Violence Doesn’t Solve Fear

Today in the news we again have violence against black people, in McKinney TX at a teenage pool party, of all places. I have held my peace on my blog about this but today is the last straw for me. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m passionate about social justice, and in my offline life I’m a board member for the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission. So honestly it’s really high time I use my blog as a platform for what I want to say about this.

First of all, I am a gun violence survivor. I watched my sisters get murdered in front of me. And because of that, I went through an entire personal evolution of how I approached gun safety in this country. At first I was fully supportive of the lack of regulation on the right to bear arms. I even went through the entire class to get a conceal carry permit. And then I thought about it.

I could not, EVER, inflict upon ANY person irregardless of how “evil” they were, the same thing that I saw kill my sisters. I couldn’t. It would break me. And I knew that if I conceal carried a weapon, that would be the responsibility on my shoulders.

So at that moment I decided that for myself, I would never conceal carry. Not ever.

Let me be clear. I am not anti conceal carry. I am not about taking away anyone’s 2nd amendment rights. But what I do think is that they should be regulated, and I have several reasons why. Today was one of them.

Why do I bring this up in conjunction with McKinney?

Because we have a country that promotes systemic violence across all platforms, to the war in Iraq to police brutality on the streets of our cities. If there is a problem, welp, we swagger on in and solve it. How? Stark Industries style: “I’ve got a bigger weapon than you.” Our entire mindset on how to feel in control (when we feel out of control) is to use violence.

And in McKinney, the police officer pulled a gun in a situation which did not warrant violence.

My dad taught me to NEVER EVER point a gun at someone I didn’t intend to shoot. My dad only ever used shotguns for pheasant hunting, but he had been given a thorough lesson in gun safety and passed that on to us. I can imagine the kind of training that officer was given, and I am 100% sure that officer was told the same thing.

Pulling a gun and pointing it at someone in a situation, because you are afraid, is never okay. Pulling a gun as a policeman, who is an officer meant to sustain peace, is even less okay.

I watched the video. I don’t normally watch these kinds of videos because they are highly triggering for me. But I watched this one. And what I saw was a man who was terrified and out of control. Cursing constantly, running back and forth, and pulling a gun on kids who had never even made out as if they were going to hurt him. The kids all just wanted answers. The cop was freaking out and trying to gain control.

I know this reaction intimately because this is exactly how my dad used to react when he was afraid. He would yell and scream and act erratic. It’s familiar to me. It’s also how I react when I’m afraid.

Furthermore, I know fear. Intimately. I would say that fear and anxiety is the number one thing I’ve been working with for the past year. And here are some things that I know. When I become aggressive, either against myself or other, this doesn’t solve my fear or make me feel more in control. It actually stirs it up further. The more I try to be “in control”, the less in control I am. I am reacting to the feeling of fear within me by trying to gain control.

On the basic, most simple level, when I am reacting to fear within myself by trying to regulate, self-police, and control myself, I am acting with aggression towards myself, and my body responds accordingly. It tenses up, becomes rigid, and my mind runs around trying frantically to generate solutions to stave off what it is I fear.

On a macro level, I see it in the United States. What we do in this country is react. Fear comes up, and we strike out. It may not even be clear what we are afraid of, but perhaps it’s the simplest and most common thing – death. We don’t want to die, so we react by trying to be in control. And in the United States (as in myself), it seems that control equals aggression.

Today in McKinney, a man meant to bring peace instead lost control and became an instigator of aggression. He wrestled a 14 year old teenage girl to the ground, then pulled a gun on teenagers who were just trying to figure out what was going on. In my mind, pulling a gun marks his intention, which sickens me. And as a gun violence survivor I need to tell you. This has got to stop.

The ways in which we approach our fear has got to change.

It is so very very easy to approach fear with the mindset of wiping it off the face of the map, whether it be with drone strikes or with pointing a gun at innocent teenagers. It’s so very very easy for me to approach fear with self-policing, obsessive thinking, and trying to eradicate it from my mind. Do they seem disconnected to you? They are very related. Outer change never comes without inner change, first.

We react to fear as a country with aggression, because we react to our own inner fear with aggression, either against ourselves or by lashing out at those closest to us. Until we begin to learn on a personal level how to respond to fear instead of react, the problem will never be solved. The problem of violence. The problem of systemic injustice – whether that be race, gender, class, or anything else.

Why? Because fear is blinding. You and I both have had the experience of fear blinding us to what the reality is. And until we can learn to respond, we will never see the truth: Black lives matter. What is more, we will never see an even deeper, more profound truth:

I matter.

So I will not self aggress, nor will I aggress against those I love or anyone else. I will not treat my shadow as though it is the enemy.

Until we can stop reacting to our shadows instead of responding in love, this issue will never be solved. So this is what I am challenging you. Are you wondering what you can do as a white person to change the systemic violence in the United States? Are you wondering how to show the public at large that black lives indeed DO matter?

Start with yourself.

Address the shadow within yourself. Stop running from it. Stop trying to fight, fade, or fix it – which are all acts of self aggression. Listen deeply to yourself. Stop reacting to your shadow by yelling at or otherwise hurting the person who triggered it. As you stop inflicting violence on yourself, you’ll naturally stop inflicting violence on others. As you start listening deeply to yourself, you’ll naturally start listening to others. You’ll naturally be moved to get involved with movements for peace and justice.

The buck starts with you. It starts with me. No one said this is easy work. But are you willing to pay the cost for change?

If so – join me.

Footnote:
First, I address this solution to white people as I am a white person and can’t pretend to know how black people need to work to solve this systemic violence. I will not speak on their behalf. But I will give other white people like myself a mode of true, heart led action.
Second, I point out black lives because of the systemic violence so obviously inflicted against them. Life in general matters, certainly, but the egregious violence against black people in our country needs to be addressed head on.

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Just Keep Following (the heartlines on your hands)

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/zionfiction/
Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/zionfiction/

Oh the river, oh the river, it’s running free.
And oh the joy, oh the joy it brings to me.
But I know it’ll have to drown me,
Before I can breathe easy.
And I’ve seen it in the flights of birds,
I’ve seen it in you.
The entrails of the animals,
The blood running through.
But in order to get to the heart,
I think sometimes you’ll have to cut through.
But you can’t…

We will carry…
We will carry you there…

Just keep following!
The heartlines on your hand!
-Florence and the Machine

I’m now down to the last couple of weeks of my yoga teacher training (say it isn’t so!). We’ve just moved into learning through the lens of the heart chakra. Each time we move to a new chakra, I’m surprised to learn the deep ways in which it is applying to me right now.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been seeking more silence to let my heart arise, as I spoke about in my last post. My mind has this little habit of getting in the way. A lot. It chatters all day long, just nonsense. Or whatever I happen to be worrying about at the time, it chews on over and over. It reminds me of how they talk about the locusts in the Little House series, the constant chewing that Laura heard all day every day, eating up all the plants. It gives me a crawly feeling.

There’s a sutra by Patanjali that is translated by Nischala Joy Devi to mean “Yoga is the uniting of consciousness at the heart.” It is elsewhere known as “Yoga is the state of cessation of the whirling of the mind.” I like Nischala Devi’s version. Instead of focusing on what Yoga ceases to do (what I need to cease doing), it focuses on the outcome – uniting of consciousness in the heart.

This focus is helpful for me, too. I can focus on ceasing the constant chewing fluctuations of my mind, OR, I can focus on uniting my consciousness at my heart.

To those not in the Yoga world, that language is high falutin and heavy. I’m not one to want to always use the language of the group I find myself in at the time; I think it’s limiting to other’s understanding. Instead, here’s what I’d like to tell you about uniting consciousness in the heart, based on my own experience.

I have struggled with anxiety for years. It came to the forefront when I stopped drinking, but it was there beforehand. I just had no awareness of it. When I stopped drinking, I got to see my anxiety front and center. I’ve had the chance to observe it the past almost 3 years. And as I do I realize it’s plagued me since I was a small child. I grew up in an atmosphere where I was only allowed to do things if they followed “the family rules” which were inconsistent and hard to determine. As a result I developed a ridiculously sensitive conscience and what I think is the origin of my anxiety.

Doing things in a self-empowered, heart-centered way is extremely foreign to me. Beginning last year in May/June, I started switching to this mode of life. It’s the reason I stopped going to 12 step recovery, stopped my love addiction recovery, started my yoga teacher training. I selected this teacher training mainly due to the empowerment aspect of it. I’m not seeking another person to tell me what to do. I’m seeking an empowered life.

It’s not easy. Because it requires finding the “still point in the turning world” (as e.e. cummings says) and rising out of the dark of that silence to quietly pursue what my heart prompts of me.

I have a different view of the heart, also. There’s millions of life coaches on the internet right now preaching following your desires, finding work you love, that kind of thing. While this has its merit, I think it can get a little skewed. Because in many ways I think you first have to reveal the heart. Which is another reason I took up Yoga. Yoga is all about learning to reveal the heart that lies beneath.

So yes, follow your bliss. But first – clear the mirror so you know what your bliss IS. That’s the message for me. Follow the bliss, from the True Self and the true heart center. Easy? Not necessarily

(maybe it is for you, each person is different in their journey). But worth it… most likely. I don’t know yet, honestly. I’m still learning. I just know that I’m really tired of living by the dictates of other people and I want to empower myself.

Maybe that means walking in the dark for awhile before I find myself, but maybe the unknown, silent, dark is where it’s at. As one of my favorite poems says,

 There is in God (some say)
A deep, but dazzling darkness; As men here   50
Say it is late and dusky, because they
        See not all clear;
    O for that night! where I in him
    Might live invisible and dim.

– Henry Vaughan

Sometimes God/the Divine/my Higher Self is found in the dark. So I’ll just keep following these heartlines on my hands.

This is Real

It is so frustrating when I am in the middle of making dinner and realize I need another pan, but I take one look at what I’d have to do to get one, and I completely shut down. I decide not to wilt the kale and sear the garlic. I decide to just go with what I have because it’s too much effort to wash a pan. It would be one thing if this was just once a week, but when it’s every damn night, it gets debilitating.

When every day I go to work and I usually start out okay, but by the middle of the day I’m slumped in my desk chair. Or the reality that many mornings, before I go out the door in the morning, I’m playing that poem I recently posted over and over again just to give myself the courage to go to work. Even the fact that I have that poem half-memorized from reciting it to myself so much to just give myself courage.

“Some people will never understand the superpower it takes for some people to just walk outside…” “…screaming for their pulse to find the fight to pound…” “every time I hurt I know the wound is an echo so I keep listening for the moment that grief becomes a window…” “…knowing their is a chance our hearts have only just skinned their knees…” “…friend if the only thing we have to gain in staying is each other, my god that is plenty, my god that is enough, my god that is so so much for the light to give…” “…live, live, live…” (From The Madness Vase by Andrea Gibson)

I went to the doctor today. And it wasn’t for my body, it was for my soul. It may have been a medical doctor, but I needed an emotional one. When I reeled out my history, how I’ve struggled with depression since I was 15, he asked why I hadn’t been on medication before. “My parents kind of didn’t believe in doctors, and also I have a lot of neglect in my past.” That statement was loaded.

It also wasn’t completely every morsel of truth. I am stubborn. And everyone has told me – “Once you get divorced it will be better. Once you do the steps it will be better. Once you get through EMDR, it will be better.” The past 2 months have proven it to me that it’s not better. No matter what I do, I am chewing glass constantly. It’s why my smile has such an intense sparkle.

My friends know I’ve been tossing around the idea of medication for at least a year now. In actuality it’s been 2 years since I first came across this idea. The telling thing is that my mind hasn’t changed. I’ve had periods of up time, periods where I smile and I’m happy and I’m okay. But I always drop back down again into the dark, and it’s tiring. I’m tired of bouncing along the bottom.

The past 2 months have been the worst in a very long time. I have lost all motivation. I am sure it has something to do with starting a new full time supervisor job and totally changing my career path. But my career path too just served as a way to keep me running. There is a Pablo Neruda poem that I love that says:

“If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death.”

Except, that my silence is filled with sadness I’ve never taken time to stop and face. Now that I have taken time to stop and face it, it’s hit me like a ton of bricks. “And the bass keeps runnin’ runnin’ and runnin’ runnin’ and runnin’ runnin and runnin’ runnin’ and…”

Somehow I have always wanted this to happen, though. Somehow I have always felt that I’m just outrunning myself and I want permission to just stop, collapse, admit I really am not okay and line up my external reality with my internal one.

I did a daylong meditation retreat on Sunday and it was horrible. The idea of it was lovely. The thought and intention behind it was fantastic. But we started with a meditation connecting with our body, and it was then I realized just how much emotional pain I’m holding in my body. A LOT. I was all choked up. And the whole day was about sitting with unpleasant feelings. I had pretty much only unpleasant feelings and meditating felt like absolute torture. I wanted to be anywhere but my body. There were other meditation events this week that I was planning on attending, but I haven’t. It feels much too raw.

I knew even more surely that I needed to take next steps.

I was terrified going into the doctor’s office today and jittery from drinking only coffee and having no breakfast. They asked me to fill out the medical history form, of course, and they asked about mental illness. For the first time I stared at that in recognition. Then I marked:

Mom: Depressed.
Dad: Mentally ill. Thyroid.
Grandparents: Mentally ill. Bile duct cancer. Depression. Anti-psychotics.

I stared at the page in shock. I don’t think I’ve ever so concretely put down the fact that my father is mentally ill. My mother is mentally ill. My grandparents, also mentally ill. My parents are undiagnosed. But it’s obvious. The questionnaire didn’t ask about aunts, uncles, cousins, and that would have been even more revealing. I’ve known these things, but never written them so clearly in front of my face. I felt the cold reality of this whole thing settling over me. My DNA was a mess of strange genes, and I was a petri dish that a bunch of them had gathered in.

So I told the doctor (a cool guy who blends Eastern AND Western medicine) some of my history. That I had been in counseling for PTSD, and why. That I’d been depressed off and on since I was 15. Divorced. Crazy family“Why weren’t you on medication before this?” All of my friends have been shocked at this very thing – that I have never been medicated.

After explaining my symptomology, the doctor prescribed me Zoloft, with instructions to pay attention to its affects. He’s concerned (I’m concerned, too) that I might have Bipolar II, and if so, Zoloft will make my manic states worse, so I’m instructed to look for that. He asked me to get a nutrition lab done so we can look for any markers in my nutrition that might cause depression, too.

I was also told not to date. I quote – “You’ll be a new person next year after we get this thing sorted out so you don’t want to get into anything before then.”  I don’t know how I feel about that, to be honest; I’m tired of avoiding dating. But maybe it’s just a signal that I can take things more slowly and just ease into friendships with men, like I have been. But that’s a whoooole other post.

I left the office feeling both relieved and totally different. Something pinches my heart with a strong thumb and forefinger, and the resulting pain and bruising is proof that it’s not a dream. The reality is: I am now a person prescribed to take depression medication. I am depressed.

This is real.

Object Lessons

 I can tend to compulsively manage my life. I do this in three areas especially: finances, recovery, and school. If you’ve been reading this blog for a couple months, you know about the financial stress I put myself under. Each thing has its place, and each place has its thing. As I told my therapist in our session last week, my life is like a row of little boxes, spaced perfectly evenly. If I happen to knock one of them even 1/16 of an inch from its position, I have massive anxiety. In fact, this what what our entire session was about last week. The session got far more intense than even I expected, and more personal than I’m going to detail here.

Unsurprisingly, this week has been my object lesson.

It began Monday night, which was of course the night before I started my semester. Some recovery things came up where I wasn’t DOING MY RECOVERY PERFECTLY. Oh, and this did come up in the middle of the night, also.

For this situation, I texted a recovery friend the next morning, emailed my sponsor, and then had dinner with another recovery friend after a meeting that evening.  The consensus was clear – have compassion on yourself. All three of these individuals said that, and they hadn’t even talked to each other beforehand! Imagine.

The next day, I found out I had a massive problem with one of my classes that I am required to have to graduate; I was waitlisted, and all the caps were raised so it was absolutely impossible for me to get into a class. The associate dean of my department, who I just happen to be TAing for this semester, told me to go talk to some people about a portfolio I could submit in place of taking the class. She also very graciously gave me permission to use her name when I went and talked to them. I came away from the conversation with the student worker with an inconclusive answer, so I turned around and emailed the portfolio director, CC’ing the associate dean. Then I had to wait. Meanwhile I’d already decided to stop trying to get into the class and just enroll in something else, which caused me a lot of anxiety. But I made the decision based on the suggestion of the associate dean, choosing to trust someone higher up than myself. And I didn’t hear back from the director before I had to give up my internet connection (which I don’t have at home).

In the end, last night, when I could have been at my most anxious, I decided to do something new. I decided to trust powers bigger than myself. In this situation, that included the associate dean of my department, and my HP. I journaled my thoughts out. Then I turned the lights off and did compassion (metta) meditation until I fell asleep less than 5 minutes later.

Normally, when I am anxious about something, it keeps me up for hours and I have to take melatonin to sleep. It’s amazing what happens for me when I decide to let it go and trust that I am not the only one in charge of my life.

Needless to say, when I checked my email yesterday morning, my school issues were all worked out, and my schedule is now better than before. I am able to take a much funner class than my prerequisite class, actually. A class called Wellness, Resilience, and Emotional Intelligence. Irony, anyone? 🙂

What do you do when your anxiety takes over? How do you calm yourself down?