I meditated this morning. I meditate about once a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. I subscribe to Tara Brach‘s podcast and use her guided meditations. I have been really struggling with the new presidential administration and the destruction I feel that it has already caused and will continue to cause for those who are vulnerable and poor and different. Basically for those who are not rich white men. And so, my real struggle has been to try to figure out how I can help and what I should do to help and am I even capable of helping. This morning the meditation ended with this quote: “When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.” It’s a quote from an essay by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. The essay is beautiful, and inspiring, and hopeful. It was a good way to start my day this morning.
But the truth is, I don’t feel like a great ship right now. I just don’t. I feel like I’m not ready to sail out into this storm. Doubt. “There can be no doubt.” But there is doubt. I don’t know how to prepare myself. I don’t know how to prepare my family or friends. How do I remain hopeful and still prepare for the eminent threat looming ahead for this country? By definition in order to prepare fully one must understand what is required for the challenge. And so in order to understand how to prepare for the upcoming social challenges, I have to at least know about them. I have to be present and attentive. I have to watch the news. I have to read essays. I have to talk about it. I have to listen to stories from those struggling. I have to bear witness to human rights violations. All of that. All of that. And then remain hopeful. And not despair. And not check out. Because that would certainly be easier. It would be easier to just say “I can’t deal with this” and check out.
But that doesn’t feel right either. I know the ship must sail. But still, I feel unprepared. The fear is just right there. I can feel it just behind me. But I WANT to feel hope. Is wanting to be hopeful ultimately the same as actually being hopeful? Is hope something you can fake until you make? Is courage?
No. My ship isn’t great yet. It’s not. It needs ballast. It needs new sails. There’s no compass. When I think about what is dead ahead, I cling to the dock, gripping hard as if an anchor were tied to my feet and will drag me down and down and down. I can taste saltwater. My lungs burn from it. My head spins and my vision blurs. I am compressed by the depth of cold dark waters. I am silently submerged. The ship waiting for me above rocks and creaks. How can I reach it? No. I am not ready. I am below and underneath and anchored.
This is the doubt. This is where it takes me. It always freezes me. And it always, always silences me. So I’m back to the question of readiness. Preparedness. How do I help? How do I make way?
In nautical terms, making way is simply a vessel that is moving. Not necessarily with control or with clear purpose. But one in which there is enough water moving past it to steer. In other words, the direction isn’t necessary for the movement. The movement is necessary for the direction. So all of this nervousness and anxiety and grief about what is to come. How do I navigate through it? How do I steer? I first must move the water around me, then I can steer.
I must be present and attentive, yes. I must watch the news and read essays, yes. I must listen and learn from those around me. From those struggling. From those with stories to tell. From those who have been and will be violated. Attend them. Be present for them. And that…THAT is the movement. I must first move the water around me, then I can steer. I reach out to those around. I give them my attention and presence and I listen to them and I love them. I love their stories and their struggles. I stay alert for them and with them. I study and learn from them. I must first move the water around me, then I can steer. Attend. Be present. Love.
And just like that, the ship will sail. I will need all hands on deck though. There is a storm on the horizon, there’s no denying it. But I think I’m ready for it. I am, after all, built for it.