Bearing Witness

Hola mi Gente,
I’m still committed to posting at least once everyday, and I usually prepare the post the night before, but I wasn’t able last night. So here goes, my blog for today.

Heart in a Heartless world



I retreated during the 80s, for the most part, from active participation in terms of politics. I viewed Reagan’s rise and the neoconservative onslaught in the same way as Gil Scott-Heron did — as the coming of Winter in America. A new America was coming, I saw, and it was an America heartless to its core. The 80s saw a rollback on civil rights gains, the decimation of the middle class and labor, and meaner, angrier, and less effective government. The 80s, ironically, were also a time of my personal passage through the heart of darkness. I barely made it through the 80s alive.

My journey back to the living was sparked by a response to suffering. First, it was my own personal suffering, but having been granted another go at it, I realized that I could never be truly alive if I forgot I am connected to everything. I also believed a collective mindset geared to advantage the advantaged didn’t make sense (mink coats don’t “trickle down”), and I watched, horrified, as science and works of art were savaged by ideologues of a vengeful and jealous God.

Fast forward to today and I sometimes find myself fighting against burnout, or struggling against the feeling that it doesn’t make any sense to fight at all. After all, people don’t get it, I think too often. Or, there is too much apathy and people are more interested in the “reality” of TV shows than their own reality. And I sense I am not too far off the mark.

Sometimes — not too often — an issue arises so overtly reprehensible cannot be successfully spun by a corporate-owned media surfaces and people awaken a little. They become inspired or angered by needless poverty, the arrogance of unchecked power, the brutality of a justice system predicated solely on punishment, or at how there are so many who have been forgotten. Whenever something egregious happens, great inspirational speeches are offered at huge events, and we speak out, we protest, we rage and we rally.

And… nothing happens.

Nothing changes; we deflate, feeling powerless, impotent, weak, and sickened by it all. Sometimes it gets so that I can’t stand to read another study, write another opinion or report, attend another conference, or participate in another panel. I despair… I despair of losing my heart in a heartless world. Last night, listening to Obama’s State of the Union speech, I thought back to the elation that accompanied the his first election. For once many people in this country saw one of the marginalized rise above systemic inequality to the most powerful office in the world and many were heartened. Though I for the most part never agreed with Obama’s politics, I too was heartened. I was able to go to a poll and cast my vote for a fuckin black man! Okay, he’s too centrist — at best, he and other centrist democrats are Eisenhower conservatives — but still: damn that felt good!

We do not need more strategy sessions, we know what we need to do. The solutions we need are already here. The world we want is within our grasp. All that is needed is the courage to stop destroying so many for the sake of ideology. Too often I find myself on the brink of burnout and I find myself back where I started, pulsating with anger and frustration.

I recently left a job I really loved because I needed to get myself together. I did not know it at the time, but my mind/ body was asking for a time out. These past months have given me the time and psychological space I needed to step back, to reflect, and clarify my vision. I needed to lick my wounds. I was joking with a friend and former colleague last night that I had taken a poor man’s sabbatical. I was not out there somewhere studying a lost tribe or doing some research with the security of knowing I had a gig when I was finished, but I feel so much stronger because of this precious time. Now I need to find work, or end up in some debtor’s prison. LOL (I am only half-joking. If you have an opening for a good strategic thinker, hit me up.

I have learned some valuables lessons in recent years. For one, I have learned that burnout can help me keep my fires burning. How? Well, that’s another blog, but it’s all about feeding the demons rather than banishing them to the darkness. Burnout now feeds me instead of the other way around. In my experience, burnout happens when I forget that I am only part of a larger process of change. I am not the wave, but I am part of it.

Burnout happens when I forget to take care of myself. Secondly, and more importantly, I have learned to bear witness, to stand alongside those enduring great suffering. Sometimes “the work” is to be simply present, listening with an open heart. Listening with the same care a child gives when holding a live and precious egg in its hands. It is through this witnessing that we can heed the voices of the suffering and shed a light on unchecked power. I miss that… I miss going into prisons and talking with my brothers and sisters and trying to amplify their voices in order to uncover racism and inhumanity.

Most importantly, and counter intuitively, I have given up hope for saving the world, or even attempting to change it.

I had to give up that notion. I had to surrender that in order to discover what I’m really supposed to be doing: how best to be a part of healing force. I had to go beyond hope and fear and break from the shackles of success or failure. Today I am still learning what right action feels like. Its clarity, its energy. I still get angry, enraged, and frustrated. I try not to be driven by these emotions but, rather, use their energy to propel me toward compassionate action. I do know that I cannot be an interface for this compassion until I transcend hope and fear and bear witness and then act judiciously… at least that’s my intention.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…