Friday, February 24, 2017

In Troubled Times: Seasons and Cycles

In my work and my life, I notice that I go through times of intense activity and productivity, but that these eventually spin down. No one can maintain such a fever pitch indefinitely. When I am working “well,” I cruise along at a sustainable rate, confident that I have that extra literary “gear” when needed. The same is true for emotional intensity regarding political and other matters, in my case preparing for the upcoming parole hearing of the man who raped and murdered my mother. We step up to the plate, do what is necessary, deal with what we must, and set aside what we cannot handle (hopefully for some future time, rather than burying it indefinitely).

For every advance, there comes a rest. A rest is not a retreat, not a failure, although at times it can seem so. We can become so accustomed to putting forth our maximum effort that it becomes normal. It’s no longer a matter of setting aside other needs to make a heroic effort; those needs get put “on hold” indefinitely. We become desensitized to our own inner promptings, as well as the needs of those closest to us such as our families and partners. We can find all sorts of justifications for our continued dedication to that task or good cause. Just because we can carry the weight to the exclusion of everything else doesn’t mean that it’s healthy for us to do so. It’s important to recognize the difference between an emotionally intense sprint and a long-term, marathon effort.

Another reason why it’s often hard to let go of sprint-mode is that a return to a more balanced life and normal energy levels feels like back-sliding or going in reverse. It’s the emotional equivalent of how the room keeps spinning even when we stop and stand still. Sometimes there is indeed a dip in energy to balance out the extra energy expended during the all-out push. I have to keep reminding myself that needing “down” time is not the same thing as weakness, failure, or deterioration. Recharging my physical and emotional batteries, so to speak, is an essential part of being able to take the next step forward.

These periods of rest always last longer than I think they should. Recuperation and regeneration take time, and they also take resources. Simply ceasing activity stops the outflow, but it may take a long time for the inflow to restore balance.  I think of the earth as it passes through the seasons and how winter is a fallow time. Fallow doesn’t mean inert, though. We may not be able to see it, but there are slow, restorative changes happening in root and soil, branch and seed. 

What does it mean for me as a human being to be in a state of restoration as opposed to immobility?

What nourishes my spirit? (Music, friends, nature, meditative practices, community?)

What refreshes my body? (Good food, exercise, fresh air, massage?)

What rejuvenates my mind? (Reading, learning a new skill or musical instrument, museums, lively conversation, travel, lifelong education?) 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Day Without Immigrants

Today is the Day Without Immigrants. I wouldn't be here if my father had not been allowed to immigrate in 1922, before the quota on Jews.

What's your immigration story?

Every Evil Act...

"Every evil act tends to harden man's heart, that is, to deaden it. Every good act tends to soften it, to make it more alive. The more man's heart hardens, the less freedom does he has to change; the more is he determined already by a previous action. But there comes a point of no return, when man's heart has become so hardened and so deadened that he has lost the possibility of freedom, when he is forced to go on and on until the unavoidable end which is, in the last analysis, his own physical or spiritual destruction."

-- Erich Fromm 

This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alikelicense.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

In Troubled Times: Seeking Courage, Finding Strength

Given everything I’ve been dealing with – fear about the unfolding political scene on one hand and the recurring nightmare of an upcoming parole hearing for the man who raped and murdered my mother on the other – I have at times felt powerless. Not just powerless but unable to summon the energy to continue what seems like an endless, life-draining battle. I become prey to fear at these times, fear that I will slip back into unending waking nightmare that was my experience of PTSD. I have worked hard to claw my way back to health, and when I am overwhelmed, I forget all the lessons I have learned and the ways I have changed.

It’s said that fear is False Evidence Appearing Real (or Fuck Everything And Run). It takes courage and a dedication to clear-sighted integrity, seeing what is real both in myself and in the world, to overcome those fears.

But I’ve also heard courage is fear that has said its prayers. I don’t have to be fearless. I’m not sure that’s possible without massive self-delusion. To do what I am called to do even though I am afraid is the essence of courage.

Where do I find such courage? It’s commonplace to suppose that “doing something for someone else” or because no one else can do it is the best way to overcome fear. I’ve done my share of acting according to this belief. I find that although it is sometimes effective, it’s harsh instead of nourishing. It’s a position of desperation. I soon find myself “running on empty.” I’m the last person I take care of or even give consideration to. In fact, the very notion that taking action when afraid can be nourishing came as a startling revelation to me.

There are so many things I cannot change, the past being at the top of that list. But I do have some say in my own attitude. Instead of seeing myself as desperate and without any choices but to plunge ahead, gritting my teeth the whole way, I can see myself as resourceful. I learned to do this for others when my kids were having a hard time in their teenaged years and my therapist pointed out that they didn’t need me to inflict my own worries on them, communicating that I thought they were incapable of handling their problems; what they needed was my faith in their ability to find their own creative solutions.

So if I’m going to be creative and resourceful in facing the parole hearing and the distress rampant in my community, I need to think “outside the box.” Not attending the hearing is an option that never occurred to me in the early years. Once I let go of “I have to do this,” I see other possibilities. Some I can anticipate on a reasonable basis (another family member might attend, a representative of the D.A.’s office might – actually, does – attend; I could send a video of my statement; I could hire an attorney to attend in my place), but I must also keep in mind that my imagination doesn’t dictate what happens. Many times I thought I knew all the possible outcomes, only to discover that what actually happened was something I had no way of anticipating.