Still I RiseYou may write me down in historyWith your bitter, twisted lies,You may trod me in the very dirtBut still, like dust, I’ll rise.Does my sassiness upset you?Why are you beset with gloom?’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wellsPumping in my living room.Just like moons and like suns,With the certainty of tides,Just like hopes springing high,Still I’ll rise.Did you want to see me broken?Bowed head and lowered eyes?Shoulders falling down like teardrops,Weakened by my soulful cries?Does my haughtiness offend you?Don’t you take it awful hard’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold minesDiggin’ in my own backyard.You may shoot me with your words,You may cut me with your eyes,You may kill me with your hatefulness,But still, like air, I’ll rise.Does my sexiness upset you?Does it come as a surpriseThat I dance like I’ve got diamondsAt the meeting of my thighs?Out of the huts of history’s shameI riseUp from a past that’s rooted in painI riseI’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.Leaving behind nights of terror and fearI riseInto a daybreak that’s wondrously clearI riseBringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,I am the dream and the hope of the slave.I riseI riseI rise.
“I’m 23 now, but will I live to see 24? The way that things are going, I don’t know.” ~ Coolio, from Gangsta’s Paradise
It is a weird time. A powerful time. A scary time. COVID-19 sweeps across the planet.
George Floyd is murdered, which brings to the surface another pandemic that’s been with us too long: racism. The stink of shame and despair hang in the air.
Hope lingers on the sidelines.
Lately, nature is my refuge: illuminated trees in the morning light. The chaotic beauty of birdsong from these illuminated trees. Grass racing across the meadow in a sudden gust of wind. Sleek, silver fish flashing in the pond. Am I running from the realities of the world, or running towards it? Am I just fed up with the horrors human beings create? Ashamed of my white skin?
I watch and listen to the news, which fractures my heart in a million pieces. Will our nation ever, ever heal from racism? Is the ugliness of it too hard to look at, let alone learn from and change?
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came on to the scene, he brought us hope, heart, wisdom, and a path out of this ugliness. As a sheltered young white girl my eyes were forced open to see racism by his powerful speeches and his non-violent demonstrations, which he taught to others and empowered the lives of African Americans (Although at the time, I lived in a predominantly Black neighborhood, ours was the only family that owned our home, all three floors of it, while my neighbors lived in apartments buildings. At that time, I didn’t understand why the difference, but, as time went on and I educated myself, I began to painfully awaken). His words and the passionate way he spoke were so inspiring, that in my naivety and white ignorance, I thought soon, “Little black boys and black girls will be able to join bonds with little white boys and girls as sisters and brothers”.
But no. Killing after killing continued and continues. Videos taken from phones now reveal to white people what African Americans already have known too well – that at the ground level, racism is alive and well. We may have elected a Black president (and oh how I miss him), there are famous and wealthy and University-educated African Americans, but there is still blatant and systemic racism that doesn’t seem to go away, and I get overwhelmed.
So now, after I watch the news, I go outside and watch how the morning light changes the color of the landscape and the shadows move across the meadow. I smile at pine cones that litter my driveway when I walk up to get my mail. At night, I wonder at the deep thrum of bullfrogs and my heart awakens and soars when I hear coyotes yip in the hills.
We have a choice.
Epidemics, like earthquakes, tornadoes and floods, are part of the cycle of life on planet Earth.
How will we respond?
With greed, hatred, fear and ignorance? This only brings more suffering.
Or with generosity, clarity, steadiness and love?
This is the time for love.
Time for Bodhisattvas. In Buddhist teachings, the Bodhisattva is someone who vows to
alleviate suffering and brings blessings in every circumstance. A Bodhisattva chooses to
live with dignity and courage and radiates compassion for all, no matter where they find
This is not a metaphor. As Bodhisattvas we are now asked to hold a certain measure of
the tragedy of the world and respond with love.
The Bodhisattva path is in front of us. The beautiful thing is, we can see Bodhisattvas all
around. We see them singing from their balconies to those shut inside. We see them in
young neighbors caring for the elders nearby, in our brave healthcare workers and the
unheralded ones who stock the shelves of our grocery stores.
As a father, if she called me, I would fly to the ends of the earth to help and protect my
daughter. Now she and her firefighter/paramedic husband and my toddler grandson
await the virus. His urban fire department, like many hospitals and first responders,
does not have masks. Eighty percent of their work is emergency medical calls and they
all expect to get the virus. They will not be tested, because the department can’t afford to
lose the help of too many of their firefighters.
What can I do? What can we do?
In this moment we can sit quietly, take a deep breath, and acknowledge our fear and
apprehension, our uncertainty and helplessness… and hold all these feelings with a
compassionate heart. We can say to our feelings and uncertainty, “Thank you for trying
to protect me,” and “I am OK for now.” We can put our fears in the lap of Buddha, Mother
Mary, Quan Yin, place them in the hearts of the generations of brave physicians and
scientists who tended the world in former epidemics.
When we do, we can feel ourselves part of something greater, of generations of survivors
in the vast web of history and life, “being carried” as the Ojibwa elders say, “by great
winds across the sky.”
This is a time of mystery and uncertainty. Take a breath. The veils of separation are
parting and the reality of interconnection is apparent to everyone on earth. We have
needed this pause, perhaps even needed our isolation to see how much we need one
Now it is time to add our part.
The Bodhisattva deliberately turns toward suffering to serve and help those around in
whatever way they can.
This is the test we have been waiting for.
We know how to do this.
Time to renew your vow.
Sit quietly again and ask your heart: what is my best intention, my most noble aspiration
for this difficult time?
Your heart will answer.
Let this vow become your North Star. Whenever you feel lost, remember and it will
remind you what matters.
It is time to be the medicine, the uplifting music, the lamp in the darkness.
Burst out with love. Be a carrier of hope.
If there is a funeral, send them off with a song.
Trust your dignity and goodness.
Where others hoard…..help.
Where others deceive……stand up for truth.
Where others are overwhelmed or uncaring…..be kind and respectful.
When you worry about your parents, your children, your beloveds, let your heart open
to share in everyone’s care for their parents, their children and their loved ones. This is
the great heart of compassion. The Bodhisattva directs compassion toward everyone—
those who are suffering and vulnerable and those who are causing suffering. We are in
It is time to reimagine a new world, to envision sharing our common humanity, to
envision how we can live in the deepest most beautiful way possible. Coming through
this difficulty, what we intend and nurture, we can do.
In the end, remember who you are is timeless awareness, the consciousness that was
born into your body. You were born a child of the spirit, and even now you can turn
toward the awareness, and become the loving awareness that witnesses yourself reading
and feeling and reflecting.
When a baby is born our first response is love.
When a dear one dies, the hand we hold is a gesture of love.
Timeless love and awareness are who you are.
The world awaits your compassionate heart.
Let’s join in this great task together.
I am all over the place lately, leaping from fear to peace. I am reflecting what is happening all over the globe: Chaos and fear, yet a slowing down of activities. Sometimes I obsess about all kinds of things: Will I get this illness? Will I die a horrible death? Do I have enough tp? What if one of my caregivers gets sick and spreads the virus to others? What if I am left with no caregivers? How do I clean properly? Did I wipe down the doorknobs after someone left? What if I forgot? Anxiety loves this kind of stuff. It thrives on it.
And then, suddenly I am peaceful and feel wide open and content. Calm. And more connected to nature. The trees around my house seem more vibrant than ever. I watch the ducks in the pond happily waddling about, and I breathe more deeply. The red-winged blackbirds sing their delight at being alive and dive in and out of the cattails. Sometimes I go outside and sit on the earth and cry. I don’t know what I’m crying about, but tears run down my face. I sob. It feels good to do so. And I feel supported by the earth when I do.
Yesterday, while I was out there, Simon, our cat, came and sat with me and then curled up in my lap. We both surveyed the pond, the meadow, the hills. And I thought: If all humankind died, the earth would heal and that thought gave me peace. I love my friends, family and community, and sometimes am able to love all humankind, but, as my mother used to say, “We are the most destructive species on the planet.” She was right and it’s a hard fact to sit with.
Sometimes, I open my heart to not knowing. Not knowing if certain people I know and love will survive. Not knowing if local businesses will survive. Not knowing how long the virus will survive. And these thoughts take me to the big “I Don’t Know” – the mysteries of The Universe. And this thought leads to Freedom.
This morning I go to my friend Rainbow’s house to pick up a CD she has made with her “old man” Donovan. Rainbow is an old hippie who has basically tie-dyed her hair purple and green recently. We get to talking about all sorts of things and then she says, “We’re both the sensitive type. And sometimes that’s hard when life gets really dark.”
I nod my head agreeing, and give her arm a squeeze, wondering what she’s been going through lately.
“But I think that sensitivity is also a gift,” she adds. Yeah, I think. I forget this, but it’s true. “We feel things so deeply, don’t you think? And others! Real empaths.” I nod again. “Sometimes I feel I don’t have any skin.” “Yes, yes!,” she says enthusiastically. She can become easily excited. “That’s it exactly! But that sensitivity gives you the ability to write poetry. And the free hugs you used to give at Mariposa.”
I consider this. “I guess you’re right. That sensitivity we share has a positive side, although when things become really difficult, I forget that.” “I know! I know!” She’s almost jumping up and down. “Me too! But we can’t forget the flip side! Energy is energy! Sometimes we name it “anxiety,” other times we can name it – oh I don’t know – “The buzz of creativity.” We can’t forget that buzz! It’s magic!” Rainbow has a unique way of putting things. “Like you and your music and your big heart,” I say.
She ducks her head momentarily embarrassed, then says, “When we feel other folks’ pain, that can be draining sometimes. But it also means we can offer folks a lot of love.
“You’re right,” I say. I’m glad to hear these words from her right now. Lately, I have only seen the downside of sensitivity: The inability to use computers for too long because how it affects my nervous system, how I get almost every flu and cold in the winter because of a compromised immune system from too little sleep over too many years, and anxiety that shows up too frequently as far as I’m concerned. Not to mention epilepsy.
“Plus,” she goes on, “It seems like other folks don’t experience deeply the sweetness of the world. Like dew: It’s fantastic how it sparkles! Or how the sun can pierce through the dark clouds and right into your heart. They see it, they feel something, but it’s not a Big Event, you know? They’re on to the next thing.”
“I get what you mean. I often wonder what it’s like to be other people. To feel not what they feel, but how. Often, they seem to me – oh, I don’t know – not hardened exactly – but… more protected somehow. Some people hardly ever cry.”
“I know,” Rainbow says, “Can you imagine?” Her eyes widen in wonder.
I think about my mother whom I could count on one hand the number of times I saw her cry. And I never saw her sob. I remember her saying once, “Why do people have to talk about their feelings all the time?” She wasn’t a cold person. Warmth emanated from her. She just had thick skin – she was born that way.
We go on to other things: her upcoming gig, what movies we’ve seen lately, our very different upbringings: hers Catholic and strict, mine, unorthodox with few boundaries.
I then tell her I need to get back home and we hug and say goodbye.
When I reach my car, she yells, “I love you!”
I blow her a kiss.
“Keep writing poetry,” she adds as I’m about to open the car door, “The universe needs us!”
I toss the CD into the car and turn towards her, fashioning my hands into the shape of a heart.
Thanks, Rainbow. Thanks for the reminder.
Anxiety runs in my family. I inherited mine from my father.
My mother often told the story of when my father first began his teaching career. Every morning before work he would vomit from nerves. Eventually he got this down to every Monday, and then when he became more confident at his job, he stopped. Every time my brother and I were told this story, we would laugh, including my mother. We didn’t understand.
He couldn’t stand being late. When we would travel, he’d pack days ahead of time. When going to the airport, we would have to arrive hours ahead of schedule, or he would get upset, often yelling at us. His fear of being late carried over to other events when promptness was not called for – for example when going for an outing, he’d announce to the family what time we would “need” to leave, only to blow up when we weren’t ready a half an hour before the scheduled time.
His anxiety took the form of hypochondria. If he got a headache or a slight fever, he’d worry about it as if he had some strange or daunting illness, asking my mother repeatedly to feel his forehead or listen to his heartbeat. She’d roll her eyes and say, “You just have the flu for God’s sake! You’re not dying!” But by the look on his face, I could see he was frightened.
At restaurants, much to my family’s chagrin, he’d become agitated, running his hands through his hair repeatedly, waiting for dinner to arrive, long before it could possibly be ready. He would flag down a server and ask them when our meals would be ready, his voice sounding a little desperate, while the rest of us hid behind our menus.
As he got older, his anxiety increased, along with his controlling behavior. Once while I was visiting with my partner, his car was in the shop and was supposed to be ready early afternoon, but he got a call informing him that they ran into a snag and the car wouldn’t be ready until much later. He exploded and berated the receptionist on the other end who was only relaying the news. There was really no rational reason for him to be upset, he didn’t need to go anywhere that day, and, if that need changed, my partner and I had a car.
My parents lived about 2 hours from me. When returning home after visiting them, he would often call my landline long before I would arrive to see if I made it back ok, and when he found out I wasn’t there, he’d become anxious. I think it was my last visit there before he died, that he called my house three times before I made it home. It didn’t matter how much my partner tried to reassure him that I was probably just fine, he didn’t calm down until he heard my voice.
It took me a long time to recognize that these behaviors were coming from a place of anxiety, especially when he acted controlling, impatient and angry. It wasn’t until I began to analyze and compare my own feelings and behavior with his and recognize that they too stemmed from anxiety that I began to understand more fully his experience. Although I try not to manipulate and control those around me like my father did, there are situations where I have to have things a certain way or I become very anxious. There is a felt sense of great urgency when anxiety takes over, especially in triggering or stressful situations, and for me that happens most at bedtime. I have to be in my bedroom at 9 and if my partner begins a conversation at 8:50, I get impatient and irritated with her because of this urgency. I need to check and re-check to see if the front door is locked, the stove is turned off, and the cats have enough food and water before I turn in, or my stomach goes into knots.
I want to say here; I loved my father very much. He was much more than his anxiety disorder and I hope the following poem I wrote 3 months before his death demonstrates that.
For many (say 4) nights in a row I have slept pretty good, for me. I know if others experienced these nights, would probably have something else to say. But I’m happy with how I feel. Wow. Happy. That’s a miracle to me. I almost feel like a “normie” – what I call an able-bodied person. And yet. There is also a nervousness in me like I’m looking over my shoulder wondering how long this stretch will last. Another night? Please? The rest of my life? Please? I know the last plea is highly unlikely, but I like to hold out for a miracle.
Do you ever have good days? What do they look like? Do you get nervous about another shoe dropping like me?
So today I’ll have a “good” day I imagine. I’ll be more active. I won’t feel this pressure to act “normal” around others like I usually feel.
Which brings be to this topic: “how are you?” I’ve come to hate that question. It makes me feel squirmy. And sometimes resentful. Do people really want to know the answer. Sometimes I bump into others at the local natural food store, people I don’t know really well, but well enough to stop my cart and say hi. And as usual they ask, “How are you?”. Sometimes, because I just don’t feel like getting into it, I’ll say “fine” – it’s easier that way. Sometimes I’ll just shrug my shoulders and make a face which translates into “not so good”. Sometimes I’ll be bold and say “shitty”. Sometimes I’ll say, “Right now, I’m good”, which really means “I’m doing my best to stay present because I know when we do everything is pretty much ok that way.”
But mostly, unless it’s a good friend, I won’t get into the details. I don’t think most people really want to know the details. They don’t want to know I’ve been awake most of the night and that anxiety, dread and self-hate took over.
I have a good story about this kind of thing though. Once I was in Safeway and saw a woman from afar, I knew (not well) who had cancer and was going through treatment. Our eyes met and after that you can’t pretend you didn’t see each other. So, I waved and smiled and proceeded to push my cart up to her and she shook her head vehemently and turned away. I received her message loud and clear, that she did not want to interact whatsoever. I didn’t take it at all personally. I understood. And I appreciated her honesty. Perhaps next time someone I don’t know well asks me how I’m doing and it’s a difficult day for me, I can be just as honest and say something like, “Not well. And I don’t want to talk about it. And I don’t want to know how you’re doing because I’m too tired to listen to your story, whatever it is. I can’t be polite.” And then walk away.
What do you think?