this pandemic is a big ole mirror, reflecting back to us the truth of who we are–the good, the bad, the ugly. one of the reflections is of our broken, inequitable systems that favor some while harming others. there is disproportionate harm being done based on these systems that we’ve created, upheld, and participated in.Continue reading “dis-ease”
inspired by reading wendell berry’s “the hidden wound”, again. this book, written by berry in 1970 is so rich and still so resonant. this weekend, in a community of practice committed to racial healing and spiritual liberation, we shared reflections on our awakenings to our collective “hidden wounds”. while we were specifically looking at theContinue reading “hidden wounds”
i’m reading victor frankl’s man’s search for meaning alongside howard thurman, alongside richard rohr, alongside ram dass, alongside gloría anzaldúa (cause, always). yeah, there’s quite a conversation going on inside my heart-mind! and as it always is, i’m spiraling around a question.
the relationship between freedom and form.
a while ago i wrote about a lesson from one of my teachers, jerry granelli. the teaching was “freedom is in the form”. my take away at the time was that form mattered. a lot.
the thing is, what i’m figuring out is that it’s not really about the form, per se. it’s about connecting with the sacred within us and around us so deeply that we can exist within the form–whatever that form is!–in service to the common good/life source/love/the Divine.
in my earlier post, i reflected on an exercise jerry led around a collective blues song in which the only way i knew how to be in service to our song was to close my eyes, shut it all out, and focus all my attention on the form. yeah…well. this was an important lesson for me at the time and also falls short. after all, i missed everyone’s song.
what i’m learning is that the spiritual path of liberation invites us to experience freedom within and through the forms we occupy. not in spite of them. through them.
victor frankl writes of his experience in auschwitz. the horrors he faced. the unspeakable suffering. and the profound love and sacredness that he experienced there, too. strangely, as many warriors have shared over thousands of years, it is often in times of darkness that we find light.
as i’ve continued on my spiritual path, the meaning i had once assigned to forms in my life has dulled. i’m experiencing meaning in my life differently, in different ways. i long for silence, solitude, the in-between conversations and happenings that evidence magic and mystery. the cracks in our structured days that allow a brighter light to spill out.
liberation is not determined by the form. and pulling away from one form to find liberation in another is not necessarily the answer, either. in fact, if my life experience tells me anything, it’s that i’ll replace that form with another form. and repeat.
i am learning that the deeper invitation is remembering that the source of meaning and connection and life and love resides within us, already. without condition. and to allow our attachment to the external world and all its forms and labels dissolve away.
when i put this truth in words, two pieces of resistance come up. (hello, ego! have a cup o’ tea)
first: how privileged! it’s easy to allow our attachments to the external world dissolve when we have food on the table, a roof over our heads, a sense of security/stability. yes. and the suffering that comes when these are called into question invites an inner-source of power building that gets forgotten when things are comfortable. there’s a another source of power that has nothing to do with privilege (actually, the fact that “power and privilege” has become a buzz-phrase is limiting to our understanding of power; the two do not necessarily go hand in hand).
second: to consider dissolving attachment from forms that have defined how we understand ourselves and our worlds is terrifying. on one hand, it feels like apathy, like the richness of a world that once carried so much meaning and beauty fades away. on the other hand, there is a level of dying/death that follows. who am i if i’m not (fill-in-the-blank)?
i become nobody and everybody.
and the richness unfolds in sustaining and surprising ways. the bird signaling to his friends there’s feed in the bird feeder. a friend on a job search and feeling purpose beyond it, pulling dead leaves off my fig tree, wendell. my child’s existential questioning of whether to play football (god, help me!).
i love how ram dass speaks to this! he refers to life as “somebody training” and shares his process of moving beyond “somebody”, giving up forms. AND he speaks to the importance of ALSO staying in the form. how else can we be human but to feel the pain and suffering and joy of the world?
he echoes jerry, “freedom is in the form”.
being in service to the world, we must be both in the world and not of the world.
this is what god did in taking human form in jesus. and what jerry was teaching us when he taught us the blues. bless my heart; it wasn’t about holding onto the blues’ form, as i tried so desperately to do. it was about being the blues.
practically, this meandering takes me here: how do i live a spiritually liberated life, in communion with the Divine while also an embodied white woman, mother, daughter, friend, sister, partner, justice-maker who operates in the waters of patriarchy, a never-ending pile-up of laundry, white supremacy, and a good doss of teenage attitude? how do i work for racial justice as spiritual liberation and as a white woman? how do i hold the forms that don’t mean anything and yet mean everything in shaping my humanity?
as i stumble along with these small questions, i’m grateful that ram dass also reminded me of don juan’s lesson to practice “controlled folly”, a wise guidance to do everything in the world as it is all that matters, all the while knowing it doesn’t matter at all.
yeah. i’m sittin’ with that.
Posted January 15, 2020
departures can be sweet.
it’s too bad that departures often get a bad rap.
for sure departures signal an ending, a closing of a chapter. grief accompanies departure and fear lurks in its shadows, whispering seductions that hold us in desperately, grasping onto what was and what we are departing.
in a season of life that is offering me some big departures, i’m discovering departure as sweet, tender, loving.
departure invites choice. and when we say yes to fear’s invitation and lean into uncertainty, we connect with our inner power. trusting ourselves births us into who we are becoming and opens up possibilities beyond our imagination.
saying yes to departure–even as we also acknowledge the grief and fear that comes with that yes–allows for a wholehearted yes to what is now and what is next.
Posted January 7, 2020
can we hold ourselves
and one another
with a knowing
that we belong
just as we are,
and that the questions
and cracks and stumblings,
where mundane dances with magical,
and love bleeds into hurt
and companionship dissolves into loneliness
is where we find ourselves,
there all along.
waiting and ready,
arms wide open.
can we hold ourselves
and one another
with a knowing
that we belong
just as we are,
Posted December 13, 2019
words do not catch my attention
as perhaps they once did.
my energy is captured
by what is in between those words
what’s left unsaid
the way in which
the words are spoken
the life, death
that breathes meaning into them.
this listening yields an entirely different
a story that can weigh and lift
and invite uncertainty
as this mother tongue speaks a language
that few care to take the time and care
though ripe with meaning and wisdom
when i can quiet my self,
Posted November 21, 2019
I surrender to the pull within me
To become who i am
Shedding armor of expectation, prescription, presumption
To make way for the fruits my soul will bear
Or maybe there will be no fruits–who knows?!
The point is that my soul has work to do
And it’s been asking me to do it, to get out of the way
And now it is time.
I’m saying yes.
I’m saying yes to listening to my deep knowing, my inner wisdom
And trusting that knowing and wisdom
When there is fear and trepidation present, I choose to lean into it as it is a gift of deeper insight
In my faith to life force and Spirit, I will respond
Out of compassion and love and with clarity
I’m saying yes to evolution’s compelling draw
Understanding that I play a role in that unfolding that is beyond my humble and human grasp.
Posted November 14, 2019
i wish this could be a break-up letter. knowing the impossibility of that brings me heartbreak and rage.
even still, you need to know that i do not want this relationship. i do not consent. in fact, i will do everything i can to free myself from it–from you– despite the fact that i cannot fully escape. i am a slave to you.
this relationship is violent. you have designed systems and structures that keep me in my place with you. your manipulating and controlling forces make it hard for me to remember, distancing me from those more free, from people of color. you and your co-conspirators of patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism bully me and break me down and split me in two.
and yet i will not be afraid. i belong to the universe and exist in and through and in-between the chains and structures you and your co-conspirators hold so tightly. you are pathetic and small and desperate. you are fearful of my knowing and so you put me in boxes, keep me in chains only to feed your own pitiful need to be superior.
you are like amnesia. your efforts to make me forget my own Power are strong and often effective. so i will remain vigilant in my commitment to stay awake and remember.
while i will always bear your mark, i will work tirelessly and with discipline to erase you. to see your controlling ways and eradicate you. our relationship will not be easy. i will not go softly. i am determined to be free.
your voice, shaking in power and rage and grief, is a wake up call. your actions are a wake up call. you are a wake up call.
your example of sane leadership in a time of madness satisfies a hunger for truth that many of us have not been aware we’ve felt.
your provocations, “how dare you?” went straight to my gut. your words were meant for all of us–all of us who are who are still asleep. or who awaken for a moment, then forget.
how dare us.
you were eleven years old when you choose silence and sanity.
eleven years wise when you could see how mad the world was in our oblivion. our denial of our suffering and collective truth. you felt this unspoken, unconscious pain and were confused by how we could just act like everything was ok. like nothing was wrong. we just went about our daily business. for you, it was unreconcilable.
you chose not to participate in our madness. and then you found another way.
and somewhere there, in your silence, you listened to your inner genius. you found your inner power. and chose simply to do what you could, where you could. no more, no less.
and you are now leading us.
you stand as a reminder. a reminder that real power resides within us. and that this power is experienced and unleashed through relationships. we become alive in our interconnectedness.
we’ve been sitting on the sidelines witnessing our earth die because we have been dead.
how dare us.
thank you for your wake up call. i hear you.
we sow seeds to our becoming
with such deep knowing
that our minds cannot compute.
we play a part in a much bigger play,
a piece in a grander masterpiece
that is unknowable.
trusting that deep knowing,
residing in our essence
and we flow…
i grew up fearing taking up too much space.
doing so was despicable. unacceptable. this was for many reasons given the circumstances of my growing up. least of which was that i was a white girl from the south.
i grew up shrinking.
as i grew, i was trained on all the ways in which i hold power and privilege. so much. privilege. it bounded me. i internalized the lessons: “take up less space. make room for others.”
i grew up shrinking.
now, i’m sayin’…nah. not so much.
our power is not in our privilege. it’s not in shrinking to make room for others. it’s not in hiding behind “humility” or egolessness. power is generated from living into all we are and letting our light shine. brilliantly. and as only we can.
shrinking for others is a lie. an excuse we tell ourselves to let ourselves off the hook for the real, brave work of being audaciously who we are. the business of shrinking maintains status quo and stunts us all.
by shrinking, we shrink our collective capacity for growth and life and love.
this line from Rilke’s Book of Hours keeps playing my heart strings,
"If this is arrogant, God, forgive me, but this is what I need to say. May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children."
the latin root of the word arrogant is “arrogare”, meaning “claimed for oneself without justification”. at the heart of arrogance is staking a claim on your Self for your Self. it’s not about asking permission or pleasing or accommodating. it’s pure.
and yeah, it can offend. it will offend.
yeah, it might step on toes. it will step on toes.
but i’m starting to see arrogance as the light that shines when we are being our brilliant, whole Self.
and the beautiful thing is that in doing so invites others to be their unapologetic self, too.
i want to whisper to those around me
let’s be quiet
for just a little while
i want to hear ourselves
and our world
it’s too beautiful to miss
i want to be here with all of it
what does it mean to practice egolessness? to get out of our own way so that we can be in right relationship with those around us? to open ourselves to the world and be liberated from harmful patterns that shut us down and divide us?
one of my teachers, jerry granelli recently drew on his experience and love for the blues to demonstrate. it is worth sharing.
for jerry, the blues is much more than a method that he can use to teach spiritual leadership. it’s in his blood, his soul. as he taught us, his embodiment of the music was magical and mysterious. he was giving us a part of himself.
nearly eighty years old, jerry is an experienced jazz percussionist and spoke of what it meant to be a white drummer taken under the wing of african american musicians during times when venues were segregated and times were different. and yet the same. he taught us of the history of the blues, drawing on the inspiration of the likes of louis jordan (who, according to jerry, introduced rap) and bb king, and marveled at the sheer genius of the form of blues–“a perfect cycle”, made up of 12 measures, 1,2,1,5,4,1. this form, from jerry’s perspective, has shaped the music of the world. for jerry, the blues is everything. and everything is the blues.
as jerry was careful to point out, the blues originated from slaves and their descendants–from those most oppressed. this form of expression has a lot to teach us about liberation and the source of power.
for example, the blues offers a clear and unwavering form that allows improv and beautiful musical expression. but here’s the kick: the expression is not about self-expression but expression in service to the music.
the truth was simple and yet beautifully complex: “freedom is in the form”.
over the course of a week, jerry taught our cohort the blues–and we learned, with a lot of discomfort. this was by design. we were forced out of our comfort zones to embody an expression that literally went against our ingrained patterns of domination. this process was disarming and painful–tears and rage were expressed more than once.
one day, we were directed to move from one point in the room to another point in the room in the span of a blues’ cycle. so, while the cohort sang the blues, i had to move from point A to point B, and touch point B on the exact end-beat. the group struggled as we grew distracted with witnessing each other’s performances; we screwed up–nearly every time–due to an interest in both “performing” and “witnessing”. i got a sense of how hard it is to hold true to form. to distant ourselves from our own self-interest. to be in service to the greater good. or service to the music.
dang, how hard this lesson was. the last evening, we sang the blues, collectively. each of us had created our own personal blues song. we sang these, while the rest of the cohort held the form, singing the background. at one point, one woman in our group began a very emotional piece and as the rest of us were drawn into her song.—distracted from our service to the greater thing—we let the form collapse. in that moment, we failed her. and ourselves. and the music.
“this is unforgiveable” jerry asserted. he went on, “it’s like we launched an astronaut into space and then moved earth–we just let her hang out there, all alone. we let her down and let our form collapse.” meanwhile, tears ran down the woman’s face.
from that moment on, during our collective blues song, i shut my eyes and tuned out my friends’ songs. as much as i selfishly wanted to hear their blues, i cared too much about failing them by failing the form. our liberation was in my holding the form. and i was going to do that. so, i focused all of my attention on the form itself. i was not going to let anyone else down. i took myself out of the equation. until it was my turn to sing my song.
i’m questioning the training/conditioning i’ve received about love and justice. the training has not always served me well–has not served the common good. what i’ve come to believe is love and justice can also be disguised as self-serving and ego-driven. even while well-intentioned. maybe especially when well-intentioned. at times, these tendencies are about me feeling good about myself and the best i can do for all of us is to stay focused on the form…
freedom is in the form. there is freedom in becoming nothing. in losing my self in the greater whole.
the question on my mind is how we determine what the form is…or how do we create a form that is healthy and whole and can hold us all? i’m interested in serving the music. i am an instrument and need to get out of my way so that the music can move through me.
i believe jerry and Spirit knew that this bunch of white women needed something to move us out of our heads and intellects and into our bodies and souls…and the blues were the key. right now, we are being called to serve not ourselves but the life force that connects all of us. it is a path that demands egolessness and learning to get out of our own way, to discover connection and right relationship. it is the path to liberation.
thank you, jerry.
my heart breaks at our inability to be with suffering. my mind, body, and spirit hurt at our numbing–in all the ways we distance ourselves from the pain we experience personally and collectively.
this weekend, i was in a workshop on dismantling racism. an elderly african- american man stood to share work he had done around racial reconciliation. as he spoke, a crack open up within him and he poured out his truth of what it means to be a black man today in this country. he wept, beating his chest repeating, “i am weary. i am sick and tired. i just want to be seen as man. not a black man. only a man.” his truth pierced through me and i felt in communion with him, joined in our shared humanity and in right relationship. and yet, the group moved on without acknowledging in any way this moment of sacred truth-telling. other participants simply proceeded as business-as-usual, giving updates on trainings and activities, as had been directed. i attempted to articulate my feelings of discomfort and stumbled. i felt small and alone and weak as our group–myself included–was incapable of being present to his pain, and our own collective pain.
i’ve been studying JoAnna Macy’s Work that Reconnects alongside adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy all while engaged in the work of racial justice and healing and systems change. here’s what i am seeing with increased clarity: our ability to be responsive to the needs in front us–whether those are our’s personally, our child’s, our friend’s, our organization’s, our world’s–will be unlocked only through growing our capacity to be present with suffering.
as living systems, we are interconnected. we exist as part of a larger whole. while this is a spiritual worldview for me, science has offered the clearest insight into this through systems thinking and emergent theory. we only have to look at nature (our own bodies!) to understand that the health of the whole depends on the health of the self and vice-versa. life is a beautifully complex dynamic set of processes that channel ever-flowing energy and information. when those channels aren’t working and information is shut down, there is sickness, disease, death. pain signals where to point intention and attention, diagnosing the overall health and wellness of the living system, at that moment.
experiencing pain unleashes power. pain is a bridge, a connector. through pain, we join our whole selves, we join with others. through pain, we heal. we open up to a vastness of life force and that opening generates power. this power is a different sort of power than the kind of power generated through white supremacist, patriarchal power structures. it is not power over. it is power with. it not mine but moves through me and connects me to you and all other life. for me, this power is God, Spirit, Life, Love.
so, when i witness a numbing to pain, my heart breaks at the loss of possibility, power, and life.
and when i witness a presencing to pain, my heart fills with joy and gratitude and aliveness. paradoxical and true. all the great myths and faith traditions teach this. and yet we are conditioned otherwise. we are conditioned to numb the pain, quick-fix-it-and-not-feel-it, turn away.
i am practicing naming pain when i witness it. understanding the fears associated with being present to pain help: fear of guilt; fear of shame; fear of being perceived as too-emotional or hyper-sensitive; fear of doing more harm; fear of not being able to manage it; fear of evoking panic; fear of falling apart.
and some of the behaviors associated with these fears help me stay clear, especially around white fragility and white distancing like savior complex, minimizing, denying, competing victimization, debating data, deflecting, over-analyzing.
we cannot do the work of healing or justice or social change if we do not get radical and get at the root of what is doing the harm–the disconnection and numbing to the harm itself. what if the answer to our hurt is not to fix it or stop the hurt but to open to it. when we open to it, the response will come. and then how might we stay open?
this question is on my mind now, at 3:30am on day 3 of a three-day think tank i’ve been participating in with system change leaders from across the country. we’ve been brought together to design models for “understanding the impact of collaborative change”. as a group, we have only barely touched the surface of why we need to do this to begin with: our systems are broken and we are desperately in need of new ways of working (i only named this for myself just now!). we cannot seem to locate ourselves as a collective within that story and i am curious if we’ll get there in the three hours we have together, today. my belief is that without doing that then we will be unable to unleash the only power that can transform. the power-with power that comes through connection and wholeness.
(as a side note, as an evaluator, i wonder: what would it even look like to measure the impact of collaborative change in terms of capacity for being open to pain and suffering?)
i also wonder: how might we end our numbing so that we can be with our pain and in doing so, heal?
so i here i am awake, at 3:30am, pained by our numbing and the possibilities that are passing us by. and grateful for the awakening and connection and inspiration that this pain generates.
Everything has a beginning, middle, end.
For some time, this teaching
Seduced me in trying to diagnose
Which phase I was experiencing--
As I questioned the life of a relationship,
Whether my mother was dying,
Whether I was menopausal...
I now can see that there’s no way of knowing.
The peace comes in simply understanding
Everything has a beginning, middle, end.
One thing I’m noticing is the suffering of White folks.
This statement makes me uncomfortable to say as a White woman. I’ve been trained and conditioned to not attend to White suffering and to direct my noticing to the suffering of those more directly oppressed by racial injustice and White Supremacy. I’ve diminished the suffering of those with privilege and focused my justice-making and healing intentions on “those people” with less power and racial privilege.
Damn, we can be dangerous as well-intentioned white folks. Because at the end of the day, this approach reproduces dominant power structures. This framing only (re)positions the dominant as dominant.
I’ve been wondering about how we are all subject to structures of domination and how we are all harmed by them. How might we notice and tend to our own internalized White Supremacy and Whiteness so that we can actually be in community with one another?
White Supremacy is so baked into the DNA of every molecule of everything in this nation that it really screws with the dominant group. For white people to awaken to ways in which we are have been harmed by White Supremacy is damn near impossible. The forces of Whiteness—institutionalized and structural racism as well as internalized Whiteness–make it very difficult for White folks to see Whiteness and to notice how it impacts us. Mostly, when we can see Whiteness, it is too scary. It calls into question everything we think we know about ourselves, our world. We turn away with all our distancing behaviors and white fragility before we have the chance to experience our fullness, our wholeness, our connectedness.
For me, ego is a helpful red flag of sorts that signals when my internalized Whiteness and other dominant patterns are showing up. My whole Self splits up and my mind drowns out my body. Sometimes I catch myself not breathing, I am so withdrawn into my mind. The world is reduced to terms of either/or and right/wrong and my life force moves out of the present moment into the future with goals and plans and outcomes and answers. Connection is lost with those around me as I become distractingly invested in their opinions of me. I become much too big, swelling up like the marshmallow monster in Ghostbusters while also losing my Self, driven by racing thoughts and triggered emotions. My determination and drive to do more, do better, go faster increases as I try desperately to fix and solve and please.
I’ve noticed that this happens especially in moments when I feel expectations of how I’m supposed to perform, when I’ve internalized scripts about what “successful”, “smart”, “knowledgeable”—all driven by White Supremacy and systems of domination. I beat myself up when I don’t perform these roles well, when I fail or stumble or come up short. I ruminate on what I should have said or done or not said or not done. I can be my own worst enemy.
This behavior is certainly not in the service of the world. Being stuck here, in ego-driven Whiteness, is not helpful in meeting what the world needs right now. Or in living a full and rich life with those around me. So we gotta figure out how to notice our own internalized patterns of domination so that we can disentangle our being from them, and be free.
Free. It is for sure unsettling to land here—on freedom for White folks—given the state of the world and the impact on Black and Brown lives. And yet, here I am. Because I just keep seeing racial and social violence perpetuated by White folks that cannot—or will not—see their actions as violent. We cannot feel and experience the disconnection that has rooted within our minds and hearts branching out into our relationships and worlds. As White folks, it is too threatening to our identity, our worlds to let go of the promises Whiteness falsely claim and surrender to not knowing. It is too painful to really look at ourselves, to experience our own pain.
And yet this is the path to love and liberation.
It’s a conundrum. Letting go of all we know and believe in order to be free. To undo ourselves completely in order to be whole. And that as White folks, we’re the ones who need liberating.
Maymoud Darwish’s The Prison Cell gets at this beautifully:
It is possible…
It is possible at least sometimes…
It is possible especially now
To ride a horse
Inside a prison cell
And run away…
It is possible for prison walls
For the cell to become a distant land
What did you do with the walls?
I gave them back to the rocks.
And what did you do with the ceiling?
I turned it into a saddle.
And your chain?
I turned it into a pencil.
The prison guard got angry.
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't care for poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.
He came back to see me
In the morning,
He shouted at me:
Where did all this water come from?
I brought it from the Nile.
And the trees?
From the orchards of Damascus.
And the music?
From my heartbeat.
The prison guard got mad;
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't like my poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.
But he returned in the evening:
Where did this moon come from?
From the nights of Baghdad.
And the wine?
From the vineyards of Algiers.
And this freedom?
From the chain you tied me with last night.
The prison guard grew so sad…
He begged me to give him back
Are we ready, as White folks, for what this will take? I’m choosing yes.
i’ve long loved spirals. they represent to me an ongoing process of growth that returns, again and again to its origins. lately, i see myself spiraling. not in an out-of-control way (although sometimes it does feel like that!) but in the sense of circling back to a core place, with the same core questions and contemplations.
today, i stumbled on this blog post i wrote almost exactly five years ago, Notes from the Mainstream. then, i worked for higher education; now, i do not. my work is the same and it is different. i am the same and i am different. i bring new insight and learn from my old self. all at once.
the spiraling has brought nuance to my core question: how do i remain whole so that my actions are in service of the whole?
for now, wanting to just notice this spiraling. a calling back to my Self. with a deepening and widening perspective all the while.
My heart has been heavy this week.
I’ve spent some time considering why. Honestly, I’m not sure, exactly. And I’m learning to be okay with not knowing. I don’t need to understand. I don’t need to try to solve my sadness, or to fix it.
In fact, my tendency to want to do this–to get at the root of my own suffering–pulls me away from it. Pulls me away into my mind, where I ruminate on the past and theorize about the future. And while this maybe sounds like a good thing, it’s actually not helpful. We need to be present to our suffering, to feel it and fully experience it. This presence invites Wholeness, Holiness.
The thing with being present to suffering is that first, I have to notice it and allow myself to experience it. These days, in all our busyness, this isn’t an easy thing. We need time and space. A strange commentary of the state of affairs: we need time and space to be with ourselves and to feel what we feel. And yet, so true.
Just yesterday, in two separate conversations, when friends spoke of things happening in their lives, they were surprised by their tears, by the emotions that arose as they touched on what was bubbling underneath, all along.
Today, Good Friday, the day Christ suffered on the cross, I am thankful for this Christian tradition. Today, this day invites me to remember the sacred role suffering plays in transformation. Today reminds me of the power of being with suffering.
What if, when we touch on something tender, we simply stay with that tenderness? Instead of turning away and running (to a glass of wine, Netflix, another topic of conversation, a theory as to why, or a solution that will fix it), we tend to the tenderness?
Tending is not fixing. Tending is holding, caring.
And that is all. And that is enough.
a year ago i said yes to an invitation that only my soul understood to join with others broken-hearted by the suffering of our world open-hearted to the joy of our world who shared faith in power unleashed through right relationship this year has been one of painful unlearning of letting go of false selves and forms and ego of grieving hope and answers and truths of remembering presence and connection and wholeness how thankful i am that i trusted my soul and dared to listen to my Self i said yes to awakening choosing who i want to be which is to say i choose to be nobody a valley rather than a mountain mystery rather than a brand free floating rather than attached funny that a path that feels so new, so radical traces back to the beginning of humankind we only have to forget all we know to remember who we are, together
the past couple of weeks, i’ve come undone. this, i know, is life. over and over again, we become undone. the practicing comes in accepting it, being in it, and not retreating in utter fear.
i’m still practicing.
the thing is, all that we’ve learned our entire lives tells us otherwise: to hold on tight. to try harder. to grin and bear it. to be strong. to keep it together. these messages rob us of rich living and dying and in the process, dehumanize us. these messages tell us we are pathetic and incapable and weak for being just as we all…in the words of the great grace lee boggs’, “human human beings.”
so i get this. i’ve learned these lessons before. even still, this time as i practiced, i was surprised by my lack of self-compassion when i started beating myself up. as i transitioned from intense hospital duty with my mom back into life’s routine of kids, work, home, i began destructive self-talk as i started to drown. it got louder and louder. “why can’t you just let go of the dirty house?”; “why did you forget that email?” “you’re being hypersensitive.” “what is wrong with you? get over it. you’re so freaking privileged to have the resources you do.” in a time when i most needed loving-kindness, i met myself and my process of being undone with judgement.
now that i’ve noticed it, i feel lighter. i feel more compassion. i wonder what would it mean to accept being undone with an open heart and trust that from this place will be born life that is already taking shape within me–as a butterfly emerges from its undone cocoon.
i’ll keep practicing.
for the past ten days, my brother and i have accompanied my mom through test after test, appointment after appointment–126 in total. we have been waiting in limbo-land for life and death information.
waiting at the intersection of life and death, living takes on a realness that is both heavy and liberating.
the heaviness comes with the overwhelm of our human attempts to pin things down. and of course, try we must! after all, there are jobs, children, …responsibilities. there have been moments, feeling stuck here in minnesota in the midst of a blizzard, with my ailing mother, i’ve thought, i can’t just keep waiting here. i have to get home–i have stuff to do. i have meetings on monday! i have to get cat litter! i have to make sure meg gets to her first guitar lesson. after all, this period of waiting and limbo and in-between could go on forever and who knows what we’re going to need down the road? i have to spend my time wisely. yes, i need to go.
and then, reality hits and with it the truth that my mama’s heart is giving up quickly and that minnesota ain’t down the road from home and that this is where i need to be. after all, meetings and cat litter and guitar lessons can wait or go on without me.
and then again, can they? should they? what’s more important? missing meg’s first guitar lesson or waiting with my mom? bailing out on work or waiting with my mom? this is the heaviness of decision-making at the intersection of life and death, where every decision takes on a whole other layer of meaning. more is at stake.
and the joke is, we are always at that intersection. every day, every moment. we forget this truth, with all the business of our lives. and with that forgetting, we lose some of the meaning that adds weight to our decisions, to how we choose to spend our time and energy.
to be honest, i’m kinda grateful we forget! it’s easier. this limbo land of waiting ain’t exactly the most comfortable place to be. it can be exhausting.
mostly, it feels exhausting when i’m flailing around trying to grab hold of something solid. i wear myself out trying to stake my claims and assert my control. essentially, i wear myself out when i fight the present moment. on the other hand, when we can accept where we are and the reality of our situation, a peace sets in. an easiness.
yesterday, i witnessed my mama’s ease with awe. i’ll never forget her fearlessness. as she was prepped for her surgery today, she was being bombarded with all the people and all the interventions, all day. she was starting to grow weary of it all. she wasn’t alone. just as she started to order her food, two other staff entered her room and explained they were there to discuss nutrition. i’m assuming, to address her diabetes. one of them sweetly asked, “is it okay for us to talk with you?”
“oh, we can we talk.” my mom replied. “I’m about to have my second heart surgery tomorrow and so let’s wait. There might not be any need to have talks about nutrition.”
my mama’s truthfulness was a gut punch to these two, well-meaning staff who fumbled and mumbled and slid out of the room. when they left, the three of us broke into hysterical laughter, tears streaming down our faces as we sat squarely at our intersection. a sweet moment of being wholly together, with no pretense separating us. liberation from our delusions that we are ever anywhere else. freedom from our desperate attempts to be elsewhere, where things are planned and comfortable and where we police our own being.
as i sit here in the waiting room of the ICU, waiting for news on my mama, this is what i know to be true:
waiting is where we find God, Spirit, Source. it is in this in-between space, the land of limbo, where we face that we are always, in fact, at this intersection of life and death. this space is exactly where we humbly accept that being present is a place of liberation, where we can hold the joy and suffering of it all.
The piano man drew me in
With the sweet lullaby he played as a backdrop
To the swift movement of the herds of people.
I sat, thankful for this music
And it’s transformation of this place and space.
The man next to me invited piano man
To play Sounds of Silence
And with that, also invited friendship.
Sitting side by side, we were now joined
Together by our love for this music, for this moment.
His kind face and wise eyes
Turned to me and offered his story to me,
A story of love and loss and cycles
Returning here again with his wife, Mary
Ready to face the truth, together:
He and Mary, married 54 years
With 8 children, 30 grandchildren
77 and 74 years young
Not a perfect marriage, he offered.
And what is? we laughed.
He, a musician himself
Playing lead guitar in a band with 3 of his children
His drummer daughter, with 5 children of her own
“It’s getting harder for us to play…what, with life” he murmured.
“And we’ve had such fun.”
The chorus of his story,
“Life’s been good.
We’ve done good.
The kids are good.
We’ll be okay.”
With the in-between sounds of silence
That his soul so clearly sang, and which spoke so much.
And as I rose to slip back into the herds,
“And your first name?” he wondered.
“Amy”, I offered.
“Yes, and mine is Roy.”
How many times will we be here?
Waiting for answers to questions unknowable
About life and death and suffering and aliveness
Looking to strangers for directions on finding “quality of life”
Alongside those we are bound to, through birth or by choice
Who in those very moments offer all the answers we need:
We are together.
Even now, even still.
For a long time, I understood “being grounded” as positive. I aspired to “feeling grounded”. For me, it represented a feeling of being solid, sure, connected with a sense of integrity and wholeness.
The irony of being grounded is that this groundedness is rooted in groundlessness–a deep understanding that there, in fact, no solid ground at all. This groundless form of groundedness allows us to experience life beyond the labels we claim, answers we assert, forms we grasp. Grounded in groundlessness offers presence, aliveness, vastness.
My mom is ill, really ill–one piece of the kaleidoscope of life these days that is shifting in uncertainty. We’re traveling tomorrow to Mayo Clinic for a week seeking answers. Seeking clarity. After all, we all need answers. And yet, I’ve learned that we can go and seek while also not hoping for any real certainty. Because the reality is, there are no solid answers. For anything. This might sound dark. I’m sure it does. But this is truth. And like all truth, accepting it is…liberating.
And that liberation allows me to be present with her, my family, my self as we move through this uncertainty.
Pema Chodron offers, “As we practice moving into the present moment this way, we become more familiar with groundlessness, a fresh state of being that is available to us on an ongoing basis. This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted, and shaky–that’s called liberation.”
What we’ve been trained to think of as comfort and security is a lie. Knowledge, truth, control–these are lies that we desperately grasp out of fear and need to secure solid ground beneath us. And these lies are stealing our precious lives from us, pulling us away from the present moment. And this present moment is all we have.
And in moments like this, with my mom, I want to savor every one.
So, I’m headed to Mayo with my mama, and no ground in sight.
when we truly open our minds and hearts, we become both nothing and everything all at once as we re-member we are part of the whole body of creation. when we experience this re-membering, it is like an old familiar place that lives deep down in our bones, long forgotten: we are but threads in a rich and vast tapestry of life, connected and held by all the universe.
and while this practice belongs to us, we have lost it. white supremacy, imperialism, patriarchy have stolen it from us and replaced this way of being with patterns of domination that are now in the DNA of our living. we must unlearn those patterns–notice them and then disrupt them–so that we can re-member.
re-membering is both born through and annihilated in relationship. relationships offer both the key to our liberation and the key to our oppression. as one of my teachers, meg wheatley has shared: “we are not broken people. it’s our relationships that need repair. it’s relationships that bring us back to health, wholeness, holiness.”
this weekend i participated in an intensive designed to build an intentional community of practice. coming together with other humans to unlearn these patterns of domination so that we could re-member…was holy. there was beautiful stumbling at first but within the container we created, there was slow and definitive movement as we practiced the dance of being that allows for the wholeness and re-membering we all seek.
i just love this prayer by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, the Rev. Mpho Tuto that inspired us in our practice:
Can you hold that space open for me? Can you keep your questions and suggestions and judgements at bay? Can you wait with me for the truths that stay hidden behind my sadness, my fear, my forgetting, and my pain? can you just hold open a space for me to tell my story?
i chose openness. i want to re-member. i seek liberation.
open or die
It’s a busy, chaotic time. Constant and jarring change. Our world is increasingly complex and it seems impossible to keep up with all the moving parts and pieces. As soon as a decision it made, a plan confirmed, everything changes. As a friend and colleague recently declared as we were doing org leadership planning,
“It’s like we’re just waiting for a shit show.”
There’s a bunch about the impact of this ever-shifting state of being on our lives and worlds that I’ve been grappling with these days. One thing I’m noticing is the tendency to close down and tense up in the face of that shifting. I see this on many levels.
I’ve been practicing noticing this response in my body. Tension rising, jaw clenching, muscles constricting. My body literally draws in on itself when experiencing groundlessness or uncertainty. My mind in turn also reacts, speeding up and racing. As I’ve learned to notice my internal response, I’ve begun practicing different methods. Breathing deeply. Loosening my grip. Moving my body, even in the slightest way. Honestly, the act of noticing alone has an impact…maybe noticing is enough to shift my stance.
This process of closing in/shutting down does not serve living systems. And we are, in fact, living systems interconnected with all other living systems. This interlocking web of life and energy is threatened when a part of it closes down. So when I close in on myself and disconnect from those around me–even from my whole self–this harms the larger living system.
Ironically, in these times that compel us to react in defense are the very times we should open. Openness gifts us information, communication, connectedness…life.
By opening, we adapt and grow.
All living systems exemplify this, which is why they are living. Those systems–individuals, organizations, social–that fail to open, die. It is is that simple.
So today, on a zoom call with organizers and activists who together are building the plane while we are flying it (who isn’t these days?), I chose life. And opened myself up instead of digging in my heels with my own agenda and schemes. I literally made that decision multiple times. Let it go, Amy.
Open up. Connect.
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