In Times of Battle

Things are pretty much a catastrophe here in the U.S.

mcallen-detention-center-05.nocrop.w710.h2147483647I can’t even really think about it for extended periods much less write about it without all of my circuits overloading.

So many people are hurting.

So many people are frightened.

So many people are angry.

And we all want something to do. And none of us are sure what that is. And many of us fear none of it will work.

Our system seems to be broken – and I think folks from either side of the aisle would agree at least on THAT part.

I seek comfort by telling myself that when things get broken something new and better emerges.

I engage my responsibilities as a citizen by taking part in the actions that I think make my opinion known and that might actually help.

I use my gifts as a coach and healer to, hopefully, spur change on every level and cushion the hurt of that shift.

And yet it is still not enough.

Because change will not happen any faster than it happens.

And people will be hurt.

This is not a shoulder shrug or an oh well or a suggestion that we not fight with every ounce of love, power, conviction, and passion in our beings for the rights of the vulnerable. Please don’t hear that.

It is just an acknowledgement of the brokenness and the probable duration of the evolution taking place.

We are in for a long one friends.

And it is not just those of us in the states.

Similar trends are emerging elsewhere, a signal to me that there is much work to do and that it will last.

And so I say to you, you beacon of hope, you divinely infused human: please take care of yourself.

As you make your calls and write your letters and share your events, keep breathing.

As you send your prayers and call on the energy of love and compassion, feed yourself real and nutritious food.

adorable-baby-born-2133As you read the news and inform yourself as best you can, find some moments of silence where you are fed by the quiet.

As you wait for the latest bombshell to drop, go to bed and rest the body that is carrying all of this with you.

The battle outside is raging.

We need you.

For you to fight, you must take care of yourself.

In love,

julia

Face Value as a Starting Point

I had to block someone on Facebook yesterday. It is the second or third time I have had to do that – maybe that’s a lot. I don’t know.

Here’s what happened. I posted something admittedly provocative, about something I feel very strongly about, gun violence in schools. What I posted offered no policy prescriptions, it was simply a photo that demonstrated the severity of the problem in a stark and moving way. Within 5 minutes someone who was in my friend circle (I think because of a tenuous music booking connection from a few years ago) but from whom I had never heard before (despite plenty of other provocative posts) decided that I was calling for a repeal of the second amendment and to throw a bunch of memes at me by way of arguing.

In retrospect, I feel a little sorry for him. He – let’s call him Phil for the sake of reducing ambiguous pronouns – clearly did not know what he was getting into.  That was my face value response. The other part of my face value response was that this was a conversation that would not go anywhere. I was familiar with the predicted path of Phil’s argument and had no patience or sympathy for the viewpoint I assumed he had. I also suspected, based on some experience, that his interest in my point of view would be limited and would likely include some version of “libtard.” That was my face value assessment, plus a load of assumption and some knee-jerk reacting.

Being clear minded about all of that – self-aware about my judgments and my knee jerkiness on this subject in particular, I decided to try to engage. But I determined to try very hard not to beat him up. I determined not to paste the wall with graphs. I determined to ask questions. I proceeded to explain that if he was up for a policy discussion, I was in. If he wanted to meme toss, I was not interested. And so it began.

attractive-beautiful-beauty-1024403Phil staked out a few positions, avoiding actually saying “libtard,” but only just. And I felt the thrill of the self-righteous as I demanded respectful interchange and grilled Phil about policy positions. I pointed out the errors in his logic (with glee that I attempted, but likely failed, to hide). I brought him back to what I viewed as the central question as he attempted to shift the context of the discussion. I gave counter-factual for the facts he presented. I was pretty logically disciplined.

A very dear old friend jumped in and I felt bolstered by having an actual attorney arguing with me, until my wonderful attorney friend raised the point that I so wish I’d focused on all along. My friend got right to the heart of the matter and said he was sorry that Phil was so afraid – and he said it in a way that made it clear that he meant it sincerely – no sarcasm, no ill-will, just wow – I’m so sorry you are hurting.

And that is where my face-value assessment fell short. Because I had been right about ALL of my predictions and all of my assumptions. I had been right about exactly how this would go. What I failed to see was that my response to Phil was as much a part of that equation as his idiotic arguments (yep, still feel that way). What I failed to see in all of my super self-righteous generosity about engaging in this conversation even though it would go nowhere is that I did very little to try to chart a different course. I was careful not to insult him. That was my concession.

What I failed to do was choose love. What I failed to do was expand on a more loving perspective even when it was presented to me. When my dear old (he’ll really love that I’ve called him old twice now) friend demonstrated sympathy, rather than pausing and breathing and checking my course, I just let my circuits get a little fried, judged myself for not being that nice and proceeded with my policy discussion.

Just as Phil wasn’t interested in hearing my demands for government action, I wasn’t interested in understanding his heart. I wasn’t interested in leading with love. I  wasn’t interested in asking the one question I now wish I’d asked instead of peppering him with specific policy questions (a shitty but easy thing for someone who’s had a lot grad school to do). I just wish I’d said: “Yeah Phil, you do sound really scared. Why are you so scared? What makes you scared?” Not in a you don’t have any right to be scared way, but in a I know it sucks to be scared and I am willing to listen to your fear kind of way. I am willing to love you in your scaredness (autocorrect really wanted that word to be sacredness, which I find both charming and ironic – the lesson continues) even though I disagree with you wildly on something that is connected to my deepest and truest fear. I alluded to my fears, but it was in all caps to convince rather than to share, to connect, to love. Phil continued arguing after both of his opponents had declared their intent to leave the field. “We’re not getting anywhere and it’s late.” He kept going and got more heated and a little more personal, both in his interpretation and his assertions. That’s the end for me, but looking back I can see how that happened. I’m not saying it’s all my fault, but I can imagine how it must have felt.

And now it feels like the opportunity to do better has passed, although that’s rarely ever completely true. I have admittedly blocked Phil and am unsure (to be perfectly honest) that I would like to change that as I was exhausted by this whole thing (and my ego still wants that to be about him). But I want to pause and realize that my problem from the get go wasn’t that I took him at face value and responded, but that I stayed right there. I didn’t allow my assessment and understanding to change even when it became clear that face value was not enough, not this time.

art-beach-beautiful-269583Face value is a great starting tool, especially when the other party is not revealing more; it can keep us from delving into other people’s personal thoughts and obsessing about our own choices, but face value has its limits. Love demands awareness when it’s time to make adjustments. Love demands not just listening but hearing. To quote a favorite songwriter: “Love reaches out,” not with facts and an agenda, but with curiosity and openness.

I can’t undo the exchange I had, and even now there are parts of it that I feel pretty good about; but today I will try again, with more open ears to reach my ever more open heart.

Our National Wound

back-bus-education-159658There has been yet another school shooting here in the United States. As the facts emerged, I moved quickly from a moment of shock and horror to anger. Not anger at the shooter. Not anger at the institutions that are failing to address this scourge. My anger was directed at the news outlet that I rely on the most because it didn’t spend much time on it. The coverage of the situation was wrapped up in the quick hourly update. They didn’t want to interrupt their regular programming, which was focused on the Royal Wedding. I was livid.

And I spouted off – on Facebook, there was no letter-writing involved, but I spouted off nonetheless. And in spouting off I garnered some response from friends that brought me to the heart of my suffering. I ran to anger because it is easier, but I skipped some essential steps.

children-cute-drawing-159823Every time this happens, and yes, there have been enough of these incidents that I can comfortably make generalizations about my own behavior, I have to raise the question of whether or not I should be homeschooling my children. I ask myself if this is the only way to keep them safe. I ask myself what that would look like and whether it might address some other lesser concerns I have about their educational experiences. I ask myself if I could actually take that task on without losing my mind. And THEN I ask myself if it is fair for me to remove my children, if that isn’t a demonstration of the depth of my privilege. It gets messy really fast and it’s all confusion and anger, bile and swirl. They are all real questions; they are all real issues, but it feels like any other spin. And there’s a good reason for that.

It feels like spin because what I’m doing is avoiding how I feel every time this happens. My mind immediately goes to how not to feel that way any more. I don’t want to be afraid – not for my kids, not for anyone else’s kids, or for my country. And I am. I am afraid for all of us. I don’t want to feel the grief course through my body as I hear about the children who have lost their lives to our ineffectiveness. I don’t want to see my former students in those faces or imagine the lives that could have been and imagine the pain their families must be enduring. I don’t want to do any of that.

beach-boys-children-939702And yet when I skip past it, everything else becomes an impasse. All questions lead to “I don’t know” and “I don’t know what to do.” The spreadsheets alone won’t get me anywhere, even if it’s just that I need to realize there is nowhere to go.  The thinking about it won’t inspire good decisions or action or the kind of robust citizenship that is required in times like these. The thinking about it won’t sustain my resolve or make clear which path is the right one. The thinking about it won’t fuel me and propel me to use the gifts that I have to help shift this world. All of that – the resolve, the fuel, and the clarity and action – starts with the kind of honesty that comes with letting the wave of feeling happen.

I have no shame about running to anger first. There is plenty to be angry about, and feeling how I feel won’t stop that. What it will do is to allow my heart what it needs to find that path, take the next step, and to release a small piece of the grief we endure on a weekly basis. And so, I am allowing it. And I thank you for you holding this sacred space with me, as you surely are by having read this far.

I wonder what would happen if we all allowed that feeling. If we all stayed with the moment of the loss for longer than it takes to create a policy statement, if we all decided to allow the sorrow to touch us before we squared off. I wonder if we might find it easier to make progress if we were just honest with ourselves and allowed the national wound that this is to penetrate our individual and collective consciousness.

children-girls-kids-50581In all of it I find it important to remember that I can be in sorrow and still be strong. I can be sad and still be motivated to act. I can grieve for our losses and our larger community and still demand better on every level. I can honor my heart and still work toward the kind of transformation our children deserve, and perhaps this is the only way forward.

So be it.

Don’t think. Look.

“Don’t think, but look.”

A quote by Ludwig Wittegenstein, my Dad’s favorite philosopher. I recognize that not everyone’s Dad has a favorite philosopher, but mine did. Dad was a philosophy student as an undergrad at Dartmouth, despite the ribbing he got from the electricians he worked with over the summers who asked if he was going to open a philosophy store. My father went on to Yale seminary where he got to study more philosophy before he left in favor of employment that would better provide for his growing family.

bible-old-bible-historically-christianity-159688When I brought my now husband (and current seminarian – yes I see the echoes and prefer not think about it too much) to meet my Dad, they quickly discovered their common undergraduate pursuit and began the “who’s your favorite philosopher” conversation. I quickly went from being nervous about the meeting to being a little annoyed that they were getting along so well and everyone had lost interest in me, because it is all about me after all.

At any rate, the point isn’t that moment, although I appreciate your indulging me in sharing it. It is one of my favorite memories of the two of them. All of this to say that when I hear the name Wittgenstein, my antenna are up. I am listening, which ironically is exactly what I think Wittgenstein would want. I stop thinking about whether or not I have a favorite philosopher, and pay attention.

Not many philosophers start with: “Don’t think,” but this is where Wittgenstein starts.

And having grown up as I did, in a household where rationality was very highly prized, the command to not think makes me uneasy. The irony of my Dad favoring this particular philosopher is startling to me. In times where the world and the people on it seem to need some serious attention, the command to not think feels almost irresponsible, until you consider the rest of the quote.

Look.

It’s not just don’t think. It is LOOK.

I can’t say that I know what Wittgenstein was trying to say because I was NOT a philosophy student, but here’s what I’m picking up from what he was laying down, my life coach spin on the whole idea.

When we think first, we rely on everything we already know, everything we assume, all of the decisions, suppositions, and assumptions we’ve already made. What this does is that it narrows our vision.

Because this is how the brain works friends. Our brains prefer efficiency. There is SO MUCH information available to us. Our brains have had to develop ways to filter all of that information. It’s a lot like the internet, right? I occasionally remind my husband when he is deeply engrossed online in a way that promises to last into the wee hours that he is not going to get to the end of the internet. There is no way to see it all.

Social media sites know that there’s no way to even see everything all of our friends and acquaintances post, so they filter it for us. They develop algorithms (formulas) to filter what we see. These are based on our preferences, the information they have about us. And this is exactly how our brains work.

We think, we have an idea about something. And then our brains, when faced with all of the information in the world, filter that information based on our idea. We don’t SEE everything. We see the things that support what we already believe, what we assume, what we know. It doesn’t matter whether we’re right or not. We see evidence that helps us be sure that we are. This is called confirmation bias. It’s a real thing. Google it if you don’t believe me. When faced with a situation, when we think first (and bring in all of our old thoughts and assumptions), what we see is limited.

girl-sea-binoculars-vacation-160514The suggestion not to think is not a suggestion to stop thinking for all time, but to prevent that filtering from happening and look. Look to see what is in the world. Notice what is happening. See it with fresh eyes and take in the facts. See the situation as others might see it. See the situation the way nobody has seen it yet because everyone is burdened by the ideas they showed up with.

And THEN, after you’ve seen, after you’ve given the situation fresh eyes, THEN you think again. You use that new information. You access new feelings based on what you saw. And then you think about all of that. You make adjustments. You chart a course. You make demands. You act based on what is actually happening rather than a limited view of reality based on your brain’s attempts to make life easier for you.

Don’t think, but look.

Who knows what you will see?