Two Thursdays from now, on October 29th, we will attend to and embody the complicated web of ancestry. We will raise our glasses to those who have gone before us and, by extension, think on those who come after. Do join us for a party for our Dead, those who are wise and bright and bless us by their example…and let us remember both them and those whose lives have been cautionary tales. Let us have mirth and reverence together and offer Toast to the Ancestors.
Oh my dears –
Warning: this letter is stuh-ressed right OUT.
Heard at the Clarenbach house: <<sigh>> “I am so overwhelmed.”
“I just don’t know what to do next, I’m so tired.”
“I can’t think straight. Everything I have to do is filling me with dread, and I don’t know where to start.”
Do you think I might be overwhelmed?
So many of us are.
My God, parents. Parents. (And teachers too!)
Y’all, you get all the sparkle points in the book from me this week. I don’t know that I have any wisdom for you because you are parents 24/7, and I don’t ever want you to think that I’ve forgotten about you – I just pray for you, and if you need short-term spiritual accompaniment, please let me know.
In my case, overwhelm on the level I’m experiencing it is a part of depression, so I have to be super careful to keep an eye on it. And I know I’m not the only one.
Here’s the thing:
Overwhelm says, I have to push harder. I have to get more done. I have to meet the deadline.
According to Okun and Jones’s work on the culture of white supremacy, part of what we deal with every day are a false sense of urgency and unreasonable, inhumane deadlines and expectations. These expectations are often based on profit for a few at the expense of the quality of life, and even life span, of many.
Stress is real, friends. It is real, and it is eating us alive.
The Rapist-in-Chief is still – as of this writing – telling people not to worry about COVID-19. And yet it hangs over our every decision about whether or not to go shopping, to order take-out, to visit with friends and loved ones, to dare to go to the ER if something seems wrong.
COVID-19 is stressful.
We will see, come that fateful Tuesday in November, or in the days that follow, just how broken our democracy is. Will our votes be counted? Will the people with the most to lose be able to get to the polls? Will the Rapist-in-Chief – AGAIN – steal an election with the help of foreign powers?
Thinking about voting is stressful.
And the deadlines we’ve placed on ourselves or those who work with and for us, in employed work, in volunteer work, in church work…we make arbitrary decisions that cause a false sense of urgency that lead us to feel as though we have no choice but to plunge ahead, no matter how stressed out we are!
Thinking about work is stressful.
Our surge capacity is depleted – our ability is manage short-term threats is basically gone, friends, it’s gone. How the hell can we manage our lives? How ARE we managing our lives? And if we’re reading this letter, I am reminded as I write it, we’re likely to be pretty far up the status ladder of our culture. We know only the slightest bit of the damage being done…
But if you’re like me, your first instinct in all these cases is to push.
Push through the fear.
Don’t let anxiety about A FUCKING GLOBAL PANDEMIC “dominate you.”
Push through your work and come hell or high water, do everything you can to meet the deadlines, do the work, wear yourself threadbare and burn that candle at both ends.
But you know.
You know the way through.
Overwhelm is a sense of isolation, of broken connection from ourselves and from those who might help us. Overwhelm leaves us looking at the whole mess of everything before us, unable to choose one thing, just one thing, to pick up and put into its rightful place. Overwhelm is drowning in a sea of details… so what’s to do?
The key to that instinct to push, push, push is to resist pushing wherever you possibly can.
Renegotiate deadlines based on human capacity and flourishing, rather than what calendars call for at any given moment.
Cancel what is unnecessary. And be pretty darn ruthless about what is unnecessary.
Remember “No, I’m sorry, I just can’t,” is an acceptable answer.
And most important, dear friends, connect. Connect with friends. Connect with helpers.
And connect with that deep place within yourself that remembers who you are. A Child of Earth and Starry Heaven, A Child of the Universe. adequate for the situation at hand, given the help you need.
Connect with Divine, Beloved. Connect with the Divine. Just take five minutes – in the bathroom, if you have to, in the car, in a closet if necessary – and pause. Five minutes just to breathe. Just to breathe. Just to breathe. And then let your heart unfold, soft as owl’s feathers, tender as a newborn’s skin—so tender you can hardly feel it—open like a door welcoming the Divine to come in. Breathe, remember, to breathe, and remember, it’s just five minutes. You can do it. You can come to yourself. You can find the wherewithal to do what needs to happen in the next hour or two. You can. That’s all.
I know you can do it. Just try, try to be gentle with your hearts, in the midst of the chaos and the din and the noise of the news and the noise of the kids and the noise of our own worries. And try to surrender to the stillness that is under the noise, just for five minutes. And if you can’t do that, then try two and half minutes, and we’ll call it good. Remember, bathrooms and closets count.
On which note of gentleness, I tell you that I’m going to take lots more than five minutes. I’m going to take nearly a whole week off and try to re-member my own self. I took two and half days for Beltane in May, but that’s all the planned time off this year, friends, since New Year’s. And that’s just ridiculous and untenable for a brain and body like mine. So there will be no Reflections next week, and I shall be unavailable until the 19th. Trying to undo the overwhelm. Trying to rest, renew, read (trashy novel and then maybe something “edifying” and we’ll call it study leave? NO! Time OFF, you!)… see, I’m not so good at this either.
The prospect of time off is really scary for me. Even the five minutes I’ve prescribed for you are sometimes hard for me. But I know that when I pray, when I unfold the veils from around my heart and turn to the Wellspring of Love, there is always a drink for me there. Always a drink available. My life is always better when I go, go to the water.
I will still find false urgency painful and I will still have to work at finding ways to connect, but She Whose body encircles the Universe… The Goddess Whose love is poured forth upon the Earth… The One Who is the Source of Love and the Creator of Life… the God Whose gifts of solace and compassion are always available…
And it is all there, available, waiting for you. As the Sufis say, take ten steps toward the One and the One will take ten steps toward you.
Blessings of peace to your hearts, my loves –
PS. For some lightness in your schedule, and an opening to both the fun and the gravity of the ancestors’ holidays, don’t forget to help us raise our glasses on the 29th.