Souls on Deck, Part II: What Conscious Leaders Do in Dark Times [30 Day Writing Challenge, Day 9]

So that happened. And I was disappointed and disturbed, despite my mighty efforts to stay equanimous through this whole year, through the pre-election media cycle and the shootings of Black men in the streets, through it all. Today was a very salient moment in time for our country, and instead of woo-sahing it away, I made the deliberate decision to ride the wave of my own emotional response for a few hours.

By now, we’ve all analyzed and unpacked our emotions and our insights into what this election outcome could mean for our future, and what it signifies about us and our present. And I’m sure we’ll continue to do so, and need to continue to do so, for our collective sanity and healing and progress.

So I’m not going to write about that.

But I do want to mention the people of my town, who were crying in the streets and coffee shops and spin studios. And I want to mention the strangers who just met my eyes in passing and said “I know”, with a sad smile and a nod of solidarity, or “It’s rough, right?”

After a few hours of processing, letting people just talk and shifting around my calendar to provide some space for the experience, I was ready for an energetic reset. I needed to shift my state a bit, to come out from the intense mental logjam and dark heaviness of the day so I could get back to thinking and feeling clearly. 

When I need an energy cleanse, I generally do one of three things: stand in the rain (but: California), walk the dogs (but: had already walked them), or take a bath (ding ding ding).

So I took a bath. And I took a book with me into the bath. Not just any book, but my super dogeared, tattered version of~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ Women Who Run With the Wolves, which is handy in so, so many situations.

I read this:

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And then this:

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These thoughts are relevant. We now know things we did not know last year or last week. We now see matters clearly. I’m not sure how we’ll mend them, but I know it’ll start with looking for the good anyway.

If you’re reading this, you probably identify as a conscious leader. It does not escape me that these thoughts, these spiritual mandates to “know[] everything and still be attracted to the good,” and to “see clearly what is the matter and to mend it” both evoke the literal definition of conscious. I actually Googled conscious today and got three definition results:

  1. aware of and responding to one’s surroundings; awake.
  2. having knowledge of something; aware.
  3. painfully aware of; sensitive to.

We are more of each of these types of “conscious” now, post-election, than we were before. I’m not one to be glib or to try to force things to feel or look better than they are, sooner than they need to. I think we need to process this, experience the emotion, appreciate our new levels of awareness and consciousness, and ultimately find the place where our efforts for healing and justice can meet the grace and inevitability of change. I think we need, now more than ever, to maintain our own daily practices of healing and groundedness, and cook up and spread love and kindness, even to our supposed enemies.

Healing will come. Mending will come. But the point I want us to take from these passages and the story I’m about to tell you is that consciousness comes first. Alert, aware, woke innocence precedes the fix.

Last year, in the Spring, I was staying in this exceedingly lovely little boutique hotel in Copenhagen. A friend of mine from Berlin was in town for work, and was going to give me a walking tour before we met up with some other friends. I got up that morning, worked out, got dressed and came downstairs, and Robert was already there. I hadn’t seen him in the better part of a year, and went to give him a big hug. But he looked shell-shocked. He said, “Did you see what just happened in the US?”

I hadn’t. What just happened was the mass shooting of nine African-American worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina by one Dylann Roof. I have a lot of European friends, but I’m certain that for most of them, I’m their only friend who legitimately qualifies as a Black church lady. So it was natural that Robert saw this shooting as having great personal significance to me.

I closed my eyes and said a brief, silent prayer, a blessing on their souls and our country. A prayer I have said so, so many needless times. And after a few moments of silence, I was ready to go on our tour. And he was still sitting there, still stunned. My agnostic, German, white, male friend was sitting there looking at me like I was completely demented.

“What?” I asked. He was like, “This is sick and insane.” “I said of course it is. It’s tragic. But you know, that’s America. We have a history of Black people being killed in church, which you probably don’t know about. This used to happen pretty regularly in the South, but it doesn’t happen nearly as much in my generation. Still, it’s very, very sad.”

And he said, “TARA. You can’t live somewhere where it’s normal for people to get shot at church. Please don’t live there. That is not normal.”

And you know what? He was right. Our normal state, as humans, is the state we were created in and for: the state of love, of connectedness, of being deliberate, beautiful creations and conduits for joy and creativity. Our culture has normalized the abnormal. We see bizarrely destructive, inhuman things as normal because they are frequent or common or we just have seen them time and time again.

Let us not be confused. They are not normal. If we conscious leaders want to heal what’s wrong in our country and what’s wrong in our world, we have to wake up and see all of the elements of reality, including just how deeply abnormal so many violent, divisive patterns are. And just how deeply abnormal it is that they seem normal because they are common, or because we have bulwarked our hearts and minds against them, to minimize the pain.

And then, we must work to mend them.

How do we do that?

Well, this is the point where I generally get overloaded, because these things seem so encoded, so ingrained and so rooted in deep emotional hurts and pains of the masses, that I’m not sure how anyone can make a dent in the problem. And then a few heartbeats later, someone reminds me or I just remember this passage, from Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Letter to a Young Activist:

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.

The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these — to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate. […]

In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.

Bottom line:

Souls on deck

Mend what’s in our reach

Despair doesn’t get a chair at the table

We are built for this journey.

 

I love you. God bless you. God bless our country and our world.

~T

P.S.: I issued a 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders a few weeks back, and over 150 brilliant souls signed up! I decided to take the Challenge right along with them, and it’s been a profound journey for many of us. Most people are journaling or free-writing every day, privately. But I wrote this post on Day 9 of the Challenge. I’ll be doing another writing Challenge in January; click here to get on the list for the January Challenge.

 

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