Constitution Day: The Syntax of Whiteness

Today is Constitution Day, and a good day to consider the Syntax of our Whiteness as a nation

I learned to speak my native English “correctly” as a toddler, and was fluid in its syntax – its rules for sentence structure, long before I diagrammed a sentence or answered an essay question on an exam. 

It was decades later that I encountered a deeper meaning in Carlos Castaneda’s poem, where he described the syntax of our “mother tongue” –
“a syntax which demands beginnings, like birth,
and developments, like maturation,
and ends, like death, as statements of facts.”

From “The Active Side of Infinity” Copyright 1998 by Laugan Productions

I am only now beginning to see how fundamental this linear, developmental, progress-oriented, fact-pinning, individualistic syntax is to the Whiteness that makes life in America so dangerous for Black people, and so Unquestionably Normal for White people.

 I learned to answer to Miss ____ or Mrs____ , and to call Black people by their first names.

 I learned that White people lived in Good Neighborhoods, or sometimes Working Class Neighborhoods. And that Good Neighborhoods had the Best Schools.

I learned it was impolite to ask why Black people lived in shambled neighborhoods that I saw as the Rapid Transit passed out of the suburbs and closer to the smoky industrial heart of Cleveland.

I learned that teachers were white, rabbis and priests and nuns were White, ballet dancers were white, and janitors and jazz musicians and basketball players and baby nurses and maids were Black.

I learned there were not-nice English words and Yiddish words used  for Black people, and Good White Adults used them. 

We White people are fish in water.

Just as the syntax of a language disappears into a flow of words that follows the rules of that language, so do the Rules of Whiteness disappear – for White people, into the Normal Flow of Daily Life.

We White people are fish in water: ask us to describe what we swim in, and we are mute. Sometimes we are mute with lack of understanding. Sometimes  with guilt and shame.

Meanwhile, Black people – in order to survive and – even against great odds, thrive – have long been keen observers, cataloguers, scholars and accomplished actors in White Syntax. 

I call this condition that we all live in being racialized.

It is a syntax that teaches all of us that the grammar of being human in the United states is based on skin color. 

This syntax has assigned to the White-skinned the power to own Black bodies, and at various times in our history to control their bodies – their freedom of movement, living space, family integrity, sexual autonomy, and livelihood by means of the lash, the noose, a knee on the neck, sundown laws, poll taxes, voter literacy tests, penal codes, and redlining, among others.

We may be woke, we may be deeply asleep

We may be kind, we may be mean.

We may be committed activists or mystified by what all the fuss is about..

We may have material wealth and possessions or little, or be thoroughly dispossessed of home and livelihood.

We may have colonial or immigrant or mixed-raced ancestors who came here earlier or later, owned slaves or didn’t, profited from slavery or didn’t, redlined or didn’t, white-flighted to the suburbs or didn’t.

We may live in misery or contentment.

We are all racialized.

We may be male or female-identified, non-binary, lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender or queer. 

We are all gendered.

We are all racialized.

The coarse and urgent tone of public discourse, the blogosphere, the social media memes may knock us awake, knock  us into reactivity,   knock us about, and use us up in fruitless and unpleasant arguments.

But they enlist the coarser parts of us and and keep us cut off from our full humanity – and therein lies the heart of the problem.

To cut off a Black person’s humanity by controlling their movement, their habitation, and their livelihood is to cut off our own. 

To cut off a Black person’s humanity by seeing them only as Black and not as  the unique, precious human individual they are, is to cut off our own claim to our individuality and to take on a Faceless and cruel Whiteness.

To restore full humanity to Black people is to restore our own.

We are urgently tasked to come clean, get real about our history, reckon with our moral failings, and the psychological trauma and material consequences of twenty generations of this American life governed by White Syntax.

If you are committed to racial and gender equity, and wondering how you can come out of the trance of your unconscious biases, and discern the course of action that is yours to take, get in touch for a free 30-minute Radical Inclusion consult.

Uncover & harness your unconscious biases

Are you committed to racial justice?

Do you wrestle with being part of the problem that you want to solve?

Are you ready to look within and work with your own stories and lived experiences?

JOIN ME FOR THIS 4-WEEK RADICAL INCLUSION IMMERSION
BEGINNING TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15

BEGIN to perceive and unlearn the stories that you were taught as a child.

MAP the rules, values, and roles of appearance and behavior embedded in those stories, and consider their effects on yourself and on others.

LEARN to enlist your own discomfort and fear around race as guides and allies.

TRUST yourself to figure out what is the next unique, right-sized, and right action  for you to take, aligned with your deeply held values.

FREE YOURSELF to serve in ways you cannot now envision.

MEET WEEKLY ON ZOOM, 6:30-8:30 PM ET

SEPT. 15, 22, 29, OCT. 6

CLASS SIZE LIMITED TO 8 SUPPORTS TRANSFORMATIONAL LEARNING WITH OTHERS COMMITTED TO PRACTICE WITH HONESTY AND KINDNESS

COMMITMENTS IN THIS BETA COURSE:

ATTEND AND PARTICIPATE  in class.

SHARE AND SUPPORT your class-mates at least 2x/week in a private Facebook group.

PRACTICE meditation taught in class at least two times a week in between classes.

OFFER FEEDBACK  to Sara via email at any time during the course to support improving the learning experience for yourself and classmates

BENEFIT from  a one-on-one with Sara after the 4th class for personal integration support and to offer detailed feedback

COURSE FEE $197

Full money-back guarantee if you are unsatisfied after you have met all the commitments above.

Contact me to reserve your place by Sept. 8

Sara Eisenberg is a healer, herbalist, activist and elder. A life-long learner, Sara has developed Radical Inclusion Practice through her own 5-year personal wrestle with racism and patriarchy. She is indebted to the many participants in her FREE on-line practice spaces – BEND THE ARC,  for 18 months following the 2016 election, and COME AS YOU ARE, which has met every Wednesday during the Pandemic and current racial reckoning. Sara is the founder of alifeofpractice.com, her online home where she integrates her work in Nondual Kabbalistic Healing, Herbal Medicine and Radical Inclusion Practice.

SOME COMMENTS FROM PARTICIPANTS IN SUMMER WORKSHOPS ON RADICAL INCLUSION

“This is the work we need to do and what will shift things if we can do it.”

“This practice activates my heart.”

“Found the given exercises very useful and practical.”

“I came aware with clarity around where I am… and a plan for moving forward.”

“This program has opened the door to the possibility of healing my inner divisions, judgement, and shame.”

“Sara quickly created and held a sacred space for us that allowed me to get to the heart of the matter.”

“…a container for deep, nuanced work.”

READ MORE…from A Life of Practice:

Racism: changing this river’s course

White? Get acquainted with visceral awareness

How de we repurpose the artful for a pandemic world?

’trōv n [alter. of trove (discovery, find)] (2010): a collection of artful objects discovered or found

One more Covid-19-driven closure pulled me up short, and sad: Trohv, on the Avenue in Hampden. This closure has sent me down a rabbit-hole of reflection on Stuff. How I’ll miss browsing and selecting just-the-right-gift for any occasion. Gifted Stuff, Treasured Stuff, Accumulated Stuff. And my own life as a consumer Supporting the Economy, which the US Government  promoted as a civic responsibility to pull us out of the Great Recession of 2008 and since then to  keep the American economic engine humming.

It’s not the first time I have thought about a re-purposed economy

What might come after a consumer economy? In the past I have often, if vaguely, daydreamed about how we could change society for the better. By designing Stuff to last. By liberating our energies from dreaming up and producing and buying Stuff, spawning acres of self-storage units and endless Sundays of garage sales.  

By instead becoming skilled at taking care of one another, in sickness and in health, from birth to death. By valuing labor.  By building human-scale environments designed with green spaces. By educating skilled artisans, gardeners, tenders of all kinds. By elevating community-building to the art and science it can be. By shifting our national measure of success from GDP to measures like social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perceptions of corruption, and GDP – as set forth in an annual report on happiness issued by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. 

But in August of 2020, in the 24th week of the pandemic by my personal calendar, this is no longer simply a speculative exercise. And it is quite personal.

It got me thinking about re-purposing my life

As I wander around my house, I can see that as far as Stuff goes, it is pieces of furniture, baskets and bowls that are the repurposed items: containers of all sorts. I have moved stuff around for years from one container to another. Books, family heirlooms, bottles of herbs, craft supplies, research papers-forever-waiting-to-be-read.

My life is a container that has been filled with Sara content of one sort or another, a collection of artful objects discovered and found.

Am I ready to be re-purposed for an unknown world?

The world is different. I will be continuing to investigate for some time the ways that is true, and what that asks of me.

This in-between time can be anxiety-provoking, and vision and imagination-provoking.

Unquestionably honesty and kindness-provoking.

My time? My energies? My financial resources? My mind? My feelings?

What am I doing with what I have at my disposal to shift things in my corner of the world?

The creativity and humor and artful eye and attention to artisan cultivation and customer care that went into creating the Trohv experience…that creativity will take some other life-supporting form. 

I have to trust that the same is true for me. And for you.

I just wanna pull the covers over my head

“I just wanna pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.” For years I have used this as a throw-away line.

Last Friday I actually tried it for the first time. Ever.

At 11:00 in the morning.

Care to lay odds on the outcome?

I had tried to get on with the day and overcome a funk of over-wroughtness.

I had read the Wash Post headlines, which featured the Occupant’s lead balloon of a proposal that the presidential election should be postponed; a large graphic of the tanked economy; and Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton speaking at the funeral service of John Lewis. The text of this last article noted that Obama spoke from the pulpit where Martin Luther King had preached.

I had wrestled with with what was going on with me in my current writing project: the more I tried to be clear and specific, the less I felt I was writing in my own voice. After an hour of practice, all I knew was that I was on to a subtle and troublesome knot.

A light drizzle that had ended a record-breaking 25-day heatwave brought no relief to the thick air.

So my body and my brain were both way overheated.

I headed for the bedroom, the one room in the house that was cool.

As I pulled the covers up over my head, a window AC unit whirred along

But every time I drifted off, I found myself in another anxiety dream.

At one o’clock I threw the covers off and wandered back into the livingroom.

I picked up my phone and began to scroll through emails, felt queasy and put it down.

It was another hour before I had anything to eat.

Rescued by getting ready for Shabbos

Finally at 4:00 I turned to another strategy: cleaning. Because I like to go into Shabbos with a clean and orderly house. An hour of being able to exert control over my immediate environment calmed me a bit. The aerobic side energized me a bit.

But the funk still had hold of me.

How had it gotten to be Friday again already?

Six days of the week have become interchangeable and increasingly indeterminate.

But what really turned me around was overhearing my next-door neighbor’s afternoon outing with his dog.

Dan had brought Tawney outside for a late-afternoon poop.

Tawney is a beautiful Giant Boxer, maybe 7 years old. 

He has Parkinson’s and has been progressively losing function in his back legs since last September. He has not lost his delightful disposition, his playfulness, or the strength of his “upper body.” Twice a day, Dan helps Tawney down the front steps and around to the back yard, using a long sturdy sling to support his hind quarters. And Dan talks to him, encourages him along. Dan does this with every step Tawney takes. Every day. Twice a day.

At that hour, I took Dan’s encouragement to Tawney as my own. With gratitude, restored to sanity,
and a bit more in touch with my own stamina.

Freedom is an act: John Lewis

It is nine months since we lost Elijah Cummings, and now John Lewis.
I have a fantasy that these gentle yet fierce lions of the Civil Rights Movement are having a fine re-union, and, putting aside their well-earned rest, they are together doing what they are able to do now to help us bend the arc towards justice from where they are.

Continue reading

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.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.