I started this blog series exactly a month ago, saying I “borrowed the title of this series from a shrink who offered it as a way to call in the awareness and acknowledgement that start to diffuse reactivity. You know what I mean by reactivity? I’m talking about that rush of terror or fury or both that overwhelms brain and body when something pokes its finger into an old wound, flooding the inner world with elicited memory, elicited pain.”
Recently several friends have asked for my assessment of the general state of people as I observe them. I travel a good deal for speaking and consulting gigs and spend a lot of time connecting across distance in other ways, so responding to that query entails a quick mental survey of all I’ve seen in recent weeks.
So far, my replies have begun with my own state of mind. “I’m easily irritated and frustrated,” I say. “I hear something and I put the worst spin on it, making up the worst story to explain it. Then I have to dial back to remind myself there are other equally possible stories. It takes effort to relax into not-knowing.”
Then I say this: “But I’m definitely not the only one: polarizing rhetoric, hardcore posturing, the resistance to empathizing with another’s challenges because that might take attention away from your own—it seems like everyone is a full glass of water, poised to spill over at the next drop. I can think of lots of reasons, mostly things not in our immediate control. If I don’t want to feel this way, the territory I’ve got to explore is the landscape of my own emotions: where are they anchored in false narratives and ungrounded assumptions? What is in my control that can help to shift them?”
For people like me who’ve been working a lifetime to help nurture a social order of justice tempered by love, it’s frightening to see how quickly the people in power in DC can tear things down. So I’m fighting discouragement, and the biggest ally I have is the awesome scope of resistance, opposition, and the persistence of visionary thinking and action—unparalleled in my lifetime. Demoralization is a choice, I remind myself, since the future cannot be known. But when the monster ego in the White House broadcasts his own power via 24/7 threats to both domestic and international well-being, it takes energy to tune him out.
For those living and working on the frontlines of our social emergency, the challenge is so much greater, it beggars imagination. There is no hurricane here, no earthquake. My family is not being deported. I don’t live in fear that a trip to the grocery store may end in a deadly encounter with police who challenge my right to walk the streets of my own city. I’m alarmed at the truth of antisemitism at the core of white nationalism that is coming to light (more words of wisdom from Eric Ward and Jill Jacobs can be found beginning at 4:40 on episode 79 of this podcast). But I will be able to go to Rosh HaShanah services in Santa Fe tonight without passing armed guards, even as I read about congregations in other communities that keep the address of services secret, or Nazis threatening to burn a St. Louis synagogue that recently gave refuge to demonstrators.
I feel more tired than usual. I’m crystal-clear that doing less and resting more is the antidote, and I admit it: I am the world’s worst when it comes to resting. So much needs doing, so much calls to me, and before long I notice that I am moving through the world without really tasting it. There is a lot of writing about this right now by people who have learned to recognize their own incipient burnout and begun the hard work of restoration, such as this post by Dom Chatterjee on Rest for Resistance.
My main reasons to cultivate rest in this moment—aside from the fact that I live in a body and would like it to keep functioning well as long as possible—is that creating space in my physical and mental landscape enables reflection, and despite the reams of analysis currently issuing from every corner of our tortured body politic, reflection is what we sorely lack. When I rest, fresh ideas sprout and I have time to notice them. When I rest, my ability to enter into my experience is much, much greater. I remember that having been given life, it is my responsibility to notice, experience, and bless. As the Jerusalem Talmud (Kiddushin 4:12) says, “It is the future of every person to be required to give a full account and reckoning for all that his eyes saw that he did not taste.”
When I remember that, I can exhale, and the irritation and frustration dissipate. Perhaps it will work for you.
So whether or not you celebrate the High Holy Days, dear readers, I want to offer the blessing of a sweet year in which rest and reflection support you in tasting all the world offers, nourishing yourself to act for love and justice in the coming year.
“Didn’t It Rain,” The Klezmatics with Joshua Nelson & Kathryn Farmer.