I’m writing this after several consecutive nights, weeks, and months of not sleeping well or much. I know I’m not alone, obviously. I also know I will not put these words together as well as I hope to, but writing is how I try and get to the truth, so I’m reminding myself that the process is the point.
The pandemic was already one level of unprecedented (in our lifetime) unrest. Then, the horrific murder of George Floyd and the aftermath has forced a collective reckoning with multiple, long-existing, systemic issues in our society. Institutional and individual racism. Government corruption on all sides. Unchecked violence. Generational trauma. Extreme political polarization.
These are extraordinarily complex issues. Deeply rooted issues. Issues for which there are no easy, quick, or straight-forward solutions, much as we want and need them right now.
On a collective level, we feel, see, and hear a tremendous amount of pain. On a personal level, I am profoundly uncomfortable. Not in a “poor me” way, but in a “what the f*ck should I do and where is the ground?” way. I’ve been dealing with it by listening and connecting in real life, in my community. I’ve not been posting on social media, despite getting criticism for my silence. I’ve been reaching out to friends and family, having difficult conversations, taking action in my home and community, leaning on my teachers, listening, and absorbing best as I can so that I act with integrity.
In the middle of the night last night, when I woke again with a pit in my stomach, I thought, Just let it be uncomfortable. Let the discomfort work on you and change you in the way you need to be changed.
With that in mind, there are two concepts I want to share that are particularly helpful to me right now. Perhaps they will be useful to you too. I’ll continue to share my heart with you here. I will not be posting on social media for the time being. I understand that may be interpreted and misunderstood in various ways. I have to be okay with that. If I'm not okay with that and I act out of fear of losing popularity or capital, I am a puppet. I cannot afford to be a puppet. Being a puppet almost killed me.
Concept 1: Splitting.
In psychological terms, in times of extreme stress and fear, human minds tend to split. Splitting is a psychological defense mechanism that can happen when we feel threatened and our cognitive process is overwhelmed. When this happens, we group or split things into simplified buckets: good vs. bad, right vs. wrong; us vs. them.
This is typically associated with younger people—children, teens, young adults—because they are trying to figure themselves out. But it can also happen to adults as a result of trauma, extraordinary stress, and personality disorders. Splitting also isn't holistic, meaning when we split we don't necessarily do it with everything. It typically happens around cherished beliefs and complex topics like politics and religion.
What’s important to know is that splitting is a normal psychological defense mechanism. When you see it, in yourself and others, it’s helpful to have a name for it. It’s not “wrong," per se, but it can be very dangerous. Because the truth of life and solutions exist in the paradox, in the space of “both, and" not “either, or." There is no room for expansion, growth, or healing in “either, or." When we are in the "either, or" place we cannot see, hear, love each other, or think critically. It is an absolute dead end, 100% of the time. Most of what we see on social media and in the media, especially right now, is broadcasted splitting in an attempt to make you split, too. Know that, watch for it, and observe. Catch yourself when you split, have compassion, and see if you can examine the fear behind it.
Concept 2: Process.
We are in a collective process. We are all in our own individual processes, too.
The collective process right now, when compared to the expanse of human history, has probably happened before. I’m no history scholar, but the literature and teachers tell me we have been here. The specifics are different, but symbolically the story is not new: we are in a burning, spiritually speaking. The burn has to happen. Though it is excruciating, we actually want it to happen so that we can be renewed and restored with fresh eyes and collective wisdom. By burning, I don’t mean violence. I don’t mean war. I mean the dissolution of ideas, systems, and paradigms that do not serve us anymore. I mean the death of our false selves and our separateness.
What does that mean for each of us, individually?
It means, I think, that we let the discomfort work on us. We stay. We don't try to escape it, outrun it, bypass it, or speed through it. We allow. As sober people, this is our superpower and our duty: to let the pain teach us what we need to know. For each of us, the learnings will be different. For each of us, the actions we need to take will be different. The important part is that you tune into your OWN heart, your OWN integrity, your OWN compass, your OWN process. The important part is that you do not rush to take a pre-determined position that isn’t tested against your own experience. Allowing this individual process is, counterintuitively, how you contribute productively to the collective.
Being in process also means that I (try to) give others the dignity of their process. This is not something I came up with on my own, it was taught to me by my sponsor. What does it mean to give people the dignity of their process? It means many things, but at the most basic level, it is simply accepting that they are in one and it's not personal to you.
My process at the moment looks like this: listening, learning, questioning. I've linked up a few resources below that I'm engaged with now. I'm also writing so I can find the truth. I'm speaking when it is called for. I'm doing my best to act with integrity. Above all, I am staying sober.
That's all for today.
I love you and I root for you, always.
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Practice You Ep. 31: Ruth King - On racism as a curable heart disease, the ever-expanding gift of mindfulness, and what it means to stay awake and responsive in these times with care and wisdom. This is solution-based and heart-opening.
Richard Rohr's lecture on Falling Upward - This is a lecture based on his book, Falling Upward. "As we begin to embark on a further journey, one that involves challenges, mistakes, loss of control, broadening horizons, and necessary suffering, we find that 'falling down' is actually the way that we move upward. Fr. Richard offers this new paradigm for understanding one of the most profound of life's mysteries: how the heartbreaks, disappointments, and first loves of life are actually stepping stones to the spiritual joys that the second half of life has in store for us."
Continue by Maya Angelou - This is a poem she wrote for Oprah. I'm using it as a guide.
Continue by Maya Angelou
Into a world which needed you
My wish for you
Is that you continue
To be who and how you are
To astonish a mean world
With your acts of kindness
To allow humor to lighten the burden
of your tender heart
In a society dark with cruelty
To let the people hear the grandeur
Of God in the pearls of your laughter
To let your eloquence
Elevate the people to heights
They had only imagined
To remind the people that
Each is as good as the other
And that no one is beneath
Nor above you
To remember your own young years
And look with favor upon the lost
And the least and the lonely
To put the mantel of your protection
Around the bodies of
The young and defenseless
To take the hand of the despised
And diseased and walk proudly with them
In the high street
Some might see you and
Be encouraged to do likewise
To plant a public kiss of concern
On the cheek of the sick
And the aged and infirm
And count that as a
Natural action to be expected
To let gratitude be the pillow
Upon which you kneel to
Say your nightly prayer
And let faith be the bridge
You build to overcome evil
And welcome good
To ignore no vision
Which comes to enlarge your range
And increase your spirit
To dare to love deeply
And risk everything
For the good thing
Happily in the sea of infinite substance
Which set aside riches for you
Before you had a name
And by doing so
You and your work
Will be able to continue