Changing Climates

5 05 2016

“The world has been abnormal for so long that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to live in a peaceful and reasonable climate. If there is to be any peace or reason, we have to create it in our own hearts and homes.” —Madeleine L’Engle, A Swiftly Tilting Planet

I don’t remember when I first read A Swiftly Tilting Planet. As with so many of the books that have stayed with me, what I can remember is the feeling of my mind expanding as I flew through the pages. So much happens in the story line that I wouldn’t attempt a synopsis of the book here. However, in the story the world is on the brink of nuclear annihilation. In this tense and terrifying moment, Meg (our heroine) learns that everything is connected. Everything is connected. Therefore, it matters what she does – even if it is something so seemingly insignificant as what she allows to live within her own heart.

I copied down the quote, above, and have kept it easily to hand for many years. It is said by Meg’s father to remind his family that, in the fateful hour in which they find themselves, they each have something to contribute to the good. I have used the quote, over the years, to remind myself that creating peace and reason in my own heart is crucial to finding it in the world beyond me.

Peaceful and reasonable. These are qualities I strive for, values (peace and reason) I hold deeply. But we humans don’t start there – we get there through intention and effort. And not by overvaluing our intellectual selves at the expense of our emotional selves. We have emotions; we feel things deeply because if we did not, we would always maintain the status quo. Growth – whether on a personal or global scale – only happens with the emotional impetus to change.

However, if we operate only at the feeling stage, we spend our energies expressing but not creating. Don’t misunderstand me: expression of our emotions is a powerful thing – and when we’re coming to terms with hurtful experiences or attempting to find/use our voices despite repression, suppression, or oppression it is an absolutely necessary thing.

And then what?

I’ve watched the news throughout this political season with interest and horror. All my life, I’ve believed many of the things Bernie Sanders stands for, and found abhorrent most of what Donald Trump espouses. But as I see shouting matches devolving into violence and entrenchment, I am reminded that we are living in an abnormal climate. How am I, one person, supposed to have an effect on that?

And then I remember that I do and I can have an effect on it – because everything is connected. Madeleine L’Engle was the first to introduce me to quantum theory, but she certainly wasn’t the last. In college theology courses, I studied Teilhard de Chardin and first learned about the concept of the noosphere. And in recent decades, science has been proving, with break-through after break-through, that what I think and feel does, indeed, have an impact that reaches far beyond my own self.

With that in mind, you will not see me throwing my hands up in an act of surrender. You will not hear me declaring that I give up – or that if things don’t go the way I want them to I will wash my hands of responsibility and leave it for others to take the blame. But neither will you see me engaging in shouting or shoving matches. My most intense struggles will be internal – attempting to quiet my agitation long enough to experience a peaceful heart and a reasonable mind. Whenever I can reach that place internally, I will do my best to project it outward. Because of all the things I think I know, the one I believe with every fiber of my being is that everything is connected. EveryONE is connected.

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Ineffable Gratitude

22 11 2012

This week we have been experiencing fog. I love fog, the way it takes the familiar and makes it strange and mysterious. The way it hides some things completely, yet reveals others in striking detail, highlighting these objects so that you see them with new eyes. Fog makes sound confusing, muffling it and disorienting the listener (on a walk Tuesday, a friend and I kept hearing a sharp report like gun fire, yet we looked in opposite directions for its source). I don’t have a word for the effect fog has on my psyche. It is enchanting, disorienting, occasionally even frightening. All at once.

The same words can be used to describe how I have experienced this year. 2012 has been odd for me, full of true peaks and desperately low valleys. Yet both have primarily been experienced on an interior level, visible only to me. It has been as if I have been walking in my own emotional landscape during a prolonged season of fog. There are occasional signposts, infrequent landmarks that suggest I have been here before, that I do in fact know this terrain. Still, it has felt strange.

I have often been reminded, this year, of Denise Levertov’s poem, “Zeroing In”. In it, we listen as two people discuss their interior landscapes.

“I am a landscape,” he said.
“a landscape and a person walking in that landscape.
There are daunting cliffs there,
And plains glad in their way
of brown monotony…

They suggest that there are places that we come upon, wandering our emotional landscapes, which without warning sink us in a quagmire or (worse) jump at us like a biting dog.

“I know,” she said. “When I set forth
to walk in myself, as it might be
on a fine afternoon, forgetting,
sooner or later I come to where sedge
and clumps of white flowers, rue perhaps,
mark the bogland, and I know
there are quagmires there that can pull you
down, and sink you in bubbling mud.”

They say we learn to leap away from unexpected contact with these places:

  “Yes, we learn that
It’s not terror, it’s pain we’re talking about:
those places in us…
…that are bruised forever”

(read the entire poem here)

Fog. Internal landscapes. Emotional pain. Not exactly the traditional fare of Thanksgiving posts. That said, this post is, indeed, about thanksgiving – mine. My gratitude for the unexpected breadth and depth of feelings experienced in this ethereally fogged-up landscape of my soul.

For many years of my life, I kept myself well-defended within a fortress of walls too thick to allow much feeling to permeate. Those of you who have been on this journey with me know that, by grace, those walls were sent crashing down a couple of years ago. In the aftermath, there was a rebound into joy, liveliness, excessive positive energy. It was lovely, but even as I experienced it I suspected it wasn’t sustainable. I had no idea what to expect on the next leg of the journey, but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t remain at those heights.

It turns out that the current segment of my life’s path is the one that reminds me I am an ordinary human. I am being reacquainted with the reality of the human condition – we can use many means to escape into numbness, but numbness is not our natural state. Our natural state includes both joy and sorrow, hope and despair, love and loss, high and low. And not just these opposite endpoints, but the full spectrum of each.

Does it sound strange to say, “I am grateful for the lake of tears I have shed this year” or “Thanks for the epic roller coaster ride of emotions?” I suspect it does, and in some ways I surprise myself by saying it – because there have been days when I desperately missed my fortress of denial.

There is something ineffable here, though.

Ineffable:  1.  Too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words: “ineffable beauty”.
2.  Too sacred to be uttered.

Wow, did you catch that? Too sacred to be uttered. The gift of our humanity, of full participation in this life we have been born into and made for. It isn’t so much that I am at a loss for words, as that the right words cannot be found, cannot be uttered. And so Thanksgiving finds me able only to offer humble thanks for the bounty of a difficult (and fulfilling, and happy, and challenging) full- spectrum year.