In terms of building adversity muscles, a Nunani First Nation elder was asked who had greater depth of knowledge of a hunt under difficult conditions, an old human or an old wolf. On reflection, he replied, “They’re the same”. Both faced great adversity with as much skill as they could muster within the Arctic landscape. (1)
Working with Challenges
Likewise, historically to survive here in New Mexico, whether as an animal or as the animal known as human, has taken much skill. Originally the Anasazi people, then the Hopi and Pueblo peoples, and later the Navajo people, all worked with the challenging climate and conditions to create homes, lives, and flourishing communities together here. The high desert conditions were so harsh that when the Spanish settlers, following the early conquistadores, emigrated into the area 400 – 500 years ago, their letters to their home pods in Mexico City and Spain often sounded plaintive and profoundly abandoned. “How can you expect us to be colonists HERE, in this dry desolate often too cold or too hot place?” was the gist.
Lured by the ‘cities of gold” myths, the immigrants that followed the early invaders found instead rattlesnakes, drought and famine. Similarly today visitors are attracted by New Mexico’s rich multi-cultural scene, natural beauty, energetic power, and sophistication. Yet if one stays, one is likely to find the same economic desolation as earlier immigrants. Building adversity muscles is still what it is all about. During the pandemic, New Mexico has ranked at the top for families facing food insecurity as well as depression. (2) Conditions continue to be harsh.
One recent crispy winter morning I circumnamubulated the New Mexico Work Force Solutions building (aka state unemployment division) in prayer for the many people on the planet currently facing a dirth of paid work, and with respect for those trying to serve them. The New Mexico people and New Mexico government, despite these challenges, tend to evidence compassion and awareness for those in economic distress, perhaps because there have been so many of us, for so long, struggling. It is an unusual state of the Union in this regard. So one impetus for this blog is love, a love letter to New Mexico. To the land and sky for harboring us. To the government, for knowing who we are and how to support us when we’re in need. To our neighbors, who have patiently and not so patiently borne with our often ignorant newcomer ways.
Building Adversity Muscles
At this point on the planet there’s a deep need to participate however much we can, in terms of building adversity muscles. (Maybe building diversity muscles, too, yes?) This phrase, building adversity muscles, comes from Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the diplomat nominated as the new US ambassador to the UN. Originally from southern Louisiana, another notoriously underfunded state, she spoke movingly in a TED talk about how adversity strengthens our compassion and our metaphoric “muscle”. Just as we New Mexicans can’t use too much water, as we’ve each learned since our arrivals here, it’s now overtime to live lightly on the earth everywhere. In her talk, Thomas-Greenfield was keenly aware of the many opportunities for us as Americans and citizens of the earth to strengthen our muscle (mamsafor the Sanskrit speakers amongst us). We Nuevo Mexicanosknow about this from way back. Not that we don’t need a planetary education, too.
Way 1: Face the Hard Time
One way of building adversity muscles is simply facing the hard times, being present with the experience. This sounds simple if uninteresting enough, yet we all know how easy it can be to not be present for difficulty. The avoidance substances waiting in the wings have gotten a real workout since the pandemic began – alcohol, drugs, white sugar, social media/TV.
At the long-term community level, there’s some inspiring confrontations of the current hard realities. Here in New Mexico elementary students founded Global Warming Express to face the reality of climate change head on. Its leaders invite other elementary students like themselves to engage in an exploration of science, climate, and solutions. One headline reads, “We’re building a pipeline of youth climate leaders”. I’m bragging on GWE big time!
On a more modest individual level, I find breath, plain old taking a breath, as the hard time arises, can help. Breath coupled with hands on the body, say right hand on the center of the chest (Hridaya marma) and left hand on the navel (Nabhi marma), calms and grounds distressed energy. You at least offer yourself the option to stay present with the hard time this way.
Way 2: Know Who You Are
Another way of building adversity muscles rests in knowing who you are. If you are a New Mexican, you know the history. How do you define roots? Here it’s alive around you, in the people, the animals, the plants, the mountains, the sky. Much of our history can be seen in the present moment, as we buy food and gas together. This is a love letter to New Mexico in its present moment.
Building adversity muscles includes not only knowing who we are, yet also who our ancestors were, and where they came from. South Carolinian Michelle Cassandra Johnson highlights the power of this knowledge in her pith book, Skill in Action. Roots help us to ground. Knowing true stories, we can begin to pick our way through the stories that do not hang true, whether about ourselves or others. Truth is grounding in the midst of difficult times. Knowing what’s true about ourselves is a matter of inner and outer research, taking time to look inside and out. Falsehood can lose power, when we know who we are and what we stand for, whoever we are.
Skill in Action explores self knowledge through the lens of the Bhagavad Gita, questioning our assumptions about shared language, oppression, privilege, racism, suffering, and liberation. I’m offering a group based on its wisdom this year.
Way 3: Know Where You Come From
A third way of building adversity muscles: know where you come from, the roots of your birthplace. What is its history? New Mexico has strongly transparent roots, in that its ancient peoples are alive and well here today, despite the great adversity faced by native communities in the pandemic.
In this present moment, New Mexicans rejoice that US Representative Deb Haaland of Laguna Pueblo has been nominated to serve as the country’s first indigenous secretary of the Interior. She is no stranger to homelessness and the need for food stamps. Her roots in this land go back 35 generations. She states emphatically, “I’ll be fierce for all of us, for our planet, and all of our protected land.” One quarter of all US carbon emissions come from fossil fuels extracted on public lands according to the US Geological Survey, land watched over by the Department of the Interior. As a congresswoman, Haaland initiated the 30 by 30 Act, which sets a national goal of protecting 30% of US lands and oceans by 2030. As secretary of the Interior, it would be hers to implement.
Growing up in a mostly white subdivision in Wheaton, Illinois in the 1950s, I had no idea of the roots of the place or my family lineages within it. It was a very different picture from New Mexico. Like many Americans, there’s no way I can trace my ancestors back seven generations, let alone thirty-five. Yet I’ve begun. (Stay posted here.)
When we know something about the roots of our place and our people, building adversity muscles can get easier. The scope of our reality and context broadens. And if ever adversity was waiting round the corner for us, now is the time.
Way 4: Relate with Respect
A fourth way of building adversity muscles takes practice, relating to each being, human and non-human, with respect. Pope Francis speaks of the need to get our lives back on track with our deepest values. He sees crisis as a challenge to change. The Buddha’s teachings were strong on this point, as were Jesus’s. Can we relate to one another without blame or judgment? Can we respect one another for who we are and where we are? Can we cut across our old mental habits to be neutral, possibly even open? If we hope to get out of this with an alive planet to pass on to respected younger ones, we’ve got to start bridging with “the other” ASAP, whomever that other may be for you.
To relate with respect, it helps to have some awareness of our own minds and what’s going on in them. While many spiritual traditions give more credence to respect for humans over the rest of the natural world, Eileen Crist, author of Abundant Earth: Toward an Ecological Civilization, brings our attention to these potential unspoken assumptions. Humans somehow deserve more than non-humans? Why? she asks. It’s cultural conditioning that is killing us and the planet. It’s got to change. There’s a dynamic interview with her in the latest Sun magazine.
Back to that rave about New Mexican Deb Haaland (OK, she was born in Winslow, Arizona, it’s true). She is a consensus builder; she has worked across the aisle at a time when few were successful in doing so. In terms of building adversity muscles and respect, she is an inspiration to me big time.
If you are interested in reflecting upon these topics in your own life in the next few months, you are invited to join me for a reading and writing group. Like most things, it will be online on Zoom. We’ll meet weekly 5 – 6 times, working with the aforementioned Skill in Action. Its author, Michelle Cassandra Johnson has great short ways to access the sort of material I’ve written about here in this blog. We will work with her processes together, and share our perspectives with one another. If you’d like to be kept in the loop on this, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amadea Morningstar, MA, RPE, RYT is an Ayurvedic and Polarity Therapy educator. She has guided groups through a variety of conditions here in New Mexico and beyond for a number of decades.
Enjoy her new 5-hour video course on Polarity Therapy Energetic Nutrition here.
Easy Healing Drinks from the Wisdom of Ayurveda by Morningstar and Lynn comes in a 4-season full color print edition and also E-book formats. To learn more, click here.
- Barry Holstun Lopez, Of Wolves and Men, p. 86
- “Families struggle with food insecurity, depression”, Santa Fe New Mexican, 12/18/20, B-1