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All change is local. This time, I mean it.

by Deborah Frieze on January 20, 2014

Are you familiar with runes? I was first introduced to these ancient Norse divination stones by Meg Wheatley when she told me that Berkana, the name of the institute she founded, was the rune for growth and rebirth. Ever since, I’ve cast a single rune each January 1st to give me a clue about the year to come. This year I drew Jera which means harvest and fruition, a time of reaping rewards from seeds sown long ago.

It was exactly ten years ago, in February 2004, that my fellow Walk Outs planted the first seeds that would awaken me to an altogether different path through my life. That was when Manish Jain and I launched the Berkana Exchange, gathering friends and fellow pathfinders from around the world to explore what it would take to walk out of unsolvable problems, scarce resources, limiting beliefs and destructive individualism—and walk on to hold ideas, beliefs and practices that enable us to create healthy and resilient communities.

From that point on, my life was nomadic. Every so often, I would stop off in Boston for ten days of rest and recovery before hitting the road once again to learn with and from Walk Outs in South Africa, Zimbabwe, India, Mexico, Brazil, Greece and more. The more I traveled, the more I came to believe that the key to meaningful social change rests in the intimacy we create with friends and neighbors in the place where we live. And my place seemed to be about 30,000 feet off the ground. After writing Walk Out Walk On and then spending another 18 months touring with the book, I realized I needed to get back down to earth.

This morning I have a cord of firewood to stack in my backyard, some of which comes from a Norway Maple that we had to cut down to protect other plants from being water-starved. Although it’s mid-winter, my housemate and I are starting to outline our plan for the seedlings we need to grow this spring to fill the thousand square feet of raised beds on our urban lot, along with the red clover we want to plant on our roof to fuel our honeybees. This weekend, we’re hosting a community of Iraq veterans for a healing writing circle, followed by a discussion among neighbors about personal and community wellness. All this is taking place at the Old Oak Dojo, a community home and urban learning center I built last year whose purpose is to provide a space for community to meet, learn, eat, celebrate and play—and thereby restore our wholeness as citizens. The Dojo is also the headquarters of the Boston Impact Initiative, an impact investing fund that combines investing, lending and giving to create a better future for those communities in Boston who have been impacted by racial, social and economic inequality.

After years of feeling separate from my community of place, I find myself today fully immersed in the relationships, gifts, questions and challenges of my immediate neighborhood and this city. Back in the day when I was visiting Walk Outs, we talked about the natural ebb and flow between our local work and our trans-local work (when separate, local efforts connect with each other, then grow and transform as people exchange ideas). We suspected that each of us has our own rhythm: We focus on the local until our ideas become stale and then boost our creativity by moving into the trans-local; we exchange ideas from place to place until our learning becomes too abstract and we need to ground it once again by diving into the local.

So this is my time to dive into the local.

After nearly three years of actively connecting with Walk Outs around the world, I am turning my attention to my home—this is my harvest for 2014. That doesn’t mean that I’m dropping out of the Walk Out community (in fact, ever since I opened the Old Oak Dojo, I feel like I’ve hosted more of you than ever!). But it means that Aerin Dunford and I will no longer formally steward the community by posting blogs, sending newsletters, running workshops and hosting the Facebook page. We’ll maintain those spaces for you, the community, to find one another. And we’ll drop a line as well whenever we feel called to. But we’re both shifting our attention toward our own communities—mine in Boston and Aerin’s in Oaxaca.

It took ten years for these seeds to come to fruition. I am indebted to each and every Walk Out I met along the way for the wake-up call, the invitation to aliveness, the companionship. May our journeys continue to inspire one another, and if you ever get lost along the way, you know where to find me.

Blessings and gratitude,
Deborah

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Comments (1)

  1. Beth Tener on April 17, 2014 at 1:54 pm
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    Deborah, Thanks for this great blog, which brought me a new clarity about the roles of working local and trans-local. Regarding this part, which was what I so appreciated:

    “We focus on the local until our ideas become stale and then boost our creativity by moving into the trans-local; we exchange ideas from place to place until our learning becomes too abstract and we need to ground it once again by diving into the local.”

    I like the idea of a continual ebb and flow, of working local and then connecting to others local work through networks/communities of practice. Also, as someone who has worked in the trans-local role of a consultant for most of my career, I also see the shortcomings of the nomadic role, where one doesn’t have the deep experience of community in one place over time. I could go on…there’s a lot that could be explored/discussed within that one sentence!

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