Take Heart Take Action: Deepening into Self and Community

Every day there is a better world being born and a world that is rapidly unraveling. Which world do your actions feed? Are you ready to rise up and be the change you seek? Even an act as small as tending your garden or joining a local group contributes to a rising tide of positive change. In Take Heart, Take Action, Daily Acts Founder Trathen Heckman shares how to be a catalyst for significant positive change.

In Chapter 1 of Take Heart, Take Action, Heckman shares the story of a trip to Ecuador in which he learned to become more connected to the intricacies of the world around him. The following is excerpted from the book’s second chapter.

A couple of months before Ecuador, I competed in an X Games-like Big Air contest where thousands of people would come to hear music and watch snowboarders hurl through the air off a ginormous jump. Seared into my mind and emotions from that day was watching a rider hit the jump, spin through the air, and disappear. He was off in his rotation in the wrong way at the wrong time. Hearing later that he broke his back and wouldn’t walk again, I thought of countless close calls I’d had. Was any of it worth dying or being paralyzed?

As much as I loved snowboarding and the mountains, it was time to step away. For two years, I immersed in nature and travel, following my inspiration and growing more aware and connected to myself and the world around me. Leaving the mountains to focus on my wellbeing felt linked to this growing question of my direction in life. Eventually I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area to reconnect with friends and to focus on my health and a new relationship with Mary, whom I had a serious crush on since college, and would later marry.

Stillness in Motion

I had a lot of physical healing to do from two years of snowboarding, and I wanted to get more present in my body and life, which drew me to Tai chi. This created an entirely new foundation of health, healing, and awareness upon which everything else is now built. It’s how I’m better able to center in my heart and make the most of life’s moments while navigating whatever difficulty shows up in life and leadership.

Just as sports like snowboarding and being immersed in nature can wake something in us, weaving together a unique expression of connection to season and place, movement arts like Tai chi and yoga can deepen our self-awareness, opening up a whole new terrain of inner exploration. While it takes focus to twist, flip, and flow down a snow-covered mountain, tuning into how energy moves through your body and how your body moves through the landscape of life has its own flow-filled, joyful, and invigorating experiences. Training in mindfulness and concentration can help navigate the complexities of daily living with greater awareness, joy, and ease.

Having a mind/body/movement practice is an essential tool for finding and living your inspiration. It’s vital support for health, self-care, and even processing the hurt in our lives and world. Movement arts teach us about the power of small, as even a modest external motion can penetrate deeply to unlock trauma via bodywork or physically launch a person across the room in a fight or training. Both examples are about what’s happening below the surface—the level of integration and alignment in your body.

Author Trathen Heckman

Near thirty years into finding and living my inspiration and supporting this in others as a vehicle for bigger change, there is no way to overstate the importance of developing a daily self-renewal practice. Living in a time of rapid change, our physical and mental health is under enormous daily strain. From constant work and technological inundation to the toxic barrage of chemicals in everything, we are not equipped or skilled to stay healthy and sane, let alone contribute our best. It’s tough for many to get through the day, let alone find and stick to routines that help us hear and embody our light and insights.

Simply begin with your breath. Whether your aim is happiness, spiritual insight, or leading well in tough times, everything starts with a breath. It’s claiming that instant between life’s harsh impacts and how we react. Do we respond to challenges with fear, contraction, and unconscious reaction, or do we breathe and mindfully choose our response? Having a daily practice that roots us in the present moment to process what is difficult and center in who we seek to be and how we want to respond to life’s challenges is essential.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor E. Frankl

A favorite Gandhi quote that helps in this regard is: “I’m so busy today I’m going to meditate TWICE AS LONG.” Sit with this enough, and it will change you. Taking the time to increase our awareness of body and breath anchors us in the moment, strengthens our immunity, and makes us more effective at whatever we’re trying to accomplish. Doing so daily creates the space to be, to meditate on life and our motivations, and to look at what’s working and what’s not. It can provide the fortitude to keep asking the big questions and relentlessly living the answers that come, turning your inspiring references into reality. What once jolted me alive through words on a wall and a cup of mountaintop tea have become daily routine and ritual. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Peace is every step.” It must be continually renewed.

Inspiration is what flows through us when we are tuned in to the materials and the moment. Staying in touch with this animating force is fuel for the long work of following our path. It’s the paradox of finding freedom in focus, doubling down on what grows us whole, especially when busyness takes hold. As one day leads to the next, spring turns to summer, fall, and another cycle around the sun, it’s reassuring to know that every cell in our body is replaced every seven years.

With each day’s waking, why not root into connection to nature and call in the wisdom of your references—the people and places that inspire you most? In a noisy, chaotic world, the subtle intoxication of long, deep breaths and fully felt steps is grounding and centering, bringing more flow and a richer experience to each moment. As Zen Buddhist Shunryu Suzuki taught, follow your breath to not lose yourself.

It Takes a Village

In addition to following our passions and developing a practice, we need good mentors and models. Simply being repeatedly exposed to excellence, to others who are living their genius powerfully impacts what we hold possible. An easy way to elevate your joy, performance, and impact is community. It’s having a place to show up for support and connection, to put what we’ve learned into action. On the healing front, groups can be powerful in holding and transmuting sorrow and despair and in helping us step into our power.

In the Sierra Nevada, I had an amazing community of folks, always pushing each other to the next level. With Tai chi, a similar network of friends evolved to provide support, learning, and encouragement. The same is true for each significant moment or success in this book, from personal action to growing regenerative gardens, high-impact groups, and city-scale transformations.

On the path from passion to purpose, our focus grows from self-interest to include the interests of others. While finding our path requires greater self-awareness and self-focus, it’s about self as service, or selfish altruism. Though “selfish” and “altruism” seem like a contradiction, the more you give, the more you get. This means questioning our instincts about how we act in community and with things we value. In a culture that largely values personal accumulation and wealth, it’s remembering the importance of valuing the collective over the individual.

Given our planetary situation, this is literally a matter of survival. Thankfully we are wired to share. The perks of sharing range from greater health to personal happiness, as oxytocin is released in our brains, which relieves stress, improves immune function, and increases feelings of well-being. Sharing builds the trust and cooperation at the heart of flourishing communities, while invoking a feeling of gratitude and happiness.

We are deeply influenced by who and what we are surrounded by. Creating conditions conducive to following our bliss like traveling, learning, finding new reference points, and tuning into breath and body are vital to finding and following one’s path. Who and what inspires you? Who embodies values or a way of being in the world that speaks to you? What steps do you need to take? What difficulties and discomfort do you need to pay attention to? Even the pain of breaking bones and breaking up can wake us to what’s missing, to deepening our path and finding our greatest joy and contribution. We have teachers all around us. But we have to give up having all the answers and learn to look, listen, and ask for support.

Live for What Matters

What a difference a move and a few months can make. I was immersed in the movement arts, had insightful roommates, and was mending from broken ribs (one reason why I stepped away from snowboarding), and a recent breakup. At work, even in a more enlightened corporate culture, it didn’t take long to be reminded that I didn’t fit there. Having gotten used to the freedom of following my own path, waking to nature connection, and leaning into our planetary problems, making a better shopping experience as a software programmer was a far cry from whatever it was that I could contribute to the world. Like my first round in tech, I struggled with a growing knowledge that this wasn’t right. Until Paige intervened.

I think Paige was the first person I met at my new job. Full of warmth and positivity, she was a coworker who quickly become a dear friend. Like Sark’s words, Paige had a vitality to her that showed up in most everything she did. She was in her twenties, had recently gotten engaged to her long-time boyfriend, and was full of vision, verve, and things to do. Then she got sick. One minute she was full of life, and the next she was gone. I was crushed, confused, and suddenly felt vulnerable. I had never lost anyone my age. The last time I saw her, she told me to live for what matters, to do it now, and not to wait. With the urgency of suddenly recognizing that life was precious and fleeting, I quit my job, this time leaving the corporate world for good.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Take Heart, Take Action: The Transformative Power of Small Acts, Groups, and Gardens (Small Acts Media, 2022) by Trathen Heckman.

More from Trathen Heckman

  • Trathen Heckman – The Power of Small for Big Transformations (video) | In a world on fire with multiple, epochal crises, how do we nurture hope, build power and contribute meaningfully? How do we catalyze and sustain the personal and collective transformations this immense planetary challenge calls for? Though the problems seem larger than life, our greatest power may in fact lie in our closest communities, in small daily acts of courage and conviction, in small groups of unstoppable world-changers, and small gardens that revitalize communities and reconnect us to nature’s operating instructions. Trathen Heckman delivered this talk at the 2020 Bioneers Conference, introduced by Kenny Ausubel.
  • Ripples of Community Resilience: Small Acts, Big Change | Trathen Heckman and Jessie Lerner (podcast) | In neighborhoods across the country, citizens are building community resilience – one shovelful and one backyard at a time. Visionary citizen restorationists Trathen Heckman of Daily Acts and Jessie Lerner of Sustain Dane show how seemingly small acts like catching rain and growing food forests are turning green visions into action, with the help of local governments, students, businesses, artists and churches.
  • Panel Discussion – The Power of Community: Aligning Governments and Grassroots for Urgent Climate Action (video) | The climate change ship has left the harbor, and what confronts us is the urgent need to accomplish multiple goals simultaneously: reducing and then eliminating greenhouse gas pollution; rapidly scaling up drawdown efforts by returning carbon to the soil; and building the resilience and adaptive capacity in our societal systems to face the multi-pronged crises coming our way. And we must do it all with an equity lens at the center. It’s a tall order, but it’s non-optional. Luckily, there are people and projects all over the country and the world providing effective pathways forward for integrated climate action, using “whole problem” approaches. By leveraging collaboration across multiple sectors, these visionary leaders are outlining revolutionary blueprints for the next wave of essential work we need to do.

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