In Times of Fear Mongering, Living Fearlessly

I refuse to let fear get in the way of being a sanctuary.

When I’m not at home writing or reading, I can typically be found at one of two places: on a local trail, or at Ten Thousand Waves. Although it’s just my day job, The Waves has become a sanctuary in these stressful times. The trails are my church, and the Waves (surrounded by forest and nestled along the side of the road heading up the mountain) is my zendo—not only is there a meditation room there, but the practice of repetitive caring for people, of focusing on small details of wiping down walls, collecting kimonos, smiling sincerely at people who enter and leave the area is all part of the meditation on compassion for me. And I’m in love with all my angel coworkers, who feel the same  heartbreak and remorse, the same guilt in feeling this ache now that it’s seemingly too late. I share poems with them and say:

“I have a firm belief that poetry (political or seemingly a-political) can save our hearts, but like any muscle it has to tear and ache before it can get stronger and support the weight of all this.”

While talking with one of them yesterday, while we were both at work on our day off, I admitted that times like these I waffle between empathetic heartbreak and nihilism. I need the nihilism to support my broken heart, and it is what keeps me brave in the face of uncertainty, keeps me fearless during a time when I’m told repeatedly that I should be afraid. My coworker’s eyes lit up. Coming from Mexico with a family lineage stretching back into North Africa, she and her family feel the racial tensions acutely and personally during discussions and implementations of bans, registries, and that dumb wall. But what can we do when we aren’t fighting? We must live, and refuse to stop living. We must love, and refuse to stop loving.

With another coworker, who’s originally from Germany, we talked about starting a business. A sanctuary space for tea ceremony and coffee collaboration and conspiring. Our German friend described the three steps towards fascism they learn in school: 1) make explosive, divisive, fear-inducing comments and rapid policy changes that leave people confused, scared, and disoriented. 2) discredit the media and try to control it. 3) make unlawful arrests. “And then you are there, that’s fascism,” she said with a chilling nonchalance that can only be delivered by someone born in Germany just 20 years after World War II. It wasn’t to break us down but to sit with us in solidarity, three Americans at three different generations of immigration, feeling brave together in the face of fear and separatism.

“Now is the time,” my one coworker said, “with everything going on, there is no time to be afraid, we have to go forward into the dreams and create the lives we want to live.”

Whether we start the business, the conversation was a lifesaver in my daily goal of saving my own and someone else’s life. The door we’ve been shown is a painted brick wall and we don’t have to bang ourselves into it trying to walk through.

I can be embarrassing and selfish and probably at times narcissistic. But we can start anywhere. If we aren’t good, we can try to be less bad. If we aren’t brave, we can try to be less fearful. If we aren’t great partners we can try to be more compassionate to the one(s) with whom we share our life. If we are alone we can be more compassionate to ourselves.

But here’s a thing: we can always be more compassionate to ourselves. And we share our lives with so many people, regardless of partner status, who deserve our compassion. I, and most people I know, are brought to tears daily with the constant news of our damned nation whose borders are a farce, as all national borders are. But my aim is to be brought to tears daily with love—love I give to someone and love I accept, love I feel pass from others that doesn’t include me.

Right now, when we are directed from our most powerful offices in government to fear and hate and separate, my call to action (in addition obviously to calling your elected officials daily, writing letters, showing up at local government meetings, going to protests, and punching nazis) is to work that heart muscle like it’s leg day and you are training for a powerlifting championship. Push your limits of love, feel your hearts ache and tear and heal, and marvel at its growth and strength. #heartgains

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