Fear & Compassion

Memoir

Last week I decided to stop looking at any and all sources of news and current event information.

The result?

Instant relief; sustaining well-being.

The anger, anxiety, frustration, and stress that I would feel in reaction to this content is all gone.

It seemed like everything was bad news. And with this obsessive focus on the negative were storylines that always included blaming, shaming, and polarizing.

The refusal to accept life as it is, and our scarcity culture (with all its finger-pointing, division, hatred, and messaging that we are not enough), come from a place of fear.

Fear of change.
Fear of loss or lack of control.
Fear of uncertainty.
Fear of illness.
Fear of death.

I’m trying to feel compassion for the fear-mongers and the fearful.

This is a challenge – my anger at the injustice and selfishness can get in the way. It’s hard to drop my own pointing finger of judgment that I have aimed at what I think is wrong.

Can I be critical and compassionate at the same time?

I suppose that I believe in my own version of what is “right” and what is “true” as much as other people believe in theirs.

We all handle fear differently.

Fear is not meant to be avoided, denied, conquered, eliminated, repressed, or weaponized.

In doing so, the mind is poisoned and we lose sight of our connection with our integrity, with others, and with our calling to constructively respond to reality.

Fear is biological and natural – like other emotions, it sends us messages and offers an invitation to work kindly with it as we pay attention, learn what’s underneath the feeling and could benefit from our care, and take responsible action.

Not everyone understands this about fear. (I didn’t for most of my life). And even those who do understand may not be able to summon the courage and strength required to work with this challenging emotion. (I certainly can’t all of the time).

Remembering this helps me as I practice extending compassion to everyone… including myself.

Complaisant & Complicit

Memoir

How often we proclaim “I would have…” and then launch into a fantasy narrative in which we shine as the brave, bold, outspoken hero in a situation that demands action and justice.

The reality is that it’s easy to say; not easy to do – we’re often blanched and quelled in the face of adversity or confrontation.

There was a particular situation years ago in which I was frozen with inaction… I’m still working on forgiving myself for not speaking up; I’m still working on releasing myself from the subsequent shame.

I was in the private banquet room of a restaurant, dropping by for a few minutes to see a young man who was going to be married that weekend. All of the guests were men except for myself, a collegiate woman, and her mother. I didn’t know the groom or anyone else gathered there – I wasn’t even introduced to them. I was the “plus one” of the groom’s cousin, so I only knew him, his parents, and his siblings. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, an outsider stuck within this raucous fray.

When the group of men discovered that one of their friends wasn’t coming to the lunch, they called him on speakerphone and when his voicemail picked up, they all chanted Bitch! Bitch! Bitch! repeatedly before hanging up and laughing proudly at their brazenness.

I was stunned..

Incredulous. Disgusted. Furious.

Silent.

I looked at the young men’s fathers – they were laughing too.

I looked at my date’s parents – they shrugged their shoulders.

I looked at my date’s young siblings – they looked uncomfortable, but said nothing.

I looked at my date – he was composed, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening.

We left shortly afterwards and I felt sick.

My date told me sharply not to say anything; that I was hypersensitive and overreacting.

So I swallowed my feelings and my words.

The disgust I felt about the behavior I witnessed turned inward, as I berated myself for not speaking up with the group and not speaking up with my date.

I felt so dirty, so disappointed in myself.

I continued to smother my thoughts and feelings in other situations with this man and his family, repressing and burying my truth, dignity, and self until I could no longer bear the weight of the mask and armor of feigned normalcy – the day this man told me he was “a victim of the matriarchy” was the end for me, and I severed all connection and contact.

Though all of this happened years ago, my silence haunts me – I failed to act, and that absence became a gaping hole of shame.

I discussed this recently with my partner, exploring the deep roots of my aversion to feeling passive, submissive, weak.

I’m working to wash myself clean; to forgive myself for being complaisant and complicit in situations when my spirit struggled and my integrity ached to be actualized.

My partner kindly suggested that I “acknowledge the Being within that is doing good now” – and that filled me with tenderness and warmth.

I have learned from this experience, and through reflection and self-compassion I can unshackle myself from the past to focus on the person I am today – strong, steadfast, never again to be silenced.

Negativity & Gratitude

Memoir, Photography

It’s so easy to be swept up by all the negativity; to feel crushed and drowning in the undertow.

Every day there is fresh pain erupting from wounds that have not yet had the chance to scab or heal.

Every day the lines of division and hatred burrow deeper trenches; erect higher barricades.

Every day The Other becomes a more dangerous and loathsome enemy in the ongoing war against anything perceived as different, opposing, threatening.

Every day the justification feverishly escalates to polarize, condemn, attack, conquer, and eliminate.

I recognize that much of my thoughts, moods, and expressions are reflections of my exposure to this negativity, and I’m committed to being responsible about how I project this in my mind, communication, and interactions.

The practice of gratitude keeps me from being completely overwhelmed by the disgust, hopelessness, frustration, and fear that I feel in response to all this madness in the world outside my home.

There are many things for which I am thankful, including that I am healthy and privileged enough to be creating and sharing this message.

I would like to honor the blessings that have been shining a light in the darkness of recent days, filling my heart with happiness and gratitude.

To start this series, I’ll carry on a tradition that I used to enjoy years ago in photography forums – Caturday.

Leto is a constant source of joy, wonder, and love.

I am so thankful to have found him, to be able to provide him with a healthy, safe, and loving home, and to spend each day marveling at his beauty, mischief, tranquility, and sweet affection.

For Good

Memoir

I am trying to regulate and process thoughts and reactions in the most healthy and helpful way possible.

Some of the emotions feel destructive – I want to channel them into something constructive.

What do I do with this anger, disgust, frustration?

What do I do with this fear, helplessness, hopelessness?

I feel like I’m on an island, looking out at a vast sea of apathy and selfishness.

Pandemic numbers continue to rise, including record-breaking highs here in Florida… and yet rather than choosing restraint, patience, compromise, consideration, and kindness, citizens and politicians continue to defy, deny, distract.

People are sick or dead because of those who choose comfort, ego, and immediate gratification over courage, rationale, safety, and compassion.

Where, when, how does this end?

I can’t let the anger fuel me.

I can’t let the fear consume me.

How can I use these emotions for good?

Courage

Memoir

During our bedtime ritual last night, my daughter asked me to explain courage to her.

I paused, reflected, and said that courage is feeling scared and still choosing to do the right thing.

I offered a couple of practical, universal examples:

Your friends are engaging in hurtful or harmful behavior – you’re afraid that if you don’t go along with them, that they will ridicule or reject you… but you know in your heart that what they’re doing is wrong.

Courage is feeling scared, and choosing to stand up for yourself; for others; for what is right… courage is saying No, I’m not going to be a part of this – even if this means you’re going to make fun of me or not want to be my friend anymore. A true friend wouldn’t act like this anyway.

Apologizing is another form of courage. It feels scary to admit that you’ve done wrong; it feels scary to approach the person that you hurt with your actions. Regardless of their reaction to your heartfelt apology, being brave and saying you’re sorry is the right thing to do… and it will heal and strengthen you.

Courage is connected with our values, and when we act from that place we deepen our sense of self-worth and build confidence and conviction.

Everytime we bravely choose to do the right thing, we feel and see that we are more powerful than our fear.

Courage is love in action.

Learning To Love Again

Memoir, Photography

After losing my beloved Odin to kidney failure a few years ago, I thought I would never be able to have another cat again. The story of that love and that loss is best shared another time, when I’m ready to sit with the grief and let all the memories and emotions wash over me and form the proper words.

Today is a different story; a new beginning.

The absence of animal energy in my home was rivaling the aching in my heart in the void left behind when Odin died. Something stirred inside of me, and I knew it was time – I was ready to love again.

Last week I went to the shelter at our local Humane Society. There I met a small and slender Russian Blue with whom I felt an instant connection. This is what I wrote to capture the sensations and impressions from our interaction:

Curious and cautious.
Inquisitive.
Comfortable enough to be
Vulnerable.
Large liquid eyes
Taking me all in.
Curves and contours.
Smoky gray,
Downy soft.
Stretching in permission and pleasure
As I stroked and scratched
Jaw, chin, head, back, belly.
Quiet and calm.
Trusting.
Soon we will belong to each other.

I called my partner, told him that I think this was it; that it felt right, and sent him this picture from the meeting room:

Go for it, he told me. Do it. So I did. I chose love. I chose LETO.

(Originally named Leo by the shelter, but I added the “t” in honor of the God Emperor of Dune.)

After the processing and paperwork, I discovered that Leto was born on my partner’s birthday this year… and that sealed it for me. We were meant to be.

I brought him home and surprised my daughter with this unexpected addition to our family. She was overjoyed, my partner was delighted, and I could feel myself thawing; slowly opening up to this new relationship.

Leto is a darling little boy – pouncey, playful, cuddly, curious, squeaky, sweet, lazy, loving – a quintessential kitten.

I’m making an effort to focus on what makes Leto unique, and not just comparing him to Odin. Although the other day when he started biting my book, leaving tiny toothmarks on the page, I couldn’t help but fondly recall the similar ways that Odin would demand my attention.

I used to worry that I would somehow be dishonoring Odin’s legacy and the love we shared if I adopted another cat. He was prideful and possessive, so I feared that moving on would be an affront to his spirit. I also worry that creating new memories would make the old ones fade and dissolve, like I’d be losing Odin in another way, until all that remains are photographs but without substance to their story.

But I don’t want to live in fear anymore. I don’t want to be a prisoner to my grief. I want to love again, to be loved again, even though I know that to love is to lose; that pain is inextricably woven in the tapestry of connection, braided with joy and gratitude.

So here I am, once again sharing my heart and home with a miraculous creature who brings wonder, delight, humor, affection, and inspiration to my life.

I’m learning to love again.

Remember

Memoir

I write in a private notebook constantly.

It’s cathartic, therapeutic, and creative.

Often my journaling will take the form of addressing myself directly, and this includes reminders to help strengthen and guide me in challenging times.

Here is one of those entries, which I believe can apply to all of us…


Remember to be clear and honest with your intentions, expectations, and actions.

Remember to zoom out and look at the whole picture with clarity of focus and honesty.

Remember that you can trust your intuition about what matters and what should not be dramatized, fretted over, or inflated with inaccurate importance.

Remember that integrity is doing the right thing even if no one is watching.

Remember how you do not want to feel, and that means not choosing the options / actions that result in these unwanted feelings.

Remember that you know your triggers and can use that awareness to control yourself.

Remember that you always have a choice.

Remember that you have the power to be a person that you look up to.

Remember to practice the qualities that you admire and appreciate in others.

Remember to keep it simple by choosing kindness and good orderly direction.

Remember that you are enough, right-now-as-you-are.

Remember that you are worthy of love.

Tired

Memoir

I’m tired.

Tired of the words COVID, pandemic, virus, wear a mask, wash your hands, sanitize, quarantine, lockdown, social distancing.

Tired of saying “I don’t know” to my daughter everytime she asks when this will be over.

Tired of hearing my daughter say “I just want this to be over.”

Tired of thinking “I just want this to be over.”

Tired of frustration and impatience.

Tired of feeling drained, demotivated, disconnected.

Tired of lethargy and loneliness.

Tired of uncertainty.

Tired of crying.

Tired of pacing around the apartment, going from living room to bedroom and back again.

Tired of walking the same loop in the neighborhood around the lake; the same little path in the neighborhood woods.

Tired of sitting on the couch.

Tired of wondering when I will be able to see my loved ones around the country and across the world again.

Tired of wondering when my daughter will be able to be around other children again.

Tired of wondering when our family will be able to vacation and travel again.

Tired of seeing people not wearing masks and not socially distancing.

Tired of feeling angry and judgmental about those people.

Tired of having the health and life of myself, my loved ones, our community, our world endangered by apathy, ignorance, and selfishness.

Tired of a reality that I didn’t cause or create, that I don’t deserve, that could have been avoided if we had actual leadership and if that leadership had acted with rationale, empathy, and responsibility instead of denial, greed, and a flagrant disregard for life.

I’m tired.

Empathy & Honesty

Memoir

I have put off writing this.

Put off, put off, put off.

I have avoided, delayed, distracted, made excuses.

First it was about privacy; my discomfort with sharing my thoughts and experiences with strangers – justifying to myself that sharing my poetry was different because I was somehow removed from those words and the feelings they expressed due to the form and structure of the writing; that the writing was abstract and not too personal or revealing.

Next it was about my state of mind; my depleted energy – the despair, loneliness, sadness; the anxiety and uncertainty. I couldn’t find the will to write, not after a full day of having to keep it together for my job; for my daughter; for my partner. Hours and hours of having to find a way to interact, to smile, to normalize, to strategize self-care, to avoid the feelings of entrapment and resentment and hopelessness that were closing in on me.

Then it was about comparison – who am I to bemoan my situation when I am still healthy, employed, sheltered, fed, and loved? What is my suffering in light of the agony of the sick, and their loved ones, and those who are abused and oppressed?

Finally it was the guilt of privilege that kept me silent. The privilege of having the access and technology to share this post; the privilege of having the education that afforded me the skills to be able to write it. The privilege of having steady employment, income to pay the bills with money left over, a safe home, a vehicle, a phone, clothes, food, entertainment. The privilege of having access to a library brimming with free books that can slake my thirst for imagination and information. The privilege of options. The privilege of safety. The privilege of not having to fear or fight, or my child not having to fear or fight, cruelty, discrimination, hatred, injustice, systematic oppression, violence, murder because of our beliefs, ethnicity, orientation.

But the words refuse to stay bottled up and pushed down inside of me.

The words are in my blood and my breath and my hands now.

I search for a glimmer of promise that a world ravaged by a pandemic will soon find and distribute a safe cure to end this illness; that a world ravaged by fear, hatred, and intolerance in all its disgusting forms will actualize true reconciliation and reform to uphold the right to dignity, equality, and safety for all people; that apathy, greed, and selfishness will be replaced with compassion, generosity, and serious, sustaining action to heal and protect animals, the environment, and humanity.

Let us honor the experiences and feelings of others – amplify the voices of those who deserve and need to be heard. Consider the causes that stir your spirit and take action. Help to influence and implement growth and improvement – in your life, your home, your interactions, your community, your country, your world.

If you are reading this and feel angry, depressed, frightened, hopeless, but desperately wanting release, relief, and progressive change – you are not alone.

Share your story; I will continue to share mine with empathy and honesty.