Being a Guest House

Here is something I wrote yesterday:
Our grief should place us onto a similar plane of understanding. Stories of Black youth being held at gunpoint and endangered by police officers who were called to protect those particular lives are not a competition with the story of a White child who was murdered. The murder or mistreatment of a child is a terrible thing no matter their race or circumstance.

Our horrors and griefs should be taking us to the same well, where we can hold each other’s stories, feel each other’s pain, and know we are walking the same valleys.

Saying Black Lives Matter is not meant to compete with or demean your very real grief about the horror stories you hear. It’s not intended to politicize the lives of those who have died. It’s intended to shake us up and wake us up to the continuing grief of Black families, to hold in reverence the lives that have been taken simply because of someone’s race.

I see you asking, “Can’t we grieve him too?” Of course we can. Of course we should. Our hearts are meant to break open with such pain. But asking that question as a response to someone expressing their grief over one more senselessly lost or threatened Black life is politicizing both deaths.

Take a deep breath. Feel your feelings. Weep with those who mourn.


Something I notice about people in these months of pandemic is that we seem to be experiencing, as they say, All The Feels. I think we’re more vulnerable to sad stories, to outrage, to anxiety, and this makes us vulnerable to trolls, to bots, to conspiracy theories. For me, living in that fluttery place of reactivity to emotion is not healthy or sustainable, and it makes me much more susceptible to suggestion that doesn’t require thinking. Denying those fluttery emotions doesn’t help either. They’re there, and they’re going to affect me. I need to lean into them, to give them their space, ask them–like ghosts that haunt a house–what they need of me in this moment. I need to name them as they appear.

This poem, by Jalaluddin Rumi, translated into English by Coleman Barks, helps:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


“I think ultimately people become extremists not necessarily because of the ideology. I think that the ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent. I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they’re searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose.

“If, underneath that fundamental search is something that’s broken — I call them potholes — is there abuse or trauma or mental illness or addiction? … [T]here are so many marginalized young people, so many disenfranchised young people today with not a lot to believe in, with not a lot of hope, they tend to search for very simple black and white answers.” ―Christian Picciolini, former skinhead


“Nazis are a lot like cats: If they like you, it’s probably because you’re feeding them.” ―John Oliver


“Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons…
We who believe in freedom cannot rest,
we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
―Sweet Honey in the Rock


“The future, good or ill, was not forgotten,
but ceased to have any power over the present.
Health and hope grew strong in them,
and they were content with each good day as it came,
taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song.”
—J.R.R. Tolkien (The Fellowship of the Ring)


“There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.”
― Linda Hogan


“Silence my soul, these trees are prayers.” ―Rabindranath Tagore


“Whoever you are,
now I place my hand upon you,
that you be my poem,
I whisper with my lips close to your ear.
I have loved many women and men,
but I love none better than you.”
—Walt Whitman, “To You”


“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
―Eleanor Roosevelt


“Shaped language is strangely immortal, living in a meadowy freshness outside of time.
But it also lives in the moment, in us. Emotion, intellect, and physiology are inseparably connected in the links of a poem’s sound. It is difficult to feel intimacy while shouting, to rage in a low whisper, to skip and weep at the same time.” ―Jane Hirshfield


“I have always been spiritually promiscuous, lying down with any God who will have me. When I drop down into these ancient texts, I feel the breath of the God of Love on my face. It makes me crazy. In the very best way.” —Mirabai Starr

Starve the Vampires

I’m trying to practice non-outrage. Mindful awareness of the dangers of powerful narcissists and greed-heads, but non-outrage in the response. They feed on our outrage (and by they, I mean he).

So. Attention not to the energy-vampires, but to the quiet, dedicated ones who keep going, keep doing, keep meeting the needs. Attention to the hurting ones, to the seekers, to my own unmoored emotions.

I will no longer feed the ravenous energies of the attention-whores in the halls of power.

Starve them, I say. No more oxygen, no more yeast, no more feeding.

They prey upon our energies, these public carrion eaters, draining, destroying, getting larger and more vicious with each ounce of outrage and anxiety we place into their bowls. They howl for more. And we give it to them.

No more, I say. (At least for now. At least as long as I can stay mindful.)

Let’s circle up, tell our own brilliant stories, share our laughter and our poems, plan the revolution.

Sure, we’ll poke holes in the balloons of lies and destroy the shining facades to reveal the rotting heart, but not through outrage and fear. Step into the circle. Let’s turn our faces away from the bullies who can survive only as long as we give them attention.

The bullies we contend with will not hesitate to find some small and vulnerable one to harm in order to get our attention, so let’s be ready to step in and stop harm, let’s shore up the walls of protection, but always with our backs to the bullies, our focus on the need, on healing the harm.


Gratitude List:
1. Sourdough bread for supper. My Local Flock of Yeast is getting excitable. I almost set them free yesterday, but they showed me their stuff.
2. Whole Wheat flour. I had to go to school just one more time, to find a couple things before my classroom was dismantled, so I went to Miller’s and found whole wheat flour!
3. Reminders that I am not alone. You are not alone. We are not alone.
4. The way the sun is slanting through the house at this time of morning.
5. The way trees bud in pink and orange andred before the green leaves pop out.

May we walk in Beauty!


“At the end of the day, I’d rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I exclude.” —Eston Williams


“Free me. . .from words, that I may discover the signified, the word unspoken in the darkness.” —Byzantine Prayer


“Some days, you don’t know whether
you are stepping on earth or water or air.
Place each foot carefully before you
and offer your weight gratefully to
whatever it is that holds you.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider


“Father, Mother, God,
Thank you for your presence
during the hard and mean days.
For then we have you to lean upon.

For those who have no voice,
we ask you to speak.
For those who feel unworthy,
we ask you to pour your love out
in waterfalls of tenderness.
For those who live in pain,
we ask you to bathe them
in the river of your healing.

Dear Creator, You, the borderless
sea of substance, we ask you to give to all the
world that which we need most—Peace.”
—Maya Angelou


“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
—Leonard Bernstein


Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.”
—Mary Oliver


“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” —Harper Lee

Thorn in My Side

Today’s Poetic Asides Prompt is to write a poem that is a dedication, or a poem with a dedication.

Thorn in My Side
to my Gadfly

Here’s the thing:
The outrage dissipates so much more quickly now.
There’s the kick in the gut when I see your name
there on the email, and I think, “Here we go again,”
and then a moment of panic, another of anger,
and then, this time. . .

I sat there just watching what was happening
inside my head, expecting the roaring in the ears,
the tunneling of vision, the white light blinking
in the back of my brain. And there was nothing, really.
And then, what I didn’t expect: gratitude.
Quiet, twinkling gratitude, and steady purpose.

That shocked me. I’m so used to the exhausting fury,
the worry and self-righteous indignation.
But this time I may have begun to pass the test,
to rest a moment in my breathing, then focus on my center,
to enter–finally–a space where I can see myself,
and you, and shift the focus of the attack.

The thing is:
You have been a better teacher
than you could ever imagine,
and likely more than you intend,
and I have been a less than willing student,
too eager to defend my ego
in the face of your attacks.

You’ve taught me to be curious
about the fury that you send my way,
to stay within my heart-space,
even to offer grace in the midst of your rage.
I have found safety that you cannot touch,
your cages will catch me no longer.
I’m stronger now, and I can hold the net
you toss my way, and turn it
to a golden thread.

Broken Vessel

Today’s Prompt is to write a response poem. I’m tired and grouchy, so this might have to be it for tonight–more prose than poem. I have grading to do and a manuscript to edit.

Outrage
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

Every day, another outrage,
a rage outside the norms.
And yet, it’s only what we expect
from a man who began
by race-baiting the Mexicans
and took it down from there.

Day by day, the rages get outer and outer.
You think that escalator couldn’t carry him
any lower, but it does,
and he’s jumping up and down
to make it go faster.

Can’t ignore it because it doesn’t go away.
Can’t respond because he begs attention.
Hate and outrage feed the monster,
but silence normalizes, so we’re caught
in this limbo of no right response.


Gratitude List:
1. Fairy Tales
2. Poetry
3. Songs
4. Awakenings
5. Revelation and revolution

May we walk in Beauty!

Walking Back to Center

lace-bridge

Perhaps if I keep writing the same thing over and over again, I will find my way into a new story. I keep returning to what the balances are in these days. Contemplation and activism, destruction and building up, resistance and gelassenheit, staying awake and staying sane.

This morning, after I had posted yet another horrifying news blurb (this one about the WH stance on the press as the enemy) on Facebook, my friend Anna politely and respectfully asked me whether there might be a point at which the continued reposting of the outrages might actually feed the energy of the current administration. This makes a lot of sense to me. When I live in a state of high anxiety about the meanness or pettiness or rudeness of someone else, I hand that person power, I let the bully control me. When I name someone my enemy, I bind myself to that person in a powerful way, and then every move that person makes becomes something I need to react to.

So. Cut the bindings. I can’t let these news cycles control me, can’t let every new atrocity throw me out of kilter. Yet this sounds dangerously similar to dis-engagement, to willful ignorance, something my privilege might allow me to do, but something my conscience cannot allow. How can I keep from being battered about by every move of this bully giant we’ve brought into existence, but still keep close enough to lend my strength to the toppling of the giant?

This is the thing I keep re-writing, over and over and over again: How can I keep from being carried along blindly by the waves of outrage, and still stay awake to the very real dangers that this giant poses to my Beloved Community?  How can we live with a sense of peace and purpose in the midst of the storm? Resist AND persist?

I think that the next four years are going to necessitate a constant reassessment of that balance, and it may not be the same for every person.  Here are some things I am going to try:

1. Listen to my wise Beloveds. Like Anna. Like you.
2. Learn to ask tender gentle questions like Anna did for me. Little wake-ups that help bring people around to themselves.
3. Remember to call people by their truest name: Beloved.
4. Limit the news. I need it in order to stay awake, to know my Work, but I can’t let it control my emotional state.
5. Read the words of MLK. He found a balance.
6. Watch more videos of baby fruit bats with their expressive ears and eyes.
7. Don’t fall into the pit of thinking that action is better than prayer.
8. Don’t fall into the pit of thinking that the Work is done when the prayer is done.
9. Feed action with contemplation.
10. Go outside and look up. Feel the wind. Feel the rain. Absorb color like sunlight.

Gratitude List:
1. The voice of the travelers in the morning, high above. “You do not have to be good.” “What we need is here.” (Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry references.)
2. The way winter trees stand against the sky, letting the magenta or the Maryblue or the aquamarine slip through their branches and twigs.
3. Although it was a little scary to drive through it, the way that storm front moved through. The scary clouds are also beautiful and exhilarating. Is there a life lesson in that? Sounds a little like Little Red in “Into the woods.”
4. All my Beloveds. We can always widen our circles to contain more and more Beloveds. Our hearts have limitless capacity.
5. A small retreat I took today at Radiance, to write and meditate and make art based on the chakras.

May we walk in Beauty!

Outrage

seaglass-and-sun

I feel like I keep writing the same thing–balance, balance, balance. Reminding myself to keep centered in the midst of complicated emotions.

I’m letting outrage rattle around inside my Bowl of Feelings these days, trying to get a sense of how it looks, how it feels, what it does in there. There’s a certain surge of energy that feels really righteous and powerful and effective in the moment of outrage. It drives me to write postcards and make telephone calls and to put try to get the word out there. I do believe that it has its place. I had been on the verge of writing that I would be rejecting outrage, when that last sentence happened–I think it really is outrage that fuels those good and effective works.  But outrage also has some strange backfires:

* Feeling it and letting it energize me can make me feel as though I have made effective responses when I have actually done nothing.
* When the energy drops off, it drops WAY off, leaving me a depleted husk.
* It leads to incredible self-righteousness.
* When I do manage to sustain the energy of it over time (and the events of these weeks make that easy), it can lead to an overpowering sense of despair.  Or, on the other side of that coin: numbness.

When I get a bad headache, I tend to avoid painkillers for as long as I can stand it. It’s like I want to feel the message my body is giving me, to try to understand what it is saying. After both of my C-sections, I found myself refusing the painkillers I was offered. Perhaps it was partly because after the pain of those long labors, nothing felt painful anymore, but again, it seemed like I needed the messages of pain to inform me of my physical limits.

I think that outrage is sort of like those pains. It’s the call to wake up and listen, the urging to pay attention. We can’t let ourselves get capsized by it. Keep at least some painkillers handy–good music, conversation with loving friends, meditation, a good escapist book, prayer, pictures of otters–so that when the pain takes you out of yourself, you have something to bring you back.

I think I am going to have to make this my spiritual practice for the coming years: to hold the coals of outrage in my hand in such a way that I can just bear it, so that it will keep me awake and aware, but to find my way to hold grace and lightness as well.

Gratitude List:
1. Hundreds of white gulls flying above the bridge.
2. The sun shining through the red tail of a hawk above me.
3. Sun shining through the golden petals of aconite.
4. Grace to help carry and mediate the outrage.
5. Good people. They’re everywhere. Let’s not get ourselves separated into camps–good folks are everywhere. Look for them.

May we walk in Beauty!