By Kyra Epstein
“Our modern western civilization began with a kind of cultural schizophrenia. Our scientific enterprise effectively decoupled itself from our humanistic-spiritual traditions at the beginning of the modern period…we can perhaps dare to ask if this was such a good idea, this splitting up of the universe.”
–Brian Swimme, The Universe Is a Green Dragon
Do you ever feel like your life is divided into little compartments? Open up one “file” and you are at work, open another and there is your family; others hold community or passionate hobbies?
I have felt like that, particularly since my life has led me in such seemingly disparate directions: writing/communications in the energy efficiency field, teaching as an adjunct professor in Colorado, pursuit of many mystical/spiritual traditions, studying and starting a small business in herbal healing and teas.
Earlier in my life, my 20s and 30s, I embraced this kind of fast-paced multi-tasking–especially since it meant I didn’t have to have one full-time job sitting in an office all day. It was a challenge to see how all the pieces would get accomplished, to grow the contents of each “file” and hold all the pieces together. Working primarily with scientists and engineers—and growing up with mathematicians—I never questioned why it seemed inappropriate to bring emotion into a discussion, talk about creative process, or be anything other than an efficient and logical professional. The messy, wild, colorful and mysterious parts of myself were tucked away until after hours, if they even appeared then.
Now that I am in my 40s, I’m not as eager a multi-tasker, and I don’t have nearly as much energy. Tendrils of my hair, once kept back straight in a hairclip, have begun to escape in unruly protest. I have felt a growing desire to see all the file folders merged.
I want to be able to be the same person when I’m working with a scientist from the Department of Energy that I am when I’m distilling essential oil from lavender, hiking in the new moon dark, spending time with friends/family, or when I’m with my aging parents. I want the messy and colorful to mingle with the efficient; the logical with the wild and mysterious. I want to be more fully me, all of the time.
I see my work with The New School at Commonweal, which I started almost a year ago, as one precious response to the intention for integration. Commonweal is a place where many of these parts of myself can come together. It is one of the most eclectic organizations I’ve been involved with, and it is a great container, holding all the parts of all of us that work there together.
As an example, I can arrive at work, share in a group meditation as part of a planning meeting, help host a scientist as she speaks about toxics in the environment, participate in a series of emotional discussions on end-of-life issues, and serve herbal tea to a group that truly understands the connection between plants, the earth, and healing. The file folders dissolve, and there are no “roles,” only what we each bring to the discussion, to the group, and to the effort at hand.
I see Commonweal as a model for how we can begin to integrate and heal our selves just as we are working to integrate our communities and heal the earth. It’s been a launching pad for me to meet other people and organizations (like The Whitman Institute) on similar journeys. And it is a safe place for testing the waters. With any luck, and another few decades of experience, I’ll begin to cure the “cultural schizophrenia” within myself and help to bring the worlds together again.