Apprenticeship to Love: Meditations on this Path to Authentic Relationship, October 15, 2023
• Today’s questions: Are you feeling the currents of today? Whether in the events of the world or the events of your body, are you able to fully feel these currents, and allow yourself to be the depth that holds them even as they threaten to tear you apart?
• Today's suggested practice: Day 15 of this month's practice, to notice & receive while in motion (see my "Short Practice,” below)
• My practice today: No practice today, again. The exhaustion of five days of feeling —and COVID— beginning to be felt.
• My vulnerability practice: To accept that simply feeling it all is, perhaps, all that I can do, all that I am asked to do, in this moment. This is not a time for warriors.
I am again crying.
This life asks a lot of us, you and me. In the end, it asks everything. Well, maybe it doesn't ask so much as take. Just as it gives me life, it takes it away. And every taking should be both wrenchingly painful, and allowed. It should be a pain I feel fully and awfully, and then surrendered to. Because what is it, this life, if not the gift of enjoying breath and beauty and sometimes even love, for a few moments. Years. Decades, if we're lucky. And I am lucky.
Still, I know the grief of death and its wrenching. But what I do not know is the cruelty of murder.
I do know how my father, sickened and grieving at his daughter’s accidental death, wanted revenge, though who he blamed for his daughter's death, my just-younger sister, they'd also died.
But this want for revenge, such a deeply human feeling, that only the sacrifice of another will make the hurt of loss go away, that was hard for me, as a child, to live with. His rage for vengeance eclipsed my so easily-silenced grief.
So I knew the dark shadow of his grief-turned-rage on my life. But what I do not know, and what I have not had to live with, is the feeling for vengeance that murder conjures in the bodies of those who survive. How to be with the rage of the families of those massacred in Israel on October 7, 2023? Or the families of those murdered as a consequence of the partition of Palestine in 1948? Or the families of children forcibly lost to residential schools in Canada, and now being discovered in mass graves? The lust for vengeance feels viscerally, primitively righteous and just. And yet, as Rabbi Danya Ruttenburg says, this way is only “Trauma turtles all the way down.”
Yesterday was a day of tears. This is what I practice, for: to have these tears, to feel, to be sensitive to the world around me and within me.
I practice that I can “hold onto myself” and allow these tears to take me deeper than I want to go, to —perhaps— hold both the grief and the yearning for a vengeance, without being reduced to either, but finding within myself a greater capacity to love.
Yes, I’m feeling vulnerable right now. The situation in Gaza. The situation in Canada with our own reckoning with apartheid. The recent referendum in Australia and the triumph of fear. A rare moment with my beloved. And my second Covid experience (minor, but still weakening). Perhaps the solar eclipse. All of these rippling through & around me.
This is not, I think, a time for warriors, earthly or spiritual. It is a time to be something beyond this. Better than this.
In the current context of warrioring-through grief that the world is witnessing in the Levant let me quibble about words. A word. Warrior.
Maybe it’s the effect of aging, maybe it’s the effect of wisdom (experience + meditation on these experiences) that sometimes comes with having a few more years here, or maybe it’s frustration with the trope of the warrior that I think stands in our way. One writer drew a fine picture of the polarity of the warrior, the physical/earthy and the spiritual as a polarity of this energy or archetype. To me, it's all about struggle and striving. About conquest. And I’m wondering if there is a way through this polarity of the earthly /spiritual warrior, to something beyond striving? A way of being where I am no longer struggling, but allowing? This is the practice I am following. Perhaps this practice is what Thich Nhat Hanh means when he refers to the practice of non-practice? I don't know.
Yesterday my tears were stirred by two very different events. In one, I was watching a video clip of Connor McDavid doing hockey magic. Someone recently called him the "best hockey player ever." I can't speak to that, but he does pique my interest in the game again. As I felt the tears come I became aware of how a childhood and teenage obsession with hockey served to buffer my fear. Fear of my own grief, and how it might tear me apart. Fear of how my father's grief-as-rage might physically (certainly emotionally) do other damage.
In another video-induced moment of tears I watched for 9.5 minutes as a 19-year-old Israeli woman told her story. Not just of the horror of the attack of 7/10. Not just the horror of seeing the people she looked up to and depended on —older adult neighbours, family— with fear etched on their faces. But also the horror that what she'd just experienced, and had the luxury of being rescued from, was now being visited on people not so far away from her. And, calling shame on those who've created this situation. Shame on those who use the "bandaids" of more soldiers and more defence and Iron Shield to solve a problem that is as old as modern Israel, a problem that calls for a political solution instead of bandaids that allow for the horror of this current situation, as it has allowed similar horrors all of her life.
The video is long —for internet attention, mine included. But I could not stop watching until the end. I owed her at least that: to listen all the way through, to every word she said. Because I am of this world. I am of her world, as she is of mine. At least I can bear witness. Listen. And feel.
Reading the entrails of a slaughtered animal was once a way of understanding the world. We've long since given up this superstition for callousness and insensitivity.
I practice to become sensitive to the pain of the world. I practice to be able to, if not read the entrails of the slaughtered moment, perhaps to feel its signficance. For me if no other. I can begin there: with how this moment effects me.
From this, other effects come to my attention. With care and awareness I may hold those effects —and their affects, the feelings that flow from them— more gently. And with this gentleness and my strength I may guide them home.
When I am sensitive enough to feel in one day my long-buried hurt stirred by hockey, & my calloused refusal to feel the pain of the Levant stirred by a young woman’s pain and her shaming of the generations who've created her world of suffering, I know I’m OK. Better than OK. Feeling tears. Tenderness. But no longer stuck in the warrior trope of "no pain." Nor the warrior compulsion to struggle and overcome.
I am not a warrior. I am larger than that. Big enough to feel, and stand. To hold. To guide.
Perhaps now I may actually have something to offer the world that it needs.
🌀…Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think ... As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him. (David Halberstam, 1965)
🌀…some of us will forever always take the side of innocents. Of children.
Of those suffering. Of humanity.
Will not discard our power analyses and will not dehumanize any people. Some of us know that there is a path back from these horrific endless cycles of violence and suffering. From terrorism and collective punishment, flattening buildings, from the murder of families. Who know that freedom and liberation is not pie. That, in fact, we only get some if everybody has some. (Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg)
🌀If we know the practice of non-practice, we don’t have to strive or fight. We simply allow our body to heal. We allow our mind to heal. Don’t try anything. Allow yourself to relax, to release all the tension in your body and all the worries and the fear in your mind. (Thich Nhat Hanh)
🌀I want to be seen. I want to be accepted as I am. And loved for that. (My beloved, my Oracle & Siren)
TODAY'S SUGGESTED SHORT PRACTICE
Day 15 of this month's practice, to move and to notice, and to receive:
Please read through first, then ...
- Today, set two alarms, one for the early part of your day, one for mid-late afternoon when you may be feeling low energy.
- When the alarm sounds, wherever and however you are, take three, five, 11, or 30 minutes to do this short practice:
- When you’re done, stand for a minute or two, breathing gently, slowly filling and emptying your belly. Here, as you breathe into your fullness, ask yourself, Are you feeling the currents of today? Whether in the events of the world or the events of your body, are you able to fully feel these currents, and allow yourself to be the depth that holds them even as they threaten to tear you apart?
- Notice if your body-mind feels somehow changed. And whether you notice a change or not, be content with yourself, exactly as you are in this moment.
- Continue with your day until the next alarm sounds, and repeat.
- IMPORTANT: If you want to talk about your experience, or your resistance, or about anything that, as one reader has put it, "lands while reading these chapters," please set up a short (15-minute) chat for Zoom: http://sacredbodies.ca/chat.
- It may not be enough, but it'll be a start. And that's always a good thing.