Dear America,

I’m sorry – for your losses. No, thank you – for refreshed perspective on values. Asking “who am I?” is one of the most daunting doors to open, not because it’s hard to answer, but because inquiry and curiosity are artforms of courage. I don’t know if I’m American anymore, and I mean “I don’t know.” I don’t mean “I’m not.” A crisis is a reckoning, and loss is not the guaranteed outcome; we can win, collectively. The beauty of the American dream is perhaps only known to outsiders. Once you’re inside it’s a nightmare, and once you’re outside it’s an epiphany that “hard work pays off” has also perpetuated some people working hard and other people getting the pay off and increasingly few people in between. And if you’ve never been outside, you might not see that it’s a dream; you might not know whether you’re fighting demons or chasing unicorns; you might not see that reality is part beauty, part shame, and part not knowing. And having all okay for one is not the same as okay for all. What is the American dream? Is it a dream if you lived it without ever consciously noticing? Dreaming happens, and knowing what I dream is called waking up. This is my wake up call, to myself.

I’m sorry that we let ourselves believe the idea for so long that we were the greatest country on earth, not because we’re not great, but because there are so many measures and lifting oneself up doesn’t mean – doesn’t have to mean – putting others down. I’m sorry that our President doesn’t demonstrate this belief. No one wins if 51% feel validated and 49% feel shame, because we’re one body. I believe integrity is presenting things as they truly are, and sometimes that means saying “I could use some support.” Sometimes integrity means acknowledging “I’m not where I hoped I would be at this point.” Dear America, I acknowledge that you are hurt and you have suffered, and this life is not the one that you always dreamed. This acknowledgement is when we can begin to heal. We don’t need to hide from our humanity, which the delineation of self from society inherently means we miscalculate. Recovery from miscalculation comes far easier when we re-assess the whole picture. We can adjust the journey to the goal without changing the goal itself. Taking steps backward or sideways often gives us the strength to step forward. If it’s not moving, don’t force it. If it doesn’t run, don’t chase it. If it’s not wet, don’t wring it out. Build her wheels. Teach him to walk. Collect some water, or wait for the rain. You know: gardens grow where seeds are watered. And we have Earth, seeds, and water, and the intelligence to grow back more sustainably, more responsibly.

I’m sorry – that you’ve pulled from the garden for so long without watering. We stopped visiting. We depended on labor without listening to their warnings. We’re tired. The plants are sick. The inputs dried up before the outputs, and the supply chain is so long that we didn’t notice, I think. And now… what does forward look like?

Rest. Nutrition. Trauma. Healing. Revitalization. Investment. Paying the hard workers, more than “enough.” Enough is enough, but yesterday’s enough is not today’s enough.

The last straw was when a stranger spoke about dentistry in a presentation at work: “Germans have had the Krankenkasse (public health insurance system) for decades, and Americans have had… nothing.” The pain came in the form of truth, realizing that both the red pill and the blue pill encapsulate a hard reality that the past is insufficient. With the blinds and shutters closed for months, I open my eyes to understand I’ve been tossing shit into my neighbors’ lawns. It’s not just adversely affecting their lives. I’m poisoning the hand that feeds me, and the very ground I stand on. Love my neighbor as my… selfishness is directly tied to selflessness, and we’re communal beings, responsible for ensuring the safety of more than our own self-selected. To be human is to accept the question of our own values, and exploring the question means paying a visit to the neighbor’s farm, knocking on their front door, giving out not a hand, but a heart.

The connection of ourselves emotionally helps us see that while skin is a barrier to protect us from the outside world, it is not something that we need to fear separating or distinguishing us. I can feel with my heart what I can’t see with my eyes. I listen with my body what I can’t feel with my hands. We are all sensory, yet so often sensitized to fear one another. We neglect to acknowledge that fear is the very ground that we stand on, what connects us, that our feet walk on one body of land. Nike both brings us together and keeps us apart.

I look at my finances – a simple graph, showing the net worth of my combined savings and investments over time. Thank you, Trump, for building the economy. But, no, thank you. This is not the economy. I opt out of a system that doesn’t work for the majority. Nor the minority. If I gain and the majority loses, there is no winner. (Hello, electoral college.) We can compete without being enemies. We can gain trust and let go of control. We can recognize that what’s in our pockets speaks nothing of what’s in our heart. Yes, we need money in our pockets, but it’s worth far more when we choose where to put it with our hearts. Should I buy my own bread, build my own bakery, or teach my neighbor how to bake as they reap the wealth of their own wheat? There is no answer, but there is the question. Dear America, what do I value?

Cool, Compassionate Thoughts

I feel preemptively fulfilled imagining that I could take at least one conscious breath and mindfully observe one heartbeat every day of the rest of my life. This imagination brings so much peace and relaxation to my mind and body. Like damn…. I’ve thought about it for a week, and it still feels profound, beautiful, and aspirational. And I’m really grateful that I’ve now conditioned my mind to automatically initiate a deep breath in certain moments of false crises. (Real talk: I don’t need to panic when the audio or video is shifty on a conference call.)

Many of us are living, breathing, moving, feeling, and thinking in a world that works quite differently than what we’re accustomed to. We might be uncomfortable at times, and as I learned in Jordan, it’s not so easy to step outside our comfort zone when we’re not so comfortable in the first place. I’ve taken to therapist Esther Perel’s in-progress weekly broadcasts. (Watch live Wednesdays 3pm EDT / 9 pm CET, or watch recorded versions on YouTube). While I don’t relate to all the challenges that she describes of kids and partners at home in quarantine – on the contrary, I’m either alone or with newly acquainted flatmates – I especially like that she counters “working from home” by suggesting we’re “working with home” and all the accompanying and challenging factors. Similarly, I’m as big a fan as ever of Brene Brown, and my recent highlight from Mama B’s new podcast program is her reference to FFTs (f*ing first times), acknowledging that yes, it’s hard to do new things, and it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. Cool – let’s learn something(s)!

My first conscious realization that the sky is always blue, after capturing the midnight summer sky on Lake George, NY, USA, August 2010.

To shift beyond discomfort, I feel inspired in response to these thoughts:

  • The sky is always blue. Yep, even when clouds cover the atmosphere or when the sun sets at night, the sky itself is still blue. I try not to let the weather choose my ‘tude.
  • The breath is always present. I can choose to breathe voluntarily or let the subconscious operate; either way, I’m always breathing!
  • The whole world shares one moon (and one sun, but it’s not so healthy to stare in awe). For those of us at significant distance from anyone we love or like or think of, just take a gander at the big cheese ball in the sky, and remember someone else is looking, too.
  • Oh, and “discomfort” isn’t pain. Discomfort is being without strength (Latin: fortis); discomfort is my body and mind giving me feedback that I’m exercising something new.

I guess there’s a theme here: unity. We’re all – humans, plants, animals, fungi, viruses, bacteria, etc – in this life/world/earth/moment together, and it’s nice when we choose to take care of ourselves and one another. Care means something different to each of us, and it changes from moment to moment. I’ve learned in reflecting on relationships that we all need doses of compassion. In some circumstances, two parties each need compassion, and both feel like the other needs to step in to support; that’s hard! When I find myself “stuck” in a conflict with someone/something/myself and looking for compassion, I try to consider whether I might step forward and give compassion first.

  1. What are some of the compassionate actions you’ve received or would like to receive recently?
  2. Consider the last person you spoke with: what might it look like for you to give compassion to that person?

Peace Within.

Writer’s note: I’m not certain (ha! what is certainty?) whether this piece is complete. I would love some comments and questions about what could tie it together. How can my words be more wholesome?

With the exception of the most critical responders, all of us are asked to turn inward. To stay home. To commute our attention from home to work and back, without leaving home. To meet fewer people. To rely on ourselves for more meals at home. To be stationary and forego transience. We are invited, in a commanded way, to commune with ourselves.

What a time to be alive. The thought that repeatedly crosses my mind. I have the sensation that I’m in a virtual reality experience, moving through a world with real sensation but where everyone is participating in different stories. To come together in a common story as is inherent in humanity, I believe we must first come to know, love, and nurture ourselves.

Spring is awakening the Earth, in the northern hemisphere. The temperature oscillates from dawn to noon to dusk to night. With each cycle, the daylight hours grow longer. The plants are gifted with a bit more sunlight and warmth to fuel themselves back to life. Each cell takes what it needs, not more. Each plant nurtures itself and shares benefits to co-exist with the others. The sunlight is plentiful, and moisture returns each morning. Hibernation fades away; nature’s conscience breathes movement from a sleeping vibration to a waking rhythm. The process is slow to the observing eye, and if a tree sprouts in the forest, and no one is there to watch it, yes, it still sprouts.

Many trees sprout.

I see people panicking. [Digression: psychologists have found that when people perceive that they are losing control, they buy more “functional” products that they think will give them a sense of control.] Is panic contagious? Since last summer, I’ve started to see trauma in others’ physical expression (almost everyone, really). Now especially, I see a mass of mess of miscommunication. I see instability and chaos, in my world and in the broader world. Yet I feel (almost) completely stable and grounded, and this makes me feel comfortably out of place. I find comfort knowing that we are mutually and equally uncertain of the future, and certainty rests merely in each breathing moment. It’s normal to panic, and these reactions merit validation.

Yes, this perception is partially rooted in the global outbreak of whatchamacallit. It’s fascinating to watch the people of the world trust in institutions that we take for granted, to see that we’re all let down and disappointed by these institutions, and to observe that people still wait for the institutions to advise how to act. Perhaps we are well to remember that “corporation” comes from “corporare,” corpus, to combine in one body, the human, an entity made of us. To trust in the other, can I first trust myself? To stay safely at home, we must find the home within our physical body. I #stayhome when I fully inhabit – and dwell in – my body and my mind.

Some seedlings grow tall.

I’ve long believed in the importance of religion, because – I hypothesize – society would be a mess if everyone would think for themself. The viral outbreak has led me to think that government holds the same importance, that people – including me – need to be told how to think and act, and that when we fail to secure our collective health and wellbeing, we fail to acknowledge our human consciousness. Lack of planning often constitutes an emergency, and an emergency that is perceived as a threat to any individual will trigger the brain’s fight/flight response and the sympathetic nervous system. And when we learn to recognize this animal response, we have the possibility to train ourselves how to return to conscious, rational thinking. The emotional response – in the physical body, the mind, and the spaces between – and the rational thoughts deserve equal validation.

We have a choice to not panic, even in the face of uncertainty and insecurity.

Breathing is one method of restoring the mind to a state of peace. In the German language, atmen means to breathe, and in Sanskirt, ātman means inner self, spirit or soul. Both come from the PIE root “etmen.” In a shift from involuntary to voluntary control – when we choose how to inhale, hold, and exhale – the breath can control the mind and pull the brain from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. The SNS controls responses to threat with a hyper-aware mind and body prepared to react; the PNS enables rest, digestion, and homeostasis. I hypothesize that the physical activity and conscious control of the body that yoga offers correlates with a stronger confidence and trust that I can control my safety and security, even in vulnerable moments. Aside from physical fitness activities and yoga, how often do I consciously choose to engage tension and relaxation in different body parts? Rarely. Therefore, I learn to find comfort and rest in tension in my yoga practice.

For all trees, rest and shedding layers are cycles of life.

My stability in chaos is healing an affliction in my current circumstances: between physical living arrangements, constantly transforming interpersonal relationships, waiting on official legal paperwork, being employed in a strong-but-threadbare start-up. Factually, many of the major variables and aspects of my life feel uncertain. Amidst this, I take 100% ownership and acceptance of my reality, and I’m not afraid. I have been afraid. I know what fear feels like, physically, in my body. Right now, I don’t feel afraid. And if I feel fear later, I’ll continue to breathe, to peel away the layers of my mind, and to find peace within.