This tunnel seems so long…

This is a longish reflection of what it feels like to be at this moment in time, with an effort to acknowledge all that we’ve been through. I also share four experiences that have been soul-stirring for me, in the last few weeks, that have helped me to feel connected and capable to move forward with hope and inspiration…

I must say it is so refreshing to not have had terrible events instigated by or supported by our president, meted out every day, occurring in the last two weeks. I feel like I can breathe a little more easily. I feel uplifted and even hopeful. Everyone I’ve been speaking with feels a bit more relaxed, a little more peace in their hearts, and (a moment of) calm in their souls.

But after breathing a little easier, sleeping a bit more peacefully, not recoiling in horror every time I see the news or the headlines crossing my phone screen, and having a moment to process a little, I am also experiencing a new and even deeper recognition of the hard work ahead of us, of healing and movement we need to do toward real progress -externally and internally, and admittedly it’s pretty daunting, on top of the hard work of trying to make sense of what all just happened.

We can’t stop doing our soul’s work just because a nice guy – a decent human being, is in the oval office. It’s almost as if getting a good night’s rest has allowed me to settle down a bit and see more clearly what is going on inside of me, and outside as well; but also to break down a bit as I attempt to recover from all that’s happened and continuing to happen, and try to catch my breath. You know, like after working night and day to complete a big project, but then getting sick when it’s all over?

And knowing all the while that it’s not all over. We’ve hardly had time individually or collectively to process all that we’ve been through or suffered, before having to summon our courage to be able to take the next scary and uncertain step. We are emotionally, socially, spiritually, physically, covid fatigued. Insurrection and injustice fatigued. Grief fatigued.

I must say, after the inauguration I’ve had a couple of nightmare-filled nights – collisions of horrors I had witnessed or heard about, my own sense of overwhelm or helplessness, worry about increased numbers of death and losses around me, anticipation about vulnerable family members at a greater risk, an arduous future showing it’s ugly head – all coming together in a nightmarish dance that lasted hours while I slept (or tried to) and then woke up to, not knowing what was really the terror of the night or could possibly be real, like many of those previous nightmares.

I am dismayed and horrified again and again to witness the particularly cruel toll covid has taken on Communities of Color in testing, in deaths, and even in the distribution of vaccines, shining a glaring light on the terrible inequities of our society. I have been wondering about the stories, names, families of all the people who have lost their lives, and who have mostly been treated just as a statistic in the media.

I have heard of a very similar internal and external volatile and conflictual process going on with clients, alone or in their couples as I work with them; between adult siblings living together and struggling with feeling overworked and underappreciated in a household weary of covid restrictions and no access to typically replenishing activities; from friends and family feeling some relief, but also so much grief in regards to what we’ve all been through collectively in the last four years, decades, centuries. In order to come out of the trauma, heartbreak, loss, overwhelm that People of Color in particular, and humanity in general has suffered, we must feel it, develop compassion for ourselves having these feelings and be able to grieve what’s been taken from us or lost, and do these things with our communities as well.

One thing I hear often as a therapist is that most folks don’t want to feel the pain of their feels or “don’t like” their own feelings. People often avoid or mask their feelings or blame them or put them on someone else. Unfortunately, this effort to disconnect from how we feel manages to prolong the very ache or vulnerability we are trying to rid ourselves of, and we end up engaged in an ongoing struggle with ourselves, that we often project on to others in our lives.

Anyways, at this time of inauguration and hope for change, and while noticing my own internal dilemmas, uncertainties, ways I feel hurt or have unprocessed anger, endless list of griefs and woundings, I notice I am also keenly open to what gives me solace or inspiration, or joy, as well. After all, connecting to our joy is actually a revolutionary act of freedom. I will not let acts of inhumanity (past or present) take away from me my beautiful human nature to experience and share uplift, joy, meaning, an open heart or wonder about the world.

So in that light, I share here a few things that have impacted me deeply, given me joy and respite, during this transitional time of feeling beleaguered, grieving, conflicted, but hopeful.

1. Take Heart (as in take comfort in your heart)
I read an awareness practice by Rick Hanson, a wise author and clinician who strives to help folks to understand how our brains and awareness works, called “Take Heart“. He suggests the following for when we’re experiencing intense emotions, dealing with the challenges of the bottom having fallen out:

  • Sense your heart and chest. Just stop and feel that part of your body.
  • Notice what’s good within you and around you, including your own warmth and compassion and find encouragement in that. Feel love coming in and flowing out.
  • Acknowledge and accept the human-ness of having negative feelings and stay with the raw experience of that. Feel your feels in your body. Have and observe your own experience.
  • Know your own truth, and as you can, speak it.
  • Do things that help you find your footing (sleep, be outside, walk, wash dishes, pet your pet, wail, go to the ocean, talk to someone, journal, make a basket, stare into space, listen to sound, etc.) Feel the truth of being basically OK right now.
  • Guard and guide where your attention goes (for example, is it toward wise research or mindless social media scrolling?)
  • Take heart in the good that is real. Outside of you there is kindness, connection, beauty in a single leaf. The sun is still shining even when it’s dark in your part of the world. Inside of you there is empathy, memories, capacities. Share these beauties with others and receive theirs.
  • Have perspective. Long before you and long after you, human beings have struggled and emerged triumphantly from those struggles. “Sometimes the center does not hold – in a body, a marriage, or a nation. And still people love each other, go out of their way for a stranger, and marvel at a rainbow. Nothing can change this. Let’s keep putting 1 foot in front of the other, lifting each other up along the way.” (Rick Hanson)

2. The Hill We Climb
I still get teary, a shiver down my spine, and a sense of my heart being stretched so full it might burst open (or maybe it’s been broken already and it’s those healing stitches that are stretched by her words and where I still feel tender), when I hear or reread (I’ve read it many times) Amanda Gorman‘s Inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb.“ How can this young woman have so much old soul wisdom and human kind at such an early age? I envied her confidence and poise to speak to the world as she did, so bravely and filled with grace.

She spoke to the moment in time we find ourselves in:

“…The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace. In the norms and notions of what just is, isn’t always justice.”

And what lies ahead:

“And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all…”

And echoed my sentiment exactly of this time:

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true. That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped. That even as we tired, we tried that we’ll forever be tied together victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.”

She spoke in very simple but powerful words, not embittered but empowered, sing-song and pointed, hands dancing with exquisite grace, calling upon us to be better than we have been:

“So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left with. Every breath from my bronze pounded chest will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one…
For there is always light. If only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.“

Pause for a moment and notice what happens in your body as you read some of her words. Do you feel a tingle, a sense of awe, tears? I still do. Ah, this is what courage feels like. So inspiring, healing and hopeful.

Thank you Amanda Gorman for stirring me and many others, and for offering a golden healing light to the hard work and big climb that lies ahead.

3. The People’s Inauguration
Speaking of awe and inspiration, I’ve also taken much solace and been deeply moved by the People’s Inauguration – led by Valarie Kaur – that I found and have been listening to.

I and many others, took the People’s Oath, putting my right hand over my heart and then left hand over that, saying “I, Cindi Rivera, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute my role in healing, reimagining and rebuilding our country, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend dignity, justice and joy for myself and for all around me. And I will do so with love.”

Powerful words and a powerful commitment to make.

The People’s Inauguration is a beautiful series of speakers, stories, guided practices, dialogs and homework to integrate this powerful oath. It gives me clarity about what to do now, as I put 1 foot in front of the other, and try to be of assistance to many others doing the same thing.

The two first topics of the 10 day series were wonder and grief. Valarie and her social justice brothers and sisters presented a path for healing that include having wonder about ourselves, and about the beautiful world we live in… And about others, including our opponents.

To have wonder – where did these feelings in me come from? What does this sadness feel like in my body? What’s it like for me? Or awe – the sky changes so dramatically when the sun is just about to come up; a drop of rain can sit on a green Camelia leaf and glisten for hours… Or curiosity – I wonder how he spent the holidays; or what it’s like for her to be new to this country? Or what might’ve happened to them to make them act like that? What’s their story? These are the seeds to sow in building a connection.

And to have wonder/ awe /curiosity, not only about the amazing, wonderful things about ourselves and our people and our world – but to also have an equal amount of wonder about the contradictions, the losses, or terrible things that occur – how did this giant redwood tree just get blown over and throw it’s root up into the air to the wind? What does it feel like to just be with this grief that so many of us are struggling with? Isn’t it wondrous how communities come together when something terrible has happened to their loved ones?

This is a beautiful prescription of what to do in our daily lives – approach everything and everyone with a sense of wonder, rather than judgment or a closed heart. I tell my couples to be curious rather than furious about one another. I love the refinement of deepening curiosity and turning it into wonder. I think that can be really helpful in healing (marital, parental, and family) relationships – and in healing the world. What if we approached everyone who is different from us (people close to us AND our opponents) with wonder and curiosity about them and their story, rather than with anxiety or judgment about their otherness?

4. Fiber Basket Making Class
And then there’s the fiber basket class and the making of baskets, that has touched my soul just the way I’ve needed to be held. I’ve made lots of baskets before, of pine needles, reeds, of waxed linen, fabric wrapped cording, paper, and raffia, etc., and loved them all. This course, however, really brought home the soul connection of making baskets.

With each stitch, I connect materials from around me and can connect to the inner landscape of me. The woman leading the basket making workshop (Mandy Greer) suggested that intimacy, a meditative quality, connection to culture and personality, family and history, life‘s journey, are represented in the coils wrapped together. She encouraged us to touch each day and work on or interact with this thing that can reflect us – even if only for a few inches/moments at a time.

She shared that ancient coil baskets have been found on every continent, amongst all peoples of the world, both functional and beautiful, usually of materials that come from the surrounding land. Let each coil, each wrap, each stitch allow me to travel through my own mental state, anchor myself to healing and forward movement, all while connecting to my earliest memories and desires for home and comfort, and to my ancestors, and future generations.

Baskets are everyday necessities, tools, as well as art and representations of the universal and cosmic flow of humanity and life energy. We tell and share stories in our baskets and demonstrate our timeline or record of life. The beginning of the basket – the center – can represent me today. As I expand it and grow it, I can connect to the past and into the future. As I work with my hands, I make a craft and its connection to life, sacred.

Even doing this course with my best friend was an act of the important connection we have and continue to build as we wind the various layers of our lives together. We share history, and friendship, sisterhood, laughter, and tears. We stand together at this moment in time, weaving our baskets, honoring what we’ve been through and what lies ahead, supporting and being supported by each other’s griefs, losses, challenges, hopes and dreams.

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These experiences I’ve shared, of the last month, have been woven together, coiled, and wrapped like these beautiful baskets. Sometimes a struggle to create or requiring dedicated focus and attention; sometimes free-flowing and wondrous, or made up of transitions and changes that don’t flow smoothly. All adding to the depth and beauty of this life basket I weave and feel wonder and awe to be a part of.

Holding and being present to each stage of my basket (life), allowing myself to grieve or reflect upon or wonder about all that we have bravely faced, while touching the fabric of our lives, doing these things in the community, all are part of the healing energy I and many others are doing at this unprecedented time.

What about you – what has touched your soul, offered calm, uplift, and hope that you can carry on, lately? What helps you to keep going, or honor where you’ve been in this tumultuous world?

May you touch upon the coil of your life’s meaning, story, and experiences, with every breath and moment of your days, and find that it’s all connected.

If you or someone you love is having difficulty connecting your basket or struggling to move forward with dignity, justice, and joy in this crazy time, please contact me for a therapy appointment.