It happened again this week. After seeing the dashcam footage of the police shooting of Philando Castile for a while I had no words. My initial comment on my friend’s Facebook post was Heart. Aches.
And it did – for so many reasons. Some I could name, others only feel. The one though, that I was most aware of from the beginning was seeing the little girl getting out of the car. What in the world, I thought, will the impact on her of all this be?
The next day I saw further footage released. The blurry images and voices of Castile’s girlfriend and their daughter – that little girl trying to comfort her Mama “Mama, please don’t scream ’cause I don’t want you to get shooted.” … “I can keep you safe.” And I got it. That’s why I’d been so impacted by the image of her the day before.
Hearing her words brought the clarity. Though I’ve never faced anything as violently traumatic as she had, the little girl I’d been many years ago knew the feeling of being in a world that was confusing – not just to me, but to the adults around me. And since they didn’t seem to be able to figure it out, I felt responsible for keeping things ‘safe’, and for looking after everything and everyone.
As a little girl, I had no way of knowing how far-reaching the impact of feeling responsible for all these things that were not mine would be. Over the years I’ve had a lot of experience of noticing, accepting, and nurturing myself in the practical steps of coming back home to me. And, at this point of my life, I can recognize and acknowledge the way every step of my journey has made me the woman I am today.
Image – Pedro de Sousa in Unsplash
One of our wise elders, Parker Palmer, has written “Heartbreak is an inevitable and painful part of life. But there are at least two ways for the heart to break: it can break open into new life, or break apart into shards of sharper and more widespread pain.”
In his article, Parker Palmer also quotes a beautiful Mary Oliver poem Lead. It’s another invitation to brokenheartedness – not because she wants us to wallow in suffering, but to help us become more open and responsive to a suffering world. The poem ends this way:
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.
In order for us to live well in our world so filled with pain, the question I’m always wondering about is:
What can we do to develop hearts that are more supple and resilient in the presence of pain so that instead of breaking into shards that cause more pain, they break open in ways that allow for more life?
The filter through which I choose now to see any pain I experience is that it’s Life’s invitation for me to process and release yet another layer of pain that’s been trapped in my body over the years. It’s a way of choosing to allow our hearts to break open into new life. As we do this, we’re building a greater sense of emotional safety in our bodies, and trust in ourselves. The life force energy that we’ve needed to keep the lid on our pain so we could function, is freed up for other more creative uses. Here’s a pdf I’ve created about this practice – Practical Steps in Coming Back Home to Ourselves.
We don’t have to go digging, looking for this pain, or be anxious that we ‘get it all’. We simply need to be awake – noticing what’s happening in us as we’re engaged in life. And then, acknowledging and allowing it to be there (that’s the often uncomfortable acceptance part), and without making any part of this (or us) wrong, nurturing ourselves there. These are the practical, though not always comfortable or easy, steps involved in this powerful practice of fierce loving.
After again engaging this process myself, I was able later to go back to my friend’s post and share other resources I’d appreciated, and my own experience, adding “To the extent that we can truly be present to what’s happening now (rather than distracted by our own pain), we’re then in a more powerful place to act with intention and integrity in the unique way we feel called to make a difference in our world.”
Another wise woman I deeply respect – Hiro Boga – captured her experience of this in one of her exquisite pieces of writing in her free eBook Stories Dance on the Rainbow Bridge. Reflecting on the pain she had been experiencing after an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Hiro wrote:
“I can no longer gather up the pain of the world and hold it inside my belly. It cannot be healed there – it can only damage that inner shoreline, bring death to that living sea. I am responsible for keeping my inner world healthy and whole. The quality of my presence – the peace or conflict in my heart – is what I bring to this gathering. How can I live outside the house of wholeness and join in the work of blessing?
It’s an exquisitely delicate relationship, this response of my heart to the need of the world. Because the moment I forget that the Sacred is in the world as well as in me, my little self sinks under the impossible weight of a million toxic oil spills.
Then I am no longer part of this gathering, a source of blessing and radiance, of healing and love. Instead, I stagger around blindly, stunned, bruised and bleeding. A casualty of violence, adding to the fear, the chaos and confusion around me.”
It’s no secret there’s plenty of fear, chaos and confusion around us, and in this environment it’s easy to become myopic in our focus. In her recent address at an awards ceremony for health care workers (people she referred to as “true wonder women and men”), yet another wise woman, Lois Kelly spoke of the importance of courage, resiliency, and love. All important contributions in our becoming bolder, and more beauti-full expressions of the people we came here to be.
Image – Hope House Press in Unsplash
In her speech, Lois shared some of her favourite resiliency practices – all valuable in our commitment to nurture more supple, resilient hearts. Lois’ suggestions:
- Hunting for and naming every day, three things that went well. Seeing the good in life broadens our perspective, and helps us ward off our tendency to focus only on the pain. And as Lois notes, our doing this is contagious!
- Being kind to yourself. We’re so often our toughest critics. What would happen if we gave to ourselves the kind, compassionate support and advice we often find it easier to give to others?
Appreciating your work mates and those around you. As Lois says “Giving and receiving appreciation lifts our spirits and fills our tanks with enormously positive energy.”
Being in awe. Stopping. Looking up, looking around and marvelling. There is such beauty in unexpected places.
And taking time for story telling, dancing, singing and silence. Participating in these activities, in whatever forms are true for you, are things that as Lois reminds us, indigenous peoples have found are “universal salves for our souls.”
These days as we live in a world where there’s so much pain, applying salves of all kinds is crucial if we intend to not become contributers of sharper and more widespread pain ourselves. And, along with engaging these practices on our own, supportive kindred-spirited community also plays a crucial role.
As individuals and collectively, we are crying out for the fierce love and nurturing presence offered by our more supple, resilient hearts. If you feel this longing and there’s resonance here for you, please be in touch.