Posts Tagged ‘facing fear’

Intolerance

January 20, 2019

Yes, the government shutdown has affected me personally.

No details will be provided.

Yes, all the controversy surrounding this year’s Women’s March has affected me personally.

No details will be provided.

Yes, the plethora of open demonstrations of intolerance, racism, bias and hate by groups and individuals over the past year have affected me personally.

No details will be provided.

Because one of the most pernicious dangers of the current embrace of extremism in the U.S. is to stifle discourse, and I am not immune to the fear of reprisal from one or another of the governmental or private entities that would use those details against me, if I were to provide them.

I note a few facts. In the controversy surrounding this year’s Women’s March, and the perceived anti-Semitism of some of its national leaders, there was an astounding lack of recognition that not all Jews are white. There are Ethiopian Jews, and other black-skinned Jews from a range of countries. There are Hispanic Jews, with their own language, Ladino, that is an amalgam of Hebrew and Spanish, just as Yiddish is an amalgam of Hebrew and German. When I was just barely into my teens in the mid-1950’s I was taken to a number of historic sites in Manila, including both churches and an already 100 year old by then synagogue in Manila, learning that there were Filipino Jews and Chinese Jews who attended, as well as the European Jews who had fled Nazism by going east instead of west.

A white teen choosing to wear a Chinese dress to her senior prom, because she thinks it is a beautiful style, is attacked online. “Cultural appropriation!” is screamed at her. Would that  denunciation be leveled at a Black or Native girl who did the same? Or is it only white skin that made her action offensive to some?

When I go to a party wearing the traditional Cameroonian clothing gifted to me by my husband when he returned from his trip home last year, will someone look at me with anger because my skin is not black? Based on experience from earlier in my life I can predict that the answer will be yes. A long time ago in Boston, shopping in a store that catered to the African American population, to get a dashiki for my then husband who also was dark skinned, the store owner refused to sell to me and ran me out of her shop, accusing me of “taking our men like you took everything else from us.”

I can understand, while not accepting, her anger. My husband had asked for the dashiki to wear to an event where he would be performing. He was genetically equal parts black, Native American and white. Was he guilty of cultural appropriation, even though the term was not “on the radar” forty years ago?

I don’t understand, and also do not accept, any leaders encouraging their followers to judge people by such surface traits as skin color, clothing choices, language preference, use of particular terms (like Negro, black, Black or African American), place of birth, age, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. (You betray your age as comparable to mine if you just imaged Yul Brenner.)

But mine seems to be a minority voice these days, when I speak up for tolerance,  understanding and efforts toward bi- or multi-partisanship. I recently was cut out of the life of a woman with whom I have had a 30 year quasi-family relationship, apparently because I appeared to her to have taken the side “against” her, when what I did was choose not to take sides at all. Between “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and “if you’re not with me you’re against me”, there is no room left for disengagement, reflection, tolerance, or occasionally for a carefully judged neutrality.

Yes, I agree there are many situations where a clear right/wrong demarcation needs to be upheld. Preaching/teaching hate is wrong, period. (I won’t soften that statement with an appeasing “in my opinion.”) Ignoring abuse, starvation, the effects of natural disasters is wrong – again not minimized by being only an opinion. What is a matter of opinion, in my opinion, is how one chooses to respond to these wrongs.

In my opinion, it is wrong to shut off/shut out the voices of reason, to block communication, to label and blame based on misperceived differences and unexamined biases. And it is particularly wrong to enshrine those blocks and biases in government and law as has been happening, and looks likely to be continuing, in the upcoming Supreme Court session.

I have no answers, and sadly little optimism for the next few years, outside what I can do in my own immediate circle, to continue to embody the values I espouse. I wish it were otherwise.

My lack of optimism most probably explains the relative infrequency of posts, of late. Or maybe I am only shut down by the gray, cold depths of winter?

 

In the Small Hours

February 18, 2018

What is it about the small hours of the night (somewhere between 2:30 and 4:30) that allows our deepest fears to surface and torment us? My acupuncturist has spoken of how energy patterns shift through the various body meridians at different times in the 24 hour cycle, identifying for me which pathways are activated around 3 AM. Certain emotions are associated with each of the organs for which these meridians are named, including the emotion of fear. I will not be surprised to learn that the meridian and organ linked to fear is energized in the wee small hours. A healing system that has been effective for many more centuries than Western medicine has existed is certain to continue to give good answers to silly but nonetheless life altering questions.

( A check after I wrote the bulk of this essay confirmed that the meridians engaged at that time are lungs, associated with grief and loss, and kidneys which are indeed associated with fear.)

Life altering, because the course of a life can be determined by the way in which one handles the sleeplessness, the stark terror, or the merely nagging discomfort of the fears that arise. Tough it out until it passes? Make Plans C through F for how to deal with what one fears may happen? Pray for escape from the threat? Or for understanding of how to transform the fear into acceptance? Look for the spiritual lesson hidden in the fear? Identify the origins of the fear and how one’s circumstances have changed such that the fear is no longer relevant?

Intellect can interpret, redirect, calm, reason away irrational emotions. It is not very effective at reasoning away rational feelings, like the fear experienced by a military spouse left behind when the partner goes into a war zone. It is eminently rational to fear the loved one will come to harm in a dangerous environment. No matter how well armed, trained, clever the spouse may be, there is always the chance of the proverbial “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Reason also does not seem to work well, for me, against fears that are ultimately rooted in inner experiences, whether or not they express themselves as projections into our common outer reality. I have come to understand that my early conditioning by a mentally ill and abusive mother set me up to expect that good things would not be granted to me, and that happiness is not a state of being that I would be allowed to enjoy for more than snatched and brief moments in a life otherwise fated to be a harsh struggle against negative forces determined to block and overwhelm me.

Writing that last thought out, I recognize it as exactly what my mother believed and felt, and made into the truth of her own life. Sometime after she died, when I was already approaching my own middle age, I read a diary my mother had written at the age of fourteen, as she traveled to a boarding school in what was then Palestine, now Israel. It showed me a girl already lost to reality, living in a fantasy world filled with both a gallant Prince Charming and horrific ogres doing battle for her attention. She appeared to have been more convinced of the reality of the ogres than of the existence of the princes in those writings. She certainly manifested that orientation to the negative as I knew her. And she apparently instilled that expectation of the negative more deeply into me than I had realized until a very recent 4 AM awakening.

I have been reasoning away the discomfort of not receiving an expected call over the past 46 hours, with sufficient success that I was able to complete a productive day of work, relax and go to sleep at the usual time – but not to stay asleep through the meridian shift that occurred about 3:30. Awake in the dark, I allowed myself to feel the despair of loss in order to trace back its cause, and then started writing to externalize the feelings, a technique I’ve found most helpful in the past. And there, on the page, is the statement about my mother and the realization – not just an intellectual knowing but a deep-seated understanding – of how I have been affected/infected by that same expectation that the ogres will win.

Scant minutes after writing the lines about ogres and princes, the awaited phone call came in. And I learned that the sequence of events I had rationalized to explain its delay had indeed taken place. More importantly, I was shown yet again that realizing the truth of a situation is transformative. My spiritual Teacher frequently reminds us that we do not have to “fix” what we perceive to be out of balance. “Recognition is enough” he tells us. Once the elements of an issue have been recognized (re-cognized, seen from a different point of view) we are directed to take our attention off the subject matter and place it back where it belongs, on our spiritual purpose in this life. “Attention is food, what you give attention to grows, what you deprive of attention withers and vanishes.”

I was initially distraught at least partially because I couldn’t tell if my fear arose from a prescient foreboding of an impending calamity, or instead from a deeply ingrained and unconscious pattern of expectation (what on the MasterPath is called a sanskara). As indicated above, my experience of the emotions and subsequent contemplation of the experience put it squarely into the sanskara category. Releasing the sanskara’s hold on my attention and imagination came (is still coming) next. New insights arise daily, as I do my normal chores and also those that have fallen to me during my husband’s unexpected absence. I see that I am being gifted with opportunities to completely reassess my experience of being unsupported and, of necessity, totally self-reliant throughout virtually all of my life, until four years ago.

Knowing now what it feels like to be in a loving, mutually supportive and caring relationship, I begin to realize that – should my worst fear be realized – I would not be cast back into the unfulfilled void of my earlier years. I am not that same person, or perhaps more accurately I do not see that person through the same eyes as before.

For that change, as for so many other new insights connected to my initial 3 AM panic, I am most deeply grateful.


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