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Listening as Love

May 23, 2017
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‘listen’ by gwenchiu via Flickr.com

“I don’t know how the quote goes, but I once heard someone say that ‘listening is so close to love that most people don’t know the difference,'” my classmate paraphrased and my professor affirmed.

This struck me. We were learning to be chaplains, so we were learning to listen. I could see listening as an act of generosity, goodwill, complete concentration on the other person, as an act of meditation, and as egolessness. But what does it say about us and our society that we listen to each other so little that it can be conflated with love? I felt sad.

I’ve since found the origin of the quote in a Christian author named David Augsburger, who said “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”

I was trained to listen as a chaplain starting seven years ago, but I didn’t quite understand it then. (I’m not entirely sure I do now.) Like most people, I grew up thinking of listening as a utility skill, a means to an end. You listen and then speak or act. As a child, you listen to the directions of grownups to stay out of trouble. As an adult, you listen to someone’s arguments so you can refute them. All listening has a purpose beyond the mere act of listening.

I carried that belief with me into chaplaincy. One of the first things they beat out of you in chaplaincy training is the notion that you, the chaplain, can ‘fix’ anyone’s problems. Chaplains often deal with cosmic scale existential crises. You’re not going to ‘fix’ death, dying, illness, injury, trauma, or grief. I knew I wasn’t listening so I could learn how to fix things, but what did that leave?

Was I listening so I could learn? To see clearly the patterns of human suffering? Was I the ultimate participant observer in life’s sufferings? Some chaplains call this ‘witnessing’ and describe it as a sacred duty. I can understand, but it seemed like there was more to it than that.

Moreover, how was I to listen with no purpose to focus my attention? Nothing to listen for, just … to listen? My wayward meditation practice rescued me. I made people the objects of my meditation and I gave them more attention than I’d ever managed to give my own breath. People are ever so much more interesting.

Still, my assumptions about listening pushed at me, so I listened to them, too. I listened silently to my need to ‘fix’ things, to my own intolerance and judgments. I listened to my sadness and grief, my projections and cynicism, and my impatience. I listened to my attachment, aversion, and delusions while people spilled out their own and we got down in the muck together.

And there were those who listened to me. My chaplaincy supervisor listened to me gripe and complain. She listened to my uncertainty and fear, even to my intolerance and judgments. My cohort listened to my attempts to provide care, my failures and successes and frequent complete bewilderment.

Slowly, it became clear to me that listening isn’t close to love. Real listening is an act of love itself. To be heard or seen by another for who one is, rather than who that person wishes one to be, that is an act of selfless love. And it is so, so very rare that any of us can be that selfless.

When people find themselves in the presence of that kind of love, heard, seen, and accepted for who they are with every flaw, every vulnerable wound, something profound takes place. I can’t explain it. It’s the kind of thing we need poets for. But it is a healing. It can overturn worlds, even if only for a moment, that kind of acceptance.

They say Avalokiteshvara has a thousand eyes and a thousand ears to see and hear the suffering of the world. It is natural to assume this is so that she can then act on that suffering with her thousand hands and thousand feet, to feed the hungry and nurse the sick, worthy selfless deeds. I now believe her first selfless deed begins with seeing and hearing the cries of the world, knowing there are some things that not even a celestial bodhisattva can fix.

Willa Miller, a professor of spiritual care at Harvard, shares the teaching of Patrul Rinpoche on the subject of listening through admonishments on how not to listen.First, do not listen like an upside-down pot into which nothing new can be placed. We often turn our pots upside down to protect ourselves from suffering, our own and others. When we turn our pots upright, we can listen attentively without being distracted by judgments, feelings obsessions, other sounds, or physical sensations. We learn to value the speaker’s words, cultivate curiosity, and let go of our own need to be heard. This is very hard, but right listening is the first stage of Right Speech. Ultimately, letting go of our need to be heard is also liberating and reduces our own suffering.

Second, do not listen like a pot with holes that only catches some things, but not others. Likewise, we often do this to protect ourselves. We hear what we like and forget the rest. Instead, we can listen to remember, understand, imagine what that situation must have been like, and empathize with the speaker. Miller describes this as “an energy of receptivity paired with willingness to feel with” the other and “come alongside” them. When we walk beside someone, we also learn to recognize what it is like when someone walks beside us.

Finally, do not listen like a pot containing poison that contaminates anything put into it. This is the most pernicious form of listening and we do it almost every second of every day. We hear someone’s words and judge their intentions, intelligence, education, or character, imbuing them with meaning beyond what is spoken. We can demonize or lionize the other on a simple turn of phrase depending on whether it disagrees or agrees with our own preconceived opinions.

Miller asserts that good listening comes from having the right motivation to listen, which, according to Patrul Rinpoche means not wanting to “glorify oneself and vilify others.” Instead, we can purify our own poisons and become a selfless and non-dual listener, totally absorbed in listening beyond self-consciousness of subject and object. This does not mean we forget ourselves, but that we do so with equanimity. We listen to both the other person and to how we are receiving their words to monitor for our own poisons. This is the egolessness of listening and it is immensely freeing for both us and them.

Sometimes I forget these instructions. Sometimes, I don’t want to listen. I don’t think I can bear to listen right now. I doubt that listening actually does any good at all. I wonder if it just lets people reinforce their own wrong beliefs.

Then I put all that away and I make them the object of my meditation. I listen. And the less ego I bring to the listening, the more healing and liberation we both experience. Listening from a selfless place costs nothing. It does not deplete; it only replenishes. I listen and I accept what I hear without struggle.

This doesn’t mean I forgo wisdom or discernment. I’m listening to what is, what has been. The future is still unwritten. When I listen well, I can reflect well what I’ve heard and the other person can then hear and see their situation more clearly.

In being heard and not being rejected, a profound sense of space can unfold. Patterns of harmful habitual behaviors loosen a bit when the listener makes space for what is, without trying to push it this way or that, without trying to ‘fix’ it. Suddenly the speaker finds they’re not being pushed into their standard coping mechanisms. There’s nothing to defend against or react to. More becomes possible. Wisdom helps us see potential paths and listen for what becomes possible, even if it was not possible a moment ago.

Wisdom and listening share a common trait – egolessness. Without myself to worry about or protect, love manifests as a true desire to reduce suffering, any suffering, in the most healing way possible.

Listening isn’t close to love. When done selflessly, it is love. We don’t know the difference because there isn’t one. Dualism collapses into interbeing. And isn’t that the point?

Power of Tea

May 11, 2017

Tea at Three Flyers 2016It began with one teapot, six cups, and a single bag of cookies. I put up flyers around campus. I had no idea who might come. We only had six chairs, so it would be cozy. Sometimes one person came and stayed a few minutes. Sometimes five people came and stayed the entire hour. Sometimes, I mostly sat by myself, sipped tea, and read a book.

Slowly, slowly, like the steam wafting leisurely from a cup of hot tea, word began to spread. I added a second teapot and more cups. We moved to a larger venue, one with about ten chairs. The snacks diversified to include fruit strips, little chocolates, mixed nuts. I got a packet of to-go cups for those who were just passing through but could still benefit from a cup of tea.

People began donating tea, mostly through the time honored practice of re-gifting. Variety packs and beautiful tins of loose leaf tea would show up at my office door, with lovely Chinese lettering on them (which I cannot not read). Frequently they appeared just after Christmas or Chinese New Year or someone’s business trip abroad. Many times I brewed ‘mystery’ tea and was never disappointed.

We moved to another venue, slightly larger. A small fundraiser enabled the purchase of a cart to carry all the tea things and snacks. I gained a student assistant and didn’t feel a single drop of guilt (well, maybe one) for tasking her with washing up. Rewarded with tea every week, she never complained. As she prepares to graduate this weekend, she told me that hosting tea was the favorite part of her work each week.

Tea at Three has become a venerable institution. It is the only event related to my work as a Campus Chaplain that has endured these past four years. I tried leading meditation. A few people came, then no one at all for several weeks, then I gave up. I tried leading process groups for chaplains and grad students to talk about their stresses and support one another. They were problematic. I’ve held events and hosted speakers to mixed results. But tea, ah tea, is something students ask about.

“What day are you hosting tea this semester?” they want to know when we pass in the hall. “Same place?”

“Can I bring a pie next week? I’m baking this weekend,” they offer.

“Can I show folks how to prepare tea the traditional Chinese way?” and they bring their own beautiful teapots and cups.

“I don’t like tea,” she says, but she comes every week, buys a soda from the vending machine, eats the cookies, and stays the entire hour.

Students, faculty, and staff are all welcome. There are many regulars, some who stop by occasionally, and a few who pause in surprise.

“I didn’t know you did this,” they say and accept a cup of tea.

“Yup. Every week for three years now. I’m glad you found us. Have a cookie.”

We held our final Tea at Three of the school year this week. It was a special event. A colleague unveiled the woven art project students and staff created together earlier in the spring. We had flowers and tiny vegan chocolate cupcakes and iced fruit tea. The couches overflowed and people pulled up chairs from elsewhere or just sat on the floor. I passed out tea and then sat down with a pair of knitting needles and a ball of yarn. People came over to watch me knit and two young women, one from Sri Lanka and one from Nepal, gave it a try. Folks wandered in and out. Students voluntarily served tea and refilled teapots at need. Conversation drifted from topic to topic.

“Are you reading the New York Times or the LA Times?” I asked a student with a newspaper and we began a conversation about politics and his recent trip to visit prison inmates with a professor.

“When will you get your black belt?” I asked the young woman who doesn’t drink tea as we talked about the people at her dojo.

“How’d that stats test work out?” I directed towards a small group of students who had lamented the difficulty of their final exam at last week’s tea. A repeat of complaints against the professor ensued.

“I got a new tattoo! Do you want to see?” has been heard more than once at our little tea party.

“Oh, it’s three o’clock,” harried staff exclaim as they pass our little group. “I guess I can sit for a few minutes,” then they stay for half an hour.

The thing about tea is that there is no other agenda, no assigned topic, no target group. Sometimes we spend the entire hour talking about memes and television. Sometimes we talk about suicide and childhood trauma. Sometimes we talk about both on the same day. I make an effort to check in with each student and staff person, but there are also times I just sit back and listen as they build connections with each other. Such a simple thing, but we all immediately know what to do when sitting around sharing tea. It’s a human thing thousands of years old.

In technical terms, this is ministry of presence. I rarely think of it that way, though. Mostly it’s just tea. Many cultures still use tea medicinally. Some herbs do affect the body, but mostly I believe the medicine of tea is in the human connections it fosters. Recent research has shown that patients who spend just ten more minutes talking with their palliative care doctors each week report less pain and need fewer medications than those who are denied that human connection. Tea is powerful because it is a focal point for building those connections.

Once in a while, someone who has been to tea will show up at my office door. “Can we talk?” they ask. Their expression tells me they need more than tea and cookies. But because of tea, they know I’ll listen.

This week was the last Tea at Three for the year, but not the last Tea at Three. Commencement is on Saturday. Next week, I’ll offer a travelling tea with my little cart coming around to the offices, a little relief for faculty and staff at the end of a busy semester. Travelling tea will continue each month throughout the summer. Tea at Three will return for fall semester. I look forward to sharing a cup with you.

Calling All Buddhist Chaplains

May 6, 2017
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‘Medicine Buddha’ by Gabby Altenberger via Flickr.com

Dear Buddhist chaplains, interns, and students,

I need your insight, compassion, and a little bit of your time for my dissertation research. Please take a moment to read this very dry description of my research project below. It’s actually much more exciting than it sounds, I promise. Please contact me if you have questions or want to participate.

If you are not a Buddhist chaplain, but know someone who is, please share this post. Please share it broadly with non-Buddhist chaplains working in various settings, as they might know some Buddhist chaplains.

Thank you from the bottom of this scholar’s heart,

Monica

Information Sheet for Research Study Participants

The Practice of Dharma Reflection among Buddhist Chaplains: A Qualitative Study of ‘Theological’ Activity among Non-Theocentric Spiritual Caregivers

Primary Investigator: Rev. Monica Sanford, PhD candidate

Faculty Supervisor: Dr. Duane Bidwell, Claremont School of Theology

Purpose

The purpose of this research study is to examine how Buddhist chaplains and chaplain interns practice reflection in relation to spiritual care to answer the following questions:

  1. What ‘theological’ methods or processes are used by Buddhist chaplains and chaplain interns when reflecting on the Dharma in relation to their practice of spiritual care? How are these methods/processes similar to or distinct from methods of theological reflection employed by Christian and other theocentric chaplains?
  2. What sources of Dharma are used or privileged during the process of reflection? (i.e. sutras/suttas, books, teachers/teachings, and other sources beyond direct experience)
  3. What is the relationship between one’s own experience as a chaplain or chaplain intern and one’s understanding of the Dharma and how is it articulated?
  4. How does the practice of reflection on the Dharma and their own experience change their practice of spiritual care? In other words, what interventions do Buddhist chaplains and chaplain interns develop as a result of their reflective practices and what effects do they have?

This study will result in an interpretive description of how Buddhist chaplains currently practice reflection, along with implications for further education and training for Buddhist chaplains and for how Buddhist chaplains interact with non-Buddhist CPE supervisors and fellow spiritual caregivers.

Eligibility

You are eligible to participate in this study if:

  1. You are Buddhist, belong to a Buddhist order or lineage, OR identify as multi-religious including Buddhist
  2. You are enrolled in or have completed an MDiv degree at University of the West, Naropa University, the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Harvard Divinity School, OR Claremont School of Theology
  3. You have completed OR are currently enrolled in a CPE program during the study period (May-Aug 2017)

Your Participation

Total time to participate in the study will be between three and five hours over three months. The study will consist of a demographic questionnaire, at least one interview either in person or via an online video conference lasting no more than 90 minutes, and submission of a written reflection sample of one to three pages in length. A follow up interview of no more than 60 minutes in length may be requested to clarify statements in the original interview or written reflection sample. All interviews will be recorded and transcribed. You will not be paid. You will receive a copy of the final results. All data collected from participants will remain confidential and will be anonymized in final reports.

Contact

Please contact Rev. Monica Sanford (monica.sanford[at]cst.edu ) if you would like to participate. You must return a signed Informed Consent before participation can begin.

Replace [at] with @ in the email above to make an address. This is a precaution against spam.

May Path Update: Right View

May 3, 2017
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‘Buddha’ by Long Chung via Flickr.com

April Report: Right Concentration

I did miserably in April. My morning ten minutes of meditation continued to be spotty, though not entirely absent. I did not do any longer sessions of meditation, guided or otherwise. Not a single one. Sigh. I may have to do round one for this part of my path several times.

On a different note, I did maintain better concentration on regular daily tasks. One very fruitful method was curtailing my Facebook time. Early in the month, I took an entire week away from Facebook. That began a pattern of more mindful and intentional Facebook use.

Social media is very helpful for communicating about events and activities with large audiences, so I will continue to use it for that purpose. However, I no longer use Facebook to cure boredom. I must have a concrete task to accomplish if I am logging on.

Related to that, my mood improved significantly, despite an otherwise high stress month. I attribute this directly to reducing my time on social media. NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast has a great episode that explains why this happens. In nutshell, I abandoned the ‘fear of missing out.’

Coincidentally, I also started listening to Flow: Living at the Peak of Your Abilities by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi while taking the dog for our daily walk. This book is really all about a form of concentration called ‘flow’ that, when it permeates your life, brings profound satisfaction, even joy. This reminded me of my focus and give me some concrete tools for daily life, even though I wasn’t able to improve my meditation habit.

So although I failed abysmally at meditation, the month wasn’t a complete loss.

Right View

The next part of the path is Right View, which is typically listed as the first of the eight parts (even though I decided to start with Right Action). Right View is the understanding of the Four Noble Truths, non-self, and the personal experience of truth, wisdom, or emptiness. For my purposes, I think it best to start at the beginning.

The First Noble Truth is the truth of suffering, the truth that all life is suffering. Although this truth seems self-evident, it is often also difficult to fully internalize. Intellectually, such we can grasp that life is suffering, but when we get down to brass tacks, we often quibble. Well, not all life, surely? Not every single second of every single day? Well, yes, actually.

Different traditions have slightly different things to say about the First Noble Truth, but I tend to prefer the more direct and definitive versions. So long as we are caught in samsara, the endless cycle of rebirth and becoming, then yes, every single second of every single day is permeated by a pervasive underlying sense of dissatisfaction. Even our most joyful moments are permeated by dissatisfaction because we know they will not last, so we grasp at them and mourn the loss of joy even while it is still with us. Only be escaping the cycle of samsara can we achieve true liberation from suffering.

Truly comprehending the First Noble Truth often leads to an experience of samvega, or shock, dismay, or alienation. This is where nihilism and cynicism can creep in. Many experience a low point in their practice here, but it can also lead to renewed motivation if we can develop confidence in the path to liberation. The first step is to continue to investigate the noble truths, to see in our own life that suffering is indeed caused by craving and ignorance and that certain practices do indeed work to alleviate suffering, both in the short-term and long-term.

Round 1: Deepen knowledge of the Four Noble Truths

My goal for this month is to look and see, with Right View, how suffering permeates my life and what practices contribute to it or alleviate it, that I might develop a stronger and deeper motivation to practice. This is an ongoing process, but I will dedicate additional attention to it in the month of May. I will do this by:

Both of the above works deal extensively with the unsatisfactory nature of the present life and the need to cultivate Right View in order to practice and achieve liberation.

Round 2: See through the delusion of the egoic self.

Round 3: Develop wisdom and skillful means for work in the world.

June: Right Intention

Homily on Compassion

April 9, 2017
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‘Homeless Sales’ by Fran Urbano via Flickr.com

Delivered for the Multifaith Service to Open Common Ground Week at University of the West on April 3, 2017

We saw the young man sitting on the cold concrete tucked in a doorway. His sign said “We FREEZE at night. Anything helps.” In his lap he cradled a large pit-bull dog, her body limp with trust, sound asleep, insulated from the cold ground by his narrow form.

My heart cracked open. I looked to my partner. I saw concern on his face, too. But we didn’t slow down.

I would have to dig in my purse for cash. We were late for our reservation. “We’ll stop on our way back,” we said to each other. On our way back from a good, warm meal, they were gone.

This is not compassion.

Compassion is not the feeling of the heart cracking open. Compassion is not concern for the suffering of another.

Compassion is the young man holding his dog so that she didn’t have to lay against the cold ground.

Compassion is not what we feel. Compassion is what we do.

Just feeling sadness and then hurrying on by is not enough to call compassion. This feeling can spur us to compassion, but compassion itself is in the act.

We have been trained out of compassion by our busy lives, by deadlines and reservations and crowds of people also walking by indifferent to the young man and his sign.

I will regret walking by without stopping for the rest of my life. I will wonder what happened to that young man and his dog for the rest of my life. Months later, I still remember it vividly – this time, like so many other times, when my compassion failed.

Today we have the opportunity to train in compassion. During this week of Common Ground, we have many opportunities for compassion. We have the chance to serve others, to serve our community, and to act from a heart broken open.

This week we can share food, art, charity, and service with one another. Every culture has these things. Beyond all our differences, these are things we hold in common.

Every culture values compassion. And every culture struggles with it. Every society tries to make us too busy for compassion. And every religion says, slow down and act compassionately.

The only way seven billion people can survive together on this planet is if we help one another. Do not be too fast for compassion. Do not think you’ll have another chance. Compassion is now, only now.

Thank you for joining us to train in compassion this morning.

Back on the Path: Right Concentration

April 1, 2017
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Photo by THE ZEN DIARY via Flickr.com

February and March Update

Last October, I began to consciously work the Eightfold Path into my life. Then life got busy. I did not give up on the habits I have been trying to inculcate, but my capacity for new efforts diminished in the face or workplace and academic demands.

In February and March, I continued to attempt, with some spotty regularity, to adhere to healthy routines in the morning, workday, and evening.

My morning routine includes writing for one hour, usually on my dissertation, but sometimes other topics, meditating for ten minutes, and having a bowl of oatmeal before leaving the house.

During the day, I try to take a couple of brisk walks around campus, limit caffeine intake, and, during March, I began packing healthier homemade bento lunches. So far, I am very happy with this new habit.

After work, I take the dog to the park and (if I can muster the energy) jog about half a mile of our 1.3 mile route. In the evening I do at least two chores, eat a healthy dinner with my sweetheart, watch television (2 episodes only), do push-ups and other exercises, shower, and try to get to bed early. Soon, I want to incorporate at least a little reading for my dissertation into this routine.

I am better at some of these habits than others. In other words, I fail often, but not usually at all of them in any given day.

So while I took two months off from consciously trying to incorporate new habits into my path, I did fairly well at maintaining current habits and made progress on healthy eating and wasting less food, which was one of my November goals.

Right Concentration

It is time to get back on the path and start where I left off: Right Concentration.

Lopez and Buswell’s dictionary defines this as “concentration of the mind on wholesome objects.” It is often associated with meditation, but I recall that Thich Nhat Hanh also talks about wholesome consumption of the mental objects, such as books, movies, music, and television shows. Over the years of my Buddhist practice, I notice that my tastes in media have changed. I tend to avoid stimuli that sparks attachment (i.e. consumerism), aversion (i.e. excessive violence and horror), and delusion (i.e. most news outlets). This is a subtle manifestation of Right Concentration.

However, most Buddhist traditions agree that intense meditation is necessary to deeply cultivate Right Concentration. In the Pali Cannon, this cultivation is synonymous with the jhanas or states of “meditative absorption” in the object of meditation to the exclusion of external stimuli. The first stage of this absorption helps one overcome hindrances in one’s path. To my knowledge, I have never obtained or experienced a jhana, even in my best meditation.

What then, can I do to cultivate Right Concentration? I think perhaps I must start at the beginning.

Round 1: Deepen regular meditation practice.

  • Continue ten minutes of breath meditation each morning
  • Once per week, hold a longer, guided meditation session
  • Throughout each day, attempt to maintain focus on one task at a time and minimize distractions and digressions (i.e. “killing time”)
  • Remain mindful of the five hindrances by posting them where I can see the list regularly and ask myself about my present moment experience:
    1. Sensuous desire hindering focus
    2. Malice hindering rapture
    3. Sloth and torpor hindering applied thought
    4. Restlessness and worry hindering joy
    5. Skeptical doubt hindering sustained thought

Round 2: Deepen meditation practice through one-day retreat.

Round 3: Deepen meditation practice through multi-day retreats.

May: Right View

Love in the Face of Fear

March 12, 2017
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‘Building Peace’ by Yasmeen via Flickr.com

I haven’t written about the political climate lately because I really don’t know what to say. There is too much. It’s not necessarily about feeling overwhelmed. I don’t actually. I’m paying attention. I have an opinion. But there is a difference between paying attention, having a stance, and knowing what to say about it – all of it.

Mostly I just want to ask people to be kind. I know that seems like a no-brainer, but it’s really not. Everyone thinks they are kind. Everyone thinks they are the good guy. No one thinks they’re the villain. And even when we know we’re being unkind to each other we think “they deserve it” or some variant thereof. Of course, we’re always kind, except when the “other guy” is being an asshole.

Last week Dr. Michael Jerryson came to our campus to talk about religions and violence. He wasn’t arguing that some religions are more violent than others. He didn’t try to paint violent people as deviant or mentally ill or evil. Rather, he pointed out that when any human being perceives a threat to their survival, their family, their nation, or a threat to whatever they hold good and sacred, they may respond with violence. Evil acts are done by ordinary people.

I think he’s right. I think we’re seeing a lot of that right now.

A lot of people in this country believe they are under threat. They believe their enemies are trying to destroy everything they hold dear. The problem is, they’re not wrong.

But here is the distinction – some people are being attacked and others are just being opposed. The problem is we can’t always tell the difference.

I oppose white supremacy because white supremacists attack and kill people of color and enforce oppressive laws that threaten and limit the survival of people of color. I want white supremacists to be arrested and jailed for hate crimes. I want society as a whole to so loudly, publicly, and repeatedly denounce white supremacy that they can’t say a word in public without being shouted down, can’t write a single line of fake news that anyone would click on or read, can’t suggest a single law without being being thrown out of legislative committee, and can’t mistreat a single POC customer without being fired on the spot. But I don’t want to kill them.

Likewise with sexists, homophobes, xenophobes, the greedy and corrupt. I oppose them. I will do everything I can to stop their behavior and denounce their views. But I don’t want to kill them, even when they want to kill me.

According to Dr. Jerryson, people become more prone to violence when they enter a mindset he calls a ‘sacred emergency.’ They perceive whatever they hold dear to be sacred, righteous, and ultimately good. Whoever opposes them is, therefore, evil. Their mind begins to interpret all opposition as a literal attack, a threat not only to their existence, but to the existence of the sacred, the good.

It’s like flipping a switch. Normal moral behavior can be suspended in such a state of emergency. Violence and self-sacrifice are justified because the person in the sacred emergency is “at war.” You’ll hear this rhetoric from white supremacists. They believe they’re at war.

More frightening, however, is that you’ll also hear this rhetoric from people in the White House right now. They believe they’re at war – against Muslims and Jews, people of color, immigrants, feminists, liberals and social progressives. They’ve mistaken opposition for attack. They see an opponent as an enemy. They fear loosing because they believe it means annihilation.

Because they believe they’re at war, they can justify almost anything, even a literal war. Honestly, I am most afraid of this possibility. We’re not there yet, but in the meantime, they’re doing plenty of damage with executive orders, harmful laws, and overuse of police powers. I am afraid, though mostly on behalf of more vulnerable brothers and sisters who are, literally, being attacked.

Fear is a very hard thing to fight. The people in the White House today are afraid. The people who voted for them are afraid – of loosing jobs, of loosing ways of life, of living in a country they don’t recognize anymore – mostly they are afraid of change, which is a very human thing. They have suffered in their lives, as have we all, and have willingly grasped a mis-attribution of the cause of their suffering. They are afraid, they are angry, and reaching out for every bit of control and power they can find.

The struggle is to prevent myself from doing the same. I am afraid, but I try so hard not to be angry. Some days I fail. I want things to change so badly. I want the power to change it, but I don’t want that power to come at the expense of others less fortunate or more vulnerable than I.

This is too vague. A dozen times I’ve started a specific list of things to oppose, things to support, causes to give money to, politicians and policies to denounce. There’s just too much to say about it all, but others are saying it if you know where to look.

So I’m just going to do this. I’m going to keep opposing attacks on others. I’m going to continue to be an advocate on social media. I’m going to keep giving to causes that protect others from attack. I’m going to vote. I’m going to speak out in public when I see someone being attacked. I can’t promise I’ll put my body in harms way to protect another. I wish I could, but I just don’t know that about myself yet. So I’m going to do what I know I can do. I’m going to educate. I’m going to love in the face of fear.