Last year my sister and I took a long anticipated trip to Cabo San Lucas. Landing at the airport in San Jose at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, we rented a car, anticipating a happy drive to our resort. I brought my trusted electronic GPS with me in order to navigate our way there.
Zigging when we should have zagged at a fork in the road, we became horribly lost along the way. The GPS wasn’t any help at all as we found ourselves out in the middle of the Baja desert staring at nothing but cactus, sand and sun. The red car icon on the screen showed us going round in circles in one spot while the female voice instructed us to “turn right at the next alleyway.” What? What alleyway? Where? (We’re still laughing over that one!)
We ran out of road at a half finished freeway end zone that dropped off into nowhere, wild eyed and asking directions in English from workmen who knew only Spanish, who then pointed us down a dirt embankment into a dusty, dry flood zone. We were incredulous. But then more incredulously, we drove down that embankment because we didn’t know what else to do, soft pillows of red dust kicking up everywhere as the back end of the rented sedan wildly fishtailed about, not misconstruing the overheard Spanish “loca” (crazy) as we drove off.
At a loss to know how, the flood zone got us there—eventually. Eventually, and as we later learned, the GPS had righted itself taking us on what we thought was a wild goose chase while we zigged and zagged between crumbling adobe houses, abandoned construction, and third world city boulevards, and children in the streets while we pretended we knew where the hell we were. Then suddenly, there we were—right in front of the resort, where after checking into our rooms with much too much luggage and exhaustion—sand, sea and salt rimmed Margaritas beckoned with relief.
It’s been a wild ride these last months that have left many of us attempting to turn right at the next alleyway in the middle of foreign deserts, our psyches and emotions left going round in circles. Personally, I’ve run the gamut of inhospitable feelings and disbelief. I’m exhausted. Isn’t there a Margarita somewhere on an island resort waiting around the next corner?
And frankly, the pile of unfolded laundry on my bed isn’t going to fold itself. The piles of paperwork aren’t going anywhere until I attend to what needs attending. There are impending deadlines to meet while I stare off into space or sleep late trying to insulate myself from pain, while my fear or guilt tell me to do something now—anything, no matter what it is.
This is often how trauma impacts us at first.
We are a traumatized nation at war with itself while the whole world watches in horror. And I often feel like the first world I knew is heading into some surreal third world landscape I don’t recognize anymore.
Then I realize that in order for something to live or be born, it is often true that something has to die. Death and birth is the natural order of life. And when what fails to work anymore, life will find another way. Chaos and order coexisting all at once. One way dying while another is being born. Yada, yada—I could write a whole chapter on that one subject. It’s painful. People suffer, even die. You know. Our egos and ideologies threatened, our existence, too. None of it is personal, but it sure feels like it.
Presently and at the same time everything is going on, I’m actively resisting the notion to intellectualize myself into a nihilistic state of stupor, or numb myself in other vice. I’m fighting to stay awake. I don’t want to miss my life or fail to connect to the suffering or joy of another.
Where true value lies is remembering to consciously breathe, meditate, pray and listen, take time out of each day in order to decipher or intuit what is yours to do, your personalized marching instructions, your “true north”, as they say.
I know that as humans we react to trauma in the most human of ways. We must grieve, allow ourselves to experience its stages in order to heal. Life must wait. It isn’t helpful to hear others tell us to calm down—which can feel for us like a manipulative tactic to alleviate the discomfort of another who is not yet grappling with their own pain.
After all we are humans, not machines.
Against a backdrop of black landscape out there, there is a still a wide vista of blue sky inside myself. In the spaces in between I choose to create, be it a minute or an hour or more, in between the crazy, the chaotic, the confusing, is where our internal guidance lives. Learning to lean in and listen is what saves us from the clamoring voices that demand we do this or go there or be quiet. Not always that we receive clarification in the exact moment of quiet breathing or prayerful listening, but that the stage is set for direction to come, often in the most unexpected ways. We learn resilience here, how to bend in hard winds. Directional leading tells us what is ours to do and what is not. Like the Wheel of Fortune in the Tarot, it is in the hub of that wheel that shelters, knowing that all is okay no matter how harsh the storm, or who might be coming at you with fear in their eyes.
I know. Easier said than done. But it’s a conscious practice. I still fall out of practice though even after practice over many years. Why do I do that? It’s the human part of me.
I’m learning it’s okay to fall, even as a nation. Failure strips the veneer off. It’s the great revealer of what’s been hidden. Healing cannot come until you uncover the hidden that has been having its way with your life or your nation planet. It’s the beginning of the end to what hasn’t been working. This could take a while though while that which has been hidden fights hard for its existence or way of life.
My GPS always knows right where I’m at, at any given moment even when I am feeling wildly off course, flailing about or melting down into a puddle of emotion. I always trust I will, however, settle down. My own true north always knows where I’m at, always comes for me to lead me back. It is always talking to me even when I’m not listening. It could say, sit still, rest, prepare, learn, take care of yourself, eat right, move now—fast, go, stop, you will be okay, you are okay, talk to someone, talk to and help the person next to you, remember what and who blesses you, write that letter, make that phone call, here’s who to see or where to go, write that book or poem—here’s the first sentence, run fast, don’t worry, trust, sleep, be careful, watch out, see the doctor, don’t go out, stay in, it’s okay, love yourself, you’ll learn, find grace in your fall, you haven’t failed.
It is intimately connected with every moment of your life. Helps you to open your heart to the world, feel the magic of and get inside of your body, identify with the suffering of another, disengage with suffering that doesn’t belong to you without losing your compassion. It’s all there. Everything you need as a guide to your life is inside of you, guides you to the next step, the next thing to do. May not give you the second step until you have completed the first. It has kept you alive to this point even if you’ve failed to see it. You’ve survived until now for something else you’re supposed to do or be or flower into. It’s fierce. It brings clarity of vision you didn’t expect in ways you couldn’t have foreseen. It can save your life, bring you home when the time comes.
Last night, I was reminded in conversation with someone dear to me about making a commitment to myself to listen more to that still small voice that knows. I am making a commitment right now that every day for the next week, I will start my day by listening in, by being still, by breathing consciously in and out, by praying for direction, clear hearing and vision. Be it for a minute several times a day or an hour when I awaken, I will listen for my marching orders, for what is mine to do. At the end of the week, I will commit to another and then another. One day at a time.
Today I am not going to rush out into the world in attack mode without hearing what it has to say first. It might only be a quiet hint, a sign, an intonation, but I have learned to recognize that voice through years of practice. It always comes with peace, with expansion of being and not contraction. There is grace in it even if the work is difficult or the suffering around me heart rending.
What is important is to keep my heart open and my ear to the ground. This is how we work for the greater good. This is how we heal in time.
And I’m wondering—will you join me?
I wish the following excerpt were written by me, but it’s not. It comes from David James Duncan, “What Fundamentalists Need for Their Salvation”, Orion Magazine. He, like me, cut his teeth on fundamentalism, so we both know a bit about it. I want to share a brief excerpt with you as it strikes a deep chord within me that I, myself, aspire to, but don’t always live up to.
The article was written during the era of President G.W. Bush, however, the author makes numerous salient points that could be applied to any extremist belief system. There is a middle path between the far left or the far right points of view. A middle path that would unite rather than divide, that would find the commonality in us all rather than the differences. Extremism, hate driven zealotry whether coming from Christian, Muslim or Jew or any other religious or political ideology, seldom comes to any good end.
“True evangelism based on the example of Jesus (whether you believe in him or not–my words) does not suggest the ‘missionary zeal’ of self-righteous proselytizers. It implies, on the contrary, the kind of all-embracing universality evident in Mother Teresa’s prayer: May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.” Not just fellow nuns, Catholics, Calcuttans, Indians. The whole world. It gives me pause to realize that, were such a prayer said by me and answered by God, I would afterward possess a heart so open that even hate-driven zealots would fall inside. There is a self-righteous knot in me that finds zealotry so repugnant, it wants to sit on the sidelines with the like-minded, plaster our cars with bumper stickers that say, ‘Mean People Suck’ and ‘No Billionaire Left Behind’ and ‘Who Would Jesus Bomb?’, and leave it at that. But my sense of the world as a gift, my sense of a grace operative in this world despite its terrors, propels me to allow the world to open my heart still wider, if the openness comes by breaking–for I have seen the whole world fall into a few hearts, and nothing has struck me as more beautiful.”
While having a soak in the tub this morning listening to a podcast with Desmond Tutu and Krista Tippet on her program, On Being, on NPR Radio–I listened in as Desmond Tutu wondered in sadness at the many angry, vocal Christians, who side-by-side with their fear mongering brothers-in-arms, seem presently possessed by a kind of mad ideology these days. He observed that having strayed so far from their original call to love “even the least of these”, they now appear to be singularly focused on the sexual orientation of others while at the same time painting “the least of these” with the brush of “not quite human”.
To be fair, however, I will add there is a silent majority of caring and compassionate individuals who do practice their faith in accordance with the original tenets of their faith. I am not talking about them.
The world is changing quickly. This we know. It is natural to resist change, to step outside the safety of our comfort zones. This is also known. Yet I cannot help but believe these same angry individuals act and believe as they do out of a deep fear of “the other”, those whom they perceive as different from themselves. Obviously, someone has to be at fault for the troubled world they see reflected back at them. Someone has to take the blame for the mess they think they are in. The fact is, the genie is out of the bottle, and they are working feverishly to stuff her back into that bottle. Their once secure landscape has changed, and they want it back.
Happily though, for many, the genie will never crawl back into her bottle. She has awoken from a long sleep and isn’t about to let anyone put her back in her place. She is finding her voice after being silenced for so long, and has she got a story to tell! The planet over, the genie is out. The time of secret holding and power mongering is being outed. Life everywhere is outing itself on streets and in homes in every nation, resisting the old ways of power gobbling systems that ultimately kill and keep people in shackles. People are talking to one another the world over, telling their stories, rising up, bringing in something new–a new way of showing up in the world, taking their power and dignity back along with their ability to think and decide for themselves what their lives should look like.
No one knows yet exactly what it will look like. We are making it up as we go. For sure, everything is made up in this life by someone or a committee of someones.
So while one system is being born, another is dying at the same time. It is most true that in order for something to live, something else has to die. This is the way of life, the natural order of how it is–but I’ll save that for another blog entry. Presently, chaos is at the helm while the adherents of fear in last stand attempt to stamp out anything they don’t yet understand.
Yet forces bigger than all of us–Life itself, is reworking itself into a higher order, and chaos is absolutely necessary at the same time while something else is arising, while the old system dies–and it will die. Here’s the thing–they might win some skirmishes, but eventually they will lose the war. A critical mass has been formed, and there is no stopping it now. And maybe, just maybe some of these same frightened individuals will discover love for the first time in the process with the realization you can’t authentically fix anything with hate, even if you believe God gave you license.
No matter how it looks, in the beginning, middle and end, love always has her way.
Turns out that ruling the world from my bed has not been a total waste of time this last ten days. Sitting like queen, I have been holding court with boxes of Kleenex, cough drops and cups of tea. This was not a role I aspired to, however, and normally I would have resisted and complained at every turn about being ill. Normally, I might have muscled my way past body aches and fatigue out into the world believing I shouldn’t feel like this. However, you can’t believe everything you think. I should feel like this, because I do. It’s my body’s way of ensuring balance and rest—which I didn’t consciously know I needed—but I will defer to my body’s wisdom on this one.
It’s been interesting to watch myself lie here without complaint, to observe life racing madly around me and not feel compelled to enter into the skirmish of getting it all done. This week, I have declared a truce with myself. I’m going to just lie here and be okay with it even while dishes and dust and paperwork pile up.
In my long hours of solitary idleness, I can’t muster the energy to even disagree with anyone. I have decided that I have will have no opinion as to who is right or who is wrong. I have decided that this week there shall be a truce, a kind of peace inside of me. It’s none of my business what others are doing out there—whose fighting with whom, who is right or who is wrong. I have no talking points, nor do I want to listen to them from anyone else. I’m tired of argument and the scrapping of ideas and ideology. Can’t we all just get along, and could you pass me the box of tissue, please?
It’s not that I don’t care. I care passionately. But I think I care more about the state of my being, the state of your sacred being right now. When I am still long enough, the truth has a chance to present itself before me for what it is, and I have recognized some very inconvenient truths, and as much as I say I am for peace, I also recognize my own hypocrisy in always being an ambassador of peace in what I think and do. So okay, I admit it. Yes, I am a hypocrite. My outward actions don’t always align with my more zen like thoughts or vice-versa. Yet I am going to be okay with that. I am going to lie here and know how terribly blind-spotted I can be because I know I am really okay in the greater scheme of things. So no, I don’t want to run with the pack anymore of who is right or who is wrong. No more name calling, denigrating, demeaning, reducing the other into some concept or label so that I can further dehumanize or categorize them. That includes the dehumanization of my own self for perceived mistakes. I am ready to step outside of the “group speak” when it comes to another individual or group.
I am not a concept or a label and I don’t want to put anyone else into that category where they become my enemy. Our primitive minds have been conditioned for this. We haven’t been around all that long in the history of the planet. In fact, you could kind of say, we just got here. We’re still learning. So it is natural—we had a need to stay aware of what surrounded us at all time in order to stay alive, to consider who was friend and who was foe. Our lives depended upon it.
These last days have given me further opportunity to look at my unquestioned thoughts and ideologies. I could be anyone, born into any life on the planet that looks different than mine, raised with ideas I consider as inhumane or insane or ignorant. We paint the world with broad strokes of disapprobation, the lenses through which we see one another like fun house mirrors. We decide in an instant who is worthy of life and who isn’t just because that’s the way it is or has always been in our tribal consensus. Yet there is no idea or act too strange or evil or charitable at any point on the continuum that I also do not carry within myself. Given different circumstances or in another lifetime, I might have very well committed the same act, envisioned the same deed for good or for evil, and indeed, carry the very seeds of Hitler and Mother Theresa within me.
I want to notice when I censor myself in order to be seen as loyal to the group to which I belong. Where have I believed something because my tribe believes it so without first examining that belief and where it came from? To accept carte blanche what informs my life without first having an honest conversation with it is dishonest. There are many things I don’t know but have accepted at face value because it sounds good or feels good, and heaven knows I want you to approve of me. Yet it only takes a minority or handful of people to be a mighty force for good when they begin to set aside their own selfish interests for the greater good of all by questioning their thoughts. In Mark Matousek’s book, Ethical Wisdom—The Search for a Moral Life”, he writes the following:
The good news about us versus them is that stereotyping can be reversed. A recent study of prejudice revealed that mutual trust can catch on and spread between different racial groups just as quickly as suspicion. Through something known as the “extended-contact effect,” which travels like a benign virus through opposing groups, “conscious as well as unconscious bias between people of different races can change in a matter of hours,” according to psychology researchers at the University of Massachusetts. Peaceful exposure to “the other” seems to be key.
And I would add this would also apply to any other group of people with which we find ourselves at odds because of their race, political persuasion, ideology, religious belief or sexual orientation.
This benign virus of which they speak, I want to be a carrier of it.
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm any hostility.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow