Anger, fear, a broken heart: healing self, healing society

Beneath the anger, fear. Beneath the threats, broken hearts. Start there and we might get somewhere.

Parker Palmer,  On Being, Nov 12*


IN PRACTICE: Beneath my anger, fear

Sometimes life comes at me as an arrow, pierces me. It cuts right through anger and fear. It cuts right through who I think I am, who I think the Other is. The wound is clean and oddly bloodless. The pain is sudden, sharp, grace-filled. Sorrow and tears arise soon after.  Then an actual or a virtual embrace, an ocean of tenderness, words offered and received. Intimacy with, or without, agreement on anything except one single essential: relationship.

 

IN PRACTICE: Beneath my threats, a broken heart

Someone fails to meet me, hear me, see me, even be willing to take the time to understand me. I feel erased in some fundamental way.

My first response is strongly physiological: heat rises. Then – depending on my relationship with my partner-of-the-moment – my fear will 1) push my anger up into my throat and out my mouth in words aimed at an enemy 2) go right to my kidneys, where I turn cold and uncommunicative or 3) turn me colder yet, so cold that I freeze altogether. Fight, flight, freeze.

It takes effort not to go the way of habit.

It takes effort to follow my broken heart, to let it break open further.

When I am awake and courageous enough to meet myself, hear myself, see myself, feel myself vividly and fully in my body, to study myself – sorrow, grief, anger, pride, remorse, self-righteousness, shame, wild joy, triumph, emptiness, confusion. Even numbness. And yes, numbness paradoxically is full of sensation.

When I know I am both armed to kill and the Great Reconciler, I trust I have opened to my own heartbreak.  I can begin to sort things out within myself. I am willing and able to withstand the alchemical heat of these questions, and when I take action it has a power beyond my puny ego:

– Am I in danger here? Physically? Emotionally or psychologically? Spiritually? What help do I need to call on?

– Are other people in danger? Who needs to be warned, and how?

– Did my partner-of-the-moment cross a boundary? Is my response in proportion? Or am I trying to correct for all the times anyone has ever crossed this boundary with me?

– Was I clear?  Was I hoping my partner-of-the-moment would accurately read my mind or between the lines? Was I acting out some other frustration that has nothing to do with this partner-of-the-moment? Have I withheld information, emotion, criticism only to have it leak out, as it does, into the interaction?

Wrestling with these moments, I let in a great deal more information, information I have been fending off or suppressing. I free myself to take action that is in relationship to, intimate with a bigger reality.  I can take action without certainty that it is the “correct” action to take, without certainty that it will bring about the result I desire. Yet my action is sane, even wise, because I am relationship with life.

 

A SOCIETY IN PRACTICE: Start with broken hearts and we might get somewhere.

Our nation is in great pain. It was built on even greater injury. Appropriation of land. Enslavement of fellow-humans. Two hundred and forty years of  legal precedents and not fully scrutinized beliefs, policies, institutions. Our history continues to unfold from these origins, played out in city streets, rural ghost towns, and edgy communities. In and out of view of mainstream news. In and out of view of social media. Much of the story has yet to be told, much has been forgotten, and much remains suppressed and bound in our national consciousness.

None of us are free agents until we walk this territory together.

Many of us have tasted the personal freedom that comes from diving courageously and deeply into our personal histories and imperfect humanity.

It is time now to figure out how to hack our considerable practical, psychological, and spiritual  skills and apply them for the healing of our country. To acknowledge and dive deep together into our shared difficult and violent history. 

What if we could help one another out, help one another to heal from the socially-inflicted wounds of a soup bowl of “isms” just as we help one another out, help one another to heal in our personal, family, workplace lives?

What if we could bring such whole-making skills to the civic body of our neighborhoods, cities, suburbs. rural areas?

What if we can become the arrow that pierces through anger and fear, cuts right through who we think we are, who we think the Other is, and lays bare our broken hearts?

What if we could collectively bear that sharp, sudden pain of recognition and sorrow, and cry together?

What if we could tenderly embrace without agreement on anything except one single essential: relationship, not more perfect, more human?

What do you need to become the arrow?

What breaks your heart open to an “Other”?

The grace and opportunity are with each of us,

and call us to this collective

and collaborative work.

Here. Now.


Parker Palmer,  On Being, Nov 12

You are guests around my Thanksgiving table

Dear Friends –

It is just over a year that many of you have been following my blog posts.

This year of sharing my writing and practice with you have changed me both “for the better,” and “for good,” as Glinda and Elphaba sing to one another in Wicked, The Musical.

During this time, many “former” interests and areas of study have reappeared. They are knocking about in my heart and mind, shaking off years of dust and neglect. Insistent about wanting to be reintegrated as living presences in my life – social engagement, formal prayer, scriptural teachings from my Eastern path, a poetry manuscript I put aside over a year ago. These are some of my working edges, and I’ll continue to explore them in your good company.

Have you too been changed for the better over this past year? for good? 

What are your working edges now?

What questions are you struggling with?

And what would you like to read about here in the coming months and year?

What kind of nourishment would help restore you to yourself? 

Please take a moment out of your own holiday observances to respond in the COMMENT BOX below.

I’ll be paying attention.

I send you my deep gratitude in this season of giving thanks, for kind words, thoughtful comments, provocative questions. In a very real sense, I will feel your presence as guests around my family’s Thanksgiving table.

My dear friend Suzanne read the following poem to us at her table a few nights ago, and I’ll be sharing it at ours on Thursday evening.

Love and blessings to you and yours, and to the Greater Family of which each of our families is a part.

Sara

 

In Thanksgiving

adapted from the prayerbook Mishkan T’filah, used by Reform Jewish Congregations

 

For the expanding grandeur of Creation,

worlds known and unknown,

galaxies beyond galaxies,

filling us with awe

and challenging our imaginations,

we give thanks this day.

 

For this fragile planet earth,

its times and tides,

its sunsets and seasons,

we give thanks this day.

 

For the joy of human life,

its wonders and surprises,

its hopes and achievements,

we give thanks this day.

 

For our human community,

our common past and future hope,

our oneness transcending all separation,

our capacity to work for peace and justice

in the midst of hostility and oppression,

we give thanks this day.

 

For high hopes and noble causes,

for faith without fanaticism,

for understanding of views not shared,

we give thanks this day.

 

For all who have labored

and suffered for a fairer world,

who have lived so that others might live

in dignity and freedom,

we give thanks this day.

 

For human liberties and sacred rites,

for opportunities to change and grow,

to affirm and choose,

we give thanks this day.

 

We pray that we may live

not by our fears but by our hopes,

not by our words but by our deeds.

 

Blessed are You, Who orders and rules the universe, Your Name is Goodness,

it is fitting to give You prayers of gratitude and praise.

 

Today I Show Up to Begin the Hard Work

Dear Tribe –

I am taking my own advice today: show up for the hard work.

I can see I wrote today’s 6 AM post as a letter to myself before Election Day, knowing what I would need to tell myself this morning, knowing I would reach for words and be unable to find them. To remind myself of what is possible. To feel the Universe still has humanity’s back.

There is something larger – call it Destiny, Reality, Human Evolution. Mystery, God, the Quantum Field – that does, in fact hold us together and urges us towards every last shred of personal and collective kindness. Urges us towards unfolding that kindness and bringing it all the way down into this world of structure and organization and government and business.

So here is one way I will show up: in the coming months A Life of Practice will devote itself to exploring identity in new and challenging ways, ways that include not only our personal and family histories, but our cultural and tribal lineages.

It is time to heal and awaken in our social, racial, ethnic, religious, economic contexts – the ones that play out in divisiveness, out-group exclusion, with life and death consequences for so many fellow-humans.

This is hard, painful  and rewarding work, and work I believe we must undertake to transform our perspective and understanding, reveal the obvious we cannot yet see, and guide new creative and collaborative ways for us to live, create, work, play, worship together.

The only motivation I can think of that is strong enough to pull us through this into our future is our yearning to be safe and happy. I mean, really safe and happy, down to the toes of our souls.

Thank you for your responses to this morning’s post, even those who expressed finding it unbearable.

I greatly value our traveling together.

The morning after: a 21st century creation story

As I write and post this week, election results are unknown. Regardless of outcome, many challenges and opportunities await us. We will feel them with differing senses of urgency.

We wonder: are we, individually and collectively, up to what is being asked of us? 

Here’s why my answer is, unequivocally, YES.

YES, even though we are tired and may wisely “unplug” to recuperate.

YES, even though the work to come is demanding, daunting, and unending, and I tremble in my bones.

BECAUSE from our deepest roots we are fashioned to create, and to create together.

We create as effortlessly as we breathe, as continuously as our hearts beat. We are forever engaged in materializing our feelings, thoughts, and ideas, our hopes, expectations, visions, and fears.

We shape the material world with our hands and with their extensions, tools and technologies of all kinds. We put foods and spices together and call it cooking. We put words together and call it story-telling, or news, or nonsense, or poetry. We put wood and stone and metal together and call it building. There is no end to this.

Sometimes just walking around my local super-market, I am overwhelmed at the number of products to choose from. In a kitchen store, I find a new gadget and wonder if someone woke up in the middle of the night seized with excitement about designing a cutting tool that turns a zucchini or a beet into lovely spirals with which to top a salad or frittata.

We filter what we see: we perceive selectively. We fill in blanks. Early in life we use the material that has been given to us – the gifts and limitations of our parents as caregivers, the security or the chaos of our circumstances – to create a story, a life, in which we have as much safety as we can construct. We include, we distort, we omit. We write in heroes and villains, friends, allies, and enemies.

As we grow up, we continue to elaborate on these stories. We live them. We project them more or less onto whatever landscapes, encounters, and personalities make up our days.

These are our personal creation stories: our family origins.

The smaller, the more fixed our stories, the more we live in a trance state, a default state defined by habit, the less freedom we have.

The same is true of our cultural stories, our group identities, our biases, our views of what is “normal” speech, body language, and behavior.

When we are lucky – we can join this kind of tribe: we begin to wake up and see how our stories have become unconscious and self-perpetuating mechanisms that drive our lives and our communities. We begin to question our habitual ways of responding to the world. We wake up to the ways our personal and cultural stories have become prisons. We break out (commonly with the help of others who live their lives outside of our story), and tell a new – and often bigger one, with previously unimagined possibilities. And then we can change the institutions and systems built on those old stories, and create together for the common good.

We listen attentively to one another’s stories. We take them in. Together we cry, together we laugh.

Can you catch the scent of freedom here? get hold of the thread of what it might mean to be a conscious creator of your own life, an artist of your soul? a collaborative architect of your community? an awakening builder of our world?

We are a growing tribe, on the move and gaining strength.

So take heart. Offer comfort and kind words. Receive solace. Share the Kleenex around if need be, in grief or in relief. Let us strengthen our personal resolve and our shared humanity.

Then: take one step. Start anywhere:

There is no better morning to wake up. Today: question just one perspective, break just one habit, open to just one new possibility.

No better morning to make something whole in yourself.  Today: pick just one limitation that bugs you. Take your first few steps down a path that embraces both self-acceptance and self-improvement, so that this limitation is no longer an obstacle, just something that shapes you in a particular way, like a tree shaped by wind.

No better morning to practice. Today: be willing. Persist. Move with the movement of life.

No better moment to claim your place in the human tribe.


Photo credit: Up in Arms, by Linda Carmel, at Hillsborough Gallery of Arts, Hillsborough, NC

A post-card from Eden: on retreat, dancing with a pen

It is Day #1  for me on retreat. A delight to be led through layers of exploring Embodied Kabbalah by my long-time friend and colleague Simona Aronow. Among the rich quotes  posted on the walls of our gathering space are these words of Friedrich Nietzsche:

Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education: dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen?

I am grateful to be dancing in all these ways, and pen this post-card to you with wishes that you find your own opportunities to dance with life this week.

 

A post-card from Eden

by Sara Eisenberg

 

Where are you?

God is asking after me,  as if I were the First Woman.

 

Here I am,

a tourist with a three-day pass to fall

quietude,

down a sinuous route 810.

 

Here I am,

slithering into the Blue Ridge mountains

for a descent into my own rocky

terrain,

disinclined to converse with snakes.

 

True North: Kindness ahead,

Honesty at my back .

East to West, from Shining to Blending.

An eternity of Sky to Earth.

 

I exhale into my cupped hands:

breath births moisture births warmth.

You try it, God.

 

Here I am,

the yellowing leaves

tremble on a breeze,

my ear registers their subtle

crackling fall

one

by one

into my empty

bowl.