelmed, right? Once we can actually sit with each other through difficult things.

In order to do that you need to find that thing about the umbilical cord as well. So your energy and vitality and inspiration need to come from somewhere that is not just social constructs, that is actually the materiality of the land. That’s why our indigenous collaborators talk about doing the work inside of you that opens the channels so that the land can dream through you, so that the land can design you, so that you are not in a way of being that centers the ego, that centers the self. You need to be dislocated from the anthropocentric position that we have been conditioned to be. And create the nerogenesis…So we talk in my research team about neuro colonization and neuro decolonization which is about creating the neurobiological and epigenetic conditions of both the individual and collective body. But when I say individual collective body I’m not just saying human bodies, right? So we need to create, learn to, if we use the words of psychology, of regulation (which is not the best word by any means), but if we talk about self regulation and co-regulation, we are talking about the meta regulation that allows us to feel the pain but also allows us to process the pain without drowning in this pain and then compost this shit, basically, that we have inherited and created and we are part of, in a way that it becomes new soil for new life, for whatever comes next, without investing in, as you said, a specific future, but investing in our repair of relationships in the present so that this present can weave something different in the future. Because the future doesn’t depend on the ideas that we have, it depends less on the ideas that we have about the future than on the relationships that we can weave in the creation of the future. And the relationships right now are extremely strained and damaged and without repair and weaving these relationships differently, the only thing we can create is the same future.

            Jesse: That's making me just think of all of the relational pain that I've experienced inside of groups and organizations with really good intentions. And then this thing that I've heard so many times of like, well, that's just human nature, right? That's just how we are. We're selfish, we're competitive…

            Vanessa: Well we are in a system that actually feeds that, right? If every time I come up with the idea of that narrative of human nature, then whoever is not that shouldn’t be considered human, right? Whatever culture is not seeking that. We have the good, the bad, the broken, the messed up within each of us, it's true. But that doesn't mean that we are determined by violence. We can find other ways if we aren’t just looking or endorsing the greed and the vanity and all the selfishness that is in there. We are feeding the wrong wolf basically.

            Jesse: Yeah, there's a bit of a relief for me and you know like, I'm a somatics practitioner and I practice a sort of politicized frame of somatics as best I can, where the social context is at play. And there's such a relief for me, seeing how it's not just me, right? Like my patterns of needing to control and being critical and all the things that were adapted for me, are sitting inside of these containers of patriarchy and white supremacy and all the rest of it. But the same is true for how we relate to each other, right? I think about those organizations that I was a part of, and it's like, it wasn't just us, right? And something else is possible. And the path there is difficult.

            Vanessa: Yeah, right. 

            Jesse: And so your book offers this incredible set of tools to start people on this path. And yet I also have the intuition that reading a book by oneself, about transforming how one is in relationship, isn't sufficient. And so I'm curious what have you learned about the kinds of conditions that make this kind of transformation possible? Or maybe transformation is too ambitious of a word, but the composting, possible?

            Vanessa: So we have this course called Facing Human Wrongs, right? So we have a lot of data from the course because we invite participants into a learning and unlearning journey where we ask them to suspend desires for hope or solutions, even for community, for six weeks, right? So that they can actually give themselves the space to do this work. And it's a ceremony. This would be similar to withdrawal. Like you have to go a little bit into exile to sort your space out a little bit and learn this other way so that you can come back to community from a very different space.

And we have, everybody who does the support of the course, so the facilitators, for example, they don’t…. The participants are invited to do a psychodynamic self-assessment for every until of the course (there are six units in six weeks). And the people who read this assessment, they are not evaluating anything or judging anything. They are just witnessing the process right? And we try to put all the guardrails for people to remain in the process, because there are so many ways that people can get distracted and go into loops, we call them the traps, they can fall into traps. And those traps include, for example, over-intellectualization or under intellectualization, right? Or the consumer choice - I want it to be this way or that way, or I want to do just the body part and not the intellectual part. Or the artistic part and not the academic part. It becomes this fight between different parts of yourself that just want to escape the difficulty of it, whatever is painful and difficult.

And what we're trying to do is to tell people like, in order for you to learn to hold space and process pain, you need to face it, right? You need to feel all the feelings you need to feel. And you need your body to be in a different space to do that. And you need your whole being, right? And you need to access different parts of your brain to help in this process, so we use a lot of imagery and metaphor. We ask people to go on forest walks to observe that they are not…one thing that we hear a lot from participants is that I feel very alone in this, and all my relations now are not talking about this and I’m alone. And we’re saying are you really alone? It's an anthropocentric position to understand you’re alone, but you are always already belonging and part of something much bigger. So learn to talk to the land. Learn to talk to the plants around you. Learn to see life around you in a very different way and to feel part of it. That's the invitation.

So that when you enter a conversation in a climate gathering, you are not projecting or are seeking validation. You are not using the space for you to meet the conditioned desires of modernity. Because by doing that, you are using the sacred collective time for personal gain, right? Or to to signal virtue or to meet things that you could have been holding space for in a very different way. And that's why we ask you to do the work on yourself so that you don't become work for other people, especially for people who identify as black, indigenous and people of color, right? So that you're really you're not fragile.

This situation requires a lot of self-compassion, but it's a politicized form of self-compassion. As you mentioned, a politicized form of somatic work. So part of the course is also about teaching people to read, when it's not politicized, in where this search for joy, for compassion and for even love can become escapism, or spiritual bypassing. Whereas the search for love, joy and compassion is actually a political act that is necessary for you to actually hold space for what's difficult and painful. You can't do it without it.

And then we have this image of like, there's a mountain of shit and us sitting on top of it. And then there is the offer of a rainbow, right? And most people would take the rainbow and turn their back to the shit and off they go, right? But the idea is that the rainbow needs to happen for us to compost this shit. We need to stay with the shit and the rainbow. Right? And it's hard because in our society, this has become so fragmented that you have the spaces that only do the rainbow and spaces that only do the shit. And sometimes if you only do the shit without the rainbow, what happens is that there's a competition, that suffering becomes a currency, right? And then you have an oppression olympics, or a who has more shit or who has had more shit thrown at them, basically, right? And that doesn't help us with the shit either. You actually get attached to the shit because the more shit you have thrown at you, the more entitlements you're going to be able to claim.

So it's not working either way. The rainbow space where you go along to get along, to be high on endorphins, doesn't work. The other space where you were competing to see it was the most critical person in the room and who has more cortisol to share is also not working. We have to find a way where we can politicize compassion and somatic work so that we can do the shit composting, we need a shit composing party, right? Where we find the joy in the struggle. This is what I talk about when I say there are other ways of being well that we have forgotten. This is one of them. Like there are ways of being well in the composting. There are ways of being well in going through this together. Of finding joy in the growth and the learning of how to show up differently, of how to exist differently with one another.

            Jesse: I was looking forward to asking you this about the shit composting party. Like how do you imagine that? Like what are the activities? What are the decorations?

            Vanessa: What’s the soundtrack? (Laughs) It is a very interesting question. So I do have a research collective and we've been working together for about eight years. There's an extended collective and there's a core group of about 12 people who really worked their asses off basically in terms of meeting the demands, because we don't even have the time to plan, we are just responding to contexts of conflict, of shit composting that we have to figure out how to compost that and then try to get the lessons we learned from one context to a metal level so that we can share with others, and that takes up a lot of the time. But I don't think it could be a larger group, right?

So figuring out a group where there is affinity of inquiry, which is the affinity of what we need to compost, and starting this experiment. And we do talk about, how do we cook our medicines and integrate these medicines together? But in order to do that, you have to make mistakes, right? And it's not easy. So part of the shit composting is us getting to know each other to an extent that, where trust is not dependent on identity or conviction. You learn to trust and to depend on each other in a very different way. So these small experiments in collectives, in collective weaving, are super important.

And then another piece that is important is for these collectives to be able to connect too. To write and share what has been learned in these experiments. But in any collective, you will need a shared vocabulary and affinity of inquiry, a methodology of inquiry. You need to have a sense of unconditional regard, but also a sense that, is this your collective? Because it's not about belonging and identity, which is what we have been conditioned to think in terms of collectivity.

And then there is a sense that whatever we are called to engage or encounter or experiment with us is not dictated by us either, right? So we started to put the work out there and then some people would pick it up and ask us for things and if we have the capacity we would do it. But we're also working with the indigenous communities and trying to create a loop circuit where if there is income generation here, it's redistributed there, and learning how to do that, a learning to translate ourselves in different contexts, in learning to not be so attached to the experiment, but much more attached to the curiosity and the learning from that. Seeing mistakes as good data. That creates a kind of humility in dealing with these things that really brings people together. Being curious, that sense of curiosity, humility, honesty, transparency, kindness, it’s very basic. And seeing ourselves as insufficient and indispensable, as co-sympathetic, right? Learning how to use humor in this way and in engaging the body and the neurophysiological system in a very different way.

But we wouldn't have been able to do this without the support of the community. The indigenous communities that have supported this work. So we have our training in ceremony in understanding how to engage differently with your unconscious, in having sensorial deprivation experiences as well, right? So no food or water for days. Exhausting the body and seeing…because you can only see where you're at when you are in a crisis or when you're pushed to your limits. And we had to do that together several times so that we get to know the worst, right? And that worst worse doesn't scare you any more because it's not the only thing that you are either.

Yeah. Having that sense of acceptance of another is very different from what we're trained to do in modernity where all relationships are transactional. Like, if I give you, you give me something back. And I sell you my identity and I afirm yours. So it's very different from that. So the shit composting party is about seeing yourself as a hive, in a way. But its a very diverse hive. Where mistakes are going to be made. Where there is the worst and the best. And there is anger and kindness and everything is bubbling.

And part of the call that the communities have issued for us it, is to ground it in that umbilical cord, right? To center the land rather than ourselves.

            Jesse: I'm feeling my own longing for such a collective, right? And have made many attempts over the course of my life to find it. And I'm feeling the really unique story of yours. The unique sets of conditions and supports and relationships with elders and the role of ceremony that isn't accessible to everyone who has shit to compost.

            Vanessa: And that's why there's a need, we have a commitment to bring it to a level where we can digest what we're learning in a way that becomes useful for other people and maybe for other collectives as well. To say, don't make the same mistakes, make different mistakes. But still we've been extremely lucky in terms of who is behind us.

So even for the Facing Human Wrongs course, we have ceremony done for the course where we're going to be able to orchestrate that, right? So people who are doing the course are being supported at several different layers to do the work that is needed in this transformation process. But maybe at some point, because if you're not thinking about it in terms of human beings, it's forces that are beyond the human, that are trying to support. And figuring out how to scale it up is also a challenge. But it's a challenge that with more people coming to the realization of the unsustainability and the violence of where we are, that becomes more of an urgency right?

And when I talk to funders, right? People want to fund this work. And they say, what is it that you're trying to do? And what we're trying to do is scale up SMDR, which is emotional sobriety, relational maturity, voluntary discernment, and intergenerational responsibility. How that looks like in different contexts depends, and that's why the translation bit is so important right? you need to meet people where they are at and then bring them. And its an invitation, it cannot be coercive, it has to be a gentle invitation or guidance to a different way of being.

            Jesse: Have you thought about making some kind of resource that's about how to form a collective? Or is there a transition from the course into a more enduring… What's percolating?

            Vanessa: It's interesting that you ask that. We’ve had 500 people make their way through the course. And there have been requests, like help us reconnect. And we have not had the capacity to think systematically about it. But there are communities forming organically. And I think maybe that is the best way for them to find themselves.

So after the course there are integration sessions every month where they meet each other. And whatever happens there, that they encounter, it's dependent on what's alive, right? And there is a book coming out in two years, probably, 2025 in the summer. So we are writing it as a collective and one chapter is going to be about what we have learned about being a collective. And different conversations that we could issue to other people who are trying to find who they need to work with.

Yeah. Something is going to be there. And maybe I’ll come back here, to hear what needs to be written there.

            Jesse: It’s funny, I’m coaching in a course of exactly 500 people online right now, running small groups. And I just had a conversation with the teacher of mine who started it, about well what happens next? And so this question of, what are the formations? What's the size? What are the conditions? How do you let it grow organically like it needs to? But with just the right supports and the right shared language and the right container of practices to help people spread their collective wings.

            Vanessa: Yeah. And it's not an easy process. Because we had more people coming through who wanted something else. In the beginning there were a lot of people wanting the collective to do what they wanted to do, and that didn't work.

There is something that emerges naturally in terms of the kinds of questions. And it helped to see the whole thing like it's a puzzle and we each have just a little piece of the puzzle and there's so many other pieces, like go find your piece. You know this. And once you have that place where you can really cook your medicine with others and you have a. contained that if it goes into position its not going to spill and people can hold it, right? And can be compassionate towards you and themselves. Politically too. Then you have a group that can…and it takes time too. We’ve been together for 8 years. And now we can say, okay. Like when some demand comes we know who can do it and who cannot and people can do what they can. And it’s not that this is fixed, but people come with a specific... [AUDIO CUTS OUT] 01:04:06:01 - 01:04:13:17

            Jesse: Well, may 2024 be a year of collective incubation. I have one last question that I'm dying to ask you but I'm also curious if there's anything more that you want to add. I want to ask you about desire and about longing and how, inside of this project of trying to let go of our projections of the future, what role does longing or desire play in that? Is there a way to seperate them?

            Vanessa: We generally make a distinction between yearning and desire. And that's an artificial distinction because these are human constructs anyway. But if we think about desire as something that's conditioned and a yearning is something that comes from the umbilical cord, right? Then the yearning for wholeness, right? For the metabolic wholeness of this, has an immense role in driving this. But the desires that have been conditioned, the desire for authority, for autonomy (we have 5 As), for arbitration, for accumulation, and affirmation. These desires, they take up a lot of space. And generally if you are looking in a room where the problem arises is where these desires are being denied. BUt because they are very present in the room and people feel entitled to them and when this entitlement is negated or denied, then you become very defensive. Now what if we could, we can't take the desire out of the room because it's like, if you think about addiction, you are always in rehab, these desires are there. But what if we didn’t center them? What if we said, ok that's not for this room. Let’s understand them and the violence and the harm that they can create as well, right? And let's center something else. Let’s center the land. Let’s try together to untwist this umbilical cord and be present to what is calling us, that is not ourselves. And figure out how to create this meta-regulation that brings us into a space of solemnity and sobriety to look at what's in front of us without these projections and demands and perceived entitlement. What else is possible there? And what if we could do that from a space where relationships are built on the grounds of trust, respect, reciprocity, consent, and accountability? What if we could trust without guarantees? Then I think, something else, which is not imaginable right now, is going to be possible.