This past weekend I participated in the Minnehaha Creek Water Walk, a prayer walk that traveled the 22 miles from Lake Minnetonka to the Mississippi River. Sharon Day, an Ojibwe elder, led this ceremony.

MN River Water Walk

Passing the water on the Minnesota River Walk, March 2016.

Before you think about being impressed by my long distance walking skills, I should tell you that I only walked a few of those miles. In my experience water walks are a sort of relay with a sacred pail of water from the river’s headwaters carried over the hundreds of miles of a river’s length. A relay makes it possible for a relatively small team of people to go very far quickly.

We’ve got some big collective mountains to move now. The journey is very long. I don’t think we can afford not to think and act as though we are part of a relay team.

What is your focus?

Relays work when there is one item that is the focus of the team. A baton. A pail of sacred water.

It could also be a question. What does racial justice look like? How can there be enough for everyone? What does it look like to live in harmony with the earth?

A big question in my life is “How do I live ever more deeply into love?” This question guided me through healing cancer years ago. Now I see my close friend with brain cancer picking up my questions and rolling them around, giving me new insight. Its not up to us to figure these big questions out on our own, we need each other.

Who is your team?

An organized team makes a big difference in a relay. Feeling part of a team is an antidote to feeling alone and small.

It is very powerful to feel like you have a community of people with whom to ask your big questions. The natural world has some wisdom to give as well. Maybe your team doesn’t wear jerseys together, but you can gain a lot of support from people, social networks, books, organizations, and beyond.

Being part of a community holding a question also means that we need you to chip in your two cents of opinion or effort. But remember, you are not footing the entire bill.

It Takes Practice

I can still slip into thinking the world rests on my shoulders. The best way to train myself out of thinking that way to is practice being in the relay mentality.

I’m especially inspired by the village women in many parts of Greece.  They dance in a line sharing the same step, the leader of the line often waving a handkerchief. After a few measures she will pass the leadership and handkerchief to another dancer. The line shuffles around. As my teacher Laura Shannon has observed through her years of research, this custom is a system for building the leadership of each person.

Dancing in this way takes a lot of practice because everyone needs to know the steps and feel confident enough to be in the lead for a moment. There is also a complex order for passing leadership according to age, who is hosting the occasion, etc. Can you imagine how a community is strengthened by regularly – and with joy – practicing this form of collective leadership?

If you are one to feel heavy with the amount of things that need to get done in your life, or in the world, see if these questions are useful to you:

  • What are the big questions at stake for you (narrow it to three)?
  • Who else is asking these questions or has something to offer them?
  • Is the community of people (and beings) that share your question imbued with the strength and endurance that comes from shared leadership?
  • Where can you practice approaching life’s questions as a relay?

Wishing your strength, company, and joy for the long haul,

Emily

 

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