Last Saturday, as elections results were finally announced. I celebrated. Relaxed. Cried. Then I looked up and knew, “It ain’t over yet.”
I thought back to my time competing my horse at cross-country events. I’d gallop my horse across fields, charge through water, jump over ditches (or so I hoped), and face thick stone walls. It was sometimes scary, but do you know what the most dangerous part of an event was?
The trip home.
At the end of a show, whether I was happy or sad with our results, I’d relax and let down. Then, I’d pack up my gear, put the horse in the trailer, and drive a one-ton pick-up and 20-foot trailer back to the barn over heavily-trafficked, fast-moving highways.
Fortunately, at that time I could drink the toxic brew called Diet Coke, which I treated as my post-show drug. When I started nodding off in the late afternoon August heat, I’d swing truck and trailer into a gas station, and buy a sixteen-ounce bottle that would jolt me awake and leave me jangling (not recommended). I couldn’t afford to be groggy.
After a couple of hours of driving, I’d reach the barn and the final trial began: parking. I’d be so tired, but I couldn’t let down. After my first show, I forgot to unlatch the trailer from the truck and ended up trying to jack a 1200 pound horse trailer, still attached to the back of a 6000 pound truck, into the air. I learned how easy it is to make mistakes in those last minutes.
The negotiator’s mistake
I once took a leadership seminar with Julian Gresser, author of Piloting Through Chaos, a brilliant man who had negotiated extensively with the Japanese. He had seen too many US executives fail in their negotiations with their Japanese counterparts. The Americans declared success too soon, thinking they’d reached a deal. The Japanese kept going, understanding that the game was still in play, and eventually won the negotiation.
It’s not over until it’s really over. As we’re seeing with the US elections.
The news continues
On Saturday morning, I relaxed.
On Tuesday morning, my husband greeted me with, “I want you to read what’s been happening since Election Day.”
“Please,” I begged. “Not until after my tea and meditation.” I knew the news wasn’t good.
I wanted to stay informed without having to put back on the armor of anxiety I’d been carrying for so long.
I need to practice calm vigilance. With stressed vigilance, I work myself into a frenzy tracking on the crazy-bad stuff that’s still happening. With too much calm, I can check out and fail to notice the dangers (although I may periodically need breaks from the fray to keep my energy going).
Calm vigilance is about keeping the mind alert in a body that stays relaxed, especially when dealing with a disturbing or dangerous situation. Calm vigilance is the kind of presence many first responders have. Calm vigilance is the stuff of expert martial artists.
A practice to try
Here’s a practice I use in order to help my body not constrict when I hear tough news.
Step one: I imagine a delightful, relaxing situation. Maybe I’m on a tropical beach, sitting on a mountain top, or walking in the woods. I chose an image that helps me smile and relax. As I sit with the image, I put a hand on my heart and one on my belly to feel my body’s response.
Usually, I sense an easy relaxation and a gently moving diaphragm.
Step two: I imagine a tension-provoking situation. Nothing too stressful to start. (I have to work up to the Supreme Court.) I can practice with “doing my taxes” or “going to the dentist.” As I picture this tension-provoking image, I feel my belly tighten and my breath become shallow.
Step three: I alternate between the two states, noticing the differences they elicit in my body.
Step four: I try to keep a relaxed feeling when I think about the stressful one.
My goal is to stay alert to what’s happening without tightening–not easy for me.
Over the past year, many of us have been learning to chill in challenging times, developing our toolboxes with skills like breathing, laughing, being in nature, (and dog kisses!).
I don’t trust the world’s circumstances to change and be the source of my calm.
I want to keep finding the joy and staying relaxed, without letting down my guard so much that I ignore the shenanigans that are happening.
The drama is likely to kick up again. (It already has.)
Remember, you need to stay calm. Renewed. Relaxed.
Maybe over was just a fantasy. The same forces that existed before the elections, some dating back hundreds of years, continue.
My friend John Perkins once gave me a wake-up phrase that I treasure. John, an African-American change-maker, said (and I paraphrase due to rusty memory), “To think that change has to happen fast [or in our time frame] is a sign of white entitlement. Our people have been working for change for over one hundred and fifty years. We’re in it for the long haul.”
(Sorry, John, for any butchering; the idea is so compelling.)
Over the past couple of years, I’ve felt a deep hunger stirring within me, a longing for values of goodness and for truths that run deeper than any presidential cycle.
If thoughts have forms and carry energy, I want to boost those that feed my sense of what is uplifting and good about being human.
As the educator/philosopher Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf School movement, wrote:
To Wonder at Beauty
To wonder at beauty, Stand guard over truth, Look up to the noble, Resolve on the good. This leadeth us truly To purpose in living, To right in our doing, To peace in our feeling, To light in our thinking. And teaches us trust, In the working of God, In all that there is, In the width of the world, In the depth of the soul.
Use your own word for God, if you like, and then dig for that place of trust.
Tracking on our inner nobility doesn’t mean ignoring the mean, heinous, and injust. Steiner’s verse asks us to go deeper within ourselves to find and amplify that place where nobility lives.
In my experience, most people, in their deepest gut, long for love, connection, and a sense of truth, beauty, and goodness. Yet that sense can become obscured by the chatter of life, an obsession with the chaos around us.
“The only solution to the problem is to go deeper.” Gourasana (spiritual teacher)
If ever there was a time to go deeper, it’s now.
Before and after
It would have been nice to think the US election would solve our current catastrophes and healed the wounds left by hundreds of years of collective trauma that surface daily as racism, genderism, classism, ageism, etc.
These wounds wouldn’t be wiped out by one election.
Before the elections, I needed to seek inner guidance, connect to the people and forces that inspired me, and pray for truth, beauty, justice, and goodness to prevail.
After the elections, I need to seek inner guidance, connect to the people and forces that inspire me, and pray for truth, beauty, justice, and goodness to prevail.
I know my body’s constitution. I need to stay away from the news for a while. Do what works for you.
But as we proceed in a time of clamor and cacophony, please spend time with beauty. It gives me strength, calms my soul, and helps me care for others.
I will draw, paint, listen to music, and feed my soul in nature. I’ll write about creativity. I’ll connect with friends. I’ll pray for the country’s highest good.
What will you do that will feed you, your dreams, and the country?
(Please drink water..)
Thank you, John Perkins. Yes, I’m in it for the long haul.
Are you on countdown this week? I keep ticking away days as if life is being divided into BE (before elections) and AE.
I know this is historically myopic.
The crow, the hawk, and the falcon are not counting down. They will keep flying regardless. As their kin have done for centuries.
As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in The Book of Hours:
“I am circling around God, around the ancient tower, and I have been circling for a thousand years, and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.”
This week, instead of bringing more thoughts to you, I offer a poem instead.
This one comes from the Irish poet and Nobel prize winner, Seamus Heaney and was published în The Cure at Troy in 1991, to honor Nelson Mandela. (Heaney’s book was based on Sophocles’ play Philoctetes, which, truthfully, I haven’t read.)
It speaks to today.
From The Cure at Troy (I added the bolding.)
Human beings suffer
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.
The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.
History says, Don’t hope On this side of the grave… But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up, And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change On the far side of revenge. Believe that a further shore Is reachable from here. Believe in miracles And cures and healing wells.
Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.
Is it OK to rage when we’re committed to practicing love?
How do we love someone whose words and actions have lead to deaths and needless suffering for millions? And when their credo of selfishness taints and threatens to destroy this county?
If love is a tender, uplifting feeling of appreciation and warmth for someone, I can’t go there.
If love is a stance that acknowledges that the world is interconnected, we’re in this together, and everyone has a right to be here, then I can love.
I don’t have to like said person. I detest most of their actions. But it’s not worth hating because hate changes me and does nothing to better the world.
A time for revolutionary love
Author/activist Valarie Kaur would say I need revolutionary love, a love that doesn’t “other” people different from me, but does not condone their actions, either.
Valarie is a civil rights activist, film-maker, lawyer, speaker, author, mother, faith leader, and seeker, who has packed an unimaginable number of accomplishments into her thirty-nine years.
I listened to her speak in conversation with two other amazing souls, Parker Palmer, educator and activist, and Carrie Newcomer, songwriter and peacemaker. They spoke on Newcomer-Palmer’s “The Growing Edge Podcast,” which I recommend.
She launched her path as an activist and documentary film-maker when a close family friend, a member of the Sikh faith, was the first person murdered in a hate crime post 9-11. Then, when she witnessed racism and police aggression while filming and was herself arrested, she decided to add a law degree to her theology training. When she speaks she is serious and joyfully uplifting, eloquent in the languages of compassion and social justice, birthing, mothering, meditation, and civil rights.
Valarie knows the micro and major aggressions directed daily at people of color. In the Newcomer-Palmer interview, Valerie spoke about seeing her father subjected to a racial insult in the presence of her son. She added,
“To rage to protect that which we most love is worthy.”
Rage is not the opposite of love. When we love deeply, the correct response against systemic bigotry and injustice may be rage.
To sanctify our rage and help it serve others, we must work with it. Too often, people stay stuck in grief and rage until it calcifies within them.
“When we don’t give rage a safe container for expression–when we don’t move through our rage–it’s easy when it stays contained in our bodies to harden into something like hate.”
Parker added, “Or into depression, which is where I think a lot of people are… A lot of depressions are bottled anger.”
Valarie believes that white supremacy often reflects frozen grief for a country no longer here (and that maybe never was).
We all need safe spaces to work through our grief and speak our rage, without keeping it locked within us or lashing out reactively.
In the hands of someone committed to social justice, rage, grounded in compassion, can become a fierce sword.
Moreover, rage and grief can provide fuel for creative energy, which I need these days.
Keeping the flow
I’ve just started painting with acrylic paints and learned the hard way what happens when they dry out. Watercolors can be reconstituted with water, not so acrylics. The hardened blob of blue paint I cut from a tube was useless.
Similarly, I can’t let rage or grief dry out my heart.
Fortunately, when I paint, sing, or write, I have a way to move my feelings. While painting, I pick colors, like crimson red, burnt sienna, and cadmium orange, that speak to me, then see what comes forth. When I allow my feelings to flow, without clinging to them or justifying them, what emerges on the paper may surprise me.
Curiosity and wonder keep me going.
Softening with joy
I can throw a tube of paint away.
I’m not sure what it will take to help soften the many hardened hearts in this country. Listening to their stories? Practicing compassion?
I don’t have gobs of love to share, not the sentimental kind, at least, but I can offer compassion.
At the same time, I can work my rage and keep my soul soft by playing with colors.
A vibrant violet brings me heart-warming joy.
As the remarkably ebullient Valarie Kaur offers,
“Joy reminds us of everything that is good and beautiful and worth fighting for. Joy gives us energy for the long labor.”
When we were told to shelter-at-home at the beginning of the pandemic, I heard many friends talking about our new lives like a “staycation.”* We cut air travel and all but the most essential trips outside the home.
We had more time.
(*I realize this wasn’t true for everyone.)
I organized my home, completed projects with my husband, and enjoyed the space.
Later that feeling of spaciousness disappeared as the world discovered Zoom and a wealth of online classes appeared. I enjoyed the abundance and indulged my inner learning-junkie.
I played the piano again. I meditated. I was never bored.
My schedule became full.
Life is getting blurry
I’m still enjoying the creative spurt that I’ve been on, but I’ve noticed some disturbing symptoms:
Because I didn’t check my calendar, I blew two appointments I didn’t want to miss
I have to think hard to know what day of the week it is.
The weeks and months are blurring together.
The often cool Northwest summer days are confusing me. Is summer really here?
I don’t know when the political conventions are supposed to be.
When does a staycation end?
The word staycation was coined in 2005 by Canadian comedian Brent Butt in the television show “Corner Gas.” Now, the word’s in the dictionary.
Staycations, like vacations, were a break in work. They were supposed to have an endpoint.
What I’m experiencing is more like a beautiful drone that never seems to end, going on and on until at some point it fades.
I need more punctuation.
I’m taking a ___”cation”
For the rest of this month, I’m taking a break. (I haven’t found the word for this.)
On a manual shift car, you have to pass through neutral when you shift. Otherwise, you grind the gears.
I want to feel that still point from which change can emerge.
I’ll resume this blog in early September. I may use the time to catch up on some things. Or maybe I won’t. I may spend more time writing my book. Or maybe I won’t.
I need to add some periods to my schedule in place of commas.
Rumor has it we’re in for the long haul.
How can we find breaks that feel like breaks in this time of ongoing uncertainty?
I don’t know how it will work. In the meantime, I’ll miss you.
In the Pacific Northwest, I love to go up into the mountains, the Cascades or the Olympics, where I can breathe cool, clean air, and be inspired by spectacular views.
Standing on high ground gives me a chance to put life into perspective.
I need that perspective. So much of the news is about low-getting-lower ground. The rollback of environmental protections. US military-style agents invading Portland, Oregon. Misinformation about Covid-19 leading to a dramatic surge in the pandemic and thousands more deaths. Black lives still being lost.
What I need even more than mountain air, though, are people who show me, with humility, what it is to stand on high moral ground.
That’s what John Lewis could do.
Photo from President Obama’s recent post on Medium about John Lewis
I cried about his death last week. It’s not just that a great man, and a great congressman, died. It’s that he was a voice of conscience, to quote Nancy Pelosi, whose words carried the force of a life dedicated to social justice.
Through his mere presence, he could inspire our better angels.
Many will be eulogizing him. I’ll save that for those who knew him personally and loved him, like President Obama.
Former Ambassador Andrew Young said of his close friend:
“[he had] the calm, quiet, power of humility, integrity, and determination. He didn’t say much but when he said a word everybody listened because he was willing to put his life on the line for any word he spoke.”
John Lewis is gone. But his words aren’t. I offer them as a way of resting a few minutes on higher ground, gathering courage for the journey beyond.
“Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.”
“These young people are saying we all have a right to know what is in the air we breathe, in the water we drink, and the food we eat. It is our responsibility to leave this planet cleaner and greener. That must be our legacy.”
— Lewis on youth climate activists in a statement released in September 2019
“A democracy cannot thrive where power remains unchecked and justice is reserved for a select few. Ignoring these cries and failing to respond to this movement is simply not an option — for peace cannot exist where justice is not served.”
“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”
— Lewis on seeking truth, justice, and equality, during the impeachment trial for US President Donald Trump
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be Hopeful. Be Optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
— A tweet from June 2018
I can’t wait to watch the documentary about his life: John Lewis: Good Trouble
In the face of the brokenness all around us, it’s time to heed the call for good trouble and let ourselves be led through chaos by the “strange attractor” of a higher purpose.
“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone — any person or any force — dampen, dim or diminish your light … Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.”