Watchful Patience

The messages of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela remain relevant even in a world where ideological confrontations and invasive totalitarianism have been overcome. They are messages of hope, of faith in a society’s ability to overcome conflict through mutual understanding and watchful patience. To achieve this, we must rely on our belief in human rights, the violation of which—whoever the perpetrators may be—must provoke our indignation. We must never surrender these rights. ~Stéphane Hessel

 

I wonder whether it is enough for me to do my work, to write my story, to create my art. I can no longer take liberty for granted, if ever I had. I have the urgency to stay awake, and yet, I also feel a tremendous responsibility to foster peace in the world, in my heart, in my home. The more I am afraid of the future, the more I cling to my sense of purpose, the calling in my life and to caring for myself, and others, with compassion, serenity and love.

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Elliott C. Nathan

It is easier to deal with the external manifestations of racism and sexism than it is to deal with the results of those distortions internalized within our consciousness of ourselves and one another.*

We must not permit our backs to be pressed against a wall, dogs to run us down like fugitives, or bars to close in around our hearts. If we are free, then no one can take that. And, we must believe that we are free—we have to know it. We have to own our freedom and live accordingly.

I say, keep your peace. Make room for your joy. Make sure that when the storm passes, your house is standing.

I believe I do not have to burn things to be part of a revolution —though I honor and recognize that those who must burn structures, effigies and ideals are necessary to the cycle of change.

I am writing about an anger so huge and implacable so corrosive, it must destroy what it most needs for its own solution, dissolution, resolution.*

I tend my garden, write like a mad woman, connect with my people, cry into my pillow, sculpt my ancestors, sand the teak table that has stood out in the blessed rain all this long winter. I do these things, and I watch, as Hessel prescribes, with a patience that is steeped in long-suffering and the alertness of a new season.

In our struggle for justice, peace and equity, we owe it to ourselves to nurture love, self-care and harmony. These are critical responsibilities for liberation workers.

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Elliott C. Nathan

We get to thrive. We get to love. We get to live.

 

*Audre Lorde

Historical Repetitions: (Just Waiting to See What Will Be Considered Next) d

Charity begins at home. Sometimes Trump seems to be saying just that. Perhaps freedom from hunger is the freedom we all need. When our people are starving, roving the streets looking for shelter, chronically unemployed, then it is at last time for a movement. It’s what prompted the revolutions of the 19th century and it’s what drove the 1960s Civil Rights activism. We are no more impervious to ills of imposed poverty than to the desire to feed and shelter our families. The people have spoken, and beneath the rhetoric of hate, misogyny and bigotry, are the very real concerns of people who have witnessed a steady decline in resources, opportunities and wages, as well as the intangibles: loss of pride, purpose and dignity. Unlike the bulk of Trump’s electorate, I don’t draw the boundary along a color line. I see that in San Francisco, the disenfranchised, displaced and working poor are blacks, averaging salaries of $24,000 a year. These communities, long-time residents of this thriving metropolis, are in need of jobs, resources, supermarkets and hope. Maybe we will see change.

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What’s Happening Here?

 

That said, this is not the time to go to sleep. We need to remain watchful, vigilant and engaged. Trump’s policies need to provide for all of us, not just White Americans, who are feeling the pain that historically, only Native Americans, African Americans and Latino Americans and countless other minority groups have experienced. It’s the same pain. The pain is momentarily evenly distributed among those of the working class and working poor: groups, which are increasingly indistinguishable from one another. Let us look upon the lessons of history and see that we are our brother’s keeper. We’re in it together. Four years, or less: Who knows? But if we get more jobs, better paying jobs, I’m okay with prosperity. img_1896

In the meantime, let’s practice agape, friends. I’m talking about love. Kindness is contagious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Definitions: The Necessity of Art (Part I)

I have spent years looking at color and studying history through the lens of art, attempting to make the world around myself beautiful. Certainly, what we create is deeply influenced by what we see: the fragmentation or wholeness of life begins within. My walls burst with a vibrancy I believe reflects my deepest nature. The collective images around me emerge into a singular experience of my own story, retold.

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Writer Toni Morrison

In times of despair, art is no luxury. Essential to the healing of the psyche, beauty in her many forms is a conduit for soothing inflamed pathways, a distraction from our own external or internal whirls, a meditation on purpose. Through our eyes, the story of the extraordinary other, the Beloved, is transmuted into wordlessness, a state of suspended ego. Go there.

 

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”    ~ Toni Morrrison

The Art of Reconciliation

I don’t know how to fix things. I don’t know how to make things work again once they fail. I’m no engineer. I am a tinkerer.

I know how to listen. I listen with my ears. I listen with my mind. I listen with my memory. I listen with my heart. I listen with my intellect. I listen with my emotions. I listen with my eyes, my experience and my pen.

Each listening hears differently. Each listening possesses its own attunement. Listening is a teacher, a healer and a decision maker. Listening is passive and active. Listening is an ancient form of communication, a dance with the moving molecules of existence.

How do we listen to one another? How do we listen to the beloved? How do we listen to God, to history, to our deepest self?

These simple questions, unpacked, can tell us about how we hear and process the world.

In many religious traditions, a time of quiet contemplation, reflection and solitude are prescribed for a special kind listening and hearing to happen. The challenge in contemporary society like ours is to value and consecrate time to the practice. We unfortunately view quiet and solitude as suspect, luxurious or superfluous. Without dedicated time for listening and stillness, we cannot hear our highest calling—we are not able to listen for our next steps. And, instead, we fill all of our time with noise, in essence, censoring our own receptors from the deep hearing our souls need to thrive.

With what do we fill our lives? For some, life is endless talking without pausing to digest, listen or consider. Next, we permit ourselves to be saturated in the constant bombardment of media from televisions, radios and other sources of media. We are addicted to social-media platforms, unable to eat a meal without a device in one hand, consuming tasteless food and ingesting unexamined content with our eyes. Whether we fill our time with other people, fictional or factual content, sounds in any form, we cannot reconcile without some sort of retreat into solitude and serenity. In the second episode of the deeply grotesque and compelling series, Black Mirror, the main character tries to lie down silently in his room; unable to shut down the endless stream of programing that is forced upon through all of his waking hours, he shatters one of the many screens lining the walls of his room. Even this does not afford him even a temporary reprieve from external stimulation.

The metaphor in the episode is only partially hyperbolic. We are under the constant pull of instant news, messaging and reminders. Only when we are about to burst will we try to shut the devices down—even then, we may not be able to sever ties to the technology that plugs in to the noise. We may not pay in the literal sense that the show depicts, but we come close. Serenity, the show suggests, becomes the domain of the wealthy, but I’m not sure that the wealthy are any better at getting quiet or sitting in stillness.

We all need to step back from life, devices, Internet, news, chatter, magazines, regularly. For some, a daily retreat in the form of meditation or prayer is necessary; for others, a periodic abstaining from external stimulus or a foray into nature will suffice. The dedicated time needs to be intentionally gifted to the self, an official offering of the heart, for renewal to happen. If we don’t make a conscious choice, our bodies and minds will often decide for us. That can be a very painful process.

Clearly, I am not an expert on how to patch up broken moments. I am a woman who was once desperate to repair important relationships, holding to an uncompromising optimism about outcomes and drowning out the pain with business. The surrender for me came when I could no longer exact effort, forced into isolation by physical ailments and immobilized by emotions owing to my inability to repair the damage to important relationships. At that time, I found the opening into radical acceptance, a place of listening and hearing, a knowing that was the entirety of the experience—sitting with my pain with my raw emotions. At first the solitude and quiet turned into an enormous dragon, my monstrous failures eating me alive. Gradually, the dragon settled into a protective guard dog, alert and vigilant, yet utterly gentle and loving, a new experience of the self.

Now I seek moments of solitude, reflection and silence regularly. Cultivating the practice of retreat in myself, I allow for serenity and stillness, to make the necessary peace with my life. Peace requires turning the external world off periodically. We can lose so much of ourselves in the process of life. We are prone to forgetting our priorities when we don’t make time for introspection. The process of retreat is necessary for compassion and healing and opening. The reconciliation with the self, returning the self in loving kindness is the only possible way to find peace. We must cultivate that peace in ourselves.

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My Essay In The Mindfulness Bell

Dear Friends and Family,

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Happily, one of my essays has just been published in the Autumn 2016 issue of The Mindfulness Bell, a journal dedicated to the practice of mindful living. My essay is a reflection on my recent journey to New Orleans with Mindful Peacebuilding’s Roots Retreat 2016. You can subscribe to the Mindfulness Bell or order the autumn issue directly from the magazine. Proceeds from the Mindfulness Bell go to support the worldwide healing and transformation work of the Thich Nhat Hanh community.

 

http://www.mindfulnessbell.org/subscribe/

 

http://www.mindfulnessbell.org/us-subscriptions/us-one-year-subscription

 

 

In gratitude,

 

Edissa Nicolás-Huntsmanimg_8954

Goodbye Puzzles

 

“There is no escape: understanding a subject means transforming it, lifting it out of a natural habitat and inserting it into a model or a theory or a poetic account of it. But one transformation may be better than another in the sense that it permits or even explains what for the other transformation remains an unsolvable puzzle.”

~Paul Feyerabend

 

The need to transform myself is so strong that it’s like a undertow pulling me in to a new rhythm, drowning me. This happens all the more when I struggle against the current, resisting with feeble humanness, paddling through fifteen-foot waves with only smooth palms as instruments of survival. Each time a wave bats my shoulders and eddies around my feet, filling my mouth water, my lungs burning with salted spray, I continue to fight, heaving up and missing, no place to kick off. What am I fighting against? Why is the other direction so scary? Why is the same vast body less comforting when I’m dragged and pummeled by it then when I release the tension and float with it toward some distant shore? Or should I turn toward it, as they say, to swim with the current? I must be willing to aim the trusted vessel of my body into the unknown because I’m already well equipped to mutate, born under the constellation of the Archer, having entered the world in a dire battle for life—or so my mother tells me.

 

Here is the reason for the raging battle: I no longer want mere survival. I’m not looking for an oar or a raft or a boat. I’m searching out dry land, a rock for these high-water, riptide times. This is not a poem or a metaphor. It’s a thirst for fresh water and a firm foothold amongst the living. Will I live?

 

This time, I’m paddling with the swift motion of the force swelling around me. The surging water is sweeping me away from familiar ground, the old things broken up by a sudden storm. The realization of my own mortality, of the constant corporal dying that must not be met with spiritual or emotional death. This dying is a call to life, shaking me awake to my floundering in the surf, afraid to let loose in the deep or set out for the dry place beyond. This thing in me is asking me to grow, to let go of the small hallowed out place in which I hide, whence I retreat, removed from light.

 

Who cares? Only I do. Only I.

 

It’s not enough to suffer with the unhappiness of a life of complacency, staying in an unpleasant situation, not for happiness’ sake, but for the comfort of the familiar. I cling to a job that pillages my soul daily. This is my family of origin all over again. Or so my therapist tells me. Each day I give the best parts of myself, the most vulnerable and the most brilliant. They take it all. These folks have never been as kind to me as my family. They have failed to honor or recognize me in the smallest way, leaving me to waste in isolation, ostracized where I had thought myself at home. So this return to the self, the awakening of the sacred from the extended nightmare, is over. I’m finally ready to break up with my former employer. How funny, strange and good it is to open my hands and let go, surrender the loose bits of sand and some pretty shells with my eyes on the horizon. “Goodbye.”

 

Walking away, saying ‘no’ to things we’re in the habit of yessing, is never easy. Reality can quickly become insanity like a thousand fragments of truth, none remotely recognizable, yet quite definitely a part of the whole. Who we are eludes defining, evades labels. Searching for the lost parts of myself after deaths, breakups and separations becomes a project of enormous proportion. Shaking my scattered parts, sifting through my past, scanning the oddities, looking for a piece of me I can place in time and connect with: here the edge of a wave, there a shoreline cut at just the right cresting angle to fit my own, I’m inclined to take my time with this one.