Showing posts with label Social Justice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Social Justice. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What Can I Do?

The Orlando shooting happened this past Sunday morning. As was the case of many on social media, my facebook feed was inundated not only with posts of sadness at the world's recent events, but it was full with aggression. The combination of this horrible and tragic event, on top of all that is going on in the political world right now, spewed anger and hatred all over a feed that is generally speckled with posts from artists, spirituality websites, funny cat videos and summer vacations. They simply went away. Or some facebook algorithm pushed them so deep that even my unusually high amount of surfing today didn’t reach them. Understandably so.

The first time in my history with facebook I had to unfriend someone. Someone I hold dear. Someone I would rather keep in contact with. Someone, who like me, has suffered great illness and understands what it means to still be walking on this planet. This was very hard for me, for a number of reasons. Mostly because I care about this person, but also because I value the opinions of people who don’t think like me. I truly do. But this friend became so angry, so full of hatred, their language so hurtful that the conversation was just shut down. It no longer retained the basic characteristics of “an informal exchange of ideas”. There simply was no exchange. One view, full of anger and hatred, limited in fact and gross in overgeneralization - with an unwillingness to hear or respect the views of others. I had blocked this person from showing up in my newsfeed a while back, but today my attention was brought to something this person had said recently. Upon reading the words written, I decided that as difficult as it was, I had to do something. My passive “hoping” that the situation would resolve itself or that I could maintain the relationship by avoiding this person’s behavior was no longer a solution...if it ever was.

Feeling not well enough to really do anything physical today, I spent an unusual amount of time paging through my facebook newsfeed, surfing news articles and listening to online news radio. I purposefully read and listened to as much as I could from both sides of "the story”, trying not to get involved in sensationalism on either end (which is basically impossible, but I gave it my best shot). The Orlando news, intertwined with all the political agendas on both sides, made it intensely difficult. Beyond my ideas of why this happened or how it happened or what the solution is, lies a profound sadness and the heavy feeling of helplessness. Over and over and over again, the question in my head... What can I do? What can I do? What can I do ? This sense that the world has gotten so out of control left me feeling like the only thing I truly can change is me . Overwhelmed with the bigger picture, yet longing desperately to do something. What can I do ?...

Then, I stumble upon a video shared on facebook of Stephen Colbert’s reaction to the Orlando shooting. These are the words he ended on,

It's easy, it's almost tempting to be paralyzed by such a monstrously hateful act, to despair, and say, 'That's the way the world is now.' Well, I don't know what to do, but I do know that despair is a victory for hate. Hate wants us to be too weak to change anything. ... Love is not despair. Love makes us strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives us hope that change is possible. Love allows us to change the script. So love your country, love your family, love the families and the victims and the people of Orlando but let's remember that love is a verb. And to love means to do something .

And again, as I surfed aimlessly, I found myself watching a video of the Dalai Lama at the Youth World Peace Conference. In his opening remarks he offers a few moments of silence for a time of prayer and then says,

Although some are quite skeptical about the effects of prayer, it has to come through action. Serious action, continuously, despite difficulties and a lot of obstacles, we cannot lose our determination, our courage. And on top of that, some prayer is ok, no harm. Without action, it is just prayer.

Love, in action, is compassion. Compassion, by definition, is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate that suffering.” What can I do? What can I do? What can I do ?

There was a lot hate and anger and finger pointing and blaming and judging on facebook today. So much so that by tonight I felt like I needed to sage the house just to help myself let go of it all. It hung heavy on the humidity that came rolling in with the storms. Heavy and dark. I understand these reactions. Because that is exactly what they are - reactions. And quite often, they come fast and they come heated. But one post, one very well written and brave reaction to an article describing the complicated history of the shooter, dared to show compassion for the shooter. She wrote, “While I utterly, utterly condemn his atrocious actions, I also believe we must extend some compassion to him for his own distress.” Unimaginable? Maybe. Impossible? I don’t believe so. And it really made me think.

After sitting here today, reading all the news articles and surfing through all the posts, I found myself so angry, so full of what feels like hatred to me. A justified hatred. A hatred that comes easy in light of such tragedy. A hatred that comes easy when listening to racism and sexism and rape and murder and lying and all that fills our news. We’ve had enough. And nothing seems sweeter in light of fear, than justified hatred and anger. Yet nothing is further from the solution.

Compassion must have the final word. And compassion does not mean agreeing with everyone. And it surely does not mean letting people get by with things that are harmful. Just as I had to “unfriend” someone very important to me, there are times when difficult things have to be done (to speak on an extremely simplified level) or said. Compassion is not easy. For one thing, it threatens our ego. In order to have compassion you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Let go of what you know. Move toward the pain of the world, beyond bias, beyond prejudice and fixed opinions and open your heart to people - those we like and more importantly, those we don’t like. Compassion counteracts our tendency to stay stuck in our way of thinking and counteracts our resistance to change. Instead of acting or reacting with aggression when we are provoked, endlessly perpetuating the cycle of aggression, we trust that we can interact with others from a place of inquisitiveness, calm and caring, without feeling threatened.

I don’t claim to know the answers to all of life’s difficult questions these days. But this I do know, the answer to even the smallest of these is not hatred . It never will be. And some of the most daring work we can ever do is to challenge our own way of thinking - our fixed ideas, the labels we are so invested in, our conventional ways of experiencing things, our opinions of right and wrong. It’s not until we do this that we can move beyond bias and prejudice and actually care for people, actually make a difference. With all that I feel helpless about, this I can do.  

This I can do .  


Friday, April 29, 2011

What I Want Most

(FYI: net lingo for just kidding)
Blogging has been a good thing for me. Social media, although quite controversial in some circles, in general, has also been of great benefit to me these past two years. I've mentioned before, prior to becoming sick, I was probably one of the tallest on the box - the soap box, that is. I believed that time spent socializing on the internet was what people did when they - well, didn't have enough real stuff to do. Beyond email, once I left work, sitting in front of a computer screen was the last thing I wanted to do. I voiced my opinion rather self-righteously, I'm sure. That is another story.

Not only is blogging extremely beneficial  from a cognitive exercise point of view, but it has become a place of healing, both for me and for many of those that take a moment in their day to read what I write. Quite often my writing is inspired not only by my experiences, but by the books that I read. I'm sure, if you were to know what book I am reading, you might be able to take a pretty good stab at what's next on the docket for posting. And if you're my family, by the time you read the blog, you've heard the general idea more times than I'm sure you would wish for. That's all fine and dandy if you're my family, or if you are one of those tried and true that follows my every post. But what if you're not?

Because I have made my email public, many of you have chosen to write me directly rather than to post comments at the end of the blog. I do this primarily because quite often the conversations that arise are deeply personal. For me, and for you. And often times, it is during these conversations that I realize that not everyone is my family, not everyone is reading the same book I am reading, not everyone has been following my train of thought since day one - and so, sometimes, not everyone "gets" what I am trying to convey. I'm cool with that. I hope, by this point in the journey, I've learned a few lessons about pleasing everyone. But it does make me stop and think.

Tom Shadyac
I recently had the most AWESOME pleasure of experiencing the movie I AM. I say "experiencing" because this is not a movie  you "go and see" - you experience it. It's not actually a movie at all, it's a documentary. And right now, unfortunately, it is showing for limited times in theaters that feature primarily independent films. I saw it at the Uptown in Minneapolis, and not only did I experience the film, I met and spoke to the man that wrote and directed it, Tom Shadyac. I can not say enough good about this film. It's the first thing - actually a movement of sorts - that brings me great hope about the future of our planet. But I'm not going to take up space here trying to convince you of all the reasons you should go see this film - or buy it when it becomes available. What I want to relate, and what seems pertinent to what I am writing to you, is one of the questions that was asked of Mr. Shadyac in the Q&A following the film. The experience of this film leads you on a journey, that in the end, leaves you with an amazing gift. An awakening of sorts, that in it's simplicity, becomes  transcendental. And the viewer is left with the ardent desire to share what has been learned. So the question was asked, "How, without experiencing a life changing event like you have experienced, do we pass this message on and help our children to understand it?" 

I was very eager to hear Mr. Shadyac's response to this question. For one, we both experienced a life altering   event  - almost losing our lives. Two, this event has lead us down a very similar path spiritually and philosophically, with much in common in our "end result". And this end result, this gift, is so capacious, so transforming, so inspiring that the desire to give it away - to share it - consumes me with a tenacious persistence that I can not ignore. I have never wanted the people I love to have something so desperately.
But there is a legitimate question here. And this was his answer...

Live it.

So much of what the world hears, so much of what our children hear, comes from words spoken by a society more concerned with perception than with truth. And believe me, no one knows hypocrisy more than our children do. The disparity between what we say and what we do, even in it's most minute and camouflaged form, glares so brightly in the face of our youth that their only recourse is to turn away. It's a simple answer really. Gandhi knew it when he so eloquently said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Every day we make choices. Big ones, little ones and millions lie in between. And you vote - do I base this choice on perception or do I make a choice based on the truth that arises from experiencing life conscious and aware - awake to this moment - right here, right now. Hence, Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say,'Lo, here it is!' or 'There! for behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you ." And we can not see that to which we are not awake to or conscious of. So busy, living our lives in the past or in the future. Waiting for life to happen. Live it.

It's funny, when Tom Shadyac set out to create this documentary, he wanted to answer the question, "What's wrong with our world." In the end, he found out everything that was right in this world. What changed? The world sure didn't. When I gave up my soapbox and found healing and comfort in the world wide web, what changed? The world wide web sure didn't. 

Our minds.
I changed.

So I guess it's not so much about the words that I write, the eloquence with which they are written or their grammatical correctness. Or even my ability to cultivate a particular train of thought (which can sometimes be a difficult task for me!). It's about the choices that I make every day. It's about being that change. I know that not everyone is going to "get" what I write. Good grief, sometimes when I go back a week or two and read what I have written I don't get it! But maybe what you do "get" is the new and improved me. Ironic that the better version is the one with Lupus and a multitude of other maladies. 

There is a lot GOOD with this earth. If you truly believe that the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you - and I do - then heaven is right here, right now. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." In some translations, "meek" is translated as humble. If you are meek and humble, there is no room for perception fed ego. The meek are "egoless". They are the people, that through consciousness, have been awakened to their essential true nature. They live in a surrendered state of Being completely conscious of the interconnectedness of All that makes up this planet. They are free.

This is what I want for you. Not some futuristic idea of things to come. No one becomes "free" in the future. The only place we are free is Now


“When all your desires are distilled
You will cast just two votes
To love more
And be happy”
“I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in darkness,
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being.”
“Why go to sleep each night,
Exhausted from the folly of ignorance.”
So much from God
That I can no longer
A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,
a Buddhist, a Jew.”
great religions are the
poets the Life
Every sane person I know has jumped
“Every child has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’ts…
But the God who only knows four words…
“Come dance with me.”"
“Even after all this time
The Sun has never told the Earth
“You owe me,”
look what happens
with a love like that,
it lights the whole sky.”
“Die before you die,
Then do whatever you want.
It’s all good.”
                                ~ Hafiz

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Emma Jane

Photo by David Johnson

       Emma Jane

I love my children.  Each of them so different from the other, none lacking in any way to the next.  But, let me tell you….no two are more different than the twins, Emma Jane and Sara Jane.  For those of you old enough to remember The Odd Couple (dating myself here), Emma would be Oscar.  Always just going about her business, moving in and out of our days with interesting random facts and very dry humor.  Not much bothers Emma – or so we think.

One of the greatest gifts Lupus has given me is time. The first moments I began to realize this were the days following my “code blue” episode in the hospital almost two years ago. Time became something I paid attention to. It almost took on a three dimensional property. I felt it everywhere, yet nowhere. This all pervasive gift that no matter how hard I tried, no matter how precious, I could not hold on to it. It meant everything to me, and it meant nothing. 

Letting go of time has allowed me a place of stillness; and in this stillness, I have rediscovered my children. Hours, upon hours, upon hours, have been spent with them by my side. In hospital rooms, in bedrooms, next to my chair or sitting in the kitchen, I have been awakened to the miracle that resides within each one of them.  Some days I feel as if I am seeing them for the very first time.  I may have been a much healthier person two and a half years ago, but all the health in the world does me no good if I am missing the very thing that makes life worth living.  The people I love. 

It was during one of these moments that Emma and I were having a rather passionate discussion.  As is quite often the case in our home, we were discussing the issue of social justice; which eventually leads to topics like philosophy, politics and religion.  Yes, these can be rather deep discussions indeed! The topic de jour revolved around the concept or perception of space.  I was trying to describe the idea of interdependent origination and its affect on our actions in this world.  Simply put, cause and effect.  Taken to the smallest degree, one understands the butterfly effect.  Moreover, the responsibility we have as human beings to our world and all that is in it. 

I was trying my best to give examples of how close we are, in reality, to those that live on the other side of this globe.  I began by telling her that if someone in our immediate family was hurting we would not think twice about helping them.  I then moved out into space and spoke of her grandparents, then her friends and then the people that live in our town. I kept going until the borders reached out past the country in which we call home.  I then pointed out the dilemma this creates if we are truly all connected; if my actions really do have an impact on my friends in Africa or the glaciers in Antarctica. Just because we do not understand the consequences within our limited understanding of time, does not make it not so. Nor does it make it less important. 

I then moved on to something I thought would be easier to relate to.  The human body. Much like Jesus talks about the Body of Christ in relationship to the church, there is an obvious property of interconnectedness. Comprised of many parts, all very different, all playing different roles – yet when left alone, quite useless; and when damaged can lead to the destruction of the entire body.  At this point, I was becoming quite passionate. Lost in the enthusiasm of my feelings with regards to this subject, it took me a bit to notice the pain that had found its place within Emma. It was then that Emma spoke words that that I will never forget. 

I do not know if it was the look on her face, or the utter sadness in her voice, or the words that she spoke, that had the biggest impact on me.  Most likely, it was the collective effect of all three.  She looked directly at me, and in the quietest of voices, with a tear in her eye, she said this:

“Why can’t the world just bend down and help the wounded foot?”

I weep as I type this. The very reading of it floods my heart with emotion.  Pieces of a seemingly disconnected, chronically ill state of being, woven together in one moment.  If I had not gotten sick, my spirit would not have broke. If my spirit would not have broken, I would not have searched for a better way. If I would not have searched for a better way, I would not have found the way to peace. If I had not found peace, I would have no concept of the beauty of time. If I did not understand the impermanence of time, I would never have been in that moment. If I would have never been present in that moment, I would have never – never – heard the words so eloquent, the sound so beautiful, the message so true that flowed from the innocence and wisdom of my daughter.

But I did. 

Whether we choose to understand it or not, we are all connected in this life.  The voice I use, the food I eat, the things I buy, the time I spend, the words I write, the phone calls I make, the emails I type, the help I give, the hurt I cause… Just like the whisper of the butterfly’s delicate wings or the devastation of an earthquake, nothing is independent.  Life is a tangled web of interconnections, being constantly transformed by the choices we make. 

I guess when I found out I had lupus I was presented with choices I needed to make. I am actually thankful that I was given the opportunity.  Being present in the lives of my children is a choice I may never have understood if not for that opportunity.  To really hear them, to let go of time and space has simply melted away barriers that once took up so much energy to maintain.  I’m amazed at what came so easily from Emma’s thoughts that day.  Their impact on me personally as well as my views on social justice issues  has been great.  Written in my heart forever. 

If I had not gotten lupus…