Today is MLK Day. Our world is full of great injustice and suffering, and also great heroism, love and hope.
This is also inauguration week: we don't know what will come, but we do know that we will be called upon to be agents of peace and hope, that our voices will be more important than ever, and that we will need to stand up for what we believe in. We can do this work best if we clear out the pain that so many of us store in our bodies, if we can ground and come into our own stability.
A few days ago I wrote about the power of shifting our energy to joy through our bodies. Today, I want to share with you a piece I published recently in Spirituality and Health magazine about learning through my yoga practice to listen to the pain that was stored in my body, and the ways I unlocked and released that pain to clear my body so I could be more available to meet the present moment.
For much of my life, I felt as if the external toxins of the world were lodged directly into my body. But through bringing my mind and my body together in yoga and writing, I have been able to protect my physical body on a much greater basis from those external toxins.
Sometimes those toxins are chemical. Sometimes they come from direct physical contact. And sometimes, the toxins are emotional/psychological/political.
In this article I talk about the ways in which, listening to my body, I came to know my own story better, and how knowing this story better helped me live with both more ease and more agency in the world. I went through this process largely without a road map, and it's my honor now to help others with by providing more direction than I had.
This is a personal article. I’d love to hear any reactions or questions you might have, and please share it with others who might be interested or who might benefit from it.
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Finally, just a reminder. If you're interested in exploring how your story is stored in your body, please consider working with me. As always, I love to hear from you with questions or comments!
Align Your Story, my online class that brings together writing yoga and mediation begins this week. This is my signature class, and I'm excited to start it with a new group of students. I have a few more spaces. See more here: http://www.nadiacolburn.com/alignyourstory.html
A four week In-person Narrative Healing class I’ll be leading in Cambridge, MA begins January 25th. This is a new opportunity to bring embodied creativity and healing together in a small, in person group community. I’d love to see you there. See more here: http://omnamocenter.com/narrative-healing/
And I’m available for one-on-one work, either in person or over skype. Please reach out for a first exploratory session.
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THE WRONG I NEEDED TO WRITE
(published in Spirituality and Health here: http://www.spiritualityhealth.com/articles/wrong-i-needed-write)
When I think back on the first years of my yoga practice, what comes to mind first is Pigeon Pose. Actually, when I think back on my experience with Pigeon Pose, it’s remarkable that I stuck with yoga. Because in Pigeon Pose I felt as if I was being tortured. No, this is not hyperbolic speech. Each time I went into Pigeon Pose, I’d have images flash through my mind of terrible situations: women piled onto the train to Auschwitz, unable to move; women crossing illegally into the U.S., jammed together in the back of trucks with no air to breathe; women being held down, against their will.
Relax into the pose, the teacher would say, and I’d try to not to come out of the pose. I’d try to stay a little longer.
Most often, when people are in pain in a yoga pose, it’s because they are doing something their body shouldn’t do. But I was pretty sure that I wasn’t overly straining my physical body. In fact, even though I hold tension in my hips, I’m also pretty flexible in my hips and always have been. My Pigeon Pose looked pretty good from the outside. But inside, it sent me into turmoil—and that made me curious.
So I kept coming back to yoga classes, and my body became more flexible, and I became more able to focus my mind on the movements themselves—at least until we got to Pigeon Pose. And still I found I couldn’t stay with my body. The more I focused on what my body was feeling, the more I felt a kind of panic. So instead, I moved between the images in my head and some larger space, up above them, some distanced perspective from which I could come in and out of the scene.
In retrospect, it is no surprise that Pigeon Pose, which is a hip opener, triggered me. We often store our physical experiences directly in the body—and mine was childhood sexual abuse. Even when the conscious mind cannot remember, the body holds onto its own lived experiences in its cells. Yoga helped me practice coming in and out of this memory—even if I couldn’t put it into words. It taught me, if in a coded way, pieces of my own story that I had not, for a long time, been able to access.
We need to listen—and, at the same time, we need to have frameworks and stories to process what our bodies tell us. We need to be attentive and come out of the conscious mind. And then we need to make connections between the unconscious mind and the conscious mind and knit our experiences back together.
My yoga classes set the stage for me to listen to my body, but classes didn’t really prepare me or give me a real context or tools to understand the kind of triggers that might come up—or the ways really to listen to the stories as they were unfolding through my practice. Over time, I worked with many modalities. I started to practice Kundalini yoga and then, once my body was more comfortable and had cleared out a lot of the stuck energy, turned to sitting meditation and the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. What I discovered is that I needed attention both to my body and to language; I needed both movement and stillness; I needed, ultimately, mind, body, and spirit all to come together….
At first I was writing poetry. And then I started also to write prose. No doubt, part of my turn to prose was a growing desire to knit things together, to tell a coherent story. Like Hansel and Gretel, I was able to follow the moonlit pebbles that lead back to my own early experiences and that ultimately lead me back to myself.
And when I did this, I received a great gift: I was able truly to come home.
This does not mean that home is always a warm and easy place. It’s not as if, at the end of the practice, we can turn on the lights and all the witches will be revealed as simply a bad dream, a figment of our childhood imaginations. People were brought in cattle cars to Auschwitz, and illegal immigrants continue to face unbearable situations in their search for a better and freer way of life. And women and children and men continue to be sexually assaulted and abused.
The fruit of our yoga practice and our spiritual practice is not that we can simply relax in our comfortable, safe yoga studios and drop the outside world and simply enjoy the present moment. The fruit of our practice is that we can come to better see the world as it is; that we can find peace and equanimity even amid injustice and pain; that we can discover our stories and accept them; that we can experience joy and happiness and relaxation and not turn away from our own suffering or the suffering of others.
Happy 2017! May the year be full of good surprises!
In numerology (which I don’t usually pay much attention to, but this speaks to me), 2017 is a year of 10, or new beginning, and I’m feeling that.
I wrote a whole blog post about how important it is in this time of transition, when we’re moving into a very uncertain future with dangerous leaders coming into Washington, to step up into our stories and why I think that is a form of activism, and then at the end of the post I listed my upcoming workshops and classes.
But I realized I wasn’t really owning my own message; what I was really doing in that first post was trying to explain why I think the work that I’m doing is important and why I’m excited about it, but I wasn’t being up front about it. So let me try to say it straight out:
I love and believe in the work I’m doing helping people own their own stories and creativity. I keep telling people that the work I do, and the work I’m encouraging them to do is an act of love and also a form of activism.
But I’m coming to think that might be redundant because increasingly I see love itself as the greatest form of activism. By love I mean true love that allows us to honor the integrity of all life, starting with our own, which can sometimes be the hardest to really embrace in its integrity.
Time and again, I see that when people are able to embrace their whole stories, their whole selves, with all the good and the bad and the ugly, the ups and the downs, the vulnerability and the strengths, they have more love for themselves and more love to go around.
And the work that people need to do to embrace their whole stories is both relatively simple and strangely difficult to find in our world. Because in order to embrace our whole stories, we need to embrace our whole selves: we need to bring together our mind and our body; we need to make space for spirit; we need to connect the head and the heart. This is essential work, but in our largely fragmented world, it’s not always easy to find.
A year ago, I created an online course, Align Your Story, to do this integrative work. I brought together my “head” work as a writer and scholar with my heart and with my body. I brought together writing, yoga and meditation, three practices that have been deeply important to me, but that, for years, felt fragmented.
I poured decades of my studies and experience into the course: the literature that I love, teachings from Thich Nhat Hanh and Christianne Northrup, meditation and yoga teachings I recorded on video and audio.
I’ve run the course three times now and am running it again starting in mid-January.
Each time I offer the course it’s an act of faith: who will find out about it? Will anyone sign up? And each time I offer the course, I’m so pleasantly delighted by the amazing people who sign up, by their openness, wisdom, insights. And by the growth that I see them doing in and through Align Your Story.
The course is open to professional writers and yoga teachers and also people who have no experience with writing or yoga. It helps you get through blocks and write the work you want to write. It helps you set up home writing, yoga and meditation practices, and it meets you where you are so that you can step into your bigger voice and into your own next chapter.
I’d love it if you join me for our next session. And if you have friends who might be interested, please pass the information on to them.
I’ve recently redesigned the course page and I'm excited to share it with you here: http://www.nadiacolburn.com/alignyourstory.html
We will start the week of the inauguration. The course can help you find strength for the long term and will connect you with an amazing community of other people also committed to their growth, wholeness and voice.
This is what one student had to say about it:
From day one, Align Your Story is a thoughtful, engaging and inspiring series of modules that takes the writer on a deeply spiritual, soul-filling journey that has the potential to shift your life dramatically. The yoga and meditation exercises were an unexpected bonus and gave consciousness and clarity to each of the writing practices. I had never before written with so much freedom and personal insight as I did during Nadia’s course. –Karen Biscoe
These next four years are going to call upon us to be our strongest—and that is just on the national front. Who knows what other life journeys we will be confronted with, what twists and turns? To prepare ourselves and to meet the present moment, with whatever we find ourselves in the midst of, we need to get comfortable with ourselves, with our bodies, our spirits, our voices.
We all need to continue to call our representatives, to donate time and money, and to try to address deep structural change, environmental stewardship and to reach out across populations and communities. But nothing is more radical or more revolutionary than really listening to ourselves, really tuning into our bodies, our creativity, our wholeness and our connectedness.
I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy… and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.—Gus Speth
I invite you to join me on a journey to commit to your own voice and alignment in 2017 and to invite your friends to join, too!
If you’re free this Saturday, I’d also love to see you at 1:30 for a live Align Your Story yoga and writing workshop at Om Namo center in Cambridge. We’ll reconnect with ourselves and see if we can shift into some joyful energy together: http://omnamocenter.com/align-your-story/
I have a few spaces left, as well, for my in person writing classes, which meet at my house on Mondays.
And, of course, Align Your Story, the online course, begins again on January 16th, and this time I’m offering both a classic and a premium plan, to give you more personalized guidance and support as you move through the course. See more here: http://www.nadiacolburn.com/alignyourstory.html
Contact me with any questions and I’m happy to answer them.
Hello on this Thursday! Yesterday, Simone stayed home from school because she was still tired from a gymnastics meet she had had late on Sunday night and wanted to catch up on sleep and have a quiet day. We went to the store in the morning and got supplies for a craft project we’re making for Christmas and we baked some almond bread.
Yesterday, also, Trump named Scott Pruitt, a major climate change denier with strong ties to the fossil fuel industry, to head the EPA. Our clean air and water, and a liveable climate that supports life are ever more threatened.
It seems to me that our condition—if we are lucky—is one of contradiction, multiplicity, incongruency. There is much to celebrate, and much to lament and fear; there is much to appreciate, and very much work to be done.
How do we meet these contradictions? How do we meet our fears and embrace and transform them?
This, it seems, to me, is the radical work of our time, a work of creativity, vulnerability, power and, also, of giving.
I'm thinking of Rilke's amazing sonnets to Orpheus that speak to these questions. Here is one:
Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower:
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
(translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows)
Can we, from the darkness, ring out like a bell? Can we, when the drinking is bitter, turn ourselves to wine? Can we, even if we feel no one is listening, say “I am”?
Can our very being be a kind of gift? This, I believe, is one of the most radical questions we can ask, in a world in which there is growing inequality and in which some people are given voice while others are not.
This has been my birthday week, and it is also the start of the “holiday season," a dark time of the year in which we celebrate with lights.
Sometimes, like many of us, I struggle with giving and receiving—acts that bring up old questions of worth and value. But this year, partly as an act of resistance, I’m going to try to be as whole hearted in my giving, receiving and asking as possible. And what I want to give is not more material “stuff,” but instead I want to give what I really value, that is, the “mystery at the crossroads of [the] senses.”
I want to let you know about some of the more formal things I’m going to be offering in the next months (see below), and I also want to ask you all a question and favor:
How can I be of help? If you are reading these messages that I send out, what is most helpful to you? Do you like to hear about writing? Meditation? My reflections on our current political situation? Are there questions that you have for me that I can help answer?
I’d love to hear from you! Please contact me by responding to this email.
I hope to offer some ways of finding light in darkness—external light when that darkness is internal, and internal light when that darkness is external. And of giving voice to that mysterious, important process.
Thank you all for being here!
Some upcoming events:
* FREE real-time call in meditation/writing event on Friday December 16, at 12:30 EST. This will be an hour long session. There will be three fifteen minute sessions of meditation and writing, and then a final fifteen minutes open to conversation. I’ll send out details about how to call into that next week, but mark your calendars. It was a beautiful community event last month.
*My online class, Align Your Story, is starting again January 16th. This class brings together writing, reading, yoga and meditation for a truly integrative experience. It’s an online ten week class, but once you enroll, you own it for life. This session, I’m offering both a regular plan and a premium plan, which has more one-on-one support and feedback. I’m particularly excited about Align Your Story because it’s a place where I offer the full range of my practices and my expertise gained over decades of experience. And I’m offering a discount for friends who sign up together. See more here:http://www.nadiacolburn.com/align-your-story.html
* I’m opening up two ten week in person writing classes starting January 9th in North Cambridge:
Monday mornings, from 10-12 will focus on poetry writing and reading and mindful writing
Monday afternoons, from 12:30-2:30, will focus on reading and writing and poetry, prose and longer pieces.
These are intimate classes that explore both the craft and process of writing, and a wonderful community of writers (I love my Mondays). You can see more here: http://www.nadiacolburn.com/in-person-writing.html
* I’ll be offering a yoga and writing workshop at Om Namo Yoga Studio, in West Cambridge January 7th, from 1:30-4pm. http://omnamocenter.com
* And I’m taking on a few new clients for one-on-one coaching.
I also want to let you know about an upcoming workshop, Get Unstuck and Start Writing Again, offered by a friend and colleague, Jenn Mattson, at Kripalu: https://kripalu.org/presenters-programs/get-unstuck-and-start-writing-again
And if you want a longer retreat with me that brings together meditation, yoga and writing and community, I’m going to be offering a weekend retreat August 18-20th at Copper Beach Institute, CT. It should be a wonderful weekend. http://www.copperbeechinstitute.org
Reach out to me if you have questions about any of these events.
I’m so grateful for you all, and send you all love,
ps: In the spirit of balancing the inner and the outer, the poetic and the practical, may I also suggest something practical to do in the next days: perhaps you can use your voice and take twenty minutes to phone bank for Foster Cambell, whose election date has been pushed to December 10th and who, I hope, can be another Democratic voice in the Senate. http://www.fostercampbell2016.com/volunteer/
In this unsettling time, I want to offer something to my community: how about we come together virtually and meditate and write?
I’m going to be offering a free session in real time next Tuesday from 11:45-12:30 EST.
Starting every fifteen minutes, I’ll read a short poem, lead a short meditation and give you ten minutes to write. This will be a time to feel our collective energy and to give time to ourselves, whatever we are feeling, wherever we are.
I’ll be starting a new poem/meditation every fifteen minutes. Come for part or all of the call.
If there is interest, I’ll offer this again in December, with some time for conversation at the end.
I know that as I’m still trying to take in the results of the election (this may be a long process), there are a few things that I am certain of:
1) the need to be engaged socially and politically for the long term
2) the need to continue to nourish and feed myself and my own internal peace
3) the need to reach out to community and others with love
4) the need to keep on practicing all of the above and with my personal practices
Meditating, listening to poetry and writing in community help me engage on all of these levels.
Here is Toni Morrison on the need for art in times like this: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
And I want to add that as we get to work, we continue to stay centered, connected to our own bodies and souls and capacity for love in the process.
Please feel free to invite friends to the call.
And if you can’t make the call, but are interested in coming to a call another time, please reach out to me and let me know and give me a sense of your schedule so I can try to include you.
How to call in: Dial-in Number:+1 (774) 220-4000
*6 mute yourself or mute your phone
On this difficult morning after the election, I want to reach out and send love.
I know many of us feel fear, grief, anger, disbelief.
I have felt very scared by the prospect of a Trump presidency—the kind of shaking in my bones fear of violence, mob rule, the overthrow of our civil society and the hard won progress we have made for minorities, women, the environment.
At the same time, this morning, I’m also flooded with a kind of love and clarity; the certainty that, to use Auden’s words from his poem September 1, 1939, “we must love one another.”
In the face of violence and hatred, we must show more love to our neighbors, to our families, to ourselves.
Now, when we are shaken, but when we are not necessarily in immediate danger, is the perfect time to practice love: we can remember to come into the now, to breathe, to look at this day that here in Cambridge is another perfect fall day. Find something beautiful and admire it. Appreciate a friend. Appreciate yourself; appreciate your body that can support you in this moment.
To appreciate these things is not spiritual avoidance. Instead it is spiritual nourishment; we are made stronger by connecting with the positive, because, after all, that is what we want to protect.
And we will need this nourishment: one thing that is clear about this election is that there is much work to do: We will need to come together in love and solidarity. We will need to raise our voices for what we believe in. We will need to come out of our own comfort zones and be the change we want to see in the world.
And we will need stamina to do this.
So I hope we can all give ourselves some time today and this week to connect with loved ones, to take breaks from the media and do some things that we love. I hope we can also give ourselves the freedom to feel our fear and anger and sadness and meet those feelings with gentleness. And as we’re doing this, we can commit to becoming more involved in the next weeks and months and years.
I’m going to be holding a pop-up meditation and writing workshop in the next weeks to respond to the election and to look together for what communal actions we can take.
For now, though, I want to send love. Because this is what I feel I need to receive at this moment. And I am sending these reminders that we can practice because I, too, need reminders; we can all send reminders to one another and be our beacons and supports.
This feels like a perfect time to practice metta. Metta is a prayer for protection happiness and ease, and I’ve added a prayer for radiance and expression. Metta starts with offering these conditions for oneself and then to one’s loved ones and gradually extends to the whole world. (Here, again is my metta meditation and accompanying writing prompts: http://www.nadiacolburn.com/welcome-and-meditation.html)
May we all be protected and safe
May we all be contented and pleased.
May all our physical bodies protect us with ease.
May all our lives unfold smoothly with ease.
May we all shine our lights, unobstructed, with ease.
with love and solidarity,
With a week to go before official election day, I've been doing what I can to remain active (I went to New Hampshire again this past weekend) and also trying to step back a bit and see the larger picture of what's happening.
I know many of us feel scared, angered and even overwhelmed by this election season. And very ready for it to be over.
It's really important to take breaks from the news and to do things we love, remembering all the very decent and very normal ways we can interact with one another.
And it's also important to continue to trust in and raise our voices for what we know is right.
So much of the work I do with clients and students, helping them trust and cultivate their voices, is work that I also try to do myself. My own journey has been one of integrating my own voice and vision, becoming clearer, more direct, more willing to put myself out there and more able, as a result (at least I hope), to be of service to others.
I want to share with you an article I wrote recently that ties together the abuse of women and the abuse of our earth. I argue that a mentality of ownership is a dangerous one and it's time that we put it behind us. Trump's run for presidency highlights the ways in which this dangerous mentality works. And while Clinton may (with any luck at all) be our first woman president, it's up to all of us to keep working for the future we want, by raising our voices for a future of respect instead of ownership, a future in which we'll stop building pipelines and keep fossil fuels in the ground.
I'd be honored if you read the article (I've pasted a link in below and also the article below that)
And please share my article and my course information with anyone you think may be interested.
with thanks, love and hope,
Read the original article here
FROM ABUSE TO RESPECT: RASING OUR VOICES THIS ELECTION
I work as a writing coach for women; whether my client is a beginner or a respected published writer, at a certain point she’ll come against a block.“What is this block,” I ask, and inevitably my client follows it back to a voice telling her that her ideas don’t really matter. “Where does that dismissive voice come from?” I ask, and the writer gets a far off look on her face. It comes from so many old sources that she stops writing, overwhelmed.
Trump’s campaign showcases some of these sources and the ways women have been treated for centuries. And it showcases not just a mentality about women, but also a mentality about money, power, our human relationships and our fundamental place on this Earth.
Trump’s campaign slogan, Make American Great Again, clearly looks back to the past. This was a past in which the dominant narrative was one of men, power and money—that is, men with power and money got to have a voice and tell the story. And if that is still sometimes (too often) the case today, there is also a new narrative that has been emerging that questions, resists and re-writes the old narrative and instead gives everyone a voice and gives everyone respect.
Trump is the candidate of the old narrative: we should vote for him because he’s a white man who is “really rich.” He’s built luxury buildings, top end hotels, golf clubs and resorts. It’s a campaign about power. And he makes it clear, too, that he thinks he can do whatever he wants with that power.
We’ve all heard him brag to Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women: “When you’re a star they let you do it….Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” Trump felt entitled to go into the dressing rooms when women were changing because he was the “owner of the pageant.”
Karena Virginia, the 13th woman to come forward accusing Trump of sexual assault put it simply: he treated me, she said, “as if I were an object.”
What Trump is doing in this election is putting on display a dangerous and outdated idea about ownership, and it’s worth paying even more attention to this because it affects not just women, but all of us. Indeed, this idea of ownership might just end our civilization if we don’t come together and do something about it. Simply put, we can no longer afford to treat other people like objects. And we can no longer afford to treat the earth as an object to be owned and endlessly to be extracted for our own enrichment.
Indeed, if Trump showcases the way of the past, climate change more than any other issue showcases what the future demands: that we treat the earth with respect; that we come together and not build walls; and that we collectively combat the urgent crisis of climate change and environmental devastation.
Once again, however, Trump is in the past: he professes not to believe in climate change; he wants more fracking, more coal production. And he wants to appoint a major climate change denier, Myron Ebell, who is in the pay of big oil companies, to head the EPA.
Asked about the environment, Trump said: “We’ll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”But business won’t survive without an ecosystem that supports life. We can’t just leave a little bit of the environment. We’ve already done that. A new study shows that the world is set to lose two-thirds of its wild animals by 2020.
20 years ago in China, Hillary Clinton bravely said, Women’s Rights are Human Rights. I think it’s time for us all now to say that Women’s Rights are Human Rights, and Human Rights are Earth Rights.
So how do we as women find our voices? First we must break down the centuries of ownership and the internalization of that history. That’s not easy, but more and more people are doing it. After my clients get over that far away look, they get a different look: they’re ready to dissolve internal and external walls of disrespect, and have their voices heard and work to approach the world differently.
And when that happens, we unleash an amazing other kind of power: not the power of money but the power of respect and belonging and truth and determination to speak up for what we know is right. As more and more women share their stories, we are also sharing a larger story about what it means to be human, and what it means to be member of this planet, the only planet that can support life.
This next week, I’m using my voice to talk with voters in swing states to make sure that we put candidates into office who act with respect for humans and for the Earth, who don’t think that money is an entitlement to to do whatever one wants.
I’m raising my voice to support the Sioux and their allies at Standing Rock who are doing the brave and necessary work for all of our future, trying to stop yet more degradation of our water, our land and our home.
I’m committing to continuing to work with urgency after the election to reduce our abuse of the planet and to stop our addiction to fossil fuel power.
And I’m continuing to help women find their voices. Because as more and more women, and more and more men, find their authentic voices, rooted in claiming our individual stories, and questioning much of what we’ve inherited from the past, more and more of us will come to a place not of ownership with respect for one another and for the Earth itself.
Here are a few things we can all do:
1) Consider trusting your voice as a form of activism.
2) Use your voices for what you believe in.
3) Get engaged in the political system.
4) Help save our environment and address climate change in every way you can—with your actions and with your voice, so that we as a society can take collective action.
5) Advocate for working together so that we can come into the future that we need and move away from a divisive, disrespectful past.
6) Take small steps. No one is going to make radical change alone. Everything we do, even if it’s a small gesture, matters.
7) Occasionally challenge yourself to go outside of your comfort zone, wherever that is, and do something on a bigger scale.
8) Share your story and your beliefs and encourage others to do the same.
After the Republican and Democratic conventions, which took a lot of airspace, I’m finding my thoughts about them are settling; it’s been a time for me to think about on my own political engagement, fears and hopes. I hope you enjoy some of my reflections about these topics below.
(notice that I'm not infecting this blog space with an image of the other presidential nominee)
Fight, Flight and Mindfulness in this Election Season
Nine years ago, at the start of the Obama/McCain election, Eric and I began the process of filing for permanent residency in Canada. After almost eight years of a Bush presidency, we wanted another option if McCain came into office. We’d been active in our demonstrations against the Iraq war; we were convinced that declaring an “axis of evil” was not a path to peace, but instead a path to more violence; we worried about a possible war with Iran; and we didn’t want to raise our children in a country at war. In the election season we spent many weekends in New Hampshire campaigning for Obama. The week Obama was elected president, our permanent residency papers arrived.
Now eight years later, our permanent residency has run out. Because we didn’t use it, we lost it. Today, I’m starting to hear people talk about moving if Trump becomes president. I can understand the sentiment, but eight years later, I’m in a different place in my life. And our kids are at a different place in theirs.
When I said offhandedly it’s too bad we let our permanent residency run out, Gabriel, our sixteen year old, looked at me askance: you can’t walk away, he said, you need to stay to support and defend what you believe in.
I was proud of him for his quick response to my offhand remark--proud of his sense of home, of belonging, of responsibility.
This fall, I’m going to be going to New Hampshire again to canvass for the democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and I plan to do everything I can to keep Trump out of power.
But that’s not really what I want to write about here—though I do urge and encourage everyone reading this to step up this election season and do what you can to keep Trump out of power for peace at home and abroad; for the environment; for race issues; for the supreme court and for so many other reasons.
What I really want to reflect on is my own fight or flight instinct, and the alternative that mindfulness has taught me.
Eight years ago, I understood both fight and flight. I understood that there is a time for each and value in each. That is true. But somehow those alternatives were in a state of high duality, and very charged.
Mindfulness taught me not only to look outward to the danger, and to possible actions, but also to look inward to my mental and emotional responses to danger. And in doing so I realized that while I can stand up for what I believe in strongly and fight for my values, and while I can also flee or move to look for a better way of life and for new opportunities, I can also cultivate my own capacity for acceptance and for internal peace, whatever the external circumstances.
I don’t mean to suggest that I have arrived at a state of constant inner peace. Far from it. But I do believe that in looking for internal peace and equanimity and a sense of safety in our own lives, we must start with ourselves: fighting and fleeing is not going to be enough to feel at peace. And I also believe that finding peace and safety in our own lives will help create peace and safety in the world.
Sitting with my fight or flight reactions—my strong desire to stand up for peace and what I believe in; my strong desire to protect my children and myself—I realized that I am never only responding to the present moment. I am also responding to the times I felt scared and paralyzed as a child. I am responding to generations of anti-semitism, the fear of pogroms and repression, that my ancestors lived under. And I am responding to hundreds of years, thousands of years, of culture and responses and reactions.
But when I meditate, or just simply remember to come back to my breath, I cultivate a larger perspective. I can zoom way out and see the countless tragedies of history: the wars and injustices, the disasters that were not, despite people’s very best efforts, averted. Long before I was born, innocent children were needlessly killed and nothing I can do now can change that. And the world went on. Other children were born and smiled and laughed and experienced very great joy and accomplished beautiful things and loved well and fiercely and made the world a better place. And some of those children had children who died innocently. And some did not. This happened in the past. And it happens now in the present. And will happen, too, in the future.
For me, being mindful is coming into acceptance; it is coming into the present moment just as it is, and it is being here, now, with all the world’s largeness and smallness at once.
In this election, I will do what I can to spread love and understanding and to resist hate and violence. I will work for Hillary and continue to support a progressive agenda and vision of greater equality, greater sustainability. And I will try at the same time to cultivate peace and appreciation for the moments that we do have, for the chance to act in accordance with our beliefs—to work for change, though we never know what the future holds.
I know that there will be times of fighting and of fleeing again in my life—on the large or small scale. But I also believe that even as we fight and even as we flee looking for a better life, we can still hold some equanimity and stillness within us—or some memory of what it is like to know deep peace and know others who have known deep peace. This deep peace and belief in peacefulness can be another legacy that we carry within us, wherever we go, and whatever the future may hold.
I blog about creativity, writing, yoga, meditation, justice, women, the environment and integrated well being for the individual and society