“Stress is basically a disconnection from the earth, a forgetting of the breath. Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. Just lie down.” — Natalie Goldberg
I have this curse, which is also a gift, which is that I am a sensitive person. I guess that can mean a few different things to different people. In my case by “sensitive” I mean that my favorite Dr. Seuss book was always, right from the beginning, the one called Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? in which a man sits on a cactus, singing a rhyming song about all the people’s troubles all over the seven continents, and that continues to be pretty much exactly how I see the world.
Other people’s hardships are in keen focus. My perspective is angled towards things that make other people cry. Basically, I’m a bleeding heart.
From my cactus, I’ve been thinking, lately, about the value of outrage….the preciousness of outrage… And the ways in which it can be spent, or spilled.
Caveat: maybe I’m just here to make excuses. I can’t keep up with the topic of the day on the Internet. Even now that I’m connected all the time (may God have mercy on my soul), I just don’t think like that. I can’t keep up with this rapidly repeating pattern in which the eyes all turn to a particular horror, and then all the public faces weigh in on that particular horror, and then all the masses get into line behind the various public faces…Right?
You know. I don’t have to tell YOU.
To be clear, I don’t think any of the steps in this are wrong. And I am as often as not right in the middle of it. But, also, this. My cycles of exhaustion and numbness over years — basically my whole life as a bleeding heart — have shown me the darker aspects of reacting serially to issues as they become high impact/high emotion/high visibility…things like touristing in lands where people actually live, or riding emotional highs and experiencing horrors as functionally similar to entertainment, or releasing (spending?) tension by retweeting your share of outrage.
Woah, woah, woah. Just woah.
I’m not going to get into all that. Because, what? — do we all need another reason to feel bad about ourselves? Another reason to shrink from the knowledge that all is not well in the land? Or to sit back in our armchairs and just not try?
But this. I do want to know that I am also living my life. This real life, where my feet touch the ground, in the place where I am, and my hands possess things (or they don’t) and my bank account has money in it (or it doesn’t), and I stand in front of traffic (or I don’t).
I’ve been thinking this week, about how I just don’t have time to do it all. I mean, to do everything, in the world. Oh, what a to-do list this world gives to the open heart! Everywhere you look, things to fix and things to cry about and emergencies to meet. And if you’re connected, which I lately am, all those emergencies are always at your fingertips. I could chase after emergencies all day. Every day. That could be everything I do and everything I am.
I might never show up to this moment.
Or this one.
Or this one.
I’ve been thinking about that Natalie Goldberg quote, above. “Stress is basically a disconnection from the earth.” And when I feel anxiety, which kind of anxiety is that? Is it the kind that will allow me to be compassionate and kind, and stand strong and be helpful and brave? Does it prepare me to act, open my eyes to see? Or does it make me self-absorbed and ineffective and obsessively worried about whether I’m in the right place at the right time?
This is not true: that one issue is important and another isn’t.
But this is true: that wherever you go, there you are.
Basically this is my whole case for what we call “lifestyle integrity.” (Not that there’s nothing wrong with that course, either. Imperfections abound.) But this is my whole case for going out in the morning to pray before you speak the gospel, and it’s my whole case for making it a goal to live a life that can speak for itself.
The impulse somehow needs to become live at both ends:
the awareness of somebody else >><< the awareness of self;
knowledge of trauma >><< potential for wholeness;
awareness of complicity >><< willingness to change.
Please, count me as someone who does believe in outrage. I think it’s valuable. I even think it’s Christlike. And I think it is very dearly called for, if only you have some bit of the strength you need to carry it through.
Maybe this is what I’m getting at: that maybe lying down is not the same as giving up. Maybe this is what our sister Outrage is best at, in the end: not transforming others, but transforming selves.