Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Biting the Hook...or Honoring/Releasing the Projection

I’m beginning to notice a pattern in my regular civic-duty-digestion of the news. Today seems the day to describe it, give a couple examples and then explore a different pathway of possibility. Let’s call the pattern biting the hook, eventually to be followed instead by an invitation to consider honoring-releasing the projection

First, the metaphor. One of my favorite teachers, Pema Chodron, uses a metaphor of
biting the hook to describe getting caught up in a visceral, snag or trigger feeling. The sensation of it is a shimmery character that first draws your mind’s attention, then an energetic charge or sting felt in the body, but mostly in the mind when you’re caught. She uses the word shenpa to describe the body’s trigger response, identifiable sometimes by eyes glazing over a bit, or facial expressions flashing a signal of charge. Her wisdom is that once shenpa has been triggered, there’s really no point in trying to have a direct conversation about the matter at hand. If you’ve unconsciously bitten the hook, you cannot hear anything except through the sting or pain of the hook. This human phenomenon can be something as simple as the tone of voice in the one you love, grating on your nerves or touching a tender spot you didn’t want to feel right then. Or it could be a news story that you hear coming home from work, causing an eruption of anger, or sadness, cloaked as anger. The internal experience for me is the mental (or audible) arguments that begin to cycle inside of me, from outrage or a sense of injustice, unfairness, disregard.

A couple of examples might flesh this out in more contemporary detail. I felt this trigger when I read a portion of Trump’s response to his acquittal in the Senate trial this past weekend. Among other things he said, I heard him say “We will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future...It is a sad commentary on our times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law." The trigger arose in me in the last sentence, particularly because only his loyalists could imagine they themselves are the “one political party in America” posturing to be in support of “law and order.” For anyone who has been willing to see the footage from hundreds of sources--not partisan, in other words--it is inconceivable to hear his words without immediate outrage at how Trump’s language mirrors precisely the opposite of what is true, real, and provable with visual and rational evidence. 

Stepping away from the habitual (and unending) ‘he said/they said’ dynamic within the outrage, I find it fascinating to watch myself attempt to not bite the hook and yet so desire to bite the hook. I feel the draw to search for news media that shares my outrage at how much of a liar Trump is. I can feel the need to be confirmed in what I have seen, what I have been willing to watch, probably to my own detriment out of a sense of civic duty. I can no longer even listen to anyone who can stomach his words, his voice, his narcissism and abuse of what I hold dear. Hear the language? Hear the triggered energies?

Another example can arise within me when anyone begins to tender commentary about “cancel culture” in our public spheres today. Traditionally, there’s a close ‘chaser’ about the First Amendment, Free Speech, which battles in Americans hearts between a civic matter--the government cannot limit a citizen’s right to free speech--and a personal/cultural matter--anyone can say whatever the hell they want, no matter the consequences or implications. I affirm the First Amendment fully AND I believe corporations and organizations have a responsibility to co-create with us a public sphere dependent upon truth, vulnerability, transparency, honesty, integrity. 'Censorship' of those who flagrantly deny those values is justifiable, in my view. So for example, I read a piece a couple days ago, written from a progressive perspective by Jayson Bradley. He is attempting to mirror the commonality between the phrase “cancel culture” and the conservative habits that have “cancelled” others for a long time. Bradley is attempting to rationally alter conservatives’ behaviors here, though he does nothing to address their increasing fears of being unheard, silenced, disregarded (whether anyone else honors or feels those fears are valid, legitimate). He's pissing in the wind, in my view, but it can definitely satisfy an itch I have, on any given day.

The sensation-experience with this news-exchange differs in me, of course, but is no less noteworthy. I’m drawn into the essay Bradley writes because I already agree with him. I’m regularly shaking my head at conservative theological voices who are now increasingly strident about how they are being oppressed, silenced, disregarded. I got an advance glimpse of this in my seminary-teaching work, with conservative and more rigidly-traditional male colleagues creating safe spaces in our faculty parlance for their felt-sense of grievances when faced with grievances of others. They didn't get curious to learn more, most of them; they got more aggrieved and used the power they had to prioritize their own grievances. The conservative voice still dominates at my seminary, and I rarely mirror or confront it directly. Perhaps that's complicity in me; progressives would certainly think so. But rarely do I have a dog in the fights or debates crafted in their categories. Most of what I do is so out of their perception or consideration, we can hardly communicate genuinely. Instead, I live into don't go to war with the way things are; create alternative realities (Mary Pierce Brosmer). This has always seemed the more powerful wisdom than fighting debates created by white men's categories in the first place. The ironies never fail to make me smile, however; sadly some days, angrily other days. 

The trigger feeling here, the bite the hook moment, is one of smugness unto outrage. There is a seductive draw to being right, to feeling the righteousness of my own view as just, fair, obvious. The shimmery character of the hook may be different, but it’s no less difficult to not bite the hook. “See how that feels then, why don’t you?!?” is often the tone underneath whatever measured speech I may offer in a discussion. “Doesn’t feel good, does it?” I want to ask, with a smarmy smile on my face. (Autocorrect just helped me note ‘smarny’ should be ‘smarmy.’ LOL. When did smarmy become a legitimate word in our lexicon?) The sting of this hook, when bitten, doesn’t hurt in the same way, maybe even at all. It simply doesn’t embody the kind of person I want to be in the world. It doesn’t practice the open-hearted, compassionate listening I advocate, teach, strive for in my own life. When I’ve bitten this hook, I still cannot participate in open-hearted listening. Shenpa reigns in my body; I won’t hear a word ‘the other’ might say.

Pema Chodron’s invitation, her wisdom here, is to not bite the hook. What she’s trying to say is don’t let an old story or an old wound make you see everything in only its terms. The challenge, of course, is that the story is SO compelling, and the sensations of being incredulously outraged or righteously smug are so seductive that more often than not, we bite the hook anyway.

Chodron likens it to having scabies, the incredibly itchy skin disease that will get worse and worse, the more you scratch. Folks will often scratch themselves bloody, just to try to relieve the itch. But scabies can’t be healed by scratching. It will only lessen by learning to stay with the itch and not scratch it.

So what if we changed the story, the invitation? What if we found better pathways to not scratch the itch or not bite the hook

I’m increasingly convinced about the power of projection in human beings’ attempts to digest pain, loss, sadness, anger, grief. When we encounter something that does not fit our view of the world, or our view of ourselves, we will nearly automatically push it away, push it outward onto someone else or something else. Perhaps you strived for a PhD but didn't succeed. Now, you viscerally dislike PhD's and experts, though you consciously try to be nice. Had a rough time in high school, bullied by jocks? You've excelled now in the techworld, and you thrive in feeling superior to blue-collar workers, though consciously you think you have no prejudice or dislike of anyone. When we are overwhelmed with pain, loss, sadness, this behavior of projecting our pain or our fears onto others becomes exponentially predictable. Spend any amount of time in psychological, sociological, anthropological literatures and you’ll see different interpretations of this very thing.

A most traditional, even scriptural version of this is the notion of scapegoating. Long ago in Hebraic ritualistic practice, the community would regularly sacrifice a lamb, put the blood on a goat or the wounds of the community into the goat, and then chase it out into the wilderness to die. Scapegoat. The belief was that the sin of the community would be ‘confessed’ and ‘paid for’ by this ritual action, pushing it out of the bounds of the community, enacting atonement (at-one-ment) with God. You can feel the contemporary dynamics of this around just about any human collective. The Republican Party right now, attempting to censure or expel anyone who does not bow in loyalty to Trump. “We will push out all those who do not look like us or think like us. Preferably placing our own lack of insight onto them before we do so.” Totally unconscious, of course, so bring it up and you'll get blusters of defense and refusal. The Democrats’ version of this is Progressives who become militant about identity politics’ things, shaming and blaming any and all whose language doesn’t fit the latest politically correct version of whatever identity is in question/under attack. Here, there is an exclusion of anyone who is not willing to cow-tow to the latest language, the latest human-rights defense. The vulnerability to expulsion for ‘thinking differently than the ones in power in this Caucus matches the other dynamic. They are analogues of each other, similarly shaped behaviors if within different contexts/settings.

To our earlier point, to be clear, I feel a similar trigger-potential with both of these political ‘extremes.’ I’ll more often have empathy for progressives’ views/behavior, pointing out the years, decades, centuries of inherited trauma in their bodies inflicted by fundamentalists, ultra-orthodox religious, and conservatives. Progressives are no less acting out of their wounds than the rest of us, after all, and I can sympathize, even empathize. I’ll have less sympathy for the ongoing Republican Party struggle, simply because it’s not my struggle. It’s not as much my experience to feel sadness, loss, outrage at the loss of religious or political traditions that in my view need to change anyway.

Change or die, as the saying goes. There’s no fire for me to protect religious or political traditions that already have huge power-over structures in place to protect themselves (practically). If faith were grounded and true in the Reality beyond the human institution, then the faithful practice is trusting God to be in the process without need for ‘our puny protections.’ (Again, in my view). I've often said, "God doesn't need me to protect Him, Her. What kind of divine would that be?" (Answer: one I have created myself, domesticated to my own desires/perspectives, and made speak what I think I need to hear.)

I'm of the ilk that resistance and painful awakening are the pathways of Spirit; not comfort, not rightness, not certainty. Scandalous grace. Sacred abundance. Choiceless choices of devotion and Love that Liberates. (I didn't learn this in church, btw, but after being shaped by the church and then exiled...). So I have huge fire to hold space for anyone/everyone to be refined in the fires of necessary change, awakening, awareness. I have compassion for how painful it is for a conservative or a Republican to awaken to things s/he’d rather not have seen or known but can no longer deny. It’s painful. It begs questions of personal complicity, confession, humility and reparations or redress. The resistances to actually seeing or feeling the pain are well-defended inside.

There’s little space in (personally) conservative habits of mind for confessing error, responsibility, or even guilt without the whole machinery of Shame coming down on the one confessing. No wonder our post-Christendom/Evangelical-Protestant implosions are so painful to see, watch. This is one of the difficulties I have with conservative theological-religious socialized communities (like the ones I grew up in). These communities/traditions have great social machinery in place, well-suited for the needs of white men to try to face their pride, learn to humble themselves, and return to the community with a sense of participation and equanimity more than power-over or dominance. For women, for 'bodies of culture' (Resmaa Menakem)? The social-machinery not only sucks, it wounds and damages. Survivors either stay unconscious--easiest pathway, actually--or get to learn double-speak and talking out of both sides of our mouths. We get to learn the two-step of playing the shame-games and trying to get free of them, all at the same time.

We can watch the power of projection in a variety of public and personal expressions. Watch the political-projection arguments take hold in the stories of loss in manufacturing, blaming the overwhelming pace of change and loss onto Black people. (This is a tried and true Confederate strategy from way back, usually so sub/unconscious that folks overwhelmed by loss will defend against any whiff of accusation of believing it. “I’m not racist” and "Systemic racism is a ploy of the Left to take/steal our businesses, our history). Or perhaps it’s a household thing. I don’t know how to hold my deep-belly need right now to be in physical spaces with close friends while loving and honoring my husband’s need for the smallest ‘covid-19’ bubble as possible. I can project my anger onto him, though I am perfectly within my own capacity and ability to make choices that I need for my physical and emotional-spiritual-psychological health. He has to live with me too, after all. He can deal with his own reactions and responses, just as I tend to my own. I’m becoming more aware of the anger at him rising, which is really only my own sadness and grief, sense of isolation inside, projected onto him. It's easier to be angry with him than to face the challenges of naming what I need in a global pandemic where such things are riskier than science/authorities recommend.

But we human beings do this even with positively-tinged things, things that are deep within us but seem too impossible or abundant to actually pursue, consider, or attempt. Secretly, I may have a desire to publish a book that seems out of reach or not a skill set within me. So I push all that energy into my admiration of published authors, supporting all others who may be writing to publish but not facing my own desires. Or perhaps in a CrossFit gym. I wish I could do butterfly pull ups, but instead of putting the plan-of-action in place to take the small steps to get there, I project all that energy onto those who already can do it. I cheer them on and celebrate them, because of something that is actually inside of me. Same pattern of projection.

So...what if the new story, the new pathway, was simply seeing the projection? Honoring the projections of others that you can then release, let go, disregard? So much of Trump’s language is all about him. I laughed when I saw the final tagline of a governing commandment he demands of all in his sway: Thou shalt not ignore me. The trick is, with this projection of all he refuses to allow to be true about him, his loss of the election, his role in the Capitol Insurrection, he can get the media and the Republicans to pay attention to him. To prick the outrage. To be so preposterously untrue that rational, compassionate human beings bite the hook, every day. To refute him. To defend against him in rationality’s terms. Buddhists would call this aversion, simply the negative version of attachment. Let the attachment to Trump GO.

The different pathway is to not bite the hook. To honor the language for what it is--pure projection, inability to accept his loss, his own emptiness and woundings--and release it as the projection it is. Refuse the projection, we sometimes say in my circle-way world. Refuse to play in that energy, and move your energy to constructive, compassionate outlets.

Or the conservative outcry about cancel culture… See the clear projection of fear of being silenced, unheard, disregarded...just like those who have been excluded, disempowered, silenced for centuries. We are mirror images of one another, Progressives and Traditionalists, Liberals and Conservatives. We're polarized, and speaking in oppositions, but the underlying dynamic of biting the hook is exactly the same. The wounding force is the exclusion and isolation, not the silencing. It is the focus on victim-culture and attempted re-graspings for power-over, not actually being disregarded. As Bradley tries to show (mostly unsuccessfully), it’s not cancel culture inflicted upon conservatives. It’s finally being confronted in public, without shame. It's invitation to a discussion that no one controls. It's invitations to transform, evolve, change--that will more often be refused by Traditionalists or Conservatives. They are not as adept at this, in comparison to those who have had to learn that journey simply to become who they are. And no one wants to look foolish or admit they are wrong, regardless of 'camp.'

The challenge here is, of course, that refusing to bite the hook, focusing on seeing and honoring the projection, doesn’t feel the same in the body. The initial sensation is unbearable itch. Reactive defense. The challenge is breathing into both of those sensations. Just breathe. Stop. Sometimes when I become aware that there is a hook, I pull back. I pause. I breathe. I count to ten, slowly. Maybe again, even more slowly. Then I return to the shimmery thing that has caught my attention. Will scratching assist my compassion? Will the smugness I could feel assist my learning? Can I simply see that what is being thrown at me is all about him, them...and has nothing really to do with me, right now, this moment?

If I can get to that question, I’ve not bitten the hook, and I won’t be doing so in the near future.

One 5-minute victory, until the next one comes, probably within the hour. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Being Where We Are Now...

I’ve never listened to a live-news reporting of a US Senate roll-call vote before. Or at least listened from start to finish. The formal process requires each senator to stand in place when their name is called, tender their vote aloud. Then their vote--guilty or not guilty in this case--is repeated aloud by a Senate clerk for the whole chamber to hear, for it to be publicly recorded. Every senator in the chamber votes and then the president of the Senate reads the final tally aloud, naming the collective action on the item at hand.

The news of acquittal in the Impeachment hearing is no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention, and it’s way too early to make definitive judgments what the impact of the Senate’s action (non-action) will be. I found myself distracted by feelings of inversion. Senators who, in my view, were guilty of cowing to a fear of authoritarian politics said not guilty aloud. Senators who in my view are courageous leaders standing firm in the face of authoritarian, violence-prone politics said guilty

I have been quiet on this page for the entire journey of Senatorial transition into the Impeachment trial, including the recalcitrant scheduling of the trial by the then Majority leader of the Senate, an achingly slow transfer of Senatorial leadership to the Democratic Party leaders into the trial, then finally the collective listening to the arguments for the Article of Impeachment from the House Managers, with the former-president’s lawyers offering whatever it was they offered.

Part of my quiet is tending to my own tenderheartedness amidst the glaring, jarring political scenes we’ve come to tolerate, expect. I’m getting better at discerning just how much I can tolerate and stay open-hearted in my sense of civic-duty, and when I have to shut it all out/down, simply to stay in a compassionate centered place. If I can’t stay there, I’m just becoming what I don’t want ‘out there.’ I know that the news media/social media forays are a gladiatorial display that bears little resemblance to the people and work of democracy on the ground. 

I think I’ve been quiet also because I honestly don’t want to know if the Republicans I know and love still stand behind the authoritarian-esque displays of the current Republican Party. Without being disrespectful, I simply cannot bend on this line...and I pride myself on being flexible and open-hearted. So...I remain quiet, unasking, not presuming, but also not reaching out. Will they continue to stand behind such things because they’ve always voted Republican and don’t see any other option? Does their view have to impinge upon mine in any way? Do I just disregard them politically if not in friendship? Do they continue to stand behind claims of fake news about things that are publicly available on YouTube about what actually happened...and what almost the first really not-so-peaceful-transition of power in our country’s history? I desperately want to know that  the Republicans I know and love see Trump and his minions more and more for who he is/they are...and I desperately canNOT know that they refuse to see it, him, them. I’m simply too tender, fearful...and I don’t have the open-heartedness to let bygones be bygones in something so violently threatening of what we profess to share in common...a love of our communities, our country...

All of this has gotten me to musing about painful difference in my own family of origin, and our strategies for navigating it. I can’t say that we’re a model family in this respect, as I don’t think our current  ‘way of being’ is particularly satisfying to any of us. But perhaps that’s a teaching unto itself, for this purpose here. I do know that our dysfunction, while exquisitely ours, is not completely traumatizing or debilitating. Difficult, yes. Requiring growth and forbearance, of course. I've come to realize that every family is dysfunctional in its own way(s)...some are just more clinically interpreted than others.

The line of conflict in my family is ostensibly a religious one, but as ever, it’s always more complicated than that. On the surface, we demonstrate all the currents of an established Protestant mainline denomination, its fragmentation in schism surrounding issues of human bodies (sexuality, in particular), and resulting difference-in-relationship held with tension and ambiguity where no one is truly who s/he actually is in the presence of the other(s). Translated, this means my folks emerged from rather fundamentalist religious traditions (Brethren and Baptist), found a faith community more rational and well-suited to their life in small-town Ohio (Presbyterian). They faithfully raised two daughters ‘in the church.’ Each daughter has lived into Christian tradition(s), if in diametrically opposed fashion: Campus Crusade for Christ for one, seeking-challenging-establishment-prophetic multiracial-multifaith spirituality for the other. Immediate family reunions are jokingly suggested for the Hawaian Islands--my folks on Hawaii itself, Brian and me on Kauai, and Kathy and her family on Maui. It’s progress that we can joke about it. This kidding aside, we do get together for family reunions. We do stay in touch, some more than others. 

I’m pleased to have stretched to the point of really wanting my sister to be precisely as she is, pursuing what she desires, loving how and whom she is called to love. As I desire that spaciousness, so I practice offering and breathing into that for her, her family. It works so well because she lives in Virginia, of course. It’s easier to live across differences when you don’t have to live in them, locally, every day, or even each week or month. 

Living in political differences here locally can be feasible, possible, when those who differ decide not to fan those flames of difference. One of the first posts of this blog was the yearning to go back to a time when we just didn’t talk about politics publically. Maybe that’s a temporary solution for now. I know it’s one that many liberally-oriented FB ‘friends’ are exercising, so I presume the conservatively or Trumpist voices are exercising this pathway as well. Social media makes it so easy/possible. It’s gonna need to be temporary though, or we are precisely back in the bubbles-fantasies instead of the world we’re actually living in together. But what does 'living in political differences' mean if a significant portion of our population uses violence to attempt to hold onto power? And those in the same party do not feel any responsibility to challenge this violence?

I saw a documentary recently that has caught my memory and my heart-strings too: Spiritual Audacity: the Abraham Joshua Heschel Story by Martin Doblmeier. Heschel, of blessed memory, was an Orthodox Jew who barely escaped Hitler’s Death Camps. He arrived into the States having escaped his native Poland, teaching first in Cincinnati and then in NYC. He offers wellknown words I’ve heard often this month: “morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” It’s always a bit dicey to bring post-Shoah wisdom to bear upon our times today, particularly as Godwin’s Law comes into play. But Heschel’s persistent and regular confrontation of indifference has landed in my belly, in my craw.

I see indifference in myself, in the face of overwhelming challenges I know not how to hold or confront. I see indifference in others, facing similar overwhelm, if from their political location(s). I see indifference rampant in many of our leaders, militantly intent upon 'their needs/identities/power' without any more sophisticated tools in their leadership box than war, domination, and deception. So indifference runs rampant in the world today--indifference to the suffering that is all around us.

Yet we hear...There is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings…

HOW??? If I cannot open-heartedlly listen yet...if this is going to be a temporary ‘hold’ until I can is that different from indifference? How do I not become indifferent to the fears and concerns of all those around me? What will be your invitation(s) to awaken out of indifference? Same as mine? How may we find assurance that the suffering all around will not overwhelm us? Or if it will overwhelm, that we will know how to stay open to it, survive it, learn to hold it anew with care, steadiness of heart, compassion…? What is the journey into a  gentle but necessary confrontation of indifference today

For now, I take comfort in the pragmatic wisdom I can feel here. I can only be where I am today, now. I know I am not indifferent, nor really in danger of becoming indifferent. But some days the fear is larger than the hope. Our political culture punishes anyone for taking responsibility, for saying they were wrong...and now we are living in a collective rupture of our country as a whole... But I'm here, today. For now, that's enough.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

So...What Can I Do? (ALL of us need to begin asking...)

 Am I glad he’s gone? Of course I am. 

Do I feel a rising sense of hope because of yesterday’s Inauguration and a clear emergence of a federal administration bent on transparency and truth, a strengthening of institutions undervalued by the previous administration? Yes, I do.

Do I look forward to the inevitable return to ‘business as usual’ in our nation’s capital, covered by a media whose ratings depend upon fear, conflict and discord? No, I don’t. I don’t pretend to know how our media-culture needs to recalculate its own algorithms for “success” in a market-driven capitalistic economy in such a way to prevent (or at least not provoke) divisiveness/polarization. And I’m not naive enough to imagine that yesterday’s pomp&circumstance truly redresses the work that is in front of us as citizens of the USA. Part of the hope above is that those who have signed onto public service at this challenging time aren’t naive--or inexperienced--either. 

So what can I do? How am I to be a part of stepping into our past and listening for its repair? (nod to readback line from Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb”).

I found myself musing on a well-worn conundrum in my life as I was driving home from CrossFit this morning: the invitation to change in the face of holding-onto-what-is. How does someone become a liberal or progressive, born into a conservative family? Is the journey different if they are born into a progressively oriented family? How does someone become a conservative or traditionalist if they are born into a more liberal or progressively oriented family? Different if born into a conservative family? What, if anything, instigates inner transformation in you--perhaps a change of views, or of party--in our political milieux--today, or ‘back then’? 

My grounding assumption here is that all of us need to consider our own inner transformations in any reconsideration of citizenship. It’s not just “the losing party” that needs to “catch up to the times.” That’s a polarizing habit of mind/assumption, winners/losers, etc. It’s only a matter of time before ‘the party in power’ becomes ‘the party no longer in power’ anyway. A unifying question would be: What is my own path of inner transformation, for the good of the Whole? It signals individual promise, honoring of a collective larger than the “I”, and interdependence. Today, no one can avoid this question--except those resisting growth and change, which I know is most of us as of yet. But it needs to be asked as a question without shame or blame. It needs to alter how we listen/see/feel, so the fear-triggers don’t live in the same places that the media knows to goad. 

What will be my own path of inner transformation in this next year, for the good of the Whole?

The two elements underneath all these questions, seems to me, are resistance/refusal and unresolved grief that acts out in distinct but different ways in each of us. If you were overcome with joy and relief yesterday (like I was), cherish it. Enjoy it for as long as seems right and honorable. Then, when an edginess or an antsyness begins to arise, ask yourself the question above. To then live into the question in realtime, ask yourself What am I resisting/refusing right now? Or who am I resisting/refusing, and why? Perhaps related, perhaps not, then, “Where is the sadness in me? Or what touches my anger, even my rage?” This second one is harder to get inside, particularly if it feels so good to finally not feel sadness or anger. 

If you decided not to participate in anything about Inauguration Day at all, then I bow to that choice and the unknown (to me) reasons behind it. Stand in that necessary-space that our free country offers all of us, for as long as it seems right and honorable. Then, when space opens, or an antsyness begins to arise, ask yourself the same question: What will be my own path of inner transformation in this next year, for the good of the Whole? What am I resisting or refusing, and why? Or who? Where is the sadness or anger in me? 

For us to reconsider citizenship in a healthy way, and for us to begin to change the toxic soil we’ve created that is American politics today, we need to shift the frame toward “the Whole,” and we need a new mantra that honors and does not judge. So, be honest with yourself, for where you live/land/love. Who do you include in your Whole? Those you can see around you? Your economic situation--business owner, teacher, entrepreneur, health provider, service-professional, factory-worker? Those with your own skin color, who look like you? Who do you include in your Whole? I saw a t-shirt the other day that made me smile, “The GPS coordinates of your mother’s vagina at the time of your birth do not determine your value as a person.” No matter your sense of “the Whole,” I invite you to stretch it. Expand it. Have your politics be determined by your passion for the human person, anywhere, everywhere.

The new mantra or practice that seems a significant shift of frame too, at least for us local folks) is invitation, not obligation. (This is not to disregard the meta-conversations about accountability and protection/fragility of our democracy right now, in face of white nationalism and bastardized Christianity. This is simply to focus on the local and human in front of us, peeling the political veneers off for a while…). 

For example… Our country’s pressure to celebrate the Biden/Harris administration if you’re a true patriot or to boycott all of yesterday and deny the Biden/Harris administration if you’re a true patriot is a pressure coming from the old, not the new. If we say we are a country of the Free because of the Brave, then each citizen and his/her experience needs honoring and spaces to be legitimate, valid, expressed--as long as it doesn’t drum up militarized or conspiratorial violence, of course.

Translated for me, this means all those Republicans who voted for Trump because their lives have never seemed valued by Democratic administrations and Republican heritage is what they’ve always stood in are justified in boycotting, disregarding, and settling into these next four years, however they may. (As long as it’s without violence in the public sphere). (Part of the sadness and anger in me, of course, is that now writers are beholden to add this descriptive caveat belly hurts when I think of it, and if I don’t let it out gently, I get triggerable and ragey about it…) In a similar vein, all of us who are celebrating and cherishing this movement into our valued norms and institutions? There is invitation to the More, not obligation. Genuine, human collective “soil” can only be nourished with this practice of invitation, not obligation. Which also means non-judgment of others in their own expressions. Direct your energies within, to the ‘you’ you can change.

Eventually, though...with a greater sense of urgency for some of us, lesser for others of us...we need to engage the question of inner transformation, independent of politics, though irreparably intertwined across a complicated political scene of corporate money, national polarization, and media (news/social) algorithms set for fear, unmet desire, and conflict.  

How do we live into our culture’s obsession with fear in a (larger) framework of the Whole, practicing invitation not obligation? Anyone trying to stay current on political events and the state of our world today faces these conscious and unconscious forces of fear-mongering, whether liberal or conservative. How do you become conscious of the fear in your body? What can you try and experiment with, to learn? How may we practice fearlessness in peace, free to stumble and fail with one another? What is the role of the ‘other’ in how you practice? Do you project your fear onto ‘them’? Do you use them ‘to vent’? How might we learn to transfigure it within ourselves before it gets pushed out into the public? 

Perhaps you refuse expanding any sense of the Whole, and you think the mantra is stupid. You think your best bet is avoidance and refusal, focusing on things you can control, actions that confirm your own biases again and again? Avoidance and refusal for a period of time is understandable, even necessary for short periods of time. But as a path of inner transformation for the good of the Whole? Impotent. The Whole can carry a small portion of us who choose this option, but we cannot carry a large percentage that way. Look at the loss and death all around us. Each of us is interconnected to each other… Right now, we have broad swaths of “us” who simply want to resist and refuse the challenges of our day. That is unacceptable for long periods of time, at least if we say we love our country. We are an unfinished country, not a broken one. (again, nod to Amanda Gorman).

And in a broader political culture unable to honor death, loss, failure and the inevitabilities of these things for all of us, we are faced with learning how to grieve, what grief requires (in different cultures, different contexts), what unresolved grief looks like. This of course will look differently, depending upon perception and party affiliation.

Right now, unresolved grief in some of us looks like a cultural triumphalism, a smugness and leering quality to our celebrations or laments. Notice how that could be Democratic or Republican? Liberals sneering right now are part of the country’s wound, not its victors. Republicans refusing any part of the American process right now are part of the country’s wound too.

And this is where my first questions come back into play. Try to imagine the wound our behaviors come from to feel your way toward those whom you see as not-you. Many who have become liberal or progressive began as conservatives or traditionalists. This adds an additional layer of internalized power-abuse, and external triggers. Many have been deeply, spiritually wounded by patriarchal religious traditions. We’ve had our very right to BE HUMAN or to make choices in our own bodies (women) questioned and legislated. We’ve had top-down political forces of mostly white men, often oligarchs in corporate business, brought crashing onto these sensitive wounds, all in attempts to “change us into what mostly-white-men would rather us be.” Many of us have a tender heart for the earth, seeing her raped and pillaged by global business, for material gains that will pass like chaff in the wind in a matter of years. The woundedness of these our American brothers/sisters comes out with weeping, joy, sighs of relief to no longer have to face the serial-womanizer and authoritarian-leader who was in the news every fucking day.

Unresolved grief in others of us may be harder to track...or easier now, in one sense. Conservatives’ woundings are different, though no less grounded in loss and lament. The rate of change in our world today has grown exponentially. Our biological-neurological bodies were not built for processing this much change. Fear and overwhelm are common today. Traditionalists and conservatives see the loss of everything they consider sacred and dependable, their spirituality, institutions, power (yes), family, and human dignity rooted often in self-sufficiency. White male rage is the most obvious, of course. This grief/anger/rage looks like an insurrection and rampage, attempts to hold onto what used to be, in physical aggression that has always seemed to work in world history, at least “for the winners,” who get to write the history books. The propaganda and abuse of patriotic language to motivate and get a mob to conspire toward violence will attempt to mimic truth of ‘years gone by,’ even though all of it is an uncritical grasping at a past that never truly was. (Isn’t it interesting that Trump’s 1776 Report had no historians on it? Hmmmm…anti-intellectual policy-mongering, uncritical and indefensible). More subtly, and more dangerously, this grief may look like complete withdrawal from all public sphere activities, a version of “I’m taking my marbles and going home.” Which I totally get, having done my version of that at different times in my entire adult life. Or perhaps this energy-unresolved grief looks like an uncontrollable fear that seduces human beings into the worst the corporate-or-‘entertainment’ media can spawn--conspiracy theories, religious fanaticism, and militia-run gang-building. 

All of it is pain, unresolved, untended, no longer able to be ignored by as large a population (that has ignored it for decades, some of us would say with regret and humility). So how do we invite this large population of denial-refusal, regardless of party, to become smaller? How can more of us explore a willingness to learn the skills for inner transformation, for the good of the Whole?

Our story gives us our woundedness, which, when tended carefully and with compassion in a container able to hold the journey, becomes a person’s strongest gift for the world.

Imagine the thing you feel most shame about, the thing you’d die if anyone ever found out about? Inner work is facing that shame-fear-wound, ultimately becoming liberated from it so no one can harm you with it, no one can shame you with it. It has no more power over you, and you get to serve from your healed Self, not your fear or reactivities to others. 

Our country’s past is overrun by wounds and opportunities for this journey. When it’s time, when you’re ready, will you step into our past, listening for its repair? We are the only ones who can do this work. You and me. Citizens.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

What I'm Learning in this Round of Impeachment...

What am I learning in this round of Impeachment actions by our House of Representatives, to then be taken up by the Senate next week? A good friend inquired into my views just now...which gives me pause to see what words will come. I will say that my husband and I enjoyed “Impeachment Cocktail Hour” together yesterday, about 5 p.m., after the vote tallied and closed. Whiskey sour for him, Poet’s Dream for me. Tasty and yet a sad clink to the glasses, given the turmoil is just continuing... 

I think the now-second Impeachment of Donald J. Trump IS the right thing for the country whose Legislative Branch has been threatened--politically, and then physically--by the Executive Branch. Impeachment is not the only right thing, however, which is why I want to see what words come here. I’m taking my cue from a good friend’s piece on “Reckoning or reconciliation? Why not both?” A healthy, productive society requires both justice and mercy, both accountability and spaces for grace. It’s not either/or, except in how our media or political pundits try to cover it. Impeachment is the right next thing, but not the only next right thing.

Our democracy is as fragile as I’ve known it in my lifetime, which is not surprising given the timbre and tones of the world in a global pandemic and the rise of nationalism all over the planet. The United States would of course now be faced with its own version of rising authoritarianism and fear-driven threats from within. You can find multiple quotes online about how our greatest threats were never going to be from without, from the global stage, but with us destroying ourselves from within. I admit I’ve now watched the
Star Wars scene several time where the Republic dies into the Emperor’s control to rounds of thunderous applause. (You can view that here…). I don’t hold to any American exceptionalism, so this is our hour in the crucible. Or years, perhaps. I’m sure it won’t be the last.

I was fully engaged in the news process of yesterday, the day of HR 24, the procedural votes, the final tally vote 232 to impeach, 197 against impeachment. 10 Republican Representatives split from their party to impeach. [If the House is constituted by 435 Representatives, then 6 Representatives didn’t vote at all...or there are outstanding races in which 6 slots have not been filled. I’m not sure which, to be honest.] I did my best to listen to each Representative who was given the floor, impressed by the smooth functioning of statements, minutes given to other voices to speak, the formalized discourse that was both calming and heated, predictable and yet tender too. I could hear the Republican Representatives arguing for a bipartisan commission to study the evidence of the Insurrection, and I could honor their perspectives for that. Rep. Cori Bush from Missouri spoke passionately and compelling in her 30 seconds, lent to her from another Representative’s time. The old-guard Representatives who have been in the House for years if not decades spoke with more pause, but also more predictable nuance, such that my attention would waver. They were saying almost what they were slated to have to say in the political currents they were/are swimming after years in this business of legislating.

Things I’ve learned… This Impeachment process was not a “rush to judgement” at all. There were articles of impeachment drawn up by a Representative from Texas well over a year ago, which the Democrats tabled because they knew the Body would not receive the report and/or they knew they wouldn’t have the votes even in their own party. Then the process in the first Impeachment unfolded successfully, with more evidence and a sense of discerned agency by the Legislative Branch as a whole. (HR 755: High Crimes and Misdemeanors: Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress) The Senate’s refusal to convict happened across party lines, with multiple Congressmen and women running for election and politically ‘unable’ to split from Trump if they wanted to keep their jobs. So Donald Trump got impeached the first time, and the Senate failed to convict. This gave Trump a ‘pass’ without any accountability for his actions or rhetoric with respect to the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Observations were made from both sides of the aisle that this refusal to convict by the Senate would only embolden Trump. Hard not to see that now, to be honest. 

Democrats and Independents can accuse these Republican Congress-persons as cowardly or unprincipled, but if the tables were turned, we’d see a similar behavior in Democratic Congressmen/women. It’s the nature of the political beast. Very few politicians today seem to be able to integrate principle with money-organized politics anymore. Yet Democrats have been the party ‘out of power’ for quite some time, in Congress. I suspect some balancing is due, while everything appears about to fall completely apart.

Given there are only days left in Trump’s term, was Impeachment worth it? Is it worth diffusing the first days of the Biden Administration while keeping Trump’s chaotic tantrums in the news? I’m wavering here, but I still think, YES, for my sense of things. Impeachment and the Senate Trial to come is necessary and worthwhile. There is a cancer of physical violence forming in our nation that Trump incites and fans until he fears retribution. He thrives on the chaos he causes, irregardless of who it injures. I believe it is in the interest of a healthy Republican Party and the country as a whole for Trump to never be able to hold office again. Regardless of whether he’d win the nomination in 2024 or not. He responds to force and economic pressure, so the (whole) Legislative Branch must bring force to bear and the market/corporations must bring economic pressure to bear. That both are happening concurrently is a positive sign for our democracy as a whole, at least in my view. I think we need to do all we can as a country to assist healthy Republican-ism to begin to lead sanely again--i.e. with a loyalty to the Constitution, not a President/man--to choose democratic-republic institutions that are necessary, even if arguing for 'smaller.' Our Republic cannot survive with the chaotic narcissism it's had for these four years, in blatant disregard of institutions and truth/facts.

But none of this is the main energetic focus for me… Or bevy of foci/focuses… All these are questions and slants driven by political party discourse, important but ultimately distracting for the deeper work of reconsidering citizenship. My questions come into the “why” invitations my friend’s essay invites...with a guess that each of us is driven by so much unconscious and hidden energy we don’t have the ‘containers’ or ‘time’ or even ‘practice’ in addressing…

Why is it that white Christians struggle so very clearly with claiming their part in the sufferings of others? Life is suffering, after all, and we hurt one another all the time. Why do we defend against honoring that fact, dealing with its challenges, and being a part of learning how to heal self and one another? (Hunch: embedded shame and patriarchal abuse of power-over, institutionalized and more)

What does it take for each of us to shift into curiosity instead of blame, wonder instead of fear, practice of trust instead of accusation and refusal? (Hunch: When we feel safe, invited…)

What are Trump supporters and QAnon folks getting in their surrender to conspiracy theories and ‘alternative facts’? It is scratching a deep itch they have, so what is that? Is it a wound, scabbed over? Is it fear? Is it loss of purpose and finding of it again in a parallel universe that buys their attention for cheap? These precious human beings would not be immersed in it all if they weren’t getting something they needed so very desperately… (Hunch: passion, felt sense of patriotic purpose, presuming to be on the side of the Good in a fight with Evil)

Why do so many of us feel impassioned or at least obligated to defend the white men in our lives? I watch this pattern again and again in my classroom, a bit befuddled. White men still have a majority of political power and economic power too. One could even argue that the women in business have had to learn how to do it like a man to succeed. (Speaking as one of those myself, if business is ‘theological education.’) What a majority of white men do not have is emotional flexibility and relational intuition, wisdom. The sensitivities required for deep intimacy are often socialized out of men by the time they hit puberty. But white men need to start learning new well as the women (like me) who can empower them to do so. Hannah Gadsby’s words return to me…”I don’t hate men. I don’t even believe that women are better than men. I believe that women are just as corruptible by power as men... But the story is as [white men] have told it: power belongs to you. And if you can’t handle criticism, take a joke, or deal with your own tension without violence, you have to wonder if you are up to the task of being in charge.” 

Why don’t more of us know the ultimate, blessed freedom at the root of surrender today? Why is that word falsely ‘coded’ in our world as failure, or weakness, victim or loss?

So those are some of my working energies right now...I’m curious about how we face down violence in our communities and nip the authoritarianism in the bud.

How could the American machismo morph into something life-giving, sustainable, and not raging, aggressive, warlike? Until we know the answer to that question, we’re all in danger from enraged, militant Trump supporters who have bullied the current Republican Party into submission… What will it take for white men and the women who enable them to yearn for a better way, for all of us? To learn different questions and explore different skill sets including the emotional elasticity that can prevent war?

Biting the Hook...or Honoring/Releasing the Projection

I’m beginning to notice a pattern in my regular civic-duty-digestion of the news. Today seems the day to describe it, give a couple examples...