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
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.