There is Hope . . .
The Japanese art of kintsugi (“joining with gold”) involves the slow, careful repairing of broken pottery with lacquer and gold, making something more precious through working with the brokenness, forming a new wholeness that embraces the fragmentation. I have hope for our communities, our nation, our world, and each of us, because the art and slow, careful work of acknowledging and repairing personal and communal injuries and brokenness is not a challenge that is new in our time. We have maps and models and lessons from ancient and more recent wisdom traditions to which we can turn to practice these arts – with and for ourselves, our families, our communities, our nation, our world and our precious planet as a whole. This blog will come in two parts, this first focusing more on the inspiration and maps of ancient wisdom traditions, the second applying more modern psychotherapy models.
In her most recent teaching (https://www.tarabrach.com/bodhisattva/, 11/16/16), the psychologist and Buddhist meditation instructor Tara Brach reflects with depth and wisdom on the collective uncertainty and distress that is palpable post-election. She inquires which consciousness we will use to address the challenges of our time. We can easily fall back on the primitive limbic system’s Fight response and react to hatred with more hatred. We can rely on Freeze, letting panic rise with more news feeds. We can count on the reptilian brain’s Collapse response of giving up because the threat is too huge. And Flight is always available, flight into distraction, addiction, or avoidance. Or, Brach says, we can choose to “evolve our brain” by practicing mindfulness and compassion, to be deeply present to our experience, to our grief, and to the stories we are telling ourselves about what is happening in the world today. And we can “sit quietly in the space between these stories and await something new” to guide our actions. The choice to “evolve our brain,” Brach says, doesn’t vanquish the more primitive brain, but the practice reminds us that we have a choice.
When Cambodian monk Maha Ghosananda spoke to thousands of refugees who had fled the ravages of the Pol Pot holocaust, he was looking into the faces of thousands who had survived horrors, lost children, parents, and spouses, and fled their burning villages. Ghosananda took a deep breath and began chanting over and over a sacred Buddhist scripture in Pali and then in Cambodian, “Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. This is an ancient and eternal law.” Desperate and angry and scared, crushed and aggrieved, a few and then thousands of voices joined with him in unison, “Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. This is an ancient and eternal law.” They had been barred from practicing Buddhism under Pol Pot, but these words and the unity of their chanting voices called them out of their collective traumatized state, orienting them toward their faith, their community, and toward a sense of hope.
The Rev. Doug Wadkins, reflecting last week at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ann Arbor on this season of deep fear and unknowns in our time, honored the fact that such periods of intense sorrow and struggle are not new. Regardless of culture or tradition, the ancients paused at the juncture in the year before they entered the season of darkness when the coming winter was something they felt intimately:
That long journey into the longer nights was not for them an optional path, but the way they chose to travel into that time of foreboding when many of the people in their village might not survive (was a choice). … Our forebears realized the power in those moments of leaning forward into the energy and strength of …the old and deep connections, … the life-giving generosity of a harvest that they had worked for and was never guaranteed. … And somewhere in our very being, in our DNA I believe there is still very old knowledge, very old power flowing in the midst of us about such journeys.
Our ancestors knew that the stakes were high in the journey ahead. And we know the stakes are high today.
Let us now lean into the significant challenges we face in this time – the ones we face individually, in our families, in our communities, in our nation – by first truly pausing to honor the life-giving forces in our own lives. What is the generosity for which you are thankful? What do you need to feed you and fuel you for the long nights ahead? What have you worked for and what do you intend to fight to preserve? Who do you need to support you and join you in singing and chanting? What will you sing?
In her teaching on 11/16/16, Tara Brach marvels how the human soul and triune brain houses the potential for “vast inclusive belonging and wonder” along with the instinctual and readily activated animal impulses of fear, aggression, and giving up. In this moment in history where limbic reactivity is easy, she invites the wisdom of choosing to access a sense of love, joy, belonging, and gratitude for simple things or moments of beauty. With this intention in mind on my morning run two days ago, I looked up in the trees, and I saw the most warm, golden light in the upper canopy. This warm glow immediately softened my senses and softened my sense of rushing into the day, of juggling the deep, nagging worry I have been wrestling with these past few weeks. I entered into my morning with a different sense of peace and a clarity that I wanted to write this blog.
We are called, all of us, to participate in the slow, careful repairing of the world. In facing the darkness within us and between us, before us and ahead of us, may we pause like our ancient forebears facing the harsh winter and give thanks for what has sustained us to this time. May we seek strength from our resources, from our harvest, re-grouping in the deepest sense. Whatever your path or tradition, wherever your places of beauty and wonder, whomever the people and groups you reach out to for comfort and to mobilize you, I wish you time this Thanksgiving holiday to access and anchor in a place of peace and strength. And then may we all participate in tikkun olam (“repair of the world” in ancient Hebrew),
Yours in the mystery and beauty of brokenness and repair and in entering the darkness by first and always giving thanks for the life-giving forces in our lives,