Hanging out with Fear
So now here we sit, my fear and I, having a cup of coffee.
Me in my pajamas, my fear in sweatpants. Hands interlaced over his belly – Settled in. My fear says to me;
“You know I am not leaving. I am yours. I belong here in this house. So you can let me out of the basement. You can stop trying to shove me in the back of the closet. We might as well get to know each other. You can see what I am, or you can run around like a crazy person, making me an influence. That is up to you. You can’t get rid of me, but we can live together. I can be your roommate. Maybe make a mess, maybe test your faith, make you stop, make you humble – and compassionate. As uncomfortable as I feel, remember, without me, you would be arrogant, hard, without compassion. Everyone has a roommate of fear. It is what cracks you open to love each other.”
My fear says;
“Don’t try to dominate me. It takes way too much energy. Don’t ignore me or try to hide me, I will just sneak up behind you when your guard is down. Instead, be side by side with me. Say, ‘Hello Fear, I see you there.’ And go ahead and live your life anyway, but with compassion and understanding that all others feel me too.
“Oh, and I know you were secretly hoping if we become friends, that I will dissolve – or miraculously become something else, or disappear in a flash of enlightenment. Sorry -not going to happen. I am here to stay. Fear is a part of living. Accept me as I am, and I will remain as I am. It is only your relationship with me that will change. If you can treat me as the obnoxious roommate; exasperating, but necessary, an annoyingly persistant teacher. Then we can have a good relationship – transparent, truthful, transforming, and light.”
Here my fear and I sit, getting to know each other.
Our Covid driving test:
The first thing we learn in Drivers Ed is that driving a car is a privilege, not a right. Why is this? Because the moment we get behind the wheel of a car, we have suddenly become a potentially lethal weapon.
We have been asked to make sacrifices now; wearing masks and being thoughtful of others. Why is this? Because with this virus, by sharing space with others, we have each suddenly become a potentially lethal weapon. We don’t mean to be, but we are.
It is that simple. Nothing pretty about it, but nothing personal about it either.
Here in the United States we are incredibly blessed to have great freedom, comfort and privilege that many in the world do not. But, as our forefathers and foremothers knew well, our freedom did not come for free.
For those of us who have been fortunate enough to never lose our freedom, this can be a shocker; yes, sometimes freedom requires sacrifice. But the rewards of making sacrifices for others is great too; it challenges us to raise the bar. We can in the future take pride in the fact that we have become better people than we were before.
Just like earning our driver’s license, having freedom requires that we demonstrate we will use our freedom well, with compassion, care and respect for each other. Just like renewing our driver’s license, in order to preserve our freedom, we must consistently use it responsibly, in an adult way that puts the value of others lives and safety over our own need for comfort and convenience.
We are taking a great big test right now; in order to pass this test, all we have to do is put aside some of our personal needs and preferences, in order to care for others. In the face of sacrifices others made in the name of our freedom, this is a small price to pay.
If we, as free individuals, and as a free country, cannot do this, no matter how much we demand and proudly display our freedom, we are disrespecting all of those who gained it for us.
Some Maine-specific COVID19 points I would like to make, having returned from a shopping trip at Hannaford the other day. These have not been proven in a lab, but I am pretty confident in their accuracy.
1. Though this virus does sometimes rid us temporarily of our sense of smell and taste, it does not have to rid us of our sense of humor.
2. A smile does not carry the virus.
3. Laughter about our ludicrous situation is something that can be safely shared from more than 6 feet away.
4. The person next to you in the grocery store will not suddenly run over to you and lick you if you make eye contact with them. Even if you wanted them to.
5. We can be both careful and kind at the same time.
6. We are Mainers after all. Making a scene or panicking is not something we do. It would be embarrassing. Plus we were raising chickens, growing vegetables, being frugal, and cutting our own hair way before this. Let’s take care of our elderly, our people on the front line, and keep on being the laid-back, practical and kind Mainers that we all are.
THE BALLOON KING
Once upon a time, there was a kingdom. The leader of this kingdom was the Balloon King. Just like a balloon, he was big, colorful, showy, and loved attention. Some people loved how outrageous he was. They believed him when he said he was on their side and would change things to make their lives better. It was understandable; he was a very good showman. It was the thing he was best at. He gave them hope in a time when they needed it.
The Balloon King loved to get people to talk about him all the time. So he was always stirring the pot. He loved attention more than anything. Positive or negative, he thrived on it. The more people talked about him, the more it made him feel like a Really Big Deal. The Balloon King started to think that he most important person in the world. He surrounded himself with people that told him this. Anyone that didn’t, he banished. He became more and more inflated with all the attention.
When an invisible army attacked his country, The Balloon King didn’t like to have attention taken away from him, so he said the army wasn’t real. It turned out it was real. Then he said, OK, its real, but its no big deal. It was a big deal.
When he had to admit that it was big deal, he said, ok, a big deal, but the war will be over tomorrow. Tomorrow came. The war wasn’t over.
When the war wasn’t over tomorrow, the Balloon King said, OK fine, it is here, but it is not my fault, and it isn’t my responsibility. You states are all responsible for yourselves. You people are on your own. Not my problem. You have to make your own armor, get your own weapons, and fight this army yourselves.
The people of his country were puzzled. If he was such A Really Big Deal, and he was their hope for the future, then why wasn’t he taking care of all his Great Stuff, like his country? If The Balloon King was so powerful, why was he not using his power to help them?
Even the people who liked him started to wonder, Is he a Really Big Deal? Or not? After all, a leader is either responsible for the welfare of his country, or he is not a leader at all. You can’t have it both ways.
The Balloon King continued to inflate himself while not doing the things he needed to do to help his people. He was enjoying one thing, however; he loved to talk about himself every day at his daily briefings. Though he rarely said much that was helpful, he did love looking at the ratings going up afterward.
Finally the people of his country got fed up. They realized that the Balloon King was just using the daily briefings to talk about himself. He was not going to help them. They would have to help themselves. So they did.
Instead of paying attention to the Balloon King any more, they followed his advice and took matters into their own hands. All the energy they had spent complaining about him, they put into making a better future for themselves. They stopped listening to him.
States all pulled together. The people who had believed in the Balloon King and those who didn’t began to agree that they all wanted the same thing. Those who didn’t like him realized that they were also part of the problem: all the energy of fear and negative attention they were giving the Balloon King was only making him more inflated.
The people finally realized the most important lesson of all: that whatever they focused on, even in anger, would become stronger. So they stopped fighting each other over whether the Balloon King was good or bad, and instead started working together to come up with more positive ways to live and care for each other.
The Balloon King was forgotten. Nobody had time to watch his daily briefings because they were too busy helping each other. His ratings dropped. This made him angry and he tweeted about it. They ignored his tweets. He sent out more and more!
As the trouble passed, and he was increasingly ignored, the Balloon King tried to stir the pot more. He did things to scare the people, and then make them think he was the only one who could save them. But the people no longer believed him. They were no longer scared. They had learned that they could overcome their fears through working towards change. They stopped repeating everything he said. With nobody re-tweeting them, his tweets fizzled out.
The Balloon King became very upset that nobody was watching his show anymore. He worked to get his ratings back up. But the people liked watching the leaders of the states instead. They were the real heroes, along many the regular folks who stepped up to help.
The people decided they wanted a leader who cared more about people than about ratings, and so they put all their energy into changing the system into one in which this would not happen again.
As the people took care of each other without him, the Balloon King felt himself deflating, and he panicked. He did even more outrageous things. He tried to distract them with promises of money and scandals to get their attention back. He tried to scare them even more, saying that without him, they would all perish.
But it was too late. The people were not tuning into his show any more. And without an audience, the Balloon King became what he was: an empty bag of air. The Balloon King had made himself irrelevant.
The war passed. It was not without sorrow and sacrifice. But in the process, the people in this country had become a little bit wiser: ironically, the Balloon King had shown them what was really important to them, and it wasn’t ratings.
They realized that they did, in fact, have a lot of power, in fact more than they had ever imagined. And taking that power back was easier than they thought. They didn’t have to fight the Balloon King and what he stood for. All they had to do is start putting all their energy together into what they did want.
Most importantly the people realized the amazing power of focused human connection; if enough people come together to focus on the positive, they will go towards the positive.
Focus on hot air, on the other hand, and all you get is more hot air. They realized that deflating a balloon is easy; you just stop inflating it.
Our Front Line
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Our Front Line
We have raked every leaf off the lawn, painted all the bathrooms, relined the kitchen cabinets, vacuumed the car in places it has never been vacuumed before, cleaned out our basements and reorganized our closets. There is now a giant pile of garbage bags waiting expectantly in many garages for Goodwill to open again.
What do we do when we have run out of projects into which we can channel our fears?
If you are not a health care worker, or a delivery person, or a grocery clerk, or a teacher, or a parent of caged and bored teenagers, what is your front line?
We each have a part to play.
There are those out there who are more scared than we are.
We can be courageous for them.
This could be our front line.
There are people in this country who are suffering more than we are right now. There are many people out there, outside our borders, who will not be getting a check deposited in their checking account, ever. There are currently aid workers in third world countries who are bracing for the inevitable, in places where hunkering down will have to be in a tent or a cardboard box, and there are no PPE’s or hospitals to receive them.
From the comfort of our living room, we can be courageous for these people. We can put aside our anxiety and our sadness for our own losses, and we can become bigger people than we have been.
If we are livid with the current leadership or lack of it, we can stop inflating them with our attention, both positive and negative, and instead harness that anger and quietly put it to work.
The best revenge will be to use our power to disempower those who have ruled in self-serving and irresponsible ways. We can do that by ignoring all the tweets, and instead put our attention to better use; come up with new and creative solutions.
But a mind in fear is not a creative mind. Creativity and innovation require open and courageous thought. Courage does not require a lack of fear, but a choice to accept that we have fear and keep going anyway.
This could be our front line.
If we do this, if we become steadfast in our courage even when we feel fear, we will not have a parade for our contribution.
But two or five or ten years from now, each of us will be able to look on this time and say, we, together overcame this, despite the failures of our leaders. We individually chose to be courageous and compassionate, it brought out the best in us, and we have become better people and a better country for it.
This could be our front line.
A call to art:
How we get our bullshit meters working again.
Art is nice. It makes us feel good. Its universal language brings us together. In the midst of this pandemic we have seen how much creativity helps us; music has connected people. Painting comforts those in nursing homes. Innovations have solved urgent unforeseen problems. But even so, in our productivity-based culture, creativity is seen as comforting but not powerful. Creativity has no place in politics. Art is great in peace, but useless in war. Money, status, force and fear change things. Art doesn’t.
But this dismissive attitude may well be the downfall of those who are trying their damnedest to control what we believe right now. Whatever your opinion is of the person currently leading our country, there is no denying that the driving force in our government these days is not compassion and concern for our personal welfare, but profit and narcissism.
But as we know from Narcissus, no matter how great you think you are, self-involvement is lethal in the end. An unshakable belief in your superiority makes you unable to comprehend that those who you see as inferior, which is to say, everyone, might just be influencing the world that is revolving around you. The fact is that right now our narcissistic leader and his supporters are standing on shifting ground; they are oblivious to the fact that they are sinking in a quicksand of newly rejuvenated and motivated creators.
This strange, sad viral sabbatical has had many unforeseen consequences, one of which is that it has allowed something forgotten to emerge from our formerly overly full, scurrying lives: people have had time to become creative again, some for the first time. People are becoming painters, writers, bakers, musicians and songwriters, comedians, sculptors, sewers, craftsmen, and innovators. Though these past-times may sound quaint and innocuous, there is a deceptively powerful side affect to a creative practice; it makes free-thinkers out of us.
With this simple shift, our most fundamental human gift has become again accessible; the ability that we have to bring our minds, our body and our energy together in order to think independently. After all, every new thing that we make, whether it is a poem or a drawing, a knitted sweater or a homemade haircut, a song about quarantine, a new paint color in the bathroom or a new shed, starts as a seed – a brand new thought not imposed on us by someone else.
As simple as it sounds, opening this inner door by waking up the right side of our brain, which is not restricted by language, rules, or linear time (what day is it again?), is a very powerful thing: In this gap of forced quietude, many have discovered a long buried secret: When we get in touch with our creativity, we begin to see the world in a new way; as it really is, not as others have told us it is. Many are pleasantly surprised to find that contained in that creative voice is also a newfound ability to detect lies. A veil has been lifted; people are starting to recognize when they are being duped.
This is a good, opportune thing, because right now it is imperative that we each cultivate our innate ability to know our truth. We know that the truth must be in there somewhere but it hard to recognize it in such a changed landscape, over the rising cacophony of people trying to convince us not to believe what we know to be true. But ultimately it is up to each of us to choose what we believe. This is a very big choice right now; in deciding what our individual truth, we decide what our collective future will be.
While a physical storm has been raging in our hospitals, and a financial storm in our stock market, on a deeper level our creative energy is shifting as well. This wave of creativity is not just conceptual; it is a visceral, seismic force that is changing our world on a fundamental, energetic level.
This presence is more powerful than any political party. She says, ENOUGH OF THIS. She has had enough of our irresponsibility to our earth and our forgetfulness of our deeper selves.
She has had enough of our superficial addictions and our obsession with second hand creativity.
She now calls for us to redirect our energies, go deeper into ourselves and start a dialogue with her, not through a screen or an electronic device, but by bringing our mind and body together in order to synthesize our human energy directly, to manifest a new world. She calls us to create, create and create.
Our world cannot help but change in the face of this flood of creative energy. It is a tsunami that sweeps everything superficial before it. Those who live by profiting from the manipulation of others will be swept away as well. They won’t quite know what happened, but they will suddenly find themselves stranded, unharmed but powerless, on the banks of our river, no longer able to control others for their own gain.
Images, songs, films, coalitions, things made not for profit but in service to others, new businesses, new partnerships, new gardens, new ideas, innovations bred of sudden frugality – these are powerful agents of change that will fill the space created by the painful endings of this difficult time. These products of our creativity are not just idle things with which we fill our days. They are tools that can be used to cut through others lies to find our own truth.
The thing is, we were each born with an inner voice of wisdom that is perfectly capable of detecting lies when we hear them. Some call it our ‘bullshit meter’. We are being told by others that our inner compass is not to be trusted, but at our deepest, body felt level, we each know what the truth feels like. We know what is right. One big clue, as we filter through all of the information coming at us: our deepest human truth is built on compassion, empathy and humility. It is not built on profit, fear and hubris.
So – our bullshit meters are still working just fine; we just need to start listening to them again. To do this, we must shut out all of the outside voices, news feeds, social media, tweets and briefings, because in the current climate of politics, everyone is still speaking the same old language, no matter how many different ways it now being is delivered. Because of this, in order to be heard, they are all just speaking louder, more rudely, and more often. At this velocity, our political language has become damaging and insane, a vitriolic tornado that leaves only wreckage in its wake. Our added virtual methods of communication have only increased the decibels, adding more ways to talk over each other without having to listen to or respect one another.
But even as we ourselves get sucked into this vortex of shouting, we all know at some deep level that wisdom is not generally expressed at this high a volume, and true inner strength does not look this aggressive, brutal or ugly.
Our creative voice doesn’t yell, it whispers. A new idea can stop all the shouting, not with a gunshot, but with a silent pause; like hearing a Whippoorwill for the first time in years; that quiet sound in the evening that makes one person say, “Stop! Do you hear that?” and a crowd goes quiet to listen. This is the power of creativity. When taken collectively, we can create a new language with this whisper.
Change that is thrust upon us at this high volume, through intimidation or manipulation, even if it is grudgingly accepted, will always produce resentment and distrust, which eventually will destabilize that change. Creativity, on the other hand, does not demand change. It invites it. Creative ideas do not attempt to patronize or manipulate us. A creative idea assumes that we are all bright and perceptive enough to understand it. It asks for curiosity and collaboration, not submission.
With creative thought, turned into creative action, we can start to see ourselves differently and more objectively. There is no winning or losing here. In fact, there are not even sides. We have only one choice: as a people, as a country, as a species, as a world, do we all stay the same, or do we change? If we do decide to change, we will need to shift at our most elemental level: we need to change the way we change.
Just because this creative process of change is not aggressive does not make it weak. In fact, a creative idea is immovable once in your path. You can choose to step over it, ignore it, or avert your gaze, saying that it is not there. But regardless, despite yourself, it will make you see things in a different way, just for a moment.
You can always go back to not seeing if you choose. But that creation has already changed your life trajectory. As you go forward, your path is a little bit different, and you have been a little bit liberated, because there is now some part of you open that was closed before.
When this happens to enough of us, a bigger by-product of change begins, a broadening angle in our trajectory, creating a new path that just might allow humans in the future to live more sensibly and harmoniously with each other and the earth.
Our world is not going to go back to what it was before, not in a week, or a month, or a year, probably not ever. We need to ready ourselves for that. We need to find our resilience. Resilience is not something we have to wrestle out of ourselves through aggression or struggle. Resilience simply needs to be uncovered. It is the inner strength we make apparent when we approach our current reality with humility, compassion and grace.
Fighting to stay the same in a changed landscape will only waste our energy and prolong our resentment and suffering. But a creative mind is one that loosens its binds with the comfort of the familiar past, in order to change with the times. It finds unique ways to become whatever it is that we all need to be, in order to raise to a higher level of consciousness and compassion in a new landscape. Finding our creative practice will help each of us adapt to this new world.
So this is a call out, to myself as much as others. If you are an artist who has suddenly had time to complete that painting, or a writer who has finally been able to finish that novel, or if you have found a brand new creative voice that you didn’t know you had, don’t dismiss these things and put them away when we ‘get back to normal’. Normal is now different, and we all need to be different as well. Bring your creativity with you into this new land.
Because this connection that you found with yourself is the most valuable relationship you will ever have. It is imperative that you keep fostering it with your time and attention. Don’t dismiss it because it doesn’t bring in a paycheck. It isn’t just a hobby. It is your path back to yourself.
In the struggle ahead, this place of your creative practice is also the exact same place you will go for your truth; when others tell you things and you are not sure if they are true or not, go inside to this central source of your creativity, and see if it resonates. This place doesn’t lie.
This place of knowing is not self-righteousness. It doesn’t prove others wrong. It is instead an indisputable, body-felt knowing; a deep sense of self-trust that comes, not from being right, but doing right.
Our human creative voice is the best, strongest, and deepest part of us. It doesn’t need to shout or force us, it doesn’t pummel us with ads. It doesn’t have to bludgeon us with opinions, or bribe with promises of money, or terrify us with threats of our future without it. You recognize this voice the moment you hear it. It is your original voice. It is the one that tells you to help others, even when you need help yourself. It is about connection, integrity, and joy. It tells your truth.
We each have this creative voice. A creative practice, no matter how simple it is, brings us back to our true selves. To come back to this practice, we need to grant it time and space. This is the gift that many of us have been given in the past weeks.
If we use this gift of time and space well, and continue on, bringing our newfound creative power and practice out into the light of day when our isolation is lifted, we can continue to access the sane, quiet, and kind power of the universe and channel it through us. Find this energy and we find our own power of free thought that cannot be taken from us, not by any person, or any political party.
The man leading our country has empowered himself not through inner strength, but through a gift of showmanship and manipulation. He and those around him are using words to fool us, threaten us, lure us, and bribe us into believing things that are not true. This kind of Herculean effort could only be coming from people who benefit greatly from us embracing their truth instead our own. Someone out there is invested, not in our individual empowerment, safety or well-being, but in controlling us for their own gain.
Even those of us who do not like the current leadership have made that faction stronger with our negative attention. That which you focus on, even in rejection, becomes stronger. By repeating someone’s name, over and over, even in hatred, you give that name your energy and your power. Each time you say that name it resonates more strongly in the world.
But deflating a balloon is easy; you just have to stop inflating it. To stop feeding this person, who for the above reasons has remained nameless here, we each have to bring our creative attention back to ourselves, and with it our personal power. When we are each in true partnership with our own ancient creative voice, we cannot be manipulated. We can no longer give power to lies or to the weak people who tell them.
In the face of beings who are fully embodied and connected with their own creative power, those who lack that inner core of truth will become their truth; powerless, empty, and nameless.
When we each find and together take responsibility for our own power, we will no longer question how the world really is. Our creative voice places our truth here on the path in front of all of us and says,