A BREAK…

I’m on a break from blogging at this site – I ought to have posted this at the beginning of September 2016.

I’ll either return to the this space or re-direct readers to another blog site. Not yet sure of the timetable.

Thank you for stopping by here. I look forward to writing for you again, in the near future.

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Stepping into the Question: How do we become our most powerful selves?

Toward the Next Jewish Rebellion. – An article posing this question.

Extract from this article: As April Rosenblum writes in her groundbreaking pamphlet: “Attacks come in waves; but each time things calm down and Jews are able to blend in or succeed in society again, it gives the appearance that antisemitism is ‘over.’ In some of the most famous examples of anti-Jewish expulsion and mass murder (i.e., medieval Spain or modern Germany), just prior to the attacks, Jews appeared to be one of society’s most successful, comfortable, well-integrated minorities.

……

Two days ago, a friend brought to my attention the heated exchanges taking place around the Black Live Matter Platform – specifically a policy position on Palestine-Israel. I don’t feel it is for me to try and capture the discussion here or to tell this friend’s story. As a result of hearing their story, I will say, I went online and started reading the exchanges between Black BLM folks and Jewish BLM folks – some of whom were saying they had to step back from BLM because of the reference to Palestine-Israel (again, not for me to try and articulate their perspectives) in the platform, some of whom were critical of those who are stepping back.

In one of those articles, the author referred to the success of Jewish people in the USA (I believe it was specific to the USA) – their wealth and power. When I read that, I sat up in my seat and literally talked to my computer screen: “But, such economic integration was there at the time of the Holocaust – in fact, it fact didn’t it play a role in the narratives spun by Hitler which coaxed (if that is the word) people into playing their role in acts of genocide?”

There have been a few times since I’ve arrived in Santa Fe, when I have been with people who have made offhand remarks about Jewish people and – I vaguely recall – money or business. I remember at least once saying something like “I don’t understand how their being Jewish has anything to do with what you are talking about” (I don’t remember the specifics). I remember thinking – “Whoa. Is this anti-semitism?” I repeat: this has happened a few times. Like it is socially acceptable to make wise-cracks about Jewish people…cracks that are meant light heartedly and are rooted in stereotypes which might seem harmless in the whole scheme of things – but to me such comments are on a spectrum which has violence at one end of it.

The purpose of this post isn’t to present a position of any kind on the deliberations-exchanges going on around the BLM policy platform. As an activist, and a recovering social policy professional, I think the Movement ought to have stayed away from articulating specific policy demands – just as I thought Occupy London should have stayed away from it…but that’s fodder for another post and – frankly – my take on a tactical choice made by BLM doesn’t matter.

My point is: I invite you to read the article at the top of this page – which (and I’m making an uneducated assumption here), if you are not Jewish, you might normally not stumble across, let alone read. I invite you to read it to take in a perspective on what we – whoever we are – collectively are grappling with, summed up I think with this extract from the article:

“And this is where the lesson transcends the question of Jewishness and anti-Semitism and goes hand in hand with the most essential questions the movement must ask itself today: What do we — each and every one of us — have to do to become our most powerful selves? We had better have a good answer, because becoming our most powerful selves is the only chance we have at winning the world we all deserve.”

Though I don’t think we ‘win’ anything – we collectively create the world. We are, as we always have been, in a dance of collective creativity. Of course, yes, at times the dance feels like a never ending series of battles and an all out war…

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#Blacklivesmatter – a collective affirmation?

The USA is pretty well known for its people having passion for the self-help and self-improvement industry. In a way, this isn’t surprising – we are country plagued by depression and anxiety. People are grasping for ways to feel better about being alive, to feel better in their lives, to feel better about who they are.

I’m not surprised – we are a country riddled with fear and loathing. People fearing and loathing other people. People fearing and loathing their lives and their selves. People grasping the tools of self-improvement/development/help because they are believing: I am not worthy. My life is worthless. I’m ugly. I’m scary. I’m undeserving of love.

In this realm, a widely recommended tool is the use of affirmations. Affirmations can take the form of positive self-talk: I am beautiful or I am worthy, for example. Affirmations are statements to affirm. To affirm means to assert as a fact, to state strongly and publicly.

Some people might think it odd or feel uncomfortable with the idea of affirmations. I don’t think, however, when people work with such affirmations, other people find offense.

Nor, at least in my experience, are people compelled to challenge other people’s affirmations. Someone you care about says to you “You know what – My life matters.” This someone has experienced a lifetime of abuse in different forms. Would you say “Yes, of course, all life matters”? I don’t think most people would, though admittedly some might. I imagine you might be inclined to instead shout it from the roof tops with that person. “Yes! Your life matters!!” You might even be thinking – this is a really important step to this person ending cycles of abuse.

Presumably – if you were standing in full awareness of what this person has been experiencing – you wouldn’t say “What are you saying that for?”  or “Stop saying that!”

If in reading this, you are distracted by my making generalizations, I can put it another way. I’ve been riddled by fear and loathing in my life. I’ve turned to affirmations to help me step into a loving rather than hateful and fearful relationship with my self,  with life and with others. If you heard me working with my affirmations, would you get angry with me? Would you tell me to stop?

I’ve started seeing #Blacklivesmatter as – at one level – a collective affirmation. I understand it as a form of collective positive self-talk. A collective challenge to the fear and loathing which is inside violence and abuse directed at Black people in the USA. Violence woven into our culture through the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Violence rooted in a set of beliefs: Black people are not worthy of respect, love, kindness, dignity. Black people’s lives are worth less than White lives. Black people are Ugly. Black people are scary.

We’ve had (and still have) Black is Beautiful as a collective affirmation. Now we have #Blacklivesmatter. And it isn’t simply positive self talk done publicly. #Blacklivesmatter is a fact and a belief being stated strongly. And it is a fact-belief being stated to draw attention to the countervailing fact-beliefs (per previous paragraph) which perpetuate violence and abuse against Black people because they are Black.

I am wondering why is the use of affirmations in one context lauded, but in another is causing a big kerfuffle? Perhaps it is because when it comes to #Blacklivesmatter, we are all implicated. We are all being asked to look in the mirror and review our own beliefs and actions – conscious and unconscious. We are being invited to ask ourselves: In what ways are we/am I complicit in perpetuating a set of dehumanizing, oppressive and diminishing beliefs – which at their best give rise to what we now call micro-aggressions and at their worst kill?

A collective affirmation is being shouted from the rooftops and through the airwaves: #Blacklivesmatter. I hear it. I inhale deeply. I exhale deeply. I exclaim: “Yes, they do.”

[As part of my commitment to supporting this collective affirmation, I’ve taken the pledge to stand with The Movement for Black Lives – a link brought to me by the US Department of Arts and Culture.]

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The Vagina Monologues of Climate Change

I haven’t posted since January. I spent February and March in the north Chicago suburbs helping my mom through shoulder replacement surgery. While I was there, my dad – very unexpectedly – ended up in hospital. I put blog posting on hold at that time, and I look forward to returning to it in the coming week. In the meantime, I’ve just published an article in Open Democracy about a wonderful and inspiring artivist project- COAL: the vagina monologues of climate change. 

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I am your crazy

Last Saturday night, I went to a performance of monologues at Teatro Paraguas in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In “Bodies of art: women of ink tell their stories,” five women shared stories about their relationship to tattoos. I’m here now writing about Charlotte Jusinski’s story about a the tattoo on her left shoulder of a semicolon followed by the word rest – ;rest.

After the performance in this intimate black box theater, I went onto the stage and gave Charlotte a hug. “We don’t know each other, but I’ve had a lifetime dance with anxiety and I value that you spoke about your experience with it. Thank you.”

A half an hour later, I was on my way out of the theater and stopped to listen to Charlotte talking with a few people. She explained that she is nervous about the performances appearing on YouTube. “My colleagues from the job, they didn’t know why I was off work for so long – just that I was ill. They didn’t know I was crazy.”

Charlotte had an extended period off work because some days getting out of bed was a huge feat, because she had episodes where she had been driving and her arms went numb, because she had reached a point where she no longer had capacity for work.  The doctors ran test after test and all came up clear. The final diagnosis, as it were, was stress and anxiety.

A nervous system gone crazy.

Her tattoo represents her response to this craziness. The semi-colon is an instruction in life as it is in a sentence: pause. ‘Rest’ is the command they use at the dog-training center where she worked – particularly for a breed of dogs (I think it is german shepherds) who get very hyped up when being confined. The hand does a gentle up-down gesture, while the person commands ‘Rest. Rest. Rest.’ until the creature settles.

Charlotte explained that she would like to say she’s “all better now” – only she isn’t. She continues to grapple with the over-charged nervous system or what we tend to call ‘anxiety’ and daily life can be challenging. She is taking, by the sounds of it, one step at a time and finding her way. As and when needed, she commands herself: “Rest. Rest. Rest.”

;Rest.

When I overheard Charlotte express her concern about putting the monologues on YouTube, I inserted myself into the conversation.

“This thing we are calling craziness, many people struggle with and there is a stigma around it. Going public, speaking out, sharing our stories is brave, courageous and needed. There’s that point. And, well, what is crazy? Who is crazy? So many people leading lives that numb them, cut themselves off from the world around them, exhaust them.”

And then Charlotte inserted something to the effect of, “Yeh. Who are the crazy ones? They’re crazy, too. We’re all crazy.”

Yes, I do believe a lot of people in the United States are living with nervous systems gone out of control, bodies exhausted, spirits diminished.

Well done, Charlotte. For getting up and speaking our truth, for speaking our crazy.

 

 

 

 

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Spilling tea, laughing, and remembering who I am

Every morning, I get up from bed, turn on the kettle, brush my teeth, make a cup of tea and sit down – in bed, admittedly – with a notebook and pen. I do a writing meditation while I’m drinking this first cup of tea for the day.

The other day,  I spilled tea on a silk bedspread given to me by a friend. I spilled it the first time because in my left hand, I held a cup of tea – a small cup not a mug – and in my right hand I shook the oat milk carton. As the right hand shook the milk, the other shook the teacup and out came the tea.

After doing it once, I did it again! It was as if I completely had forgotten what caused the first spillage. And then somehow, without shaking any containers, I had a third spill. Thankfully, each time it cleaned up easily. No stains – or perhaps very slight stains that thankfully blend in with the colors of the fabric.

Why am I blogging about this? Because in the past, repeat mishaps – particularly spills – would have left me very angry with myself. I would have beat myself up at the time it happened and then perhaps throughout the day. Instead, I laughed at each spill.

At the same time, I was and I am not all that keen to repeat the same mistakes over and over again – especially ones that have more significance than tea on a bedspread. Yet, they do happen. I have and will repeat actions which I’d rather not repeat – until I give them enough awareness and consideration to embody whatever lesson is at hand to be learned.

And one of my most persistent repeats much of my life has been to be very hard on myself. Of course, discipline and boundaries are required and important; firmness is an essential element of love.  Directing blame, judgement and belittling thoughts at my self is not.

In the mornings, I now make a point of putting the cup down before I do any milk shaking. A simple correction that prevents more tea spillage. This is discipline. Cleaning up the spills right away was discipline. Laughing at the incident was discipline – in the sense that rather than berating myself, I chose to laugh tenderly and compassionately.

In a world with so much violence, mayhem and mistakes which can be deadly, spilling tea on a bedspread might seem irrelevant. In many ways it is. What’s more, it  draws attention to the fact that I have a kind of cushioned life where I can freely choose to spend my first waking minutes drinking tea and writing. Where I take for granted access to clean drinking water and electricity to boil it. Where…well, I could go on, but I won’t.

I am writing about those tea spilling moments that morning because they were a revelation for me.

I spilled tea and I laughed. I cleaned up spilled tea and I laughed. I found joy owning a bedspread which has silk threads that seem to provide a good camouflage for spilled black West Yorkshire tea. I sensed at the time that my relationship to the spilled tea reflected a shift in my relationship to life.

I’ve at last begun to let go of feeling shame and guilt for being a creature who stumbles, falls, trips, mis-steps and lands on my butt or my head or my side and then knocks into something or someone. To be this creature is to periodically give rise to such calamity – in small and large ways. To be this creature is to be human.

To evolve as this creature is to pay attention and to endeavor to take thoughtful action where and when possible in order to avoid repeating the same errors.  Of course, with some of the bigger stumbles and falls, there will be tears and anger and frustration – and serious consequences. All the same, I sense right now that to evolve is to keep loving – by being aware, taking different paths of action, by practicing forgiveness, by laughing a lot.  999968_10153244775596828_3471275144831160781_n.jpg

 

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What does it mean to choose love?

“Love, community, and connection are the only things powerful enough to overcome fear and terror. In the face of fear I choose love.”

This quote is extracted from the article “Love versus Fear” recently published in OpenDemocracy-Transformation. Yesterday, I laughed when the Transformation email popped into my inbox and this was the first article listed. That morning, I had been writing to a dear friend about how I’m no longer going to frame my personal story as about being a woman who has had a lifetime struggle with anxiety and depression. Instead, I see my life to date as a heartbreaking dance with fear and love.

Once upon a time, I found solace in the clinical labels of depression and anxiety – “Oh, that’s what I’ve been doing, why I have suffered so much in a life that in many ways ought to have been a life of ease, grace and joy.” Now, I find them constraining. At the root of anxiety is fear and at the root of depression is loathing or what Freud deemed “anger turned inwards.” I’ve been moving about in the world afraid of life and being angry with myself, sometimes to the point of being hateful. [As an aside,  I’m not exaggerating when I write hateful. I am aware it is the kind of statement that can shock people. I am also aware that many people grapple with self hate or self loathing and it isn’t something we talk about out loud very often. I think it would do us some good to be more honest about the prevalence of this in the USA.]

The result has been a great deal of suffering – I became a kind of mini-terrorist in my own life. Most of my aggression was directed inwards, though it of course impacted on people around me and sometimes was externally targeted. I never went to the extreme of physical violence, let alone murderous violence. Yet, I believe my behaviors have sat somewhere along the same spectrum which at one end has the extremes.

The author of the OpenDemocracy article is pointing towards a collective choosing of love to respond to the fear-inducing and perhaps fear-based actions around us – to shootings, to bombings, to terrorism. I wholeheartedly agree with this perspective. A critical question for us as humans beings is “How do we respond to fear with love –  both our own fears and fear in the hearts of others?”

And I speculate that the vast majority of us – at least in the United States, where I grew up – know what it is to react to the feeling of fear with hate, blame, judgement and aggression. I know I have done this repeatedly  in how I relate to my self and how I relate to others and to life. Where there is fear, I often have found there is also loathing or hate.

I am increasingly hearing that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. Thus, an article titled “Love versus Fear.” I’m not so sure it is that clear cut. I’d like to see us – collectively – engaging with the anger, rage, loathing and hate that is woven into our dances with love and fear. I, too, aspire to choose love in the face of fear. For me, this entails holding the fear, the rage, the pain in a container of love. Eventually love will triumph and the fear, anger, rage, pain will dissipate.  Yet, for a spell we find ourselves standing in all of it trying to figure out what a loving response to being in the muck and the mire looks like in practice.

And life is like this. Over and over again, we are faced with feeling the fear (and anger, rage, pain) in ourselves and bearing witness to it in others. Over and over again, we must call on our capacity to be loving in the face of the seemingly unbearable and unacceptable.

Thing is, as a human being who has been in a heartbreaking dance with fear and love for decades (I’m 45), I will readily attest to how challenging it can be to choose love. Right now I feel more able to do so than I ever have been. Particularly in the past year, I’ve come a long way on this front. The journey to get here, though – to a meaningfully expanded capacity to choose love in any given moment – has been long and hard and continues to require much vigilance and discipline on my part.

Julie Quiroz’s (author of  Love versus Fear) wrote: “Does this mean we are nice but weak? No. It means we are smart enough to understand that our collective existence on this planet depends on our mutuality and the humanity of each and every one of us. It means we are courageous and bold enough to lead and love even those who aren’t yet seeking our love and leadership.”

I’m not sure, to be honest, about the last line – something feels patronizing about it – ‘love even those who aren’t yet seeking our love and leadership.” Who are we to know who requires our leadership? And why should anyone seek our love? This bit of semantics notwithstanding, I embrace what I understand to be the underlying intention of Quiroz’s words.  I take away  a call out for us to be bold enough to practice the art of love because life itself depends on it.

It also requires compassion, which is not the same as being nice.  As the women of Bioneers’ Cultivating Women’s Leadership advise, we need not be nice, but we can aspire to be kind.

And I add, at the risk of repeating myself, that this practice is a tough one. Choosing love takes strength – strength of conviction and often a firm hand. The practice requires discipline to not confuse being kind with being nice and to make choices which – in following the path of love – can seem unfamiliar, give rise to much criticism and feel outright uncomfortable.

Until the other day, I would say to people that in the USA we generally aren’t well equipped for this practice. However, I was rightly corrected by New Mexico- based filmmaker Miguel Grunstein who said to me “We are equipped. The challenge is that we don’t know how to work very well with the equipment.”

Indeed.

The vast majority of human beings are wired to love – to be loving in our relationships.  Many of us, however, are not well-versed in what this means in practice, including in our relationships with our selves. In this way, the calls for courage, boldness and strength are in my mind tied to acknowledging the ways in which we have forgotten how to work with our intrinsic capacity to love. And to acknowledging that it is a tall order to root community and connection in love (noting that community and connection are not themselves inherently positive  – think Jim Jones/Jonestown).

Thing is, we have the capacity to meet this tall order. What we need is commitment to the daily practice of working with our inbuilt equipment. Though we might like to think love is effortless, we get to the effortless through a lot of hard work (the details of which are the content for a future post). For now, I’ll end this with saying that to me [r]evolution is a daily practice of rooting our creativity, power and imagination in love.

Though it isn’t easy, we CAN do it.

 

 

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