I am slowly evolving the work I’m doing with folks around metabolizing our grief and rage in community, and adding two cohorts (two 90-minute sessions each) for August. Just in case you’re like most people and you have no idea what I even mean by most of the things I wrote in that first sentence, here’s a little primer on what these workshops entail:

Grief and Rage are intertwined. Many of us start to feel grief and immediately bypass into rage because that’s a more comfortable place to be. But what if you could feel both, honor both, move through grief and acknowledge sadness and loss and get to a place where your rage fuels you to heal and move forward with intention? And what if you could do it in community?

In these two 90-minute sessions, you’ll learn about the nuances of grief and rage, begin to understand where they live in your body and how you, personally, respond to both of these powerful emotions with specific thought patterns and reactions.

You will learn ways to identify when you’re overwhelmed by either grief or rage, find practices that soothe your nervous system and allow you to process the emotions, and be with others who are doing this work and simultaneously holding space for everyone. Accompanying this information with body practices and specific steps and inquiries means that you have a framework for progressing through the emotions and stories instead of staying stuck in them and stuffing them down.

In September, I’ll be opening bi-weekly practice sessions for folks who have attended the workshops to come together and make their way through the steps, expand their idea of what it means to witness others and be witnessed in this work, and support each other to build a solid foundation.

I charge on a sliding scale, so please pay what you can between $50-$150. If you can’t pay, let me know and we’ll work something out.

If you’re interested, please email me at kari@kariodriscollwriter.com and let me know what day/time combos work best for you in August and get on the mailing list so I can get you signed up.

One of the memes I stole from Rosie’s IG Story

I used to be of the opinion that we should all do at least one fun thing every single day. I’ve updated that thought. I now believe that it’s better to do one fun thing at least every two hours (while you’re awake — I count sleeping as something fun, personally).

I am an early riser. Illogically early. As someone who works for myself and gets to set my own schedule every single day, the fact that my eyes pop open at 5:32am every single morning feels absurd to me, but it doesn’t seem to be something over which I have any control. I am also not a person who can linger in bed once I’m awake. I take a minute to check in with myself, hand on heart, and figure out what I need to do or have in order to feel completely resourced for the day ahead, and then I’m up, feet swinging over the side of the bed, dogs leaping after me, and we’re off. All of this is to say that I’ve done so many fun things already today, and it’s not even noon.

I realize that this might sound a bit Pollyanna, at the least, and privileged as HELL at the worst. And I’m here to say, I think it’s really not either of those things. I think it’s more about equanimity.

My life isn’t all kittens and roses over here. Some of my beloveds are really struggling with some big things. My mom’s husband died a month ago and, like my mom, it had been a really long time since I saw him in person, so it is as if the second person I really love just vanished off the face of the planet without me getting to say good-bye. The world is on fire, our systems are crumbling, yada yada yada. You know all that. And, if I don’t hold the good and the bad simultaneously, I’m never going to feel what it feels to be fully human. If I only choose the good and work to ignore the pain and the struggle and the rage, I’m not whole. If I only sink into the crap and wallow, I’m not whole. Enter: equanimity. I can hold both. I am whole.

Many of us have been trained to do this thing where we compartmentalize our lives – work first and then play, grieve a bit and then “get on with it.” We have let ourselves believe that there is a time and a place for fun, and it comes later. Or when we’re on vacation (and then, by God, you’d better cram all the fun things into that one small set of days so that you can feel like you’ve thoroughly enjoyed yourself before you get back to “real life”). I call bullshit. We do not exist on this planet to toil endlessly, or even for 68% of our lives and then we’ve ‘earned’ the right to play. I honestly think that practicing finding joy and fun in every single day is the thing that will keep us fresh for the fight – you know, the one that has been pressing down on us for decades behind the scenes of our everyday work lives. We don’t need to ask permission to have fun, and fun doesn’t have to be something planned or elaborate (although if you want to grab a bunch of your friends and head to the karaoke bar or bowling alley this weekend, I wholeheartedly support you).

Like I said, it’s not even noon here, and I’ve already laughed out loud several times. I started my day on the beach with my dogs at low tide and I found the perfect stick (not for the dogs – for me) and used it to draw weird shapes and smiley faces in the sand. Call me simple, but it was fun. I gathered a pocket full of green and blue sea glass and when I got home, I dumped them all into a jar I have that sits in the windowsill and it made me smile. I got some work done, and then a little while later, I took five minutes to find my friend Rosie’s Instagram story because she always has the best memes and they make me laugh out loud. And a couple hours after that, while I was prepping food to throw into the crock pot, I turned on some music and danced while I chopped. (If you need a suggestion, I highly recommend Remi Wolf’s song Monte Carlo because it’s irreverent and bouncy and makes me happy every damn time I hear it).

I have no idea what other fun things I’ll find today, but I do know that when I stop every once in a while and look around for something fun to do for a minute or two or twelve, by the time I get to the end of the day, I feel a whole hell of a lot better. I haven’t solved any of the huge problems of the world, but I feel more balanced and whole, and like I’ve chosen myself in some small way that feels big. It can be hard to think of things in the beginning, but I swear, once you start, it gets easier. Find yourself a friend like Rosie who curates the funniest shit. Get a book of Dad jokes that crack you up. Make a playlist of music that gets you dancing. Text a friend with a “random question of the day” (I do that a lot and I’m sure people think I’m weird, but … well, they’re right). Go for a walk with a piece of chalk and write goofy things on the sidewalk when nobody’s looking. Get your favorite candy and sit in a recliner for five minutes, tossing pieces in the air to see if you can catch them in your mouth (not with the dogs around, if you have dogs, though – that’s a recipe for disaster). Get some Play-Doh and squish your hands through it and make little critters. Whatever sounds fun to you. Find it. Do it. Every two hours at least. I’m not a doctor, but I think it’s a good prescription for health.

The older I get, the more anti-capitalist I get. Maybe this is what Gloria Steinem meant when she said women get more liberal as they age, or maybe it’s just a consequence of living in this time when all of the systems I was brought up to believe in as bedrock are crumbling beneath our feet. As I watch more people tumble into the cracks and see how institutions and governments just leave them lying there, it’s hard not to question everything.

When you can wake up to news of horrible acts that people in power perpetrate on other people – police officers and elected officials and entire countries – and still be expected to answer emails and create marketing materials and shop for new shoes as if none of it is shocking, it’s a little hard to swallow all of the things we were told would ensure us a good life, a solid life, a safe life.

Two days ago, I saw a meme that encouraged parents to “normalize asking high school kids what they want to do after school instead of asking them which college they want to go to.” I get it. Not all kids are college-bound, and pretending that they are can add a lot of pressure. But what if we stopped asking kids about their future plans at all? What if, instead, we asked them what they’re enjoying about their lives right nowWhat if we stopped pretending that there is some predictable set of systems out there for us to plan within and just encouraged kids (and frankly, everyone,) to look around and assess what is good in their lives in this minute that they can do more of?

I suppose it was this sentiment that was sitting in the back of my brain yesterday when I was on a weekly call with the Charter for Compassion and Citizen Discourse and the facilitator asked us to connect with our inner younger self and have a conversation with them about what they wanted us to be right now, or what they wanted to be when they hit the age we’re at currently. Most of the participants on the call went to that age-old question we all ask little kids, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and my mind did, too, for a split second. But then, the anti-capitalist in me rebelled and my inner child spoke loudly:

Play. Make people food. Make them laugh.
Give lots of hugs. Help clean up when there’s a mess. 
Snuggle with animals. Grow plants and flowers. Sing.
Climb trees every once in a while just to see what things look like from up there.
Talk to people. Listen to kids. Try new things. Rest.
Lay in a hammock. Watch and see how things work when they’re left alone. 
Maybe it’s because I know myself well enough now to know that I would never have been the kind of person to have one career that spanned most of my adult life. Or maybe it’s because I realize that, at least in our culture, so much of our identity is built around the kind of paid work we do and that rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps it’s because for most of my adult life, the vast amount of labor I did was unpaid (mothering, caregiving, running a household) and it somehow meant I was less important, less valued by society. Or maybe it is because my aspirations for myself now revolve around the kind of person I want to be, the way I want to show up in the world, how I want other people to feel when they are with me. Whatever the reason, that list above feels like a pretty damn good way to focus my efforts.
I don’t honestly believe that any of us showed up on this planet to work, to have a career, to get paid to do labor. Somewhere along the way, we got lost in all of the rhetoric and expectations, the idea of money as a thing that was important enough to lose relationships over, lose time to, lose ourselves for. We began to believe that our purpose and our passion align with producing tangible things for other people to purchase instead of learning how to be in relationship with ourselves and others and the natural world. My reason for being has nothing to do with making money and everything to do with using my gifts to enrich and enhance the lives of myself and every living thing around me. My value does not lie in the amount of classes I can teach, the income I can generate, the number of books I sell. My value lies in my generosity of spirit, my willingness to keep learning, my curiosity, and my love for other human beings.
These systems we were taught to spend our lives toiling to uphold will not hold us up when we fall. They have shown that over and over again in the past two years. Unhooking from them and creating new ways of being can only free us to do the things we are truly meant to do together.

Vagdiam, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The world is burning. It seems like it has been for months now – years, even; one horrific, unimaginable thing piling on top of the next. I slide the rubber band off the morning paper and unfold it, cringing as I wonder if I am really ready to catch sight of the bold, black headlines that tell of all the ways human beings cause each other harm, destroy the land we live on, find ourselves caught between tragedies. It feels like it is my duty to read them, to notice the outrage and despair simmering just beneath the surface, begin to imagine ways I can help, soothe, stop the hemorrhaging.

Day after day, I discover the sadness inside me creeping outward like an ink stain on a paper towel. Where are the edges?

The edges, I remember, are the things that fill me with warmth and joy. The balm of being with my kids or getting a text message filled with excitement about a new apartment, a song about to be released, a special anniversary. The smell of the star jasmine hedge in my neighbor’s yard that perfumes the block, the morning fog that carries with it the scent of salt, the pod of dolphins playing in the water on my morning walk.

I have decided that it is not my duty to consume all of the terrible stories of hatred and fear and lack. I have devised another way.

I believe it is incumbent upon us to begin grand love affairs. All of us. What if we all went out and opened ourselves to the magic of each other and the world around us? What if we took walks in the forest or by the sea and fell in love with all of the sounds and smells and sights – the rustling of leaves or crashing of the waves, the crane tiptoeing through a tide pool or the ladybug slowly making its way up the stalk of a sunflower? What if we sat with the family dog and stroked its soft ears in the way we know it loves for as long as we wanted to? What if we greeted each other with hugs that last longer than usual and eyes that say how happy we really are to see one another? What if we all embarked on a campaign to fall in love with all of the things and people around us, showing up with curiosity and a sense of wonder and a readiness to be surprised by joy?

It’s hard for me to stop noticing all of the amazing things that surround me once I get started. The sound of my daughter’s laughter and the shape of her hands, the long blonde eyelashes of my rescue dog, the way the sunlight falls on the shiny leaves of the tree outside. The taste of a perfectly ripe avocado and the strawberries that are perfectly ripe make me fall in love. The radio DJ who plays my go-to karaoke song when I’m in the car and the fact that my 50-year old voice can still belt it out in tune.

This is not some Pollyanna remedy, this is a balm, a barrier to stop the ink stain from spreading. This is a both/and because I have spent far more time focused on the horrible headlines and the what-if-it-gets-worse thoughts than I have on the grand love affair I could be having each and every moment of the day. And I do mean “grand,” I mean sweeping gestures of love, long phone calls and sweet text messages and big sighs of satisfaction. Purposely indulging in things that make me feel fabulous – food, dancing, touch – without apology or explanation. A person in love isn’t rational. A person in love is contagious and indulgent. If I spent as much time and energy cultivating love, what would that look like? What if we all did?

 

Mother’s Day weekend will forever be complicated for me. Because none of us who are mothers are only just mothers – we are daughters, too, I have this strange caught-in-the-middle feeling of being pushed and pulled. But beyond that, it was Mother’s Day weekend when my father died in my arms 14 years ago, and as much as I’d like to think that those kind of anniversaries become less of a focus over time, I haven’t found that to be true.

Every year in the last days before the deathaversary, I start to get teary and emotional. I feel shaky in my body and achy and a little “off,” and it usually takes me a lot of introspection and “what the fuck is with me?” to figure it out. I don’t know how my body knows, but it does. To be honest, I don’t even really remember thinking that it was Mother’s Day weekend when I was holding Dad and rocking him and whispering to him that it was ok to leave if he needed to. But given that the last few hours I spent with him are among some of the most crystal clear memories I carry, it’s not surprising that I feel it so viscerally over and over again every year.

I moved to a new town a year ago, and Mother’s Day weekend was the first weekend I spent in my new home – the only  home I’ve ever lived in alone, without kids or a partner. Last year was also the first Mother’s Day weekend after my mom died. This morning, I leashed the dogs and put them in the car for the four mile drive to Bishop Diego Garcia High School – the Catholic high school my mom and her siblings attended. I’d never been there before, and while my mom and I didn’t ever talk about her time growing up here, I knew this was one place where she spent a great deal of time. I was amazed at how small the school is and really struck by how lovely the grounds are. It was almost exactly what I expected a Catholic high school to look like in this town, in some ways, and as soon as the dogs and I stepped on to the path that meanders through campus, I felt her. I hope she was happy here. I hope she had fond memories.

I’ll spend my afternoon hiking in the hills above town, thinking about my parents and how much I miss them, feeling grateful that I am mother to my amazing kids, and honoring the work of mothering in all its forms. I am increasingly enamored of the idea that I can create nests for beloveds as part of the continued mothering I want to and will do. I love the notion that nests are created from whatever materials are available in the immediate area and are designed to be safe and comfortable, often in precarious places. They don’t have to be pretty. That’s not the point.

jumble of Meyer lemons on a cooktop surface

 

January has been a long month. Seriously. I know I’m not the only one saying that, and that the last two years have honestly been such a time warp in general, but it is only the 22nd day of the month and I honestly feel as though I’ve lived several lifetimes this year so far.

Last Monday I woke up with a nagging headache. Not debilitating, but pretty uncomfortable. I’m no stranger to headaches in general, since I have a very finicky neck that doesn’t allow me to sleep in certain positions or do particular tasks that most people wouldn’t think twice about. Probably once a month, I end up with a pretty gnarly headache that requires a trip to my phenomenal chiropractor to fix (she shakes her head and says, “what have you done?” in a very gentle, caring manner that reminds me I am in good good hands and puts everything back where it is supposed to be and sends me on my way). So, honestly, that’s what I figured this was. I made my way through the day with Advil and the hope that it would resolve on its own.

But around midnight on Monday/Tuesday, I started to notice that I was thrashing about in bed quite a bit and that is really unusual for me. It only took a minute before I realized I was spiking a fever – this was chills, and the headache had kicked up a notch. I knew pretty much right away that this was Covid. I stuck it out until dawn and then took my temperature to confirm, texted a friend who I knew had access to home tests, and waited.

It was a rough four days. That headache was brutal. Not the worst one I’ve ever had, but definitely second in line. I couldn’t watch tv or read or really look at much of anything. I just laid on the couch staring into space and hoping it would abate sooner rather than later. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered that when I first moved here last May, this was the scenario I feared most – that I’d get sick while living on my own and not be able to really take care of myself or the dogs. I’m here to say that, like most fears I’ve ever had in my life, this one didn’t play out the way my amygdala warned me it would.

I had friends near and far texting me all day long, checking in, offering help of any kind. The friend with the home tests also brought soup, Gatorade, bottles of water, cold medicine from her own stash, and Meyer lemons from her tree. Other new local friends offered food delivery, dog walks, and just general moral support. One of my neighbors, having spotted a friend dropping off supplies at the front door, texted one night to say her husband had just made a beautiful homemade dinner – could they fix me a plate and leave it at the door for me?

I was brought to tears with each and every one of these offers, and I accepted it all (well, not the dog-walking – my dogs would no more leave me behind at the house and go walk with someone else than they would chew their own leg off). Blissfully, the headache subsided by Day 3 and I remember lying on the couch, imagining my poor, stressed brain inside my skull, sending it waves of soothing light to recover. Every little thing I did prompted a two-hour nap. The last time I was this exhausted was after giving birth to Erin and that was only because I caught the flu while I was in the hospital so I brought her home and spent the first week battling a fever and trying to recover from a 40-hour labor.

I’m still recovering, but finally not sleeping 16-18 hours a day. I am able to do a few things here and there and then lie down for a bit to rest. There is some acute sense that if I don’t go slowly, there is a real danger of setting myself back, and I can’t help but wonder how people with children at home or elders to care for or lots of work to do that needs to be done manage this. It honestly brings me to tears to think about having to make a meal for someone else or go to a job feeling such extreme fatigue. I wish we lived in a world where we believed each other when we say we need rest, where we made sure to provide space and the necessities for that to happen. I recognize my massive privilege in this – that I was able to be cared for from afar by friends and family, that I am able to put off my work obligations as long as I need to, that I have a roof over my head and a soft bed in which to recuperate. I wish that for everyone.

It is so interesting that one of the first things people ask is “where did you get it” and then “were you vaccinated?” I am reminded that we have done a really good job of framing this pandemic in the same way we frame nearly everything in this culture – in terms of personal responsibility. I know that those two questions are some attempt to insulate ourselves – if we think we can crack the code, we can avoid getting sick. But I also know there is some judgment there because that’s what we’ve been taught. If you just didn’t do X, you wouldn’t be struggling with Y. I am so much more taken by the folks who ask “how can I support you” and “what do you need?” There is a radical form of community that can be created just by asking these simple questions and I am here to tell you, it feels amazing to be the recipient of it. On Thursday night, when I was so astonished by how absolutely tired a person could feel after sleeping most of the day, my phone pinged with an incoming email. As I read something from a friend expressing her deep care for me and her fervent wish that I recover quickly and thoroughly, I spent a few minutes going back through my day and replaying all of the text messages I’d gotten from a dozen or more friends and family members, checking in, offering help, saying they were sending love, and I made the conscious decision to hold that in my head and heart as the last thoughts before sleep – the notion that I was held in deep care and love by so many people from literally all over the planet. It was magic.

I’m now a week in and my sense of taste and smell is coming and going unpredictably, I struggle to catch my breath when walking the dogs on our normal, flat, 20-minute route through the neighborhood, and I still occasionally sit down after doing something  mundane like folding a load of laundry and feel a powerful need for a nap. My sleep is the sleep of the dead – deep, strange dreams and waking up feels like swimming up from the depths of the ocean, but I am grateful for the freedom to sleep when I need to and for friends and family who text or call or email to check in and let me know they’re rooting for me. That is medicine for my soul.

 

 

empty hammock suspended between trees with a field in the distance

 Jorge Polo, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you believe you are held in community?

I don’t mean to ask “do you think you belong?” That is a slightly different question. Belonging is often predicated on what we do, how we appear, the way we act.

I mean, do you believe that you are held in love and care by the collective?

Do you believe it, and by that I mean do you feel it in your bones, as a solid feeling in your gut?

Do you believe you are held? That regardless of your attributes or accomplishments or identities, you are woven tightly into the fabric of community, the people who surround you, who you consider beloveds, you will not fall away?

I recently celebrated my 50th birthday and I anticipated doing so alone. Not by choice, but also not not by choice. We are, after all, in a pandemic that is still swirling around us (whether we have the bandwidth to acknowledge it as such or not). But I have also uprooted myself and moved to an entirely new town in an entirely new state, my kids all live in different cities, and I am not a fan of parties where I am the object of the celebration. Whether that is simply a facet of my personality or my parents sparked that feeling by taking me to Farrell’s at the wrong developmental stage of my childhood is up for debate, but it does persist. I am not the kind of person who appreciates public acknowledgment of my birthday by singing waiters or birthday parties with more than five people or so. But I digress…

I fully anticipated spending the day alone and I was frankly unsure how I would feel, but then a series of things happened to change that. My youngest and her boyfriend texted to say they were driving up to spend the day with me and my heart broke open a little bit. A new friend I recently met texted to ask (randomly, she swears) when my birthday is and when I told her “two days from now,” she offered to take me out to dinner to celebrate. That crack widened a bit more. Then my aunt and uncle messaged to ask if they could take me out to lunch for my birthday and I cracked wide open.

On the day of my birthday, when I was as wide open as I’ve ever been, a really magical thing happened that still makes me cry when I think about it. A group of humans – most of whom I’ve never met in person, but who have vowed to have each others’ backs and support each other no matter what – began messaging me in the larger group to wish me a happy birthday. It began with one or two and within ninety minutes, there were close to 50 notifications in the group chat. I was overwhelmed and shaky at this outpouring of sincere, loving messages. The first thought that went through my mind was “why do they care about my birthday?” The second was “they’re only doing it because one person started it and it would be weird not to add their wishes to the chat.” The third came in the form of a question, “what if they do mean it? What if they are really taking a moment out of their own busy lives to sincerely think of me, hand on heart, and wish me well?”

That was the one that brought me to my knees. What if?

I texted a friend who I knew would get it to say how scary it was to accept these birthday wishes. I told her that I imagined all of the love coming at me from these amazing, complex, brilliant human beings was weaving an enormous hammock and all I had to do was climb in and be held by it. And also, there is no graceful way to get into a hammock. None. There is always that one moment when you wonder if someone is going to laugh at the awkward way you shove your butt over first and try not to get your foot tangled in the web of it. Or that other moment when you’re not quite sure if it will stay upright or flip and knock you out onto the dirt on your ass. My friend got it. She understood, and in that moment, we agreed that we would be each other’s spotter – that when one of us wanted to climb into that scary love hammock, the other one would stand by and hold it steady until they were safely inside, resting in love and care.

If you can’t answer the question, “Do you believe you are held in community?” you are not alone. I am 50 years old and just beginning to have the barest sensation of trusting it. I mourn for the last 49 years when I didn’t know that that was what I needed more than anything else, and also, I am determined to not let any more time pass by before I start asking other people whether they feel held.

We are killing ourselves and each other because we don’t feel held. We are addicted to drugs and food, buying weapons and physically and verbally attacking each other in public because we don’t feel held. We hide behind laws and cultural standards because we don’t know what it is to hold each other – in our hardest moments and our ugliest moments and our most triumphant moments. We haven’t learned what it feels like to believe we are held even when we aren’t producing, contributing, acting or looking a certain way. And the only way we will learn is to do it for each other, to take that leap of faith and hold each other in deep respect and care. When we feel like our well-being is something the collective cares about and for, we can rest in that space and come out ready to weave our strand of the hammock. It is terrifying, I know. And it is also the only thing that is left to do if we are going to make each other’s lives better.

So tell me, do you believe you are held in community?

speech bubble with a jumble of numbers inside

How do you measure the health of a community? I’ve said this before (actually over and over again for years now), and I’ll say it again: the fact that the media and the government insist on measuring the health of our country by the economic standards they arbitrarily set is ridiculous. Absurd. Irrelevant.

The daily or monthly reports on the stock market numbers, the numbers of jobs created, unemployment figures – all of these things are designed to create a picture of a country as a set of mathematical problems and people are not math problems. People are not even story problems. Communities are made of people who have needs that have nothing to do with the stock market and the number of hours of paid work they engage in. But for the folks who need data, who say that numbers are the way we understand what’s happening, let’s go on a little journey …

Imagine for a moment if the media started reporting the number of households who struggled with food insecurity in the last month and comparing it to the month before that and the month before that.

What if, instead of “jobs created,” they told us the number of folks who lost their housing in the last quarter? Or the number of persons who remain unhoused and for how long they’ve struggled with that?

Somewhere, there have to be figures that enumerate the scores of families and individuals who have unpaid medical debt and charts that show how much that debt has grown over the years and how it has impacted the other two measures of food insecurity and houselessness.

What if the media routinely talked about those numbers, over and over again, throughout the evening newscast, at the top of the hour on NPR, and in print for folks to see? Would it move politicians to address those issues more quickly and with more urgency? Because what politicians talk about now are jobs and the stock market, and these are things that don’t translate into healthy communities. We have seen for years that a rising stock market does not mean that everyone in this country is doing okay. There are scores of people in this country who do not have money invested in the stock market, who don’t have any disposable income to invest. We know that unemployment figures don’t show the kind of information we pretend they do. People are “underemployed” for a variety of reasons, and some folks don’t even show on unemployment figures because they’ve given up looking for work – either because they can’t afford to work (yes, it’s absurd that that is a reality, but it is), they don’t have the skills employers are seeking, they’re discriminated against, or they are not able to work for a variety of reasons.

Instead of talking about “the economy,” what if we talked about people and how their basic needs are increasingly not being met? Instead of doing a “homeless count” once a year in major cities, what if we looked at the reasons people lose housing and report on those numbers every single week?

Our priorities are reflected in the kind of information we choose to seek and compile and report. And the vicious cycle that is created here is that we continue to believe that these *should* be our priorities, so we focus on them to the exclusion of the things that might actually tell us about the health of our country. It’s not a panacea, but shifting the way we talk about and measure the health of our communities might give us more of a reason to start working on ensuring that more of us are supported and stable.

I’d like to think that maybe if the media were constantly reporting on the number of people in this country who have declared bankruptcy or lost their housing or carried crippling debt from medical bills, we might find enough politicians who were willing to overhaul the system in the face of insurance company lobbyists.

Perhaps if there were an accurate picture of the number of households with members who are consistently underfed, there would be political will to change the way we support folks with SNAP benefits.

What we focus on grows. We need to start focusing on people and their struggles to survive and the things we can do to help them, help humans, not “the economy.” There is no such thing as trickle-down, except in the realm of fairy tales and rain water.

For the last six months or so, I’ve watched with increasing discomfort as social media posts telling people to get vaccinated against Covid and vilifying people who are choosing not to vaccinate fill my feed. Some of them are brief and to the point “Wear your damn mask and get your shot!” and others are full-on rants about ignorant people or angry missives that are full of sarcasm and othering language. There are folks who post polls asking their followers and contacts whether or not they’ve been vaccinated and links to videos mocking the people who choose not to, and so far, I’ve mostly resisted commenting on any of them or posting anything I think might come off as me joining the fray. Frankly, it has meant that my social media use is vastly curtailed (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – just sayin’…)

I have remained curious about my level of discomfort, trying to tease out where it hits me and why. While it’s easy for me to agree with the observations that part of our downfall is our lack of collective consciousness, it has still been difficult to reconcile the nastiness and othering that comes with “yelling” at people to get vaccinated for “the greater good.”

This morning as I walked on the beach, part of the puzzle seemed to come together in my head, thanks to a text exchange I had with a dear friend about the horrific scenes unfolding in Afghanistan.

She texted that she feels overwhelmed with all of the crises in the world and yet she also believes that it isn’t ok to “look away.” It is so hard to know what we can do to help the people who are suffering right now in ways we can’t even imagine. I talked to her about a group I’m involved with who has spent the last seven days lighting candles, raising money, and holding vigil for an Afghani couple who is trying to flee the country. Within that group, as things got worse and worse, we had the conversation about whether what we were doing was enough. Helping one family versus an entire nation. Given that, last night, that one couple managed to get on a plane to safety, it seems that we are helping, even in some small way. But, it turns out, that isn’t even really the point, and this is where the puzzle pieces began to fall into place.

What we have done in the last seven days is build community. We have forged relationships – not only among ourselves (a group of people that are scattered across the Western world), but with this Afghani couple and their family members. We have created a space where we come together in solidarity to try and alleviate some suffering. We have helped each other when it became hard to hold that space because it triggered our own trauma and fear and, it turns out, we gave this couple hope as they sat in a hot, jam-packed airport with gunfire and violence playing out outside, not knowing whether they would manage to get on a plane or be sent back to their homes.

It is a very Western, white-people thing to want to find The Solution. To invoke power structures to identify The Problem, create Rules and Mandates, and use power to impose them to Fix It. And while this is somewhat effective, what it doesn’t do is create community. There will never be a set of mandates that will convince us that we belong to each other.

It is a very Western, white-people thing to want to find The Solution. To invoke power structures to identify The Problem, create Rules and Mandates, and use power to impose them to Fix It. And while this is somewhat effective, what it doesn’t do is create community. There will never be a set of mandates that will convince us that we belong to each other. There will never be laws or rules that teach us that we are safe with each other and that we matter to someone else. Those things don’t build relationship and they don’t cultivate safety in the way that human beings need to feel safe. We white folks like rules and power because it makes us feel safe, but that is an illusion. When we think we are in control of a situation, we tend to relax a bit, but only a bit, because there is always the chance that someone with more power will come along and knock us off kilter and take control.

When we build relationship, by truly creating spaces where we feel safe with one another, we create community and a sense of shared well-being. That is why the physicians who take the time to listen to each individual concern about vaccine risks and acknowledge the fears of their patients can often have an impact on their choices. Playing on someone’s fears can be an effective way to change their behavior short-term, but you risk another, bigger fear coming along to usurp that one you cultivated. And even if you can change someone’s behavior, you can’t change their values by scaring them or forcing them to do something they don’t want to do.

We all want to belong, to feel safe with others, and to be part of something bigger than ourselves, but you can’t mandate that. Focusing on enforcement rather than relationship is where we white Westerners have gone wrong for hundreds of years. The social media posts that mock or shame other people destroy the potential for connection, even as they rack up ‘likes’ from people who agree with them. Those likes can make you feel righteous, but they aren’t going to convince anyone to care about the collective. Caring about the collective comes from feeling as though you are an integral part of it, and that comes through kindness and curiosity and trust-building.

Fabric with the words "Absurd times call for Absurd Amounts of Love" embroidered on it

Brad Montague

I am so fortunate to be part of a group of people called the Conversation Collective. During the lockdown in 2020, the Charter for Compassion teamed up with Citizen Discourse to offer a weekly meditation and coming together of individuals from all over the world who wanted to just be together in a way that felt real and soothing and solid. I began to mark time in terms of the Thursday morning meetings and really look forward to seeing some of the same people every week and deepen my connection with them.

They have expanded the offering to twice a week and on Monday afternoon I joined the group anticipating yet another really wonderful discussion prompt and I wasn’t disappointed. Karen from Citizen Discourse asked us to take a few minutes to reflect on one or more of our most deeply held beliefs (in the style of the NPR program This I Believe) and then we broke into pairs on Zoom to share our thoughts with each other. I wasn’t going to write much, as I’ve written to this prompt before, but I pulled out a sheet of paper and thought I’d jot down a few thoughts to share with my partner. In the end, I surprised myself with what came forth:

I believe in the power of connection.

I believe in hugs as a transfer of energy and a way to show solidarity.

I believe we all know each other better than we think we do, and that when we focus our attention on love and relationship, we feel a deep resonance that is the only thing that really matters. 

I believe that fear drives us apart – away from each other and ourselves.

I believe trust leads to love and that we are safe in each other’s arms.

I believe we are more a part of the natural world than we will ever know, and when we do begin to know it, we feel safer than we ever thought we could. 

I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with and listen to two extraordinary people about our beliefs, and when the group came back together, I was reminded why this is such a special place. Because we focus on relationship and what is important to us, because we listen deeply and honor each other’s perspectives, because we allow the full range of emotions and reactions – anger, frustration, laughter, tears, joy – this is a place for humanity and solidarity and friendship. I’ve met people from Canada and Cape Town, Kentucky and California and Portugal and the UK, and I have deepened my belief that we know how to be together with peace and love and joy just as much as we know how to isolate ourselves in fear and anger. I am reminded every single week that choosing peace and love and joy is a gift to myself and others, and this is one simple way to do it.

We belong to each other, whether we opt to acknowledge that or not. We are designed to be together, to share our thoughts and feelings with each other. We get energy from one another and hold each other up. So despite all of the other cultural messages we get about fear and independence and not burdening others with our struggles, the natural state of us as beings is to belong, to seek out others and find ways to collaborate and cooperate and be in community. It is there that we can begin to feel secure and in harmony with our natural rhythms. I am so grateful for this and other collectives that are holding me, that have welcomed me, because they allow me to remember that I am not alone. I am never alone.

The Conversation Collective is open to anyone who wants to join. Click the link to find out more if you’re interested.