How Can I do Less Violence to Myself and the World?
Violence is about power; it’s directing force at something or someone or some part of ourselves.
Right here, just as you’re reading, try clenching your hand into a fist. Or you could scrunch your toes or tighten your jaw. Whatever part of the body you choose, hold that tight, super tight, until it’s really uncomfortable, just begging you to let go. And then let go. Try clenching and releasing a few times. Then pause and notice what you feel.
I bring awareness to this clench and release in my body, in my heart-mind, all day long. And I’m gonna encourage you, in this newsletter in particular, to read to the very end and marinate with it in totality. Because one paragraph taken here or there, aren’t the whole story.
All day long, I’m asking myself where am I clenching? Where am I yielding, opening? Where am I separating, distancing, guarding? Where am I softening? reaching for intimacy?
I do not need to recount the myriad expressions of violence in these times; these recent weeks, months, years…centuries. What I do want is to invite you to tune in. Can you tune into yourself? In the midst of the news feed, the doom scrolling, the media consumption, whatever the source outside, can you tune in inside? Can you notice the subtle, and not so subtle ways, that violence is showing up in your body, your heart-mind even without you giving your mind permission to think that thought?
Internal violence takes many forms:
- critique and denigration of the self.
- judgement and demonization of others.
- absence of care and nourishment for the self.
- override of one’s own capacity.
The grief and rage we feel in response to heinous acts, must be felt. And yet, we must also meet the violence of these times by softening within. In the very texture of that softening arises the fuel of determination for healing and change. It can fuel community building, vigil and ritual honoring, advocacy and legislative change. In the same way as the forearm begs for the fist to UN-clench after we’ve held tight, collaboration, creativity, and societal change cannot be sustained from a place of rage or confused paralysis. We must find the opening. As I wrote about back in winter, we are collectively exhausted from functioning in this pandemic, and some exhausted due to historic oppression and harm long preceding 2020. The magnitude of exhaustion differs depending on our circumstances. And, we are all exhausted.
This texture, this conversation, has been showing up every single day with people in clinic as I witness despair, rage, numbness, exhaustion, panic, and paralysis. In order to access our own internal resources, and those in our communities, we must open the fist. Here are some invitations of how we can attend with less violence as we tune in. We can:
- Recognize we were each born as a body, a living organism, that needs water, food, sleep, movement, and nurturing connection.
- Listen to our own capacity and attend to those limits with dedication and love, as we would to the needs of a child or animal.
- Identify and name boundaries. Honor them. Invite support to hold them while staying in relationship.
- Call in and call up external support (friends, family, faith, community, healers, counsel, rest)
- See clearly our own internal voices of self-denigration, comparison and critique. We can rewrite the soundtrack.
- Notice, feel, embrace and extend care to ALL parts of ourselves (physical body, emotional and psychological body)
- Understand that hurt people hurt people. And that we are not separate from the most egregious acts happening in the world. This does not condone violence and massacre. It contextualizes them, and invites us to claim agency and take responsibility for what we can influence, which must start with ourselves.
One of the voices supporting my passionate clarity this is a viable path is Valerie Kaur, a pre-eminant American civil rights leader (lawyer, activist, social justice warrior). You can appreciate her Ted Talk and/or her book See No Stranger. She speaks a language I have tried to breathe and live through my entire adult life. Everyone reading this can influence their own body. When we each attend to this violence in our own body, be also model for others. Try one more time, holding that clenched fist, 5 seconds, 10, try even for 30 seconds. And take the invitation of every spring flower that has no choice but to expand and open.
I will be in clinic all summer, with modest pockets here and there of time away for my own softening, attending to play and capacity. My earlier spring musings on Lizard Medicine will support you in this exploration around violence. You can read them here. I always welcome reflections on how this writing landed for you. I encourage you to share these writings with anyone you think may benefit. And please know I am here and available if I can support your own health and well being with care.