Repeating Myself

Sometimes I wonder if the Source, or whatever name you use (the energy of life, God, the I AM, the unmanifested one, the universal consciousness, Mother Earth) has created the Coronavirus to give us human beings the opportunity to recognize our interconnectedness and interdependence.  Or our “interbeing,” as the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, would say.

If you follow the emergence, re-emergence, first, second and third waves of COVID-19 around the world, you will notice that as soon as we humans begin to let down our guard, we experience another outbreak. When we put individual desires and wills ahead of the common good, we start down the path of another “surge.”

The refusal to wear a mask because it is “my right” to choose whether or not I do, puts those around you in danger.  The need to “open up” as fast as possible for the sake of the economy (this all-important economy in which the rich continue to get richer and the poor poorer) precipitates another surge in COVID cases.  The refusal to be vaccinated sets us all back on the road to “herd immunity.”  The current competition for vaccines worldwide and the disparities in vaccination rates in rich and developing countries flies in the face of the truth that none of us will be safe until all of us are safe—from anything.

The Coronavirus goes on, mutating, developing new strains, dodging, and eluding all our attempts to beat it back. Should we ultimately succeed in defeating COVID, when will the next pandemic strike? What will the subsequent super infectious disease be? And the next?

Could the lesson we are avoiding be—everything is entirely dependent and interdependent? Huge disparities in health, wealth, and resources only create instability that ultimately undermines everyone’s safety, security, well-being, and perhaps even our continued existence.

(See also: I Dream a World, COVID Sacrifice, Cleansing or Transforming?)

I Dream A World

This year, on Martin Luther King Jr Day, NPR ran an interview with its poet in residence, Kwame Alexander.  Alexander noted that the poem “I Dream A World,” by Langston Hughes inspired Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech 58 years ago. He invited listeners to write and submit poems beginning with the line “I Dream a World.” From the submissions, he will take phrases and lines to create a community crowd-sourced poem embodying the listeners’ dreams. I was intrigued but didn’t enter the challenge.

Early on in the pandemic, a friend suggested that COVID may be a wake-up call to humanity. Social distancing might provide an opportunity for self-examination, reflection on the state of our crisis-ridden world, and imagining a better future. For some time, I have been struggling with how to express my dream for the post-pandemic world. A world presently plagued with poverty, injustice, racism, hate, inequality, sickness, war, and climate crisis. Though I can imagine a different, fairer, healthier world, my imaginings seem as naïve and unlikely Dr. King’s dream. After all, look where dreaming got him! Though I cannot make rational arguments to justify my vision for the future of the earth, and I am powerless to persuade others that it is viable or even desirable, I still dream.

The more I allow myself to dream, the more my desire for such a world grows and affects my words and actions. I hope that I will not let myself off the dreaming hook, that others will have similar dreams, and that change will be both imagined and created.

I Dream A World
  
 I dream a world
 Where each receives enough:
 Enough food to satisfy the body's hunger,
 Enough clothes for warmth or cool,
 Enough shelter to call a home,
 Enough learning to foster growth,
 Enough imagination to dream,
 Enough freedom to walk proudly,
 Enough work to impart dignity,
 Enough safety to banish fear,
 Enough respect to nurture hope,
 Enough hope to conquer despair, 
 Enough suffering to make one wise,
 Enough beauty to feed the soul,
 Enough love to fill the heart.
  
 I dream a world
 Where earth soaks up the gentle rain,
 The air is clean and clear,
 Where sea breeds and nurtures life.
 Where heat and cold are balanced
 And gently alternate
 Like night and day. 
 Where skies are black or blue,
 And stars and moon are bright,
 And sun warms, and shade cools.
 Where life is green
 And death embraces earth.
  
 I dream a world
 Where balance reigns 
 And justice rules
 Along with truth and love.
 I dream a world
 Where tender hearts are open,
 And open hands are giving,
 Where eyes are softly gazing, 
 And ears attuned to listening.
  
 I dream a world,
 Where perfection and failure
 Are not the nagging enemies of good.
 Where each unique being, 
 Each thing is treasured,
 Held in reverence and awe.
 I dream the change of hearts,
 Abundance shared by all,
 And lack no longer known.

 I dream of many friends,
 To walk with me this path
 Of letting go too much
 And wanting what's sufficient,
 So, all may have enough.

- Moriah Freeman
  January 23, 2021
   

One Word

Carolyn, a friend and blogger I deeply respect and whose posts I follow avidly, has recently revamped her blog site.  It’s now called Your One Word. The idea is that you select, through a process of inner listening, a word that will be a hallmark of your life for a year.  Hallmark is, for this purpose, defined as a distinguishing characteristic, trait, or feature.  It may be a quality or virtue you aspire to, a practice you want to embrace, or something you want to understand more deeply.  Through reflection, active noticing, perhaps even study, you will let the meaning of the word unfold in your daily life for a year, checking in monthly or even weekly to become aware of its effect on your thoughts, dreams, and actions.

Carolyn provides some helpful resources for choosing your word and working with it regularly.

My word for 2021 is REST.  My word for 2020 was “slowly,” but I was a dismal failure at incorporating it into my life.  Anyone who knows me will laugh at my 2020 choice because I do everything as fast as possible – walk, eat, exercise, clean, shower, dry my hair, read, type, cook…ad infinitum. One thing I learned from “slowly” last year was how fast is my usual pace.  I also observed others around me, particularly my partner, and noticed how graceful and gentle moving slowly is by comparison.

I am 68 now, and I’m tired, in general, and in particular of going fast. So, without moving too far from last year’s aspiration, I chose “rest” for 2021, or rather, it chose me.  Already, with Carolyn’s help and inspiration, I am learning about what rest means for me.

I want to share with you the list of questions that arose when I began to explore my word:

  • What is the definition of rest? What are some synonyms?
  • How does rest show up in my hobbies: photography, writing, coloring, card design?
  • How is rest affecting my chronic pain?
  • Has rest helped me to move more slowly?
  • Am I struggling against something? Can I stop and rest?
  • When I have rested, what have I noticed?
  • Does rest help me to let go?
  • How are rest, solitude, and retreat related?
  • What three memories of rest can I recall this week, this month?
  • Have I seen examples of rest in nature? In others? What can I learn from them?
  • How are rest and saying “no” related for me?
  • How are rest and mindfulness related?
  • And, for the sake of this blog, how is rest related to “respect?”

For me, rest has an essential relationship with self-respect.  It gets at a part of my nature that has always been troublesome – my difficulty setting limits.  Limits on my workday’s length and intensity, limits on my care for others, limits on the physical demands I place on my body. Getting older, if you pay attention, can teach you vital lessons about limits.

This year, I hope to practice self-respect by discovering what rest is and incorporating it into my physical, mental, relational, and spiritual life.

Is “one word” calling you?

COVID Sacrifice

Wearing a mask during the COVID pandemic is a sacrifice. Some are willing to make it and others are not.  Many who refuse to wear face coverings say they are exercising their personal freedom – their ability to make choices without taking anyone else into consideration; their right to choose what is important to themselves, regardless of what authorities say is necessary for the greater good; and their right to disregard what scientists have told us about how the virus spreads.

Those who choose to wear masks for their protection and the safety of those around them, often do so at significant personal sacrifice.

For instance, those who are severely hearing disabled and who rely on lip reading to understand another’s speech, cannot do so when masks are covering lips. Therefore, they are at a disadvantage in social gatherings.  They haven’t a clue what others are saying.  They are aptly described as “out of it.”

Those who wear eyeglasses are also at a disadvantage.  Their glasses steam up, especially outdoors in the winter cold.  The seeing-impaired are constantly adjusting their masks to minimize steaming.  Many have chosen not to wear glasses outside at all.  I am among those, and the outdoor world is now a constant blur to me.  I don’t recognize neighbors when I meet them on the street and have to rely on the sound of voices to identify approaching figures. I can’t see what my dog is sniffing, and I miss seeing colorful sunsets clearly.  I admit blurred vision has a certain charm – occasionally.

Those with breathing difficulties also make sacrifices by wearing masks.  They are continually short of breath. I don’t have this problem, but several of my friends who have asthma, COPD or congestive heart failure are struggling with this sacrifice.

For these three groups, the inconvenience of wearing masks is prolonged by those who refuse to do so.  The duration of the COVID pandemic will be determined, in part, by how carefully and sacrificially we observe the CDC’s public health recommendations: wear a mask, stay six feet apart, don’t gather indoors in groups of any size for extended periods of time, and wash your hands frequently.

Which will it be for you?  Personal freedom? Or personal sacrifice?

Deep Listening

The other day, a friend asked me to join a conversation group to discuss ” how to reach out” to those with opposing political views. I confess we are both liberals and those to whom we might reach out are radical conservatives – the far right. As the following cartoon satirically depicts, post-election, some liberals express a desire to “heal the divide” in our drastically polarized country. 

This aspiration sinks right down to the personal level where friends and families, neighbors, and co-workers hold opinions on opposite ends of the spectrum. Four years of the Trump presidency and the vitriol of the 2020 election have split apart some close relationships. Many, mostly liberals, believe it is time to mend our families, communities, and the country’s torn fabric.

The issue is not a burning one for me personally.  I do not know many ultra-conservatives, and I do not plan to plow into the company of Alt-right strangers waving an olive branch in my hand.  With the two to four I do know I have an amicable relationship, which does not include talking about our political views.

I have erected some barriers to protect myself from those whose political, social and economic views differ from and oppose my own. Frankly, many of them scare me.  I am afraid of everything from awkwardness to physical harm. But, I feel, given the opportunity in a setting that feels safe, it would be closed-minded and rude not to engage with those who differ. 

Why? On a microcosmic level, I acknowledge the interconnectedness and interdependence of us all.  I know we are more alike than different.  I know we all suffer; we all want to have enough, be happy, and be free. 

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn, nominated for the Noble Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., suggests an uncomplicated approach   He encourages responding to those we might consider enemies or opponents, because they have the potential to cause us harm, by listening deeply and compassionately:

 “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

And:

“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less.”

Listening deeply involves letting go of my need to be heard and of my preferred outcome. One must have no other agenda than listening to understand. Deep listening eschews judgment, labeling, denigration or mockery. The listener is patient, calm, open-hearted, receptive, and compassionate.

I do not deny this is a tall order, but I tell myself I must begin somewhere with someone.  If I do not, the healthy unity of differences, the tolerance and respect we desperately need in relationships, communities and nations will be an empty and vain hope.