Paulius Malinovskis CC
"The first thing you need to know is the last thing you'll learn. But I can tell you this: when you get to square ten, all of square one will be in it." -Gretel Ehrlich
If you're anything like me, you've probably from time to time found yourself zeroed in on everything that's wrong "out there." It's sometimes harder to zero in on what's wrong "in here." What I know now is that that feeling starts pretty early. If your family life is a war zone, then how could you not see the whole storm as an outer deal? So, wherever we go, there it is again, that feeling that things can only be made right by force. Sometimes you just have to exhaust yourself against something before it begins to make any kind of sense. Let go and let, not god, but pause, breath, a space, a beat. Anything can happen in that moment when you back off a knot that keeps getting tighter the harder you pull on the rope. We have to go deeper than the immediate conflict.
You cannot fix what's broken in others before you fix what's broken in you. Inner work feeds the outer. ("The deeper the digging, the sweeter the finding," -Maia Sharp) And the thing is, that work never really ends. I think we're supposed to try to make things better. "Are you helping or are you hurting," I've often seen tagged around the walls of my city. The timbre of approach can make or break an opportunity. Timing, dosage, tact. How do we learn that?
It never really feels like a good time for gentleness, sensitivity, kindness. Anne Dufourmantelle writes: "The very fact that in the name of gentleness [in the sense of keeping watch over one another] we come to justify brutality, or any other falsification of this kind, seems not only allowed today but also encouraged... The worst meanness will be an elevation. Yet I believe gentleness resists."
There is a ferocity in gentleness that does not devour, but is fervor, ferment, furrow. Discarding is easier than lifting and tending. Toss it aside. Kick it out. Bust it in. There it is again: a childhood. No place safe. No safe person.
Michael Egien once wrote: "One reason why I think people often hurt others is in a last ditch effort to connect." A toxic nourishment learned early in those long ago familial storm-homes. How do we work with feeling states that are so dark and devouring? In ourselves? In others? In our communities and families of choice? It's more important to stay with the question than to provide an answer. Art helps, I think. Anywhere that people can go and share their vulnerable and deeper stories with one another is a kind of gentleness keeping watch over one another. Might it not just be as simple as listening? Leaning in?
Ofra Eshel has a term that I love: withnessing, rather than witnessing. To witness implies to stand outside of someone's experience, observing empathically, but from a distance. But to withness implies being inside the feeling state of another. Right there where "the voice is released through the wound." I do believe it is possible to be at one with another. It's a rare moment. It happens whenever I read a poem about things that never should have happened, but did. Things that were needed, but weren't received. I am right there where it happened, withnessing. That's what I do as an editor. I withness. I feel it, I do.
Sometimes it's more important to supply the ground where things can begin to grow rather than the things themselves. Maybe a place speaking for itself is just this field of many voices, many stories, many wounds, coming together for a brief moment in time in a way that they otherwise would not.
Wilfred Bion once wrote: "We are presented with the debris, the vestiges of what was once a [person] and what could still be analogous to blowing on the dying embers of a fire so that some spark communicates itself to others; the fire is built up again, although it appeared to be nothing but dead ash. Can we look at all this debris and detect in it some little spark of life?"
Perhaps it's worthwhile to not know exactly where something, or someone, will take us beforehand. We go dead inside, we spark back alive, we breathe into it again. Whatever the vessel, whatever the stone. Patience pays out in the end. No one can be perfectly attuned or open all the time. But the reverse is true also, no one can be unattuned and closed down all the time. How do we extend that moment, detect in it some little spark of life? Maybe the only way we get anything right, including community, is by claiming the mess an essential part of getting there.
Sometimes things take on a life of their own. They get loud, they get messy. We get triggered, we get angry, we get even. It's not easy sorting out what belongs to who. The point is to try to cultivate a little space where sparks can grow. Spark to spark, heart to heart. "hear, heart, here."
You must remember that your place in most things is relatively small. Sometimes we're just called on to remember that we are not the whole of any situation. I know that as a kid I didn't really have the necessary environment or resources to know that. I was swallowed up in the family drama and I had no room of my own. No space to think or feel things out. Everything felt huge and like something that I had to solve or, maybe, the world would end. It did end for a while. I literally took the long and terrifying way home. Spent some years in the battlefields of numb. There are things you learn in ways you don't want to. It's not like you're built for this, sometimes you have to cradle the weakest part of your arm and trust-fall into your strongest other hand. And if something "out there" feels familiar "in here," it's probably a good sign to try and remember that you are that room of your own now.
We must try very hard to tend only after the things that truly matter. And we will wander from this. And we will return to the bare bones of it, accidentally or purposefully, doesn't matter. But that you keep coming back to it. This holy and hungry thing. Your life. But if only there were not so much noise, it waylays me? You can't work with silence, friends. Nothing is born till it ruptures, till it rends. The point is to take up the noise and make out of it something more durable, kindred, kind, holy. You need no permission. Begin your good work.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.