Don't Look Away
Our individual part in healing
"I don't believe it's possible to be neutral. The world is already moving in certain directions, and to be neutral, to be passive in a situation like that, is to collaborate with whatever is going on. And I, as a teacher, do not want to be a collaborator with whatever is happening in the world. I want myself, as a teacher, and I want you, as students, to intercede with whatever is happening in the world. "
— Howard Zinn
Right now, the world feels unsteady and tilted towards anxiety and fear. Ground that once seemed firm feels like it's eroding at a furious pace. It is easy to feel tossed and battered by the change. I can choose passivity and think, "I sure hope somebody is on that." And listen to the voice that says, "you can't make a difference," "You won't make a difference," or "why bother?" I can let my fears dictate my actions, react in fear, anger, and aggression, or shut myself safely inside and choose passivity.
In a podcast interview this week, I heard Rabbi Jill Jacobs say (in the context of the war in Ukraine), "... we've looked away from so many disasters, but just not to look away." I stopped the podcast (and I have yet to finish it) those words caught me. Just don't look away. She said, pray, give to people on the ground doing the work, they know what needs to be done better than anyone outside, but most importantly, don't look away.
My attention is so important. What am I giving my attention to? Deep focus (sustained focus) is slipping away in modern times; we are all losing our ability to engage in sustained focus. My favorite musician Carrie Newcomer wrote in her substack newsletter this week about the "climate of distraction" prevalent in this time. Our brains are made to scan for danger and notice and appreciate novelty. Facebook (and all the rest of what we find on our phones) exploit the design of our brains to keep us constantly in search of new hits of dopamine. It has worked! We frequently move from one news story to the next, one cat video, one scary, shocking headline, or sparkly new "life hack" with a side of "do more to be more" productivity tools, in an endless search for the next hit of novelty or rage. In a climate of distraction, it's easy to look away from the things that matter.
When I paused Rabbi Jill Jacobs and just walked with her words for a while, I realized why don't look away took my breath away. It's what I've been trying to say for over a year each Sunday night in this Smaller and Deeper newsletter. Don't look away. Don't look away from the small joys. Don't look away from the growth. Don't look away from the pain. The small moments are the moments that matter in life. Don't let the pre-programmed distraction of our phones, headline news, texts, and information overload distract us from our magical, purposeful lives.
Now, more than ever, it seems vital to double down and keep looking at the one small thing I can look at. I have to keep reminding myself (over and over!) I can't do everything, but I can do something. I need to choose the one thing that I'm not going to look away from and not look away.
I need to pray, do one thing daily, talk about it, and keep looking and learning about that one thing. I need to remember that not looking away is a spiritual practice because I think it's a transformative practice too. What I do, does something to me (did you read Smaller & Deeper last week? I think this is part 2.) I can choose (and keep choosing) to see the pain fracture that speaks to me and become a small part of the solution.
The one thing is the thing that fires me up the most. The thing that scares me the most the thing that feels most relevant or accessible to me. It doesn't matter what the thing is…guns, erosion of rights, inflation, water access, climate issues, education… choose one thing and don't look away. For me, right now, it's guns. I'm continuing to call my legislators and learn more about the issues, the pitfalls, and the potential solutions. I'm not going to look away until we see some sort of meaningful progress to make our schools, churches, grocery stores, and hospitals safer!
We can choose passivity or we can choose to become involved in a smaller and deeper way.
Smaller because we can each choose just one thing.
What is YOUR thing?
What ignites your passion?
What do you fear most?
What keeps you up at night?
That's your thing! There are probably twenty things that you could choose, but choose one!
Deeper is not looking away.
Stay committed for the next 30 or 60 days to this one issue.
What can be done?
Who is doing what to help address the thing?
What does it mean for your issue not to look away?
What can you do in five minutes a day for the next 30 days?
What is your thing? I would love to hear what you will keep a steady gaze on for the next 30 days. You can reply to this email, which comes right to my personal inbox, or you can comment and share with other readers. In an unsteady time, we all need to be more engaged in building the world we long for.
A blessing to keep looking…
May you look, look again and keep looking at the one small thing that is your thing. May you find the one small piece of our broken world, pick up your tiny bit, shelter it in your heart, hold it compassionately in your hands, listen attentively to what small action you can take, and use your voice daily for your one, small piece of healing. May you keep looking, keep engaging, keep sharing and not look away.
"Compassionate action begins with this willingness to see and feel the pain. Remember: we do not have to feel fully resourced to be a resource to others, free from our own dramas and discontents, measuring up to some artificial standard of what service looks like. You already are and have exactly what is needed to mend the world."
-Mirabai Starr (Newsletter 6/10/22)
Choose one thing that you aren't going to look away from.
What daily action will you take to support that cause? (a phone call you can make, reading and sharing with someone? Skipping the coffee and saving that money for a month to donate?)
How will you create spiritual space for this one thing in your life and the world? Is there a prayer you can pray? A mantra you can repeat? An intentional breath you can breathe? These things matter. They change us and resound through the world in ways we can not see.
The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka
This book is better described as two adjacent medium-length stories rather than a book. I read it thinking it was a book, one story that would unfold and resolve. I was confused when the last page came, and the book's two parts didn't come together. That said, I enjoyed it and would recommend it! It's written in the first-person plural format, which one reviewer I read described as a Greek chorus type of effect. I'm not sure I've read a book written this way. You are given insight into the thinking of so many people and yet see them from an outside perspective. It's fascinating. And it totally made me wish I was a member of an underground swimming pool and loved to swim!
“but down below, at the pool, we are only one of three things: fast-lane people, medium-lane people or the slow.”
“And with each memory shed you will feel lighter and lighter. Soon you will be totally empty, a void, and, for the first time in your life, you will be free. You will have attained that state of being aspired to by minderful meditators across the planet-you will be existing utterly and completely “in the now.”
Birthing the Holy: Wisdom from Mary to Nurture Creativity and Renewal by Christine Valter Paintner
I loved this book on the different names of Mary (mother of Jesus). I read a short chapter daily and found the names, history, context, and blessings so powerful and helpful. My favorite name for Mary was untier of knots. If you have been curious to learn more about Mary I would suggest you start here.
“All we can do is continue to commit moment by moment to showing up for our lives. To reject the call is to reject a journey toward our aliveness.”
-Christine Valter Paintner
These are ideas and words about doing our part in the world. What word or phrase sparkles for you? Let that phrase or word inspire you, teach you and challenge you as you walk through your week.
“When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality, loveless—a gift given more from my need to prove myself than from the other’s need to be cared for. That kind of giving is not only loveless but faithless, based on the arrogant and mistaken notion that God has no way of channeling love to the other except through me. Yes, we are created in and for community, to be there, in love, for one another. But community cuts both ways: when we reach the limits of our own capacity to love, community means trusting that someone else will be available to the person in need.”
― Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
“The contemplative is called to become conscious of the kind of zeal he or she sows in the world. Is it bitterness and resentment? Or love and cherishing?
-Christine Valter Paintner, Birthing the Holy: Wisdom from Mary to Nurture Creativity and Renewal
“It has taken years to continue to live into the truth that if I believe we are from God and for God, then we are from Goodness and for Goodness. To greet sorrow today does not mean that sorrow will be there tomorrow. Happiness comes too, and grief, and tiredness, disappointment, surprise and energy. Chaos and fulfilment will be named as well as delight and despair. This is the truth of being here, wherever here is today. It may not be permanent but it is here. I will probably leave here, and I will probably return. To deny here is to harrow the heart. Hello to here.”
“It occurs to me that courage comes from the same place as fear, and where there is fear, there is the possibility of courage.”
― Pádraig Ó Tuama, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World