How in the hell do we do this?
This past week has been a tsunami of emotion for so many after learning about the deadliest shooting in U.S. history. When the shock and numbness thawed, I am overwhelmed with sorrow for the torrential grief so many are experiencing right now, with the fear rising in my own body, for the even hotter fear experienced by friends and in the LGBTQ community, and for the many innocent lives of every possible denomination that will be affected because of one person’s fear and hate.
Even more than that though, I see huge, overwhelming waterfalls of love cascading over the most vulnerable, over one another, and I see people starting to take action, including myself, in ways I just haven’t before.
Circumstances like this have a way of shocking us into recognizing who we really are, what we stand for, and what really matters to us, what we are up to this in this physical existence. They help us to evolve. In these moments, it all falls away and we can see what is really there. I keep thinking of the teachers blocking babies from bullets at Sandy Hook, the heroes during 9/11 who ran back up the smoky stairs with handkerchiefs over their faces, the priests who gave last rites to the dying as cement rained down on them in the World Trade Center courtyards, to the heroes who jumped in front of bullets to save strangers in San Bernardino and in the Orlando night-club. We see a force larger in those moments than the fear of dying, a courage inspired by that force that goes against our animal instincts for survival.
Let’s call THAT force love.
These horrors remind us that the state of our bank accounts, how successful we are or aren’t in our jobs, how good our bodies do or don’t look and how much time we spend obsessing on how to get ahead are distractions and absolutely pale in significance to our relationships, to connection, to the innate love and self we see even in strangers, to the impact we are having on the people and world around us.
Without this duality of incredible loss, we can’t fully recognize the capacity for love, hope, unification and change.
But that doesn’t stop the very primal fear.
I, too, look at the future and am faced with uncertainty.
What is to become of us?
What is to become of the people I love?
What is to become of me?
I feel real fear, vacillating between hot and cold, its icy fingertips threatening to tear my world apart, that the earthquake of loss could shake me, and I could fall, and I don’t know if I would ever be able to get up again. And when I feel that fear, I get angry, really angry, because fear of losing my own life and the lives of the people I love is palpable and raw.
Anger feels safer. A whole lot safer. And part of me really wants to stay on that level. I want to point out who is wrong and make them pay, humiliate them, steam roll them, mock them, and put them in their place.
Contemplating compassion, openness, forgiveness and curiosity initially feels ridiculous on any sort of practical level, not when I want so badly for the fear to go away, to try to snap my fingers and feel more secure about the future of not only myself, but the world I’m leaving to my son when I am gone.
But I also recognize that uncertainty is the only real thing we have. Uncertainty and the vulnerability of our souls walking around in these glass bodies is our constant.
And knowing we are going to die and that we will lose people we love is always in the background, but we somehow forget. These reminders offer us the shake we need to emotionally risk more, to let go of more, to show up more for the people we love and to be “all in” in our own lives.
It is so hard to BE with the notion that change takes time, that many more lives will be lost at the hands of hate and arrogance, that suffering will continue. Mine or yours may be one of them. There is no overnight solution that I can see and I desperately wish there weren’t people who hated. I also realize that my hate is no different then theirs. Just as love is love is love is love, so is hate and when I choose to hate now, I am choosing a future filled with hate.
As Albert Einstein once said:
“No problem has ever been solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
So, let’s just try on the coat that love, acceptance and unification is the answer to a society that is loving, accepting, strong and unified, and that every action we take, every word we speak either leads us closer to this or away from this.
How can we stay open in times of uncertainty where all we want to do is self-protect and find a fast route out of pain?
How can we BE the change of love and acceptance when our brains are wired to make someone else the problem?
Pema Chodron, one of my personal heroes, a kick-ass Buddhist nus lays this out in her incredible book, “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty & Change”.
Here is what she offers up:
1) Embrace life as it is, not as you think it should be.
Open your arms to the experience in front of you, as it is, without mental argument or resistance.
Let yourself BE with the feelings of what has just happened; deep sadness, fear, loss, or grief without jumping to anger and blame to escape it. Let yourself touch empathy before trying to hunt the beast and right the perceived wrong. Recognize when you are resisting the world as it is and in the process, intensifying your own pain. When we resist the world as it is, it is like clinging to the shore of a raging river. We cough on our own resistance. We sputter and suffer and fall beneath the water. When we allow ourselves to be carried by the current, we can stay afloat.
2) Focus on what you want to see happen, not on what you don’t. Take action born out of love instead of anger and fear.
Spend less time on the problem, and more time on taking responsibility for the solution.
This is a tricky one because it is so much easier to shift responsibility onto others but we, too, are a part of the organism of change, and we all must plant the seeds now if we want to see a garden start to grow. If we would love to see a world that is filled with love and expansion and acceptance, we must BE love, expansion and acceptance in the world now. We must take the actions and use the words aligned with love, expansion and acceptance.
We can take action, however small, in support of our vision for the world. And we hit hit a roadblock with the specific change we want to see, we can spread love in another way. Suffering lives everywhere, in every corner of human existence, not just in the aftermath of catastrophe. In whatever way you can, BE a force of peace and support.
3) Commit to do no harm to anyone (including to yourself)
Self-expression for our spirits is like air for our bodies.
Being loving toward ourselves may require drawing boundaries with others and/or standing up for ourselves. It may mean we may need to remove our hearts from the bullets of hate speech or at times, defend our bodies and hearts when they are under attack.
We need to speak up and stand up for our truth but it is helpful to notice when we start needing our truth to be everyone’s truth, when we start labeling others, and swimming in the cycle of being right instead of channeling our energies into taking responsibility for the change we want to see.
We can notice when we are about to speak or act out of the following and refrain:
When our minds are wild with mockery
When we are filled with pride and arrogance.
When we want to expose the hidden faults of others
To bring up the past dissensions or act deceitfully
When we want to fish for praise and validation
To criticize or spoil another’s name
Of course there will be temptation to do all of these things. Being tempted and choosing to act out of love is where the transformation happens. It starts slowly, in us, and bit by bit, moves outward.
What I have come to realize is that the most loving thing we can do for ourselves is to be loving toward others, that it is actually a wonderfully selfish act to recognize our own anger and hatred and refrain. Or if we can’t control it, and we hurt another, that we own up to it and take responsibility. That doesn’t mean we need to repress our feelings but rather recognize when you are about to speak with the intention of hurting another and being one to stop the cycle of pain. I know I learned this somewhere in preschool but I’m still working on it.
Ultimately, if we want the world to awaken, we need to wake up. Otherwise, we are like two sleepwalkers fighting in the dim light in front of the refrigerator.
We can’t be perfect. We will harm others from time to time but in making a commitment, we are raising our awareness and doing the best we can in any given moment.
4) Commit to take care of one another (not just the people who are pleasing to us)
This vow is all about looking for the basic goodness in everyone that crosses our path, and this means opening our proverbial door to everyone, not just the people who are pleasing and validating to us, not just the people who live in our safe, agreeable circles.
This can be extremely difficult, especially when we are in pain and as a result, angry. So, be must be gentle with ourselves and start small, bit by bit, opening our hearts to people who scare and repel us as a practice. We don’t need to start with our perceived enemy, but rather work our way there. This takes discipline and courage and isn’t for the weak of heart. What is important is that we recognize when have closed someone out, made some one “other,” dehumanized them in some way, or made them inferior because at that point, we have engaged with the darkness we despise. Then we can renew our commitment to stay open to the other person a bit longer than before.
When we start to truly recognize and see ourselves in all others, we may start to feel an insane amount of responsibility to the world, and it can be overwhelming to say the least. It can feel like our hands our WAY too small, the problems are too complex and we just want to bolt, give up, and return to complaining. We must be gentle with ourselves and lean into that fear, be brave enough to continue to look in the mirror, and doing the best we can while still taking care of ourselves.
I know I’m not there yet. Far from it actually. But ultimately, I want to be the sort of woman who reaches up instead of hitting back, who extends peace and acceptance rather before dispensing judgment, spends her energy creating rather than destroying and dismantling. I know this isn’t easy stuff and I struggle with it daily, feeling like a baby a lot of the time, learning how to walk and falling over and over and over again, but I’m going to keep trying. These are murky waters, this whole “choosing love” thing, but I truly believe by trying and failing and trying again, this is how we evolve and start to create the world we want to see.
Rock On & Be Well,