this is my brain on information


Remember that commercial, “This is your brain on drugs”, the one where an egg was cracked into a sizzling frying pan?

Yesterday, I wrote of the way that I can fill my head with learning – processing and integrating thoughts and ideas- curiously searching for wisdom beneath the events of the day, be they personal, political, or global. It’s a place into which I can easily retreat in order to ease my discomfort. This morning, however, I woke thinking that the wisest thing I could do right now is to get out of my head somehow, because ‘THIS is my brain on information’.

It’s been a long stretch here since coming back from my time away in Canada, the richness of a summer where I was largely disconnected from technology, spending my days in the moment, in the flesh of my body, in contact with the earth and with the person’s with whom I share it. There, I was out of touch with the political and social climate, while deeply in touch with the physical one. Was I in anyway lacking?

Looking back at my reentry, I see how difficult the transition was crossing that threshold back into this world, how disconnected I’d truly felt. Almost immediately thereafter came my husband’s surgery, which required my moving inside for weeks in my commitment to care for him during his recovery. I saw that as a buffer zone to diving right back into overstimulation, of sorts.. except I forgot to close the gate. In the confines of my home, separated from relationships that might have perhaps truly been welcoming, social media rushed into the void. At the time, I saw this as an opportunity to catch up on what I had missed during my time away, to be the ‘good’ citizen. Soon enough, I was swept into that chaotic world.

I realize there is something in web technology that hooks a curious brain like mine. So addictive is the one-more story, like popping one more pill, each one-more looking enticing, many of them really worthwhile, even meaningful, so that too soon my head is completely spinning in them. The overload, like binging rather than nourishing the body (even if what one is taking in is healthy), consumes me.

In many ways, it’s really no different than the overwhelming choices of any other kind we have in our lives today (Christmas shopping, anyone?). We’re so bombarded with choices, spinning our tires in them, that it’s hard to break free without crashing.

I recently heard that a study on happiness revealed that the optimal number of choices for a person to feel content is something like 6. Too fewer than that and he feels a lack of freedom of expression. More than that and she feels overwhelmed, even debilitated, so that no matter what choice she makes she will feel the potential of having missed out and making the wrong one.  Limitless opportunity and limitless resources do not satisfy this craving in us. I remembered today that one of the things I like about the simplicity of canoe camping, for instance, is that each day my choices are limited. I have one set of clothes to change into, the next meal that I eat is the one on top of the food barrel, and everything that I need I must be able to carry on my shoulders.

And so today, I woke thinking I need to fast.

Oh, but soon enough I started rationalizing my way out of that, too, because after all there are some really meaningful things that I receive (and, hopefully give?) in this technological world! There are faraway friends whose stories of their children make me smile. There are persons I have met far and wide whose photographs fill my heart with the beauty of the earth and the beauty of humanity. There are stories about men traveling in space for a year, who when asked what they missed on earth said, ‘little birch trees’. There are meaningful poems and inspirational essays brought right to my fingertips, which I would never find on my library shelves. There are videos of canoe trips that fill my heart with remembrance and joy. There are persons making meaning out of their life’s stories.

One of those persons this morning must’ve awakened with a similar noticing. On his page , he wrote this

  1. (Dictionary) Ponder: To consider something deeply and thoroughly; to meditate over or upon; to weigh carefully in the mind; consider thoughtfully.
  2. (Me) Ponder: A skill that I have slowly bartered away for constant access to and immediate digestion of information in this age of “constant connectivity

One of this person’s friends noted that she was feeling the same way, writing “Quantity vs quality. Too much info to wade through. I want to be informed, but it’s more info than the human brain was designed to process. Definitely feeling the need to pull back and go inward”. Later, she admitted that for her there was also a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) – not wanting to potentially miss something that she might find especially meaningful.

Well now, had I not logged in there this morning, I’d have missed that bit of resonance!! LOL, along with Parker Palmer’s equally resonant. “As various forms of madness swirl around me—and sometimes catch me up in the swirl—I need to be intentional about seeking sources of inner peace”.

Aha, I am not alone. Another draw to the addiction, perhaps.

And so I decided to sort instead. Yes, that might do it. A diet rather than a fast. Even as I do when I am preparing for a camping trip, pulling out of the pile what is extraneous, I gathered only what felt particularly meaningful and/or necessary, rather than throwing the whole lot into the trash.  I weaned the sites that I visit rather than deal with the cold-turkey withdrawal of a screaming brain.

I guess it’s not a whole lot different than the old days of addictively collecting books (bah, what do I mean the old days, two came in the mail today!) thinking just one more might have the answers I seek, yearning for resonance in them too. But it feels different somehow. I could walk away more easily from them. So often they went unread, unless the reading was required of me for a course or an upcoming program or retreat.

Which brings me to structure. This afternoon while visiting with a real, flesh-and-blood friend, we talked about books we have read. I noted how being in a class where the list of required reading was given by another, where I willingly gave the authority to another to make the choices for me, was freeing to me in a way. Those parameters helped me to feel that it was enough.

Earlier in the day I had read an article about meaningful work and the 4 S’s it provides for us as humans. Social connection, Stimulation, Story (part of something bigger), and Structure. The article struck me as holding some vital truth for me. You see,  I have a lot of unstructured space in my life (pity me, what a 1st world problem is that!). I suspect that part of what I seek to do in all of this taking in of information is to fill that void of meaningful purpose in my life. In the virtual world some of those S’s are met, however thinly and artificially, but the parameters of structure are missing.

The writing life, something I occasionally aspire to imagining I am engaging, is similar in its looseness of structure (with the added lack of social connection) and constantly I wonder whether I am contributing any meaningful chapters to the greater story of which I am somehow a part.  When I came home from Canada, one of the first posts that I shared in this space , about my struggle to reenter this world of overmuch, was greeted by a comment that felt scolding, something to the effect that ‘while nature doesn’t really need you, people do. Gather yourself to do good where you can’.

I felt the recrimination in that perhaps because it hit home in the place within me that fears? believes? knows? she is purposelessly drifting, the place that feels self-indulgent at best,  worthless at worst, that wonders what meaning/what contribution her life here is offering. And so I engaged, reading and writing, learning and sharing deeply of myself, both in this blogosphere and in that other sphere that is the virtual social network.

But does every ‘profound’ realization that I have, every meaningful story I read, need to be shared? Is there not some arrogance in that too? What purpose do all of these words serve to the greater good in a world already so inundated with them, so much so that I, lover of words that I am, feel the need to cut myself off from them?

Perhaps one day I will do it, cut myself off from this place, return to the quiet earth and its simpler gifts, to a humbler life of not needing to be a part of anything bigger or more meaningful at all, not needing to be seen or known by any other than the beings with whom I share this space, trusting that I am enough.





searching for voice (in all the wrong places?)


I’m wondering how my fellow introverts and/or contemplatives and/or mystics out there are holding up in the midst of the political milieu?

Frequently, in these recent hyper-reactive days, I have found myself recalling the spirituality typologies I learned years ago –the heart-centered relational types, the action-centered social justice warriors, the mind-centered intellectual truth seekers and the contemplative-centered seers of beauty-and-wonder that are the mystics/poets.


For those of us whose home rests in that forth- introverted/contemplative- space, who naturally and easily drift back into that poetic space of seeing beneath, these times of being pulled up and out into the chaotic body politic can soon feel disorienting and overwhelming.  I’ve found myself reaching across the axis into my intellectual/thinking self for the comfort that deep understanding can bring. That’s always an easier place for us (introvert/mystics) to go than into action on one side or relationships on the other.  But that place can also leave us feeling as if we are lacking somehow.

Alone, too.

I’ve found myself yearning for contemplative community again.  I don’t know about you, but when poet David Whyte’s winter brochure came with its resonant letter of introduction (albeit a love letter that was greeted with blank stares by those around me, with whom I tried to enthusiastically share it) , I was ready to book a flight to the west coast.

Our way of seeing in the world is often difficult to communicate, as so often we are dabbling in the ineffable, and instead we come across as out of touch.  When the surface of life gets chaotic, especially, we dive deep beneath it, seeking wisdom and oneness and peace. All of the wisdom traditions expound this way of understanding in some way, whether it’s Rumi’s

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

Or the oft quoted and attributed to many

God is a circle whose center is everywhere”

Alas, this is who I am, the gift that I bring?.  I have known this for some long time now, yet it continues to elude me exactly what I am to do with it.  Just last week, on the 240 question Via character strength survey I took, (which divides up our types into surprisingly similar categories as the spirituality typologies above) I scored highest on seeing Beauty and seeking Wisdom. (I suspect this is why photography has so often appealed to and satisfied me. I think it mirrors something within me that is always looking through a beauty-seeking lens, even in the midst of the messiness of life).  Not surprisingly, it seems I possess much less strength in the broad categories of courage and civic justice, those ‘doing’ vs ‘being’ characteristics of being human and doing life.

Last evening, with a new group of women who had initially formed around processing our pain and grief to what felt like the cataclysm a few weeks ago, we collaged.  I admit, I was feeling quite vulnerable because I feel like the misfit there already, my water so different than their fire, my way of seeing from a different vantage point than theirs. I fear being misunderstood, at least, being judged as inadequate (because I lack the fire of an activist) , or labeled as the ‘other’ (because I have moved to seeing the humanity in the other), at worst.  These are women on a social justice mission. There is still a lot of pain and blame there, a lot of outering of rage.

By the end of the evening, I didn’t feel I could share my images. My ‘seeing red’ was pulled from a photography journal that used a red filter to make trees appear pink. The women in my collage were gazing into a pool, looking inward for solutions. (“looking on a whole different spectrum” were the words that accompanied that image).  Most poignantly, was my solitary bird on a wire, a gaggle of birds on a separate wire, the words ‘Lost in translation’ separating the two. Today, in praying with the images, I noticed the group of women in red, circling a tree. I think I had wanted to be a part of that circle. Instead I realize I’m feeling more like the solitary tree on the hill of ice and snow standing outside that circle.  That was how misfit I felt.

And yet, I expect I need these women too. I may need to have this water of mine stirred up from time to time so that it doesn’t get stagnant, or at least warmed up so I don’t grow cold, detached from my own humanity,  for I realize that the flip side of the gift of introversion is withdrawal, of mysticism is becoming recluse, of seeking wisdom is rationalizing. My low energy can slow to depression and apathy. And I desperately need a dose of their courage, if only to honor my voice and to safeguard what it is that I bring and who it is that I am. There are not a lot of models for this quieter type of strength  in our culture. Perhaps they are all absconded away in their hermitages.

And so I am back to longing for community, community that honors my way as life-giving too.


In the final paragraph of the letter of introduction to the David Whyte brochure, he invokes this

We live in a time where each of us will be asked to reach deeper, speak more bravely, live more from the fierce perspectives of the poetic imagination; find the lines already written inside us: poetry does not take surface political sides, it is always the conversation neither side is having, it is the breath in the voice about to discover itself only as it begins to speak, and it is that voice firmly anchored in a real and touchable body, standing on the ground of our real, inhabited world, speaking from a source that lives and thrives at the threshold between opposing sides we call a society.

Here is my living example, then, of the mystic poet/introvert trusting his voice, believing it to be both necessary and good. In addition to his upcoming winter retreats, he offers a recording of one of them, entitled “Half a Shade Braver”, the description of which includes these words:

“The essence of leadership is our willingness to be seen, to be vulnerable, and to risk ourselves. To step into that role is to hazard ourselves in the world, both for others and for something we can’t fully articulate.”

Be brave, my quiet ones. Be brave.



Huston, we’ve got a problem


In these tribalistic days of othering one another, where we have divided into left and right camps, from which we hurl our dehumanizing insults across the chasm, I have noticed how often the pronoun ‘they’ is used, eg ‘They are all a bunch of (fill in the blank)’ or ‘They all believe that’ , and I am reminded of that great teacher and keeper of the world’s wisdom traditions, Huston Smith.  As he traveled the globe, seeking to understand deeply the various religions of the world, he would move in to each culture , plunging all the way in to fully inhabit it alongside the persons who lived it.  He noted how it was that the longer he lived with the people who practiced a certain religion  the pronouns he used to speak of them changed. At the beginning it was a detached ‘they’. ‘They’ believe this or do that. As time passed, and relationships formed, the pronoun would shift to the more intimate ‘You’. ‘You’ believe or do this or that. Finally, after much time, as he discovered the shared humanity and wisdom within the other and their traditions, coming to a deeper understanding of who they were and the shared wisdom beneath what they believed or did, the pronoun would shift to ‘We’. 

I wonder how it might be if we moved in with one another, seeking understanding, in this political divide, and became We, the people.

resurrecting the truth

it was time to resurrect this one from 2005, to remind myself who I am

February, 2005

Little truths along the way.


This morning, as I read, the author posed this question. If you were asked to list your most deeply held beliefs about life, could you begin to do it? Or would you stammer?

And so I began…


As I stand within this moment, these are some little truths that I perceive. Are these ‘the Truth’ or merely the limbs of the raft upon which I travel toward it? Likely some will some rot or come loose their binding along the way. Perhaps as I come closer to the ocean I will find myself at last merely being carried by the river’s flow.


To use recent metaphor that has captured me, I realize that I stand within a threshold every moment, where the chaff which has carried me may be burned away and the wheat I carry forward in my hands may not become bread at all, but perhaps will become seeds for tomorrow growth, and so these seeds of truth are neither clutched nor tossed aside but held lightly as I wait to see.


Recently I read “error is the handmaiden of truth”. If that is so, if each mistake that I make leads me one step closer, then imagine what I might discover by being absolutely and completely wrong!


And so I stammer and stagger along…


¨      All is well

¨      Love is the source of all

¨      All is the source of Love

¨      A source gives birth to, becomes a part of, and receives unto itself

¨      Ignorance of Love (within all) is the source of pain

¨      The way out of pain is to look for Love (and follow her)

¨      Understanding (loving) self is the beginning

¨      Understanding others flows from understanding self.

¨      Letting others be and see what they will be and see is to trust Love

¨      Growth in Love is not to stuff all into your box, but for the walls of your own box to break (in other words, not to make them see from your perspective but to see from theirs)

¨      There is no good or evil, but there is only Love.

¨      There is good and evil, and there is only Love.

¨      Those who see and do evil have forgotten how and where to look for Love

¨      We are bound to Beauty; we cannot be torn from Her.

¨      Even in the darkness there is Beauty. When I can see nothing good, She is there.

¨      Darkness and light both are made of Beauty. Both contain Her; even as She contains them both. The difference is that in one She is hidden and in the other She is plainly seen. In which place she is hidden depends only on perspective.

¨      It is as if we hold a divided lens over our eyes. One half is black, the other white. Following the path of Love requires the removal of this lens, which obstructs Love’s ability to clearly see.

¨      To do harm to another is to fail to see the Love in them

¨      To do harm to self is to fail to see the Love in self

¨      In Reality there is no such thing as harm.

¨      Love seeks to understand Herself; She is perhaps the Great Introspector.     We become lost for a time within the Shadow Self of Her becoming,          only to be found again by the Light of her blossoming Inner Compassion. Thus Love grows.

¨      When we step into the light of being loved and understood, we offer forgiveness and grace back to Her

¨      Forgiveness is after all ‘for giving’ and what flows back into the individual soul who has thus given, is a Grace too large to be contained.

¨      Allowing even Love to be striving to become, to be imperfect, is to be filled to overflowing with Compassion

¨      We are not called to be perfect but to be whole. The opening to embrace the whole of self likewise opens out to embrace the whole of Love.

¨      When we invite another to step out from previously perceived and conceived darkness into the light of grace, we offer the same gift of grace to Love, and that grace flows back to us in a flood of light.

¨      All love is nourishment to Love

¨      The one who oppresses requires our understanding and our Love the same as the oppressed.

¨      There is no oppressor, there are only the oppressed, the lens is merely flipped depending upon who is looking

¨      To be oppressed is to be disallowed by another to step into the light of grace, and yet if we see only the oppressed through our partially obscured lens, half the beauty in the world remains in the dark.

¨      Love does not see black or white. Love sees with Compassion all.

¨      If we teach hostility and anger, hostility and anger is what will be spread

¨      If we teach love and understanding, love and understanding will spread.

¨      If we only fill ourselves to overflowing with our anger, anger only will overflow, but if we use our anger to inspire us to understand the pain that is at its root, compassion for pain is what will blossom.

¨      Hatred cannot be stopped with hatred

¨      Dividing the self, the world, and Love, into good and evil is the source of all harm perpetrated upon the self, the world, and upon the name of Love.

¨      All is Love. All is Love’s self expression within time. All is reabsorbed into eternity. There is nothing finite. Everything is finite.

¨      While we are obsessed with the apparent distinctions of the finite, we cannot begin to see the infinity of Love.

¨      Love cannot be destroyed. Love continues to Be and to Flow, to create, become, and receive

¨      Time is not eternal. Neither am i. Yet I am forever, not as i, but as the Eternal Love from whom i come, whom i both contain and express for a time, and into whom i dissolve eternally.

¨      Time cannot stand alone. Eternity cannot stand alone. Eternity is contained within this moment in time. This moment in time is contained within eternity.                                                                                                                                                                       

¨      Love cannot stand alone. Life cannot stand alone. Love is contained within Life. Life is contained within Love.

¨      When i cease to be, I simply am.

¨      Love returns to Love

¨      I pour myself into Her as a drop into the eternal waves of ocean, while the drop that I have been within this time is as a single drop into the stillness of the pond

¨      At times it seems in the growth of Love, it is we who slip into Her vastness as the boundaries of our Loving disappear. At other times it is as if it is She who enters with Her entirety into the open and receptive us, expanding the droplet that we have been into an ocean vast.

¨      Love does not need our help to be. Love simply Is. Yet Love requires us to Become. For Love to become, we need to Be.

¨      Love desperately needs us. She cries like an infant for our attention.

¨      Life is Love incarnate. It is how She grows. For Love to manifest herself in abundance we need to feed Her Love. As the human infant grows upon the milk of humanity, the infant Love grows upon the milk of Love.

¨      We need be fully Present to the fullness of Her presence. When we choose to re-present Her partially by seeing Her here but not there, Loving this but not that, preferring one way of her Being while despising Her in the other, Love is stifled. Yet Her Compassion for our blindness grows.

¨      Innocence is lost only when we step into the knowledge of Good and Evil. Only then do we become truly blind to Love.

¨      When we can see Love with and within that which we hate, we begin again to purely see.

¨      We can choose to see the diversity of life without moving to one side, objectifying it, or separating ourselves from it. When we do this we become only alienated and estranged. We can Love deeply and passionately from within, immersed in Her in that place before and after and within.

¨      That place is both the center and the source of Love. From the surface only do things appear to be far apart.

¨      Harmony lies deeper than balance. Balance implies an equalizing of some hidden power that must be reigned and tamed. Harmony recognizes that this hidden power is simply Love.



flowers and stripes



I dreamt a voice that told me

You need both stripes and flowers’

Ramrod straight and upright, unbending

alignment, like soldiers in parade,

though even then, I saw them as diversity

stacked in random widths and colors,

same as the hues that enliven blossoms

in their riot of sinuous curves,

and delicate bowing down,

and I woke to the darkened silhouettes of trees asway

against a brilliant azure sky

a solitary vulture soaring


and as I made my way to coffee

music, paper, pen

I thought of UPC codes marching ‘cross the scan,

and reminisced the days of fingers dancing on those keys.

I recalled paper pairings of my first home

palette, making beauty out of walls,

gardens flowing over fences made of stone.

And I wondered ’bout the structures upon which

the exquisite grows.







remains of the day



When ideals betray- the ones dearly held

as goodness

as rightness

as truth-

and you open the door to that stranger,

the hurricane rips

through your home, tearing

at curtains and knocking

the photos from walls,

that shattering of glass forever

marring the image.


Once heavy objects, light as a feather

til they strike you as solid

proof that it was merely the walls

that kept them in place all those years.


Yet even with this

awful assault

it is the noise, oh the noise, 

as if permanent damage to ears

has occurred in the wake

and the only thing left is right

 outside your laid open mind

beyond that massive rupture where

yesterday, a door

an invitation today

to escape

into the quiet 

body of earth, and the

wisdom of the widening 











Ok, friends, here’s hoping that my Water is welcome here in this place of Fire, that this can be a place of both/and not either/or. I believe we need each other as we each bring a perspective that can help us see the whole. Perhaps I need your fire to keep me awake. Perhaps you need my water to douse the flames of hatred and disgust?

One thing I have learned in my readings this week is that while ‘safe’ places are important so that people can feel free to express without fear, the flipside of them is that they close people off within small worlds so that they do not hear other perspectives and truths, which might keep them open to receiving the humanity in the other. It can make us feel self-righteous when we really want to be about loving. I think this is how the divide has grown so wide. We really are still tribal beings. We just divide ourselves into good and bad (us and them) in different ways.
In my tribe, I think we are about our fear of persons whom we care about being hated and excluded. That fear comes from a place of deep love for humanity, I think. Somehow my personal call has become to find a way to also love and include half of the population, who voted another way, whom I had excluded from my heart as less-than worthy of that love, respect, and understanding somehow.
I did not expect this at all. Looking back through these weeks, I see my initial response was this, “I wanted to believe in the goodness of man, but I have been fooled once again’. I was in deep despair and fear because somehow I had been led to believe that the other side was ‘evil’. Even before the election, I had noted a feeling in me of ‘disgust’ that was new, and which bothered me deeply. That poison had gotten into my heart and that realization is what frightened me more than anything. That I could become that which I said that I hated in the other.
There is so much concern about normalizing hatred. I wonder if we can’t even see how we do it ourselves. It is important to be self-reflective as we are pointing our fingers at others.
It’s hard to come face-to-face with my own hatred, my own bigotry, my own self righteousness. I am one who perhaps prides myself in my goodness, and I can whip up a good, justifiable argument for my stand with my intellect. Studiously, I can know-it-all. And I realize that even in sharing this post, I am likely doing the same.
Ugh, the human condition. Isn’t it beautiful?
Anyway, the poem I wrote yesterday was about this feeling of being one with humanity, in humility (humus comes from the same root word, Of the Earth). We really are all in this together… in our goodness and our blindness. Humility is never the same as humiliation. The best definition of humility I have heard is this one- I am no better than anyone else.
(ps. this is not at all to say I am not here ‘standing for’ and vigilant to protect all persons whom I believe are deserving of understanding and love, dignity and respect, just that I am going to keep check on the places I build my own walls to ‘stand against’ what I judge from the outside with prejudice, without seeing the humanity in the other person. If I say all human beings deserve these things, then I need to begin acting that way.)

November walk

Went for a walk this afternoon with my camera, seeking beauty, and discovered my humanity.




Sometimes it happens all at once,

seventy to thirty five,

a sudden windstorm bringing sleet

from skies that were indigo

an hour ago.


Exposed skin now wrapped in down

she retreats to the hearth for warmth,

to be protected from the plummeting

of shaken limbs.


The brawny blasts persist

until at once she wakens to the quiet,

to emerge into the newness

of a season, suddenly

stripped bare.


That audacity of autumn,

with its haughtiness ablaze,

seeming to be shed at once.

Where last week she was vibrant red,

this afternoon she’s simply skeletal.


What a gracious gift,

this plunge from condescension

down to earth, has befallen her

to become humus with the Others,

the invitation clear to fall in love again.


peace like a river

The wisdom of water


In my last post, I wrote about this feeling of being Water, hinted at the way I have somehow dismissed this energy in me as being less-than the energy of fire, which I can never seem to hold onto for very long. I simply cannot live at that level of intensity. It dissipates into something else. I have often dismissed this quality in me as weakness, but this weekend, while writing, it suddenly came to me, this knowing of myself as Water.
Over the last week, I have spent much time seeking to understand. At the beginning, I expect, it was a defense mechanism. as humans will ask after any disaster, asking
‘Why?!’ I went searching for answers, picking up pieces here and there from the debris of my shattered view of humanity.
I read and I read and I read. I listened to lectures. I learned about working class loss and pain and I thought about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, how difficult it is to turn outward when your own security is lost.  I learned about our country’s long slow arc toward justice in a long story of immigration, one that is not as simple ‘bring me your poor…’ as we have understood it to be. I learned about the way that our primitive brain can quickly revert to tribalism when it feels threatened by real or imagined disintegration. I learned about the human need for feeling connected, for belonging, for a sense of community with common ideals.  I thought about how hard it is to come together as one and realized on some perverse level that this is what people fear in diversity I thought about native cultures being annihilated by the mass immigration of white Europeans and wondered about our own fear of mass immigration. I see how long humanity has struggled with this.
I learned about the ethics of cosmopolitanism and nationalism. I read the philosophy of hospitality of Immanuel Kant and I read the conservative philosophy of George Will and its indictment of dividing into too many small populations. I learned about the conservative morality of loyalty and cooperation for the common good.   I subscribed to some right-of-center newspapers to balance my reading of the New York Times, so that I could try to see what they see… their ideals and their fears, to see what they see when they look across the divide at us, and yes to note their often blind hatred of us, too. I talked to people on the other side and held my tongue as I listened rather than jumping immediately into ‘but’ demonization. I listened to Van Jones speak of empathy as not necessarily seeking to agree with but to understand. I thought about the things I have been blind to, so caught up in my own world view, which of course everyone in my world affirms is good and true because I have isolated myself everywhere from the ‘other’.  In everything from my online community, my news sources, my spiritual community, my neighborhood, I have surrounded myself with ideas that support my goodness and the other’s badness. I listened to the diplomacy of Barack and the holding-on-to-hope of Hillary. I read stories of expressions of hatred, now out of the closet, that made me weep. I went online to donate to the Extraordinary day of Giving and learned about hundreds of non-profits in our backyard full of goodness.
In the weeks leading up to the election I’d noticed the way I felt disgust for the other in this election season for the first time. In some ways I had been fed what to believe about them and their motives from my own hyperbolic, gut response, and surface sources of understanding. I didn’t like noticing this in me. I wondered what had happened to poison me.

Last week, I read these words by philosopher, moral psychologist, Jonathan Haidt “Diversity is difficult and often divisive. It’s not shades of skin color that divide; it is the perception that people in other groups have different values, and that they behave in ways that violate our moral worldview” He warns about the toxin of disgust. I realize that is what I have swallowed, this hatred of the ‘other’ as morally vacant or less-than. I dehumanized them the same as we claim that they dehumanize others.

I pulled my heavily earmarked and worn copy of Etty Hillesum’s diary from my bookshelf, was reminded how this young Jewish woman hung onto her heart, found the goodness of humanity, the presence of Love in the midst of her time in the workcamp. I listened to Jon Stewart proclaim that we are the ‘ same country with all its grace and flaws, and volatility, and insecurity, and strength, and resilience exists today as existed two weeks ago.”

And along the way, I noticed that something was happening in me. In this search for understanding I had found forgiveness. I’d fallen in love with humanity again.
It came to me last night that I have chosen to see this inability in me to stay angry as weak. I have perceived my inability to put up walls around me as a sign of broken boundaries, turned away from honoring it as a gift, shrunk into believing it was a sign of my disempowerment. I have, like many of us, craved what the other possessed, which somehow looked more valuable , more powerful, more vital to me. But last night, I saw my ability to understand  for the first time as strength.
The image of water came to me then, in the way that I’d felt my energy diffuse and spread out to take in the other. Water also has no boundaries. It falls where it will. It cuts through stone. It softens and offers a drink. Water is as powerful a force of transformation as fire. Perhaps not so quickly or so intensely (save those hurricanes and floods, of course) but it has its potency, nonetheless.
And I realized that what I have been denigrating as my weakness is perhaps my power. It looks so different from the power that I have been taught to recognize. Today I wonder if perhaps Water is Wisdom.
This morning, I woke up to listen to a cherished radio program/podcast, ONBeing. This week’s episode’s title was ‘The Heart as the Final Frontier’ and in it I heard these words “Empathy is the recognition of the common humanity within the other”.  I don’t think I can demand it of others unless I am willing to do it myself… in the hard-to-do unchartered places of fear within me, in that wilderness of my own heart.  So perhaps I am a pioneer woman, with more resilience and courage than I have believed.
And this understanding is rising up like a great tide within me.

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