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Guest Blog: Healing Our Hearts and Our Homes

By Sheila Sherwin, founder and editor of Real Small Towns

I am a writer. I write about small, local communities that are vibrant and resilient in this– a moment of sweeping change and great uncertainty.

I am an optimist. I believe that most humans are inherently good, though perhaps misguided or so overwhelmed they cannot see their part in contributing to – or fixing – the enormous problems we face today.

And I am a worrier. I have children and many young friends who are stepping into a world of social, economic, and climate chaos as they emerge into their young adulthood. So many problems and questions rest on their shoulders, they are a generation whose youth will be sacrificed to warfare. But unlike the wars of the past, today it is essential that these battles be fought in the context of a new world vision. We have no roadmap but our hearts, as our hearts are ground zero for a unified vision; uniting us in care for each other, uniting us in care for the planet that we live on, uniting us in the recognition that we are all connected.

So as an optimistic, worrying, and big-hearted writer, I have made it my mission to look at places that are working and to write about them. In Viroqua, Wisconsin, Fairfield, Iowa, Port Townsend, Washington, and many other places, ordinary people are quietly and persistently working – creating change and building extraordinary communities. In short, I write to fuel the fire of hope: to point out the small, daily acts, performed by everyday people, who are committed to their communities and making them better. It is an optimistic mission on a very small scale, but inspiration in the right moment can spread like wildfire.

Imagine my delight then, when I arrived in Phoenix – a first-time BALLE Conference participant – and found myself in the company of hundreds of other optimistic, worrying, big-hearted warriors! Together, we learned about soil as a living organism, which, if properly nurtured, has the potential to reverse the ravages of climate change rather quickly. We learned about the billions of microscopic organisms that make up a living soil life form – an intuitive knowledge that has been largely forgotten, and even dismissed as irrelevant– and we acknowledged that even the tiniest things can have enormous impact. We used the soil as a metaphor and saw ourselves reflected as we were presented with hundreds of examples demonstrating the ways in which people are quietly, diligently doing the work to create a new story – a story of connectedness and hope; a story of respect.

We talked about social and climate justice. We discussed cooperatives and cooperation. We discovered that there are many creative solutions to sourcing capital, ways to circumvent Wall Street and the big banks. We articulated new ways of doing business.

We laughed together with the energetic enthusiasm of Nikki Silvestri. We cried with the moving poetry of Myrlin Hepworth. We were inspired by the powerful words of Van Jones, and we looked at the humble act of cleaning through a new and more beautiful lens. We came from divergent backgrounds and all corners of the world to form a community of hope and action. Together we gathered up the seeds of sustenance so that we might bring them home and scatter them in our own, more localized communities.

But the BALLE Conference wasn’t just about movement making. For my husband John and me, it had a powerful personal impact as well. John is recovering from surgery on a large brain tumor (2 years ago), which removed his right “insula”. The insula is the part of the brain that is responsible for the “mind-body connection” and feelings of connection, gratitude, empathy etc. Once extremely gifted in these areas, John has been struggling to recover the feelings that he can remember intellectually. The conference moved John profoundly and proved to be the fertile ground needed for taking information in at a cognitive level and processing it emotionally. This was a huge breakthrough for him and we are both immensely grateful.

Like the living network of organisms that make up our soils, we BALLE enthusiasts are forming something bigger than the sum of its parts: a web of life, connected, vital, and pivotal to a new, more hopeful future. Thank you BALLE for casting the net – for creating a platform for a new kind of community. We will be back, and hope to bring many young and creative minds with us in the future. As with our soils, may we all continue to acknowledge connectedness – may we feed and nurture our disparate places and in so doing, continue to heal our hearts and our homes.

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