A Crazy Dream: When We Teeter on the Edge Between Depression and Hopefulness

I am dreaming that what seemed impossible yesterday will be possible tomorrow. Or as Anne Applebaum put it in her recent article in the Atlantic, the Impossible Suddenly Became Possible. People are waking up to the fact that war can still happen, yet we can and we must not only save Ukraine but save and expand democracy.

 

On February 28, Ali Velshi, substituting for Joy Reid on the MSNBC program the ReidOut, discussed results unexpected by Putin, and maybe by many of us. He didn’t expect President Zelensky of Ukraine to be such a determined, inspiring leader. He didn’t expect so many Ukrainian civilians to take up arms. Didn’t expect university students, bartenders, common citizens to make Molotov cocktails in their classrooms, bars and homes. He didn’t expect ordinary Ukrainians to sit down in front of tanks. He didn’t expect thousands to protest in Russian cities, and cities throughout the world. He didn’t expect former Soviet satellite states like Belarus, or Hungary, to refuse to send troops or support him, but instead to speak out against him. To help isolate him.

 

He didn’t expect Russian troops to surrender their arms and admit to reporters they were told they were being sent on maneuvers or a peacekeeping mission, not being asked to kill fellow Balkans. He didn’t see NATO coming together after his protégé, DJT, did all he could to undermine or destroy US alliances with other democracies.

 

All through the world, as well as here in the U. S., people who want to live in a democracy, who were shocked by DJT, GOP attacks on voting rights, white nationalist violence, COVID, global warming, economic insecurity into being afraid or hopeless saw what we dreaded most played out. Putin made them see, made us see, what we could lose. Made us see what might happen if we did not act. If we got so caught up in ourselves that we forgot that we share this world, this suffering, this love of life with others, billions of others. We realized if we hadn’t already done so⎼ we cannot allow the forces of autocracy to be emboldened any further.

 

In-between the perception that something is wrong, and the action taken to stop it is a gigantic space, and an opportunity we all have, to find our communion with others. To find our power. To find the way that we, the unique people that we are, to act, to help, to speak. Seeing what the Ukrainians are facing and doing can inspire us to act. But will we act?

 

Yet, as Dana Milbank put it in a Washington Post article, Republicans are so eager to see Biden fail, so eager to undermine democracy, they act in ways that help Putin succeed. Act in ways that threaten not only Ukrainians, and other Europeans, but us. Here, in the U. S. They are supporting an autocratic ruler who is causing an unknown number of deaths and, so far, almost one million refugees with the goal of destroying a nation’s freedom and way of life.

 

There is the popular expression about using a carrot or a stick to get people to learn, or to act ⎼ using praise or blame, prizes or threats, inspiration or fear. Due to the awful conditions we face right now and might face later, from COVID, climate change, white nationalists, and Putin⎼ this is the stick. We can see what we fear happening here or everywhere. But there’s also the carrot, the opportunity, the prize. But this prize is not something someone else gives us but one we give ourselves. We get stronger. We get closer to others. More compassionate. We build a better society.

 

Because of Putin we might be shocked into action. Because of the Ukrainian people, we might be inspired.

 

As Heather Cox Richardson put it, “…Ukrainian resistance to Russian president Vladimir Putin, supported by the cooperation of the U.S. and European allies and partners in strangling Russia’s economic system, was forging a global alliance against the authoritarianism that has been growing in power around the world.” It’s time to join that resistance. To speak out in support of, to send aid, money, supplies to Ukraine.

 

As I fear what the Ukrainian people are facing, and teeter on an edge between depression and hopefulness, it is beginning to seem more possible that we can build a resistance and maybe create a better world for us to live in. We can build or actualize a love for this world. I hope I’m not just dreaming.

 

 

**Many people and organizations are working to aid the people of Ukraine and stop not only Putin but international and American forces of autocracy. One list of organizations to support is provided by Timothy Snyder, historian, and author of On Tyranny. You can also read his newsletter on Ukraine. Charity Navigator is another resource.

 

***This article was syndicated by The Good Men Project. Please go to this link.

 

Imagining the Space to be Ourselves

There have been too many days lately when the world seems to be changing too fast. So much of the human world screams at us to be on guard that we can feel crowded out of our own lives. We can feel there’s no room for us to be ourselves. To enjoy. To breathe. So, how do we give ourselves the space we need to breathe and be ourselves?

 

Sometimes, I find myself rushing out of an unformed now to an already completed idea of later. I wake with the ring of an alarm and I’m on my way someplace before I even remove the quilt covering my body. The day already belongs to the past. Or instead of being in bed in the morning in my sleep clothes, I am already dressed in a costume to play a role someone else wrote. To leave my bed is to step onto a stage. Or I feel myself driven by an expectation or self-judgement that is so old I don’t even remember where or how it began.

 

This is how anxiety can arise with me in the morning and continue through the day. It is how we can both fear the future and want the present already over with. When we concentrate solely on how others will see us, we are never seen. If the day is already determined, we have little say in it.

 

Recently, before getting out of bed in the morning, I‘ve been reminding myself⎼ This is my life. I even put up reminders, a photo, artwork, saying, or just the word⎼ ‘remember.’ As much as I can, I stop for a moment to imagine what I do that helps me stay open. That adds to my feeling of strength and agency. That allows me, right now, to learn from and deepen my awareness. To enjoy living. To meet others as more like friends or at least unknown beings rich in possibility. It is my life. So, why not sit for a moment remembering that?

 

And throughout the day, if I’m driving myself and rushing too quickly, I stop and breathe. I question the voices in my head and notice the movement in my body. Judgmental words are visualized as birds flying off toward the sun. I notice them, learn from them, and let them go.

 

This first practice re-affirms what I was already doing⎼ remembering how to take it easy on myself and not let fear or anxiety take control. The second is inspired by a book I am reading about learning different forms of attention. The way we focus, or the quality of our attention, can either increase or decrease the pain we feel. This is equally true with emotional and physical pain.

 

We could do this anywhere, except not right after a meal. For now, imagine we take a seat in a quiet spot. When ready, and with eyes open, we ask ourselves: “Can you let your mind and body naturally and effortlessly respond to the following questions?” 15 seconds later, we continue: “Can you imagine paying attention to the feeling of space that the whole room occupies?”

 

This is the beginning of a practice from a fascinating book called Dissolving Pain: Simple Brain Training Exercises for Overcoming Chronic Pain, by Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins. It comes with a CD of guided exercises. Doing the exercises, in my opinion, is no replacement for the depth of meditation. But they are a wonderful complement to it. They teach open-focus attention and how to discern and use whichever form of awareness is appropriate to a situation….

 

**To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

January 6th. Light a Candle, Carry a Sign, Call Congress.

January 6th. Another day of infamy. Another day that must never be forgotten or allowed to be repeated. A day that, if we act, today and tomorrow⎼ If we find within ourselves the way to make political and social action a normal part of our day, then we can stop the theft of our rights and destruction of our world. We can end the pandemic. Even small things, signs on our cars, phone calls to Congress, letters, giving aid or support to others, talking honestly with neighbors and friends, wearing masks. Doing something helps us feel we can do something. Join with thousands of others who today will light a candle and carry it in a demonstration or put it in their window.

 

Then call Congress to end the filibuster and pass the Voting Rights Protection Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Then Build Back Better. Help put out the flames of hate and global warming. Today.

Putting Out the Flames: A Frightening Letter to Awaken the Conscience of Senators

 

A reader of my blogs shared with me a frightening letter. He felt something must be done, or that he must do something. He wrote by hand, to two Senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and sent the correspondence to the Senator’s offices. He also sent copies to a few media outlets hoping to motivate thousands of similar letters. Making a phone call, he thought, was ok. But a handwritten one is so old school and personal.

 

Here is the letter:

Dear Senators Sinema and Manchin,

Please vote for the voting rights bills now in Congress. Donald Trump is supported by people who call themselves Nazis. They praise Adolf Hitler and glorify war. If Trump wins again he will declare himself dictator, ending democracy forever. We must assume this because they will kill people we love.  

Senators Manchin and Sinema, when they start killing Democrats and minorities, the Republicans will let you join their party. You and your loved ones will be safe. For the love of my family and millions of families worldwide, please pass the voting rights bills.

Thank you,

 

His letter certainly expresses the fear he is feeling, not only for himself and his family, but for all of us. He sent it to awaken the conscience of these Senators, so they’d finally help put out the flames that are burning this nation and our world ⎼ or so they’d at least stop fueling the fires with their opposition to crucial legislation.

 

There is no doubt our nation and world are on fire. We know this, or many of us do. I think secretly we all know this. It’s hard to miss the fires that burned forests and homes in much of the western part of our nation this year and the recent past. It’s hard to miss sidewalks and roads that melted this past summer, record droughts, record windstorms and tornadoes that struck just a few weeks ago. Unless maybe we think they will only happen to someone else. They happen to all of us, one way or another, one disaster or another.

 

It is hard to miss the hate that too often walks our streets, or even our schools and workplaces. People shot or attacked. For being Black, Brown, Asian, HGBTQ, Jewish, Muslim, Native American ⎼ or a woman. They attack women who just want a choice as to what happens with their own body, or who want healthcare and rights equal to men. In Texas, the GOP passed a bill that could lead to mob violence against women and those who support them….

 

*To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

A New Year’s Wish: We All Share the Community of Breath

I want to celebrate. It is the solstice, and so many holidays are here, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Years. But the days have been getting so dark lately, not just in terms of being the darkest time of the year, but emotionally. It’s also cold today. And the numbers of those sick from COVID is frightening. Two friends of mine are suffering now from the illness and must quarantine. No holidays with friends and family this year.

 

It can seem like we are all in quarantine, at least emotionally. When some of us are in quarantine, a part of all of us is in hiding, from the news and crazy weather if not from the pandemic.

 

In the four years that DJT was unfortunately in office, he fostered fear and oppression, hate and violence. He did this it seems in an effort to shock us so frequently or create enough chaos we would surrender and allow him to crown himself King or anoint himself absolute ruler just to turn off the fear. This is why the GOP have been working feverishly to strip away  our voting rights and protections. But to allow him to seize power would only make the threat inconceivably worse.

 

And even though, thankfully, we now have a caring and rational President in Joe Biden, this might seem to many like just a pause, a calm before the storm. It might seem like the efforts of those who would rip our rights and lives from us are succeeding.

 

And the state of the earth itself is adding to this darkness, not only with normal seasonal changes but with abnormal roars of dismay and anger over our abuse of the planet. Historic windstorms and tornadoes last week followed record droughts and fires in the summer and fall, shaking us to realize what happens when the earth warms too precipitously.

 

What is there to celebrate?

 

My wife and 2 of our 3 cats are sitting near to me. We create a place of safety, a haven or home for each other. Outside, the green grass is lightly coated with white. The tufted titmice, blue jays, and chickadees are energetically diving down to get the food we left for them and carry it off to eat.

 

The winter solstice clearly signals both an end, and a beginning, but of what, besides a date on a calendar? Our ancestors, the earliest humans, might have met the dark unsure if the light would ever come again. They might have felt they were returning to the birth of the universe or of life itself, when the world was born from the womb of matter or chaos. They might have wondered what they had done to create the dark. But if creation could triumph over destruction, then maybe light would return; maybe they would not only survive but thrive.

 

The universe itself can thus remind us of what is possible. The movement and tilt of the earth as it rotates around the sun brings seasons, night, and day. Likewise, we can help bring a new season of light to the human world….Protecting Voting Rights

 

**To read the whole piece, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Noticing the Weather Patterns in Ourselves: And the Ruins and Beauties of the Past Remaining in the Present

I feel⎼ my feelings are so complex right now. I feel myself sitting in this chair, warm in my midsection, with a hint of coldness in my hands. Outside, the sun shines brightly on the white snow that covers the ground. There is such beauty in the first snows of the season, in the contrast between the utter white of the snow and the brown gray of tree trunks, the tan wood supports of the carport, the blue jays and cardinals on the ground, people walking on the wet street.

 

The world seems so clear, fresh, and alive. Yet, behind my eyes, a tension threatens to impose itself on or obliterate what I see.

 

How do I face this tension? This looming sense of threat? Do I focus on thoughts that arise, question them, or follow them back like an archaeologist exposing the ruins of the past that remain in the present?

 

Or do I focus on the specific details of a perception? The call of the blue jay? The snow resting on the bare branch of an apple tree? Or do I let my eyes rest on the entire scene?

 

Or do I feel the air entering, refreshing my body? Passing over my upper lip and moving inside, down to my chest, belly, and even feet. Each in-breath with a beginning, middle, and end. And then a pause. Everything quiets. And then my belly and diaphragm push up. An exhalation begins.

 

Or as I inhale, the area expands and the tension in my forehead, temples, or jaw is diffused. And as I exhale, I let go.

 

The scene outside might seem so permanent, almost. Sometimes. It is so easy to think that nothing will ever change. That the threats of today will continue. And it is true there will always be threats. But there will also always be beauty and love.

 

This scene only exists because it is constantly changing. The earth itself, which can seem immobile, frozen in place, is moving through space while spinning on its axis, so we have day and night, and seasons. It moves in relation to other planetary bodies, like the moon, so we have tides. It moves internally, which is why we have earthquakes, the migration of continents, volcanoes, weather patterns⎼ and wind, rain, and snow. And we know how dangerous as well as beautiful many of these changes can be.

 

Outside the window, two crows glide into the scene crying raucously.

 

We, our body, and our emotions, can also seem so set, permanent. Yet, we are alive because of the constant movement of breathing. We see because of the constant movement of and in our eyes. We hear because of the changes taking place every second in our ears and brain. We are sad, then happy. We are 6 years old, then 60. We know this⎼ yet we don’t. It’s obvious everything changes. What’s not so obvious, borrowing from Buddhist teacher Albert Low, is that everything is change….

 

**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

How Do We Face What We Believe is Unfaceable?

How do we face a fact or situation we believe we cannot face? Or respond skillfully to a personal or collective crisis?

 

In the Winter 2021 issue of Tricycle Magazine: The Buddhist Review, there is an article by environmentalist Paul Hawken adapted from his new book Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation. Hawken says we live on a planet dying due to severed connections between human beings and the natural world that sustains and contains us. The decline of the earth is its’ adaptation to what we are doing to it.

 

72% of Americans know that the consensus of scientists is that climate change is human caused. A U. N. panel recently labeled the situation a climate emergency. But Hawken says that if we stop making the mistakes we’re making, if we end the disconnection, if we cease the production of fossil fuels, redirect the economy to stop overconsumption, deforestation, wars, etc. the earth will come back to life. This is difficult but possible. But many don’t, won’t or can’t allow this to even be a possibility in their mind.

 

Many have come to think we have already gone too far, or it would take generations to stop catastrophic global warming. But Hawken says, if we can reduce carbon gain and achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050, we can regenerate the planet in one or two decades.

 

It is easier to not-think about it. To not consider the possibility that the planet, or human life on it, can be saved. For some of us, to bring the earth’s future back to life inside our heart and mind brings the hurt back to life. Pain. It can feel easier to fashion scabs of anger or ig-norance than face pain.

 

I think of two friends and neighbors who say they have given up. They usually vote. Maybe this is a sign that vestiges of hope or commitment remain⎼ or of love. But they won’t do anything more. Won’t help get out the vote or call politicians or take to the streets. They say it will do no good. Maybe the grief they feel over the dying earth has immobilized them.

 

And I understand this response. I too feel the grief for what and whom we’ve lost, for the losses from the pandemic, for an easier time when I did not feel the earth itself was on the way to the emergency room, or that white nationalists might once again inhabit the White House like they did just a year ago. I, too, yearn for comfort.

 

In a recent blog, I described how it’s less the situation we face, or the sensations we feel, that determine our emotional state, but our response to the situation and feelings. We often think of fear as what readies us to act to protect ourselves. But as psychologist William James pointed out over a hundred years ago, we don’t have an emotion and then act. We don’t see a bear in the woods, or maybe a domestic terrorist on the street, and then feel fear, and run.

 

Instead, our response is constructed in stages. We feel fear as our body begins to sweat, our heartbeat speeds up, our legs twitch. Fear is an interpretation added to sensations. The sensations themselves are the same as a stress response or emotions like excitement. The interpretation includes thoughts such as labeling a threat as unmanageable as well as an inclination to act, for example, by hiding….

 

**To read the whole article, please click on the link for the Good Men Project, who first published the piece.

Yes. It’s Time to Vote: Let’s Make It a Holiday Celebrating Our Rights and Responsibilities

I think we need to do something comforting, pleasurable each election day, to make it a holiday for ourselves. It should be a holiday, a day off from normal work to do the work of running a democracy. This is already part of current proposed voting rights legislation.

 

Sure, it is already sort of a holiday. It is already a day that fills headlines, creates anxiety and hopefully joy. It is already a day on the calendar each year when we’re given the opportunity and thus the responsibility for having a political choice and a political voice. For being allowed to speak publicly. But why not make it official? Not every person has that choice. Not every nation has that choice. And there are too many, who call themselves members of the GOP, or white nationalists or conservatives who would take away that choice from us.

 

Democracy is never about getting all you want or having the perfect candidate to support. If a person seems too perfect, it is likely we’re overlooking something. But the choices can still be very clear. Right now, we have a GOP party whose leader is clearly racist. Who not only terribly mismanaged but malignantly spread disinformation about a pandemic, putting his own political welfare before the lives and health of the people of the nation. Who lied about an election in order to destroy democracy and proclaim himself a dictator. Who lied about the climate and the emergency we are facing and so put the future of the planet and all living beings at risk.

 

We need to vote to proclaim our humanity.

 

Right now in Virginia there is a clear choice. Terry McAuliffe is running against a GOP candidate supported by DJT, who argued against mask mandates and other policies to protect people, even children, from COVID-19, who attacked public schools and teaching any history or even novels that includes the fact of slavery and racism. Who for the first four months of his campaign refused to acknowledge President Biden was the legally elected President and helped spread a lie that undermines elections themselves and the democratic and peaceful transition of power. This election is far too close.

 

And there are so many other consequential races. There are the legislative races in Virginia and other states, the New Jersey gubernatorial race, mayoral races, and ballot proposals. In New York State and elsewhere there are ballot proposals to protect and even advance voting rights, which are being vociferously attacked and distorted in the media by conservatives. Meanwhile, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, this year alone the GOP in 19 states have passed 33 laws to make it more difficult to vote, and most of these laws target black, brown, Indigenous and other people of color. On the other hand, 25 states have expanded voting rights protections.

 

Most of us know this. So, let’s do what we can today and tomorrow to get out the information and encourage everyone we know to vote. Every year, our elections have clear consequences, and this is what we want. We want our vote to have consequences, to have meaning. Maybe not as frightening ones as we have now or may have next year. Oh, if only there was more equity and less anxiety. But to protect our right to vote, we must exercise it.

 

*This blog was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

Difficult Conversations, And Crossing the Divide

Question:  Being an ally is important to me, but an obviously important piece of what that means is having difficult conversations with people who either believe that allyship is unnecessary or worse, some kind of liberal conspiracy.  I want to have better tools for dealing with people who are fact-resistant and believe the false stories in the right-wing media.  When I present multiple sources that contradict the lies they have heard, I feel like we end up on a merry-go-round in the he said/she said tradition where nobody learns anything and we both end up frustrated.  What can I be doing better?

 

Oh, yes. This dilemma is so familiar. It is so important that those of us who are white allies try to have those difficult conversations with the fact-resistant people that you refer to, about racism and other intersectional issues. And with those who might agree with us about the facts but can’t get motivated to act.

 

As you said, it has become increasingly frustrating, and I can’t claim much success. We can all think we know what’s right, so changing someone’s mind about anything important can be brutal, if not impossible. Simply mentioning certain issues can lead to anger or anxiety. Just presenting reliable evidence or showing how their evidence is contradictory or comes from unreliable sources doesn’t usually work. Our nation is on edge, suffering not only from what filmmaker Ken Burns called the three pandemics, COVID, white nationalism, and misinformation, but a climate emergency, so the tension we feel makes what’s difficult even more so.

 

In the political situation we are in today, the strongest wall the right-wing leaders have built is clearly not at our southern border, but down almost the middle of this nation. This wall was very deliberately constructed. Making conversations difficult is one way that differing viewpoints are turned into a wall.

 

When I taught a class on debate, I did research on persuasion.  A key point is to first get your foot in the door. Get any point of acceptance, of something we share or agree about. Say ‘yes’ and hopefully they will do the same. Establish a relationship so we are no longer on the other side of a door, or wall.

 

When disinformation is mistaken for truth, and truth becomes indistinguishable from belief, anyone who doesn’t reside on our side of the border on an issue is perceived as an enemy. And one of the main components of that wall is racism. So maybe the best thing to expect from ourselves is speaking to that reality as clearly as we can.

 

George Lakoff, in his books The All New Don’t Think of an Elephant, Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, and Your Brain’s Politics: How the Science of Mind Explains the Political Divide, provides clear, explicit methods for doing this. First, listen for the person’s values and speak to them. Don’t just negate or argue with the other person’s claims. Then, re-phrase or reframe the issue. And once that reframe is accepted in the conversation, our point of view can follow naturally from it, as common sense. Don’t be a patsy to their way of framing or misrepresenting the world. Use frames we really think are true based on values we hold. And recognize who might be more inclined to listen to us….

 

**To read the whole post, go to the Ask An Ally column of the Good Men Project.