Friday, June 12, 2020

...and world peace

Earlier this year, one of the words I was given for the year was, well, words. But in the chaos of working full time and then quitting my job cold turkey to focus at home as COVID-19 altered our world, I have struggled to write. I've done some scribbly journal entries and voice-activated emails to myself to try to record things, but I've not had the time or mental/emotional/spiritual capacity to sit down and WRITE.

People talk about all that COVID has brought to their lives, like the gift of slowing down (uh, no, not for me, it just changed what I was working on in a still-frantic pace...or better said, it left my brain working at an even MORE frantic pace). For me, the pandemic has brought the gift of pain and really hard stuff. Until two days ago, I felt like God was just being cruel to us all. But a dear friend helped me see at least my situation differently. For me, this time has made things break apart enough that I can start to see more of the pieces of my puzzle that have been buried under layers of #allthethings.

In the midst of all of this, George Floyd died and the internet (and many real-life spaces) erupted. Lots of pain has been buried for lots of years/decades/generations/centuries and it has exploded. I had just been taking a break from Facebook because I felt like Facebook was becoming my conscience. And that's not a good situation for me.

I also was realizing how often I let other people be my conscience. How I let my desire to help people and "keep people happy" can interfere with my own connection with myself and God. It's not that what others are asking for is wrong, it's just that it may not be the right thing for me to do at that moment. (Or it may just not be right for me to do at all because God has something else for me to do.)

I was taking a day off from my usual routine to listen to an audiobook just for me, and to try to do whatever the next right thing felt like while I was listening. My brain needed a break from all the to-dos swirling around me from both inside my little life and outside in the big bad world.

Or so I thought. Those worlds ended up colliding. And I felt like writing. (I've been feeling the pull to write more, not just think, so I sat down and started to write. For whatever reason, I decided to write on Facebook, even though I'd been feeling like I need to do less social media, in part for reasons described below, but also because I just need more time and space to focus on my health and family's needs.)

But here is what I wrote:

Two ideas connected for me today. (Actually, when all was said and done, it was more than two. 🙂 Maybe this connection won't resonate with you, and I'm just sharing to share, not to debate. Sometimes I come to FB to record things for my own history (and for my kids to have a simplified place to know a little of what makes their mom tick). It is also a way for me to create a mini book of remembrance that I can look back to during times when things get fuzzy and hard. And truth be told, the last few months have been full of fuzzy and hard for me, but yesterday I had a bit of clarity. And so I write.

One aha was very personal but may most easily be reflected in a quote from Arthur Henry King, a British academic, poet, writer, teacher. It's an idea that has echoes in many other writings I have encountered over the past several years in my personal study, but his is my quote of choice for tonight.

"One of the mistakes we make over and over again in life is to go directly for the things we think are important. But if we aim at self-fulfillment, we shall never be fulfilled. If we aim at education, we shall never become educated. If we aim at salvation, we shall never be saved. These things are indirect, supreme results of doing something else, and that something else is...trying to do the right thing, the thing that needs to be done at each moment." [Arthur Henry King, Arm the Children: Faith’s Response to a Violent World, (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 1998), 265.]

I realized yesterday that in an important area of my life, I've been trying to go directly for fixing a thing, or thinking that such a direct focus was the solution. I did that in part because I felt pressure from my outside world to fix this thing.

But not only was that not working, it was pulling me into a dark abyss of hopelessness that was impacting *every* element of my life negatively, including impacting all those who are negatively impacted by this thing they want to have fixed. The more I tried to perform to others' expectations for my 'shoulds' the more despairing I became.

Here's thought #2. In a particular chapter of a book a friend recommended, Glennon Melton is talking about racism. I wouldn't expect Glennon to necessarily agree with the connected ideas I emerge with here, at least not as they might relate to the specific quest to eliminate racism, and yet I think what I share here reflects the heart of what she's getting at in her book. At least the heart of what I feel from it. So I hope she would forgive me if this particular post feels to wrest her ideas a bit away from what she might have been wanting to communicate about racism per se in this particular chapter.

As a little context, Glennon has a remarkable story about recovering from years and years of addiction that started in childhood, so in her books, she will sometimes talk in the language of recovery, a language that means a lot to me personally because 12 steps have been part of my language of finding God more fully in my life.

Such is the case in this chapter.

She starts by sharing about the perky optimism she first felt when headlines of immigrant children being separated from their parents was hitting headlines. [As a side note, I am not a Trump fan (didn't vote for him, cannot vote for him), but I think it's important to note that this kind of thing was happening before it hit the headlines; the problems with immigration predate our current president.
Which underscores my point to a degree, actually, even though I wasn't originally going to say anything about immigration or President Trump. Read on, please, for my point.]
Glennon told her friend something to the effect of "Maybe this is our rock bottom moment as a nation. Maybe now people will be able to see how our power systems are broken and we will all be able to see those problems and it will all be FIXED."

And then she catches herself with the sobering truth.

Now I quote her directly.

"Sick systems are made up of sick people," she says. "People like me," she confesses. [This AS she is talking about the problem of racism in our nation.] "In order [for the system around racism etc. to get] healthy, everybody has to stay in the room and turn themselves inside-out. No family recovers until each member recovers." [From the chapter called "Racists" in her book, _Untamed._]

What struck me in the collision of these two ideas is that perhaps in order for our "family" -- our nation, our world, our shared humanity that is so divided in so many ways -- to heal, each of us has the responsibility to do the hard work of turning ourselves inside-out.

But I think that needs to be not just about racism. That's where King's thoughts come into play for me.

If you know anything about recovery processes, what one person in a family needs healing from may differ greatly from what another family member needs, even though they (we) also have a *shared* experience of collective, systemic pain.

I don't share these thoughts because I think racism is not a huge problem, just as King was not saying that education or salvation are not unbelievably important ends to care about. He was clearly saying the opposite. These things MATTER. But how we GET to what we care about may be about much more than aiming directly for that thing.

I believe there are so many elements of what needs to be healed **in each of us** for the whole of our collective family to be more whole. People who are striving to be more whole individually are more able to see others more as whole people instead of ___________ (fill in the boxes we use for each other, all. the. time) When we slice and dice and fragment others, it is likely a reflection of fragmentation within ourselves. Hurt people hurt people. That isn't a shame statement. It's just a human reality.

One of the downsides to me of social media is that every idea is communicated as being THE MOST IMPORTANT IDEA THAT ALL OF US MUST DROP EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW TO FIX RIGHT NOW. But there is no way social media can know what *each individual's* "next right thing" is. That doesn't negate the importance of whatever is in the headlines (!!) and yet also respects that each life is so complex in and of itself -- and each individual has to answer for what is done with that life.

Besides, these kinds of systemic problems are not fixed in a day or a week or a year or even a decade. True cultural change takes time, and more importantly, it takes changes of heart -- something that can't be demanded or legislated.

I'm not saying letters and posts and legislation aren't part of solutions along the way. [The democratic process MATTERS -- but if that is true, that also means that there will be different opinions about what "should" be done.] If those kinds of things alone could have solved our problems, they would have done so a long time ago.

And most important, I think, is that the only change of heart that is true is chosen, offered, and *experienced* through the hard work of looking inward and upward, not sideways. As such, as important as fixing racism is, I don't think we can *demand* that we answer to each other about this, even as we *are* responsible to each other as humans. But that responsibility to each other has to start with responsibility to ourselves. This is counterintuitive but I think it's true.

I think the best service we can offer our world is first to look inward and be sure that whatever we are doing is truly what is RIGHT as our next right thing. That is integrity. We have to learn to answer to our own conscience, and when we do that with integrity, that frees us to be more able to help others, however our inner compass guides us to do so (again, not based on what others say we should do, no matter how noble the cause).

And we will be more free to see others as whole people *because we aren't at war with ourselves as individuals* if we are striving to live in integrity. It's easy to be at war with ourselves unwittingly when we don't plug into whatever our inner compass is saying, or seeking to discover what our inner wounds or stories might be distorting. But again, taking the current issue as an example, those inner reflections someone might engage in may have nothing directly to do with racism. They might in some ways, but they might not.
Said another way, we can't help and see each other when we are living in self-protection, and we are living in self-protection if we aren't creating the stillness and space in our own lives to do the honest inner work of asking, "What is MY next right thing? What is MY responsibility and my capacity saying I can/should do at this moment?" The answer to that question may or may not have anything directly to do with the headlines, but will have everything to do with us being able to bring more of our peaceful selves back into our spheres and thus back into the human family.

To illustrate:
-->If a human -- black or brown or white -- for example, is simply trying to figure out where their next meal is coming from, their right next thing may simply be to focus all that they have on caring for their family.
-->Two days ago, I watched a video of a white young woman portraying what it is like to deal with depression, an eating disorder, and suicidal ideation. For that young person, her right next thing may not be fighting for racial equality today but simply trusting her process, so she can find her next right thing so that she can come to believe that the earth *really is* better with her in it. [If you deal with suicidal ideation, please know that the world IS BETTER WITH YOU IN IT.] If she trusts her process, maybe someday in the future she can pick up the torch *she* feels inspired to pick up, in the right time and way that matches with where her life and mission and conscience are calling her. (Or maybe by being in her process, she's already picking up the right torch for her, with real people on the other end needing what she in her own lived experience has to offer.) I mean, she felt brave enough to make a public video about mental illness, eating disorders, and suicidal ideation. Important stuff in its own right. Lives at stake there, too.
-->If a woman (or a man) is trying to recover from the effects of childhood sexual abuse, she or he may not have the capacity to write their congressmen about police reform right now. AND THAT IS OKAY.

And other people's next right things may not be as drastic as these examples (which I use obviously to make a point) -- but are no less important. Because again, we can't be fully present for others if we aren't present with ourselves and our own process and inner compass, even in the little things. [Someone commented on my post about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which definitely impacts our ability to think outside of our own lives. That said, it won't only be when you are at the place of taking care of basic needs that you may feel guided to do something different than directly working on whatever is pressing in the press at any moment.]

In years of studying about and testing and observing principles of healing, this idea of doing your own work (whatever that next right thing is) = the best thing we can each do for others and the world shows up repeatedly. Somehow it works that the more we are honest with our own processes, the more we can bring more peace and humanity back into our spheres, and thus, the more peace can ripple out -- often in indirect ways we cannot even imagine.

I forget this too often. I find my energy being fragmented in ways that leave me trying to prove to everyone else that I care about what everyone else says I should care about (which are things I DO care about), or what the narratives from my life story say I should care about...instead of actually getting still enough to hear what my next right thing ACTUALLY should be.

I think this is just a true law of the universe. If we seek to develop self-awareness and self-honesty and then take action on what our deepest inner voice says "this is your next right thing" (no matter how simple, how hard, how different, how similar, how popular, how unpopular that next right thing may be), what can come out of that process is more peace, and that peace will trickle out, ripple out, maybe even pour out. It may or may not be in ways that are visible to journalists or social media mavericks, but it WILL be noticed by God and the energy WILL have an impact. When we act in integrity to the best of our knowledge to the truth of our deepest inner light, good will come of it. And then -- and I think only then -- forward motion can happen individually and collectively.
I believe the flip side is also true. If we don't act in integrity to our own process, we will surely end up hurting others sideways and/or, or more directly and more starkly, because something in us always knows when we are not acting true to our inner self, *even when we aren't ready or even able to see that yet.*

In short, I worry greatly about racism. AND I worry about media and social media that *demand* that each of us show up in certain ways in order to fix the problem.

And I take it a step further to ask: What if racism won't be healed by talking only about racism? I'm not saying that talking isn't part of it!! But I truly believe that racism is a symptom. Just as I believe so many other injustices and inhumane and unfathomable acts are also reflection as symptoms of deeper issues - things that are more universal than we often like to admit, things that come with the struggles of being human.

What if we, collectively, will best be healed as we, individually, each work to get real with what is wounded within us, and each learn/practice getting still so that our next right thing is driven by the light within and not the energy without (or the false voices within)? We can choose to bring inputs from without into our process, but they shouldn't wholly define how we spend our time and energy.

I post for myself, because I am so prone to picking up everyone else's banner or needs even when my life may be telling me I need to use my very limited energy elsewhere. Whitney Johnson, disruption guru, says this: "We prune to get the sweetest fruit from the peach tree, we put cages around tomatoes so they have something to climb - all things that grow need constraints to focus their energy in a direction that is productive." Rather than seeing our limitations as something to apologize for, we can lean into them and trust that they can help open up our next right things to make progress and help the world be better.)

And perhaps this post can be helpful for others who are feeling fragmented by all of the demands of our too-splintered world. "My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds," Anne Morrow Lindbergh says, in her book, _Gifts from the Sea._

So what is your heart telling you you should do, right now?

I believe that King is right. And that Glennon is right. And that so many thought leaders who talk about taking action toward personal inner peace and integrity and honesty are right. World peace starts with personal peace and awareness of personal limitations and using agency honestly and wisely. Just as we can't just throw money at every cause that crosses our social media feed, it may not be right to put our time and energy into every cause that crosses our feed as people may demand that we do **no matter how important that cause may be.**

Acting in integrity is key to what heals hearts. And healed hearts are the essence of a healed family, whether it be our own little families or, in this case of all that is in the headlines, our national and world families.

So here's my challenge to myself and to you, if you are still reading: Do YOUR next right thing. Trust that good is in that act, and that good will ripple out from that personal movement, no matter how small or insignificant such action may feel. (And sometimes such action will also be the hardest thing you have ever done! Just because it's about bringing it back home does NOT mean it is an easier road. In fact, it may be easier to march or write a letter but harder to look inside, whatever that may mean, to what really needs to be done next to make this world a more peaceful place, starting with peace within.)

Be answerable to your inner compass and let that be enough, from moment to moment. And trust that the universe can magnify such acts. I believe in a universe (for me, that is God) who does just that.

And I believe we need His help for that deeper kind of healing that cannot be demanded of each other. It can only be found when we do the *individual* work of going in and seeing what is there, and trusting our next right steps all along the way.

[and sorry for being repetitive. I'm sorting thoughts as I write, not writing for edited perfection. :)]

- - - -

Many people commented, and shared some other great thoughts, some of which I will include below. Since I don't have permission to share publicly, I'll only share general ideas and specific quotes that can be found elsewhere.

- the idea that emotional awareness helps us make rational decisions -- emotions are input for the output of deciding what our next right thing should be. Slowing down is essential to plug into what our emotions are telling us [and thoughts/beliefs also drive emotions, which is part of the power of the process of self-reflection -- when we get to the level of thoughts/beliefs, we can find CHANGE and HEALING. And that can make a difference in our little worlds, which makes a difference in the larger world. Any one person healing means more healing light and love can flow out to more people in that person's sphere.]

Brandon Sanderson:

"Emotions are like messages to ourselves that can hold info about what the next right thing could be for us as an individual. Then use our rational mind to decide how to care for ourselves. This being human thing can get messy. Slowing down helps it all settle into place with peace."

S'more comments from me in the thread:
A collective impact expert named John Kania once said this at a conference I attended. One of the commenters shared how me sharing that concept has helped her just do what she can in her sphere, what she feels impressed to do, and allow others the same privilege. "Go where the energy is." A translation of that concept is on my fridge: EMPOWER WHAT WORKS.

As hard as it is to accept, I don't think we make people repent. People choose to repent. I think we have to respect agency and let God work in His time and way on people. God has never had any problem letting people make mistakes for generations (not that He doesn't CARE about it, but that His plan is centered on agency and that has a high cost, to be sure. But the price has already been paid! He clearly takes the long view on things). When the student is ready, the teacher (the Teacher) appears.

Also, I think nothing motivates people to *consider* change more than love. Consider Doctrine and Covenants 121. I thought of that last night when I was commenting somewhere else but tonite I pulled out the text and read it again. Wow. Yeah, I think if there is any hope of influencing people toward true repentance -- the kind led by God, not by us -- these are the principles we have to live by. Exasperation and frustration or even deep concern about what is *wrong* (e.g., generational patterns being perpetuated) likely just gets the opposite result.

The Serenity Prayer reminds us that we take the sinful world as it is, like Jesus did, and try to do OUR own surrender process, personally, with God, trusting in the promise of a better world. Surrendering includes, I think, surrender other people's stuff and letting that be God's to handle.

This is not saying we live lives of inaction, but rather of inspiration. I think most of the time, when we want to get someone else to repent, that is *our* will in action, because we are trying to wrest a certain outcome out of another. But we have no idea where someone else actually is in their process (either that, or what we are observing can give us information about where they are, even if it is not where we wish they were). But God's way is that we can't force someone to be where they are not. I mean, I hardly know where *I* am in my process and what my right next steps should be. How on earth can I know what someone else's life should look like? :) [Not that I don't get stuck in thinking I know what others should do, because I do. As I have said elsewhere, I am writing in large measure because I really want these principles to stick in my cells and synapses more. It's just so easy to have so many opinions about what others should do, but really, is that any of my business?]

Have you ever read Byron Katie? She has some interesting thoughts about this that at first kind of messed with my head, but to boil it down (as I understand it), her whole point is that if someone "should" be doing something, they already *would* be doing it. When we get wrapped up in thinking about what someone "should" be doing, we are taking on an all-knowing role that we don't have knowledge to do. And when we play that role, we just make our own lives miserable, tend to treat others poorly, and have less ability to be clear about what our own right next steps should be.
Her thoughts also align with 12-step ideas like "You are right where you need to be" and "Everything is on schedule." Well, if that is true for me and my messy process, that has to be true for others, too, because God is no respecter of persons. He isn't going to give *me* space and time (thanks to Jesus, He does!) to figure things out (even though sometimes I'm SO SLOW in my process and progress) but then expect someone to just respond to the snap of my finger when I think they should change (which I can be prone to do). This is hard doctrine, but I think it's true and in the end makes life easier, lighter, more peaceful. And if we are more peaceful, then we have more of a possibility to have influence because peace itself is a powerful channels something beyond ourselves, even God..."without compulsory means."

I think when we have knowledge of truth, we first act on it simply to act in integrity to our own conscience. We may also decide to share what we feel and believe, but then we surrender the outcomes. 

Agency is the most important gift we have been given in this life, and to practice respecting it for others I think is one of the greatest tests of life. (Cells? Synapses of mine? Are you listening?....)
That idea of me wanting to retrain my brain more toward these principles reminds me of a quote I found in my journal last night. When I went to look it up just now, I didn't remember that it channeled the Serenity Prayer so closely, but I shouldn't be surprised because this message is hitting me in multiple ways right now. This is from Wayne Dyer (from a webinar I listened to a while back, so there are a couple of layers of witnesses to this idea): "Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be." And here's another: "direct [my] thoughts away from [the one doing harm] and toward the actions [I] must take now to be more empowered.]" Next right thing. Just do the next right thing for YOU and let others figure out their next right things. [Cells? Synapses? I'm talking to you again!] This is all so much easier said than done. So counterintuitive, even. But I believe it is truth.

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