When Fear and Hate Burns in One of Us, It Could Ignite Any of Us: What Kind of Human Being Will Emerge from The Flames?

 

It’s gray and raining. Raining as if the earth itself were crying. As if the gray “inside” me and the gray “outside” were one and the same. As if the very light of the world was going out.

 

We’ve had so many gray, shattering moments over the last seven or so years. The election of a wanna-be dictator, who put his own darkness as more important than the life of anyone else. Luckily, we also had some relief, some sunshine, as he, despite his lies, was voted out of office and now faces prosecutions for some of his most major crimes. We had a life-shattering pandemic. We had all the weather disasters signaling the climate itself was shattering. We had the invasion of Ukraine by another dictator.

 

But this…. Hamas invading Israel and committing such torture, of children and of so many others. And then, the whole world waited to see what horrors would follow in retribution, as Israel attempts to free the hostages and end Hamas forever. A whole world seemingly brought to the edge. And then the violence continued.

 

However, as many have said, an idea can’t be killed. Many of us are acting to limit or control the violence. But the killing, maiming, torture, and displacement continues. It must somehow stop.

 

What kind of humanity will emerge from these flames? Who will we, we individuals, and we as a species, show ourselves to be? This moment is all we have.

 

What face will we see as ourselves? What will we do? Will we lay blame, or will we model compassion? Will we care more for securing our assumptions and beliefs than perceiving the reality of the whole⎼ the reality of ourselves, of all humanity, all life? After 70-80 years of such grief, and historic trauma going back before that for years and years, of fear, anger, and horror, compassion is not the first response that might come to us. But what about those of us not in Israel and Palestine?

 

Whenever we feel tempted to believe we know the one and only truth, we must look more carefully. Many of us focus on Israel oppressing the Palestinians for years, keeping millions locked into a tiny space under inhumane conditions. And this, I think, is part of the truth. Or we might see that Hamas has been secretly plotting for years for this moment; planning to utterly destroy the Jewish state, maybe destroy all Jewish people they find. And this, too, is part of the truth. Or maybe other nations in the area have been contributing to keeping Palestinians locked up in Gaza, to serve their own purposes? The situation is so complex; so much I don’t know.

 

But why close our minds with blame, and justify it with hate, instead of feeling our shared humanity? Why must we demonize one person or group? Why must blame come first? Too often, blame paves the road for violence to travel on. Can’t our pain unite us? We need to quickly recognize what or who is dangerous to us. But can’t we use less distorted distinctions than those based solely on race, nationality, religion, gender, etc. to do so?

 

Many claim it’s just human nature to create in and out groups. But whatever we say about human nature we can find factual evidence for the opposite….

 

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

Let Love Live, Revisited: Will We Act to Strengthen the Caring Relationship We Call a Community and Hope to See Actualized in Our Nation?

I’m sure you, too, are amazed at scenes like this: You’re watching your child at play, or a puppy running around the yard. Or you’re walking in the woods and see a fawn, or a kit, a baby fox, or a butterfly.

Or—I’m sitting in bed, a magazine on my lap. My wife is next to me, doing a puzzle. In between us, near our feet, are two cats, sleeping. I look at them, at all of us, and feel awe. Ok, the cats are simply sleeping, my wife, puzzling. But there is such trust on that bed. These beings want to be here, with me, with each other. They care. Or we care.

One of the cats, Miko, starts shaking, as if dreaming. He wraps his front paws around and over his head, as if to hide. I lean over and touch his back, and the shaking stops. He relaxes, releases his head, and turns over, showing me his belly. There is such vulnerability there, and tenderness. I give myself to you, and you give it back, enhanced.

When life is tough, we need to know such moments are possible, and even better, how to create a situation so they’re probable.

I’m reading an article in Lion’s Roar: Buddhist Wisdom for Our Time. The piece details a wonderful conversation between author and meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg, and the educator, scholar and social activist Bell Hooks, about “The Power of Real Love.” Sharon talks of growing up and thinking that love is something given by others, but instead, it is an ability, a capacity, maybe even a responsibility we have in ourselves. Bell Hooks talks of love as residing in our actions, not just in our feelings.

In this day, in this threatening political climate, where fear and hate are so frequently in the news—How do we love? How do we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and care when the forces of domination and injustice seem to surround us?

Fear can be a message to wake up and observe more closely, or to turn away and flee. It’s built on opposition and is unstable and lasts only as long as we maintain a threat, an enemy, and a wall. Those outside the wall are rejected; those inside the wall are suspect. Such fear needs our compliance with it to succeed. Sometimes, we must or can’t help but act out of fear, but we pay an awful price when we allow fear to live too dominantly in us.

Love is built on mutuality, on approaching as close as possible to another being. It thrives on moments when there is little or no boundary or wall and, as the philosopher Ken Wilber put it, when our borders are not just points of demarcation but places where touching is possible….

 

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

 

**And thank you to Bell Hooks and Sharon Salzberg (and Lion’s Roar) for the conversation and teachings.

***This is a revisiting of a blog from September, 2017.

 

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.

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.

Stories that Free Us from Limiting Thoughts: Turning the Best of What Might Be into the Reality of What Is

The psychologist Milton Erickson was a transformative figure in therapy, using stories as ways to motivate, change, or de-hypnotize us from hurtful and limiting patterns of behavior. When I was teaching, I used his and other stories to make a point and engage students when their attention drifted, or when they needed something real but approachable to appear in the classroom.

 

One example of a story I always loved was how Erickson taught an athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. This version was told by Sidney Rosen in his book My Voice will Go with You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson.

 

A high school athlete named in the book as Donald Lawrence had been practicing to set a national high school record for throwing a shot put. But after a year, he could only put the shot 58 feet, way short of the record.

 

His father brought him in to see Erickson, who at their first meeting helped Donald go into a trance and feel his muscles one by one. On the next visit, after repeating the trance for muscle awareness, Erickson asked Donald if he knew a mile used to be four minutes long. The record had stood for many years until Roger Bannister broke the record. Erickson asked, “Do you know how?”

 

Bannister had realized you could win a ski jump by a tenth of a second or a race. Since a four-minute mile was 240 seconds, all he had to do to set a new record was run a mile in 239.9 seconds, or 239.5. One tenth or one half a second faster.

 

“You have already thrown the shot fifty-eight feet…Do you know the difference between fifty-eight feet and fifty-eight feet and one-sixteenth of an inch?” Donald said no. Erickson slowly enlarged the possibility of what Donald could do in his mind until 2 weeks later Donald set the high-school record. He went on to set more records until four years later he brought home the Olympic gold.

 

Erickson, says Rosen, used obvious truths to plant suggestions for personal growth. He told Donald, “You’re four years older now. It would be all right if you take the gold medal.” The first was true; the second could be true. By juxtaposing them, Erickson made the unrealized realizable, the unknown known. He demonstrated the control Donald had when he moved step by step and eliminated the anxiety that can erupt from the past. Donald was left with each moment being the first and only moment to focus on. And then he, or the real person ‘Donald’ represents, won the gold.

 

Likewise, each of us can be freed from many of our fears and limitations….

 

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