The mighty spruce once spoke, saying “Strength is found in those who yield. In time, my wooden body, long past its present use, will give succor to those who come after me. We are willing to yield to the process that gives life to the next generations. This is our strength. We give during all stages of our lives. That is the strength found in yielding – we let go of how it is supposed to happen.” *
In light of this most recent election, I have come to witness the darkness within myself as a part of wholeness that is unbounded by imaginary lines. The process of welcoming this new, uncertain, and for me rather, frightening future has been rocky. I’ve woken in moments of pain, my fists pounding walls as my feet feel desperately for the ground beneath. I’ve screamed in terror, cried in quiet pain, and laughed in belligerent confusion.
Confusion: A 13th Century old French word meaning to “overthrow or ruin”, stemming from Latin meaning “to mingle with” or to “mix with”. I’m sensing this mixing with has been underlying so many moments of the past week and a half, that what is real and what is not have become so seemingly inseparable, we are all intertwined with certain concepts of reality that we cannot seem to come back to what is real and unfolding. We are all confused, fused with ideas that are causing us to overthrow our own innate capacities, ideas that lay to ruin that which we deeply long to save.
Let me back up.
Immediately following the election, I found myself going through waves of sheer panic and fear. I found going out into public in my brown skin at times unbearable and I felt myself pulling inward, as if I could somehow get away from the skin that holds all elements of me to the surface of my experience. I wanted to be numb to this fear, this pain of no longer feeling like a person, but a body that had new(ish) implications for those I encountered. I could only perceive any expression from strangers to be either looks sympathy or distain, confused with the idea that everyone was somehow looking at me as a victim of this election which, in turn, made me feel like one. I felt this turning inward physically, emotionally, and psychologically. I wanted to isolate from the world and from the feelings that were suddenly occupying both my waking and dreaming life. Overwhelmed, I was going into an oscillation of shutting down and acting out in an effort to avoid being with all that was unfolding within me. The more people I’ve talked to, the more I realized that this is what we are all experiencing to some degree or another. This election has seemed to elicit a sort of trauma response in so many people, cutting us off from one another and ourselves with such force, we’re lost with what to do with ourselves. Deeply mingled with the ideas that this election has put out to be reality – that we live in a misogynistic and racist society that wants nothing more than to eradicate diversity for the sake of creating some kind of homogenous homeland for the privileged few, all while devouring what is left of our fragile blue planet for the sake of insulated profits – feels so true, it’s hard to escape. But these responses are really to that idea – and idea that we have been lead to believe is reality and so, we have begun to enact it. And suddenly, this is Life.
But after a few days of this, I was just completely and utterly exhausted. I was shutting down to the experience more and more, unable to stay in these hypervigilant modes, unable to curl into myself any further, unable to move, unable to stay. So, I went for a hike. I felt the crisp cool air enter into my nose, I felt the cold crunchy Earth crackle under my shoes, watched the dogs chase birds and the birds get away. I listened to the breeze kiss the tree tops and witnessed the rays of the sun illuminate the curves of the mountains that surround me. And in that moment, I touched in with something. The truth. Reality. The Earth around and all it’s changing and shifts. The truth that life is not devastating. That life is not racist or sexist or any other ist I can think of. That life follows one thing – life. And that life is inherently and without a single doubt, good. So, even though there is the human chaos unfolding all around us, even though we’ve given unprecedented power to what I perceive to be a sociopath, life – actual LIFE – is wondrous. It is unfolding and changing. Yielding to death and transformation in service of more life, more growth. The sense of being fused to this idea of doom melted away as I took in this simple fact. That reality is all around. That leaves push through pavement and trees return to soil and hawks eat and are eaten and that that cycle is good. It is complete and healthy. That what is not good is our forgetting this simple fact. Our total mixing of life and idea – ideology that comes to lay ruin to our ability to be alive by overthrowing our sense of reality and replacing it with a picture of life being terrible, destroyed, and full of evils to such a depth, that we begin to create it, to be fought against.
Fighting against. Since this realization, I’ve been letting my body ride the experience of fighting against. When I do it, I take the same shape as I did when I first heard that Donald Trump was elected president. I curl in, I round my back, my feet lift from the Earth and I lose all sense of self. I’m filled not with awareness of my own life, but with fearful imaginings of what I do not want. I become FILLED with what I do NOT want. It FILLS me. Consumes me. Devours me. Immobilizes and disempowers me. I become filled with all the things I am striving to keep away. Hate. Anger. Death. Pain. Horror. Terror. Judgement. Fear. As I try to fight against them, they become all I can see, smell, taste, perceive – and quickly, I become mingled with them, confused with them, until I am them. And suddenly, I begin to feel exhausted. Overwhelmed and filled with all the things I do not want to be in my life, I begin to wonder what I can do against these things if I cannot even keep from being filled with them. I become lost, bewildered and in the end, ineffectual. I want to scream but don’t know what or at whom to direct it. I want to punch but have no idea where to direct the blow. I want to run, but without any clarity, I flail in no direction, ending up right back where I started with no energy, no footing, and – the worst part – still filled with what I don’t want and unable to figure out anything else.
In feeling myself being filled with what I don’t want, I go back to that moment of remembering that life is good. That life, as it unfolds all around, is continually moving toward what it wants – which is always more life. So I stopped fighting against and began to yield to life. I let myself feel all those things I was busy fighting against and something incredible happened, they changed. They morphed from ideas into energy I could feel pulsing through me, and I realized that I needed to name what I STAND FOR. What I am willing to fight for. As I took this shape in my body, I found my feet planted on the Earth, my arms strong along my sides, my heart open, my eyes wide, and my breath full. I began to be filled with what I DO want. It began to FILL me. Expand me. Elevate me. Mobilize and empower me. I became filled with all the things I want to draw close. Love. Power. Strength. Energy. Fight. Compassion. Protection. Courage. Earth. Water. Air. Nourishment. Life. As I try to stand for these things, they become part of what I see, smell, taste, perceive – and I can become not mingled with them, but among them and they become embodied in me. I remain myself, with my fear and my pain, but what I stand for continues to hold me up, to support me in my depths until I am filled with everything. And suddenly, I feel alive again. I begin to give way, to yield to life as it unfolds. I begin to understand my place in the greater good, and firmly planted, know what I stand for. With this clarity, I gain a better understanding of what I need to do, what my next steps are, not to fight against, but to protect. Cognition and creativity come back online as I move out of fight and freeze and into the agile dance of protecting, nurturing and defending. Those ideas that have come to threaten me begin to show themselves as threats to life. As I stand firmly for life, these ideas now stand against me. These ideas that we have confused for life now stand squarely against life. And I, life, know what to do to defend and protect what I stand for by continuing to yield to life.
Standing for and standing against are two frames of reference that deeply shift how we engage with the challenges we now face. How we see these challenges, how we are motivated, and how we make moves to respond all come from what we fill ourselves with. Make no mistake, this is not a peaceful or easy time to be alive, but by filling myself with life, with those things that I stand for, it is a good time. It is a time to follow life. To stop standing against ideas we have fused with our definition of life and to start standing for what life truly is. To do this, we must give ourselves space. Space to be with what is real. With life. With pain, death, and sadness as well as with joy, love, and compassion. We must give ourselves space to be human – not just our ideas – but our feeling, breathing, living bodies that are always moving toward life. To feel it and how it gives us shape and then follow the shape that gives us life. This is not a time to fight against. This is a time to fight FOR. For life, because THAT is what is at stake.
I ask you to wonder about what you stand for every day. To get very – very – very clear on it. Then let it fill you. Let it empower you. Let it unfreeze you. And let it move you.
I stand for LIFE. And I am filled by it.
*The opening quote has been is a paraphrase of The Strength of Yielding from Earth Medicine : Ancestor’s ways of harmony for many moons by Jamie Sams