Debra Durham

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How do we create ways to live a life of immersion or experiment with new ways of living more authentically? What holds us back?

A friend recently sent me the link for the talk by Jacqueline Novogratz about living a life of immersion. I was moved deeply. Last week's Best of the Web email from TED included Sasha Dichter's talk about his own experiment with living more generously. Already involved in their causes, both of these speakers described opportunities to deepen their work and practice further.

How have you created these opportunities or experiments in your life or seen others do so? When such chances are passed up or skipped over, what is it that you think the obstacles might be?

  • Sep 26 2011: I listened to Jacqueline and Sasha. As near as I can tell, immersion refers to determining what is important to you and providing the resources or taking the actions and risks to see that your efforts achieve the desired effect-personally. The immersion is becoming directly involved and investing emotionally and personally as well as financially. Direct involvement also provides a measure of control over all your investments. They also have the means to control the duration of immersion. It does not sound like either person is held back by much. Philanthropy management is unique. Both have chosen to spend their lives helping others less fortunate and found doing this sort of work is its own reward. Bravo!
    What holds me back? I am more typical of an average person. I have responsibilities to younger and older family that depend on me for various needs. Part of my life is spent struggling to meet these needs and dealing with the challenges life throws our way. This is not really holding me back, but it does occupy my time. I also have no means to remove myself from the life I am immersed in without hurting the ones I love. I am passionate about my work and spend free time trying to improve the system and look out for the next generation of workers. However, a very rewarding part of my life has been spent helping other people. I like this sort of work, but I need to balance time spent here with the responsibilities I feel towards my family. As I get older, perhaps the equation will change and the amount of time I can spend helping others will increase. As for now, I offer cheerful service when I can, bring a positive attitude to all situations, and try to do things that transfer positive energy to others, such as compliments, courtesies, and the occasional random act of kindness. This is the right balance for me. The only obstacle for you is to find the right balance that provides both personal happiness and fulfillment of purposes you see as worth your time.
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      Sep 27 2011: Robert,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the big picture as well as the personal.
      Jacqueline spoke about the substantial sacrifices of immersion in her talk. Perhaps the people she spoke about highlighted cases where the answers weren't about balance, which is a delicate and dynamic process we often face. It seems to me that Sasha's 30-day experiment might be more accessible for most people. I know it's good for me to check my assumptions and practices regularly. His was a great example.

      I wonder if the immersion that takes people to far away places stays at the front of our minds but unnecessarily limits our view of immersion. People immersed in extended families and local communities are nonetheless immersed. Time may be the investment moreso than currency. These might or might not be directly comparable as immersion, but to my way of thinking they are in the same general arena. It sounds like the kind of life you have embraced for yourself. What do you think about the global/local contrast with immersion or authentic living?

      Your cheerful attitude shines through in your response. Thank you so much for sharing.
      • Sep 27 2011: Debra,
        I think your comments about local immersion are on the money. Is there a metric for quality of volunteer time? Some forms require more effort, but the general gift of time is still the same. Not all volunteers have the same package of gifts to offer. So I think a fit that is balanced is the best option. That way the volunteer's experience (which should also count for something) is not diminished by unwanted stress.

        I think authentic living starts with being true to yourself and your beliefs. Doing things for effect, fashion, trend, or appearances leaves you feeling hollow. There should be an on-going journey of learning and self-discovery each day. Freedom to adapt to new circumstances as you see fit, try new things, and meet new people is part of the beauty of life.

        I think to be happy, you must feel balanced and have enough control over your circumstances to choose the path you follow. Hopefully it is a wide path, with swings to the left or right as creativity or curiosity sways you. I believe honesty, sincerity, happiness, compassion, are all components to an authentic life.
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          Oct 1 2011: I'm intrigued that you brought up metrics, Robert. I wonder if that gives us a chance to think about "impact investing" and "patient capital" in terms of the investment of time (and money, perhaps). I wonder if that is equivalent to "quality" as you envisioned it above?

          I think the generosity experiment in one of the talks fits well with the description you have shared here: the on-going journey, the impetus for self-discovery, and freedom to adapt. Re-examining the pattern of saying "no" and substituting "yes" was a powerful exercise. I think it's good practice to challenge our assumptions and occasionally do a quality control self-check by re-sampling and testing things.

          Thanks again for your responses.
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    Sep 26 2011: I listen to inspiring people like Jacqueline Novogratz and I sometimes wonder if she herself has to face the rubber meets the road consequences that she admires in others. It seems easy to speak from an established position of wealth and power and encourage others to risk it all.

    Having said that however, I have decided to make such a change. I am at a stage of life where I should logically be a sensible citizen and sock away as much money as possible for old age. My kids are grown and retirement is the next major stage. Even so, I realized a while back that my life had evolved to be something that was not what I really want. I want connectedness and meaning. I want world peace or at least greater understanding among peoples and nations so I asked myself a few hard questions. And here are the answers I arrived at.

    My life was no longer fulfilling. My nest and my arms were empty. My work did not provide the meaning that I wanted it do due to systemic problems that I had no power to change. I asked what would give my life meaning and I realized that I really want to understand the world better by living in another entirely different culture and I want to learn a new language. In order to do that I have to forgo the comfortable retirement after 10 more years of work. (I cannot discipline myself to 10 more years of non-living to maybe have a life later).

    So I hope to be off to language school very soon. I am selling my house so that I am not divided between countries. As soon as the ink is dry on a contract of sale I will go to a developing country where I will take a CELTA course and I will teach English as a second language perhaps for ever or perhaps until I find other work where I can use my training and expertise. If the teaching is as satisfying as I think it will be, I will either establish a life in a new community and work to become a contributing member or I will travel for a while to different countries teaching until I find my home. Adventure and caring.
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      Sep 26 2011: Debra,
      Thanks for sharing your story and insights. It is an example of exactly the sort of challenge I had in mind when I drafted the question. It is a process of examination, feedback and adjustments as we try to find ways that work for our lives.

      I suppose those ways might be different for people with wealth and power than those who are poor or not empowered. I have seen people with very little material wealth or political power (e.g. children) do very bold and generous things for others. That authenticity and connectedness might be all we have and indeed a source of power when the material is stripped away. Different obstacles, different paths - but perhaps similar outcomes from a similar source of inspiration.

      It sounds like your journey will be quite an adventure. Good luck!
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      Sep 26 2011: Ed,
      I especially liked your wording here: 'see the other as self." It's a challenge, but oh so important.
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      Sep 27 2011: Ed- And so it is. Beautifully written.
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    Sep 26 2011: There are people who are fully immersed in meeting the needs of their families and do not have the resources to immerse themselves in other causes or issues that might interest them.There are people who immerse themselves in their occupations or careers, sometimes out of engagement in that and sometimes out of inertia even when the work is no longer captivating or fulfilling. Some may recognize the work is no longer captivating or fulfilling but a transition to some other sort of personal investment is not available because of age, health, or incompatible heartfelt commitments. I will also put forward a conjecture, though I am not yet decided on its validity. I wonder whether there is a personality type that is inclined to immersion- that some people are disposed to immersion in some interest or undertaking and that others are not so disposed.

    I might add that if there is indeed an "immersive type," I could be a poster child for it. I have an undeniable consuming obsession with teaching and learning.
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      Sep 27 2011: Fritzie,
      Thanks for highlighting different kinds of immersion. Very helpful. It makes me wonder about expanding the definitions to think about families or other communities who seek immersion or ways to live more authentically together.
      When you pose the idea about personality types and immersion, I wonder if you have certain types in mind. Do you? Would you think the result might be a very self-selected group with limited appeal? Or would you envision different pathways to immersion and other expression of authentic living that vary by type? How fascinating!
      Thanks for your comments. I'm glad to have feedback from another model of immersion.
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        Sep 27 2011: Debra, I am only speculating in this. It could be that some people are inclined to focus single-mindedly and with immersion in one thing, as a specialist. There may be others who are more inclined to varied broad and disconnected involvements, loving to sample but to approach none with what I would think of as immersion.

        There may be some people who enjoy moments of immersion, as in an album in which they lose themselves but they do not demand from their lives a feeling of fulltime immersion in an idea or cause. And others are driven to a comprehensive immersion in something- 24/7.
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    Sep 26 2011: Talks like this, though I am thorougly impressed by these people, make me nervous inside. Like I haven't done enough. When has anyone done enough? After they have suffered, paid a cost or perhaps lost their life?

    "What might the obstacle be?" you ask . . . selfishness I suppose. Maybe it would work to take babysteps in the direction of immersion. Sigh. I must ponder this with a heavy heart.
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      Sep 26 2011: Thanks for your personal reflections, Lynn. I agree that "How much?" is an important question like "How?" To my way of thinking, there are many paths to many degrees of immersion. For example, Sasha's 30 day experiment was baby step that allowed him to check his assumptions and his practice by switching up the No habit. I don't see why such an experiment couldn't be for one hour or one day. The cost might be relative to the size of the step, but might not.
      I hope the pondering is with an open rather than a heavy heart.
      Thanks again for your response.
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      Sep 26 2011: Lynn, you inspire me with your transparency and with your deep personal examination. Thanks for having the courage to share it with us.
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    Sep 26 2011: Great question.

    If you ask me I would have to say that living in a consumer society does not help because it balkanize's people. What is meant by this is that there are too many conflicting interest. I used to be involved in a lot of protest and one of the hardest pills that I had to swallow is that many people did not pay attention or were not aware of the situation not only because they did not care but because they had other things to worry about such as family, work, heath, etc...not to take away from people's daily chores but i think this is what the poly-archy wants most. People are too busy to have the time or opportunity to transcend themselves and such a realization breaks my heart. I hope this answers part of your question
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      Oct 1 2011: Many thanks for your response. Helping people find ways to connect to causes can be a challenge, Of course, the first step is to see something that moves you. Only then can you act.