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.