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Called to warriorship (November 9, 2016)

We’ve been training for this our whole lives….

I am not ‘trying to be optimistic’, though as a straight white lady living comfortably in a relatively sane and insulated pocket of the world, I could certainly exercise that luxury. Those ‘trying to be optimistic’ are those whom this disaster won’t touch—not initially anyway.

I’m not weeping in terror, either—my privilege doesn’t give me the right to do that, at least not for myself and my own safety.

No, the cause of my own insomnia last night was shock at a response I did not see coming: I am willing to fight. I am going to fight.

I’m grateful today for my aikido training in ways I could not have predicted. The layers of fear it’s brought up and burned off. The anger and rage that’s behind that, that has been sort of bubbling and quaking and not directed anywhere, just feeling like energy, like fuel. Changing shape and changing me. The spiral rising up my spine that in this moment has me feeling far more courageous than I ever I thought I would or could. Far more angry too. Far more willing to fight for those who might need me to defend them. This is in stark and shocking contrast to what would have been my reaction not long ago: “I will pray and hope and be nice to everyone and see what happens.” No way. I mean, I will pray for sure. I’ll be kind, I’ll nurture, I’ll love. But I will also use what strength I have in service to those who don’t have the resources I do.

The question that arose for me back when Voldemort first appeared on the scene, which I never asked publicly, was, “if we want him to go away, why are we paying so much attention to him?” Fear and revulsion and resistance are as nourishing a food to such beasts as adoration and support are. More so even. We’ve fed him with our attention all along, we who hate him. Understandable—we couldn’t just ignore him and let him do what he did without having tried to stop him.

Nonetheless, here we are. America is as dangerous and violent and fat and fake and greedy and dishonest and vile as the sludge demon we’ve elected to represent us. This needed to be revealed. The box is open; the beast is out. No amount of hope or optimism will put it back in. No amount of shiny lacquer will cover over what we now face as a globe.

But I’m not fighting the great reveal. I’m honoring it: honoring what’s being shown in me, in us. I’ll fight instead for those caught in the current of this necessary and horrible revelation. The ones who are in actual, immediate, physical danger should this monster actually ascend to the throne and be put in charge of the CIA and given the bomb codes. Before he actually executes the destruction that we all fear.

(The question my outrage asks now: could we possibly let him? How can we let him? Is there not any way to shove a stick in the gears of this invisible machine that is relentlessly consuming us? Could those who allegedly know better simply refuse to keep handing him power, laws be damned? Doubtful, I know. This is a stone of wrong that’s been clogging the artery of evolution and is finally on the move. It hurts like hell, this breakage and this release. But again, we couldn’t sit on the lid any longer.)

So yes, those who are most vulnerable in the face of this need warriors to fight with and for them, but I can’t and won’t beseech you to begin or keep training for this reason. It’s not how it works anyway. Aikido is a spiritual path because you are literally, actively training for whatever the world needs from you—and you can’t necessarily know what that is. Practice, it seems, reveals that too. Because it blasts open parts of us that we didn’t know were shut down. Like what just happened in our country, it unmasks the ugly bits of us—releases them, gets them on the move, transforms them into something else. Calls us to our highest selves. This doesn’t always mean warriorship. It often means peace, kindness, patience, forgiveness—any number of qualities that, in their purest, un-contorted, agenda-less form are necessary for a healthy soul. Ones you have to work hard to find. Ones that life, I can assure you, needs you to find.

Maybe it’ll take something as monstrous as this election to understand why you’ve been training. Maybe it’ll be subtly revealed in your daily interactions. Most likely it’s both, but nothing happens if you don’t return to the mat and face it. The world doesn’t need you to fight, perhaps, but it does need you to confront your own demons. This is the only way anything gets healed.

This is bringing out the worst in those who are the worst. But it seems to me to be bringing forth something else in the rest of us. What is it for you?

Unraveling

I wrote this in 2012, on the eve of that year’s presidential election. Different time, different context, different issues, different writer. I could (and probably will) make points more trenchant and relevant to today’s particular flavor of chaos. Nonetheless … much of it still feels true.

The world is unraveling. This is not news. Of course it isn’t. It’s only recently entered my understanding in a more visceral way that it’s undeniable now, but it never wasn’t the truth. The election is futile. No matter what happens tomorrow, we’re still headed toward decline. Obama may slow the decline, Romney will accelerate it, but either way, nothing will be fixed or solved with either of them in office. Nor will it be fixed or solved by us recycling or paying attention to the weather patterns or cutting fossil fuels. It’s too late. We’re being ripped apart at the seams. For so long we’ve felt the tug. Now it’s starting to rip.

It’s okay, there’s nothing we could have done. This is the direction of our evolution. It’s an inevitability of an ever-expanding universe. Nothing we do or don’t do, or have or haven’t done, would or could ever stop it. If you close your eyes and sense your insides – the mini-universe that resides in you – you can feel the pulling there too. The audible rip; the sensation of dynamic polarization. The expansion and near-explosion. It’s hard to bear. Tearing hurts. Disintegration is uncomfortable … we spend our energy and our dollars and our lives trying to prevent that very thing in its every form.  We destroy ourselves trying to prevent destruction.

But here we are: a society and a world encroaching on not existing as we always have. The ways we’ve done things and are still trying to do them just don’t hold up in the world that it is. The world is changing, and so many of us are frantically grabbing at the frayed edges of what once was, pulling with all their might and attempting in vein to lash the shreds together, hoping they’ll hold. They won’t hold. We need to let them go.

But we can’t because if we do, we’re surrendering ourselves to the unknown. To pain and chaos and strife and possible death. To definite lack of control. Having let go, our only recourse is to sit and watch it all fall down. Those of us who hide and ignore and distract won’t be able to. We all have to be here for it, and we don’t know what it is. We have to trust. We don’t know how to trust. We can’t let go. So we fight.

Our fighting takes every imaginable shape. We fight injustice, we fight diseases, we fight wars—both in them and against them. We fight with each other, we fight ourselves. Oh, so hard we fight ourselves. We fight against feeling pain, intimacy, pleasure, anger, hopelessness, fear. We hold our bodies so tightly against these things that they ache and distort and crumple and decay far more quickly than they’d otherwise need to. And then we fight the failing and when we can’t we go back to pushing it—and anything that reminds us of it—out of our consciousness.

And we go with all our might at the things we think we can fix. We perceive a problem and we villianize whomever we’ve decided was its perpetrator. We lash outwardly with blame for our inner hurt. We turn such a blind eye to our own incompleteness and raise pitchfork mobs out of others with similar pains, and go after the village ghost monster bent on making him pay. We don’t recognize that we’re each of us wading through our own worlds of hurt and just heaving it on to one another: here, you carry this for me.  It’s all your fault anyway. You bear the burden.

But this isn’t a wrong way to be; it’s how we are. It hasn’t caused the unravel. The unravel was coming. The unravel is us moving from Capricorn to Aquarius. It’s the game board changing, and life and the universe requiring something far different from us than most of us know how to live. So we man our old battle stations and prepare to ward off something that has no way of being destroyed. It’s merely a shifting world, and our only choice is to shift with it … or not.

So how, I now wonder, do those who are willing to let go facilitate the letting go of everyone else? Ha. We don’t. We don’t because that would be interfering with a process we understand to be inevitable and natural and that will have its own relationship with each being it encounters. We can’t meddle – it’s counter to the spirit of what’s going on. It would be just another attempt to hold something together. To “save” something, be it order or justice or the fabric of society or values or each other.  There is no saving to do. There is only letting go. In joy, in joy, and with open hearts. There is only release.

There can be celebration, I imagine: celebration for the astoundingly magical unfolding of existence. Laughter at the absurdity of it all. The comedy, the brilliance. Comfort in the fact—the only real truth we have to go on—of the unstoppable expansion of the universe and the changing nature of all things. I’ll raise a glass to that.

But whatever happens tomorrow has already happened. IS already happening. We surely can’t stop short, throw up our hands and say forget the whole thing. For our own understanding of survival we need to keep going. It’s just that I can see now that our actions are empty, but we have no others at the moment. We’re in the throes of an enormous universal limbo. We’ve let go of one trapeze and can’t yet glimpse another one to grab. We’re hanging in mid-air, and there’s no evidence of a net to catch us. So we’re feverishly attempting to weave our own out of what we’ve always used: fear and hope and words and thoughts and things things things. We drive toward a solution and our efforts dissipate into the blackness so we redouble and try harder. It hurts, it makes us tight and tense and yet we know no other way.

Let it break

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

— From “Sweet Darkness” by David Whyte

A few years ago I was in a state of, shall we say, spiritual disorientation. A limbo between a very solid What Had Been and a blackly obscured and unknowable What Was To Be. That liminal state where it feels like there’s no ground under one’s feet (usually because, in every respect but physical, there isn’t). All I knew for sure was that everything felt wrong. All I felt able to do was wander around – literally. Searching, maybe, or simply keep moving lest I get sucked into the black hole that yawned, terrifying, at the edge of my consciousness.

In retrospect, I was in the very early stages of one of the most massive, devastating, and necessary changes of my life. This feeling was Life shaking me awake from what had become a deep and complacent slumber – you are more than this, it whispered. Time to move on; time to get going; what lies ahead you have no way of knowing, it irksomely quoted Tom Petty.

I had no conscious inkling of this at the time, though. I just felt generally unsettled and awful, with nothing I could point to as a reason. There was no evident injustice causing my despair, no major loss inspiring this grief. Nothing I could use to explain in a way anyone else could relate to. It was coming purely from within—utterly invisible and impossible to describe, so I didn’t try. I didn’t tell anyone. Instead, I wandered through the hills near my home, crying a lot, not understanding. I wasn’t suicidal but had the thought more than once that if death came for me I wouldn’t mind. I’d go quietly.

It was rough.

One day my wanderings took me to a familiar hiking trail, drew me toward a familiar tree. It wasn’t a particularly magnificent specimen. It didn’t stand out except for its position relatively close to the path. It was a scraggly old pine whose lowermost foot of grayish bark had been scraped or eaten off by some creature or other. It seemed elderly. It was a being that I always felt compelled to greet in some way, with a touch or a wave, as I moseyed by.

Today I stopped, my heart full of questions that had no words. I leaned against my tree, back-to-trunk, breathed, breathed, my inner critic judging me as usual for being pathetic and dramatic. My ego terrified of being seen by anyone who passed by.

Despite all this, as soon as I connected myself to the tree I felt the web of intelligence it shared with all the other trees, with the ground, the ancestors beneath, the sky above, the all of it. The whisper of breeze through the leaves overhead, the rustling of life in the undergrowth—none of it was random noise. It was the harmonious hum of all existence, the lucid voice of the everything.

I was in a holy place, I knew. Guidance was available. I didn’t know what to say. What to ask. I just knew I needed help. So I asked for that. Asked for help.

Listened. Nothing.

I feel like my heart is breaking, came my silent confession.

Then let it break, I heard in noiseless response.

Let it break.

I did. Then and there, the elderly tree still holding me, I let my heart break. A quiet, heaving, knowing sob. An opening, finally, into the expanding territory of my soul. A painful stretching of the heart to take in all I was becoming aware of. Permission, finally, to feel it all—even the stuff that hurt. Especially the stuff that hurt. It swept in to fill the void for a moment, nearly more than I could bear, but enough to glimpse where this all was going.

For a second, just then, there was orientation. Ever so briefly I felt my place in the world again. The tree helped me see not only where the ground was, but where my ground was. For an infinitesimal moment, I could almost make out where I was headed. It was a place I didn’t understand yet. There were no answers, but there was information.

Let it break. My heart needed to break, my space to crack open to allow for this expansion. Much of my suffering had come, I realized, from trying to Keep It Together when clearly It was not even a thing anymore. Trying to sustain a shape that wanted me to shift. Holding fast to a branch as the current of life endeavored to move me downstream.

There was also the suffering caused by trying to leave the darkness too soon. An old metaphor that never fails to wow me is that of caterpillars transitioning into butterflydom. They literally liquefy in their chrysalis. This cannot be comfortable. Interview any moth you meet: they will not, I’m sure, look back upon their cocoon days with nostalgia and longing.

And it doesn’t end there: they must, once they awaken—giant new wings wound around them in this space that is suddenly and clearly too small—fight their own way out, however long it takes. To help a butterfly out of its cocoon is to kill it. It must break out on its own.

So must our souls, stirring in the confines of what is no longer ours to be. There has to be a break, a tear, a rending, as we emerge new into the blinding light. None of it is comfortable. All of it is necessary. It is nature. Our nature.

It took ages, lots more miles of hiking and plenty more pain, but eventually my outer world did come into alignment with what I was catching foggy glimpses of in those first days.

I’m remembering this now, I think, because I find myself in the midst of another one of these giant, nameless shifts that is taking its sweet time revealing itself. It’s showing up as anxiety and despair running through every channel of my life—some acidic compound, perhaps, being poured through the lines to purify them. It’s having me crave silence, sleep, alone time, wandering. It’s inspiring inner critic attacks about how I need to be more productive or at least dooooo something with or about what I’m feeling. It helps to reflect on an earlier occurrence of Whatever This Is. I did eventually make my way out of the chrysalis, tottered confusedly for a bit in the blinding newness, and grew accustomed to the new self that had been gestating during all those months of perplexity and pain.

It’s the hardest work of our lives, and can be the most fascinating if we stay awake to it. To recognize something is amiss, acknowledge that where we are is no longer relevant and something else is calling to us. To not deny it, fix it, contain it, or even define it. And definitely to not paint a veneer on it so that things still seem shiny and okay. On the contrary, we need to move forward into the mystery. To allow our hearts and our worlds to break, to be upended, to sit motionless in the dark and let ourselves liquefy. Trusting that eventually we will emerge and unfold into something far bigger than our old minds can just now hold.

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What power is and isn’t

I’ve had the great fortune of lucking into practices that don’t have much to do with the mind and everything to do with the body. I say “fortune,” I say “lucking into” because it’s not like I chose them after much deliberation and weighing of options. On the contrary: Something felt right and I dove in and, after not long at all, the force took hold and I was swept up, not having to effort much to stay with the practice.

Not that these things aren’t rife with challenges in terms of what they bring up. My part, however, is the showing up. The lion’s share of the work is done by the powers that be.

Powers. Power. It’s something I’ve been thinking about of late – as in, it’s finally risen to my word-brain and concepts have been coming together. It’s been swirling around in my system for a lot longer than that. Here’s what I’ve come to understand.

Power is life force. It’s energy that moves through our bodies in a contained flow—ideally. Ideally it brings with it information from life, from the divine, from the intelligence that moves all things.

It doesn’t look like this for most of us. There are plenty of people whose life force is strong and magnetic, but the information carried therein is cluttered with debris in the form of old hurts or completely disconnected from anything larger than their own closed system. (Hi Donald Trump.) Or someone who’s like way in touch with the universe, man, but whose physical presence is so dim that none of that wisdom has any hope of making its home here on earth. Most of us fall somewhere in between those two extremes.

Power has nothing to do with other people. There’s no such thing as power sharing, balance of power, having power over another. All we’re doing when we orient this way is playing in a sandbox; knocking over each other’s castles, throwing and burying, taking each other’s toys. Moving around a bunch of dirt that neither increases or decreases in volume; that in quality remains dirt. Getting nowhere, though we’re encouraged every time our pile gets bigger, devastated when we’re crunching a few grains along the bare boards of our playspace.

Nor is power saying “fuck everyone, I’m doing what I want.” That is anger. That is outrage. Not that this isn’t useful: for many, this is an in-road to power. The realization that you have given your life force away, for a second or for your whole life, is infuriating. The rage that comes from that is the priming of the pump. It allows us to feel pure, useful energy flowing through us in a jet-propelled whoosh. A danger is getting stuck here – there are many people who delight in being outraged, devote themselves to it, even make livings from it it, forgetting (or not realizing) that it’s merely a stepping stone to real power.

Power doesn’t increase with a multitude of bodies amassed in a shared interest. That’s force. Unless that mass is wide awake and shares a divine directive, they’re just working together to plow the sand until everything else is buried.

Power is being unaffected by others’ experiences. Not in the sense of closing off our hearts. Compassion is vital. Rather, it’s being able to act independent of how others might react. Everyone’s on their own trip – it’s your job to focus on your own.

This is not something to theorize about. You can do it somatically. Feel your body vibrating. Feel the center of it. Jettison what isn’t yours. Become full of yourself, your own energy. It’s not arrogant; it’s essential. It doesn’t mean you don’t care. On the contrary, you can’t truly care – have compassion, make a difference, any of that – until you are in contact with yourself.

We hear pieces of this, all the time, in many contexts. For example, “Don’t worry what anyone else thinks.” Right. Sure. But without an alternate place to put our attention, we stay focused on those very others we’re trying to disregard. There’s no hope of even understanding what that means, let alone putting it into action.

Or, “oh, just tune in, you’ll feel what’s right.” Again, wonderful in theory, but tuning in isn’t a decision, it’s a skill – one that, if we were raised in the west, we very likely weren’t taught.

This is where practice comes in. We need to cultivate our ability to feel into what’s happening for us. It’s only when we notice what we’re doing with our energy that we can change it.

No doubt you’ll be flabbergasted by my next statement: aikido is one phenomenal way to build this sensitivity. By moving and interacting the way we do, we become aware of our habitual patterns of attention and relationship. We learn to decipher what is ours and what is others, how to stay grounded and steady in the face of challenge, and to move in harmony with the greater guiding forces in the universe.

A concrete example of this is a ki test. When a partner pushes on us and we take that energy and channel it down through our center and into the ground, our out through the tips of our fingers and into the next town, we are accessing the channel of pure, clean energy running through us and connecting us to everything. We become conduits of our own highest selves. As practice advances, the harder we’re pushed, the more we are in contact with our own source – our power. We learn to pay attention to this source, not what others are trying to put in our space, or take from it.

We can prattle and theorize and educate ourselves and build muscles and audiences. We can read and diet and meditate and become CEOs. We can do all this and never come into contact with our power or hope to affect anything. We need practices—challenging ones—that physically show us our life force and help us cultivate it. What is yours?

None of our business

However life chooses us to be of service in it has absolutely nothing to do with us.

Calling is not a choice. It’s not what we think we like or prefer or have aptitude for. Our egos have plenty of ideas about what we’re supposed to be good at: what we excelled at in grade school, what is “marketable,” what will make the biggest splash, what we’d spend our days up to if we had a bazillion dollars and grillions of hours to devote.

Passion has nothing to do with what any of us came here to do. Desire: bupkus. Drive: meh. (Eek, sorry guys. I know these are the qualities most of us well-intentioned and productive westerners spend our lives cultivating, polishing, pining after. I think, unfortunately, they might be red herrings.)

It’s that gift part. It’s the calling part. It’s the quiet mystery. It’s the wonderful, insane, “how in the hizzizle did I end up here?” phases of our lives. Those are the times life is nudging us in the ribs, encouraging us forth to be of some actual use at this silly, short-lived party.

We know what’s ours to do, I think, when it’s something other than our own agency pulling us toward it. We know what’s ours to do, I believe, when we’re shocked that we’re doing it at all. We know what’s ours to do because it hovers above and around us in gentle, persistent presence. There might be resistance, drama on our part. We might ignore it or make ourselves sick willing it to go away. But it doesn’t.

I am conscious of two endeavors in my relatively brief, error-ridden life that have not gone away: writing and aikido. Ask me any time before 2011 if I saw myself as a martial artist and I would have snarfed red wine directly between your darling, delusional eyeballs. Ask me if I’m a writer and I would have until very, very recently given you my well crafted, overly prepared and rather arrogant line: “well yes, in a sense. Writing is my gift but it’s not my passion.”

I envied others’ pursuits, casting about for what I might do that was as beautiful and meaningful and powerful and exotic: why had I not devoted my life to being a landscape architect or an acupuncturist or a glass blower or a parent or a dancer?

All the while god chuckled, tears falling down its formless cheeks in knowing amusement.

Because in all my tortured searching, questioning, beseeching to be shown the path, it was right under my nose. When I finally looked down and saw I was walking the damn thing, I realized too that there had been no choice in the matter – it was never my call to make. It’s just what was. And as I’ve allowed these two strange yet inevitable bedfellows to turn toward each other, they’ve begun an almost effortless dance that has had rapid and surprising effect. In a way I am shocked. In another, it feels like nothing.

If an endeavor has swept you up in this way (fixing old cars, caring for your elderly parents, going on ten mile runs, channeling the dead, walking dogs, having coffee after coffee with burnt-out coworkers, taking improv classes, letting people stop you in the street and tell you about their lives … or, I don’t know, aikido) – even if you’ve only been up to it for a year or a month or a day – you might know what I mean.

If you’ve ever dug up a piece of garbage you wrote or painted a decade ago (right before you quit in despair and futility) and realized that, at the time, you were actually channeling the divine into a piece of fragile and fleeting beauty to live here on earth … perhaps you feel me.

Everyone else, keep looking. No doubt there’s something of this nature that’s whispering to you, waiting patiently to welcome you into its peculiar, irresistible lair.

What we find ourselves in the middle of—even if we’re busy ignoring it—might actually be the very thing that’s rippling out into the world in waves of goodness and truth. It might be as challenging as it is enjoyable. It might bring us to our knees in its name. Or it might feel like nothing special: it’s just who I am; it’s just what I do.

But it won’t release us from its embrace.

As with most things, reading this won’t connect anyone to their calling in a firework-burst of sudden comprehension. As with most things, we’ve got to find this out for ourselves in however much time it takes (and then forget and find out, forget and find out, again and again in the ever-widening spiral). As with most things, it will probably involve a struggle of some kind. But perhaps this can serve as a kind of a reminder-buoy for the times you find yourself lost, treading water.

The point, though, is this: if you’re fighting like hell to make your purpose known in the world (or to yourself), ease up for a moment. You likely don’t have to try so hard. Instead, ask to be guided there – to be shown what you need to see. With a soft, broad focus, let it come to you. Give yourself a break from the laser-focused search. It’s not your job anyway. It’s none of your business.

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