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Five Ways to Have Healthier Disagreements

June 18, 2020

Photo: Frank Busch

Day 2127 – Day 2133

If you are not currently getting into debates with people, you probably are in a coma. As we open up our countries from a prolonged lockdown, there are all sorts of opinions of how to properly be out in public.  Add to that the issue of the existence or non-existence of systemic racism, throw in a pinch of national xenophobia over border closure in pandemic times, and a climate of political discourse that precedes any American election, and BAM! we’ve got ourselves a nice little Molotov cocktail of disharmony.

This week I got embroiled in a discussion with someone I care about, who happens to be in the public eye.  Everyone who tried to engage with him, and caution him about his involvement with something that many deem to be shady, was trying to be helpful.  I dipped a toe into the pool and before I knew it, I was head first in the shallow end.

What I got was gaslighting, denial, deflection, dismissal and defensiveness.  Okay, okay, I was arguing ethics and as a Minister, I am passionate about morality and ethics.  Anyone arguing ethics can come across as condescending and bossy.  I’m sure that I did.  I was probably judgemental even though I was trying to reserve or at least – let’s be honest – conceal my judgement.  I made assumptions. Yeah, I am not perfect.  What I can say is that I tried to be kind, and to come from a position of caring concern, but I made a rookie error.  I didn’t engage him.  I never asked him a question. I just threw statements at him and there is nothing to do with a statement but agree with it or refute it.  It encourages lines in the sand.

When hot-headed passion meets hard-headed defensiveness, that’s not going to produce anything good.

A friend of mine, who is one of the most intelligent men and most effective negotiators I’ve ever known, recently posted some advice to his friends who are engaging in BLM discussions.  One thing he advised people was to always make sure they are laughing when they respond to egregious comments.  If it doesn’t lighten the mood, it will at least keep you from sinking into hopelessness or exhaustion.

I was exhausted.  We laughed once but we both have a good sense of humour and in retrospect, we should have gone for more levity.

Why didn’t I ask questions to engage him?  To be honest, I didn’t like the way he spoke to me.  I may have come across aggressive.  He got defensive.  In his defensiveness, he gaslighted everyone who had raised the red flag and called us, essentially, liars.  My buttons got pushed and I machine-gunned him with statements.  I know better!  But my point is that when we are passionate, it is so easy to let the worst come out in ourselves.

It didn’t go well, but I’m grateful that I spoke up.  I have felt like I’ve been watching a slow-motion car crash.  I’m grateful that I tried to divert the car from crashing, but if someone is hell-bent on driving a 12-foot truck under an 8-foot bridge, there is nothing you can do.  And, it’s not our job to get in the way of karma.  All in all, it didn’t feel good, but I’m grateful that we at least had one moment of laughter.  And finally, I’m grateful to be able to discern where I failed in my approach.  Yes, maybe the guy is a jerk and nothing I did differently would have helped us to have an emotionally mature disagreement.  I don’t believe that of him and I do believe there is always more we can do to improve our communication.  Even when we try to come from love, we can fail.

For the benefit of those who may be embroiled in passionately heated arguments right now, I offer you what I’ve learned from my own failures, this week.

 

Five Ways to Have Healthier Disagreements

 

1. Convey that you are not here to fight.  Never raise your voice, use affirming word choices, and if you are offering a criticism of someone’s actions, do so indirectly so that it gives them some solid ground on which to stand. Even the phrase: ‘I don’t want to fight, I’m here to help’ may be useful, but sometimes, nothing works and you’ve got to diffuse the argument.

2. Ask questions instead of making statements.  This effectively engages the person in a conversation rather than creating a situation where everyone will dig in their heels and lob rocks at one another.  When asking those questions, really seek to listen and to understand.  It is the beginning of the process of helping someone feel heard.

3. Take a breath and listen.  Taking a breath can stop us from saying those things we can’t take back.  Pause.  And then listen. Actually listen to what is being said and to what is being conveyed, non-verbally.  There is magic in being heard.  Listening does not mean we are relinquishing power.  When we give space to someone to be heard, we are actually holding that space and it is we who are empowered.  When we have finished listening, we can then mirror back what we have heard.  Being heard is the most miraculous heart softener there is.  Once someone feels heard, and understood, they are always more open to persuasion.

4. Exercise empathy, humour and seek areas of agreement.  There is always something we have in common and if we can find common ground and loosen up our positions a little bit, we both can become more willing to be persuaded.  One of the easiest ways to loosen up our positions is to use humour.  That doesn’t mean laugh at one another and ourselves and then go home.  It means laugh at one another and ourselves and then get back to talking, with empathy, about the topic at hand, but from a more agreeable space.  If all else fails, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see it from their perspective.

5. Pick your battles and recognise when to quit.  We are not the rulers of the world and we are not here to control the actions or change the thinking of everyone we meet.  Why waste time, emotional and spiritual energy on petty matters?  By the same token, as members of society, we must speak up when to do so could result in the prevention of harm to another.  Even our best intentions sometimes can be ineffective and we must learn to recognise intransigence and conserve our energy.   When someone takes a position and digs in, it is very difficult to move them out of their trench.  Trench warfare has never resulted in anything but a great deal of loss of life.

Stop, because any caged animal will attack.

Stop.  If we’ve failed in any of our skills of persuasion, it is a good time to review the conversation and see how we could have been more effective.  Perhaps there will be a better time to re-open the discussion.  And perhaps there will not, but – again – it is not our responsibility to change the minds of everyone in the world.  Let it be.  We never know what impact our conversation may have, over time.

I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities for all of us to practice our skills in the coming days.  And even if we feel we must fight the good fight, it is alright to take a break.  Exhaustion is as good as defeat.  If you find these suggestions difficult to implement, you are not alone.  I have a lot of work to do on this.

But, if we are going to bring about the world we want, then we can, and we must learn to have healthier disagreements.

 

Photo: Daniel Mingook-Kim

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Colour Blind

June 11, 2020

Photo: Sharon McCutcheon

Day 2121 – Day 2126

This week I was speaking with a friend about the BLM protests we’ve been seeing around the world.  I have my theory, from a white person’s perspective, on why this has erupted in a way it hasn’t before, and I’ll talk about that this week in a post on my YouTube channel. At issue is our role in systemic racism.

So many people have suffered these past two weeks:  George Floyd and his family; the protestors and journalists who were shot, beaten and tear gassed; and the many looted businesses, some of them small businesses that will never now recover.

All the attention to the issue has been inspiring but what do we do to actually change systemic racism in the world? Yes, there has been moves to reform policing but nothing exists in a vacuum.  The system is not just the system of enforcement but the system that allowed it to go unchecked.  If nothing really changes in each of us who stood by and let it happen, it will be a terrible tragedy.

I read Dr. Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham Prison this week, which the Atlantic kindly republished.  What struck me was the way he called out supposedly God-fearing people that have stood by and allowed unjust laws and unjust application of laws to continue.  Serving God means working to be anti-racist.

I don’t know how to change a “system” to make it anti-racist.  I studied international development, political science and economics and as I graduated with my Master’s Degree, I came away not with hope for change but a cynicism born of academic discourse.  The one thing that had been drummed into my mind was that systems cannot be changed.  Change must come from the people.  Even then, don’t blink, because special interests and power-politics will always be a part of human nature and corruption will arise over and over again.

The darkness of the world has always accompanied the light.  Yes, corruption may always exist, but it does not have to exist within me.  I am a part of the “system,” just as you are.  A system is nothing more than a collection of processes and machinations that people agree and accept.  People create and perpetuate the system and if I change myself, the entire system changes.

I’ve been examining my assumptions this week.  The other day, I was in the garden centre and a young black man was there picking out some herbs.  I suggested to him to get some basil because it goes so well in so many dishes.  I was aware that he was black, and as I walked away, I wondered if I had assumed that he had never gardened before, because he was black.  Would I have made the same assumption if he was a young white man?  I think I probably would. Perhaps I was friendlier than I might have been out of a sense of solidarity, but my response – while perhaps ageist and sexist, was not particularly racist.  I’m grateful that I was aware in the moment, and checked myself for racism.

I was recounting the story with some fellow gardeners who are POCs this week and I said to them that I’ve always considered myself to be colour-blind when it comes to people but that I was questioning whether that was as virtuous as it first appears.  It is part of growing up in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society where difference is – according to the Canadian narrative – celebrated and normalized.  But not all difference is celebrated here.  For instance, the Canadian population has a deeply entrenched racism against Indigenous peoples.  To dismantle that racism would be to face our existence as trespassers on this land.  For all our talk as a nation, we have not done nearly enough.

And, while I’ve always had friends of many races, and I’ve been aware – intellectually – of the differences in our cultures, I’ve never known what it is to be a black man or an Asian woman, or an Indigenous child.

I think it is a beautiful thing to view my friends, colleagues and lovers as equal to me regardless of their race or ethnicity.  I remember a good friend – a black man in New York City – once told me that he had learned to be much more tolerant of people through knowing me.  I don’t know if that is because I modelled tolerance for him or if he had to stretch his patience to tolerate me.  To be fair, it was probably a bit of both.  But, I was raised to be curious about and respectful of people that lived, worshipped, or looked different than I did, and that curiosity became a value of egalitarianism and an experience of Oneness, as I grew to adulthood.

But is that completely virtuous?  In a group, ignoring difference may impose a dominant cultural norm and narrative to any crowd.  I’ve reflected on the ways in which I’ve had to put aside my religion or sexuality or gender or nationality in order to fit in.  Some of these things are easy to minimize.  I wonder how it must feel to have to put aside one’s skin colour and all the experiences that go with it, in order to fit in.

Like all things in life, there is a good and not so good side to being colour blind.  I’m grateful both that I am not a racist, and that I’ve had the chance to deconstruct my colour-blindness to see where I can work to be actively anti-racist.

Even as I examine colour-blindness, I don’t really know how it actually impacts others.  Perhaps the best way to know is to ask and to listen and to adjust. I intend to continue questioning my assumptions and making space for more consensus in all my interactions.

So much has happened these past two weeks that I think it will take months to process it all.  I have ‘family’ in Belgium and this week I learned, with horror, about the atrocities that the Belgian colonizers inflicted on the people of the Congo.  I was familiar with the legacy of the Belgians in Rwanda but the Congo was a little murkier for me.  The images of black people in cages and the Belgian construction of a human zoo for the world’s fair was shocking to me.  I have even visited the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium and while the place felt creepy and colonial, somehow, I never learned that it was the site of a human zoo.  Did I never learn it? Or, did the atrocity of it just never really sink in?  I suspect that because I visited over a decade ago, this dirty secret had been swept under the carpet and remained there.  But, I can’t be certain that I didn’t turn a blind eye to a distasteful bit of history.

I’m sure that the images of black children in cages were responsible for my dream two nights ago.  I dreamed I saw small black creatures in cages and I was afraid of these creatures and afraid that they might escape.  For all my liberalism, there is still an unconscious part of me that has adopted the underlying cultural narrative that black people are to be feared.

Perhaps witnessing the justifiable anger at George Floyd’s murder turn to violence during these protests threatens my sense of safety in the world.  Consciously, I abhor the police violence, but my unconscious mind throws up images that suggest I fear the unleashing of black power.

What is that fear about? Yes, losing some of my privilege is scary, but the idea of hundreds of years of anger being unleashed in acts of violence upon me for the colour of my skin is terrifying.  Yet, isn’t that exactly what the white person has done to the black person, for hundreds of years, all around the world?  My unconscious mind fears justice for the wrongs of my ancestors and of my own generation.  Rather than fearful images of a police state, I see images of dangerous black creatures in cages.  My unconscious mind favours the police who maintain my privilege and suppresses black power.  Isn’t that something?

This terrifying dream is a gift of awakening.

Not all fear is a gift of awakening.  I remember, years ago, in New York City, I was walking down the street and as a black man passed me, I found myself putting my hand, unconsciously, on my handbag.  I noted it at the time and noted that there was nothing menacing about the man.  It was an unconscious reaction borne of the dominant cultural narrative that black men are dangerous, and that black men are criminals.  Watch American television and you will see where children become indoctrinated to this idea and grow up to be adults that tolerate the disproportionate representation of black people in prison and the existence of racial profiling in policing.

I asked a friend, who is a therapist, how we can undo all the layers of our unconscious racism.  A good way is to recognize it and talk about it, she said.   She asked me to imagine myself walking down a dark alley at night.  How would I feel if a black person approached me versus a white person?  I told her that the difference, for me, would be if it was a man versus a woman.  I would feel comfortable with a woman of any colour and threatened by a man of any colour.  Given that no woman has ever physically harmed me, and no man of colour has ever physically harmed me, but it has been exclusively white men have physically harmed me, it seems unfair to men of colour.

Would I still touch my handbag unconsciously now, if I were passing a black man on the street?  I don’t know.  I would hope not. No black man has ever harmed me.  Consciously, I have seen my colour blindness as a non-racist virtue.

But my dream tells me that I have unconscious racism and an awful lot of work to do.

 

Photo: Oleg Sergeichik

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Judge and Jury

June 5, 2020

Day 2117 – Day 2120

Earlier this week, I made a statement on my social media in support of the black community, amongst other disadvantaged groups.  Some people joined protests.  Some people donated money silently.  Some people were simply silent.

A lot of people judged one another’s response and pointed fingers at one another.

As far as I understand it, the idea of anti-racism is that it is no longer enough to simply not be racist, we must actively take a stand and work towards dismantling racism within all our systems.  We should not be applauded for never doing something dastardly if we stand by and watch others do it.  I get that.  This makes sense to me.  As a privileged white person, I still have inner and outer work to do.

I also know that I don’t know what is happening with the intentions of others, whether they are silent or vocal. All I can do is pay attention to my own intentions and behaviours and work with those people whose behaviour shows me that they are willing to walk the walk of intentions that align with my own.  If I see someone who isn’t fitting into that category, I have a choice to make: do I assume, or do I have a conversation?  As difficult as it is, I’m going to start having those conversations.  I may lose some relationships, as a consequence.  But, I might actually gain some, too.

There is no perfect response.  Sometimes PTSD and silence look the same.  Let us not judge the BIPOC person who cannot face another dead black man or woman and who does not join the protest.   And, let us help guide our brothers and sisters who have not quite caught on to the difference between not being racist and being anti-racist.  Social change takes changes within each and every one of us.  Change always takes time and isn’t linear.  Let us listen to the needs of the ones who are oppressed and then take action that amplifies, without paternalism.

I know I’ve got a lot to unlearn in order to be a potent anti-racist ally but I’m committed to doing that and I’m going to be imperfect and have blind spots.  I expect people to call me out when I’m wrong, but I ask us all to do so with respect for the fact that we are both headed in the same direction.

One of my best friends is a black man living in New York City.  I admit that I urged him to stay home.  Is that wrong?  I just don’t want him being arrested – or worse – because he is a black man out buying groceries, let alone protesting.  I want my loved ones to be safe and I also want change.  One of my favourite YouTubers captured some footage at a protest and you can clearly hear black protestors arguing about whether they should be putting their lives on the line, if it comes to that.  Everybody is having a difficult time deciding how to respond.

And, with that said, while I’m not reposting photos of police officers taking a knee, this does not mean that I think Blue lives don’t matter.  My personal opinion is that police and justice reform is required, in Canada and in the UK, to promote ways of policing and keeping the peace that no longer disproportionately targets certain groups of people.  (I will leave it to citizens of their own countries to determine if it is needed there).  I do not believe that the majority of law enforcement is made up of bad people – at least not in Canada or in the UK.  The fact that we have frequent incidents of excessive force and a disproportionate number of police killing innocent people from the BIPOC community tells me that if the people are not bad, then the system must be.  That is where I think we should be channelling our work – dismantling and rebuilding a just and fair system.

Everybody – whether BIPOC or white, whether protestor or police – deserves to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. At a time when we are standing up for justice and equality, let us not become judge and jury towards our fellow human being.

Let’s talk and let’s listen.

I’m grateful for the dialogue.  I am grateful for the press – whether official or citizen – that is documenting what is going on in the world.  I’m grateful for those who are willing to reserve judgement and offer ideas that will help me find my way through.  I hope that maybe this reminder might help someone else, who is struggling.  I’m grateful to be called out – either through a public activist who is calling out a society, collectively, or by a friend who will privately have a conversation with me.

But I’m also grateful that I have a platform to say this: call-out culture and an attitude of us versus them is not okay.  Publicly or privately shaming anyone or any group of people is not okay.  Shame is not the way to win someone to your ideas; it seems to me that it makes someone take a firm defensive position even when they might have been struggling to know where to stand.  Where they could have been persuaded to be an ally, they are now divided from us.

Finally, I’m grateful that my spiritual path is love because as far as I have seen, love is always the only answer.

Photo: Perry Grone

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

The Light in the Fire

June 1, 2020

Photo: Logan Weaver

Day 2112 – Day 2116

Black Lives Matter.

I’m not a preacher and I’ve got no answers to the world’s problems but if you don’t agree that black lives matter, then this probably isn’t the site for you.  You might want to find another.

When I saw the photos a week ago, I was sick.  I’m sure that if you’re still reading, it sickened you as well.

I have been purposely undertaking a Covid news blackout for my mental heath, aside from a daily scan of headlines.  Last Monday, I looked at the news.

Around the world, inequality is killing millions of people.  In India, the migrant workers are STILL not home.  Sheltered under bridges, on the side of the road, or rounded up and detained in crowded conditions, their situation, in a pandemic, is a death sentence.  I know these people.  They are poor villagers who went to the city in hopes of earning some money to send home to support their families.  When India suddenly locked down the country with only a few hours’ notice, they were stranded without shelter, food or money.  Even those who can make it to their state by walking across the continent are being turned back at state borders.  The poor are being left to die.

In Colombia, government funds to help fight Covid-19 and to support the people have been embezzled, and widespread corruption means that World Bank funds have again been funnelled into the Swiss bank accounts of the elite, while the poor hang out red cloths from their windows, a symbol that they are in desperate need and are facing starvation.  Venezuelan refugees, caught in Colombia, like the migrant workers of India, without a home in which to shelter, are facing starvation in similar inhumane conditions as those in India.

And a friend in Brazil is looking forward to the birth of her first child.  I reached out to her this week to see how she was faring – fearful for her, in a country that is run by a dictator who refuses to lockdown the country or make any provisions for the pandemic.  Widespread deaths are needlessly occurring as grave diggers have to be creative and create high-rise vertical grave sites to keep up with the need.

Inequality is killing millions around the world.

In the country that is my neighbour, 40 cities are under curfew tonight and the leader is nowhere to be found.  For days I have been unable to sleep.  I’m sure you’re not resting easily, either.

I question the narrative that the media is piecing together.  People burning down their own neighbourhoods?  No, this doesn’t seem right.  But who will get the blame? The black man.  Same as it ever was.  And who will die, if there is a spike in Covid cases from a justifiable and righteous anger that has not been quelled by a compassionate leader?  Same as it ever was.

When journalists are being targeted, arrested and shot by the police – despite identifying themselves as press – and when peaceful protesters, with their hands in the air, are approached by police and have their pandemic mask ripped from their face so they can be pepper sprayed, I have to wonder how anyone can doubt that police brutality is an overstated phenomenon.  Institutions have lost the trust of the population and when this happens, historically, coups follow.

I fear that martial law will come next and if so, I challenge my readers to pay careful attention to which citizen’s militia are allowed to join the forces that are restraining the population.  The time has come again for the privileged to form a resistance to help protect and empower targeted populations.  It feels like we, as a human race, have been here too many times even in this century.  Oh Lord, same as it ever was.

In my Sufi lineage, we have been warned of the darkening of the world for as long as I’ve been sitting with the teacher (15 years).  In my Christian tradition, we are warned of the worsening of life on earth that signals the End Times.  Are we in the End Times?  I don’t know.  It has been pretty bad in Rwanda and the Congo, in Central America and in the Soviet Union in my lifetime.  To think it is End Times just because it impacts me is a bit of white, Western, privilege.  But, End Times may have been upon us for a long, long time.  I do not know.  What I do know is that I have been feeling the darkening of the world for at least as long as I’ve been sitting with the Sufis in meditation.  The job of the mystic and of the Christian – in good times and bad – is to hold and build their spiritual light and to encourage others to do the same.  It does not have to be the same as it ever was.

Hold your light, my friends.  Have faith.  God has not forsaken the world.  If you don’t believe in God, then look around you for the helpers.  Goodness has not left the world.  There is so much goodness in the hearts of humankind.  It is our job to stand up, show up and speak up.  It is also our job to meditate, pray and fortify the soul.  Only by building the light in our own souls can we vanquish the darkness in the world.  Without our light by which to read our moral compass, all our works are easily corrupted.

I’ve done all the studies in strategy, politics and economics.  I’ve worked with governments and corporations around the world.  I have no answers but to build the light and be the light that the world needs.

I am grateful for my ability to listen with an open heart and bear witness to the pain of those who are not as privileged as I am.  I am grateful for all the resources that are available to me to support those seeking justice and to unlearn my privileged view of the world.  I am grateful to my spiritual communities around the world with whom I can connect as we do our individual prayer and meditation and I am grateful that our work benefits the collective.  I am grateful for the activists – friends and strangers – who remind me to walk the walk of my values at times like these.  I am grateful for this platform where I can say to you that I feel, in one sense, as helpless as you may feel, in the face of the world on fire.  And I am grateful that perhaps you trust me enough, now, to join me in building spiritual strength to combat the darkness.  What each of us does is no longer for our own salvation.  It is for the collective soul that we must do our spiritual work. Let us rise to the spiritual battle of our lifetimes, even as we fight to end inequality and injustice in the material world.

Have faith.  The good shall prevail.  Be the light in the world on fire.  Stay well, stay safe.

Photo: Austrian National Library

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

A Year Ago Today and A Year From Today

May 27, 2020

Photo: el Camino de Santiago de Campostella.

Day 2111

Happy Birthday to Me.

A year ago, today, I was celebrating my birthday in Cape Cod, courtesy of a very generous gift from a long-time friend.  On the spur of the moment, I packed a bag and was gone for a long weekend, across the country.  It was a much longer trip than I’m used to, for a weekend getaway in Europe but it was a trip back in time to a girl I knew in acting school in New York.  We had a good time but neither of us could have predicted the way life would go down for me later in that summer or the way it would go down in the world, for the past 6 months and into the foreseeable future.

A year ago we celebrated my birthday and we celebrated a nearly life-long friendship.  It was a brief but glorious weekend crammed full of adventure and laughter.

This year, I had intended to be spend my birthday undertaking a pilgrimage on el Camino de Santiago de Compostela.  It was clear, last July, that my body was not going to cooperate for that to happen this summer.  World events made it impossible for me to make the trip and for my friend in Singapore to join me.  Maybe next year.  Maybe not.  So much right now is out of my control.

So, what would I like to see a year from now?  I have some goals and some ideas that I’d like to keep working away at seeing come to fruition.  I’m not convinced that I will still be living where I am but I suppose I might as well stay here until I’ve worked my way through the jars of pasta and rolls of toilet paper that I’ve collected to keep me from having to venture into stores.  I could begin to train for the physical demands of a pilgrimage and in that, use the time as a walking meditation so that a year from now, I will have deepened my practice.  There are a few relationships that are in various stages of blossoming and I’d like to tend the garden of my life, uprooting the plants that have spread beyond their borders and nurturing those that appear to be fruitful.

I have learned that its sometimes best not to talk about your goals (says she who has committed to living 10,000 days of gratitude!) because it takes the energy out of actually achieving those goals.  So, I keep a whiteboard in my home and on it are my goals and tasks that I think are worthy of more time.

During this pandemic lockdown, it seemed that time seemed to both speed up and slow down at the same time.  I know that I have never been this present for the spring ever before.  We are now removing restrictions on our activity and I’m not so sure that I want to create a great change in the way I spend my time.  I’d like to see some friends – physically distant, and I intend to work my garden and hopefully to get on the water at least a little bit this summer.  But I spend most of my day working at a job I don’t really enjoy.  My spare time is so very precious that recreation isn’t something I’m really itching to fill my time.  I have a lot I want to do and being creatively productive is the best recreation I can have – that and a paddle on a hot Sunday afternoon, of course.

I have spent a lot of time trying to escape this place where I live.  I don’t think I will be here for much longer but God has a funny way of messing with a human’s plan.  For someone who has a desire to renounce the world and go walkabout, it is interesting that I have found myself grounded by circumstance for longer than this pandemic.  In that grounding, the seeds of some beautiful long-distance friendships and the cultivating of long-distance spiritual fellowship has made my captivity into a hermitage.

One day I hope to travel el Camino de Santiago de Compostela but, as it is written, it is about the way and not the destination.  And that is a good thing to reflect upon as I celebrate another trip around the sun.

I don’t know where I will be a year from now.  None of us do.  This past year has taught me that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed and it certainly isn’t guaranteed to exist in a world that isn’t fundamentally changed.  I’m grateful for the physical requirement to stop and be still.  I’m also grateful for the global pause that we have been in.  Both were painful and will continue to be so.  But, I trust that it was what I needed to begin to get uncomfortable enough to stop and look before I go and move in another direction.  I’m grateful for the internal pilgrimage of the heart that I have undertaken, this past year, and I intend to continue slowing down and making each next footfall a meditation as I navigate this labyrinth called life.  Most of all, I’m so truly grateful to be alive and to have the good fortune to celebrate another year of grateful living.

Photo: Dilyara Garifullina

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Collaboration Connection

May 26, 2020

Collaboration Connection: Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude, Love Me a Latte, Maria Filar and Ali the Unicorn.

Day 2109 – Day 2110

I have been neglecting this website during the pandemic.  I have been putting much more effort into my new YouTube channel and to a project that came to me during lockdown.

A few years ago, the social experiment on interpersonal closeness of Arthur Aron was made famous by a New York Times article about the 36 questions that lead to love.  At the time the article was published, I did my own experiment on Instagram to see if it could build community.  There were some interesting results but mostly, it was not successful.  I’m not sure that Instagram was the best platform for interacting and deepening closeness between people.

I’m not sure why YouTube didn’t occur to me.  YouTube has been a relatively recent addition to my social media experience and this year I have been very impressed with the way that Thoraya has used interviews with strangers to create a universal connection with the viewer.

Given that I have taken the journey of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude to YouTube this year, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to attempt, once again.  For me, the idea of interpersonal closeness is interesting because it is the entry point for many people to a feeling of Oneness.  I enlisted some fellow YouTubers with channels of about the same size but in very different niches to see if 4 relative strangers could develop – in the context of lockdown and the rise of the Zoom conference – interpersonal closeness.

My collaborators and I have selected a portion of the 36 questions and each week, we either answer 3 questions on our own channels or we come together to share our answers on a Zoom call.  Not all of the responses are posted to my own channel but I have included all the videos on a playlist.

Every two weeks we also have been sharing our impressions with one another, using questions from Arthur Aron’s original experiment.

This week we enter into the final round of individual questions and next week we will have our last set of questions addressed in a group call, followed by a final sharing and wrap up.  It has been an interesting experiment and I’m not sure where we will land on that final day but I’m grateful that my collaborators were willing to be vulnerable enough to undergo an experiment in closeness with strangers.

I hope you will come over to YouTube to see how things turn out over the next 2, rather intimate, weeks.  If you’re interested in the entire process, you can watch all of the videos in my playlist here.

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Dream Weaver

May 24, 2020

Day 2089 – Day 2108

Yesterday, I spent the day on spiritual retreat with my particular caravan of wayfaring souls.  For the past 9 months, I have been walking the line between delving deeply into the Christianity of my childhood and the mystical Sufi path that found me, later in life.

In my Sufi lineage, we use dreams as a form of ancient storytelling that reveals the transformation that is calling to be undergone in the soul.  It is also in our dreams where the Beloved does works on our hearts.  I have been reconciling my two paths and I do not believe the Sufi practices betray my Christianity because I had my first mystical experience when I was a child.  Jesus came to me in a dream and called me to the path.

I’ve been following a thread of a dream that began sometime late last summer.  I dreamed of a man I knew of but had never met.  He was with his brother and we were tentatively touching fingers like children in love.  There was an innocence to this flirtation but also an unquestionably pure love.  What a delightful dream to have had.

He’s a handsome fellow so I thought it might be simply a nocturnal expression of a bit of a crush.

I got to know this man – in a sense – through the internet.  He felt like a kindred spirit and we have an awful lot in common.  We also lead very different lives in different parts of the continent and we have different experiences of the world based on being born in different decades.  I like him, and I have an interest in knowing him, more deeply.

In the early part of this year, I started seeing repeating number sequences.  I wondered if this man, who was appearing in my intense dreams, might be linked to it.  I read about the idea of a Twin Flame and I’m not sure such a thing exists.  Maybe it does.  Maybe it doesn’t.  In this, there is a mystery that I may never solve.  But, I tend to put more stock in Jung than in new age concepts.  The thing about mysticism is that there is very little of which we are sure when we are invited to follow a thread.

Around the same time as the number patterns started to appear, I had another dream.  This time I dreamed I met the man for the first time, in person.  He had two sons with him.  They were about 8 or 9 years old.  I tried to talk with him but his children just wanted to play with me and so they grabbed my hands and pulled me away to play.  I awoke with the same feeling as I’d had in my first dream: a real innocent and pure feeling of love.  I wondered if the dream was perhaps literally telling me that I’m not going to meet this man.  Or, if I do, it won’t be for a long time – at least a decade or more – when he’s settled in his life with these two young boys.

In my waking state, the same man has pushed some buttons and triggered some wounds that originated in my childhood and I’ve had to work them through and heal those places that are still tender.  In the time he has been in the internet of my life, I’ve been quite inspired and irritated by him, at different times.

About a month ago, I dreamed that I was travelling the 101 in Oregon and I was listening to the radio.  I was not on the highway.  I was on the long, winding, remote Pacific Coast highway, where the wind whips the waves ashore and where an individual soul meets the sea.  A young Cat Stevens was also driving the same roads and talking on the radio, and I was listening.  I entered the town CLOSD, Oregon, just as he said he was arriving there, too.  The streets were empty and I called in to the radio station to say hi to him. Driving down the road, a vintage Chevy convertible caught up beside me and in the back seat was Cat, playing his guitar and singing for me.  I waved hello and as we came to a stop at a traffic light he asked me out for a coffee date.

Now, Cat Stevens was before my time and he is no longer Cat Stevens.  He is Yusuf Islam, now.  As much as it was a young Cat in the dream, in my heart, I knew it was the energy of that same man who has been in my innocent dreams filled with images of children.  I don’t think the man who appears in my dreams is even aware of such a thing as a Sufi path, but Cat Stevens latest song, I discovered after this dream, was based on Sufi poetry.  Maybe it was telling me that I’m on the right path – at least, spiritually – to follow this thread.

I wondered if the boys in my second dream were not the same two boys from my first dream, at a much younger age.  I wondered if they were he and his brother.  If they were, then I’m so glad I played with them.

This past week, I had another dream.  This time, I was walking and talking with his adult self again, meeting him for what seemed the be – again – the first time.  This time there was a girl child.  She was young – maybe 5 or 6 years old.  She jumped into an abandoned and dried up cistern.  He was about to go in and rescue her but she refused and insisted that it be me that come for her to hold her and take her home.

Yes, I know that girl child was me.

Yesterday, as is our practice, I got to share the whole series of dreams.   I can’t pretend to know the entire meaning of them but the symbolism and imagery is so lovely, pure and sweet.

There was a trauma that I experienced at that age that the little girl was, in my most recent dream.   I blocked it out – even at the time.  My very best friend in the world died of a hole in her heart.  If there is a more Sufi way to die, I don’t know what it would be.  In her death, she left a hole in my own heart and in that space, God entered.

There is some healing to be done here, for the psyche of that little girl.   But after today, I have a profound appreciation for the gift that my friend left when she went home to heaven.

I’m grateful for this man who has been walking with me and singing to me and helping to weave my dreams.  Something seems to have shifted between us in the real world, and I don’t know if our inner journey is over, or if it has just begun.   He has taken me to a scary place where I probably would not have had the courage to go, alone.  For that I am grateful. The thing about these inner journeys is one can make the mistake of assuming that they represent a waking connection that goes beyond the symbolic or that even if a connection exists, that the other person is consciously aware of it.  Awareness, it should be remembered, is no guarantee that a person is ready to embrace the mystical or spiritual.  In any case, I am grateful for what has been, on the inner.   I am thankful for his gentle companionship and sometimes direction, on this journey.

I am grateful for the companionship of the wayfarers on this caravan, who listened to my story and held the threads as my waking self wove all of these beautiful dreams together.  There is a great mystery in the middle of it all and perhaps that is the thing for which I am most grateful.

In my meditation, I asked about this living and breathing internet man who has been weaving dreams with me.  I was given something to do and it seems quite weird.  I’m going to have to wait and listen until I know how to do what I’ve been asked to do.  But do it, I shall.  The last time I was given direction by the Beloved, in a meditation, it was also about someone with whom I had been dream walking.  I second-guessed the instruction and I didn’t follow what I was told to do.

I lived and learned a very tough lesson.

I had not seen it before my dream, but Yusuf/Cat Stevens posted this video the very day I dreamed about him.  I will continue to follow this thread, not knowing why or what will happen.

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

250 Words

May 4, 2020

Photo: Kai Gradert

Day 2071 – Day 2088

I am overdue for a post.  There is much that I could write about, whether it be my observations of the collective or of myself.  Yet, there is little that I wish to share. I sit at the computer, a little bit stuck.  When I first started creative writing after a long absence, I set myself the task of writing 250 words a day.  I could sit at my page for 2 hours or write 250 words – whichever came first.  Only then was I free wander with my camera.

I’m too busy to spend 2 hours not writing.  I’ve got a tax return to prep and loads of work to do; 250 words it is.  And there, I get stuck.  I have no story to offer as I’m in the middle of unravelling a ball of yarn in my intuitive mind, that is tangled.  What it will reveal is anyone’s guess.  There’s a lot of fear in the collective right now but this is not fear.  It is something else.  Something I’ve never felt, before.  For it, there are yet no words.

I’m grateful to Sutton Hospital for teaching to pace my energy and to always set a low bar that I could meet even on the worst of days, and that I have applied this to writing.  I’m grateful to the reader for indulging my creative process.  I have nothing of wisdom to offer at this moment; But, I do have 250 words.

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Brave Words

April 16, 2020

Photo: Armand Koury

Day 2062 – Day 2070

A few weeks ago, I entered a literary writing contest.  It was the first piece of writing that I’ve submitted to a contest or, well, anything, since the Modern-Day Monsters playwright’s competition that devastated me with reader’s comments that questioned my mental health.  The reader didn’t seem to consider that a play is not always written in a straight-ahead manner.  Dark comedies are usually pretty dark because the envelope has to be pushed to the edge of comfort to make an audience laugh.

I procrastinated.  I knew that there was a deadline looming but I procrastinated.  I was just editing an old piece of writing, I reasoned.  How difficult could it be?  And then, it was the day of the deadline and I had not even looked at the old piece.  A friend used it to teach creative non -fiction at a University level, so it must have been fairly reasonably written.  Unless, I panicked, it had been chosen as an example of what NOT to do when writing non-fiction.

The self-doubt didn’t stop there.  This was, after all, the top literary contest in Canada.  The expectation was that works would be ‘literary.’  I took my piece and pimped it up, adding metaphor and imagery that had been lacking in the original.  I cringe now, thinking of how I may have ruined a sparse piece of writing with hackneyed metaphors just to be more of what I perceive to be ‘literary.’  I’m not a fan, but Hemingway did a pretty good job with writing that was sparse.

A couple of weeks later, another friend was running a writer’s workshop that used lines of poetry as a kickoff for timed writing.  We had to read our works to the rest of the group and I felt a little nervous to share with all these women I did not know.  I had written bravely, from the gut, and it was not comfortable for me to lay out my innards for all to see and then recoil them back when I was done, without the benefit of feedback.  I didn’t like that, and I’m not sure what to make of that.  I think I would prefer to either workshop a piece or write bravely and keep it for myself.  Exhibitionism of one’s soul without validation of being ‘seen and heard’ just seemed to push all kinds of buttons on old childhood wounds.  I can be grateful for the takeaway that I have some work to do around my ego and my writing.

I don’t like the way I pimped up my old piece.  Maybe I’m not a literary writer.  And maybe that’s okay.  I’d like to think that what I am is a brave writer who writes brave words and if even one reader is moved by my writing, then I have done my job.  We have made a connection, through time and space, that is meaningful.  Literary or not, that is art.

I’m finding myself in a place in life, or maybe just in this weird global pause where untrue words and frivolous use of my talent does not sit well with me.  I try not to get too heavy on my YouTube channel, but I have some pretty heavy things I want to address.  Maybe that’s just me.  Nobody ever called me shallow.

This week I reached out to someone with  an email that, were I to receive it, would feel pretty intense.  I wondered why I was writing it and there were really two reasons.  Firstly, in the writing, a small miracle was worked in my heart and something with which I have struggled just seemed to lay itself out in perfect clarity for me.  And, in laying that out, I have said the most important things one person can say to another.  It wasn’t a love letter in the traditional billet-doux fashion, but it was a letter that was filled with love.  It could have been shorter, but it could have been longer, too.  What needed to be said has been said, and what it does in the heart of the receiver is out of my hands.  They were brave words.

I’m grateful for this gift I have to put one word in front of the other.  I’ve always known that it is probably my mightiest tool if I choose to use brave words to convey something that is truth.  Is there absolute truth?  I don’t know, but I do believe so.  I also think we all know when someone is communicating from a place of truth, and I’m grateful for those moments when I can do so.  I’m also grateful that a good portion of what I write hits that chord.

I think that in days to come we will all be called to bear witness to the truth.  I am grateful that I have several people in my life who I believe will stand alongside me and utter brave words to a world that has fallen deaf.

I’ve been sick for most of this month of quarantine and I wish I had another month to use each day to do the things that are meaningful and that matter.  I don’t know what will come but this pause has affirmed that there is purpose in this gift of words that has been given to me.

I wonder how others have been re-evaluating their lives, under lockdown.

Photo: Deva Darshan

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

For Every Number, There Is A Name

April 7, 2020

Photo: Tim Mossholder

Day 2056 – Day 2061

Yesterday started out great.  It was sunny.  I was up early.  I wrote a post that I knew needed work but I had time to fix it.  I made a nice brunch to enjoy outside and I made a video.  Things were looking pretty good.  Good, if you ignore the fact that what I wrote was unpublishable.  Great, if you also ignore the fact that, for a 3-minute video, I recorded 42 minutes of me, talking to the camera, about how I wasn’t doing okay.

Maybe we’re all doing less great than we want to admit.  I try to be of service by offering inspiration but even cheerleaders get to rest between games.

I have been watching underground news since January and planning for the worst-case scenario at home and for the company where I work, since early February.  I’ve had the heaviness of how bad things could get resting on my heart for a very long time.  It was a burden that many people mocked back then.  I think many people are still in denial.  Last week I wondered why every nation isn’t flying their flags at half-mast.  The fact that we are not doing this seems like a sign that we really haven’t grasped the tragedy that has been unfolding, for months.

I don’t think we should all be falling apart and unable to get out of bed, although after my 42-minute soliloquy, I did have to lay down, for most of the day, under the weight of things.  For me, there is a sense of alienation that is not the result of living alone and having no in-person contact with another human being for more than 2 weeks.   As happened during 9/11, I feel a chasm opening up between myself and so many people.

Humour and positivity helped me to face being sick and to adjust to my circumstances, during the first 2 weeks of my quarantine.  But it seems to me that much of the humour I see on my Facebook feed and elsewhere just focuses on first world problems (I’ve been guilty of sharing and even making some of it), when the tragedy is a global one and it impacts the poor and vulnerable, disproportionately.  Humour can help us cope, that is for sure.  But humour can feed denial.  I think humour is a way to help us process tragedy, when circumstances are temporarily difficult.  It helps us bridge from the time before to the time after, so that we can resume our lives.

The thing is, I don’t think we can resume our lives, as they were.  Systemic change is here, whether we like it or not.  Personal transformation, for those willing to be moved, is available to all of us as well.   The number of people whose lives have been impacted in all but 9 (as of this morning) countries in the world is almost impossible to comprehend.  Never before in my lifetime has the entire world been impacted by threat and tragedy, at the same time.  For every number there is a name.  For every name there is a story and a decision of how they will bear witness to the greater story that is unfolding.

I have the unwelcome gift of being an empath as well as some weirder gifts that I only discovered in 9/11.  When so many souls are leaving the planet at the same time, the energetic and emotional toll is heavy on me and I’ve been running from it.  Until yesterday, I had been able to get by with partially armouring my heart.  I would sit in meditation, listening to the birds, but not truly meditating.  When I sat on Sunday, everything caught up with me and I was shaken.  I felt unbalanced and began to unravel.  Yesterday, I knew I had to stop running, open my heart, and just grieve.

I can’t be a cheerleader today.  It is right for me to cry.  It is right for me to have a shattered heart.  I can’t talk about a pandemic in abstract terms.  And I really cannot laugh about it.  For every number, there is a name.  For every name, there was a final moment, alone, somewhere.  Last words of love that are forever unspoken.  Souls left wandering, in shock.

I can’t continue to cheer us on,  like we’re all going to be okay.  Because if we are okay when 1.4 million people have officially tested positive for the virus and 76,000 people have already died, then who are we?  If, as a species, we can be okay when the UN warns that 2 million Bangladeshis could die, and globally, mortuaries have been unable to cope with the volume of the dead, then I don’t want to be a part of this species.

I know that may sound judgemental to some people.  Maybe it is.  I am pretty firm in some of my core values, which is out of fashion.  In our work as spiritual beings, let us not condemn others for being who they are, and for feeling what they do.  But, let us not forget that a spiritual life is sacred and having discernment in one’s companions honours the sacred.

I’m so grateful today for the friends that went through 9/11 with me, in New York.  On a smaller scale, we have been through a way-of-life changing event together, already.  There is an unbreakable bond that forms with the people who survive a trauma like that, together.  I’m so grateful that many of them are still in my life, even though we are scattered far apart from one another.  I’m also grateful for my spiritual circles, from New York to India to London to Vancouver and to online circles.   I have many friends but I feel that if I can’t bring my spiritual self to the table, I’m only bringing a shell of myself to the relationship.  I don’t want to do that, anymore.  It is essential for me to be able to be authentic and fully present. I am grateful to the young and handsome man for bringing his gift of wounding to the places where I most need to heal, even as I need to slow down my evolution to a manageable pace.   As much as it hurts, I am actually grateful that I’m able to feel all this global pain, instead of being shut down or in denial.  I think we will all get to the sadness part of the cycle of this grief, in our own time and in our own way.  Right now, it means that I need to turn the dial up my self-care.

Last night I listened to Jesus Christ Superstar.  I listened to the various versions till I found the one that was circulating in my house when I was a child (Murray Head/Ian Gillan, I think).  I went to Catholic primary school and religious studies was part of the curriculum, but  I truly did have a first impression of the gospels as being sung, Rock Opera style.  Music is a great salve and they say that the sense of smell is the most linked to memory but for me, listening to that album took me back to a young version of myself – somewhere around the 11 year-old mark.  She was a very open-hearted girl and was in love with Jesus.  Tapping into her spirit and to the passion of Christ made the tears flow for the suffering that fills the world, today.

For every number, there is a name.  I could not sense every individual, but I started witnessing their passing and, where needed, gently helping some of those thousands of souls on their onward journey.  There is more to come.  I have a headache this morning from it.  But, my heart feels more malleable and at peace.  I’m ready to meditate, to pray, to have strong boundaries and to practice good self-care so that I can serve again.  It may look like I’m doing nothing when I sit in prayer and meditation for most of the day, topped off with time for mourning, but I know that this is the best work that I have ever done.

Photo: Aaron Burden

For what are you most grateful, today?

Love, Ten Thousand Days

Love in the Time of COVID-19

April 1, 2020

Photo: Leighann Blackwood

Day 2047 – Day 2055

I spent the late afternoon on my balcony garden, watering my tulips with my tears.  Today, the first person I know (that I know of, at this time) lost his battle with COVID-19. To be sad at the passing of a life from this world into another is a very human response.  He was not really my friend, in fact.  He was the husband and essential person in the life of a woman who is a very dear friend to me.  And it is for both of them that I cried.  It is a hazard of love that our heart will break along with those hearts for whom we have love.

When my heart breaks, I am nearer to my Beloved Divine than when I’m coasting through life.

I see memes and articles about how it is hard to be single during this time of self-isolation.  I think this is the perfect time to be single.  The world has reduced love to a swipe screen of photographs like an online shopping cart as if we can fall in love in the same dispassionate way that we can decide if we want carrots or broccoli in our weekly shop.  I think for all those that meet on apps and make a life together, there are a dozen more encounters that were terribly empty.

I am a romantic.  I have always been a romantic. When I was a child, my first love was a man in white who came to me in my dreams.  I had a spiritual call very early, and my path was to be the path of love.  In difficult times, my faith is fortified not because I can make sense of the world and what is happening, but because I turn my heart, and the Heart of Hearts turns to me.

About a week ago, my good friend WRDSMTH posted one of his WRDS and it really struck me.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the repeating numbers that I was seeing – specifically 11:11.  It is said that this is the number of the Twin Flame and it also represents a spiritual gateway.  I knew, when I wrote the piece, who that twin flame was.  It took me a few weeks of seeing the numbers and scoffing at the idea that the person who first came to mind might be my twin flame, but eventually the gravity of that awareness rested within me.  I know who it is.  I knew him before he came into my life.  I realize that I painted him out of my subconscious, 2 years before I ever encountered him.

I don’t know how to incorporate this idea of a twin flame into my existing belief structure.  I don’t even know if it is a real thing, or what it means.  What I can tell you is that I’m aware of a deep connection to someone on every level, but most certainly on a spiritual level.  I first connected to him over spiritual issues and then became aware that I could hear him in my heart.  We have an awful lot in common but that is just surface.  I hear him, in my heart.

Yes, that sounds crazy.  I’ve even asked professionals if I might be crazy.  I’m not crazy.  The fact that we question the spiritual at times like this is crazy.

The path of the mystic is that of the madman who must trust, and dwell in the not knowing.

Even though I don’t know what to say about it, what it is or, really, anything, I don’t believe I’d have happened upon and have been made aware of this relationship if it isn’t the will of the Divine that I know it.  And if the Divine is making me aware of something that seems weirdly magical, I’m going to do everything I can to remain open to whatever happens.

I’ve spent weeks and months trying to talk myself out of this and telling myself it is crazy.  I still struggle to trust my own knowing of what I know.  But there is one thing that I know.

I know exactly who I love and where I want to be.

Love rejoices in the truth.

As I witness the brevity of earthly love, in the passing of my friend’s husband, I want to call out to he that lives inside my heart: “Don’t waste time!!! We could be dead tomorrow. Let’s ground this in reality, now.” But I must learn to trust in Divine timing.  Maybe it will happen when this quarantine is over and all the souls have been released.  And maybe it will not happen in this lifetime.

Love is patient.  Love is kind.

Knowing it may not happen in this lifetime, I can’t let my wishing it could be so be a distraction from the spiritual awareness that it has brought to me.  And then there is this: just because I am aware of this connection, it does not mean that he is aware or welcoming of the crazy-making awakening that this brings.  All gentle gestures I have made toward him, in the real world, have gone unanswered.  I have to respect that boundary.  The heart longs for spiritual companionship but it also yearns to fulfill the wishes of the one that is loved.  Maybe I’m not what he wants, in the real world, in this lifetime.  And so, I need to learn to walk the line between remaining open and stepping back.

Love is not proud, rude or self seeking.

This year, I have been ruminating on the link between gratitude and love.  And, I’ve been called to begin to tell the stories of love. We may never meet.  Although I would prefer to be with him, as crazy as it sounds, I know we are together, on the inner planes, always.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.

I am so grateful to be awake to this love.  Whether he walks with me or not, I will gratefully burn in the fire of this spiritual love and allow a quickening.   I am grateful that the spiritual work that either of us does seems to benefit the other.  And I am grateful that this love is a taste of the sweetness and the madness that is being lost in the love of the Divine.

This is my first story of love.

This is love, in the time of COVID-19.

 

Ten Thousand Days

Fragile

March 23, 2020

Photo: Antonio Poveda Montes

Day 2040 – Day 2046

Last week I was talking with a friend and what has struck me with the way things have gone down this week, is how fragile we are.

We have become a world that is pretty smug with all our machine-learning and virtual assistants.  We have more inequality than we have had in modern times, but we are a more affluent world than we’ve ever been.  We’ve gotten used to everything on demand and innovation solving all our problems.  We are pretty self-satisfied and we think we’ve got it all figured out.  We see people acting in a certain way and we think we have their number. We have built skyscrapers and driverless transportation systems.  We fly through the air, stopping here and there and having weekend breaks to Vegas, Vienna, Barcelona, Zanzibar and beyond.  We’ve got it made and we are the Apex predator.  We’re the big cheese, the big man/woman/person on campus.  In our smugness, we have forgotten just how fragile and precious this little life we have been gifted really is.  And we have not only killed God.  We have become God.  When Oppenheimer quoted the Baghavad Gita in reference to the testing of the first atomic bomb, we should have learned our lesson about replacing God with technology.  As Oppenheimer said, quoting Shiva:  “Now I have become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

The fact is that right now, our faith in technology is failing us.  There are not enough ventilators, beds, or PPE for our medical staff.  We are running out, globally, of a key chemical used for testing. We believed in the myth of technology but planned for Amber risk.  We never planned for Catastrophic scenarios, because technology would save us first.

And the second fact that is salient right now is that with all our technology and all our wealth, we are but a fragile bit of sentient organic matter.  Our worth to the world, if we boiled down our elements, would be just a few dollars.  With all our knowledge and all our money, all our perceived power over one another, in a swift movement across the planet, an organism 1/1000 the size of a human hair is taking us out by the thousands, perhaps the hundreds of thousands, or millions, before we’re done.

Woah, wait, you came here for gratitude, a bit of joy, to feel connected and served.  Well, if we can dwell in the sublime truth of our fragility we will see, without hesitation, how connected we all are.  Only by honouring our connection, being laid out in stark detail in every ER in the world, will we survive this moment in history.  Never before in my lifetime has it been so clear: What I do, what you do, affects the rest of the world.

Maybe the profound truth was revealed to some of us early on.  But the herd? Well the human psyche is fascinating. When faced with our powerlessness, the first thing most of us do is to deny reality.

As late as mid-week last week there was still a cultural story here in Canada that we had to somehow waste energy and precious time managing the threat that those who called in sick could be taking a free ride, bunking off of work.  Within two days our city was in a state of emergency and everything but essential services were supposed to shut. There are fines being imposed for failure to apply social distancing and self-isolation.

Borrowing from Kubler Ross, when a threat comes upon us we go between panic (bargaining) and denial for the first while.  Because of the denial, we are often forced into situations we didn’t choose, for our own good.  I think of the way lower Manhattan, where I lived and worked, was closed down to anyone but residents/first responders during 9/11.  Some people were still in denial, heading to work, even as people were fleeing the area below Christopher St/4th Ave. The police, and then the National Guard, turned people back.

Denial can look a lot like a good sense of humour.   I am all for a good laugh – even gallows humour.  The laugh fortifies us as we slowly let the truth sink in.

What comes after our panicked bargaining response and our denial (which seems to resurface as we bounce between emotions) is probably depression.  This week, when I have tried to meditate, I find it incredibly difficult.  My heart is so heavy with what is happening in our world.  In case you haven’t noticed, they’ve stopped leading the news with global statistics.  The numbers are just too big for us to process in this COVID-19 pandemic.  The last time I recall it being the lead, we were talking about just over 100K cases.  I found today’s numbers.  We are over 400K, globally, of all the cases confirmed.  I would not be surprised if the number of presumptive cases for which tests are not offered is an order of magnitude higher.

Denial will kill so many people.

What worries me is what comes next.  When the anger hits us all, how then will we cope?  I can only hope that we will remember our humanity, then.

I’ve seen some people out and about, taking social distancing and isolation very lightly, even in the midst of a state of emergency.  Non-essential businesses are still open.  When I’m fighting to breathe or my friend or family member is fighting to breathe, how will I forgive that person who just had to go skiing or go to the island for a weekend getaway, or congregate with friends at the beach to watch the sunset, or take their car in for servicing – all during a state of emergency or disaster?

My anger is already here.  I’m locked in my house and I’m going to give into it with a full force so that I can work it through and move on to acceptance.  I’m grateful for a lifetime of personal growth work that gives me the tools and the resilience to meet my dragon and let her rip, without smashing up someone’s car, their reputation or a friendship.  Well, let’s be honest here.  If you are someone who was cavalier in this crisis, the fate of our friendship is already sealed.  Perhaps you will be right and I was over reacting.

I would love to be wrong.

And let’s not even begin to talk about whether our unsustainable lifestyles have had a part to play in this, when so many of us have been sounding the alarm for decades.  I can’t talk about it, but I will feel it and move through it.

I’m grateful to have seen societies with weak infrastructure, many times.  I have seen how fragile are the systems on which we rely.  I’m grateful to have studied complex emergency and been a Risk Manager/Business Continuity and Crisis Manager in a global organization.  I know how to plan for the worst, even if it is unlikely to happen.  I know how to escalate response.  I know all this and even I was thrown by how fast we went from business as usual to High Risk with preparations for a Catastrophic scenario.  I’m grateful to be humbled.

At the moment there is not a lot of joy in my life except in being able to come together with others in solidarity and to attempt to be of service to others.  I fear for the world when the anger hits.  My hope is that we can all remember our Oneness and move through the anger and sadness without violence.

Our bodies, our psyches, our world is fragile.

If you are feeling it like I am, and you are being crushed under the weight of what is happening, if you are saddened or furious, I invite you to go deep into it and feel it.  Feel it for all it’s worth and let it give you the wisdom that is at the heart of every phase of our collective grief.  But, please, don’t take it out on those around you, no matter what jerks they’ve been.  I invite you to bring your darkness here, and let it rip in the comments. Bring it here, lay it all down and let it go.  My comment section can take it.  Your partner’s face, your neighbour’s car – they’re off limits.  Use my comment section.  I won’t publish it if you want to vent. It goes into moderation already; I’ll clean it up later.

As we said, in Manhattan, in the days following 9/11:  Take care of yourself.  Take care of each other.

In our lifetimes, the stakes have not been higher.

 

Photo: Filip Mroz

 

For what are you most grateful, today?