Regrouping: what to do with yourself on the day after

We all have days that are off script, interruptions in our normal lives, when gravity is temporarily suspended.  Some exceptional moments are luscious: somebody we miss shows up unexpectedly; our candidate wins; some cosmic key turns, and we fall down a rabbit hole, into a new journey.  Our world shivers.  Some are tragic: break-in, miscarriage, or sudden loss of a much loved furry friend.  We are transformed and our hearts are still.  Small irritations seem petty and unworthy.   One thing we know: normal has lost its meaning.  We are sure it is permanent.

When I see purple irises I think of a ten day retreat I attended a long time ago, in the rolling hills of Maryland, at Shalem Institute.  We were in silence for days at a time; the silence seemed fragrant, and even sacred.  We who barely knew one another, wished each other well in a hundred small silent ways, when crossing paths in the woods, sharing photographs, passing the salt.  In that sheltered place, we were mindful of one another, effortlessly.  Wished it would last forever.  Then, suddenly, the retreat was ended, and we scattered to our interrupted lives.  Re-entry was difficult.

Exceptional moments end.  Ready or not, we must all return home to something we call normal.  How do you do that?

Gently.  Other people do not get it.  They cannot share your experience, though some may try.   Some will not take it seriously.  Some are too busy with their own lives right now, and always.  Others are distracted by some provocation.   There will always be more.  We feel very different than we did yesterday, and it is urgent; our priorities have been rearranged like ice cubes in a cocktail shaker.   It is absolutely shocking to discover that for those outside our skin, nothing has changed.  Same old stuff.   Political bickering.  Puzzling coldness.  Facebook rudeness.  All of it seems suddenly odd.

Savoring the time outside of normal does not mean trying to prolong it.  We really cannot live on the mountaintop forever.  Surprises fade.  Grief, mercifully, softens.  But we choose to savor the moment because it has glimmerings of landmark status, and we will need to revisit it later, when we can.   Returning to normal, whatever that means, requires making a place for reminiscence, letting exceptional moments continue to teach us, even when our time is once again scheduled, like the lives of other people and ordinary times.  There is no schedule for reminiscence.

Returning to normal is difficult, because the world we re-enter resists change.  It wants you back just as you were, maybe because you were nice, but even if you were difficult.  If you are changed, others may have to adapt, and they would rather not.  Some may offer charming advice as to how to get over yourself, or to shake off troubling emotions.   Nice glass of wine.  It’s not that serious.  Try EHarmony.  Paleo diet.  The Unitarian church.  Get a new cat.  What can you say?  It’s all meant with great kindness.  Part of starting to come back to ourselves means noticing where we encounter resistance, our own or that of other people, because something doesn’t fit as it once did.

The sense of sacredness of our time off-script can endure, if we allow it.   Even after we have adapted to the shock of changes in our job or family, the new car scent has faded, the moment of awakening is over, we can think of morning coffee with new attentiveness.   This is a way of bringing transforming times in touch with the ordinary ones, and to let them become friends.

There is no formula for the day after.  Perhaps the kindest thing we can do for ourselves, when we sense we are ready to integrate the moment into our ongoing story, is to find a place to sit and think, and to not be in a rush about it.   Regrouping involves sifting through what we used to take for granted.   What is nurturing and helpful now?  Questions may have different answers than they used to.  Be suspicious of instant answers.  Even your own.

Easter is a potent metaphor for new beginnings, interrupting the annual calendar.  For one Sunday, the pews are full.  The music is transcendent.  The nation frets about whether the White House will or will not cancel the annual egg hunt on the South Lawn, due to budgetary crisis.  Now it is Monday, the chocolate is gone, and normal programming resumes.

Interesting, our love of sacred ritual, whether one is religious or not.  It feeds us in ways for which we lack words.  Fortunately, for that we have purple irises.  And places to sit in the woods.

tree stump in Enchanted Forest

Posted in Grief, Mental health, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Repairing friendships that were casualties of the political season

The campaign season was not eternal, after all.  Yesterday we witnessed the inauguration of our president, with customary fanfare, high minded words, aerial crowd photos, and pundits holding forth on democracy and designer shoes.  Suddenly it’s over.  We can catch our breath and return to our usually scheduled programming.  Don’t know about you, but I’m emotionally exhausted.

Time to shift focus to our intimate world, and to our friendships.  How have they fared, while we were preoccupied?

If you breathe air, you have been affected by the abrasive political climate swirling around us.  Life in community, this year, has meant navigating stinging mistrust, even among our friends.  Disagreement has become toxic to the point that, according to an informal study by Mashable, 47% of us have unfriended people on Facebook for political reasons during this election season, not to mention those we have quietly muted or ignored.

Sharing cyberspace, if not sharing coffee, with a friend  of a different political viewpoint has become difficult, as if being civil compromised one’s deep convictions.  Ordinary  life got sucked into a huge partisan struggle, from which it is hard to pull free.  Facebook conversation has been overtaken with sarcasm, posturing, and finally, friends avoiding one another.

Breathing politically charged air, we have turned into “us” and “them”.  Group identity took over everything else for a while, sometimes at significant personal cost.  As we uncoil from the season’s political drama, it’s not clear if these friendships are healing.  Mashable asked people to post about how this process of moving past the election is going.  To date, nobody has commented.  The post has been shared 10 thousand times.

Not much has been written yet about how to repair friendships wounded by politics.  Psychologists are studying why we have become so partisan, so vulnerable and furious that we reject our politically misguided friends.  Social scientists are exploring the possibility of encouraging more moderate views in society, and toning down the demonizing language of political action groups flooding the airwaves, that apparently does not have to be justified. But these remedies require acts of congress: changes in campaign funding and filibuster rules, for example.  For the sake of our personal wellbeing, I don’t think we can wait.

In the meantime, it is left to the social media etiquette mavens, to help us heal.

Ironically, they suggest we make amends in person.

The Arizona Republic (Social Media Friends Begin Post-Election Fence Mending) suggests that we change the subject.  Find your sense of humor, but don’t ignore the hurt of political jibes, they say.  Huffpost (America Divided: Post-Election Nation in Need of Healing) shares the voices of small town people in Virginia, whose political opponents are also their close neighbors, who must continue to depend on one another.  Townspeople still gather at the local bookstore; normal conversations are resuming, about music and family gossip.  The volume has been turned down, but the hurt does not appear to be gone.  There is no formula for healing.

How can we tend politically wounded friendships?

First, observe others.  Is it safe to proceed?  If small gestures of willingness are not reciprocated, but met with continued rhetoric, it is just not time.  Go on record saying so, with regret.  Awareness is good medicine.

Observe yourself.   We can reduce the power of labels.  Never has a political view been enough to capture our whole being.  Who else are you, besides a D or an R or a whatever?  Daughter, photographer,  economist, vegan, hiker, soprano, contralto, beekeeper, Christian, yogi, bargain hunter, scientist?  We do not ask ourselves how it is possible to be both a beekeeper and a soprano.  Perhaps we can reclaim interest in meaningful common ground, without minimizing our differences.  Perhaps we can defer some disagreements.  Not forever, but for now.  Relationships matter.

Increase our tolerance for ambiguity.  We can resist the temptation to classify a person as just plain conservative, or completely radical, or totally  predictable, or entirely sane.  We can search for exceptions to the images we hold of one another that were painted with a broad brush, of those smug ideologues who have wounded and diminished us.   Allow others to surprise us: look more closely and we may discover a conservative herbal healer, jazz playing accountant, faith-based angry liberal.  If we can acknowledge that our images of our adversaries may be incomplete, we allow more breathing space for healing.

Be candid and assertive.  In the heat of politics, we may have been disrespected, subjected to snark, ignored, deleted.   Healing is more likely when we  acknowledge feeling angry about being invisible to our friends, whose loyalty went elsewhere.  In a polarized society, our friends have seemed like aliens from another political world, who were certain of their views, and intent on winning.  Political principles matter.  Still, we are wondering where the benevolence went. They may wonder, too.

This process of post-election healing is difficult.  Some relationships have lost their mooring.  But genuine friendship is rare enough to be worth the awkward, mutual search for solid ground.

Posted in Craziness in the world, Social media and life online | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Grieving for strangers: what to do with our hearts, after Newtown

Like any therapist, I hear a lot of sad stories.  Betrayal, illness, tragic loss.  Empathy is a requirement of the job; we journey with our clients, taking in their struggles and their suffering.   Yet, paradoxically, we must learn to manage our own emotions, to see beyond the pain, in order to be helpful.  I’m used to grieving that way, touched by the pain of others, but not overcome.  Then came Newtown.

The story of Newtown, Connecticut bypassed all my emotional protections, and went directly to the heart.  It was just last Friday that 20 little kids and 6 teachers were murdered, rapid-fire, with an assault weapon, at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  It seems much longer ago.

What do we do with our heartache, when these were not, after all, our children, and we have never even visited their town?  I wept through the interfaith memorial service, the photo montages of the dead kids making funny faces just a week ago, even the street interviews by the burbling creek that runs through town.  Don’t feel silly if you did too.  I’m sad, outraged, stunned, and I don’t really want to recover, yet.

But in the meantime, like you, I have a job to do.  That requires finding a way to make peace with this awkward experience we call empathy.

Those who suffered the loss of a child that day will have a lengthy journey through grief and sadness.  First, the funerals.  These families will be forever joined to one another, and form a community of support.  Some will find their voices.  All will be transformed.  But the rest of us, who only bore witness online and on tv, have no familiar way to grieve.   We will have to find one.

The social media that have included us in the tragedy in real time, will also allow us to form communities of support.  What kind of support is meaningful, at a time like this?  Glib words of comfort seem unworthy of this moment, dark and sacred.  Our naivete about the limits of human cruelty is stripped away, this week.  Our society has failed those children.

Healing and repentance are entwined.   Something in our society stands in need of healing, and it requires something of us.  It is not enough to be sorry this massacre happened.  Perhaps this is where we can bring our wounded hearts: to the work of repairing the world, so that it is safe to be vulnerable in public again.

The psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl said that we humans can tolerate suffering, if only we can find meaning in it.  It is essential for our own healing, to make this tragedy an impetus for change in the world.  Many possibilities come to mind.

Perhaps it is our inadequate mental health resources, for people as troubled as the young killer of Newtown’s children.  We don’t know much about him yet.  People in incoherent pain can do terrible, destructive things.  Presumably, his affluent family could afford  therapy, but that is not true for many troubled people, in this era of budget cuts and stingy insurance.  As things stand, if a sociopath refuses treatment, we have no recourse until he becomes violent or suicidal.   Are you angry yet?

What is spiritually amiss, that allows people who bore witness to the Sandy Hook tragedy in the same way I did, to respond by stocking up on assault weapons just like the one that killed those kids, in case access to them becomes more difficult?  Could  it not wait until next week?  Could a less vicious weapon not do?

What is spiritually wrong with a clergyman or politician who, eager to be heard, and to make sense of the chaos, proclaims that God must be displeased with the policy of not teaching prayer in public schools?  The image of divine vengeance working out God’s plan in Newtown is a horrifying, disrespectful, abusive statement of our place in the world.  Are you angry yet?  Healthier images are urgently needed, that allow us to tolerate our fallibility and our grief, gently, without syrupy sweetness.

Tomorrow, according to the predictions of the ancient Mayans, is the last day of the world.  In the language of the healing professions, the end is also the beginning.  The murders of the children at Sandy Hook School have touched us, and made us not strangers, if our hearts can tolerate this moment of awakening.

May our universe emerge more peaceful tomorrow.  After Newtown, our world will not be the same.  Find your anger.

Merry Christmas.

Posted in Anger. Resentment. Forgiveness., Grief, Trauma and other bad stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What hurricane images stir up: reflections on being spiritual but not necessarily religious

Millions are still in darkness, as we begin to absorb the vastness of Hurricane Sandy.  The sharing of video and digital images, now that we are constantly connected, have made us all witnesses in real time.  First comes exhalation.   Before we can even speak of recovery, the world must come into focus again.  This was a huge, frightening storm.

A cosmic event like Sandy stirs memories we have mostly put aside.  Here in Louisiana, the images of this new disaster, on a different coastline, resonate in a vivid and personal way.  Boat rescues of exhausted humans clutching their pets, dark cities without traffic signals, and flooded houses twisted off their foundations all seem eerily familiar.  We feel connected to distant strangers at this moment, knowing they are just beginning to understand what their hurricane has done.  We have an idea what lurks beneath the dark water.

Our inner landscape has been transformed by internalized images of Hurricane Katrina seven years ago, and we still organize our life stories in terms of before and after the storm.  We want to reach out to those touched by Sandy, not to tell them anything especially wise or helpful, but just to be connected.

Sacred.  That is what we call moments when the world changes for us, and when humans feel connected in an unexpectedly intimate way, as their shared, familiar story unfolds.  We need many ways to acknowledge connection.  The Nation’s insightful article “We are All from New Orleans Now, ” appearing this week, is not about shared inner experience, but  a sober analysis of environmental policy, and our fragile, shared American coastline.  We are all connected that way.

This week, we are all from New Orleans in a deeper, more personal way too, sharing the same hypnotic images of Atlantic City as Hurricane Sandy made landfall.  We have a shared sense of vulnerability.  There’s something spiritual about this.  Our lives seem intensified.

Uneasy with that thought?  Perhaps it’s because the language of spirituality shows up most often in relation to mountaintop experiences, reverent chanting, images of cherubs and stained glass windows.  The earth after a hurricane feels chaotic, with vast raw energy and no comforting refrain.  The great forces have drawn outside the lines, and we must find peace.  Right after we clean up this mess.

Spirituality seems to show up in the midst of unease.  All humans, religious and not, are made speechless by the force of a huge violent storm; all of us are jolted off our own comfortable foundations.  Outcomes are unknown.  This is not Sunday school.

Spirituality is the yearning for durable connection, and for our place in the universe.  People find spiritual nurture in places where they are not at home: in the deep wilderness, the resonances of a pipe organ, the sharing of an unexpected moment with strangers in a darkened city, who come to know some part of our heart.  Why would a hurricane not be spiritually significant?

In recent times, it has become more common for people to discover that they have spiritual lives, without a clear religious affiliation.  Some people have complex spiritual lives with roots in multiple cultures, and no place to call home.  Not surprisingly, the claim of being “spiritual but not religious,” stirs unease within the religious community.   CNN’s Belief blog explored this unease in a post appearing on September 29.  Its author, Alan Miller, sees spirituality apart from religious doctrine as self-indulgent, a search for warm fuzzy feelings, ungrounded.  He seems genuinely puzzled that “spiritual but not religious” people see their lives in moral terms, in the absence of a doctrine telling them to do so, and that they seem to yearn for connection to forces larger than themselves, even if they do not claim familiarity with God.

I think he has it wrong.  Our connection to the hurricane images — the twisted remains of a freight train, or the urban grid seen from above, reclaimed by the raging Atlantic Ocean – is not self-indulgent or narcissistic.  Something deep and poignant is evoked within us that is not happy at all, but senses that it is awakening from a childlike dream, that our home is cozy and secure.

Hurricane Sandy stirs the deepest part of our night thoughts, and invites us to look again, in daylight, at the life we have made, or found, and think about what endures.  Peace and safety to all who have been touched by this storm.  We are in it together.

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Holding onto sanity, while keeping up with the news

The process of electing a president takes a toll on our emotional wellbeing, no doubt about it.   We are constantly being spun; the illusion of objective reporting of the news is gone. Social media provide moment-to-moment updates on opinion polling in the swing states, the rhetoric is murky, and advocacy groups no longer seem to get any sleep at all.  Our friends are getting testy, and eating habits are getting stranger.  How to get through the next 6 weeks, with our wits intact?  Please share.

Tuning it out does not seem to be an option.  We might miss something.  Somehow, our information addiction has grown to match the capability of our electronic devices.   Pundits are skilled at creating a sense of urgency; the outcomes of elections do have serious consequences, after all.

In the midst of this, a little peace would be welcome, so that we are able to arrive at work with matching shoes on, and without succumbing to road rage; it would be great if we could maintain civil discourse on Facebook, and keep our desktop in some sort of order.  We would rather not lose our minds over every provocative remark from now until election day.

How do we take care of this?  Maintaining an oasis of sanity in the midst of a culture of frenzied competition requires discipline.  We protect ourselves from emotional overload and provocation, by having good boundaries.  Care of spirit requires an alternate source of nourishment than the newsfeed, compelling as it may be.  The bigger challenge still, is to live peacefully while in the midst political turmoil, because realistically, if you are awake in America in an election year, it doesn’t go away.

Deeply invested in the outcome, it is easy to be hooked on breaking news.  News is always breaking, though.  Be aware of your anxiety level, and tend it as you go.  Stress can be stimulating, even intoxicating.  Notice your limit for consumption of political news, before it you drown in it.  Know how to pause creatively.

Maintaining of politically discordant relationships during the season of political frenzy is challenging.  The practice of separating our feelings for a person from our feelings about that person’s viewpoint, requires care, patience, and adult beverages.   Hurtful words said in the heat of a political season can leave wounds.  Be alert to intuitions that it is time to walk away.  Honor  people who matter to you, without accepting pressure to honor their views, or expecting it in return.  That must be earned.

We must all find balance.  We need a way to manage our own frustration with the unreasonable things people sometimes say, while not necessarily tolerating the foolishness itself.  Mindfulness involves noticing your response to online banter: noticing when the ambience does not feel like respectful, if animated, sharing, and it has become toxic.  Detoxify.  Remember what is a reliable source of wisdom, or sensory pleasure, or humor.  Have a cup of tea.  Listen to Mozart.  Take time out to care for your spirit, before deciding whether to respond.  What is it that you hope for?

Political argument can be healthy.  However, if it becomes unproductive, good boundaries are essential.  We can calmly refuse to respond to deliberate provocation.  People regress emotionally when they are upset.  People who lack the resources to argue effectively for their positions, can become resentful and personal in their attack.  Fixing their inner demons is not your responsibility.   Withdrawing from incoherent rage is not a sign of weakness.  Protect your peace.

The time of not knowing is always difficult, mixing hope and anxiety.  Somebody always wins elections, and somebody loses.  There is often little tolerance for ambiguity, for seeing any good in the views of political adversaries, and often, little grace.  We struggle when good ideas are overlooked, and negative or misleading messages give delight to people who get on our nerves.  People on opposing political sides somehow forget that they were once friends, and hopefully will be again.  Political allies turn to one another for support and understanding that might never, under other circumstances, be offered.  For a little while, like a hurricane, politics takes over, and we risk losing ourselves.  The season of gradual  healing, and restoring community, will hopefully follow.

Remain sane by remembering who you are, your passions and your commitments, your kindnesses and your quirks.  Behind our partisan personas, our souls wait.  We continue to crave nurture, and community.  Take care of yourself, this election season.

Posted in Craziness in the world, Mental health, Stress | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Holding office while Bipolar

Should mental illness disqualify a person from serving in high public office?  Public perception is a different thing from a clinical assessment, of course.   You know that stigma is still alive and well, when a member of Congress takes a leave of absence for treatment of “exhaustion”.   Turns out, this time, that “exhaustion” is a quaint term for Bipolar Disorder, which used to be known as manic depression.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has chosen to clue us in.   He is in treatment and getting better, but how are we doing?  The media articulate our public anxiety.  The AP notes that “there is no word on what this means for his political career.”  ABC ran a header on August 14:  “Illinois Congressman Could Be Healthy Enough to Return to Congress.”   This reassurance only makes sense if we had doubts.

Nobody is pleased to have mental illness.  But even today, in an era of abundant self care for stress, addiction, and chakra blockage  – for the financially secure, anyhow –  getting care for Bipolar apparently still requires greater discretion than, say, a digestive disorder.  When Rep. Jackson’s psychiatric diagnosis was disclosed, after much public speculation, the family quickly offered a theory that it had been triggered by gastric bypass surgery.

The message is clear.  Physical illness evokes empathy.  Emotional illness still scares us.   (For the record, clinicians have quickly pointed out that stomach surgery does not cause Bipolar disorder, though of course some people do go on giddy shopping trips afterwards, or get depressed, if they had counted on weight loss to transform their troubled lives.)

Can people with emotional problems be trusted with great public responsibility?  Have you noticed that nobody asks this question about people with digestive disorders?

We have had some revealing experiences with politicians and emotional illness.  In 1972, Thomas Eagleton was, briefly, the Democratic nominee for Vice President, until his colleagues discovered Eagleton’s history of depression.  He was quickly replaced, when a doctor suggested that his depression might one day recur.  Eagleton went on to serve 3 more terms as a US Representative from Missouri, and later became a professor of public policy.  Ironically, according to Time Magazine at the time, 77% of the public said their vote would not be influenced by his history of depression.

Bipolar Disorder, like depression, is a mood disorder.  Bipolar people are sometimes deeply depressed, and sometimes their mood is elevated, aka manic.  Untreated, a manic person can experience self importance, racing thoughts, or impulsive choices they may later regret, and go for days with very little sleep.  Some have mood swings, alternating between the two emotional states; some have both at the same time.  Rep Jackson is apparently mostly depressed.  Bipolar disorder is emotionally exhausting, but responds well to medication and therapy.

People with a Bipolar diagnosis, of course, often go untreated, and some of them are praised as creative geniuses, charismatic leaders, and workaholics.   The people I worry about are those who don’t accept treatment, because they want to keep their manic symptoms, fearing they will lose their creative edge and our esteem, if medication calms their racing thoughts down.  Untreated Bipolar people can overestimate how well they are doing; but then, a lot of people do that.

But can a Bipolar person tolerate the daily pressures of high elected office, and function?  One such individual, Winston Churchill, managed a distinguished political career, in an era with little to offer by way of effective treatment.  His inner demons were explained away, at the time, as an outcome of early parental neglect.  Back then, his disorder didn’t have a scientific name. He was apparently a difficult man.

People with public lives, risk exposure of their private demons.  An argument can be made that exposing a mood disorder to daylight is a healthier alternative for Rep. Jackson, than private shame.  But going public does expose us to rejection.  We banish others who remind us of our own hidden pain, don’t we?  Someone intent on public service, never mind the Bipolar or the stigma, needs good personal support.  Yesterday, CNN published an article called Going Public with Depression, with excellent links to blogs that provide it.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers useful observations about the barriers to success for people with Bipolar Disorder.  Stigma leads us to see people only through the lens of pathology, underestimating their capacity to manage their inner lives, and maintain focus for the wild ride of political life.  In short, their biggest problem may be our narrow perspective.  Somewhere, there’s an app for that.

Posted in Depression, Mental health, Stress | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bearing witness: reflections on the Sikh temple shooting, and our own broken hearts

What does normal mean?  On August 5 in this violent, crazy summer of 2012, a lone gunman with strong white supremacist credentials showed up at the Sikh Temple of Oak Creek, Wisconsin and opened fire on worshipers he had never met.  The national media have conducted poignant interviews on site.  The dead have been laid to rest.  Today is the day the temple returns to normal.

We will have to sort out the motivations for this hateful act as best we can, as the shooter too is dead.  But our own healing, as a large, horrified community, cannot wait.  Before we resume our normally scheduled programming, we must bear witness to this chaos before we become numb to it, for the sake of our own hearts.

The Sikhs of Oak Creek have displayed uncommon grace and generosity of spirit.  Sadly, they have had lots of practice; since 9/11, Sikhs have been regularly singled out for hate crimes because of their ethnic attire.  The women wear scarves; the men traditionally wear turbans.  Ironically, they are not Muslims.  That is of course irrelevant.  They look different, and to someone with an automatic pistol, a dark past, some distorted thoughts about cultural conformity and vigilante justice, and poorly managed anxiety, Sikhs have been easy targets.  What does it mean, to return to normal?

Sojourners blog described Wisconsin’s compassionate interfaith response to those who were directly attacked.  At this morning’s service, the temple hosted busloads of visitors from places as distant as California, who were moved to be present, to lend emotional support.  In lending our virtual presence, we too can embody empathy.  The sense that we are ultimately connected, even online, seems to help protect us from despair.

We who only bore witness to the violence online, may not have the reassuring embrace of a Sikh gurdwara, or any spiritual community, with whom to make sense of our blur of emotions.  When cruelty surfaces within the human community, we are all in need of clarity.  How is such malice possible?   Hate crime points to a pathology in the community itself.  Who is at risk?  This is a good time to take stock: where is it safe for you to be vulnerable?

Lots of research has been done, over the years, on the emotional impact of hate crimes on the larger human community.  They leave distinctive wounds because they target strangers – and not random strangers, but members of a certain group with outsider status.  Incidents like the one in Wisconsin can trigger vague anxiety in other minority groups, as a reminder of our perpetual vulnerability.   In a study called Psychological Effects of Hate Crime, researchers report decreased inner sense of safety for any member of a minority group, whenever we hear the language of hate publicly expressed – toward any group.  The article was written about hate crimes in Latvia.  The need for emotional safety is universal.

The message of hate crimes is clear, notes the study: it’s nothing personal, but you don’t belong here.  The work of healing of a community involves making it clear: oh yes, you do.  We do.  When a community collaborates to be clear about who it welcomes, our emotional resources are strengthened.   When we offer support to any vulnerable group, our hearts resonate.  The opportunities we find to express benevolence, support our individual spiritual journeys in unexpected ways.  We become who we are, in community.

Groups have, throughout our history, clarified their identities by whom they exclude, regarding them as aliens or outsiders.  But unlike ancient times, we are likely to live among people we find different, in a highly mobile, multicultural, multireligious world.  In a violent era with a great deal of untreated psychopathology, we are obligated to reconsider the meaning of being an outsider.

The journey toward embracing of strangers is nowhere more poignant than among those who grew up hating outsiders, and whose heart was somehow transformed.  The blog Life After Hate explores one person’s intriguing journey out of a hate group, encountering humanity where he did not expect to find it.  It is a hopeful sign, that hate is never the last word.

In the Sikh community, grief is fresh.  The benevolence that group expresses, even in this dark moment, is extraordinary.  So may it be, one day, for the rest of us.

Posted in Anxiety, Craziness in the world, Mental health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment