Time to detox
I'm still worried. The new US President was sworn-in last week and there are no more incendiary tweets from one particular personality. But there is still the pandemic, the economy, the climate change, the racism, and all the other things. It's hard to shake the persistent ache of impending calamity. So how do we shed that constant worry particular to the last four years?
With deliberate effort.
I think it's time for a cleanse. A few years ago my body was over-run by all the sugar in my diet. My gut was suffering and so the rest of me suffered. My partner and I decided to do a cleanse, so for several weeks we cut out all the sugars. The first couple days were the most intense, my body rebelling against the dietary austerity and demanding a return to the usual volume of sugar. But the withdrawal subsided, the toxins were processed through my system, and I emerged feeling lighter in body and mind.
Similarly, our body politic has been overrun by a certain brand of chaos. We need to flush our collective systems and draw out the toxins. As individuals and as a collective, we need to unclench the parts we are holding tense to allow space for new possibilities. The countless memes of Bernie Sanders sitting in a chair just being himself felt like the beginning. It was the first deep breath after a long walk in a dark cave.
In the absence of constant jerk-splosions from the x-president, social media had space for people to fill with absurdity instead. It was relaxed and playful instead of much of the humor from the past four years which was pretty firmly in the mode of survival coping. It was joyful, and it was a nice break from the very long to-do list of things in the world that still need fixing.
Before we jump back in to all that work, taking a moment to check-in and recognize the progress we have made as a society (and as individuals) also feels like powerful detoxification. Women are still not earning as much as their male co-workers, but that gap is shrinking. Racism is still prevalent absolutely everywhere, but many more people and institutions are doing anti-racist work. Humans who don't fit into the male or female binary still face discrimination and dismissal, but the current President understands there are "at least three" genders.
So we have come a little ways down the path toward a world that supports health, peace, and well-being for everyone. Take a moment to soak in that knowledge, like an Epsom salts bath. Let it draw out the muck from the worst presidency ever and flush it away in a way that allows us to maintain the constant vigilance we will need to make real changes going forward.
For the world, the ultimate detox will be decolonization. The liberation from the structures, policies, and narratives our world is built of and around that perpetuate inequity and injustice. And in order to succeed, we each must liberate ourselves from the inequity and injustice we have internalized in our thoughts, practices, and narratives. So take a moment to recognize your own progress, then get to work setting yourself free so we can liberate one another.
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The only way out is through
We're in it right now. A category 5 shitstorm. Most of us have been weathering the countless phases of this unrelenting gale since the onset of the pandemic, and many more have been struggling against constant upheaval for even longer. Catastrophic damaged has occurred, and as a nation we have reached a point of maximal chaos saturation.
Before the dust from the Jan 6th whateveritwas had even settled, republican lawmakers began calling for the nation to come together and heal. They suggest holding the Inciter in Chief accountable for his role in that day's event will do nothing except further divide the nation. The very humans who have caused and contributed to all the harm and division are ready to forget all that and move on, for the sake of national unity.
Well, I don’t want to unite with them. And I’m clearly not alone in this sentiment. The only way we can unite with these folks is by accepting their twisted (and extremely problematic) version of reality. The truth is much more important than whether republicans in power feel a certain oneness with the rest of us. Maybe a little time alone in the corner would do them some good. Provide an opportunity for self-reflection and growth.
We cannot have national reconciliation and healing until we all acknowledge where we are as a nation. We cannot heal by pretending the trauma is no longer happening, or while the traumatizers assert they are just as hurt by the tragic events they, themselves, helped to bring about. They have to actually deal with the hurt they caused (and continue to cause).
We all have to actually deal with the hurt we have caused (and continue to cause) our fellow citizens through unjust systems and practices. We have to feel the anguish, the guilt, the repentance, the sorrow. Otherwise we will never get to a place as a nation where recovery is actually possible. It’s not an easy process, but it is necessary. And it is worth it.
This whole last year has been full of the unexpected. The shocking. Full of opportunities for deeper self-consideration arriving in unfamiliar packaging. This week I received a sudden and surprising announcement about significant changes coming to my Taiji system. My first thought was, “well, add it to the pile of happenings I wasn’t expecting and I’ll figure out what it means later.”
So I sat with it, in my standing practice. Allowing space for each of my emotions as they rose up from the cacophony. Feeling down to the root of those emotions and their manifestation in my body. Searching for what my emotions were inviting me to consider, and resting-in to those considerations.
Ultimately, I had follow-up questions. The same follow-up questions - it turned out - as my friend and fellow Taiji practitioner. So when I opened the group chat to make my inquiries, there were my answers. My daily practice doesn’t need to change, my teacher’s availability to me won’t change, the curriculum continues to exist, my fellow practitioners want to practice and remain connected. Everything is the same while nothing is the same. Nothing has changed while everything has changed. Just like what’s happening constantly in the world.
I’ve reached a particular point of saturation with the madness of the outside world so that it’s nearly impossible to hold on to anything other than the present moment. It’s a very strange feeling. I’m simultaneously at maximum overwhelm and maximum calm. I feel like the eye of the storm. Sometimes I tilt or wobble out of balance like I’m a spinning top and I dip a bit into the chaos. But my Taiji practice is like my gyroscope. When I wobble I can find my alignment again and regain my balance, back in the eye of the storm.
This moment in history turns out to be exactly the perfect training opportunity to deepen my Taiji practice. It’s amazing. It’s frustrating. It’s also very sad and isolating at times because I want to spread the healing magic of self-discovery and self-liberation that’s currently holding me up farther out into the world. I can see how much the world needs it. And I can see so many people who are not yet ready to see themselves more fully and instead continue to contribute to their own undoing. I can see the lawmakers who insist on an alternate version of reality, contributing to our collective undoing.
I don’t know if my personal effort, in concert with the efforts of the many other humans working toward liberation, will make enough difference for humanity to really turn the corner and set a course away from self-destruction. It is possible this dedication to process will fade after we're gone and become nothing more than an obscure paragraph in the history book of humanity.
This moment is an opportunity. I hope it will not be a missed opportunity. Please dig deep. Leave no part of your self unexplored or unexamined. Leave no depth of your feelings and your experience unplumbed. Only by seeing and acknowledging the fullness of your own humanity can you see the fullness of humanity in others. We can't get to healing without acknowledging where we are and how we got here. The only way out is through.
Information and Inspiration
We must save us
We are the help until Help arrives. That's what FEMA's website says. And that has been true in my experience. During the flood of 1996, the electricity went out in our entire neighborhood. It also went out in many other neighborhoods. It took days for the electric company to restore power to most places and weeks in some areas. School was closed and my mom couldn't go to work because her downtown office building was a scant few laps of water away from becoming aquatic.
Everyone from my building gathered in one neighbor's apartment. We kept her fireplace going, put on sweaters and blankets, and cooked meals together over a propane camping stove. We played games and shared stories and discussed whatever news came in from friends who dropped by. This was before smartphones and social media. We didn't have much, but we used what we had to take care of each other until the waters receded and the power came back on.
In the winter of 2008, feet of snow appeared overnight bringing the entire city of Portland to a complete standstill. Tri-Met even shut down completely for two days, which never happens. We were lucky that we happened to go to the grocery store the day before, so we were well-fed and enjoyed a couple snow days. We shoveled walkways for folks who couldn't manage their own and had a slip-sliding snowball fight with the folks next door and across the street.
After several days, just as it looked like it might finally begin to thaw, even more snow arrived. This time we were out of food, so we had to venture out for supplies. We teamed up with a human down the block who had a big truck with massive chain-adorned tires. We dug out his wheels and made our way very slowly to the only grocery store that was open for many miles. We returned just as slowly with provisions for anyone who needed it. We took care of ourselves by helping each other.
Just six days into 2021, a different sort of storm struck in Washington DC. Trump supporting extremists stormed the Capitol while their Idol in Chief refused to dispatch the National Guard. They ransacked offices, took selfies, clashed with law enforcement, pee'd on things, tried to steal art, broke stuff, and a few folks ended up dead.
Watching videos from that day of madness, it dawned on me: these people did not realize they would have to save themselves. The system is usually on their side. The police are usually on their side. A stark contrast from the experience of anti-fascist and BLM protestors who have been demonstrating against un-checked police brutality since George Floyd was murdered last May.
These protestors bring their own medics. They bring their own security and traffic control. They bring pop-up hot food kitchens. They know they have to take care of themselves because they are standing up against the system. They are standing up against the police. The system does not help them so they have to help themselves. They know no one else is coming to save them.
I hope regular folks at home are realizing that even they will likely have to save themselves during the next calamity, whatever form it takes. The movie Save Yourselves! is a poignant cinematic portrayal of this grim reality. When aliens invade and the world is ending, no one swoops in to save the main characters from certain doom. They have to try and save themselves. Just like real life.
FEMA recommends all households have emergency supplies for at least three days and a disaster response plan. And three days is the soonest FEMA can respond. We all remember it took much longer for help to arrive after Hurricane Katrina. The Trump enthusiasts announced quite publicly they were coming to DC on Jan 6th and even explained exactly what they planned to do. And then they showed up and the government was woefully underprepared.
That might be how it is in the future too. The federal government has not fully reckoned with the scope and magnitude of climate change, so chances are currently high that they will be flabbergasted by a major climate calamity. When the invaders left the Capitol on the 6th, they announced plans to come back on the 19th. We shall see whether the appropriate parts of the government take that seriously.
The good news is that we don't have to wait on the government to get our collective shit together. We can put together our emergency plans and gather our supplies. We can even start practicing taking care of each other now, before disaster strikes. We can feed and house and heal each other. And we need to do it because our societal systems are failing a whole lot of us. Imagine how little help they will be in an emergency.
In Neal Stephenson's novel, Snow Crash, the government is all but nonexistent; just another corporation acting entirely in its own interest. One main character has to save herself after being kidnapped. She is a courier and when she activates a signal, all the other couriers come to her aide.
In order for that kind of collective response to work, we have to forge those relationships and build that trust and that community ahead of time. And we have to prepare our community ahead of time for what we want to do when disaster strikes. It's a whole lot easier to build skills in the calm before the storm. We need us. Now and in the future. We have to save ourselves, so let's do it together.
Information and Inspiration
Sometimes I wonder if we’re gonna make it. As a species. At various points in my life I have looked into my future with certainty, feeling assured that the world would take a familiar shape. Feeling that certain things were set and inevitable, even as all the details about who I would become and where I would be remained unfixed and malleable.
More recently I am not as sure. In fact I’m more and more sure that we’re not gonna make it. The more I learn about our collective history, the more fully I understand the context of the present moment. The more clearly I can see how we got here and the more I recognize the totality and interconnectedness of the challenges we are facing.
There are so many things that need to be worked on. And not enough time for me to work them all. Maybe not enough time for everyone to get on board and work together before it’s too late for some things, like climate change. It is easy to see how that can be incredibly overwhelming.
I see some folks stopping there, in that state of overwhelm, and I hear them say “what’s the point? We’re not going to fix all the things and we’re doomed, so why bother at all?” I have asked this same question myself, and my answer is: the effort itself is the point. The point is how you want to be in the world. How you want to get from point Birth to point Death. We can't control the whole world, so we have to decide how we move through it.
This week I read a friend’s Facebook post about an encounter in the check-out line at a grocery store. The clerk was coming on strong and my friend was not interested in their romantic or sexual offerings. My friend put up boundaries and the clerk persisted, taking the disinterest as a challenge instead of as a rejection.
There is nothing especially remarkable about this story. I have seen it a thousand times. I have heard it a thousand times. I have lived it a thousand times. But it caught my attention in the telling, and in the comments and reactions that followed.
All the comments were supportive, so I’m grateful no one questioned the veracity or validity of my friend’s experience. But some were still problematic in that the support they offered was actually just variously flavored perpetuation of the exact dynamic that allows this unhealthy and traumatizing behavior to continue so prevalently in our society.
My friend told the story and concluded with the come-back they thought of on the drive home. Her will-use-next-time tongue lashing insta-turn-off was humorous and cutting. One swath of suggestions took the jesting and ran with it, offering more and more comical ways to appear unappealing to the clerk. Stare into the clerk’s eyes while you pick your nose. Pick your teeth at them. Act completely crazy. So much imagination and creativity!
I was equally amused and incensed by the increasingly ludicrous strategies offered. One person should not have to spurn unwanted advances by becoming less desirable. The problem is not that my friend was desirable. The problem is that my friend did not want to fulfill the desires of the desire-er and the desire-er did not see that as a valid reaction.
Another well-intentioned suggestion was the one-liner shutdown: “If you wouldn’t say it in front of my husband, don’t say it.” One person should not have to use another person’s claim on them as a barrier against a new and unwanted claim. My friend is not an object. They are a person. And the only reason the clerk needed to hear is that my friend is not interested in whatever they are offering because they don't want that. That should be the end of that.
You know when you become aware of something you never noticed before, suddenly you see it everywhere? That’s what this moment felt like to me. I’ve been intensely focused on dismantling systems of supremacy and superiority within myself and my community in the context of anti-racism over the last six months. Now I see another way those narratives of superiority play out in predatory dating.
In general, I tend to pick up an issue and work it for a while, gaining experience and cultivating skills. Then another presents itself as a higher priority in the moment and I apply my skills and knowledge and passion there. This week I feel compelled to increase the volume of my time and attention on liberating the world from toxic masculinity.
It’s not the same issue as racism, but it is the same work. The underlying issues of unequal power distribution and of one person trying to increases their worth and value by taking it from another are at the root of both. And at the root of other societal ills. There is a lot of work to do.
I'm doing my work alongside many others. And we still might not make it. Even if every person woke up tomorrow fully aware of their individual power to affect the course of the world, I still may not live to see the end of racism, toxic masculinity, and predatory dating practices. But I’m going to try anyway. Generations of change-makers planted the seeds I am watering today. I want to be contributing to a better future even if it takes more than my whole life's contribution.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.