From “Me too” to “We All”

Last week a flood of “Me too” posts dominated Facebook as women (and a few men) declared ourselves among the recipients of sexual violence.

If some were surprised at the numbers, I’m betting they were men. My guess is that few women have never been sexually harassed, and if we haven’t ourselves been sexually assaulted, someone dear to us has.

One of the heartening and difficult things of this time in our history is the unveiling of the ugly sickness at the core of western industrial society. What’s revealed is the shadow side of the masculine principle—so far out of balance that it assumes ownership of women’s bodies.

We women know what it’s like to feel unsafe just because we walk around in these bodies. At any moment we could be humiliated, coerced, split open.

I wanted to write about a time in my life when this was not the case. The first time I went to a women’s music festival in the woods of western Michigan, where men were not allowed to enter, I walked at night alone for the first time feeling absolutely safe. The sense of freedom and relief overwhelmed me and contrasted sharply with the way I had lived my life up to that day.

Constantly warned by my mother to watch my back—even on the short walk from garage to house. Constantly aware that I could be interfered with on the street. Monitoring where I put my eyes, how I moved my body. Making myself small so as not to be noticed, or faking badassery so as not to be targeted.

Is this how we want our daughters to grow up?

What is the psychic toll?

And, can we white women translate our experience into empathy for people of color? who also by dint of their bodies move through the world imperiled, subject to daily humiliations and threat of violence?

(The leader of a local African-American grassroots group, questioned by security while waiting for his wife outside a public restroom. The young black man who told me he and his friends hear car locks ka-chunking when they walk past a white-driven car. The teenager at the park who left his bike in the bushes because he had no bike lock, prompting white passersby to report him for suspicious activity. The rampant police brutality, and continuing lack of justice in a stacked-deck system.)

My big question is: Can we take our painful experiences and use them as a way to feel into the lives of others we might think of as different from ourselves—the Muslim immigrant, the transgender person, the poor family?

What if we could also feel into the lives of the terrorist, the abuser, the white supremacist, the greedy corporate titan? Is this a bridge too far? I think of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writing of his anger, many decades ago, on hearing how pirates victimized Vietnamese refugees escaping their country by flimsy boat. The pirates had raped a young girl and brutalized entire families.

Sitting with his anger, Thich Nhat Hanh eventually imagined his way into the life of a boy growing up in a country with no opportunity. He imagined the circumstances that might lead up to the teenager joining a pirate band where for the first time he felt a sense of belonging. And so on…until through his imaginings, Thich Nhat Hanh felt his heart open again.

Of course, this is a Buddhist monk we’re talking about, but I wonder how we regular mortals could broaden our sense of compassion to include more than we ever thought possible.

Compassion might be like a muscle that gets worked, gradually getting stronger.

It might be like a tree that grows where such a thing seems impossible.

20170928_095742 (768x1024)I believe that there is no separation between us. That I am you and you are me. That everything in me mirrors you and everything in you reflects me.

And as more of the darkness is revealed, it’s just more opportunity to heal.

A Challenge

My heart is heavy. Here in America we have people dying before their time: from fires in Santa Rosa, flooding in Puerto Rico. Bullets in Las Vegas.

(Fires exacerbated by drought linked to climate change. Floods from an extreme weather event that’s part of a pattern linked to climate destabilization. All the while, political corruption keeps the fossil fuels flowing. And political apathy, it seems, keeps Puerto Rico’s plight off the priority list. As far as the bullets…I’m just tired.)

Meanwhile we have whole swathes of our population subject to brutal treatment because of their race. And then being told that they are anti-American for their peaceful, silent form of protest. Never mind that nothing else has moved the needle on police brutality. The ugly face of white supremacy has taken off its mask, emboldened by our bully-in-chief.

I don’t know where to begin to unravel the intertwined injustices and exploitation and alienation that grip our society.

But I don’t want to go numb. Let me not go numb.

I confess I’m not well-read in these arenas, perhaps in part because I myself have not had up-close-and-personal experience with a superstorm (yet?), or a mass shooting (yet?), or racial violence. But I experience myself as part of the collective, and I am affected. I feel increasingly uncomfortable swimming along in my tidy, sheltered life in the face of monumental suffering.

In my last post I wrote about erosion as metaphor for social change. I acknowledged my unearned good fortune. I spoke of my role as a changemaker on a quiet scale.

All true. Yet something about that combination seems too easy, a bridge to complacency. For someone as privileged as myself—born by sheer accident to middle class white Americans with preferential opportunity/credit/housing over black Americans—the cop-outs come a little too quickly.

(The nest egg my parents nurtured through this preferential treatment, they passed on to me in the form of higher education and help buying my first home. Just one example of societal inequity in action, aka The Water We Swim.)

At a recent civic conversation on the historical implications of slavery,* we white folks were challenged to use our power, access, and money to address systemic racism.

I am trying to figure out what that looks like. I feel like a child still learning. So I’ve turned to other voices to school me.

Here’s Layla Saad, speaking to spiritual white women about white supremacy:

Without meaning to, a lot of times nice, well-meaning white women can contribute in a big way to the problems we see because they don’t speak up, or they want to keep things polite, or they think the best thing they can do is just focus on being a loving person rather than ‘getting involved in politics’. This white silence, white privilege and white shame leads to a lot of white complicity in white supremacy…

As a white person, you have the privilege of being able to say, ‘high vibes only’ and ‘I don’t follow the news because it’s too political’ and ‘I just want to focus on love and light’.

I don’t follow the news. I do want to focus on love and light. Which leads me to keep silent on many issues, believing naively, lazily, that emanating love/peace/care is enough.

The cognitive dissonance is rising. I say I care about justice. What does that look like? Bottom line: I need to figure out how to use my platform (such as it is) to talk about injustice much less obliquely.

Here’s Andrae Ranae (who offers a marvelous coaching-as-activism program) on the limits of the self-help industry and why those of us identifying as do-gooders need to bring social justice into our healing work:

Your work could bring massive sustainable change to many lives, families, and communities, but it won’t if you don’t critically look at the social context that you’re working within….

Your isolated happiness and success does not serve anyone, including you. We are not meant to thrive in isolation. We need each other to do well. If there are people down the street from you that are not well, you’re not well. If there are people across the world that aren’t well, you’re not well. If our Earth is not well, we are not well.

Challenge accepted. I want to continue learning and self-reflecting and imperfectly stretching toward wherever this leads.

My current feeling is this: Since any one of us could die at any moment, we’d better get to living now. It’s always been true, but seems even more so these days, in an age of crisis. Far from bringing me down, remembering this gives me courage.

That, and the basic fact I am Light. And so are You.

* Public Conversation on Race, happening the second Sunday of every month (except November). See https://www.racedialogues.org/

Rock Will Wear Away*

I find it helpful, in such fraught times, to consider the largest frame possible. Last week in the desert of southwestern Utah, I learned about erosion, about the effect of water and wind on rock.

From time to time erosion is sudden and dramatic: a rock calves from a cliff and crashes down.

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Erosion made this arch in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Mostly we don’t see anything happening. The snowmelt in the crevasse, the wind whistling through a canyon, the creek wearing a groove deeper and wider. These forces go about their work of remaking the landscape, without our taking much notice.

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Virgin River continues to shape Zion Canyon in Zion National Park.

There is much we don’t see. The news fixates on big tragedies. The commentators argue their points. The politicos fluff their feathers and brandish their big sticks. Watching, we develop a picture of humanity warped by our brain’s negativity bias and strengthened by the media’s wish to hook us hard.

We don’t see the kitchen table conversations, the neighbors organizing, the hands touching earth that might tell a different story.

It is a function of my extraordinary and undeserved privilege that I am able to go on vacation at all, let alone visit national parks and be at peace in nature. When I think of the inequity that my life is predicated on, it makes me squirm. I don’t think I’m complacent or lazy, yet I have the choice to turn it off, turn away, where others don’t. What does this say about me and my life, my work?

Specifically: Is it OK to pursue creative projects that seem to take eons, at least for me (as we speak I’ve just gotten my manuscript back from my editor and am preparing to dive in again) while social activism goes wanting?

Stephanie Smart’s Dragon Mystic stone reading recently gave me a clue to how to think about this. She uses stones as allies and sources of wisdom. For my mini-reading, I chose a blue purple jasper stone. Her interpretation, in part:

You are like the water in the river bed. You are powerful enough to change the shape of a stone. Yet, you do it in your subtle calm nature. Just as the water slowly flows along in the stream bed…

Trust your calm powerful nature. You are just as much of a change maker as the person on the stage. Yes, YOU ARE A POWERFUL CHANGE MAKER. You, who can change the shape of a stone. You may not ever see the effect of your words or actions, but trust that you are changing the world.

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Water in the streambed of Taylor Creek, Kolob Canyon.

Here’s what I know for sure: I want to shine a light as bright as possible. Because where does the balance tip? If I feed anger and violence even in my own soul, by ripping into this one small being, I fuel the violence in the world.

In the desert I took photos of lichen, that curious symbiotic amalgam of fungi and algae. Lichen is small and unobtrusive, yet it has the power to turn stone into soil, over time. Here is a collaboration among species, quietly altering The Way Things Are.

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Lichen, Kolob Canyon

*The title is borrowed from an old song by Meg Christian and Holly Near.

Full Attentional Living

I’ve been experimenting with my attention lately. When do I want to distract myself? What just happened to make me want to reach for my phone or get on Facebook?
Is it boredom, is it mental strife, is it something I don’t really care to see in myself or my surroundings?

These are questions I’m looking to incorporate into my daily practice of what I’m calling “full attentional living” (like intentional, only wider and more open). By full attentional living I mean: returning myself again and again, as often as required—fully inhabiting this place and time and body.

How often could it be said of me: “The light’s on but no one’s home?” I was a spacy child. Going AWOL (absent with open lids) was my special superpower.

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Probably thinking about horses.

I still value my dreamy drifty nature. But now I find I want to “space out” not by going elsewhere in fantasy, but by being in the spaciousness of my own self.

I find that I have more ease in my tasks and assignments if I regularly take time to sink into a state of deep relaxation and just…attend. Just be.

This might require couch time with zero stimulation. It might involve sitting in the back yard listening to the wrens calling back and forth. It might mean a consultation with a tree friend. Even a few minutes like that can restore me.

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Where you can find me most mornings.

The between-times, when I’m “on,” challenge me to stay in that state of flow and ease. Can I find more relaxation in my body as I go about my tasks? Can I release my eyeballs from their tendency to grip? And still do what I need to do? Usually the answer is yes.

And I’ve begun asking myself, Where is my attention drawn right this moment? What am I noticing? What is the meaning behind it? Where is my soul leading me? What experiences or lessons does my soul need next?

And more than that: What wants to be born in this moment, in this creation cycle of my life? Instead of feeling driven (my old pattern) and using all my willpower to make something happen, I’m playing with a softer way.

I don’t want to clench around my dreams anymore. Instead, I’m seeing if I can feel into an idea, hold it gently, and allow it to unfurl.

All this personal work might sound irrelevant in the face of all that’s unfolding on the wider world stage these days. Yet I don’t think it is. I think that the quality of our focus reverberates far beyond our little spheres.

Could full attentional living make change on a wider scale? I don’t believe, as one of my Facebook acquaintances suggested, that hurricanes and earthquakes arise in part because our collective focus is riveted on these disasters. I do believe, however, in the power of holding gentle attention on the hurting places in myself, on the planet, or in a client or loved one (all the same!).

To be clear for each other, we must clear ourselves, and one place to start is through compassionate attention.

Note: If you live in the Indianapolis area and this post resonates with you, check out my upcoming group: Full Attentional Living. I’ll be your guide to playing with these concepts in a supportive, respectful small group of seekers!

***

The ideas in this post were largely inspired by Penney Peirce. I highly recommend her book Leap of Perception.

Truest Home

Home is very much on my mind these days, and turning up in my reading, conversations, and other inputs.

I understand the pull toward home—hearing of people who face decisions about evacuating or hunkering down, returning or staying away, in the wake of natural disasters. Even if your home is the only thing standing for miles around, in dubious shape, it would be hard to stay away from it.

My own home supports my life in a way that feels incredibly juicy, especially in the warmer months when “home” extends to include the back yard, front porch, garden. I feel gratitude every day for the comfort and fruitfulness of home. I love looking out from my writing desk and seeing hummingbirds flit among the plants I’ve tended.

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I had a headache till I went out yesterday in the rain to pick raspberries and mint. Home heals.

As someone who is all about hearth-and-home, I feel my heart twinge at the thought of the millions of displaced people all over the world. Whether the cause is climate change, earthquake, war, ethnic cleansing, or something else—I hate to imagine losing the protection of home.

And there but for the grace of God…

I know that all is temporary, that everything is bound to change. And sometimes change happens dramatically and suddenly. I know that this body is temporary and the building I live in is impermanent. So how do I make a home for myself that transcends fixed ideas of safety and security?

I can see my solid relationships as home. Though also impermanent, the people I love (and who love me) create a web of safety. Yes, and…

I can experience this temporary body as home. Sinking into the body brings me to the present moment, which is also my home, and always accessible. Yes, and…

I can see this earth as home, holding me in its vastness. Touching Earth as home feels both tender and precarious at times as fires and fissures continue to spread. Still it gives me a sense of belonging. Yes, and…

None of these can be my truest home. Clinging to relationships can bring pain. Expecting the body to always hold up (and the present moment to always feel delicious) is unrealistic. And watching the earth’s systems besieged distresses me.

Yes, yes, yes. And.

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“A cloud can never die. A cloud can become snow, or hail…or rain. But it is impossible for a cloud to pass from being into non-being.” —Thich Nhat Hanh

I can feel my energy as home. Here is where my frequency expresses itself in its unique but universal signature. Here is the eternal part of me that can never perish. It only changes shape.

Thich Nhat Hanh has said that it is unscientific to think that we disappear when we die, because of the scientific principle that nothing is ever created or destroyed.

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Do you see an oak tree in this acorn?

Energy cannot be destroyed, only re-formed.

My essence, my soul: That is my truest home.

Over and over, I touch this space when I return to my home frequency, as Penney Peirce calls it—that space of wholeness and rightness, that note in the orchestral symphony that brings harmony to the All.

And this, I tell myself, is the deepest security and comfort, a home not dependent on relationships, circumstances, or physical structures.

Contacting the Infinite Self

“No one’s noticing that I got MY hair cut too.”

I heard myself say this in a mock-petulant tone recently when two women friends were gushing over a mutual friend’s dramatic new haircut, the day after I had gotten my own locks styled shorter and cuter than before.

Never mind that I hardly ever notice such things on other people, or that her ‘do was incredibly striking. Dammit, I wanted some attention too!

Well this is embarrassing.

But I am learning something here: I often have this amusing need to be validated, complimented, seen.

I’m figuring out that this seemingly bottomless need is one only I can truly fill, by being with myself in quiet and care, by linking up to All that Is. It’s a need that surely stems from a dearth of self-love.

I don’t mean self-love in the aggrandizing sense of “damn, I’m the greatest thing ever (and so is my hair).” I mean self-love in terms of awareness that I am one with the Source. A Divine being of Light.

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I’m talking big-picture self-love. Turns out that it is no different from other-love, because in that expanded state I am All. There’s no separation, and no need to prove anything.

Anita Moorjani calls this the “infinite self” which has no need to please others or gain approval. Since reading her book Dying to be Me, I’m noticing how often I seek validation in even subtle ways. Like spending time obsessing over how to word an email or post in hopes of gaining a positive response. Or agreeing to do something that really doesn’t float my boat, just to feel worthwhile.

I’m not saying I shouldn’t pay attention to messaging, or only do things that please me (though how great that would be!). Rather, I want to look at the motivations behind my actions and decisions. Operating out of a sense of obligation or a need to prove something feels heavy, and it might taint the action, no matter how well-intentioned.

I’d rather act from a space of connection, feeling replete. Feeling light!

That’s the space that has no need of external validation, I suspect.

“A gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.” A writing teacher once quoted John Candy’s line from Cool Runnings (a fantastic movie about the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in the Olympics).

My teacher was talking about publication, but we could easily substitute anything that we hold up as a way of gaining that elusive feeling of “enough.”

In truth, we are all more than enough, because we all—at a soul level—represent holograms of that gorgeous Whole.

Remembering that, acting from that place, is the tricky part—but I’m practicing! What else is life for?

Contracting

Recently I spent some blissful days by Crystal Lake in Michigan, thanks to a dear friend’s hospitality.

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This was the sunset that greeted me on arrival. Photo by Julie Stewart.

The reason for my trip was ostensibly research in nearby Traverse City’s 19th century mental institution. My original plan was to spend just a night or two in the haven of my friend’s company and then head out. (On the way home I wanted to tour a Michigan farm that specializes in teff, on assignment for Acres USA. And since the farm lies halfway between home and Crystal Lake, it made sense to find lodging midway.)

But it turned out that the teff farmers were unavailable during that time, so my grand plan fell through. And I’m so grateful.

I needed those restorative days and nights to rest, integrate, and incubate. After touring the asylum as planned, I turned to my project with a fresh eye. I wrote in stints between riding my friend’s bicycle, lying in the hammock, walking along the lakeside, floating in the crystalline water, and other general deliciousness.

In the mornings I sat at the end of the dock and faced into the wind. The wavelets on the lake and the constant breeze made it feel like I was on a boat, moving steadily forward.

I thought about how we can draw to us exactly what we need, even if it feels like we’re sitting still. If we’re aligned with what wants to be born, it’s less about effort than showing up and paying attention.

Driving home, I saw this truism played out again when an audiobook I was playing refused to work. I finally gave up and turned on the radio, just in time to find a program on NPR that spoke exactly to a dilemma I’d been working out in my story.

Now, this was in a semi-remote part of Michigan, where very few stations were coming through clearly. I marveled that I could hear this piece all the way through to the end as I drove along between the evergreens. The station faded just as the next story began and I came to a well-placed rest area.

When I got back in the car, I tried the audiobook again. You guessed it: This time it worked.

It struck me that this synchronicity was a symptom of alignment, proceeding straight from my placement at the end of that dock, where I had given myself the gift of sitting still.

I forget this all the time. Part of me still believes that I have to make things happen. I was taught to keep on pushing, no matter what. Never mind that time and time again—say in a client session or on a writing jag—I find a larger truth. The “I” that I so cherish steps aside for a bit and lets something bigger take over.

When I came back from Michigan, I longed to sequester myself with my writing. I took over the guest room with its sweet view of the garden out back.

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I have been spending some time each day there immersed in my work, it’s true. But I still long for more. As the magic of my little Michigan expedition wore off, the usual obligations and distractions started to intrude. I have found myself overbooked and overstimulated.

Earlier this week I dreamt of coaching a pregnant woman through labor. When I woke, I realized that I am in the midst of a contraction. I have thought of “contraction” as a negative, as in “contracted state” opposite “expanded state”—but I understand now that I need to honor my need to contract. I see that turning inward is critical to the process of labor, which is really about so much more than active pushing. I need to allow a natural rhythm to flow.

And I need to pay attention, so I can be ready for those helpful tidbits that come my way as I appear to be sitting still.

In order to cultivate more quiet in my mind and spirit, I plan to sign off social media for the better part of August. This contraction requires that I evaluate every invitation and activity carefully before saying yes. I might not blog much. But I’ll be back.