A Letter to Our Community
I hope this finds each of you safe and well. I think of each of you often which brings me great joy and comfort in these uncertain and emotionally intense times! While I have been relatively withdrawn for much for the past ten months, I am moved to reach out and and share my thoughts and what is currently guiding my personal practice as we encounter this thoroughly bizarre landscape together.
At this moment, I consider myself experienced in being very disoriented, confused, and, at times, lost, much as many of us are intimately feeling right now. As I have written and spoken about previously, for months prior to closing the yoga studio last May, my life had been undergoing what, at the time, were many unforeseen and terrifying transitions. Like a spontaneous volcanic eruption, several life events happened in quick succession. My previous longterm relationship ended abruptly and a new romantic relationship began, seemingly out of nowhere, forcing me to reconcile that I had been living as a queer woman in heteronormative drag to my family, the majority of my friends, and community at large. Riding the winds of newfound liberation, I closed my business, took a sabbatical from public output, packed our belongings to move across the country and decided to live nomadically through the winter. Romantic, yes? As Laura and I developed our routine of sleeping in the car and living in woods, parks, and city streets, and the homes of generous friends and family from October through now, we spent a lot of time with the insecure rumination that most pragmatic adults spend our lives desperately avoiding - Where will we pee? Where will we sleep? Where will we eat? Are we in a safe location? Will someone attack us? Did that person see us sleeping in the car? Have the cops been called on us? And in recent months and weeks, the broad: Where will we live? How will we make ends meet?
But for the past month I’ve been feeling an increased sense of under the skin itchiness. Even if I could get to it with my obsessively cleaned (and admittedly chewed off) fingernails it wouldn’t satisfy the kind of deeply uncomfortable, antsy sensation that courses through my chest, my back, my jaw, my viscera. Are my parents taking this seriously? Is that guy by the tea just coughing a normal cough or is he spewing potentially deadly viral sputum onto the merchandise? Did I just touch my face? How bad will the national fallout be and why didn't we better prepare? are now the neurotic visitors of this mind. A distinct feeling of pin-pricking anxiety seems to lie in wait, occasionally attempting to escape my body while it agitates my heart. Unlike so many of the inconsequential me-centered anxieties I experience on any given day, the threat that faces us now is quick, global, and seemingly inescapable without large-scale cooperation and selflessness - something at which we have rarely proven skillful or successful. Forgive me for speaking plainly; the facts are clear that this faces every one of us. We are individually and collectively responsible for our own health and safety and, at this time, blatantly charged with the responsibility for the health and safety of our community. It is surreal and scary. It is inconvenient and boring. I find myself vacillating between the polarities of hope and hopelessness.
However, this invisible yet real threat in our evolving collective circumstance is only one piece of what we face. Currently the vast majority of us are not living as a host to the actual virus but rather with varying degrees of concern for both contracting and passing on this thing that we have yet to understand well, from which we have very little protection, and for which we are ill-prepared. It has never been more clear that we are a nation living in multiple differing realities; denial is one of our most effective emotional defense mechanisms. What an incredible understatement to say that we are living in a tumultuous time. We are encountering the devastation of people falling ill, sometimes deathly so, and those lasting effects on our families and communities. We are witnessing the tragedy of doctors, nurses and aids trapped inside an unsupported and inhumane healthcare system which audibly groans under the weight of this existential crisis. Many of us are watching our way of life dissolve with the complete upheaval of the workforce from top to bottom, entire industries downsized or made irrelevant in a matter of weeks, millions of jobs lost or at risk, and all focus rapidly shifting to revolve around a new daily normal for which we were all unprepared. We sense the looming reality of recession and threat of national, if not global, depression which will undoubtedly exacerbate the senseless chasms between socioeconomic classes in this society and others. We feel the vast disappointment and anger for a government that fails to prepare to protect its citizens and the elected officials who lied, cheated, and abandoned their responsibilities for their personal gain. If we were to experience only one of these in any given week we would feel our stress levels jump, let alone all of this and more in the course of days. In a beautiful show of balance, the planet - slightly unburdened by the strain of our constant, overwhelming demand- seems to be slowly repairing herself, our children appear to be relatively safe from this, and we are reaching out to one another more.
In times of stress we tend to look outside of ourselves for reassurance and distraction. We might overly rely on our partners, our families, our rituals, our food, the news, the government, all of the possible projects to accomplish, and the wealth of internet fodder as distraction to escape the scariness of the unknown (on that note - have you seen the woman who gives possum massages?). With all of the uncertainty that we navigate in this human life, these habits are nearly unavoidable to develop. The truth is that we can never have absolute certainty because the future, at any point, is at best uncertain. Illness, loss, economic uncertainty, and the insecurity to fulfill our most basic needs for survival are perpetual anxieties for most even in times of great stability and gain. Our plans are easily upended by any number of interfering factors completely beyond our control. In our attempts to defend against these interfering factors we set up systems that give the illusion of control. Historically it has been our quest to personally, professionally, and politically progress as quickly and profitably as possible, and as participants of and bystanders to these systems, we forget that there is a natural rhythm and cycle to all things.
This reckoning might serve as a reminder that we are natural beings, vulnerable and subject to the natural ecology that is larger than any of us as individuals. For some this reminder is big; for others it is a smaller. We learn in circles, or really, spirals, having to personally encounter the same relational quandaries from multiple angles many different times in order to comprehend their cause and effect. Collective wisdom - that which is passed from one generation to the next - tends to decrease in value with time, each message received further from the original source becoming increasingly impersonal in nature; merely reflect on the many things our parents told us to not do that we did anyway, only to find out they were probably right (or, if you are a parent, all of the ways you try to help your child avoid pain that they promptly ignore). Wisdom can only become such by individual integration; we must be practiced in learning from our own intimate ebb and flow in order to attain it. This quality of heart mind allows us to identify what is in front of us with spaciousness and confidence.
As an example, my own brain inclines towards anxious patterns, and as has happened many times before, I was awakened last week with an intense vibration through my chest, needles throughout my body and a feverish sense of panic. Lying in the darkness feeling all of this, I was reminded of how possible, difficult, and important it is to be with both the grip of physical and emotional intensity while also feeling my inherent ok’ness in the moment. The hold loosened and I fell back to sleep in a matter of deep breaths. The only difference between last night and even five years ago is the ability recognize the ok’ness and be with both, rather than taking the bait and creating more anxiety. It’s a skill that I have had to practice so frequently that it has become more or less second nature. When intense emotions arise, it is possible to see inside our own dual reality; the ability to be with the potency of each moment in harmony with sweetness and patience is known as equanimity. Equanimity is far from indifference; it is the ability to fully engage with the entire process of life while also being wise enough to not blindly follow the seductive call to swallow and soothe our underlying fears with familiar short-term strategies. When we are willing to face our terrors and befriend them, we learn through repetition to feel the anxiety and the discomfort in accepting the unknown, unanswerable questions in life and, simultaneously, to trust that we will truly be well. Maturation in our spiritual life is relaxing into the paradoxical nature of being, and feeling more appreciation of life’s many ambiguities. We become more comfortable resting in the mystery and finding peace in our own hearts amidst the chaos. We reconnect with our deepest values and we relearn how to live from our heart. We balance, if only for moments at a time, in the space between hope and hopelessness. This is our charge.
As it nearly always happens - that is, without a plan or desire - before us awaits the opportunity to shift in depth in lieu of the width to which we are accustomed. Our collective crisis is bursting with opportunity to encounter the abstruse complexities and paradoxical nature of life, to learn from the uncomfortable stillness, quiet, insecurity and not-knowingness that we so often use our time and busyness to escape. This moment asks for our willingness to also remember to pause. It asks us to be more inclusive in a different, more subtle, and mature way. While we cannot predict what is next, we can find ease in the reality of our natural existence and learn to be with the up and down, in and out cycles of this life.
I do not know how this period will shape my own and future generations, or how it might shift the perspective of older generations, though I cannot help but lean into hope that we will shift into a more inclusive and humane worldview. I cannot offer assurance that it will not, at times long or short, be difficult and uncomfortable, as there will just as surely be moments of tremendous love, humor, joy, and connection. I can only do my part for myself, my family, and the greater community, and to offer my heartfelt certitude that we each posses the great capacity to hold all of what we encounter in the weeks, months, and years before us with tenderness and equanimity.
May we remember the strength of our hearts.