My good friend and wonderful writer/human Rita Kampen recently visited from Vancouver where she lives. It was a glorious visit. We talked and talked and talked. I love her wisdom. She told me not to move too quickly to “therefore”. “Let go of the ‘therefore’ ” she said. We never really know where something is headed. It’s so easy to jump to wrong conclusions that aren’t helpful to anyone. Better to be engaged and curious about how things unfold as they unfold. Also while I’ve been busy working on letting go of “therefore” Rita reminds me of the benefits of using “and” and not “but”. So I’m working on that too. I forget, but then I remember. Let me re-phrase that. I forget AND then I remember. See the difference? Subtle perhaps, but/AND important. (For fun, I’m gonna replace every “but” I write today with “AND”, so you can see at least part of the issue).
As modern neuroscience tells us, we CAN re-wire the brain. Changing the way we do things (including the way we use speech) changes the way our neurons fire, potentially changing old patterns and habits. As neuropsychologist and meditation teacher Rick Hanson wrote in “Buddha’s Brain”, “neurons that fire together wire together”. It makes sense AND the really smart guys, the neuroscientists are really JUST learning this, so how could we have known? (Maybe our grandmothers knew? Mine was from the “old world” and they knew all kinds of things that have just about disappeared from our modern day medicine bag of self-knowledge and healing).
I’m happy there is so much generous wisdom being loosed on this challenged and difficult world. I mean, there is a LOT of mess going on (if one listens to the news or even NPR or…) even just if one ventures out into the world. Driving to visit my friend Lisa in the East Bay recently, a really angry driver flipped me off and showed me his ugliest face for the tiniest driving error on my part (self-corrected within a fraction of a second, before his rage came my way). Wow. I glanced away, as if I’d taken a blow. Felt the flicker of fear and offended dignity, then simmering anger arising in me. I tried not to go there, not to go to the “therefore” (ie. What a bad driver I am! What a total jerk he is! People!!! etc).
For months now, I’ve been having trouble dealing with the contention between the Bernie and Hillary camps. Sometimes when I’m with a few Hillary supporters, friends and/or family who I assume know where I stand (mostly because of my FB posts), I am privy to hearing about the as-if-already-nominated Democratic candidate Hillary. As if the primaries are over. As if Bernie is no longer running. As if it is a sin that Bernie continues to run. As if his continuing to run means that he (and his supporters) are ruining Hillary’s chance of defeating Trump. As if we will not “come together” in November to support Hillary should she get the nomination. As if a Trump victory would be all Bernie’s and his supporters’ fault. This is not how I see it. To feel mis-understood and disdained (as an extension of the group) is painful. I have been told not to take it personally. It’s not personal. I know that. It seems the two camps have not yet figured out how to hold the friendly conversation, or maybe the different perspectives are being intentionally fanned into antagonism by the media or the Party? Not sure.
I’ve been in a number of these situations where finally I feel called upon to say something like, hey! btw, I’m for Bernie. I try to do this in my most conciliatory and non-threatening way. I feel a responsibility to the values and ideas I share with Bernie to speak up and at the same time I have no desire to cause conflict among people I feel close to — friends and family. I think the chances are slim for Bernie AND the choosing of the Democratic candidate is not yet over. I agree with Robert Reich on this AND I am not as articulate. Not that I’m judging myself. After all, it’s Reich’s area of expertise. Mine was nursing. Ask me anything about your health if you like. Not that I’ll know for sure, but I might, and I’m happy to share my own brand of expertise with anyone who wants to know.
Still, sometimes I wish I could be more like Robert Reich. Other times, I want to be more like Krista Tippett. Her book “Becoming Wise” is an enormously powerful and mega-insightful essay on the complex nature of how we communicate with each other. She models it (creating rich, nourishing, and complex conversations), teaches it, and goes into depth on what constitutes a good question and why that is even important, centrally important. Other times I wish I was like Maria Popova (Brainpickings), steeping herself in the wisdom of the ages, secure within her own daily activities of reading, reflection, and writing.
At the moment, I am happy being myself sitting amid the good folks of the neighborhood at Martha & Brothers cafe on Church Street.
Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond are both fabulously intelligent and generous listeners (as well as writers) and advice-givers. Their “advice column” podcasts Dear Sugar hold some real jewels of wisdom on timely topics, such as this recent one: “When Politics is Personal: Friends & Family“. It’s good, AND I could use about a hundred more hours of advice in this realm, especially this year.
One of my most favorite podcasts is Krista’s interview with Rachel Naomi Remen. There is enough wisdom and kindness in this interview to warm any weary heart and reduce by serious degree self and other judging thoughts.
Here’s some of Rachel’s wisdom:
“How can I make a difference when I’m so wounded myself? How can I make a difference when I feel so not enough? But you know, it’s our very wounds that enable us to make a difference. We are the right people just as we are. For example, my own wounds, my own sufferings have enabled me to feel compassion for the suffering of others. Without my suffering I wouldn’t understand the suffering of others or be able to connect to them. My loneliness enables me to recognize the loneliness in other people even when it’s covered over, to find them when they have become lost in the dark and to sit with them, and to know that just by sitting with them, eventually they will find what they need in order to move forward.”
To illustrate Rachel Naomi Remen’s point, several years ago I was going through a pretty drawn out depressive period. It lasted several years and since I had mega bad side effects with anti-depressants, I decided to try other means — acupuncture, naturopathy, homeopathy, psychotherapy, cranio-sacral, exercise. You name it; I tried it. Anyway, I was home for Thanksgiving and suddenly the morning of Thanksgiving Day, I found I couldn’t stop crying. Nothing in particular had happened. It just was… I don’t know. Family dynamics, where I was, etc. Nothing I could put my finger on. I told my mom I needed to move out of her apartment, where I was staying for several days. Seeing the state I was in (crisis), she didn’t try to stop me. My sister called around and found a nearby motel room. My daughter took me over, moved us in, then headed over to my brother’s house to hang out with her cousins and help prepare Thanksgiving dinner. I was relieved to be alone AND I still couldn’t stop crying. I drove out to the desert and ambled aimlessly in some gullies and ravines. I paid close attention to the rocky terrain, desert plants, listened to birds, sat still with lizards, and watched other humans off in the distance doing their own Thanksgiving Day desert walk. I kept an eye out for the possible random rattlesnake. I was full of an amorphous despair. The tears came and went like summer thunderstorms crossing the desert sky. After an hour or two I returned to the motel. Anna came back a short time later to find me saturated in tears, and asked what she could do. Asked if I wanted her to take me to the Emergency Room. I didn’t. I’d been reading Norman Fischer’s book “Training in Compassion” and had been struck by two pages on what true compassion looks like. I asked her to read the two pages, and then I asked her to just sit with me, to let me talk, or not talk, not to try to fix me. For the next hour, she sat quietly. I could feel her worry and heart’s intention wanting me to be well. It couldn’t have been easy, but she stayed. I spoke whatever it was I could understand about what was happening to me. As I spoke and she listened, the tears subsided. The more I spoke, the more emptied I felt, the quieter I got, until I was entirely calm, and miracle of miracles, not only did I not have to go to the ER, I was able to go to Thanksgiving dinner and spend several hours listening to family conversation. The storm had passed. An incredibly powerful healing had taken place. Anna’s loving presence. My own courage to be fully in the not-knowing, not jumping to the “therefore” allowed the storm to pass through me.
The doing was in non-doing, the knowing in allowing the not-knowing. Having let go of “therefore”, by dint of presence, patience and compassion (and because the “therefore” simply wasn’t working), everything happened that needed to.
As Rachel Naomi Remen said “Life is full of losses and disappointments and the art of living is to make of them something that can nourish others.”
My college psychology professor Dudley Yasuda always said that “life is food”, that all beings are food for each other, as if that explained the essence of everything. It seemed an interesting but rather futile (perhaps even nihilistic) stance. I wonder if the deeper question isn’t whether, by adding presence, patience and compassion, (AND leaving out the “therefore”) we can be not just food, but nourishment.