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January 18, 2021

3 Empowering Ways to Respond to the Attack on Our Nation’s Capitol.

Still reeling from the events of last week when our nation’s Capitol was broken into, overrun, and defiled by supporters of our president? Yeah, me too.

Even though these events were not surprising to me (having been posted about on social media for weeks now), I still feel the shock of it actually occurring and the danger our legislators were in. I’ve been sorting through my feelings, processing my confusion, dismay, anger, and grief.

Let me be clear that I condemn the acts of these insurgents. I support all efforts of law enforcement, the FBI, and the judiciary to investigate and follow through with trials and convictions to the extent of the law. That’s all in the legal realm.

But what about what’s happening inside of us? Why is everyone so upset? Why are you upset? Why am I upset? These are questions worth asking.

From your perspective, the answer may seem obvious. My suggestion is that what’s happening is more complex than we may realize, and it’s worth taking a deeper look.

In this article, I explore three ways to respond to the attack on the Capitol by digging deeper into what these events stir and bring up for us.

Taking the time and giving the attention to do this helps breaks us out of the media trance we can fall into, myself included.

Let’s remember that mainstream media—whatever its political affiliation—thrives on conflict. That’s what keeps us glued to our screens waiting for reports on the next developments, and that keeps advertisers happy. And hey, I’m doing that as much as the next person (maybe more).

I’m also seeing this event as an opportunity to understand myself better, to reflect on my attitudes and emotions about my country, to be radically honest, and to make new decisions about actions to take.

In this article, I offer you three ways to process your own individual experience. This is in contrast to being swept up in the sentiments of larger groups of people, which is so easy to do at a time like this. Below is the first of three ways to focus your attention inside to connect with your own truth and inner wisdom.

Invitation #1: Review Your Values, Beliefs, and Assumptions

A watershed moment like now brings into sharp relief aspects of beliefs and values that we’ve taken for granted or didn’t even know were there.

So often we take our values, beliefs, assumptions, and expectations for granted. Maybe we think we share the same values with others or maybe just the opposite—we know we don’t. We’re living in times of great polarization for sure.

Yet that polarization can obscure all the nuances among and inside of us. We can feel pulled to one side, or repelled by another, and find ourselves becoming dogmatic, aggressive, and trying to assert our point of view, mostly because we’re agitated and in a reactive state.

I invite us all to slow down, take a few breaths, go inside, and tap into the flow of knowing and the wisdom that is already inside every one of us.

Clear thinking, grounded awareness, and receptive hearts will support us through this tumultuous time. We want to grow ourselves into being the people who can truly create the world we want to live in. That takes a lot of emotional intelligence. (More on this in the next article.)

For me, I’ve been noticing a lot of values and beliefs becoming really clear. While I had recommitted myself to anti-racist work in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last May, for example, witnessing the overt white supremacy and white privilege of the insurgents is fueling my passion for racial equality even more.

At the same time, another one of my values is to refrain from demonizing others, even when they do things that I find, well, demonic. I seek to see people as people, and as such, part of the same species as me, and connected to me. I don’t find it helpful or healthy to fuel hate.

This does not mean that I condone hate speech and violent actions based on, well, anything really. I believe in the rule of law, that’s another value for me. At the same time, I know that the law is not applied in the same way to all people, and also that there’s bias in many of our laws.

Similarly, part of me really wants those responsible for and who participated in the attack on the Capitol to go to jail. Another part doesn’t really believe in jailing people and definitely doesn’t believe in the death penalty.

See what I mean? A lot to be with and sort out here. It’s complex.

Empowering Action Step #1:

While these events are still fresh in your body-mind, I invite you to explore your values, beliefs, and assumptions so you can get what’s rolling around inside of you out where you can see it.

Don’t censor yourself. State what really matters to you. Write all of it down. In life paradoxes abound, so contradicting yourself is to be expected. Contradictions and paradoxes can also produce anxiety and confusion. Here we take away the need to reconcile them, instead just mapping them for greater personal clarity.

If you prefer, make a drawing or an infographic. Write a song. Say it out loud to yourself on a walk. Start a meaningful conversation. Question assumptions. Take nothing for granted.

Give yourself time for what’s under your awareness to surface. Allow yourself to be surprised. Become bigger so that there’s more space for more of you to express yourself—even the parts you’re not so happy about it. It’s okay.

When you feel complete, for now, reflect on what you’ve discovered about yourself, and what really matters to you. Write a summary, including the paradoxes. Become the space for all of it. Keep it in your journal or on your altar and refer to it often. Revise as necessary.

Invitation # 2: Take a Look in the Mirror

As outrage flies across the internet, President-elect Biden and others have been asserting, “This is not America. This is not who we are.” Many people feel this way, astonished that such an attack on democracy could take place in our country.

Yet, as Sam Sanders at NPR points out, this is America. These racist, anti-Semitic, and violent sentiments are not new. As political historian, Heather Cox Richardson, points out, this element has always been a part of our population.

The difference now is that Trump supported and became a mouthpiece for their attitudes and beliefs, and yes, their values and now their actions.

It’s easy for us who do not agree with these sentiments to demonize them. I do not agree with them, and I’m not going to defend them. Yet, for those of us who are white, I invite us to look a bit deeper. (This section is addressed primarily to white people, though it may be of use to others as well.)

Let’s be honest with ourselves. The behavior of white people toward Black and Indigenous Americans has been violent, brutal, coercive, and based on falsehoods, white superiority, and entitlement.

From the perspectives of Black and Indigenous Americans (I imagine) our behavior could be called terrorism. Not just historically. This is still true today, evident especially in police brutality, mass incarceration, and violation of tribal rights.

That’s a bitter pill for us progressives, isn’t it?

Before you protest your personal innocence, please understand this isn’t necessarily about you as an individual at all. (You’ll have to decide that for yourself.)

Racism and white privilege are not personal. They are systemic, and we’re all affected by them in different ways.

We may like to differentiate ourselves from Nazis and overt white supremacists. And we are different. I don’t want to collapse everyone into the same category.

At the same time, even though we may have not personally engaged in racist violence and discrimination, if we’re white-skinned, today we still benefit from colonial white supremacist acts in the past, and those that continue to this day. You don’t have to be a white supremacist for this to be true.

It’s not about who you and I are as individuals, our characters. It’s about how our institutions, cultural norms, and unconscious programming organize our lives beyond what we’re aware of.

Oy vey, I know.

Fortunately, many of us white folks began to educate ourselves further and take new actions in response to George Floyd’s murder last spring. That’s all well and good. (And if you haven’t already, begin now. It’s never too late to begin.[1])

The attack on the Capitol gives us another opportunity to go even deeper with this. I suspect that underneath the outrage and grief, trauma is being activated from our own brutal history. This is true for white people just as it is for people of color, though in a very different way.

Resmaa Menakem[2], an African American trauma therapist, points out that most Europeans who immigrated here were fleeing persecution and other forms of violence. We then replicated that traumatizing behavior (and more) against Indigenous Americans first, then against the Africans who were enslaved and brought here. Violence traumatizes the perpetrator as well as the victim.

Let me be clear that I am in no way equating the trauma and violence experienced by people of color with that of white people, or aiming to let us off the hook for our history. I simply want to draw a more complex picture that suggests hidden motivations for many white people.

I asked at the beginning of the article: why are we so upset? Why am I or you so upset? I think considering our unacknowledged trauma may give us some clues.

Unhealed trauma can throw us off center and into emotionally treacherous terrain without really realizing why. This can make us reactive and aggressive, or paralyze and overwhelm us.

In our discomfort, we may lash out—demonize—those who remind us of our own history. History that we would rather not remember, with which we haven’t yet reckoned, and we don’t know how to be accountable for.

The overt white supremacists trigger the shadow of the United States, the parts of our country’s history—and of us—that many of us want to reject, silence, disown.

Empowering Action Step #2:

Begin simply with inquiry.[3] The intention is self-connection and self-knowledge, not self-judgment and wrong-making. I invite you to dive into your inner landscape, your emotions, and energy this time. Hold yourself like someone you truly love.

Breathe.

Ask yourself how you feel. Ask and listen carefully. Consider the events of January 6th, what your first response was, and how you feel now. Do not be satisfied with the surface feelings. Let yourself go deeper. Be brave and be vulnerable. And if you have tears, let them flow. Clear the old energy that’s been weighing you down.

Radical honesty will set you free. Just remember, in the words of Gloria Steinem, “But first, it will piss you off.”

Chances are you’re having a whole bunch of feelings, and they may contradict or complicate each other, just like with your beliefs and values. That’s understandable and natural. Expand to be the space for all that’s happening inside.

The point is to connect with what’s happening in your inner landscape, not to change it. Connect, feel, listen. Do not judge. Be prepared to be surprised. Welcome new awarenesses. Be gentle and persistent.

Write down what you discover. Forgive yourself.

Invitation #3: Reconsider Your Commitments

The attack on the Capitol creates flashes of lightening, when much that has been hidden becomes clear. Now that you’ve considered your values and beliefs (invitation #1), and your deeper feelings (invitation #2), the next step is to take a look at your commitments and revise them as you see fit.

For a lot of white people, we’re grappling with our white privilege, our entitlement, and also our complacency in allowing the political landscape to develop the way it has over the last four years (really the last 40 years, but that’s another article). Facing all of this may disrupt and disturb us, even as it also demands that we shift our perspectives and our commitments.

More people than ever before voted in the last presidential election. Over the last year, with roots in the last four years, many people have become politically active who’ve never participated before. These changes reflect shifts in our commitments. This is all to the good.

For some of us, we’re waking up to what our democracy is about or what it stands on—and what it requires of us. For some, our race and class privilege have enabled us to take our democracy for granted as we’ve been sheltered from the worst fallout of the Trump years.

Today, we’re realizing that we cannot take our democracy for granted.

As rightly skeptical as they may have been, given the long and tangled history of voter suppression they have endured, many Black and Indigenous people have valued and appreciated democracy more than many of us white folks. Let’s remember that our constitution has its roots in the Iroquois Great Law of Peace, and we owe a debt to Indigenous people for the shape and wisdom of our democracy.

Empowering Action Step #3:

Awareness is vital and the first step. Clearing outdated emotions and energy also makes way for new perspectives and decisions.

Take a look at your calendar and your bank account, and see what you’ve been prioritizing. What have you been giving your precious life force energy to, your valuable attention? How much of that has been purposeful and how much has been out of habit or ease? What have you been funding? Has it been purposeful, or more automatic?

Do you want to continue as you have been, or do you want to make changes?

For example, taking the time to write an article like this one is one way I’ve shifted my commitments. Over the last year, I also gave several webinars on social justice and Human Design (I’m a specialist), I highlighted the work of a several Black women on my, “Sovereign Sisters Salons” on Facebook, and I founded and participated in several anti-racist groups.

How will you choose to engage? I hope that most of us will be more politically involved, and fortunately, there are many ways to do this.

We also need an engaged populous addressing all of the critical issues of our times: racial and economic equality, yes, and also climate change, establishing new energy sources, regenerative agriculture, natural medicine, and so much more.

To paraphrase Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the greatest danger to democracy is an unengaged populace.

Choose your sphere of influence and take inspired action. And remember to vote.

~

[1] Robin DeAngelo’s White Supremacy and the documentary “13th” are good places to start.

[2] Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands, explores the trauma of Black bodies, white bodies and police bodies in an extremely insightful and helpful way. Find a free short course on his is website, here.

[3] This can be a bit tricky. Get support if you feel you need it. Resmaa (above) is a great resource.

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