December 30, 2016 – January 1, 2017
I am thinking about yesterday’s New Moon, and the New Sun we’ll have on New Year’s Day . . . about how body and soul, moon and sun, orbit in beautiful synchrony at times – and how, at other times, they don’t. At least from here, it seems as if they don’t.
The moon sheds old energy once a month, growing a new orb for us to fill with new experience. No moment is necessarily related to any other one. So I can’t remember what I was doing the last time the moon was a day past new. When I look at my appointment calendar I am surprised to find that I wasn’t in my office as usual on Wednesday, November 30. I was home recuperating from an injury – I’d slipped and fallen the day before Thanksgiving holding a twenty-pound dead bird in my arms.
In this moment, I do not feel exactly as did the exhausted, ache-y person I was a month ago. But still, I can access a string of feeling connecting me to her. I can follow that string back another month to Halloween, the week before the presidential election. I remember trying to believe the prevailing wisdom, but my gut – and the country roads lined with billboards for other candidate – suggested otherwise.
I follow the string back and back and back until it’s twelve and a half moon cycles ago – a solar year. That day, the sunlight slanted through the living room windows at exactly the angle I see now. But the moon was in a different place in the sky, and it was fatter. The cycles of moon and sun don’t synchronize often.
Neither do experience and meaning. The string dangles in my hand; I can’t connect to the “me” who sat in this same chair in this same living room on this same day last year. When I follow the anniversary of today two weeks forward, my sister takes her life. It is as if both the sun and moon have broken apart. I am led into a series of moments that are more extreme than anything I could have imagined. I am required to release, and then begin to reconstruct, all the meanings I have ever made.
I remember the person was a year ago. But she was living in a different universe, one in which my sister was alive. A chasm separates me from her; that grief is still untraversable.
My sister’s suicide prepared me for the 2016 presidential election – which, in an odd way, felt even worse. I miss my sister terribly, but her disappearance did not plunge me into the fear that our social and legal infrastructures were in danger of dissolution. The loss of my sister’s life left me desolate, but it did not leave me fearing for my own.
The morning after the election, I was catapulted back to a moment when I was nine years old. My religious school class was modeling the Warsaw Ghetto out of red wax, and I realized that all these people, even children like Anne Frank, had just been living their ordinary lives – and then, in a really horrible way, they weren’t.
This election seemed to trigger PTSD symptoms for a lot of people. Suddenly everyone I knew was afraid.
So where do we go from here?
In 2000, when one candidate won the popular vote but the other became the president, I asked a trusted friend what had happened. “People got angry,” he said.
I thought about that a lot this year, because this has been the angriest election season anyone can remember. The main selling point for each candidate seemed to be the horrific prospect of the other one being elected. Insults are insults, no matter who is delivering them – whether it is a reviled billionaire or a much-loved senator or a father grieving his heroic son’s death. Einstein nailed it: No problem can be solved by the same level of consciousness that created it.
I also thought about anger a lot this year because the more I learned about my sister’s death, the angrier I got. And there was nothing I could do about it. No exercise in justice could rewind time back to a time when justice – or sense, or compassion, or anything at all – could change what now was. All I could expect to come from anger was vengeance, and I wasn’t interested because it would hurt people I love – especially me. Revenge is the opposite of healing.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about fear. People are still very afraid. I see it in the eyes of my bravest friends. Facebook posts project doom into the future. And my inbox continues to be bombarded with tabloid exhortations about how terrible things will be if I don’t sign petitions and send five dollars right now.
Since the age of nine, I have lived with the knowledge that the troops could march into my house and take me and my family away any time. For weeks after the election I woke up afraid that everyone and everything I loved would be destroyed.
So every morning I had the time to “sleep in,” I stayed in bed with my fear. I didn’t move, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t think. I just watched it. It was hard; it was like tethering a flapping moth. Eventually, I could just watch the moth without a terrible feeling of anxiety. Eventually, the moth would disappear.
I had to do this over and over. Then one morning it didn’t happen. I just got up.
I guess it’s the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal at work – the observer, simply by being there, changes the observed. Consciousness changes fear into what it really is – which is nothing.
Which isn’t to say that our problems don’t exist. There is no wellness in the old sense anymore because there is no place to stand, drink or breathe that is not polluted. Every kind of violence abounds. Everything we do and are is a compromise with the toxicity that surrounds and inhabits us. Our earth is out of tune and so are we – with her, with each other, with ourselves, with creation.
I do not really have a belief system. I am kind of lunar that way – what is true in the moment may or may not be true the next; and I do not want my powers of observation – or the depth of my experience – to be compromised by my expectations.
But some things do seem to carry into all moments. I see it most when I am working with babies. I hold a baby and it immediately begins to “show” me what to do. The cells jiggle and the fluids flow and the little bones dance back into place. The baby is music that I can follow and trust.
I think that all of us also contain within us a musical score to follow and trust. And so does the earth. And so does the aggregate of all of us on earth – and probably out into the solar system and beyond, into the universe we can imagine and the universes we can’t. This, I think, is the solar consciousness that holds the lunar, the meaning that carries the immediate experience of our lives from moment to moment.
What seems to be happening globally, and perhaps beyond (who knows? As Zen Master Seung Sahn once said in response to a question about nuclear destruction, “The universe is very wide”) . . . what seems to be happening is that the earth and we, her inhabitants, are so out of tune that it is no longer possible for us to access our original symphony. It is time for us to find a new tuning, and recreate our song on a new scale.
So since my moth of fear has beaten its wings into nothingness for now, I am choosing to see this time – a time I would never have chosen to live in if I had any idea of what I was getting into – as music in the making. I deplore the level of darkness I see around me, but I also see that it is inspiring me, and many of the people around me, to create more light. More light than they ever would have felt compelled to create if things had gone differently.
And maybe that is what is needed in these times. It seems so foolish that human beings keep creating these awful extremities in order to shine – we are wired to shine, we could avoid a lot of pain and grief if we would just do it. But here we are, anyway.
Have you ever been around someone who just makes you feel good for no reason? Or a dog, or a tree, or a mountain, or a painting or a song? Have you ever been that that person? What does it take?
I don’t think there are political solutions any more – if there ever were any. I don’t think it’s useful to start with science or business or religion or any institution at all, because without a change in consciousness, we merely reconfigure the problem.
Perhaps “solutions” can best be approached by doing the opposite of what we did during this election season. We don’t give in into hatred, no matter how hateful the object. We don’t vent our anger, no matter how justified that anger. We don’t pretend that we can work toward results with any degree of certainty – because right now everything is up for grabs. We do take the time to breathe and watch and wait for that inner voice that is not desperate. And we aspire to gratitude for the opportunity of what is – no matter what is.
We are very very lucky. We are alive.
Sometimes the sun and moon, on their discongruous rounds through the heavens, have a meeting. It is as if they are riding the MBTA, he on the red line and she on the green – and as they step off their respective trains and hurry through the Park Street Station, their eyes lock. For one eternal moment, the moon’s dark gaze holds the irises of the sun. And when he continues up the dirty stairs toward the upper reaches of the Boston Common, everything has changed.