National conversations impact local relationships, and though less immediately visible, local relationships will and do impact national conversations. It’s the slowness of the latter that makes this such a trying and difficult time. I am challenged to see how small gestures or specific actions of mine can have any impact on all the chaos I am experiencing, and everything that is rising around me, us. Given the events of last evening here in Ohio, I am reminded once again of Gerald May’s wrestling with one of his teacher’s sayings (which arose in another post, methinks). “Although attempting to bring about world peace through the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way.” May wrestled with "the only," and disbelieved the saying for over a decade. He finally relented, reviewing all he had seen in his 60 years of "big picture"/"large community" initiatives for transformation. The essay is entitled “From Cruelty to Compassion,”
which may simply be the best phrase for what I’m sensing this morning. The national hits to our local relationships keep on coming, and will in these weeks. Of course we respond in fairly predictable fashion (myself included). How may we breathe into compassion in a world with leaders and potential leaders bent upon cruelty? One heart at a time...which looks like the following, for me, today. I want to use this space to become conscious of my own experience, name what I notice, with as little judgment (outward or inward) as I can muster. (I will not always succeed in the 'without judgment,' of course, but my heart is pure in the intention).
I gather with a group of friends most mornings to workout in the CrossFit way, the anchor of my pandemic life right now. I could sense the impact of last night’s first Presidential Debate in the energies of those present this morning. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I could feel the energies in myself, watching, curious, tender. I'm guessing for the reactions/feelings of others. This group has transitioned well, for the most part, into the socially-distanced, COVID-risk-honoring practices for being in the gym. This means that the door to come in doesn’t open until the coach on deck is ready to take temperatures, invite hand-sanitizer, invite the specific equipment for that day’s workout. Particularly at my class, there’s a few of us who tend to arrive early and then congregate outside the door, socially-distanced and masked, but catching up with one another. It’s not quite “circle time” like we used to have, but it’s a plausible adaptation, given the pandemic. It’s getting colder, so I don’t know how long this will continue, but regardless, this morning was different (in my experience). Two of us gathered in a bit of a private exchange, to ask about the other’s experience with the debate, or debacle, however we might consider it. Two others gathered in a different twosome, at some distance from us. The energy in the gym felt familiar and normal, focused on what we were there to do, but it was also muted in some ways too. The customary ease was not resonant in my own bones, anyway. I felt like a wanted a soft place to land. Thankfully, my head landed several times on a soft pad, pike push-ups. 😆
I do not have a judgement about what I notice here, nor do I profess to know what is true here. In that vein, I yet noticed that I had to be more intentional to stay connected across gatherings of individuals. One might guess that the division in our pre-door-opening gathering showed political fault lines amongst us...but maybe not. Who knows? I rarely profess to understand the ‘inside’ of other friendships, just as I know I struggle to understand my own inner-dynamics in friendships with me. I do know I was glad to be asked directly about my engagement (or not) with last night’s debate. It had weighed heavily on my bodysoul last night, impacting my dreams too, I think. Blessedly, I do not recall specifics, only feelings of sadness, fear, anger, frustration, more sadness. I lasted about four minutes in watching it before I simply had to turn it off. I then turned it back on, kept the sound muted, and stayed until I knew it was over, to listen to the first reactions of PBS commentary. I simply could not digest the toxicity of the exchanges and the strong sense that there would be little content that I could parse myself in the debate. I decided I would do better to listen to various analyses of it, with clips, to accommodate my sense of civic duty.
Even with this discernment of capacity, I could feel the division in my own belly as I entered into the CrossFit spaces. I could feel the temptations to collude and divide, gather and protect my own tender with someone I could consider fitting with my sense of ‘our.’ This is the level and depth at which our Democracy needs to be rebuilt. Naming our tender in safe spaces, yes, and becoming intentional about viewing ‘the others’ in our vicinities in Love, no matter what. Love comes from within me, not because of anything anyone ‘out there’ is or is not doing. Love comes from within, is grounded in the human body, willing to bear suffering and joy, both. (Dr. Maya Angelou, of blessed memory: Love that Liberates).
And yet I could feel the nearly two hours worth of media clouding my heart’s ability to see my friends as the beautiful and complicated people they are, we all are. We’re not to the Jesus-spoken maxim yet--Love your enemies--as I do not and will not consider my friends here enemies. But make no mistake, the seeds of this ill-will, this hatred, are being sown. Have-been-being-sown for decades now, centuries.
They are planted in us every day when we allow the media and divisive power-over rhetoric to poison our ability to breathe, to see with curiosity, to inquire in wonder and hope...They are planted every time “our guy” bullies “the other guy,” when both resort to name-calling and disdain on stage. They are planted every time one of us speaks over and interrupts someone else speaking. They are planted every time we refuse to see the fear, the pain, the suffering of ordinary Americans. And these men are not the ordinary Americans, remember. Most of us out here are the ordinary Americans, held hostage to this cultural pathology playing out on the big screen. We have created it, of course, collectively, through commission and omission both. We create it when we honor this behavior, or collude in not changing it.
Julia Cameron, the creative renewal teacher whose work I love so dearly, has a great name for the pathology at play: crazymaking. “Crazymakers are those personalities that create storm centers. They are often charismatic, frequently charming, highly inventive, and powerfully persuasive. And…[for those] in their vicinity, they are enormously destructive.” They can take over your whole life, if you let them. They thrive on drama, and if they can manage it, they make themselves the star. (The Artist's Way)
She then itemizes this concretely, in a helpful way for me to understand last night...
Crazymakers break deals and destroy schedules.
Crazymakers expect special treatment
Crazymakers discount your reality
Crazymakers spend your time and money
Crazymakers triangulate those they deal with
Crazymakers are expert blamers
Crazymakers hate order
Crazymakers deny they are Crazymakers.
One of the candidates embodies this definition more than the other, in my view, but it is the system itself that both candidates are playing in, warring in, continuing it, embodying it...crazymaking. I know my own actions cannot impact the national chaos unfolding before us, but I also know that I can live into these weeks with intentions counter to crazymaking. I can choose for and honor myself the deals and schedules with those in my vicinity. I can refuse special treatment by working toward opportunity for all I can know/see, while decreasing my own desires for special treatment. I can inquire and learn more about others’ realities, not discounting any of them. People are hurting and suffering, and we need to hold one another's sacred callings to do the work of bearing up under this suffering. I can refuse to spend money on crazymakers. I pledge heightened awareness to counter triangulation--the pitting of two against one, the larger group against the smaller group--in all my dealings. I can practice refusing to blame anyone or to participate in blaming. At least to become conscious more often when I want to blame someone I know for... I can strive for clarity, transparency, and more order than is being led from above. I can even own up to my own crazymaking that can come when I get afraid, sad, or angry.
One of the authors I’ve appreciated in this pandemic time is Perdita Finn, Way of the Rose. She observed aloud recently a revelation she received, confirmed amidst similar revelations received by others. It will all have to fall apart before whatever is New will be born. This is the way of the Earth. This is the way of holy becoming--birth, life, death, rebirth (repeat). My question is a practical fraction in that direction...what does this mean, all will fall part?
Will the American experiment with democracy, held to evolve over these 200+ years, need to come apart at the seams because its foundations with chattel slavery and damning inheritances of overwhelming-individualism, increasing refusal of any social safety nets (for sake of my economy, my money, my possessions--which I say from a place of more privilege than most, I know), and white supremacy’s graspings (supremacy which was not refused last night by a standing president of the USA, btw)? Will it all fall apart with a presidency of another sort, in his own unwillingness or inability to bully the bulliest we have voted into office? To lead and potentially govern in a messy coalition of voices (considered therefore weak and ineffective) instead of the traditional ‘strong man’ patriarchal pattern of old (which dies hard in all of us, men and women, so shaped in it as we have been)? Will it take longer to die as "leading" comes to mean joining in the bullying enough to keep the new norm of violence (conceptual and increasingly physical) more and more plausible as the way of our faltering democracy mired in gridlock and brutal politics? Who can break the cycle of violence, which may simply not ever really be broken in this country in the world with the most guns and the least socially-shared-commitments to one another? How do we build social-commitment to one another again while the seeds of hatred and enemy-making are sown 24/7 in a weary, fearful public?
I really feel the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ for the candidates here… One the one hand, how does one exactly debate a bully, interruptor, and disingenue uninitiated or unwilling to honor the practices of formal debate? Whose very presence in power has been to denigrate traditional politics and historical institutions, because so many of us have voted for the institutions to fail? The fact that one of the candidates has overcome an early-life-stammer, has contributed to public life as long and with such respect as he has, and then stood through the barrage of that 90 minutes takes my own breath away. Public service is NOT a healthy-or-wholeness oriented field of contribution!
And on the other hand, how does one ever enter into deeper human becoming so needed today when there was never anyone in your life who shaped that humanity in you? That ever loved you for you, outside of the bondage of money, power, and fame? How would you ever know the human experience of ‘an other’ if no one ever truly, lovingly, initiated you into the abundances and easements of human intimacy, family belonging, civic responsibility? Put into a position of leadership, how could you know about compassion, love, intimacy, forgiveness...for yourself or for others?
Not to state it too bluntly, but I see these two white men, in their late 70’s, wearing the archetypal Red Shoes that crazymake, that determine the unending uncontrollable dance that has damned (white) men for centuries into utter isolation, intense loneliness, and (un)spoken aggressions, physical violence as resolution. If we watch--which is a plausible “if”--we must watch an ending of what many of us have called civilization, which is really not as civilized as many of us have assumed it must be. If we participate--which is the more pressing question here, really--then more of us need to find new ways to ground our feet, put our feet in different dancing shoes, put our heart and souls into staying connected with our local loves, friendships, lives. We cannot alter what will unfold here individually, though we can and must come together learning to love our friends, our local communities, with a heart for the world as a whole.
Love your enemies, Jesus said. If we get to needing that maxim here, then we do. For now, I will choose the more direct and immediate path, which is to love my friends and venture into life in cross-political, cross-religious communities while I do. I will not put on their Red Shoes, nor land in them when invited by others around me.