Fill in the Blank

Don't allow yourself to believe
the dead space between us
is left empty or filled with
the benefit of the doubt

Anxiety and mental illness
are excellent at filling in the blanks
with haunting shadows and
viscous, hateful delusions

An "I love you" not uttered
is not assumed to be neutral
it is a shrieking echo of "I hate you"
that reverberates inside my head

A compliment offered only once
is not carried over into the future
it fizzles and is transfigured
into just another lie

Resentments are slowly added
to the waters of my soul
until an all-mighty tide of indignation
becomes a tsunami to tear you apart

An unseen pressure is surely building
like hot air inside a teapot
everyone always acts surprised
when the shrill whistle of anger erupts

Your silence speaks volumes
to a heart that needs constant reassurance
there is already too much bitterness
to make it better
Advertisement

Passenger

A coyote cuts across the foggy highway
a life held inside indecision, a moment's hesitation
could be a violent end of everything all at once

Sulfurous air that once shrouded out the sun
a sudden impact that swallowed the earth
in many decades of dark, lifeless winter

Time has a way of emphasizing
the absurdity of right and wrong when
final outcomes are impossible to predict

Half the suffering I've known has been
an inner upheaval of moral outrage
resistance to the evils of this world

My stormy turmoil subsides if only
I can learn to surrender all judgement
and accept my place as a humble passenger

Who am I to hold dominion over
the way life is supposed to unfold?
I prefer the role of patient witness anyway

To watch with curious eyes and an open heart
ready to embrace all of life with equanimity
a grateful submission to existence beyond understanding

To play my small part with a soft hand
extending a gentle, hopeful intention of pure love
prepared to let go of any and all expectations

Tender feet along the balustrade, balancing
between engagement and surrender
too often falling into indignation and anger

The perpetual repetition of life can be tedious
but it offers endless chances to keep trying
precious lessons linger behind a door that is always open

Every failure is an opportunity to find grace
there is no permanence, perfection, or wasted effort
everything is as it should be, everything is as it should be

The Sea Inside

My soul is always rising
with righteous indignation
swelling like the sea with
power and momentum

Impossible to contain or quiet
any attempt feels like an attack
on the very moral fury that
has frothed the foaming waves

Wrestling with water
just adding to the flood of feeling
lashing out at the perceived inner oppression
of my own attempts to foster peace

Internal justification is not enough to quell
the violent current of painful passion
as though a feeling that is valid
must require direct action

Levees of logical pleas create
different ripples of unbridled rage
the audacity of any intention
to hold myself back

You cannot stop the ocean
and there is a sense of pride
in having the courage of conviction
a will made stronger by the moon

But saltwater eats away at the shoreline
and erodes everything that it touches
my brain and body were not made
to endure this endless, stinging submersion

Tsunami

Frightened by the violent riptide
of my own raw emotion
carried roughly away in rapids
of self-righteous anger

The sick, unshakable desire
to stay inside this horrible hatred
helpless to harness the grotesque
venom of this self-harming state

The sheer force of resistance
soft heart turned to steel with
heavy doors welded at the seam
fortress of wild, agonized isolation

Short moments of insanity
disregarding the searing flesh
of a hand clutching tightly
onto a white hot coal

Seduced by the spell of spite
the toxic illusion of power promised
to a soul that has been swallowed up
and blinded by uncontrollable rage

Sinking below dark waters
a whirlpool of god-like wrath
left trembling at the loss
of all control

Exploitation and Injustice

The injustices, the atrocities, the exploitation that surrounds me, that suffocates me, is inescapable. Everywhere I look I see the rich and powerful crushing someone under the iron boot of the system that props them up. It is made all the more unbearable in the face of the irresponsible lies we are fed all throughout our youth about the way the world is. Why teach us that the world is fair, that society is just, that the government protects us, that we are free, when it’s not true? Why are we set up to suffer not only the reality of how things really are, but also the friction in our heads created by the false image inevitably torn down by that reality?

It makes me think back to a few months ago when I was reading A Tale of Two Cities. I couldn’t help but resonate with the plight of the starving, wretched peasants in the streets of France just before the revolution. I see that same suffering mirrored in the faces of the masses all around me in this pitiful, destitute area. I was rooting for them when they began burning down the mansions and estates of the wealthy, when they made being rich a crime, when heads rolled one after another from the guillotine all day long. They say history repeats itself and I’ve finally lived long enough to understand.

Even though I know these revolutions and uprisings have happened many times throughout human history, until recently, it seemed rather unlikely to me. I just couldn’t imagine the poor, huddled masses rising up and risking their lives no matter how badly they are treated. Now I realize that it isn’t a question of whether or not they will, rather when. Eventually enough is enough. Eventually the outrage, the fury, the inhumanity of it all becomes too much for anyone to bear.

It may sound silly by comparison to the injustices of the past, but spending all morning fighting with Comcast really gave me a glimpse into the mindset of these people willing to risk everything for the mere chance of change. In just three years time, my internet bill, which is the cheapest, slowest option available, went from $30 a month to $100 a month. My income, however, has remained exactly the same. How on earth am I expected to manage this? I have no other internet options in my area, so Comcast knows they can get away with it. (Even though we learn in school that monopolies are illegal for this very reason.) They add expense after expense hoping you won’t notice. They charged me $15 for me to install my own device a few months ago. I’d laugh if it wasn’t so infuriating. In addition to all that, each time I call, I discover that they’ve made it harder and harder to reach an agent to speak to. It took me nearly an hour just to get to a human being.

It is unconscionable. It’s criminal. The thought that humans are so selfish, so greedy, so horrible that they would make hundreds of thousands of people suffer with massive bill increases, for what? For literally nothing. The CEO of Comcast isn’t affected by my bill increasing. The amount of income those at the top see doesn’t even matter to them. Their quality of life couldn’t possibly be improved through financial gain at this point. They already have more than they can consciously even make sense of. Yet all of the people paying for this service, which at this point is basically a necessity, are crippled by the ever-increasing bills. I can’t stand it. I cannot bear to know this and accept that it is true.

This is the frustration, the desperation that eventually builds until it reaches a tipping point. I felt myself reaching that edge today. I felt the passion, the rage well up inside of me. I felt the truth of the potential I had to burn it all down, to kill or be killed rather than submit to this injustice any further. At a certain point, logic goes out the window, you become so blinded with fury that you are capable of anything. This is what fuels revolutions. This is what topples governments and creates violent riots in the streets. I used to think I’d be too afraid to fight when the next revolution finally arrived. Now I know I’ll be ready.

Coping with the End

Total disassociation, fully out your mind. Googling derealization, hating what you find. That unapparent summer air in early fall. The quiet comprehending of the ending of it all.

Funny Feeling – Bo Burnham

The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Over the past six or seven years I’ve gone through all of these stages. Now it feels like I teeter back and forth between depression and acceptance. Seven years may seem like a rather long time to grieve, but it’ll sound more appropriate when I explain that I am not grieving the death of a loved one or a romantic relationship. No, I am grieving the earth, my own life, all life. I am grieving the slow, steady death of our planet and all that it holds.

When I first discovered just how close we already were to the end of everything, I was furious. How could those in power and those that came before me ignore this, and even worse, continue contributing to it? The bitter hatred for humanity I already harbored sharpened like a knife’s edge, cutting me deeper than it ever had before. Then I felt passionately compelled to stop our frenzied descent toward destruction. In desperation, I implored people to share my concern about what leading environmental scientists were saying, to do all that they could in a personal capacity to make a difference, even if it was hard, even if it still might already be too late.

Naively in the beginning, I really thought the issue was that people did not know the information that I knew, and that if they did, they would understand and take action. Depression and despair quickly set in when I realized that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t only that people didn’t know. They refused to know. As I passed through the stages of grief alone, the rest of the world hangs idle in the “denial” phase. Even though I desperately want others to be by my side through this process, I’ve come to accept that they won’t be. I’ve even begun to feel it’s a mercy that they don’t believe the things I tell them. While I want my friends, family, and community to understand the dire situation we are in, I don’t want them to suffer with that knowledge like I have for all of these years. However, in case there are people out there that feel the weight of this impending doom like I do, I want to at least share a few of the ways in which I’ve been managing to cope.

One: Historical Perspective

One of the hardest parts of all this in the beginning was feeling robbed of the long life we are implicitly promised as children. It seemed so unfair to know that I would never experience old age, that I would live only half as long as I had anticipated. Sometimes I found myself wishing that I had been born in a different time so I wouldn’t have to see the world go up in smoke one day.

I soon realized that this isn’t really something I would want. For the vast majority of human history, my life would have been far worse and perhaps even shorter. As a woman I would have had no rights or freedom. I would have likely died by now in childbirth or from some horrible misunderstood disease. The average human life expectancy for a large portion of history was roughly 30 years.

I’ll still hopefully get to live for a decade or two more than that. Not to mention the quality of these 30-50 years of mine will be far superior to the quality of billions of peoples throughout history. I’ve experienced more novelty, luxury, comfort, and pleasure than the vast majority of humans that have lived. And that I am truly grateful for.

Two: Life Will Go On

It’s no secret that I don’t care much for humanity and it’s consistent habit of committing atrocities against other beings and each other. The idea of the human race ending, pretty much means nothing to me. We are a plague on this earth and all her other creatures. But the idea that because of our stupidity, greed, and selfishness the rest of the life of earth would also perish with us was unbearable to me. I look out at the complexity, the diversity, the staggering beauty of the world around me, and I can’t cope with thinking it will all disappear with us.

Learning of the animals that are still thriving in the ghost town that is Chernobyl gave me some hope. Yes, a huge portion of the life we now know of on earth will surely be wiped out by the effects of manmade climate change and the resulting wars over the remaining resources. Yet, life in general, is more resilient than I once believed. All life will not end. Some creatures will survive even this. And in time they will grow and evolve and repopulate this decimated planet until it is vibrant and flourishing yet again. One day there will be a beautiful, new earth free from the tyranny of humans. That thought brings me some peace.

Three: Purpose is Relative

When the heavy thoughts of our fast approaching end cloud my mind, one of the main themes becomes: What’s the point? Why should I continue on knowing that the end will be suffering and annihilation? I might as well just give up. Nothing matters.

These thoughts, while poignantly felt, are puzzling to me. Why should the end being sooner rather than later effect the meaning I find in life? Whether I die at 40 or 80, there will be immense fear and suffering. That isn’t something that I would escape if the world weren’t dying with me. Besides, life is not a guarantee. I could have died in my sleep last night. I could die in a car accident tomorrow. I could have developed leukemia as a child and not lived past the age of 7.

Purpose and meaning are not dependent on the length or last sentence in this book called life. I get to decide my own purpose. I determine the meaning behind all of this. The significance of my life is not forfeited due to the sudden realization that it will be much shorter than anticipated. My life matters, my happiness matters, the love I have for others matters, regardless of when death finds me.


Contemplating and combating these discouraging, depressing thoughts is what I am tasked with now. My greatest lesson in life will be learning how to be present and grateful for where I am now, regardless of what may come in the following moment. I’ve fought and screamed. I’ve begged for the world to stop this. I’ve surrendered to my sadness and helplessness in the face of this calamity. Now all that’s left is acceptance. The severity of my fate is not what I had ever expected, but it isn’t something that can be changed or avoided. There is peace in accepting that. Through acceptance I will salvage the time that I do have. I still have time to fill with joy and love and awe, and the gratitude I feel for that fact is enough to get me through anything. It’s enough to carry me into the end.

Scorched Earth

Wielding knowledge like a weapon
I was a foolish warrior
Gathering sources and citations
I will shake you from this sleep

But the heavy lidded would not rise
the passionate tides of my pride
crashed silently against indifferent minds
I languish, froth, and writhe

Open wounds in salty water
there is no healing here
neurosis turned necrotic
consciousness confined quickly corrodes

Uncovering the empty container
of human empathy
mankind's compassion reduced to crumbs 
on kitchen counters

The swelling heat of unrequited rage
from years of fanning flames
burns behind tormented, tearful eyes
consumed in dancing tongues of frustrated fire

The elemental nature of my indignation
once extinguished, leaves only damp ashes
soggy reminders of sparks of joy
suffocated hopes gone up in smoke
Scorched earth by arcipello on DeviantArt

Fight, Flight, or Freeze – Understanding the Three Responses to Anxiety

The anxiety disorders that we suffer with as a society today are a mutation of the primitive mechanism that once helped us to survive. Our nervous system is structured for attending to sudden, short-term danger that we would respond to by either running away, fighting for our lives, or freezing and camouflaging ourselves from predators. Unfortunately our society and technologies have far surpassed our biological evolution at this point. Our old ways of dealing with the original stressors we faced in nature are no longer translatable to modern problems.

Despite our problems being more long-term and complex, our nervous system’s response still manifests itself in similar forms to address stress. It is not always easily recognizable as what most of us think of as anxiety. I believe we still have the instinct for fight, flight, or freeze, it just looks quite different now than it did for our ancestors. I believe a lot of the behavior exhibited by people today is in fact due to anxiety.

Flight

Our flight response is what I believe most people mainly associate with the modern expression of anxiety. While we may not actually run away, this is the sensation we are used to describing as anxiety. It is easy for me to identify this inner urge to get away from the situation. This is the only mental state that I attributed to my anxiety disorder for the majority of my life. However, recently I’ve discovered that a lot of my other behavior can also be traced back to my nervous, unstable mental state.

Fight

I have struggled with anger since my teenage years. I never really considered that it had anything to do with my mental illness though. I felt that it was just a part of my personality or temperament. I’ve come to realize that, in fact, it is my anxiety that makes me so quick to anger. I had heard that underneath anger, there is often fear, but even then I didn’t make the connection. While anger may not always be a reaction to anxiety, I feel mine usually is. Understanding this has allowed me to be much more compassionate with myself when I become angry, as well as have more sympathy for others when they exhibit this violent emotion. When we know that anger is coming from a place of fear, it shifts our response to it immensely.

Freeze

This is another possible reaction to anxiety that I’ve only recently identified. Most people attribute procrastination to laziness or simply not caring. I suppose it can certainly stem from these things, but I believe now that it is primarily another carry-over of our nervous system’s primitive reactions to stress. If we can’t used our increased adrenaline to run away or fight, we freeze, or in other words try to avoid the problem or dangerous encounter. Unfortunately, avoiding a midterm paper won’t result in the deadline disappearing or going away like a predator that hasn’t spotted us would have.


I’m not suggesting that these behaviors are justified because they come from a place of fear, discomfort, or anxiety. However, I do think that it’s important we understand the source of these troublesome habits we or others in our lives might display. At the very least, it can give us some insight into our own behaviors that will be crucial in learning to change them. Many people feel badly about themselves for things like procrastinating or having a short temper. They internalize society’s view of these things and make matters worse by believing they are just a lazy or mean person. Getting a deeper understanding of the root of these issues can help us offer more patience and grace to ourselves as well as others.

Recognise Your Fight or Flight (or Freeze) Responses

Releasing Ourselves from the Burden of Bitterness

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As I was getting ready to leave to go get another Covid test, which I finally managed to schedule after my exposure last week, the phone in my office rang. I smiled in spite of myself as the caller announced herself to be the very person who was responsible for my exposure. I felt a tightness in my chest as I battled internally with the decision of whether or not to go through with the unfriendly, short way I had decided to treat this person after the incident.

I’ve found myself in this predicament quite a number of times throughout my life. I am wronged by someone. I decide that I will no longer be happy and agreeable with them, but maintain a cool distance. In some ways I suppose I expect this to “teach them a lesson.” It is a personal consequence I like to deal out to people who have betrayed my trust or friendship. Usually when the time comes for me to enforce this inner law, however, I have already gotten over whatever the issue was that inspired it. Sometimes I stick to my guns, other times I forgive and forget. Although when I do choose to let my anger go, there is a pang of guilt and self-criticism. I feel weak or foolish for not “sticking up for myself” or something. Even when I know that my plan was likely immature and would be ineffective anyway.

I felt that twinge of unease today as I happily took this woman’s referral and was very pleasant to her on the phone in my usual way. There was something different about today though. My unease quickly dissipated and was replaced with a swelling sensation in my heart space and a nearly tearful self-pride. This feels much better than being spiteful, I thought to myself. So what if I don’t “teach her a lesson” by withholding my kind nature? It would do little to no harm to her, yet it would be a shadow over my soul for the indefinite period of our future work acquaintance. I was so happy and relieved to be freed from that burden of anger and revenge that I had been harboring for nearly a week now.

Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

To forgive someone is not only a gift we give them, it is even more so a gift we give to ourselves. The gift of letting go. The gift of unbinding the tethers we have wrapped around our own heart. Sometimes my ego tries to snarl “they don’t deserve forgiveness.” And sometimes this is able to sway me back towards anger. But today it only caused me to reflect on all of the many time in which I had not felt worthy of the forgiveness given to me by others. I felt honored to be able to pay that kindness, that compassion, forward. In this way, forgiveness is also a means for us to repay those that have forgiven us.

Human nature is not so simple that it can be reduced to positive and negative reinforcement. When I feel I have earned rejection and scorn, but am instead offered understanding and unconditional love, I am not emboldened or spoiled by this generosity. I am healed by it instead. I am inspired to be better and prove myself worthy of it. I’d like to think that we all share this hunger for redemption after a mistake.

It is not foolish or weak to offer kindness and love in the face of indifference or hatred. It is one of the most beautiful things that we are capable of. It is with this thoughtful, compassionate, patient energy that the great men and women throughout time have turned the tides of history and earned their place in our collective conscious. We cannot allow ourselves to be concerned with the personal motivations or inner growth of others. We may hope for the best, but ultimately it is a waste and a shame to darken our own experience in an attempt to shape or control another’s.

Give yourself the gift of forgiveness. Give yourself the gift of letting go. Don’t concern yourself with what someone else may or may not deserve. This is not for us to determine, nor is it our burden to carry. We are not the grand arbiters of justice in the universe. I’ve let myself believe such matters were my “duty” for quite long enough. Now I see that truly my only duty in this life is to give back all of the love, kindness, acceptance, compassion, and understanding that I have received (with interest).

Forgiveness : TED Radio Hour : NPR

Anger, Compassion, and Not Knowing

Understanding Suicide: Risk Factors, Prevention, and How to Get Help |  Everyday Health

I struggle with anger nearly every day. The smallest things can set me off in an instant. A pattern has begun to emerge from these occurrences. The common denominator for my anger always seems to be a sense of “not knowing.” For example, I’ve been getting extremely frustrated with my dog the last few days. She goes through spells of refusing to go up and down the stairs. I try to carry her, but she won’t allow that either. She makes me chase her around in circles before finally she goes on her own. This has been happening on and off at random intervals since we’ve moved here, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what it’s all about.

I’m obviously not mad at her. She’s just an innocent animal who is clearly scared or in pain of some kind. (I’ve wondered if it may have to do with arthritis inflammation that comes and goes.) Regardless of what the explanation is, I think what it really comes down to is the fact that I don’t know. As someone who prides themselves on their quick wit and intelligence, not knowing anything is a threat to my ego. It’s not as if I’m consciously aware of this in the moment though. I make lots of excuses for myself to explain why I am actually angry. Normally it has something to do with believing the whole situation to be utter nonsense. If I can’t understand it or find a good reason, I assume that it’s impossible to understand, that there is no reason.

I realize that this isn’t true. There are many motives and reasons that guide people that I cannot fathom or understand from the outside. It’s a bad habit of mine to assume they must not have a good reason, and they are just being difficult. I guess it feels like deep down one of us must just be stupid, and since it absolutely cannot be me (because I am so very smart *eye roll*) it must be them. This is yet another way my black and white thinking causes problems for me. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that two people can just misunderstand one another. One person doesn’t inherently have to be of lower intelligence.

I’ve been trying to practice compassion in the face of anger recently, but it hasn’t been going as well as I might have hoped. I think the missing piece is that, while I’ve been trying to foster compassion for the other person, I have not offered myself the same compassion. It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to not understand. It does not mean that I am any less intelligent for acknowledging that. You don’t have to know absolutely everything to be smart. No one knows everything. We all have our blind spots.

I think if I afford myself the grace to not know, I will finally be able to relax enough to get curious again. The double edged sword of intelligence is the ego’s desire to protect and prop up that intelligence. Sadly, if you never allow yourself to not know, how will you ever be open to learning something new? Learning, coming to new understandings, and finding new perspectives are some of my favorite parts of life. How boring it would be to think there is nothing left for me to discover.

By turning to anger so quickly in any situation I don’t immediately understand, I am robbing myself of the opportunity to learn something new. The next time I find myself overcome with frustration, I am going to try my best to pause and ask what is it about this situation that I am not understanding? Can I allow myself to not understand for the moment? How might holding space and staying open allow me to benefit and grow in this moment?

Maybe if I were to resist my anger, I may notice something new about the periods of time when my dog appears afraid to go down the stairs. Maybe I can help her more effectively if I give myself the space to discover her hidden reasons. And ultimately, even if I never understand, can I offer compassion anyway? Can I have the humility to accept that there are some things I may never understand? Can I acknowledge that compassion does not always come from understanding? Compassion and loving kindness are mine to give freely and are applicable and beneficial in any situation regardless of personal comprehension.

In the same vein this mindset would do me good in regard to the way I feel I’m perceived by other people. I tend to think that if I am not fully understood by someone, then they cannot truly love me. Now I am beginning to see that isn’t true. I’ve certainly loved people that I may not have understood 100%. I don’t think we can ever understand another, or even ourselves, fully. But that does not lessen or cheapen the love that we can offer. The best love is unconditional anyway. I don’t have to reserve my love and compassion for only people and situations that I understand. Perhaps it is even better given in those instances. Love and compassion transcend understanding, and that is part of what makes them so poignant, beautiful, and worthwhile.