Last night, I opened a message from a sister of mine and received a wonderful gift, words that were intended to uplift and inspire, and to acknowledge the shared courage and strength that we are gathering in these crazy times.
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. ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Soul on deck shines like gold in these dark times. These are words that pierced my heart fully, bringing tears to my eyes, and acknowledging the feeling that I and so many others have expressed of late. That even though the turning of times in this great American democracy leaves any loving, compassionate, and forward thinking person in a state of ongoing anxiety and distress, we ARE indeed made for these times. All the ways that we have approached learning, all the ways that we have pursued healing our hearts and minds, all the ways that we have practiced finding center through the breath and body in the moment, again and again ~ we have been preparing for a time when we’re no longer practicing for practice’s sake. Now, we must embrace all that we know and all that we are and stand strong in the light of truth, kindness, compassion, justice, and love. Soul on deck, indeed.
I have spent much of the last decade engaged in spiritual healing work, hoping to unravel and repair what has seemed to me to be wounds of the soul. Some of them have definitely been personal. Others have been familial and ancestral. But most of these wounds have also been cultural, and archetypal even. One of the recurring themes that has arisen again and again is what I’ve come to call refugee consciousness. I have seen it in myself, and explored it from many angles: the pilgrim, the traveller, the nomad, the wandering minstrel, the homeless wanderer. Though the underlying motivation is quite different for each of these, when I have gone deep into myself, I have found the same voice: the one who doesn’t belong, always seeking home. In my daily life, I’ve been fairly fortunate. I have never fled from a war torn country, or from a crime and gang infested neighborhood. I’ve never slept on the streets, and always had food in my belly. And yet, in spite of this, I have had dreams and visions in meditation that have brought me into the immediacy of the refugee’s flight: running like mad, terrified, barefoot, clothing torn, explosions and gunshots all around, having no idea where I’m heading, only knowing that I must continue to move, go, flee, seek refuge.
Last year, I had a very striking dream. It was one of a series of dreams that I have had that I call “healing dreams,” in which I simply am someone completely different, with a very clear and developed storyline, with no discernible connection to anything that I can call “my” life:
In this dream, I was on a train somewhere in the Middle East. I was a young man, and I knew that “they” were looking for “my people.” The train was fairly full, and I turned myself toward the window, resting there and pretending to be asleep, masking my face. As the vigilantes came on board the train with their huge semi-automatic weapons, I tried to be as invisible as possible, continuing to feign sleep. They didn’t see me, and I was able to continue my journey in safety. Some time later, I was inside a large building of some kind, and I was hiding there. We were all hiding in there. I looked into these cabinets and closets, trying to figure out where I could best hide, because I knew that they were going to enter soon and capture us all. We knew that the possibility of escape was there, but in fleeing, we would most likely be shot and killed. It was such a difficult thing to decide: stay and be captured and killed, or flee and be gunned down. I, along with four other young men, decided that the risk was worth it, and we fled. Escaping through a window, we ran in the direction of the river that ran through the city. The river was walled in by stone and concrete, and about six feet down from street level, there was a tiny ledge, barely wide enough for one foot to fall. We leapt down onto that ledge, and we ran and ran, moving as fast as we could, praying that our steps would be nimble, and hoping that we wouldn’t fall into the river below.
I awoke, heart pounding, hands clenched, and sweat drenching my clothes. My body began to shake, and I began to cry, eventually sobbing. Yes, it was only a dream. But too, this is the very reality that millions of people are living within. According to the UN Refugee Agency, it is estimated that there are over 65 million refugees in the world at this time, forced by violence, war, and devastation to flee their homes, their lives, and their countries, hoping to survive and find stability once again. With the current insanity that is the American government, people are being fed horrific images of refugees being violent criminals just waiting to plague our sweet homeland with terroristic mayhem, and unfortunately, there are far too many Americans who are willing to buy into that. With the political divide on the issue of humanitarian work and the resettlement of refugees, it seems that more energy may be invested in the argument itself for some time, and I pray that other compassionate nations continue to welcome those in need while the US navigates these issues. What I do know for sure, though, is that I have SEEN through the eyes of refugees time and time again. Not in my body and my life experience this time around, perhaps, but in heartspace, and in soulspace.
Let’s face it. Most Americans would rather just not know the horrors of what’s happening. Imagining fellow humans being senselessly beaten and killed is horrible. Imagining what it’s like to live in fear of that is horrible. Imagining entire villages, towns, cities, and countries devastated by war and political unrest, torn apart by bombs and fires, strewn with the bodies of human brothers and sisters, it’s all more horrible than we can bear. Other people’s children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, neighbors, friends. Other people’s houses and places of worship and schools and libraries and markets. Other people just like you and me. It’s heart wrenching, truly, to open the heart and allow it all in, to feel the shock and anger and grief caused by the insanity of human beings just like you and me. And in this country, it’s pretty easy to just tune it out. It’s easy to think of all those people and all those horrors as some kind of distant movie, ultimately not real. It’s easier still for us to consider all those people dangerous and ultimately deserving of whatever is happening ~ and there are certainly plenty of authority figures who do everything in their power to promote that story, as we’re seeing right now. Heart door closed, key turned in lock, shut away for good.
And so it goes. Good people, just like you and me, whose lives are devastated, seeking home and safety. And good people, just like you and me, somehow bamboozled into believing lies that all these people are stockpiles of violent renegades, just waiting to destroy all that we love. Because if they can’t have good lives, safe homes, and beautiful families, why should we? And the powers-that-be who have financial interests in taking over those countries for their own selfish desires, for promoting weapons industries and access to oil? Somehow the goodness inside of most humans prevents them from believing that there are people out there ~ and especially the ones on OUR side ~ could ever do something like that. It’s too sinister, too unimaginable, too horrible. And so, it’s much easier for people to buy the stories that are spun by the powers-that-be: the refugees are bad people, they are terrorists, they want to kill your children and destroy your religion, and must be stopped at all costs.
In my path of personal healing, I have made a strong and abiding commitment to look into the shadow, to face the darkness, and to feel everything, allowing it to move through me fully. I have also made a strong and abiding commitment to open the doors of my heart all the time. It’s not an easy path, and I don’t always succeed. But there is something that guides me to sit with the most painful and unimaginable things, and to be in loving connection right there. No running away, no averting my gaze, no distracting myself with something interesting, happy, or shiny. In the space of compassion, holding love and sorrow in my hands, I am often met with the feeling that as much as I would love to fix it all, I am simply one small woman. My power is only so great. I am not a lawyer, or a politician, or a doctor, or a scientist. I am a musician and medicine woman. I am not famous or wealthy, and my reach is only so far. What can I do?
And last night, these words came in the same inspiring piece I received:
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. ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes
What can I do? I can sing. I can create beauty with a mission and a message. I can hold space for others to find center, to cultivate peace, and to feel whatever has been hidden away, blocking the river of the soul from its full flow. I can listen. I can share my words. I can collaborate with others who share the same mission of bringing healing to this world. Soul on deck shines like gold in these dark times.
After that dream, and after the crying and shaking subsided, I began to hear a melody. Though it was 3:00 am, I came to the living room and took my guitar. Through me came a melody and words, sharing the heartfelt prayer of that young man I had embodied. Following his, the prayer of a young woman who had been raped and assaulted over and over again. Following her, a child who had lost his parents in war. Following him, a homeless man, sick and hungry. I sang their prayers, their longings, their stories. They want the same things that you and I want: to know that they are safe, that they have a right to exist, that they can find a way to have their needs met. Deep gratitude for this dream, which gave me the gift of knowing firsthand what they experience, and deep gratitude that I can find a way to share their prayer song. I have never shared it yet, as it was too tender, too vulnerable. But now the time is coming.
What I now know more than ever is this: no contribution is too small when it comes from sincerity of heart. No act is too inconsequential when it is given with love and kindness. For it is through small things that all great things are built, and we must mindfully choose what we use as the foundation on which we stand. Right now, it’s clear enough to see that when we build a nation on separation, hate, bigotry, ignorance, self-interest, greed, and division, we create the kind of scenario we are now faced with. But just as the body replaces every cell within a relatively short period of time, we too can replace the building blocks of our country with values that are life-affirming, compassionate, and just. And that begins with you and me.
In closing, I want to wish you a magnificent International Women’s Day! I, along with many other women, will be stepping aside from business as usual, suspending all work and commerce – with the exception of supporting women-owned businesses – and making a strong statement to this world: that women’s rights and protections of freedom are not negotiable. Enjoy the day!