Resmaa Menakem (MSW, LICSW, SEP) teaches workshops on Cultural Somatics for audiences of African Americans, European Americans, and police officers. He is also a therapist in private practice, and a senior fellow at The Meadows. His New York Times best-selling book is My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies.
‘Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence’
Across the past year, and now as the murder trial of Derek Chauvin unfolds with Minneapolis in fresh pain and turmoil, we return again to the grounding insights of Resmaa Menakem. He is a Minneapolis-based therapist and trauma specialist who activates the wisdom of elders, and very new science, about how all of us carry in our bodies the history and traumas behind everything we collapse into the word “race.” We offer up his intelligence on changing ourselves at a cellular level — practices towards the transformed reality most of us long to inhabit.
Host Krista Tippett:
‘Across the past year, and now as the murder trial of Derek Chauvin unfolds, with Minneapolis in fresh pain and turmoil, I return again and again to the grounding insights of Resmaa Menakem. He is a Minneapolis-based therapist and trauma specialist who activates the wisdom of elders, and very new science, about how all of us carry in our bodies the history and traumas behind everything we collapse into the word “race.” We offer up Resmaa’s intelligence anew on changing ourselves at a cellular level — practices towards the transformed reality I believe most of us long to inhabit.’
More from Krista:
‘Ever after, when I use the word “we” or “us,” I understand in a whole new way that I do so in a White body … I hold that knowledge together with my clarity that when time becomes history, the generations for whom we are the ancestors will see an “us.”’
‘…enough of us are preparing to be the generation, in bodies of every color, after so many generations of betrayal & blindness, to step onto that long arc of the moral universe—bending it towards justice & the Beloved Community.”
‘When we’re talking about trauma, when we’re talking about historical trauma, intergenerational trauma, persistent institutional trauma — and personal traumas, whether that be childhood, adolescence, or adulthood — those things, when they are left constricted, you begin to be shaped around the constriction. And it is wordless. Time decontextualizes trauma. So when my grandmother is saying that, I need to pay attention to that. And for her, it’s decontextualized, so she doesn’t even have a context for it.
Bodies of culture. That’s right. And so one of the things that happens with the vagal nerve — there’s two. There’s the vagal nerve — I call that the soul nerve — and then there’s a muscle, the psoas muscle. That psoas is a beast, because the psoas, what it does is, it connects the top part of the body with the bottom part of the body. It also — if you’re braced, it also manages whether or not you mobilize or immobilize. And if you’re born to people who are already braced, you pick up in your psoas this kind of locking down, this kind of bracing, decontextualized.
And so what I’ve been talking to people about is, how do we begin to get the reps in with those pieces? So you’re gonna need time to condition your body to be able to deal with the aches, deal with the doubt, deal with all of that difficulty. You’re gonna have to get up against your own suffering’s edge, before the transformation happens. But you need to condition that. Why do we think that when we talk about race, that’s any different — for me to say, “We’re gonna have a white body supremacy talk; deal with the root of this stuff”?’
💛 ❤️ 💛 ❤️ 🥰 ❤️ 💛 ❤️ 💛
And then, listen to Krista Tippett’s conversation with clinical psychologist Christine Runyan.
Runyan is a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. She is a certified mindfulness teacher. She co-founded and co-leads Tend Health, a clinical consulting practice focused on the mental well-being of health care practitioners.
Viktor Frankl, and he says, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. And in that space lies our power to choose. And in our choice lies our growth and our freedom.”
In regard to the work Runyan does with health care workers and Tend Health:
“No amount of sophisticated technology can do what health professionals have done these past few months — offered care with uncertain evidence, sat with the dying, comforted family members from afar, held one another in fear and grief, celebrated unexpected recoveries, and simply showed up. We have asked and expected clinicians to show up in ways they were never trained to do. No one has been trained in how to emotionally manage months of mass casualties. No one has been trained on how to keep showing up despite feeling feckless on the job. No one has been trained how to keep regular life afloat at home and anxiety at bay, while working day after day with a little known biohazard.”
We are pretty conditioned to turn away from discomfort and suffering in our society. We are not very good at allowing for grief, which is always on its own timeline, and it’s unpredictable in its own right. And this is a tough one, because it’s not a pinpoint experience. I don’t know what it looks like to have a day of remembering or some sort of ritual around — because we’re still in it, is the other thing. We’re trying to grieve a trauma that is still ongoing. And I don’t have the answer to how to do that, other than one breath at a time — because it’s still here.
“We may stumble, but always there is that Eternal Voice, forever whispering in our ear.”
-Science of Mind, p. 33
Eschatological secret [ultimate destiny of humanity]; wise heart…secret hope. -Thomas Merton
Revelations of Divine Love.
Lady Julian of Norwich.
‘Julian says that we have in us here such a “medley” of good and evil that sometimes we hardly know of others or of ourselves wherein we stand…’
25,000,000 U.S. Cases
414,000 + deaths.
From Krista Tippet, Saturday, January 23, 2021
This week’s Pause is written by Krista:
I’ve been thinking this week about vocation — from the Latin vocare, callings. Somewhere along the way in this culture a person’s vocation became synonymous with their job title, but I think of vocation as the full range of our callings as human beings. Yes, as professional people but also as family members and neighbors, parents and friends, and members of a body politic. Vocation is not so much about goals and accomplishments. It’s about how we orient our lives and our attention and our passions. At different stages in life, different callings emerge and take primacy — what we focus on and pay homage to with our presence, and what we fight for from the ground of what we love.
To pick up the question of what is calling me and you is one way to begin to walk, each with our own offering, towards a new kind of wholeness in our life together. For there are callings in a time as in a life.
Some of us — many of us — are called right now primarily to get safe and fed and warm, to keep those we love safe and fed and warm. Some of us are called to place our bodies between other bodies and danger. Some of us are called to be bridge people, staking out the vast ground at the heart of our life together where there is meaningful difference but no desire for animosity.
And some of us are called to be calmers of fear. This calling is so tender, and so urgent, if what we truly want is to coax our own best selves, and the best selves of others, into the light. Fear is the primitive, powerful place our brains go when they perceive threat. It collapses imagination, closing down a sense of the possible. It looks for an “other” to blame, and it finds one. The anger that has consumed our life together on every side is fueled by pain and fear.
This is an uncomfortable truth to take in, a fact not about life as we wish it to be but about life as it is. One of the most painful things for me to watch in the frenzy of our life together in recent years was the loss of any capacity to remember that essential contradictions run wild in each of us and are real, too, in whoever our “others” have become. There is a terrible but also a beautiful, and potentially redemptive, complexity at play whenever human beings are involved.
I wonder if now, more of us who are safe enough might feel ourselves called — to invoke Bryan Stevenson — to walk towards the reality that those who confuse and vex us are more than the worst thing we believe they are or have done. We might be called — to invoke an image Frances Kissling once gave me that has shaped my sense of calling ever since — to populate and build up “that crack in the middle where people on both sides absolutely refuse to see each other as evil.” We spend so much time and energy in this culture, so much fierce creativity, wishing to change other people’s minds. But in life as it is lived, we know that’s not how it works. Hearts soften, and then minds open. Pragmatic possibilities appear that our bodies and brains literally could not fathom before.
The show we’re offering up this week is another kind of nod to our complexity — and to how hard a time we continue to inhabit. Even as I write this with passion I feel my body clenching, exhausted by the idea of greater callings. On some level, I’m just trying to get through the days. Katherine May, who I learned about when I asked people on Twitter what was helping them get through their days, reminds me that heeding my clenching and exhaustion is also part of the way forward. She meditatively explores “wintering” as a season of the natural world but also as a place our bodies and psyches need to go, a season that recurs again and again across a life. We cheat and dismiss this in life as we’ve been living it, but it has presented itself insistently in a pandemic year we might reimagine as one long communal wintering.
We can’t move forward without grieving all we’ve lost in the past year. Closer to the ground, this means we have to let in the fact of sadness — a precursor to pain and fear — with some reverence. If happiness is a skill, Katherine May says, so is unhappiness. Winter embodies the strange complexity of reality. It is the bitterest season, we blithely say. And all the while it manages not to be the death of the life cycle, as Katherine May reminds, but its crucible.
Katherine May helps me, and I hope she offers some restorative grace to you.
Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes, Center for Action & Contemplation:
…the American dream of freedom and equality could be made real through courageous action in a spirit of love, in pursuit of human dignity for all. This dignity includes all who suffer from homelessness, joblessness, purposelessness, carelessness, hopelessness.
Because our needs are so great today, and your care so constant, we know that you are rebuilding the network of compassion around new visionaries who you have assembled for this hour. Surprise us with the discovery of how much power we have to make a difference in our day:
—A difference in the way citizens meet, greet, respect, and protect the rights of each other.
—A difference in the breadth of our vision of what is possible in humanization, reconciliation, and equalization of results in our great city.
—A difference in the way government, business, and labor can work together, for justice and social enrichment.’
Washington National Cathedral is hosting a new art exhibit showcasing thousands of paper doves suspended from the Cathedral’s vaulted, 100-foot-high ceiling through May 2021. The “Les Colombes” exhibit is by German artist Michael Pendry, who has created similar works at Cathedrals around the world, and symbolizes the Biblical theme of hope and optimism heading into the new year after a very challenging 2020.
Every moment and every event of every woman’s life on earth plants something in her soul. -Thomas Merton [changes to gender, mine.]
More from Merton:
Prayer is freedom and affirmation growing out of nothingness into love. It is the elevation of our limited freedom into the infinite freedom of the divine spirit and of the divine love. Prayer is an emergence into this area of infinite freedom.
Keep your eyes clean your ears quiet and your mind serene. Breathe Gaia’s air. Work, if you can, under her sky.
I’ve always called myself a lover of language and of the limits of language. But this week I take no pleasure in how tongue-tied I feel, standing before the disarray and fragility of our life together. It’s hard to put words out into the world right now for so many reasons. That they’re not big enough. That they never tell the whole truth. That we live in a moment so on edge and reactive that someone will take offense, or be wounded by my words, and that feels harder than ever before to risk and to bear.
There is an insanity to our life together right now that is directly related to the tenuous hold on sanity so many of us feel after surviving this past year.
That does not justify hatred or violence.
It does mean that we’re called to be as gentle with ourselves and others as we can possibly, reasonably muster. That sounds like such a modest contribution to the tumult all around and on our screens, but it is not.
I keep coming back in memory, and feeling in my body, to my experience of election night 2020. I observed it as someone who sees our political life together as a reflection of the human condition in all its complexity, contradiction, and mess. But I was also watching as a person who grew up in one of the “reddest” states, who now lives in one of the “bluest.” I felt a panicked sadness — this has remained my primary emotion through everything that has followed — as the cameras zoomed in and out on those maps of our country.
I saw visually what I know in life as it is lived: those maps marked up with definitive reds and blues don’t tell the truth of our alienation and its unsustainable intimacy. The fractures that actually define our nation right now do not run state to state or county to county, but neighborhood to neighborhood, family to family. They run through our dreams for our children on every side. They run through our hearts, and through our lives.
I am so grateful to have received, as I was struggling to write this, an email from Whitney Kimball Coe of the Rural Assembly and the Center for Rural Strategies. There is a whole epic story of our time in what is being gathered and created in the world she’s part of. It is in no way described or contained in a red-blue demographic lens of the “urban-rural divide.” She gave me permission to share this part of her email with you:
“I’m at home nursing my youngest, Susannah, who had a scary fall on Monday night and is now recuperating from surgery. She’s going to be fine, but my goodness, 2021 came in hard. Stream of consciousness moment:You know, our hospital experience put us directly in the path of so many wonderful East Tennesseans. Nurses and technicians and doctors, the other parents waiting in the ER, the parking attendant, the security guard. I’m sure many of them didn’t vote as I did in the last election and probably believe the events of Jan 6 were mere protests, but they responded to our trauma with their full humanity. I’d forgotten what it feels like to really see people beyond their tribe/ideology. It broke something open in me. I’ve been living in a castle of isolation these many months and it’s rotted and blotted my insides. I’m aware of contempt, anger, and maybe even paranoia coursing through my veins, and I wonder if that’s just a snippet of where we are as a nation.
Why is our righteous indignation and disgust so much easier to flame than our compassion?
It makes me realize that there is no substitute for coming into the presence of one another. No meme nor Twitter post nor op-ed nor breaking news nor TED talk can soften and strengthen our hearts like actually tending to one another. We don’t have to ignore/excuse the darkness we all carry, but we have to keep showing up so we don’t lose ourselves to bitterness.”
We cannot conjure up something so aspirational as “unity” by wishing it, and we are in fact impoverished when it comes to “common ground” between our societal trenches.
But if I’ve heard one thing most insistently, with an infinite variety of circumstance and struggle, from absolutely every beautiful and wise human I’ve ever met, it is this: We are creatures made, again and again, by what would break us. Yet only if we open to the fullness of the reality of what goes wrong for us, and walk ourselves with and through it, are we able to integrate it into a new kind of wholeness on the other side.
Our collective need for a new kind of wholeness might be the only aspiration we can share across all of our chasms right now.
Longings, too, can be common ground. A shared desire not to be lost to bitterness. A clear-eyed commitment that what divides us now does not have to define what can become possible between us. Questions, honestly asked, about how to make that real.
[Krista Tippett is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, a National Humanities Medalist, a New York Times bestselling author, and founder of On Being.]
‘This was the road which Xerxes took, and it was hereabouts that he came across
a plane-tree of
such beauty that he was moved
to decorate it
with golden ornaments and
to appoint a guardian for it
~Herodotus, The Histories
We know poetry to be a critical pillar of public life. It rises up when official language fails us. And it gives voice to what is human and what is true, how we connect and what questions we hold.
Poetry has moved to the heart of what we offer on the radio and in podcasts, which is why we’re excited to have partnered with talented illustrators, animators, and directors to reimagine poetry in visual, dynamic ways.
“This is what was bequeathed us” by Gregory Orr is part of our “Visualizing Poetry” series, which features animated interpretations of beloved poems from our archive.
This poem was originally read in the On Being episode with Gregorry Orr, “Shaping Grief With Language.”
-The Onbeing Project
A celebrated moral thinker and renowned Judaic intellect, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks died last week at 72 from cancer.
“The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of other—in that sharing of vulnerabilities, discovering a genesis of hope.”
When Krista Tippett, On Being, spoke with Lord Sacks in 2010, he modeled a life-giving, imagination-opening faithfulness to what some might see as contradictory callings: How to be true to one’s own convictions while also honoring the sacred and civilizational calling to shared life — indeed, to love the stranger?
Krista: You’ve made a statement. I think it’s audacious: “The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities, discovering a genesis of hope.” Now as someone who conducts conversation for a living, I love that statement. I wonder how you know that to be true — that the antidote to violence is conversation.
Lord Sacks: Listening gives each of the two parties the feeling that they are heard, and once they’re heard, they can then begin to speak what they really feel. And then they can begin to realize that there are things they still care about in common.
Sometimes I think what would happen if we generated real conversations at the grassroots level between the people whose lives are really affected?
The real conflicts arise when our minds are focused on the past.
I think God is setting us a big challenge, a really big challenge. We are living so close to difference with such powers of destruction that he’s really giving us very little choice. You know, to quote that great line from W.H. Auden, “We must love one another or die.”
So I am full of hope as we face the greatest challenge humanity ever has.
It has taken the massacre of so many black bodies to get us to this moment.
Thank you, Kimberly, for educating.
This! ?? IG: kimberlylatricejones & djonesmedia pic.twitter.com/l8zX4CULEg
— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) June 6, 2020
White Body Supremacy
“…the term “white body supremacy” — I’m operationalizing it. The white body is used to hearing things that make it comfortable. And so when you say something like ‘white supremacy’ especially here in Minnesota, everybody goes, “Yes, absolutely. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.’ And then what happens is, it goes — just the term, “white supremacy,” is a very intellectual term. It doesn’t land in the body.
-Resmaa Menakem, therapist and trauma specialist in Minneapolis who teaches across the U.S.
For all its presumed innocence, this way of life lived by well-off North Americans is both unjust to those who cannot attain this lifestyle and destructive of the very planet that supports us all.
Sallie McFague was an American feminist Christian theologian, best known for her analysis of how metaphor lies at the heart of how we may speak about God. She applied this approach in particular to ecological issues, writing extensively on care for the earth as if it were God’s “body.”
‘In this award-winning text, theologian Sallie McFague challenges Christians’ usual speech about God as a kind of monarch. She probes instead three other possible metaphors for God as mother, lover, and friend.’
Center for Action & Contemplation
While we may continue to practice physical distancing from other humans, most of us can still safely spend time in nature. The Journal of Health Psychology confirms what Franciscans and mystics have long known: interacting with nature is a great stress reliever. Just thirty minutes of gardening lowers the cortisol released during stress-induced fight-or-flight responses. Today’s practice, written by poet, writer, and educator Trevien Stanger for the book Order of the Sacred Earth, invites us to make a very specific contemplative contribution by planting trees.
Ethnobotanist, author, and Potawatami elder Robin Kimmerer asserts, “We need acts of restoration, not only for polluted waters and degraded lands, but also for our relationship to the world. We need to restore honor to the way we live, so that when we walk through the world we don’t have to avert our eyes with shame, so that we can hold our heads high and receive the respectful acknowledgment of the rest of [the] earth’s beings.”  . . .
I contend that every individual can participate in [the] Great Turning, and that one of the great challenges of our time is for each of us to figure out how and where we plug into this psycho-spiritual current. . . . I, for one, plant trees. . . . In my more recent work as an environmental studies professor at a community college in Vermont, I’ve had a hand in planting just shy of 100,000 trees over the past 12 years. . . .
What happens when you plant a tree? What happens when you wield a shovel in one hand (a human artifact) and a tree (a provisional mystery) in the other? What happens when you dig a hole (a Kali-like destruction) and plant a tree within it (an act of creativity)? What happens when you learn about your local ecology not just as an observer, but also as a participant? What happens when you embrace the wildness of a tree-being and integrate it into the semi-wild streets and streams of your local community? What happens when you crack open your isolated sense of self and plant within your heart this symbol of our ever-branching inter-being? What happens when you consider your actions in terms of your ecological and cultural legacy? What happens when you move beyond your concerns of today and inquire as to what type of ancestor you will be? Nelson Henderson posits that “. . . one true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”  Under whose shade do you sit beneath today? Whose shade shall you help gift for tomorrow?
 Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Milkweed Editions: 2013), 195.
 Wes Henderson shared his father’s advice in Under Whose Shade: A Story of a Pioneer in the Swan River Valley of Manitoba (W. Henderson & Associates: 1986, ©1982).
Trevien Stanger, “Tree Planter,” Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action, Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jennifer Listug (Monkfish Book Publishing Company: 2018), 184-186.
Image credit: Legend of St. Francis: 15. Sermon to the Birds (fresco detail), artist unknown, formerly attributed to Giotto di Bondone, c. 1297–1299, Upper Basilica of San Francesco d′Assisi, Assisi, Italy.
From Father Richard Rohr, Barbara Holmes, and Bill McKibbon:
Goodness is a first principle of the universe. God declares it on the first page of the story of creation. —Barbara Holmes
Creation is the first Bible, as I (and others) like to say , and it existed for 13.7 billion years before the second Bible was written. Natural things like animals, plants, rocks, and clouds give glory to God just by being themselves, just what God created them to be. It is only we humans who have been given the free will to choose not to be what God created us to be. Surprisingly, the environmentalist and author Bill McKibben finds hope in this unique freedom. He writes:
The most curious of all . . . lives are the human ones, because we can destroy, but also because we can decide not to destroy. The turtle does what she does, and magnificently. She can’t not do it, though, any more than the beaver can decide to take a break from building dams or the bee from making honey. But if the bird’s special gift is flight, ours is the possibility of restraint.
We’re the only creature who can decide not to do something we’re capable of doing. That’s our superpower, even if we exercise it too rarely.
So, yes, we can wreck the Earth as we’ve known it, killing vast numbers of ourselves and wiping out entire swaths of other life—in fact . . . we’re doing that right now. But we can also not do that. . . .
We have the tools (nonviolence chief among them) to allow us to stand up to the powerful and the reckless, and we have the fundamental idea of human solidarity that we could take as our guide. . . .
While the lives of our elders, our vulnerable, and essential workers are at stake during the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions of us across the globe have been restraining ourselves at home, choosing not to do many things for many weeks in order to protect those we love (and those others love as well). Surely the earth is breathing a sigh of relief for our reduction in pollution and fossil fuel use. This “Great Pause,” as some are calling it, gives me hope that we will soon find it within ourselves to protect our shared home, not only for our own sake, but for our neighbors across the globe, and future generations.
How is a huge part of the world organised under a system that has different meanings country-to-country, and could even mean something different to you, and the person standing behind you in the line to vote?
How do we know democracy is broken if we don’t know what it is?
by Patrick Chalmers.
“To my mind, there seems no better starting point for understanding politics than to grapple with the word “democracy”. What does it mean and how should it work?
The word is easy enough to define. It comes from the Greek for people (demos) and power (kratos), translating as people power, or government by the people. Most of us know democracy as something like that. But things quickly get more complicated when we ask what exactly that means in everyday life.
‘…there’s ubuntu, Watch South African Anglican cleric and human rights activist Desmond Mpilo Tutu describe ubuntu in this video clip.the Nguni language word for a humanist philosophy and way of living from southern Africa. It’s most often translated as “I am, because you are”, a profoundly political concept which evokes the connectedness that exists, or should exist, between all people and the planet – a manifesto for inclusive government.’
The distorting – if not corrupting – influence of money helps to explain why elected representatives rarely reflect the societies they are meant to represent but rather their richer members. Consider the representation of women in government. Though their share of seats in legislatures worldwide is growing, they still represent fewer than a quarter of deputies. The same goes for minorities – whatever they may be, wherever they may be. So while, for example, western countries are becoming more ethnically, racially and religiously diverse, their legislators generally haven’t kept pace with these changes. If the current US presidential race is anything to go by, the face of democracy is still pale, male and stale. In parts of the world where people of colour are the majority, male and stale usually covers it.”
As the arrow endures the bowstring’s tension so that, released, it travels farther. For there is nowhere to remain.
Concentrate on seeing all the beauty your soul can absorb but turn away from what is ugly and vile and degrading. The higher your sights, the better your spirits. Everything we do requires us to reveal our inner longings. Identify them clearly and make productive use of them.
There is nothing more tragic in the modern world than the misuse of power and action to which men are driven by their own Faustian misunderstandings and misapprehensions. We have more power at our disposal today that we have ever had, and yet we are the more alienated and estranged from the inner ground of meaning and love than we have ever been. -Contemplation in a World of Action, 1965
A Democratic Pledge
I would like to
- become more selective in what I watch and read
- become more critically aware of the messages I receive
- find new sources information about the things I care about most
- participate in local media
- create interactions in my community
Living Democracy is emerging within the human services, focusing not solely on individual self-reliance but also on the capacities of people to work together for mutual healing and problem solving. Society’s obligation to help support citizens with specific needs does not have to mean top-down governmental control; self-help and society’s help are mutually enhancing and mutually beneficial.
Towards a Moral Revolution
Moral reckonings are being driven to the surface of our life together: What are politics for? What is an economy for? Jacqueline Novogratz says the simplistic ways we take up such questions — if we take them up at all — is inadequate. Novogratz is an innovator in creative, human-centered capitalism. She has described her recent book, Manifesto for a Moral Revolution, as a love letter to the next generation.
‘I think, in this moment of such peril & possibility, we really could build a world like the world has never seen before. If there was ever a decade to do it, it’s this decade. I want future generations to say, “Look how hard they tried,” not “Look at how blind they were.”’
A liminal or threshold experience can take many forms: a time of birth, a transition from life to death, or even a global pandemic that shuts down the status quo and forces us into silence and solitude. Liminal spaces, as Richard Rohr writes in the new issue of Oneing, enable us “to see beyond ourselves to the broader and more inclusive world that lies before us. When we embrace liminality, we choose hope over sleepwalking, denial, or despair. The world around us becomes again an enchanted universe.”
Liminal space is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next. -From Farther Richard Rohr
Hardly anything turns out the way you expected it to, and you’re frequently ready to write life off as too paradoxical and too difficult to endure. Then some indescribable light fights its way through the impenetrable dark. –Paula D’Arcy
There is deep beauty in the darkness, in the unknowing, in the indescribable, if only we can open ourselves to its purpose. –LaVera Crawley
What if we can choose to experience this liminal space and time, this uncomfortable now, as a place and state of creativity, of construction and deconstruction, choice and transformation? –Sheryl Fullerton
Into this liminal realm, between the known and the unknown, we are invited to enter if we are to learn more of the way forward in our lives as individuals and as communities and nations. –John Philip Newell
Without standing on the threshold for much longer than we’re comfortable, we won’t be able to see beyond ourselves to the broader and more inclusive world that lies before us. -RR
Eco-theologian Thomas Berry says the universe is so amazing in its interrelatedness that it must have been dreamt into being. He also says our situation today as an earth community is so desperate—we are so far from knowing how to save ourselves from the ecological degradations we are a part of—that we must dream the way forward. We must summon, from the unconscious, ways of seeing that we know nothing of yet, visions that emerge from deeper within us than our conscious rational minds.
“The great loss is that we can move through our whole lives, picking up phones and talking to our most beloveds, and yet, still not know who they are. Our ‘How are you?’ has failed us. We have to find something else.”
Writer Ocean Vuong has long noticed how we grow numb to language when it’s ubiquitous, rote, rehearsed — and what’s at stake when we stop examining the words we use. Krista spoke with him at On Air Fest in Brooklyn back in March, just days before the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic. Even then, he said “How are you?” doesn’t go deep enough.
“When you’re using language, you can create it, use it to divide people and build walls, or you can turn it into something where we can see each other more clearly, as a bridge.”
Maybe this is one way of asking: How can we choose words that allow us into one another’s lives, especially in a time when language is one of our few remaining ways to connect? Vuong beckons us toward the freshness of tomorrows, just at the tips of our tongues. -Krista Lin, Editor, the On Being Project.
Ocean Vuong is a Vietnamese-American poet, essayist and novelist. He is a recipient of the 2014 Ruth Lilly/Sargent Rosenberg fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, a 2016 Whiting Award, and the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize for his poetry. His debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, was published in 2019. Awards: MacArthur Fellowship, T. S. Eliot Prize, Whiting Awards, Dylan Thomas Prize
‘If you don’t shed a tear while you’re here,
you will have missed the point.”
I allow myself to e grounded in the experience of this peace, this beauty this goodness that avails itself to each of us now.
I am aware that we are all a center of divine consciousness in this vast whole.
This Presence invites each of us to co-reate a world that is just, equitable and sustainable of all life-a world that works for all creation.
And so even now, as light has given way to darkness, we remember that one again light is born from darkness.
I remember to be grateful for the light to emerge once again.
-Science of Mind
“The world we want to make when we get out of this.”
-Krista Tippett, On Being
Don’t forget: disasters and crises bring out the best in people
“Dear neighbours. If you’re over 65 and your immune system is weak, I’d like to help you. Since I’m not in the risk group, I can help you in the coming weeks by doing chores or running errands. If you need help, leave a message by the door with your phone number. Together, we can make it through anything. You’re not alone!”
“We’ve learned how to accept help from others,” writes a woman living in Wuhan.Millions of Chinese people are encouraging each other to stand strong, using the Cantonese expression “jiayou” (“don’t give up”). YouTube videos show people in Wuhan singing from the windows of their homes, joined by numerous neighbours nearby, their voices rising in chorus and echoing amongst the soaring towers of In Siena and Naples, both on complete lockdown, people are singing together
Children in Italy are writing “andrà tutto bene” (“everything will be all right”) on streets and walls, while countless neighbours areOn Thursday, an Italian journalist told the Guardian about what he had witnessed with his own eyes: “After a moment of panic in the population, there is now a new solidarity. In my community the drugstores bring groceries to people’s homes, and there is a group of volunteers that A tour guide from Venice notes: “It’s human to be scared, but I don’t see panicking, nor acts of selfishness.”
The words “andrà tutto bene” – everything will be all right – were first used by a few mothers from the province of Puglia, who posted the slogan on Facebook. From there, it spread across the country, going viral almost as fast as the pandemic. The coronavirus isn’t the only contagion – kindness, hope and charity are spreading too.
As a species of animal that evolved to make connections and work together, it feels strange to suppress our desire for contact. People enjoy touching each other, and find joy in seeing each other in person – but now we have to keep our physical distance.
Still, I believe we can grow closer in the end, finding each other in this crisis. As Giuseppe Conte, the Italian prime minister, said this week:
The pandemic has exposed how interconnected and interdependent we are as humans. Everyday practices, like handwashing and covering our sneezes, have become the most basic duty we owe to friends and strangers alike. And we’re finding thoughtful ways to care for another amidst the tumult.
Editor, The On Being Project
“Hope, for me, just means … coming to terms with the fact that we don’t know what will happen and that there’s maybe room for us to intervene.”
“Great literature will come from this. Great art will come from this. Great awareness will come from this. Great love will come from this. More than anything else, great people will come from this – if we allow it to expand our hearts and minds.”
‘In the days since the Seattle area became the epicenter of the outbreak, the outpouring of support has been moving and inspiring. On an individual level, people have offered free babysitting, cooking and food delivery for harried parents and medically vulnerable older adults.
After racist coronavirus fears drove down business in Seattle’s Chinatown International District, Bill Tashima, a board member for the local Japanese American Citizens League, created a Facebook group on Sunday to share ways to support small restaurants. Within days, the group had nearly 5,000 members, sharing ideas for restaurant takeout to boost business in the struggling district and creating a virtual “tip jar” that one member was using to collect donations for restaurant workers.
The artistic community, which already experiences economic insecurity in good times due to unpredictable contract-based work, saw all public events canceled like dominoes in the past week. Seattle-area author Ijeoma Oluo quickly set up a GoFundMe on Monday to raise and distribute funds for artists. Within days, the fund raised $80,000 and distributed $10,000 and was in the process of distributing another $30,000 to artists directly impacted by loss of income due to the coronavirus. Another group of people started a live-performance streaming site on Facebook called “The Quarantine Sessions,” where artists can perform and the audience can tip the band before their performance starts.
To support those who are most vulnerable in an emergency, a grassroots effort formed in Seattle called “Covid19MutualAid,” centered on people with disabilities, people of color, undocumented people, older adults and others. In addition to recruiting volunteers for direct support such as food and grocery deliveries, the group is also advocating for systemic changes that would make communities less vulnerable in the first place.
When Seattle Public Schools announced Wednesday they would be closing abruptly the next day, people across the city jumped into action, knowing that for the 32% of Seattle school district families that are low income, school lunches are a critical part of how children stay fed. Volunteers and staff distributed school lunches for pickup at Highland Park Elementary in West Seattle on Thursday and in Rainier Beach, Washington Building Leaders of Change or WA-BLOC and food justice organization FEEST planned a free hot lunch called “Feed the Beach” for families on Friday with additional lunches twice a week after that.
These are just a few of the many grassroots efforts that are just getting started in our region. Larger entities like the Seattle Foundation are also taking action, with rapid response resources like the COVID-19 Response Fund quadrupling to $9 million in a few days.
The coming months will challenge us in ways we have never before imagined. But if we continue, as writer Sonya Renee Taylor said, to “put radical love into practice,” we might emerge stronger than we began.’
Editor’s note: The spread of novel coronavirus has left the state of Washington in a state of uncertainty. But amid the growing pandemic, members of the community have shown remarkable acts of kindness and efforts to take care of each other. From crowdsourced relief funds for local artists, to readers sending our own newsroom pizza after a long day, many people are rising to the occasion to uplift one another.
Mattia Ferraresi is a writer for the Italian newspaper Il Foglio.
A message from Italy
‘So here’s my warning for the United States: It didn’t have to come to this.
We of course couldn’t stop the emergence of a previously unknown and deadly virus. But we could have mitigated the situation we are now in, in which people who could have been saved are dying. I, and too many others, could have taken a simple yet morally loaded action: We could have stayed home.
What has happened in Italy shows that less-than-urgent appeals to the public by the government to slightly change habits regarding social interactions aren’t enough when the terrible outcomes they are designed to prevent are not yet apparent; when they become evident, it’s generally too late to act. I and many other Italians just didn’t see the need to change our routines for a threat we could not see.
Italy has now been in lockdown since March 9; it took weeks after the virus first appeared here to realize that severe measures were absolutely necessary.
According to several data scientists, Italy is about 10 days ahead of Spain, Germany, and France in the epidemic progression, and 13 to 16 days ahead of the United Kingdom and the United States. That means those countries have the opportunity to take measures that today may look excessive and disproportionate, yet from the future, where I am now, are perfectly rational in order to avoid a health care system collapse. The United States has some 45,000 ICU beds, and even in a moderate outbreak scenario, some 200,000 Americans will need intensive care.
The way to avoid or mitigate all this in the United States and elsewhere is to do something similar to what Italy, Denmark, and Finland are doing now, but without wasting the few, messy weeks in which we thought a few local lockdowns, canceling public gatherings, and warmly encouraging working from home would be enough stop the spread of the virus. We now know that wasn’t nearly enough.
Life in lockdown is hard, but it is also an exercise in humility. Our collective well-being makes our little individual wishes look a bit whimsical and small-minded. My wife and I work from home, or at least we try to. We help the kids with their homework, following the instructions their teachers send every morning via voice messages and video, in a moving attempt to keep alive their relationships with their students.
Strangely, it’s also a moment in which our usual individualistic, self-centered outlook is waning a bit. In the end, each of us is giving up our individual freedom in order to protect everybody, especially the sick and the elderly. When everybody’s health is at stake, true freedom is to follow instructions.’
Eric Klinenberg, NYU Social Sciences Professor
‘It’s an open question whether Americans have enough social solidarity to stave off the worst possibilities of the coronavirus pandemic. There’s ample reason to be skeptical. We’re politically divided, socially fragmented, skeptical of one another’s basic facts and news sources. The federal government has failed to prepare for the crisis. The president and his staff have repeatedly dissembled about the mounting dangers to our health and security. Distrust and confusion are rampant. In this context, people take extreme measures to protect themselves and their families. Concern for the common good diminishes. We put ourselves, not America, first.
But crises can be switching points for states and societies, and the coronavirus pandemic could well be the moment when the United States rediscovers its better, collective self. Ordinary Americans, regardless of age or party, already have abundant will to promote public health and protect the most vulnerable. Although only a fraction of us are old, sick or fragile, nearly all of us love and care for someone who is.
Today Americans everywhere are worried about the fate of friends and family members. Without stronger solidarity and better leadership, though, millions of our neighbors may not get the support they need.
We’re not likely to get better leadership from the Trump administration, but there’s a lot we can do to build social solidarity. Develop lists of local volunteers who can contact vulnerable neighbors. Provide them companionship. Help them order food and medications. Recruit teenagers and college students to teach digital communications skills to older people with distant relatives and to deliver groceries to those too weak or anxious to shop. Call the nearest homeless shelter or food pantry and ask if it needs anything.
Why not begin right now?’
‘If you’re like me and worried about your favorite local businesses right now, buy their gift certificates. It will help with their immediate liquidity needs and you can use it later once we’re past this.’
by May Sarton
Alone one is never lonely: the spirit
In a quiet garden, in a cool house, abiding single there;
The spirit adventures in sleep, the sweet thirst-slaking
When only the moon’s reflection touches the wild hair.
There is no place more intimate than the spirit alone:
It finds a lovely certainty in the evening and the morning.
It is only where two have come together bone against bone
That those alonenesses take place, when, without warning
The sky opens over their heads to an infinite hole in space;
It is only turning at night to a lover that one learns
He is set apart like a star forever and that sleeping face
(For whom the heart has cried, for whom the frail hand burns)
Is swung out in the night alone, so luminous and still,
The waking spirit attends, the loving spirit gazes
Without communion, without touch, and comes to know at last
Out of a silence only and never when the body blazes
That love is present, that always burns alone, however steadfast.
Last night I watched a documentary on war,
and the part I carry with me today
was the spectacle of a line
of maybe 20 blinded soldiers
being led, single-file,
away from a yellow cloud of gas.
That must be what accounts
for this morning’s brightness—
sunlight slathered over everything
from the royal palms to the store awnings,
from the blue Corolla at the curb
to a purple flower climbing a fence,
one gift of sight after another.
I couldn’t see their bandaged faces,
but each man had one hand
resting on the shoulder
of the man in front of him
so that every man was guiding
and being guided at the same time,
and in the same tempo,
given the unison of their small, cautious steps.
Fire activity picked up across the United States this week. 45 new large fires were reported most of them in Oklahoma. Get more information a
“The American political system—which includes everyone from voters to journalists to the president—is full of rational actors making rational decisions given the incentives they face,” writes political analyst Ezra Klein. “We are a collection of functional parts whose efforts combine into a dysfunctional whole.”
He traces the feedback loops between polarized political identities and polarized political institutions that are driving our system toward crisis.
- On Being with Krista Tippett
- Why Is This Happening with Chris Hayes
- Ezra Klein Show interviewed by historian Jill Lepore
[If you can only listen to one, please choose On Being with Krista Tippett. Beyond the exemplary content, it’s worth noting the calm Krista brings to Ezra’s atypical tempo. She is seemingly able to, through conversation, slow his often rapid delivery allowing reflection, pause and spiritual insight.]
Journalist Ezra Klein has been widely interviewed about his new book, Why We’re Polarized. In this conversation, he’s frank and reflective about what’s at stake in human terms in this political moment. And he describes how we all — Democrat and Republican, journalist and citizen alike — walked into this as a way to trace our steps out of it.
What are the structures that shape people’s decision-making? What are the structures that lead us to be who we are? I think that we often have an illusion that we made a choice for ourselves, when that choice was so fundamentally shaped by who we are and where we grew up and what was around us and what made sense for us to do, that in some final accounting, it was really almost never a choice at all. And I think when you look at the world like that, then it becomes very, very deeply important — it becomes of central importance — that those systems are just and that, in some big way, we are helping people who were born into, or who fell into, the wrong systems.
one of the really radicalizing things for me in the past couple of years has been this question, and it came a lot from my political reporting and talking to members of Congress and watching other journalists and starting Vox, of just: Have we built a system that has structured itself such that it is, at the very least, very hard for people to express the best versions of themselves within it? And I think we have.
I talk about this interview I did with President Obama, in the book. And I talked to him about polarization, and he’s somebody — I interviewed him many times, and I have great admiration for him. And he’s somebody who, I think, in a very deep way, believed that America could overcome its polarization, believed that a lot of that polarization was illusory. And I asked him about it, because at that point in 2015, when we had this discussion, he was quite polarizing. And I asked him about this. And he said, well, look: We all know that we’re one way in politics, but then, when we’re on the soccer or the little league field together, or we’re at the PTA meeting, or we’re talking to our neighbors, or there’s been a storm, we’re very different than that. And so, yeah, then, maybe, when you talk to that person about politics, you can’t believe what they’re saying, but then you look beyond that, and they’re good people. This country is full of good people.
In the past couple of years — and it was actually at the recommendation of Varshini Prakash, who is the executive director of the Sunrise Movement, the climate change movement — I had a conversation with her on my show, and I asked her, what does she do when she thinks about failure? And she said that every day she reads some of the Tao, the Tao Te Ching. And I thought, that’s a strange answer. And so I went, and I had not read it since I was young, when I didn’t get anything out of it.
And this time when I read it, I was really, really, deeply struck by its ideas of non-dualism, its challenge to think about everything is also encoding its opposite. And so much of how we are taught to think — I just think in general, but very much in politics — is, things are one way. They are right, or they are wrong. We got it right, or we got it wrong. This person won, and this person lost. It’s a clean equation that has one answer, every single time. And the deep truth about the Obama presidency is that the DT presidency was within it …
And this time when I read it, I was really, really, deeply struck by its ideas of non-dualism, its challenge to think about everything is also encoding its opposite. And so much of how we are taught to think — I just think in general, but very much in politics — is, things are one way. They are right, or they are wrong. We got it right, or we got it wrong. This person won, and this person lost. It’s a clean equation that has one answer, every single time. And the deep truth about the Obama presidency is that the DT presidency was within it …
The title says it all on this one, folks. What is it about the American political system that cultivated this deeply dysfunctional and polarized climate? Last year, we had Ezra Klein on the show to assess how bad things were in the Trump era (conclusion: not great). Now, Klein is back to discuss his new book “Why We’re Polarized” which provides a systematic look at the deep structural defects in American democracy that are manifesting themselves in two coalitions that are increasingly at each other’s throats.
Jill Lepore on what I got wrong.
Jill Lepore is a Harvard historian, a New Yorker contributor, the author of These Truths, and one of my favorite past guests on this show. But in this episode, the tables are turned: I’m in the hot seat, and Lepore has some questions. Hard ones.
This is, easily, the toughest interview on my book so far. Lepore isn’t quibbling over my solutions or pointing out a contrary study — what she challenges are the premises, epistemology, and meta-structure that form the foundation of my book, and much of my work. Her question, in short, is: What if social science itself is too crude to be a useful way of understanding the political world?
But that’s what makes this conversation great. We discuss whether all political science research on polarization might be completely wrong, why (and whether) my book is devoid of individual or institutional “villains,” and whether I am morally obliged to delete my Twitter account, in addition to the missing party in American politics, why I mistrust historical narratives, media polarization, and much more.
This is, on one level, a conversation about Why We’re Polarized. But on a deeper level, it’s about different modes of knowledge and whether we can trust them.
Loving the Questions
In 1974, a 15-year-old Serene Jones sat at a campfire sing-along that helped shape her understanding of America and its complicated relationship to its own story. She and her fellow campers were singing along to the familiar lyrics of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” when she learned for the first time that the song actually has a few lesser-known verses, including:
“In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?”
She writes in her book Call it Grace bout how hearing these more critical lyrics to a popular American song was a moment of revelation. Even decades later, she’s held onto the memory as a metaphor for America’s tendency to shine light on the “sunny, hopeful, and helpful” while “[lopping] off the uncomfortable verses about our lives.”
And in this week’s On Being, Jones talks about how her work as a public theologian is about reconciling these two realities in humanity: Both our propensity for love and connection, as well as our capacity for hatred and cruelty. She says it’s the work of connecting our personal stories to this bigger question — what does it mean to be human? — that makes theology such an important exercise. “What is theology, if it’s not talking about our collective lives and the meaning and purpose of our lives and how we’re supposed to live together and who God is, in ways that are part of our conversation together?”
Serene Jones describes theology as the place and story you think of when you ask yourself about the meaning of your life, the world, and the possibility of God. For her, that place is a “dusty piece of land” on the plains of Oklahoma where she grew up. “I go there to find my story — my theology. I go there to be born again; to be made whole; to unite with what I was, what I am, and what I will become.” In her work as a public theologian, Jones explores theology as clarifying lens on the present — from grace to repentance to the importance of moving from grieving to mourning.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue,” he wrote. “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
My sense of place — I have — it’s not quite a theory, but the way I’ve been thinking about it lately as an engineer — that everything has a physical landscape, an emotional landscape, and a natural landscape. And I think the way those three things combine form our sense of place and belonging and connection. -Richard blanco
“…what happens to our imagination about these humans when we use the word “immigrant” or “refugee” or, what I’m so aware of now, is what the word “migrant” has done. I think that language makes an abstraction of people and creates an ability for us to separate.” -Krista Tippett
‘As a longtime civil engineer by day and a poet by night, Cuban American writer Richard Blanco has straddled the many ways a sense of place merges with human emotion to form the meaning of home and belonging. In 2013, he became the fifth poet to read at a presidential inauguration (he was also the youngest and the first immigrant). The thoughtfulness, elegance, and humor of Blanco’s poetry and his person captivated the crowd for this live conversation at the Chautauqua Institution.’
Richard Blanco practiced civil engineering for more than 20 years. He is now an associate professor of creative writing at his alma mater, Florida International University. His books of non-fiction and poetry include Looking for the Gulf Motel and, most recently, How to Love a Country.
‘White dominant culture has been alive and well for centuries, and its grasp for power is only growing more desperate. Today we see unabashed racism, classism, and sexism at the highest levels of the United States government. How naïve many of us were to think we lived in a post-racial society after the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and after we saw an African American president and his family in the White House. Now our collective shadow has again come out in the open for all to see.
It seems every generation must be newly converted. While we seek to transform individual hearts and minds we must also work to create change throughout systems. Until a full vision of equity is realized, we must continue naming and resisting the ways in which so many people are excluded and oppressed. Author and activist adrienne maree brown writes:
Separation weakens. It is the main way we are kept (and keep each other) in conditions of oppression. . . . Where we are born into privilege, we are charged with dismantling any myth of supremacy. Where we are born into struggle, we are charged with claiming our dignity, joy and liberation. . . .Adrienne Maree Brown, “Report: Recommendations for Us Right Now from a Future,” Sublevel, issue 2 (2018)
If we remain exclusive monotheists, like Judaism, Islam, and much of Christianity up to now, we normally try to impose a false uniformity on others but rarely know how to love, honor, and respect diversity. We remain in competing tribes and colonies.’
-Richard Rohr, Center of Action & Contemplation
Let’s remake the world with words.
Not frivolously, nor
To hide from what we fear,
But with a purpose.
Let’s, as Wordsworth said, remove
“The dust of custom” so things
Shine again, each object arrayed
In its robe of original light.
And then we’ll see the world
As if for the first time,
As once we gazed at the beloved
Who was gazing at us.
“The beauty of being human is that we are incredibly, intimately near each other, we know about each other, but yet we do not know or never can know what it’s like inside another person.”
-John O’Donohue, Irish poet, author & priest
The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate, is what it was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.
Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. The architects of apartheid understood this. Part of the effort to divide black people was to make sure we were separated not just physically but by language as well. Racism teaches us that we are different because of the color of our skin. But because racism is stupid, it’s easily tricked. If you’re racist and you meet someone who doesn’t look like you, the fact that he/she can’t speak like you reinforces your racist preconceptions: He/She’s different, less intelligent. However, if the person who doesn’t look like you speaks like you, the brain brain short-circuits because your racism program has none of those instructions in the code.
-Born a Crime, Stories from a South African Childhood
How to chart your own ‘River of Life.’
Before one of his poetry readings at the On Being Gathering, David Whyte quoted these famous lines from poet Antonio Machado:
“Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino …”
“Pathmaker, there is no path,
You make the path by walking.
By walking, you make the path …”
River of Life Exercise
Editor’s Note: This activity was originally developed by Joyce Mercer. It is edited and adapted with permission.
All you need is a pen and a blank sheet of paper. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to work through it.
Step One: Reflect
Think about the course of your life. Take a moment to consider the following questions:
- If your life were a river, what shape would it take?
- Where are the bends and turns, when your situation or perspective changed? Was the transition smooth or sudden?
- Are there rocks or boulders — obstacles or life-altering moments — falling into your river?
- Are there points at which it flows powerfully and purposefully or slows to a trickle?
Step Two: Frame
Draw your river of life with its bends and turns, smooth waters and rough spots, strength and vitality.
- Label your approximate age and/or dates along the flow of your river.
- Identify various key events in your life that shape your story — the boulders in the river or places where the river changes course.
- If you were to divide your life journey into sections, where would the sections divisions occur? Name each of the sections of your life river.
Step Three: Guide
Think about the various people who have accompanied you along this river’s journey. Record these key relationships and losses in the appropriate places on your river of life. If you wish, you can also record thoughts and feelings attached to these relationships.
- What relationships have been most significant at different positions in your life?
- Who has most shaped you?
- Have there been significant losses of relationships along the way?
- What groups or communities of people were most important?
Step Four: Contextualize
Reflect on your life’s journey and trajectory. Using words and/or symbols, place life events in the appropriate locations on your diagram.
- Are there times of significant pain or suffering — yours or others’ — that shape the flow of your life river?
- What was going on in the world — locally, regionally, or around the world — that shape the flow of your life river?
Step Five: Evaluate
Note what has been important to you.
- What values, commitments, causes, or principles were most important to you at a given point in your life?
- Toward what goals, if any, were your primary energies directed? Or, metaphorically speaking, what purposes and ends helped to shape the flow of life waters at a given time in your experience?
As you finish depicting your river of life, review the whole diagram. Do its symbols and words seem to portray how you think and feel about the whole of your life? Is there some important element left out? Make adjustments as needed. Remember that no diagram can possibly capture all that shapes your journey.
You can share your river of life with others or simply use it as a tool for personal reflection.
PDF printable version:
“When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”
Unrest in Baton Rouge
“Our bodies run with ink dark blood. / Blood pools in the pavement’s seams. // Is it strange to say love is a language / Few practice, but all, or near all speak? // Even the men in black armor, the ones / Jangling handcuffs and keys, what else // Are they so buffered against, if not love’s blade / Sizing up the heart’s familiar meat? // We watch and grieve. We sleep, stir, eat. / Love: the heart sliced open, gutted, clean. // Love: naked almost in the everlasting street, / Skirt lifted by a different kind of breeze.”
Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith
‘Love is a language/Few practice, but all, or near all speak’