Open to Change, Receptive to Healing

0224

What if it’s true? What if, truly, “we are the ones we have been waiting for“?

I have always loved this phrase. First I heard it on the lips of women who inspired me. Then I found June Jordan who first strung those words together in her powerful, earth-shifting poem. Alice Walker gave us a book that borrowed the line for its title. And then of course there was Barack Obama who turned the phrase into a something more than a campaign slogan and made it mean something national and something real.

The election results are a month old now, but all that shiny hope cannot have worn away yet, right? The inauguration is still ages away, so I am sure that we are all just marinating in possibility. Aren’t we?

I ask that question because there is a sneaky little part of me worries that complacency will creep in. And perhaps it already has in some ways. The economy is still sliding downward. Cabinet picks are less sexy than frenzied chants of “Yes we can!” Christmas is coming and there are too many thing to get done in the next three weeks to even remember all that election night champagne

This was not intended to be a post about post-election let down, nor am I trying to let a big old cynical moon eclipse our gorgeous new sun. Our lightning-fast news cycle would have us believe that such musings are so three weeks ago anyway.

I am actually thinking about the changes that I am seeing take root in my own life and in the lives of the people around me. These changes have nothing to do with the political and have everything to do with the personal. Of course, we know that eventually, those two spheres almost always start to blend together

Though I have been practicing Reiki for eight years, I have begun to dedicate myself to the path of a healer in the last year since I have been enrolled in a Healing Arts School. The beautiful sense of wisdom that finally takes root when we find we’re closer to the middle of our lives than to the beginning, combined with what I have learned in my classes, has totally shifted my perspective on the world. I know its been a long process, but suddenly I realize I am able to articulate my interest in alternative health and offer what abilities I have in service to others.

This evolution in the way I can be honest about my belief in our power to heal ourselves and the possibility of finding true wellness outside the strict confines of typical Western medicine has been downright infectious. Trusting in the intuitive power of my hands and others’ desire to heal, I have been able to offer my warm touch to people who never would have been receptive to such “out there,” “new age” ideas. I think this is successful both because I take a quiet approach, casually introducing what I do and what I believe and then allowing people to open up to me in any way they can and because I have new confidence in what I do.

People’s new sense of receptivity has very little to do with me, however. I am just lucky enough to have had the chance to observe it. Something within the individual is shifting. There is the recognition that the road we have all been careening along together is doing us more harm than good and that we need to find a new way.

If we are the change that we have been waiting for, we have to realize that change is here, now. Despite all the chaos in this world, people are finding the ability to open themselves up to new experiences and new wisdom.

How can we access and live this change ourselves and how can be the midwives of change for others?

And wisdom is a butterfly

And wisdom is a butterfly
And not a gloomy bird of prey
– W.B. Yeats

When I first read those lines I thought image striking and I loved the way that “wisdom” and “butterfly” sounded together, but I never felt the power of the sentiment until recently.

So many have written with a spirit of elation and relief this week. The greatest potential difficulty that many of us have discussed is the need to take responsibility ourselves, rather than leave it all in the hands of our new national leadership. Many of us are swept up in the awe and the hope, but I’ve also read gleeful revelations of GOP infighting and Palin in a towel, the Black Snob’s awesome rebuttal to the sore losers and the conservative Monday morning quarterbacks, and Christine Kane’s reminder that there is a lot of potential ugliness mixed in with all this hope.

After eight long years of feeling like the victims of a war mongering regime run by a man whose intelligence we questioned at every turn, it makes sense that we want to throw our heads back and crow about our triumph. Unfortunately, just because it is human nature to gloat a little (or a lot) and point out the flaws of the fallen opponent, that doesn’t make such impulses alright.

We have lived in a nation ruled by hawks for so long, it seems that it might be difficult to remember that we never meant to learn their tricks, their addiction to fear, their recrimination of the “other.” This is not to assume that “Democrat” or “liberal” automatically means kinder or gentler or any more wise, but I can hope that these qualities are within our grasp.

I am not just thinking about the left side of the aisle lording over the right, I’m talking about our own reactions and intentions as we move forward. How do we carry our victory and our wisdom more lightly? How do we avoid slipping into those nasty patterns we have seen from others when they have tasted success?

Witnessing this Moment

Do you feel it yet? Did it really happen? Can America actually have elected a black man running on a ticket of hope and change?

I know the realization has not seeped into my soul yet. I cannot integrate the events. I have not yet found a way to make it real.

When I visited my healer a couple of days ago, she followed her usual practice of kinesiology, or muscle testing, to discover words and concepts that resonate with me on a psychological and spiritual level. Usually they are ideas that trouble me, and this session was no exception: “experiencing my mind.” At first the phrases she comes up with almost always sound like they belong in fortune cookies, but they eventually make sense, even if I had never parsed my experiences in quite the same terms before.

My mind is my shelter and my weapon whenever the emotional world gets too hot. Refusing what my gut or my heart are trying to tell me, so often I try to muscle through on brain power alone. I resort to analyzing the situation rather than feeling it, I look for wisdom in the table of contents rather than in my own experience. Today, I jumped from website to website trying to find a way for the joy to penetrate, but could not find a way to truly feel my way through the moment.

Our worth in this world is so often determined by our perceived intelligence, by how swiftly you can take in information and sort it and use it for your own gain. The brain is such an inadequate organ, however, when you want to be moved and inspired by something so awesome and intense as Barack Obama becoming our next president.

There are a few brilliant moments in all of our lives, be it a marriage or a birth or an historic election that requires we do more than think about how everything just might change. This is one of those moments that must be fully witnessed, body and soul.

Striking Back at the Empire

The purest, most powerful sense of excitement I have ever experienced was when I was four years old, shaking with anticipation in front of my grandparents’ TV about to see Empire Strikes Back for the very first time.

My excitement today is almost reaching those heights.

I should rewrite history and say that I was watching Return of the Jedi, the final movie where the Rebels win it all, but I have confidence that everything will work out exactly as it should, even without a perfectly formed Star Wars allegory.

For today, thoughts of soul and self are shelved. Despite all my level headed talk about the power of the individual’s shift in consciousness, right now I am allowing myself to be completely swept away by the entire fifty state drama. Tomorrow, there will be stillness, there will be contemplation, there will be peace, but tonight there will be blue Obama teeshirts, cable news watching, and, God willing, a champagne toast.

The Responsibility of the Dreamer

In dreams begin responsibilities

W.B. Yeats

When I first savored this line in college, I was too high on the poetry and dreaming to realize it was a simple phrase that ends with thud of adult responsibilities. By graduate school, Yeats was as much vocation as avocation, and I was so chilled by watching literature become a responsibility that I left the path of academia before I had really begun. Once I was marooned in the “real world” and trying to forget about poets and their dancing words, I eventually realized I was ducking both dreams and responsibilities. Now that I am carving out a new space for myself and trying to balance the poetic and the pragmatic, I am figuring out the relationship that Yeats described.

I have surprised myself over the last few days with my entries that call for a focus on individual choice and change even at a moment when we are all captivated by events on the national stage will shape our lives. “Responsibility” has not come up in my writing yet, but I think it is inevitable when we think about finding hope and renewal within ourselves rather than relying purely on the inspirational tones of a man at a podium.

America is the perfect example of a dream that became a most certain reality. It has not been sustained by idealists alone, but by people willing to bear the burden of its reality. It hasn’t just been perpetuated by the politicians who believe that they follow in the footsteps of the framers of the Constitution either. If we want to take part in this dream of America, if we want to resuscitate this once mighty icon and save it from its nightmarish state, then we all must take part in weaving the visions of what we want this country to be and then tend those visions as they become reality.

Dedicating oneself to birthing any creative impulse, be it a work of art, a piece of writing, service to another person, or the invention of a country quickly divests the dreamer from her airy throne. There is criticism and exhaustion and fear and doubt to contend with at every turn. In the end, finding yourself in charge of your own brilliant fantasy made sweet flesh must be worth sacrificing the freedom of being devoted to nothing in particular.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

The Bipartisan Body

In a conversation about navigating the election season when one holds vastly different views from the rest her family, a friend told me a story about a bunch of apes (or baboons or some other really intelligent primates). Scientists were studying the animals’ behavior in their natural jungle habitat that bordered a lake that they never approached. This aversion interested the observers, so they began throwing food into the sand to test them. A few brave apes risked the foreign territory of the sand to eat, and a couple especially clever creatures actually entered the water to wash the grit off the snacks even as the rest of the clan screeched in hungry disapproval.

My friend translates this into a need for both liberals and conservatives: someone needs to try something new and potentially end up with a tastier lunch, while others need to hang back and preserve the tribe just in case entering the water really does mean certain death.

This evening I gave myself time for another of Elsie’s Yoga Podcasts; this particular class was all about attuning oneself to the respective qualities of the right and left sides of the body. She spoke of the left as the cooler side, that of the moon, of receptivity; the right is the warm side, that of the sun from which all of our actions originate. In recognizing the difference between the joints and muscles and realizing that each side had its own sensations and means of communicating with the brain it becomes possible to look at the entire body with a holistic perspective. For all that I thought of my left and my right as separate entities for an hour, I can say that I feel a deep sense of integration that I might not have discovered had I not explored all that separates the two halves of my body.

Of course, it was impossible to listen to all of this talk of the right and left without hearing it as an allegory (Elsie actually recorded it over a year ago, so discovering it tonight was sweet synchronicity). I think you could read the Eastern perspective on the left and right sides of the body into our blue and red parties in a way that would serve both camps, but that would do little to describe the political realities of today.

Binary systems are ancient and useful and allow us to draw lines in the sand about the really big stuff like heaven and earth, female and male, spirit and body. At the same time, these dichotomies can lead to laziness rather than discernment and can create uselessly artificial enmities. They are handy rhetorical devices and make textbooks easier to write (understand the mood of an era by studying who were the good guys and who were the bad guys!), but in practical application, those carefully forged divisions must break down.

We live in a world so completely colored with shades of gray that we long for the simplicity of column A or column B. For the next week we can imagine that our decisions really are as easy as picking that one or this one.

I know I am premature in seeking a reconciliation between the sparring factions since we have to think in terms of blue and red, not violet and indigo for the next seven days. Still, I am already more interested in examining both the entire picture – the body, our country – and all of the pixels that constitute that image – each cell, each individual. I hope we will come to realize that both these macroscopic and microscopic perspectives are much more enlightening than trying to hack our whole nation in half.

Belief in the Nation, Belief in the Individual

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Victor Frankl

I was introduced to Victor Frankl today in an article by Russell Bishop in The Huffington Post that discussed coping with the possibility that the “the other side” may win next week. Bishop was not picking sides – a rare enough feat these days – because he was crediting both parties with the passion and emotional investment that have made this such singular campaign.

No matter who wins, the world will not end and the country will not become unrecognizable (at least not right away). Sure, so many of us talk about moving to Canada if this one (as opposed to “that one”) wins, but we are the same people who threatened to do that back in 2004 and stayed on to realize that as much as we may differ with the guy in the oval office, our lives still looked pretty similar even if the news looked more and more grim.

Am I hiding my head in the consumerism-soaked, triviality-obsessed culture that watched American Idol as two wars dragged on? Am I too much a part of the nation that watched An Inconvenient Truth, wept, ranted… and then went to the air conditioned big box store to buy a couple of new light bulbs?

Must I believe that everything is going to be alright, regardless of who we elect, not because I truly believe that American is indestructible and her best days are ahead of her, but because believing anything else is just too damn terrifying?

Or is there actually hope to be harvested in this turbulent time regardless of who gets the top job? For all that we must be aware of the world around us and vote and care for the poor and question industrial pollution, what if all of our rhetoric is true and widespread change truly does begin at the individual level? What if we really are the change we have been waiting for and as amazing as it is to have an incredible leader sounding the charge, we actually have the power to make those changes ourselves?

Frankl’s work was indelibly marked by his three years in a Nazi concentration camp. For all that is at stake in this election, we are still going to wake up with a democratically elected leader (I know that the electoral college problematizes that statement, but bear with me) and we still have one of the best opportunities in the world to have a government we can be proud of. If Frankl could endure the greatest cruelties that one group of human beings have inflicted upon another in modern memory and emerge with this steadfast belief in the potential of the individual, why can’t we?

We have watched people from all segments of society rally around a candidate who we hope enacts the kind of change that he so eloquently describes. It is human nature to desire such figures with shoulders so broad and voices so powerful that they can bear the burdens of our dreams and sing the songs of our longed for freedoms. I can only wish that we can elect a hero and then awaken with a president who will recede to the edges of our vision so that we can recognize all of the potential that sleeps within each one of us.

I do not mean to introduce any defeatist notions into our push toward next Tuesday. I am confident that hope and reason will win out over fear and duplicity. Nor do I wish to tarnish the greatness of a candidate that I truly believe in. It is just that in the pursuit of being more accountable to the path of wisdom, I need to begin to allow myself to believe that we can walk in our own sense of greatness and then watch the ripples shape the rest of this world.

Rising to the Challenge of Change as Temperatures Fall

I drove into work through a bowl of great Hudson River fog, guided by my memory of the road and the headlights of what little oncoming traffic there was. The car’s thermometer read 29 degrees, but I found that impossible to believe, wearing only a wool turtleneck and a shawl as I was. My sweet October could not possibly have dissolved into temperatures that demand jackets and gloves and drying one’s wet hair so it doesn’t turn to icicles. As I moved in and out of clear spots, where the sun could actually filter down to the increasingly bare branches, I finally noticed the blanket of frost. Mums on porch steps were limp and clearly affronted by the weather and the trees that don’t turn to brilliant autumn colors were decked in shriveling, mud colored leaves.

Why was this such a shock to me, one month past the Equinox, well into the time when the northern hemisphere was due to sleep? As the sun set last evening I made my way through the fallen foliage, and shivered through my thin shirt. I found myself cursing the cold, amazed at how I seem to have grown a summer skin that rebelled against nature’s inevitable chill. So often I have pitied those who cringe at the first crisp morning, who bemoan the coming of the gray days and the nights when the fog of your breath blots out the brilliant stars. With some pride, I’d describe how I love wool scarves and leather boots and velvet jackets and how my mind simply functions better when the temperature starts to fall. But this year, I am as shocked as the last grapes on the vine, and I find myself squinting into the last gold of the trees, trying to get my bearings.

My life has been marked by constant change over the last few years with marrying, my husband’s multiple job changes, and buying our first house. I would say that I thrive in a dynamic environment, and hunger for different experiences. Then I remember that I dislike stay up late these days and how crummy I feel when I eat the wrong sorts of food. This summer, I had a kind of existential crisis about travel and consumerism and dislocation in the middle of a covered bridge in Lucerne, Switzerland while my husband and I were on an otherwise blissful holiday. Far from my nest, jet-lagged, and juiced on Swiss chocolate, I couldn’t believe how stressed I was to be so out of my element. My “element” used to be a vast, seemingly infinite place.

Is it growing older? Is it that I have set healthier patterns for myself that are uncomfortable to break? Is it that I am as susceptible to the mundane dictates of human nature as anyone else?

I did not intend this to become a political post, and I really feel like I should resist the urge to talk about November 4 just because I mentioned the dreaded/beloved “C” word, but oh well. We can dream that electing Obama will set off the seismic shift that our country needs, but we are all too aware of the limitations of the slow moving barge of government and that one man will not be our messiah. Thing is, are we upset that the social and political (dis)order will not be overturned overnight or are we secretly pleased that the planet will not start spinning so fast that we cannot keep up?

We beg for transformation, for “little earthquakes” – not the sort that rip us into pieces but those that shift us into the new era we yearn for – but I think we have to uncover all of our internal resistances and feel the ways we might cower as our new world tries to emerge.