An invitation to listen, and to hear

Feel free to read this on the fly: then set time to spend with yourself

So the invitation this week is to listen, and to hear. At this point in civic life, the level of static is profoundly distracting, exhausting and dissonant. At the same time some voices are newly heard, and deserve our thoughtful attention, engaged response, and discerning amplification. 

 

We all have times when we are both interested and able to be attentive, and times when we tune out – out of habit, out of actual self-protection or out of defensiveness. Some of us listen to ourselves as we write/so we can write. Some of us are professional listeners, whether paid or volunteer: we listen to clients, patients, colleagues. In Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting taking notes is my way of listening and not spacing out.

 

A listening practice: DO try this at home, not while driving

In the same way that we can practice softening our gaze as we move from one Zoom room to another, I invite you to soften your listening. 

Shift your listening to your immediate environment.

Listen as if you have peripheral hearing (you do!) 

Stay here and rest for a bit. 

 

Now shift your listening within.

Sense your own system.

Attend to the sensations in your body.

Notice the area of your body where your attention is drawn first.

Let the sensations register in your consciousness.

Let them be vivid.

You may find you are able to stay with these sensations. Or you may find you quickly begin to follow associations or attribute meaning.

See if you can stay with the sensations…

Consider whether the area of your body your attention first went to is a source of immediate information that you rely on to make your way through the world.

Listen with ears and heart. 

Listen to yourself in the world as One Thing.

In Hebrew we would call this Shma-ing, it comes from a prayer that is recited daily during prayer services, the last words before sleep, the last words before death:

listen, you who struggle with Reality/ Reality is One thing.

Now try a few variations: it’s a bit like turning a faceted jewel that catches the light in new and surprising ways with each bit of movement.

Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank, of Blessed Memory, taught there are many meanings to the word Shma found in the Talmud:

Play with substituting any of the following for the word Listen in the practice offered above, and see what you notice.

Hear                Infer                      Give evidence

Obey               Prove                    Be still

Gather            Assemble            Sing 

Minister           To Invite              Attend

Surrender        Teach                  Make music

Understand     Proclaim            Show yourself willing

Become an attendant of

Now, Hear the Great Listening that holds us all

Know also that you are listened to in the very design of things – whatever that is like with your partner or your boss or your kid, who ever the ones are in your life who don’t listen to you…

We are always surrounded by a Speaking Silence that takes in all the ways we speak – in our minds, with our hearts, with our actions. In Hebrew, the word is Chashmal…this is a Constant Presence that is always listening. This is a silence that is, as Toni Morrison notes, is little appreciated and yet “as close to music as you can get.”

Listen to birdsong if you are able. 

Listen for the vibration of thousands of feet hitting the pavement, dancing along protest routes all over the world. 

Listen for the resonances with your own life.

Let this listening be a remedy for your urgency to act, 

so you are freer to choose well. 

Let this listening be a refuge, a nourishment, a give and take.


 

Are you longing for your presence, your words, to be deeply heard, attended to, gathered? A healing and awakening relationship whose only goal is for you to become more and more yourself, as you unwind expectations – your own and others of who you are? Let’s talk.

Racism: changing this river’s course

Forces whose timing and movement we cannot fathom and must act on

Across the globe, a virus we cannot see exerts its gravitational pull towards safety, protection, distancing, isolation. We do not all have the same choice to hunker down.

An equally potent force pulls newly mobilizing white people alongside seasoned activists – to rise and move together with our neighbors – and “strangers” of color. 

(I am painfully aware I might well be marching alongside the same black man who I crossed the street to avoid on a city street at night six months ago.)

Often masked, sometimes social distancing, protesters flow like a river down streets emptied of automobile traffic by Covid-19 even before protests began: to grieve, rage, chant, home-school our children in the streets, make vivid the pain and we-are-doneness in a cultural body that perhaps is on its way to becoming one sensing, healing and awakening body after all. 

Young people lead once again, as they have on environmental justice. Often black youth in the foreground: kids likely to die of racism before Covid-19 threatened them. White children as young as preschool are getting newly inoculated with a race-appropriate version of “the talk” – a talk that has a moral compass.

We may be in a position to watch these events live-streamed…from within our home offices / home schools / home kitchens

or we may be in a position to march….

or to honk our car horns in support…

or, as my sister living in a high-rise for seniors in Berkeley…to light a candle on her 2nd floor balcony that may not actually be visible to anyone.

What is it that is happening on the sidewalks, in the streets?

Sidewalks and streets that have belonged to white people since the early days in America’s history?

How is it that our grief walks the streets, hundreds, thousands together, when we have not been able to gather to sit with our dying family members, bury our dead, witness wedding vows, eat, study?

How is it that strangers have emerged from siloed neighborhoods, the red-lined and the privileged, to walk together?

Washington Post reporter Marissa J. Lang writes

“They didn’t have a plan at first. Five friends determined to join protests over the police killing of George Floyd arrived in downtown Washington on Saturday with one goal: Get to the White House.

As they walked south toward the bright white pillars in the distance, the group began to call out to passersby — people out for walks or jogs, some curiously eyeing the young people brandishing signs and face masks, marching with their fists held high.

“Walk with us,” called Jasmine Grobes, 27. “Come on! Walk with us.”

By the time they reached the metal barricades around Lafayette Square, that group of five had swelled to nearly 50 times that number. “

If you want to move a river, dig a channel…the river will flow into it.

There is movement, a change in choreography: police and protesters reach out to one another in small moments even as tear gas and rubber bullets fly elsewhere. The channel that protesters, and sometimes police officers, are digging reclaims public spaces.

There are stunning and tantalizing examples of a different kind of listening and bridging that is taking place. 

There are messages everywhere: on signs, on fences – most notably on the security fence surrounding the White House.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish.”

“When do I go from cute to dangerous?”

“Racism makes our patients sick.”

“We all bleed the same color.”

“Racism is the pandemic.”

“Why do you hate me?”

“Am I next?”

“Enough.”

We don’t know if we are in Langston Hughes’ Final Curve, as much as we may long for it

When you turn the corner

And you run into yourself

Then you know that you have turned

All the corners that are left.

We cannot foresee the outcome of this moment of letting go and coming in.

This is a mass of “unorganized” humanity beginning to sense itself – what one theory of change says is the key to transforming consciousness. 

In this view we observe, observe, observe. We go to the place of greatest potential to listen with our minds and our hearts wide open.

The place of most potential is our own being - and so we practice

With modest, not grand gestures, we begin to lay a foundation for racial repair and reconciliation.

We recommit to practice, to owning and freeing ourselves from our personal and cultural history.

We wrestle with responsibility, shame, and forgiveness of self and other, one second at a time.

We walk together, dismantle the shared racial structures together.

We make changes of the heart and let them guide changes in the law.

 

This is how we dig the channel to move the river of racism.

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Banner photo by John Salvino

To explore your own stories about race is hard to do alone. If you are ready to let your mind and heart break open into a larger story, let’s talk about how the practices of Radical Inclusion can support you.

White? Get acquainted with visceral awareness

I want to talk about what it means to be a white person “affected” by race

Since we live in a universe that is based on relationships, we are continuously affected by external factors – people and events. And we continuously affect others. In recent days we have been profoundly affected by police brutality and citizen vigilantism against black people live-streamed in real time. Weird camera angles. Anguished voices. Unrestrained brute force. Threatening use of 911.

I know that when I am affected viscerally  I feel it in my gut –  in the internal organs of my body – something that pulls me, pulls at me, pulls me to respond. I was educated, as many of us have been,  to dissociate from such sensations, and not even notice them. To the detriment of my humanity.  It’s not a a comfortable journey to repair the severed gift of sensing the most deeply felt of human connection.

This is what civil rights organizer Ella Baker was talking about when she spoke these words, 56 years before George Floyd died under the knee of a white police officer:

Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.

Benjamin Franklin understood that we humans are capable of becoming viscerally affected in this way even when it appears that we are not materially at risk:

Justice will not be served until those unaffected are as outraged as those who are.

White America has largely looked away, oblivious of our skin color except perhaps during tanning season. I first noticed I was white when I began working as a community organizer: a white suburban Jewish chick in a black church-based organization. And like other whites, largely distracted, unrepentant, believing myself to be unaffected by – and somehow both entitled to and innocent of – the inequalities that have been facts of life here for people of color for more than 400 years now. I cared deeply. The work felt intensely personal and my responsibility. I still missed the depths of suffering among my black colleagues. I missed their full humanity and because of that obliviously diminished my own.

If I am I, because you are you, and you are you, because I am I, then I am not I, and you are not you. But if I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you, and we can talk.

American University’s Metropolitan Policy Center recently released a study of DC area residents’ views of aspects of their daily lives: shopping, talking with neighbors, sending kids to after-school programs, dealing with government agencies, encountering police. The Washington Post reported that “the biggest takeaway, and the most surprising finding,” according to the Center’s associate director, was “the rate at which white citizens of the Washington area remain unaffected by issues and concerns that vex other racial groups.”

It is our human pre-occupation with remaining at the center of our lives that keeps us from being viscerally affected and from perceiving the consequences for ourselves and for those around us.

We each look out at the world through our eyes and what we see reinforces this view. For us white Americans, everything about the way we walk through the world reinforces this: as we shop, talk to neighbors, deal with government agencies, and so on. We do not yield that space readily, or even welcome others into it. Meanwhile, our family members, neighbors, colleagues – and strangers, who have pigmented skin have a different experience. Mostly, we don’t notice. For people of color in the United States there is no negotiating civic life from the center, but only from the margins of the circle.

So - where to start, when we feel the urgency to act? And under uncertain pandemic conditions?

  • Be simple. Be ordinary. Listen to yourself. Get to know the parts of yourself. Welcome them in, whether you like them or not. Listen to others’ stories with humility, with an understanding that your version of the world is just that, your version. Some truth, some falsity, some wisdom, some foolishness. 
  • Read history you have not been taught.
  • Take small actions within your daily sphere. Practice, as Gandhi counseled: be the change you want to see in the world. 
  • Pause. Reflect. Choose what matters most. Then do things that matter to you with other people.
  • Be a listener. Listen first to yourself. Which voices are holding forth in your internal monologue? What story are they telling? Who have your inner story-tellers cast as hero, victim or villain? What are the laws of this kingdom? Where did these stories, this plot-line come from? Who taught you – explicitly or by example?  And listen to stories that seem strange and foreign
  • Wherever you are a member – a workplace, a house of worship, a book club, look out for someone who is hurting, or acting out, or looking for a place to contribute. Find small ways to partner with them.

In our privilege, fragility, tears, we white people are neither as good as we idealize ourselves to be, nor as irredeemable as we fear.

And to my black friends, I pray that the intensity of your feelings not consume you, but that you are able to harness them and use them for the good.

Interesting, if true: 3 useful words

head leaning against arm

Interesting, if true: three useful words when facing uncertainty, sorting truth from fiction

Among the most useful 3 words I have practiced over the years I learned from my healing teacher, Jason Shulman  who reports having learned them from his high school science teacher: “interesting, if true.”

These days I find myself forgetting to apply this in two key sets of circumstances.

On the one hand,  I find myself unquestioningly dis-believing and dismissing most of what I hear or read in the news. Too often I forget to remember: “interesting, if true.” 

On the other hand, I find myself unquestioningly believing most of my own thoughts, which this week have tended to the dark, personal, and prosecutorial. This “dilemma” I am up against, (usually in the form of an actual human being), will never change: “it” is, “in fact” unsolvable. This is an old, well-worn` pattern, familiar when I am aware, debilitating when I am not. Too often I forget to remember: “interesting, if true.” 

These are two sides of the same problem

In each set of circumstances some part of me – who is both limited and unacknowledged – masquerades as the whole of me. I have also handed her the keys to the bus and invited her to take the wheel: she steers me this way and that, sides-swiping bystanders along the way.

I have split myself by relegating uncertainty to the outside world, and by embracing the certainty of my own stories. 

I am used to thinking of myself as a nuanced and dimensional human being, so this binary thinking is in itself a distressing phenomenon. I have cast myself in a play with many enemies and no friends or allies.

There are more resourceful options when up against uncertainty

I had to reach back to a piece I wrote three years ago to re-presence three parts of me I need to heed right now.

The one who is willing to learn: to seek out trustworthy enough information, while realizing that in a few days I might as well be prepared to go through that process all over again. Because whether it comes to understanding how the novel Coronavirus spreads and does its damage, how public behaviors are trending, or how the economy is faring – the data is in continuous update mode.

The one who is willing to persist like sunrise and sunset with some mix of bargaining prayers, grief, courage, urgency, helplessness, trust, terror. Who is willing to mobilize inner resources and outer supports. Who discerns, perhaps after having wept, howled, or broken plates.

And the one who is willing to put down all her tools for taming the Uncertain: what is left then is to simply rest my head up against the unknown. Actually rest. Allow myself to be comforted. To relax, physically. Nothing to figure out. No need to listen in the way I’ve thought of listening. No need to open my heart or even be concerned about whether it is open or closed. Neither pattern nor meaning to seek out. An open mouth. No words. Neither are words precluded nor actions hindered. Just my head resting up against the unknown, on a soft, rock-solid shoulder.

A cautionary reminder to myself - and all of us

There is no single way or “right” way to respond to the uncertain and the unknown, there is just our effort to be in relationship to it, and kindness when we are not able to carry that off. 

This stand, I am willing to say, is both interesting AND true.

Fatigue beyond energy expended

blindfolded people walking in a forest

Getting just past the initial shock

The novel coronavirus is a shock to our system, whether we fall ill to it, or fall prey to the ills of avoiding it. We have been adapting our little fannies off. To overnight changes in our habits of communicating, interacting, and tending to one another. Of finding our way as we breathe through fabric.

Shock waves still send us this way and that. Various kinds of fatigue have set in. 

Fatigue beyond any normal relationship to energy expended

In more than two decades of interrupted sleep I have spent middle-of-the-night hours writing poetry, consumed by worry of one kind or another, and  in meditation, prayer or silent movement practice.

These days, weirdly, I sleep soundly. I can take a 2 or 3-hour nap and still sleep through the night. 

While I can find myself energized for a few hours at a time, I am fatigued beyond any normal relationship to energy expended. Some days I am flat out exhausted. 

Telehealth consult with Dr. Google

So I did a telehealth consult. I asked Dr. Google about “fatigue during pandemic” and found that I can check all the boxes for potential causes of my condition:

– fears both practical (income loss) and existential (life-threatening illness)

– grieving interrupted, and complicated by losses both deeply personal and loss of familiarity and certainty 

– quarantine fatigue, formerly cabin fever –  even though I am a serious introvert

– information fatigue, in spite of the stringent limits I place on the frequency and sources where  I get my news

Moral fatigue

Most meaningful -and revelatory – was the decision/moral fatigue factor: the effects of constantly assessing and reassessing benefit to risk for myself and my husband. The moral weight is greatly upped by my awareness of the many “strangers” who have no economic choice but to risk themselves as they maintain  the countless service sectors going that keep our daily lives from truly collapsing. 

Still, life is life: it moves, and it asks us to move

And in the fullness of this fatigue and my craving to hibernate,  I feel a physiological and psychological stirring, to move, an urgency to get out and DO in my preferred ways: change something for the better. One action at a time. And still I continue to entertain hopes of being a “bigger” influence, or part of a bigger change.

Whatever our individual temperaments – and fatigue – these impulses to upward and outward movement are fortified by rising spring energies, flowers in bloom, and the greening of trees. The season that holds us is different. My emotions too want to move up and out of me: anger and irritation. In Chinese medicine these are the emotions associated with the spring season.

So I continue to weigh consequences. In an environment rife with uncertainties and with few trustworthy guidelines, I do my best to discern, consult with good people, draw on my inner resources. I do my best to stay awake.

The societal body too wants to move on, even as our masks threaten to blindfold us

We see this same natural rise of the desire to move at the civic level. As the viral wave flattens, or not, the social and financial stresses of quarantine and isolation prod the societal body too to seek its movement. This takes the form of calls to “open the economy,” “to get back to normal,” or at least to begin to test out what “new normal” might be. And whatever the state of our personal guidelines, the state of our civic guidelines is fragmented, inconsistent, and very much localized. And poorly resourced whether we consider needed supplies, imagination, vision, or spiritual resources.

Let us meet this urge of the societal body by seeking the right questions, not the right answers

And as human beings who are awakening and healing, this is a time to PAUSE and ask ourselves: 

What do we think we know – about ourselves, what we desire, what we fear?

Who we believe we are or are becoming or are meant to be?

How do we locate ourselves in the world?

How we locate the Pandemic in the scheme of human and divine history?

It is more likely to be our questions, than our answers, that shape our lives in the months and years to come.

If we choose to consistently and insistently  lead with these types of questions, our leaders will – eventually – follow.

Raise your hand if you woke up this morning knowing who you are

Raise your hand if you know who you are when you wake up in the morning

A “normal” day (used to) start like this: I wake up in the morning and I know who I am. By habit I move around the kitchen. I know where to turn and reach for breakfast items, assemble them in a certain order. I have always thought of this kind of habit as a great time and energy-saver. A collection of such habits convinces me more deeply than I normally admit that my world is secure and stable.

Emotional habits have a similar stabilizing effect. Heeding some familial pattern, I learned to “pull myself together” from an early age. This behavior has, no doubt, served me well when my inner or outer life has been disrupted in one way or another. 

The body and the mind both love this continuity, happiest when we are in homeostasis. That sweet middle range between a world that is familiar with a dailiness that doesn’t trail off into boredom or sluggishness – and novelty that doesn’t take off into unbridled hyperactivity.

And this set of habits that underpins our sense of continuity also frees us to keep learning and growing. We master certain physical or emotional or spiritual skills. We go through developmental phases. We have learning edges!

Um, which goes in the bowl first?

These days I might find myself pouring milk into a cereal bowl only to notice I now need to sprinkle the cereal and watch as it floats on top. Yesterday I lost a pair of blue Skechers in the house. I looked around the base of every chair where I remembered sitting during the day, where I might have shed them. No luck. Hours later I saw them shoved deep underneath my drafting table.

When I went through my personal falling-apart, I also had the gift of time to slowly put myself back together

Even when I went through adrenal and job burnout at the same time as menopause, my daily habits did not suddenly abandon me in this way. At that time life around me was stable. Family life. My Jewish Renewal community, where we celebrated Bat Mitzvahs and mourned deaths. Access to a trusted physician. The food chain. 

This stability protected and supported me as I recovered. They gave my feelings and thoughts a larger context. This stability gave me the further gift of a learning edge. I read. I wrote. I asked bigger questions. I got professional help. I began to see how my worldview and habits had not only brought a certain kind of success, but had also failed me. And how I then failed others. 

Cue turning-point: all of this tuned out to be a blessed, life-saving developmental crisis.

Now we are falling-apart together, and time and survival pressures are on

Our human family is undergoing a series of irreversible and life-changing disruptions. Widespread job loss. Death without benefit of familiar rituals of mourning and burial. Needed medical treatments indefinitely postponed because of pandemic demands on our healthcare system. Structures of time and place all rattled. Unfamiliar, unknown, and beyond control.

Memes and emojis stand in for hugs and tickles. Touch lives now in the context of door knobs and surfaces. Our homes may be offices, day care centers, schools, yoga or dance studios and work-out spaces, or quiet havens. Hair dye is trending. Home-sewed masks are trending. Food shopping strategies are trending. Public health concerns are somehow seen to be at odds with economic stability.

All of life has become a learning edge, and we are exhausted as well as creative and generous

These events profoundly disrupt our sense of who we are as competent adults used to managing our lives, moving towards goals, progressing spiritually, and more or less containing and wrestling with our messy parts. 

We are stressed, and enormously creative as we make do with what we have. 

Online life is vibrant with wisdom teachers, writing venues, music, song and dance.

Commercial interactions, once I get past the automated system to a human being, are full of feeling and intimacy:  How are you doing? Are you working from home? Is your family safe? Take good care, now.

I dress to cheer myself up, choosing from among clothes formerly reserved for professional settings to migrate from the dining room to my upstairs workspace.

I. am. learning. to. cook. meals. regularly. I don’t love it and maybe I will learn to. When I sit down to eat now, that’s all I do. I taste. I chew.  I wonder  – this food, where did it came from? Who might have raised and harvested and processed and transported and shelved it? I no longer ingest the news with my food, not even the comics.

There has never been a better time to question how my world got to be the way it is

As a woman who believes I am a good person doing good work. Who is white, and has work and is able to work from home, it has never been clearer that the business and stuff of my life depends on low-paid peoples of color, immigrants, refugees, and marginalized white people — our buffet of choices rides along on their limited ones. 

There has never been a better time for those of us who now feel safe and protected and that that is normal, perhaps even a hard-earned right – to question how the rest of the world needs to be arranged for us to live our lives in this way.

Can such a contemplation render us something more than grateful?

I have to say that for me, I am only able to ask this question because I can touch into, and sometimes rest in, the Whole Cloth of a Reality that has not frayed or torn. Nor has its compassionate and intimate nature abated: an unfathomable desire to create, birth, generate, illumine, nurture. This world we live in is, as as the Tree of Life has taught me, a universe of relationship, relationship, relationship.

So I am brought to different Big Questions than I have asked before: I ask them of myself and I ask them of us as fellow-citizens, and even as voters:

Can we hold one another and together be held in Reality so that we can bear to let our identity fall fall apart? I’m not speaking here of a clinical break with reality. Nor am I speaking of erasing our cultural differences or history.

Can we slow our urgency to reorganize, reconciled there is no return to how life has been?

Can we re-order our values as we envision building anew?

Can we take shape around a different central story?

Can we wander lost long enough to begin to truly love one another?

Last but not least is the most useful question to act on as we sit with the others: What is one next right thing to do?

Post-script to Passover Seder

The Seder meals are over, the morals of the story linger on.

Tell the story to your children, we are instructed: how the Israelites went down to Egypt, were enslaved and then liberated. Tell the story at the proper time: it is step number five of fourteen parts of the Seder, which translates as “order.” Tell the story as if it happened to you, we are instructed. Elaborate on the story, we are told, the later into the night, the better. `

 

Children wise and wicked: different world-views of “me” and “us”

Early on in the telling, we find there four kinds of children to whom we may be telling the story: a wise child, a wicked child, a simple child, and a child who does not know how to ask.

The wise child asks, “What are all these laws and observances God commanded you?” And he is taught all the details of Passover observance, down to the very end of the Seder – as if he had actually asked, “What are all these laws and observances God commanded us?” – including himself in the community.

The wicked child asks, “What does all this work mean to you?”  In this instance the parent takes the child literally when he says “to you, and responds with a certain harshness because the child has separated himself out of the community.

Lively discussion often surrounds this section, what is called “argument for the sake of heaven,” rather than to prove a point.

What struck me this year is how the text rewards “we” and is harsh with “me.” 

The most obvious pandemic lesson brought home to us humans all over the globe, no matter our nation or tribe, is the deep factual reality of “we,” homo sapiens. Covid-19 is a story that is happening to the human species, each and all of us. There is no “as if” in the telling of this pandemic story. And while health outcome disparities by race and ethnicity have been documented for decades, they are front and center now. There is at least some ray of hope this recognition and documentation will drive more equitable access and elimination of bias as we rebuild our civic infrastructure.

 

Daled amot: the personal space/Zoom rectangle we each occupy? God also occupies.

Rabbi Sue Fendrick wrote a wonderful piece (https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/go-ahead-have-a-shvach-seder/) in which she granted “a rabbinic permission – and/or psychological and spiritual authorization” to have “a mediocre, underwhelming, unremarkable, or even kind of pathetic” Seder under the pandemic limitations that govern our lives these days.

She used a term which I had never before encountered: daled amot, which translates as four cubits, the measure of our personal space: the space that we each take up as we keep our six feet (3.81 cubits) from one another.  Rabbi Levi Cooper provided some historical background, (https://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Judaism/World-of-the-Sages-The-four-cubits-of-halacha) noting that since the Temple was destroyed, God has dwelled in each individual’s four cubits. This indwelling presence is often spoken of as the Shechinah, the Divine Feminine.

Those little boxes on the Zoom Meeting screen? They are another form of the dalet amot of this pandemic time. Mostly what we see of one another on the screen is our faces. And when we take the opportunity to gaze softly at one another’s faces on the screen, we see how unique, precious, and  beautiful each one is.  To switch religious contexts, this is namaste: the God in me greets the God in you.

 

Stay in touch with what is important

May we draw ever more deeply from the well of our own wisdom and our trust in God. 

May we forgive ourselves and one another our foolishness.

May we be kind to one another, understanding how truly we are all kin.

May we be good neighbors and well-wishers.

May we be safe and protected from harm as we make our way through the unknowns of the coming days, weeks, and months. 

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Come as you are continues online, Wednesday April 15, 12-1:00 EDT on Zoom

The imperatives of social distancing invite us to co-create sacred and nourishing online refuges.

Come as you are to share an hour of nondual practice

… open-hearted and fearful,

… determined, weary and bearing gifts

Email me at ______ for the Zoom link.

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Banner photo from The Passover Haggadah, illustrated by Raphael Abecassis

 

God is calling and She has the right number

My week started with a twist, when I picked up this voicemail:

“Hi, hon. Just calling to check in on you.  I know you have a lot on your plate. Just wanted you to know I’m thinking about you. Talk to you later.”

The voice was sweet, concerned, and unfamiliar. It was clear the caller thought she had left the message on her daughter’s voicemail. So I hit the unknown number to return the call, and the same sweet voice answered. 

I told her I had just received a message, clearly intended for someone else, and what a beautiful lift it had given me – I wanted her to know that. I also wanted her to know so she could place the call and deliver that message to the person she intended it for. She in turn was touched. We wished one another well, and without exchanging names, hung up.

I call this an  “Are you there, Sara? It’s me, God” moment, a play on one my daughters’ favorite Judy Blume books, Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret.

Here’s the moral I wish I could share from God catching my attention in this way: I let it set the tone for my week. Ok if not my week, then my day?

Here’s how it actually worked: the call became a moment in a day, a week filled with other moments. 

Moments when I showed up unmoored and uncertain. When I showed up with presence. When I found myself undone by the smallest kindness. When I was lost in fear of the unknown. When I felt held by reality. When I didn’t trusting the universe has my back. 

AND: leaning a little more into kindness and a little more into honesty as needed. In short, this was one more week of showing up as imperfectly human, and mostly in good cheer.

The story in which I will eventually locate myself and the moments of this week and the weeks to come is an unprecedented one for humanity. 

Sacred texts of many traditions have long instructed humans on our connectedness. Scientists and philosophers have described it their own language, from the Harmony of the Spheres to quantum reality. Each has had their regional and cultural followers and disbelievers, sometimes linked to nation-state or tribal boundaries. The reality of our human civilizations, the beautiful blue sphere that we are as seen from deep space is real to us in a whole different way.

Now we humans across the globe share the language of epidemiologists to describe our connections, the connections of direct touch, of shared surfaces like doorknobs and counters, the connections that take place through the air we breathe. And those of us who are able rely increasingly on the interconnectivity of technology to check in with loved ones, meet with colleagues, organize our communities to help one another, have a cup of tea, celebrate, pray, and even mourn together. 

The imperatives of social distancing invite us to create sacred and nourishing online refuges.

COME AS YOU ARE

….determined, anxious, spinning, grounded

Wednesday, April 1, 12-1 EDT – Join me on Zoom

FOR AN HOUR OF GUIDED NONDUAL PRACTICE, REFLECTION, AND SHARING

REGISTER HERE by entering COME AS YOU ARE in the message

Covid-19, anxiety and other contagions

COVID-19, ANXIETY AND OTHER CONTAGIONS

As I wash my hands, I sing “Happy Birthday” to myself twice through – twenty to thirty seconds depending on the tempo. I take this common-sense and now widely-publicized step many times a day since the outbreak of Coronavirus. I do this to protect my personal health and the health of the countless others with whom I may share respiratory space and door knobs over the course of a day.

I notice an unexpected side-effect. When I actually listen as I sing, and take in the words of this common ritual song, I connect to a deep well of teaching from the Jewish tradition: God continually renews the work of Creation. That is, the Creation story as told in the Book of Genesis was not a one-time event, but is sustained by an ongoing Act of Goodness. This is a Goodness that encompasses all the wisdom and the limitations of life as it is, including illness, suffering, and death itself.

As I place “my” birth-day in this Meta-Story, I place myself in a timeless stream of life. Which proves to be an excellent remedy for the contagion of anxiety-triggering urgency. Urgency fed by news clips, shared posts, selectively-emptied store shelves, and a growing list of cancelled events. And by the genuine uncertainties, unpredictabilities, and unknowns of this biological threat.

It is under such a perfect storm of conditions that we find our resilience tested. 

We each have our particular set of challenges to resilience. A baseline of health, perhaps a mix of managed and  unmanaged chronic conditions. A mix different sets of responsibilities for and to others in our families, workplaces, and communities. Different stress loads and capacities to manage ourselves. Different contexts of meaning. Different conscious practices.  Different unconscious practices, aka habits. Different access to material, physical supports.

Family headlines are especially potent…a grandson’s sore throat and fever diagnosed as strep…an aging family member hospitalized overnight with stomach pain and sent home the next day with Tylenol…a daughter who works as a mental health clinician on a college campus that has closed down for the rest of the semester, which goes on into May. They wash through me, waves of disruption.

Yet, as I sing throughout the day, my triggered anxieties are periodically swept up and carried along harmlessly in that same unending stream. I am left relieved and grateful. And so it goes with the hand-washing.

…OTHER CONTAGIONS WE LIVE WITH

I am also left to reflect on how other contagions, barely recognized as such, have faded further into the background. 

I seriously doubt that the disappearance of news stories on harm to women, to trans people, and to people of color reflects an actual drop in incidents. And I see how challenged I am to stay actively and effectively engaged with the race and gender work of my heart. 

I took this challenge to stay focused as a call to poke around in my origin stories of contagion. How was I schooled to see the danger of catching something bad through unwelcome contact?

“Eeeww, cooties!”  Playground words that claimed separate space by taunting. In my kindergarten days that was one arena where gender equality held sway. Girls and boys each adopted the words freely to convey we considered one another dangerous, a source of something mysterious, bad – and contagious. All you had to do was stay with your group and you could avoid “catching” the condition, being cast out and becoming isolated and mocked.

On the playground, those words were an early exercise in solidarity, belonging, safety, superiority, and domination in one sphere or another. The stakes then might have meant hanging onto a patch of blacktop or possession of the monkey bars for the twenty-minute recess.

If you had asked me what was wrong with boys, I can only imagine myself inarticulately wrinkling my nose as if at something dirty and smelly.

That same vague “dirty and smelly” linked poverty and racism in my early childhood

I grew up in a Cleveland suburb, one convenient block from the Lynnfield Rapid Transit stop. A black and white police cruiser regularly sat for hours just past our driveway, ready to spring right or left onto the nearby boulevard in chase of – something. It was the 1950s, suburbia: segregated from despair, poverty, and color. 

Loudly enough to be shushed, I used to ask my mother about the poor people as the Rapid took us through trash-strewn gullies and neighborhoods of shabby, grey, tilted homes. I hit a rust spot in my imagination when I try to recall, or construct, her answer.

“Dirty and smelly” also defined the questionable wholesomeness of my female body.

By the time I was an early teen, watching the bodies of some friends developing faster than mine, I was caught between the brief, sterile explanations of female bodies and reproduction and the living realities of dealing with sanitary napkins and tampons. Especially on gym days. My sister called it “the curse,” (which Google informs me is still in common use.) By the time I was pregnant, at age 23, birthing had long been medicalized Nursing was clearly considered less convenient, less taxing, and outdated when compared to bottle-feeding. 

The messages about my own body, about the male gender, about poverty and about dark skin: most forms of contact were dangerous. Observing the norms I was taught about who it was safe to get close would surely protect me from catching…Something Bad.

It has taken a lot of focus and attention to bring these and other biases into my foreground and begin to unlearn them. Thankfully, several generations of scholars have revisited the stories of plain people and activists of the past, writing versions of history that are more complete and truthful than the “Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock” version I was taught.

Last night we had dinner out in our favorite Szechuan restaurant. It was unusually empty for a week-night at seven. Chinese restaurants are among the businesses most frequently cited as suffering from loss of business since the Coronavirus first appeared to jump species in China.

I can start to place my learned history of race and gender in this context: contagion, “harmful or undesirable contact or influence.” And to continue to discern as best I can what is required for my actual safety, and what is required for an imagined safety.

I take to heart the timely fortune that I received at the end of our meal – whatever the contagion – viral or bias-related: face the facts with dignity.

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AND A FEW TIPS FOR SELF-CARE

Deep breaths are to the contagion of anxiety as hand washing is to microbial exposure

– Stay hydrated.

– Do one or two of the many things you already know to manage your stress.

– Say please and thank you.

– Offer a kind word and a smile.

– If you are in a high risk health category, check with your physician about appropriate cautions (yes, there is an assumption about health care access: that’s a whole different post.)

– Seek facts and guidance from trustworthy sources: your local public health officer and the CDC https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html

We live in a story deeply tied to our identity

Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda, for this potent lyric.

We live in a story deeply tied to our sense of self, our identity

Most of us alive in America today have grown up with a single story about race and gender. A single story that features certain people and events and renders others invisible. A single story that seamlessly includes and excludes. A single story deeply tied to our identity and sense of self.

One of the consequences of this is that our stories divide us from ourselves even before they divide us from one another.

Yet there are few avenues where we can explore, or even name the the wisdom and the limitations, the innumerable gifts and wounds of the social and cultural groups to which we belong. That go to the heart of who we believe ourselves to be.

Radical inclusion with A Life of Practice © (RI) applies the power of consciousness skills to the inner work of race and gender, shifts our perceptions of “differences,” and strengthens us to respond rather than react – in our personal lives and to the headlines.

At the heart of the work of Radical Inclusion are fundamental practices for awakening to the fragments of our racial and gender identities that tend to be fixed, and highly resistant to even being seen. These aspects of our identity are often linked to our earliest life attempts to be safe and whole. They maintain stability, consistency, and continuity. They are hidden, and well-protected, out of conscious awareness. Mixed up with our beliefs of what is “good” and “bad.” Guardians of tribal outlook, appearance, and behavior. And these fragments cut us off from the whole, continuously-changing and vibrant fabric of life, from the tender intelligence of the heart, from trustworthy discernment of right action, from freedom, from our full humanity.

I have spent the past four years using and adapting the skillful means of Nondual Kabbalistic Healing© to inquire into my own early influencers and origin stories, the storytellers behind them, and the Master Storyteller, who runs the show of my identity. An archeological dig in which fragments of my racial and gender identities have become visible bit by bit, conscious bit by bit, integrated bit by bit. 

I remain committed to my personal work as an ongoing and holy project to which I see no end. And now I look forward to sharing this work of Radical Inclusion with you, one to one and through a two-hour introductory workshop. In the works are two four-session courses which offer a practical and nourishing immersion with the support of a practice-based community.

Here’s the good and discomforting 21st century news: our single stories are disrupted every day by the telling of versions that are new to many of us and old to many others. 

How we play out these differences will ripple through our family, neighborhood, workplace and civic lives for years to come.

National Museum of African American History and Culture, October 2016

Radical Inclusion brings the power of consciousness skills to these potent flash-points of controversy, confusion, and contentiousness.

Helping professionals can waken to and make a place for self-judgement and shame about our prejudices and implicit biases, our anxieties about offending or re-wounding, our fears of appearing awkward, thoughtless or insensitive. These shifts free the people we work with to more fully presence their own shadowed, gaslighted, injured parts – cultural as well as familial. And those of us who work in institutional settings are better prepared to observe and address language, policies, norms and structures that perpetuate racial and gender harm on our clients, patients and co-workers.

Activists find in RI practical, honest, kind supports to be the change we want to see in the world. RI builds resilience in the face of the frustration, rage, guilt, shame, and self-judgment that can shadow us and hollow us out. Whether fired up and standing strong or worn out with effort, we need nourishment for the stamina needed to keep showing up.

Spiritual seekers wrestle and relax into the Radical Oneness named by many spiritual traditions, poets and scientists, which is the root of RI. The embodied listening aspect of practice plants and nurtures seeds of humility around the racial and gender identities our stories illuminate, so that our words and actions contribute to healing ourselves and the world.

Questioners learn to deeply engage our integrity, power, discomfort with honesty and kindness as we notice the Otherness within, the parts of ourselves we have orphaned, exiled, or reviled and the parts of ourselves who are steeped in preconceived notions of race, gender, and human identity. Our very presence in the world begins to grow and mature into a healing remedy for the differences in gender and race that divide us from one another. 

Radical inclusion is designed for these explorations – to help us awaken and heal. 

To learn and share a community of practice that goes to the very root of what ails us, divisiveness in ourselves first of all, and in our culture, our communities, our public and private dialogues .

And this is where the exploration starts: we look within ourselves, we look at ourselves, we look at how we move through the world, we come into a friendlier relationship with our own wisdom and limitations. 

Freed to offer our own story with awakening consciousness and to receive others’ stories.

Freed to meet the full imperfect humanity of others with our own.

A living remedy for gender and racial ills.

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Does this invitation to look through a different lens as you wrestle with race and gender resonate with you? Are you a member of a group that would welcome a new approach to their struggles? Schedule a 30-minute free consult. Let’s talk.