Earlier this week I received a phone call …
“I get how you might lean into what happened in Lahania, Sarah. I mean, I loved your last message about business as usual, I really did …” Her distressed tone told me that a challenge was coming.
“But, Israel. How in the world are you dealing with that?”
My dear friend was on the verge of tears in response to the situation in Israel on October 7, 2023, when the terrorist organization Hamas engaged in a horrific assault on Israeli citizens.
I could feel her angst through the phone.
I empathized with her struggle to make sense.
I tasted her rage.
As I said …
“The same as Lahaina. I deal with it exactly the same.”
I reminded her that what I’m speaking about is an ability to increase our capacity to hold more than one feeling, idea, or perspective at the same time.
I assured her that I have a self (in the Selfistry language) or a part (in the Internal Family System’s language) or a neural pathway (in the cognitive science language) that is experiencing what is happening in Israel way more personally than Lahaina.
Though I have friends in Maui and have spent time there myself, I did not know anyone personally who died, nor was I able to get enraged at the fire itself. Though I remain curious about municipal actions that were or were not taken, the event itself was not the direct consequence of, say, a group of arsonists intent on enacting devastating destruction or initiating brutal terror on their fellow humans.
But Israel is different.
Way more horrific in the arena of human agency.
Way more complex in its overarching context.
I have genetic material in my cells that my ancestors carried in their bodies and that somehow unites me with them and sometimes leaves me feeling like I am them. The membrane between their existence and mine feels permeable, and since time is ephemeral and we seem to be in a-time-between-worlds, I find myself experiencing the events in Israel almost viscerally.
In other words.
It hits home.
In my bones.
Those are my people.
Those people are me!
It’s trippy, actually.
And yet …
That decade I spent in retreat being quiet and still, detaching from business as usual in all aspects of modern civilized life, ended up growing in me a capacity to experience rage and compassion, grief and love, sorrow and awe. Simultaneously.
I did not know this was what was happening at the time … how it would prepare me for today. But I see it now. I feel it. I get it.
Back then I was suppressing my thoughts and emotions in order to tap into what I viewed as a more essential realm — a place of peace and equanimity that could hold my broken heart and debilitating confusion.
The strategy worked. That realm became readily accessible. Always with me, it is the conscious and sustained experience of this realm that then catalyzed my return to civilization.
To be clear …
I do not advocate for suppression in order to access the realm I speak of. What I do advocate for — and teach — is how to suspend our calcified identities, our ingrained habits, and our cherished beliefs long enough to make room for this realm to emerge.
It is in this expanded space where the fullness of our humanity can grow … possibilities present themselves beyond our inherited and habitual ways of seeing and being in the world. Beyond our hate, our ignorance, our fear, our certainty, and our self-righteousness.
This morning while sitting in meditation I let myself deeply lean in.
As my breath settled I opened to my inner landscape and visualized one scenario after another in the escalating conflict. Dead babies. Decapitated children. Traumatized youth running for their lives. Blown up homes and families. Young men with guns holding their fellow humans captive, ready to slit their throats.
All of it.
I leaned in to feel terror, rage, grief, panic, fear, power, helplessness, hopelessness, and shock.
Then I leaned back.
I leaned back into the realm where I’m able to witness and sense a bigger picture and a broader scenario. I watched the events exist within the expansive mystery that I can neither comprehend nor control.
It is in that space where I’m able to lean in without getting overtaken by any particular feeling, event, or detail. It’s within this expanded context that I’m able to find a center of calm and clarity amidst highly volatile and potentially triggering events.
I know, it’s a paradox.
How to lean in and lean out simultaneously?
But, my suggestion is not to attempt to comprehend this capacity.
Instead, seek to embody it.
Near the end of our conversation my friend said, “That’s helpful, Sarah. I’m slowly getting it. How to stay present with everything and expand my awareness to hold it all. But still… I have to ask. What are you going to do about what’s happening over there? You can’t remain silent. You can’t do nothing!”
Once again, I feel the urgency in her voice … echoing the tone and tenor of so many voices around the world right now.
“My actions arise from the calm place where my leaning in and my leaning back intersect,” I explain. “They do not arise from taking one side or from taking neither side. You might say that they arise from taking both sides, or they originate in the deeper current that is orchestrating life on its terms, not ours.”
I assured her that my approach is not woo woo whimsy flimsy. It’s grounded. Practical. I am not a myopic navel gazer nor one who’s sated with ruminating on the nature of good and evil. I take action. I am taking action.
You see …
“It is all so much bigger than us,” I say slowly as I soften into my profound trust of life. “It’s about opening, wondering, imagining, and listening deeply for what’s ours to do.”
“That’s a big ask,” my friend said with a long sigh.
“I know,” I concurred. “But these times are asking bigness of us, are they not?”
“True,” she admitted.
“Anything short of going after such bigness,” I reminded her, “is business as usual.”
And so …
I encouraged her to take some time to be with all her feelings. To deeply feel them. To readily express them. To hold them lovingly, as she might her own child. I also suggested she wisely source multiple perspectives regarding the present activity in the region, the global range of responses, and the recommended actions. It is important to moderate our consumption of data and information as we metabolize the situation unfolding.
And finally, I suggested she spend time alone and quiet, listening beneath and beyond her thoughts and feelings for what action is hers to take.
I know this orientation I’m suggesting is not for everyone. You may feel I’m delusional or think I’ve lost my way. However, if you have any resonance with what I’m saying, I can assure you that in the place I’m speaking of and within the capacity I’m referring to lives a sanity brighter than any I could have ever imagined, and a sense of ease and peace that feels more like true Love than anything I’ve ever felt.
If you’re drawn …
Try this …
Find your way to listen deeply for what is yours to do or say. Learn to expand your capacity to hold multiple feelings and views without reflexively collapsing into any particular one and without numbing out or turning away. Open to wonder and curiosity as you resist certainty and business as usual.
These capacities will change the trajectory of your life, and possibly beyond.
Let me know how it goes …