2018 was the first year where I was devoted most-of-my-time to building Sequoia Samanvaya, and this budding business that is also a community and sometimes resembles something akin to crafting sacred temporal spaces is so precious, sweet and strong I'm overjoyed. The year included Sequoia Samanvaya's official incorporation in March, our first team which began to form in April, our first teachers (besides me), our second annual Summer Solstice in the Sequoias, and our first appearance as an organization with a booth at an international conference: The Parliament of World Religions in Toronto, Canada, in November. Whew!
In this year-end reflection, I want to share some of the beautiful moments of 2018. Our logo is, "Connecting the disconnected," so perhaps it is not surprising that so many of images reflect connection. They might help you imagine some of our expression of being a spiritual entrepreneur start-up growing a learning community to engage in the life-long questions of our age. All of us are working in a time that is transforming from climate change and other ramifications of centuries of colonization in a world that continues to shimmer with beauty, hope, and wonder. Because we are of this earth: of its soil, its air, its fire, its water, its spirit. "Living beings in a living being," as the great theologian, activist and preacher Howard Thurman said. Thankfully, this growing eco-theology company is spending a fair amount of its early years in nature - both urban and rural, which is as rejuvenating as it is instructive.
Sequoia Samanvaya's 2018 really began at a day-long ritual for women at the farm of one of my first students, Amy, outside of Philadelphia. It was an extra-ordinary, spirit led day of sharing stories, food, songs, dances, silence, collage, and a lot of love. The friendships that have grown from that day continued to support me, and the ideas and processes we developed shaped subsequent rituals/ceremonies.
The theme of community-as-family continued and will continue to continue; it is core to how we are working. In honor of an elder in my personal life and in the world of international development, I hosted a interview with Leonard Joy (right) in Berkeley, California, that was filmed and witnessed by over 70 people for his 90th birthday. His decades of work for the United Nations helped to lead to what was then-called Process Consultation, and forms of enabling institutional transformation from full participation. It was an incredibly informative and deep dialogue; it was also an honor to honor elders. Leonard was also an early student of Sequoia Samanvaya, and has offered his keen listening to me developing the lectures that students have subsequently listened to. While many in the Sequoia Samanvaya community haven't met him, his influence, like that of so many of our elders, is nonetheless present.
Of course I actually spent a fair amount of time like this: on zoom, in my home office in New York City. I ran three online, zoom-centered courses of ReMembering for Life (climate change and colonization); several sessions of the Women's Writing Cohorts (aka "Muttering, Myth, and Magic"), and launched Not So Sweet: ReMembering the History of Sugar. 85% of those who started the course finished them (and those who didn't was not because they didn't want to); roughly 90% of the students have or have indicated a strong willingness to recommend the course to close colleagues, friends, and family members; and over 75% of students have wanted to continue working directly with Sequoia Samanvaya in significant ways, such as collaborating on future programs, projects, workshops, articles, and books. Most (I don't have the stats yet) say the courses have "significantly influenced", "re-grounded" and/or "transformed" their personal and/or professional life. That's fabulous feedback for this start-up.
Hardly all of our teaching has been online. In this photo, I am at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor Maine, where I taught a class on ReMembering, Language, and Decolonization for a language and philosophy class taught by my friend and long-time collaborator, Dr. Gray Cox. This year, I gave talks or led workshops at over 12 venues from California to Colorado to Washington, D.C.. Audiences have included local community gatherings, such as Maryland United for Peace and Justice and Transition Town Media; academic spaces, such as the Yale School of Forestry; and faith communities - over 80 people attended the workshop on the Spiritual dimensions of Climate Change that I co-led with Shelley Tanenbaum at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, making us one of the most popular workshops offered at Interfaith Power and Light's workshop series this past September.
I've gotta admit that in most of the photos of me speaking, I don't look so great..... that said, all the venues loved having me there, and I am in active conversation with most of the organizers about ways to take the overarching work forward. So I keep telling myself not to take the ackward pics too seriously!
Again on the theme of creating and cross-pollinating communities of people, spiritual traditions and ideas - one of the year's highlights was bringing four community members from Sequoia Samanvaya to the Quaker Institute for the Future (QIF)'s Summer Research Seminar, where they got to meet some of the QIF community and share their research and their life-journeys (which are of course related!) The pic to the left is one beautiful moment from that summer journey to Ithaca, New York. In the middle is Carolyn Jordan, a long time QIF community member, who is part of Cape Cod Monthly Meeting, which is hosting QIF in September, 2019 on Cape Cod. Sequoia Samanvaya's community of researchers/learners are absolutely invited!
At the beginning of 2018, I never thought Sequoia Samanvaya would have a team - I thought that during its first year or two, it would be mostly a solo-operation. But in the late Spring, the opportunity came for Rachel Porter (shown on the right) and later Christopher Fici to join my core team. I am so glad I seized that opportunity!
Rachel's involvement, which touched upon everything from helping to form the company logo to creating key partnerships and conceptualizing research development, significantly shaped Sequoia Samanvaya in 2018. The questions she asked are already informing 2019 and her early engagement will shape the company for years to come. She has now moved onto other ventures, though is remaining an active part of the Women's Writing Course, where she is working on her first book. I continue to look forward to how our friendship will develop and future collaborations will emerge.
The yearly Summer Solstice in the Sequoias, was, as always, breathtaking. This was the first year we had children with us - the small figures at the base of the tree are Shanta Marie and her son, Bodhi. At the age of 7, it was his first time with the Sequoias, and watching his wonder at our ancient relatives was in itself delightful.
So too was this amazing gathering on Taking on the Doctrine of Discovery in August, hosted by the American Indian Law Alliance at the Ska-Nonh Great Law of Peace Center on the banks of the sacred Onondaga Lake in upstate New York. Core to the work of Sequoia Samanvaya is unraveling the Doctrine of Discovery; re-connecting with this community and sharing our work was thus immensely meaningful and affirmative.
My friend, student and collaborator Kate Newell was instrumental in me going to Denver this past September. We put together a beautiful Full Moon Ceremony at the Urban Sanctuary in downtown Denver, a space that continues to inspire me in terms of an amazing healing community in the middle of an urban area. I also spoke on ReMembering at Naropa University and on spiritual entrepreneurship at Iliff School of Theology. Speaking at Iliff helped spark me to develop 2019 programming on spiritual entrepreneurship for a wide range of people and on discerning livelihoods for graduate students. Thanks to Marie Venner of the Global Catholic Climate movement, I was able to participate in a wonderful gathering of Denver and Boulder-based activists (from gardeners to community organizers) working on climate change mitigation and adaptation and related social justice concerns.
Bringing Ramasubramanian (aka Ram, shown below wearing one of his signature organic scarves) from Tamil Nadu, India to NYC and then going on a 3 week journey around New York City, Conneticut, Boston, Bar Harbor Maine and Toronto for the World Parliament of Religions was an amazing experience of community support, deep connections, and magical moments. One such magical moments is shown below. We did a series of Indian - "Indian" dialogues, thus shifting the East-West conversation to go at least a few steps beneath the white colonial notion of "west" and instead support a powerful dialogue between "east" and "west" "Indians" (using that term with plenty of irony!) Our first such dialogue was with Dr Mindahi Bastida and Dr Geraldine Patrick from the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, shown below. Listening to the deep cultural exchanges from these ancient lineages was akin being in the presence of the Sequoias: a great age, a great height, and a quiet harmony.
Thanks to Ram's gentle nudge, I was able to publish my first booklet, From the Darkness: The prison industrial complex, climate change, family histories, and Divine Encounters, that was subsequently sold at the Parliament. "That's a set of connections I don't see very often," one woman at the Parliament said as she mulled over the title. "That's what we do here at Sequoia Samanvaya," I said. "We make connections."
Don't get me wrong - this year was not without its challenges. Sometimes the connections were overwhelming. There was much troubling national and global politics, environmental catastrophies, deaths of dear friends and teachers (not least the great theologian and one of my most influential teachers, Dr. Cone). There was grief, intense anger and rage. There were times when things went wrong, appointments were missed, and I experienced profound disconnections, mis-communications, and anxiety-induced binges. Certainly there were times when I freaked out about cashflow. I did not get everything right - not by a long shot. Don't let all the smiles in the pictures make it look like 2018 was not without its personal, professional, or societal rough spots. Instead, I lift up these images of connection and the many forms of love expressed here as tremendous beacons of hope and inspiration that can stengthen our courage in our own convictions for 2019.
And there's so much more!
Thank you to everyone who helped make this amazing year possible for this sapling of a startup. Below are a few final images of some of the beautiful connections of this year. Some of the most valuable connections don't have photos attached to them.
Here's to all of the connections, and all of you for the connections you are making with us and without us.... between race and place, online and offline, spiritual and material, migration and climate change, art and intellectual pursuits, tick-box evaluations and long reflective walks by the beach.
Above, Ram is having a connection moment with the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern most part of the United States, the land where the dawn begins for what is now called "America", on a rather chilly day for a man who lives next to the Indian Ocean.
Below, members of the YES! Jam community (I recommend YES Jams for just about every young social/eco-justice leader/artist).
Above I'm connecting to myself and this sweet man through dancing... at the Indigenous Days Celebration on Randall's Island, off the coast of what the Lenape people once called Manhattana. If you haven't found the local Indigenous People's Day Celebration near you, make sure you go and support the transition away from Columbus Day! And since I'm always encouraging my students to dance - here's evidence that I also at least sometimes take my own advice.
Below, I'm taking a break from meetings and talks in NYC with the successful entrepreneur and current co-founder of Jump Scale Josh Knauer, who, also, took my Not So Sweet: ReMembering the History of Sugar class.
At my last night of the Parliament, I had an intense conversation/connection with the mystical singer Chen Lixin. After everyone had left, she and our friend Dr Gray Cox did an improvisation music piece on "simple living" based on one of his songs - it remains one of my favorite musical-enchantment moments this year.
Below is the beautiful couple Jeannette Reynolds and Nicholas Keel: I had the honor of witnessing their soul's connection through officiating their marriage in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
Below - the spiral of benches in the redwood circle in Ben Lomond, California: one of those sacred sites used for worship/ritual/ceremonies, prayer, reading, meditation, quiet conversations, and those many unspoken and unseen connections that buoy us through time, round and round again. A circle of time has been cast and we who live today are in the midst of it, able to lend and accept hands of healing and moments of grace from our extended family of humans and non-humans alike.