Steadfastness and What We Can Learn From Mushrooms

| Equity and Inclusion, Uncategorized
A person with dark hair and a blue dress is walking on earth towards a tree surrounded by some mushrooms. Underneath the ground we can see a mycelial network connecting all the living beings.

Blog by Zanna Ekeroth, DEI Practitioner.

As we are entering the new year in the midst of multiple crises; a genocide fuelled by Western Supremacy, legislations attacking LGBTQ+ people’s rights, and roll-backs of DEI funding at large, it can feel heavy, maybe even hopeless, to keep doing this work. In times of staggering catastrophes, it’s easy to fall victim to something called “psychic numbing”. Hala Alyan describes this as a state in which we get disconnected to the cause and doubt our abilities to do anything about the situation. We get paralysed from taking actions, shut our emotions out and disengage from the issue completely. This is something I myself have been struggling with over the past few years. I’m writing this blog to share some of my recent learnings that have helped me stay motivated when the feelings of hopelessness creep up.

Earlier this month, I was struck by an analogy offered by Mikaela Loach where she likened the movement for social change with the underground mycelial networks of mushrooms. Millions of fungi are connecting with each other and other living beings under the ground. Growing from death and from life, they are connecting trees, communicating with each other and sustaining the growth of new life. The largest organisms in the world are in fact mycelium. These networks exist under our feet but we don’t see them. All we see are the few mushrooms that have popped up through the ground. Sometimes in our work towards equity, we only think about the mushrooms and forget about the underlying mycelial networks. We think about the visible shifts in the civil rights movement, the end of slavery and other big achievements. So when our own movements don’t succeed, or the DEI initiatives we are trying to put forward at work are neglected, we think our work is useless. But if we allow ourselves to think about social change as a mycelial ecosystem, we understand that none of the “mushroom moments” would have happened had it not been for a strong underlying network of thousands, or millions of people across the world. People who fought for women’s rights, for example, in the past might have felt hopeless because there was no change in sight. But because they were steadfast, because they didn’t give up on the hopes of a better world, their work – that didn’t succeed at the time – is fuelling the mycelial networks that are growing mushrooms today.

The mycelium knows that we are more successful if we lean on and lift one another. Our social struggles are interconnected and our mushrooms are more likely to fruit if we harness the power of togetherness. Solidarity and steadfastness has built so many mycelial networks over the years. Some that are in full mushroom bloom and some that are yet to fruit. So even when our aims feel unattainable, we are part of a far-reaching movement that is priming the world for social change, whether in a small organization of five people or on a global scale. The mushrooms will come. Perhaps in a different place or at a different time, but the mushrooms will come. Until then, our job is to keep building the mycelium ecosystem.

So how do we stay steadfast? How do we make sure we make sure we’re not burning out?

This list is largely informed by Hala Alyan’s post “Steadfastness will outlast this destruction” and Leah Manaema’s reel sharing Indigenous solutions to colonial problems (both resources were aimed towards allies of the Palestinian people to support self-care and steadfastness through these agonizing times, but the methods can be drawn upon in any movement you’re involved in):

  • Notice what replenishes your capacity:
    • “What acts of solidarity? What pockets of daily life? Cultivate whatever builds your endurance.” (Hala Alyan)
  • Lean into small actions:
    • Remember the impact of small actions; “they dismantle powerful narratives, seed curiosity, mount political pressure” (Hala Alyan)
    • “The large is a reflection of the small.” (adrienne maree brown)
  • Trace the grief to the love underneath:
    • You are feeling grief, frustration and anger because you care. Grief is love with no place to go, so by identifying the love underneath, you can give it somewhere to go. Pour that love into your community, into solidarity movements. (Leah Manaema)
  • Reset your nervous system but don’t shut off your emotions:
    • After clips of news stories, hum deep in your chest for the length of a breath. Inhale four seconds, hold for seven, exhale slowly through pursed lips for eight.” (Hala Alyan)
    • “I’m taking a moment to thank my exquisite sensitivities for reminding me of my humanity. I would much rather feel this much pain than being numb to this kind of suffering.” (Leah Manaema)
  • Turn to community:
    • “Settler colonialism thrives on fear and separation, so every time we have faith and lean into connection, we are resisting these systems. It keeps our bodies safer, communities stronger and we can keep it up for a lifetime.” (Leah Manaema)
    • Remind yourself of the mycelial network. Even when the end-goal seems out of reach, remember that you are part of a mycelial ecosystem and that your work, however small it may seem, is helping prime the world for more mushrooms to grow.

A place that gives me hope for building strong mycelial networks, is our bi-monthly Equity & Inclusion Community of Practice, where a group of people get together to learn, share experiences and practice new ways to continue our collective journey towards a more equitable and inclusive co-op sector. Next one up, on January 25th, we will be diving into the Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Benchmark and look at ways to determine strategy for our DEI work, measure impact and track the progress. Sign up here and come and learn alongside other people in the co-op sector.

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