Carol Delmonico, 59, at her home

As neighbors at Higher Ground and co-authors of the journal, Stoke Your Woke, Casey naturally connected me to Carol and Carol graciously accepted the invitation to participate here. She met me at the entrance to their community-focused neighborhood and walked me up the hill to her home. We sat across from each other in the sunlight and immediately dove into a deep and warm conversation. We spoke for close to an hour before we officially started the interview and that thing I couldn't name in the introduction to my interview with Josh came alive again during that time. Carol has beautiful words to describe whatever it is that settles into the conversation between one and another. She and I share a skepticism for the system and the way it demands our participation and it is likely the source of that doubt that is responsible for our pursuit of a different way of navigating through this life. We talked through some tough questions and shed some tears together. I didn't feel like a stranger when we first met and I certainly left feeling like a friend. Thank you, Carol, for being so real with me today. 

Who are you and how would you describe yourself?

(Laughs) I love it 'cause that's exactly the kinds of questions I love to ask, too. I love the words of John O'Donohue about who I am. He describes it as, The soul is bigger than the body. So, I am a human body within a soul. And I like to think of the world that way - that, you know, we're all connected that way. So, I'm me, but I'm also not separate from you. So, I'm so many things. Like if I was just gonna identify who I am, I am lots of parts. And I'm healthiest when I'm not fully identified with any one part of myself. But I can be in the role, sort of like putting on clothes. You know, I have the role of a mother; I have a role of a partner; I have a role of community member; I love to dance; I love to laugh; I like to hula hoop; I love to ask questions; and I love to sit in small circles. So, I described myself as a cultural change agent when I was talking to the Source and I think it's that thing of, you know, I'm someone who really questions, in a deep way, the cultural norms and conditioning and I believe in possibility and that imagination, wonder, and possibility are really a big piece of the direction we can go to create a world that works for all. So, that's a part of me, too. 

What matters to you? Or what motivates you? 

Well, there's so much that matters to me. And I think the biggest thing, and I even question this, is every living thing matters to me and raising awareness and helping people wake up and grow up really matters to me because I see our world - you know, we're pretty anthropocentric - so what matters to me is helping people get out of seeing the world only through the lens of what it means to be human. So, reverence really matters to me; living every day, living into that word, having reverence for all of life supports me to have a different kind of a day. 

I think what motivates me is there is some part of me that believes in humankind and I've had enough experience - because of my job at the hospital, I ended up getting to have probably 3,000 different conversations - some coaching conversations and some just checking in for a health screening - recognizing that when we come together and talk about something and listen to something that's important to someone else, we can see beyond maybe all the labels; the way we label people and other people. So, what motivates me is seeing that I can fall in love with anybody when I hear their story. So, that motivates me to believe in humans. And if I can believe in humankind, then I believe we can create a world that works for all. 

What do we mean to each other individual to individual?

Wow, that's a big question (laughs). I love these questions! What do we mean to each other? Well, I guess, the first thing is I think we need each other and I think when we're in denial of that is when we get into the most trouble. Humans are wired for connection; humans are wired for touch. And we need each other, not just human to human, but we need trees, and we need water, and we need oxygen. You know? So, it's all connected. We need each other because in that connectivity is how we sustain life. We need each other because... one of the things I talk about when I'm talking about relationship with people is one plus one equals, really, three. I like to talk about the third thing. When you and I are sitting here in relationship to each other, we create a third thing, which is our relationship. And so it's not one plus one equals two, it's one plus one equals three. And we're always doing that - everywhere we go. So, it matters because, again, I don't ever see us as not being in relationship to something. And so, that matters to understand that. I think it matters to... life. Not sure if that made any sense (laughs). 

I am effected by others in a mega way. If a smile or a hello or a kind act isn't reciprocated, I'm wounded. Through these experiences, I'm building an idea of how we should be to each other. How do we turn this idea that kindness matters into a movement?

I totally heard what you said and I have that same experience often. Again, I think, for me, it goes back to this exploration of sort of both and. So, there's a lot of things, but one is that yes, we live in a world where sometimes someone doesn't look up and say hello or someone doesn't respond if I open a door or sometimes maybe I don't respond if I'm... so, a couple things occurred to me, but one is that the Cleveland Clinic came out with this really beautiful video on empathy. It's in a hospital or walking into a hospital and it just shows images of people moving and then it tells a little bit of a story of what's going on inside their head. So, like, this person is coming in because their wife is dying and this person, standing on the elevator, just had a miscarriage, and this father is going to see his baby for the first time. But it's that understanding and that thing about we aren't in line as a culture we don't really understand that if we're too lost in our interior life, then how is that being interpreted by people that come upon us? And when we're the person that's seeing it, we can't sometimes see that maybe they're really in pain and that's why they can't look up. We forget, right? There's that dance of the internal world and the external world and me and we. So that we're always connected, right? There's really not a separation between you and I sitting here. And if I can't articulate my internal life and say to you, I didn't look up and say hello because I'm grieving a conversation I had earlier about someone else, so I'm distracted and I'm not here in the moment. We haven't created a culture where there's that much honesty and vulnerability among strangers that we happenstance, so some of my own work on that is learning how to trust that, when I can turn it around healthily, is that person's doing the best they can in the moment. And more important to me is not to other them for not doing something, but to just hold the discomfort in myself that they didn't acknowledge me or they didn't acknowledge what I did. And how do I not make it about them? And how do I cultivate continuing to look up and smile and say hello and continuing to believe in human kindness and sharing? Yeah, how do I model how I want to be in the world and what I want to come back at me? And to recognize that I'm not going to be perfect at it. You know, just like that person that didn't say hello to me on the Butte the other day, I may be that person some day. It's rare for me to be that person (laughs), but I might be that person to somebody else some day and I might not even notice I'm being that person. Because I'm in so much pain, I'm not even paying attention to the fact that I haven't looked up or seen them or... right? So I think it's working on that sense of interior exterior, me and we, and the dance of holding and remembering that everybody, in their own way, has that going on, too. 

What does community mean to you?

Again, I love the question. The first thing that came to me is that community is any time I'm in relationship with any living thing. So, I can be in community - in fact, some of my favorite places of being in community are - when I'm walking through a ponderosa forest. So, in Shevlin Park or out at the Metolius, I feel like I belong to that greater community of trees. I sometimes say to people (laughs), I think I was a tree in my last life... It's so easy to feel a part of their community because, for me, they're just so relatable. I don't know... just energetic, I guess. But really, any time I'm in relationship with any other person, I'm in community. Whether it's a community of two or a community of three or a community of 500. I also see community as slightly different than tribe or the way we kind of articulate those things now. Community is inclusive; you don't have to be a certain way to be a part of community. You might have to be a certain way to be a part of a tribe of people now. And I'm not sure, but it's sort of how I see the way it's articulated or utilized now in our culture - the word tribe. Community, to me, is sort of like the villages in Europe where everybody gets to be themselves. There's going to be people that you might not really resonate with or might drive you absolutely crazy, but they're still a part of your community and there's a part of you that learns to love them even if you don't like them. So, community is learning how to be in the mix. You know, be a part of. Be connected to and an individual. And you don't have to be the same to belong to community. And that's sort of what Higher Ground has been about. And it's a learning. It's not how we've been conditioned - or not how I was conditioned - to see. You know, we other each other so much. We're othering all the time - separating ourselves - and so community is that larger picture of can I take the time to notice that I do that and can I shift into seeing this person as a human being? Again, sort of that same concept of sharing what we have together without having to be the same. 

On the other side of what matters to you, what concerns you?

Well, lots of things (laughs). Probably the biggest... oh, there's so many concerns. I think one of the biggest things that concerns me is that, again, our business-as-usual model; how we live, at least how I see it, is that we're so short-sighted. Like some of the indigenous cultures, I want us to think about seven generations beyond us. I'm concerned that we aren't looking far enough out. If we looked that far out, we would be living very differently now. I have really big concerns for the more-than-human world and the decimation of that. I even get a little teary about this. I worry about my children's future. An their children. Or the children of that generation - of your generation. Yeah. 

What is your role in the fight against social injustice? 

Oh, that's an easy question for me to answer. (Laughs) Thank you for giving me an easy one! Well, not so easy. Joanna Macy, and there's others, but they call this time we're in the Great Turning. And the other two ways that we could describe where we are right now, we're in the business-as-usual, which we just keep doing what we're doing or the Great Unraveling, which is sort of that hopelessness that the world is just going to fall apart and we're too overwhelmed by it. She describes three ways that we can participate and one is holding patterns. So, people that work towards holding onto what we have, like saving the trees or the whales or people doing holding, you know, abortion laws - things like that. So, there's that work. There's people that are creating new systems and new forms. And then, there's people that are consciousness changers - people that work on supporting consciousness change. And, so that's me. That's really where I fall. It's what my soul wants to do. It's the work of Stoke Your Woke. It's my coaching practice. Really trying to help people, again, wake up and grow up. And growing up - it's kind a confusing term. We consider ourselves as adults in age at, you know, 18 to 25. But our definition of what it means to be an adult, I believe, needs to be reworked. One of the ways Bill Plotkin describes it is, When you can take care of and believe in taking care of the more-than-human world, then you've reached an adult stage. So, when you see outside of your own self-interest, your own family unit interest, even your own extended family and friend unit -when you see beyond that, you're in an adult stage. So, I'm a consciousness changer; my own and trying to support other people when they're ready to begin to look at different perspectives and ways of feeling, seeing, being, sensing. 

What do you want more of in your life?

Wow, feel emotional again on that one. Well, I can't separate what I want from what I want for the world. I want us to share more. I want humans - all of us - to take a step back and be able to see the world through the eyes of something other than human, maybe. I'd like there to be less suffering in the world. Yeah. It's funny 'cause what I want more of is... I think more awareness around developing those things we talked about before you put the recorder on - you know, accumulating insight and wisdom and understanding and listening skills and for us to want to accumulate things that actually don't do damage to the world. 

Do you have anything else that you'd like to put out there?

I guess just I'd really love all humans to really dig deep and do their part - stop numbing yourself out; stop disconnecting; stop being a sheep. You're here now. I was listening to this thing with Marianne Williamson a while ago and I think it was with Jean Houston - I don't know if you know her, but she's been around along time; she's in her 80s; amazing woman - but she jokingly said to this audience of thousands of people, You aren't raising your hand to go to the bathroom if you're here now. If you're here now, you're here because you're capable and ready and you're here during this transformative time because you chose to come, so do your F-ing work. (Laughs) So, that's what I'd say to people.