Commusings: Urgent Kindness by Elena Brower

Nov 14, 2020

What will you remember of this time? What would you like to forget? 

Etched in my mind are the masked random meetings, the awkward, hugless greetings, the fleeting freedom we thought we felt when the pandemic subsided, only to be shocked by another surge. Back into hibernation we go; a fresh, strange displacement. 

I’ll also never forget the days of late May and early June when a lifetime of ignorance unraveled, learning the history of Black, Brown and Indigenous ancestors the world over, undertones of generations of white supremacy flooding my consciousness. Lying awake those nights, I felt a new direction in the undoing of my misunderstandings. Direction that’s mercifully given meaning to these long, strange months as I decode my whiteness and build newer synapses. 

Wish I could forget the way certain friendships came undone, as ideology and YouTube alogrithms had their way with some. The realization arrived that some expressions of power mimic painful, close encounters of childhood in which many of us find solace. The hours of holding and healing my own inner child, who feels familiarity when folks shout their side but never actually apologize. So many of us need healing here. 

Wish I could forget the hang-ups and comments as I called those voters in Maricopa County to ensure they had a voting plan as we lived through one of the most chaotic chapters of the history book that’s just now being written. But the voices of the strangers who found it in their hearts to thank me for calling, for standing for democracy, equality, equity, justice — those I’ll remember. 

I wonder if and when this escalating media war will end, and how it can be that one fact can be made to signal two entirely different realities. And I wonder if all of this is dragging us toward an urgent shift toward clarity — an intensely necessary emergence of unimaginable kindness, generosity and understanding.

What if this calamitous, politicized moment just changed us for the better? 

What if, as history teaches us, this disaster culminates in the dissolution of forces that have notoriously blocked our agency, our participation? What if we are here to experience, as Rebecca Solnit suggests in A Paradise Built in Hell, a new language for engagement, a new intelligence that keeps us aware of the distortions and divisiveness of the media, with a fresh understanding of how we can organize and piece our collective kindness back together? 

Disaster can cause this healing, creating a level ground, where we have no choice but to take care of each other. The word disaster originates in dus or dis (bad or without) and aster or astro (star). We are effectively without a star, longing for clear leadership, direction, and vision. We know that the destruction of the old is a precondition for any healing. And if we are to cultivate a culture of true respect, we begin with the most personal, intimate details: the study of the self. This is when we are tasked to create a sense of solidarity within, where all bravery is born, the kind of courage that yields the patient listening we desperately need now. 

The moment we begin to go deeper within, the first and most perfect casualties are the attachments, the filters, the dualities. The beliefs that keep us separate. The perpetuation of the hierarchical narrative. When we lose those, we begin to sense (as we did when we first began that first quarantine) an experiential unity, where we do our best to take care of each other, all across the interwebs, offering comfort. Presence. And for ourselves, self-empathy. 

So where did that generous, unifying spirit go? It was gobbled up by an unending election news cycle, filter bubbles at their finest, feeding each of us reasons to feel affirmed, to derive our stream of consciousness from whatever we streamed last. Are our thoughts our own when we’re consuming? No. For that divide you’ve been experiencing, the friend or family member who’s disappeared, there is only one antidote; the primary learning of this dark, unrecognizable moment. 

Compassion. The wisdom beyond wisdom. 

Creating a culture of compassion seems the most rational next step, and to do so, I cannot continue to be perpetuating the vitriol. As Seth Godin teaches, “When you’re in one mode, it’s tempting to believe that everyone else is, too. But depending on which pocket of culture you’re in, which ticket you bought, what state your persona is in, it might be that you’re not seeing what others are seeing.”

To create an environment of compassion, we need to assume the folks “over there” are having a very different experience, and we need to ask and learn about it. Good listeners shift and elevate cultures. And this is how we create the muscle memory we need for connection and collaboration. 

To those who aren’t taking notice, maintaining a willful ignorance, you might be holding us all prisoner, keeping us separate from each other. What if we all turned inward, in two directions: toward our own tense, aching hearts, and then toward our real community needs? 

What if we give ourselves a proper kindergarten-style rest period every day, and prioritize our meditation so we can be profoundly prepared for chaos and celebration, equally and with equanimity? 

What if we practice listening to our Indigenous, Black and Brown families, to our rural neighbors, town by town, community by community, to address their needs for being heard, for water, food, healthcare, education, public safety? If each of us reading this brings our time, service, and care to the under-resourced areas closest to us, whether it’s an hour, a day, a few dollars a week, we give rise to a new way of being. We let the suffering of this four-year, four-hundred-year saga truly change us. We can let ourselves be actualized by everything we touch. 

Choose a cause, a purpose, a region close to home. Your mission is to start connecting, to recognize our mutuality; offer deep levels of respect, give gratitude, and observe carefully what urgent kindness most needs to come next. Because attitudes are skills. And your spacious, nurturing attitude toward yourself and those in need is a definitive healing.

May we make it our work to observe and unify with things precisely as they are, usher in compassion, to understand and cultivate relationships with those who hold different views. Rather than prioritizing social media, where misinformation is weaponized and opinions so quickly become radicalized, may we prioritize our relations to each other. May we courageously embrace our practices, our kindness, to remember why we’re here. We are equipped with a heart that has the capacity to integrate the truth of suffering, yet remain empowered to serve with kindness, nonviolence and equanimous action. 

May you let this moment change you.

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