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Larks! Getting Things Done

September 20, 2019


Can you keep your soul in its body, / hold fast to the one, / and so learn to be whole? / Can you center your energy, / be soft, tender, / and so learn to be a baby? // Can you keep the deep water still and clear, / so it reflects without blurring? / Can you love people and run things, and do so by not doing? // Opening, closing the Gate of Heaven, / can you be like a bird with her nestlings? / Piercing bright through the cosmos, / can you know by not knowing? // To give birth, to nourish, / to bear and not to own, / to act and not lay claim, / to lead and not to rule, / this is mysterious power.  –Tao Te Ching, 10, trans. Ursula K. LeGuin (Shambala 2019).  [*Below is Stephen Mitchell’s somewhat more discursive trans. (Harper & Row 1988).]

People who have read a bit about Larks! wonder how anything gets done (in an anarchy).  They think that surely there must be leaders—businessmen, a mayor, and so on down.  When they visit for the first time, they sense the different tone and organization from what they are used to (and many believe in), and they see that things get done very well.  Of course there is a mayor, and people who run businesses and so on.  It’s an American city.  People organize groups to do things for each other.  There are followers and there are leaders, leadership and followership.  The pattern is that everyone is a follower and everyone is a leader, as useful.  People have talents, interests, experiences, and time and energy to contribute.  They volunteer and they are chosen for the task.  Then they have other things to do.

Followership and leadership are natural expressions of being whole and together.  One person is giving birth, another is receiving birth.  A mother is a mother always, but she is also a child.  She is only an infant for a while.  First she does more of receiving, and then she does more of giving, then more receiving, then she makes a final gift of herself..  All the while, she is doing both.  At the appropriate times she does what the organization of whole being needs her to be doing.  The organization is of two persons relating creatively by being together and doing for each other.  That’s the model, the image.  The creating persons relate creatively to other persons, naturally, and more good things get done.  Giving and receiving.  It’s a very practical, pragmatic soul-making.

In Braiding Sweetgrass (Milkweed Editions 2013), Robin Wall Kimmerer puts it this way, explaining the Way of lichens:

They blur the definition of what it means to be an individual, as a lichen is not one being but two:  a fungus and an alga.  These partners are as different as could be and yet are joined in a symbiosis so close that their union becomes a wholly new organism.

I once heard a Navajo herbalist explain how she understands certain kinds of plants to be “married,” due to their enduring partnership and unquestioning reliance on one another.  Lichens are a couple in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  My parents will celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary this year and seem to have just that kind of symbiosis, a marriage in which the balance of giving and taking is dynamic, the roles of giver and receiver shifting from moment to moment.  They are committed to an “us” that emerges from the shared strengths and weaknesses of the partners, an “us” that extends beyond the boundaries of coupledom and into family and community.  Some lichens are like that too; their shared lives benefit the whole ecosystem.

“Marriage” is an image of any creative relationship. So the soul imagines itself and displays itself, remaining mysterious, in creative relationships, such as the community of Larks!.

[*Can you coax your mind from wandering /and keep to the original oneness? / Can you let your body become / supple as a newborn child’s? / Can you cleanse you inner vision / until you see nothing but the light? / Can you love people and lead them / without imposing your will? / Can you deal with the most vital matters / by letting events take their course? / Can you step back from your own mind / and thus understand all things? // Giving birth and nourishing, / having without possessing, / acting with no expectations, / leading and not trying to control, / this is the supreme virtue.]

[Contents page to Larks!]

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