Last week, when I initially began writing my piece on grief deferral, much of the violence between the US and Iran had not yet occurred, but had just begun to arise.
Yesterday, as I encountered people, I could feel all around me that people are sort of soaked in the frenzy, even if they haven't been listening to the news.
Ironically, this week’s song, in the series on the album Sanctuary, is called Move Slowly, and is really about the tenderness of healing circuitously, and not trying to attack healing as something to achieve. As James Finley says, “it is necessary to go out into deep water because that’s where the pain is, but in order for it to be safe to do that, it’s so important first, to learn how to float in shallow water. Because to learn to float in shallow water, is to learn to be vulnerable and safe at the same time.
But here’s what is so very challenging about that. We have to find time for healing. We have to find time for our practice. James Finley often likes to say, "It would be so easy to be a mystic if we didn't have to live our life." And he also likes to quote the contemporary Zen master Katagiri Roshi, by saying, “It would be so much easier if we were asked to live a simple life in a simple world, but we’re asked to live a simple life in a complicated world.”
But I have seen this what "move slowly" can look like in action. One time, when James Finley and I were working with some tech people for something, one of the people we were working with had a very anxious, intense presence, and was visibly and chronically stressed out. I have never witnessed such a contrast between two people in my whole life. Being the contemplative pipsqueak that I am, I was (and still would be), nearly caught up in the tidal wave of stress, as I have been at times when I didn’t know where to turn as a mother, during an intense toddler tantrum. But I looked over at James, and there he was, gently grinning, sitting there as though there might be some massage therapy music playing. And he looked at the tech person with unwavering, but totally sober, enduring love. I was witnessing the great art of what it means to be a true contemplative. James was not, by any means, “spiritually bypassing”. On the contrary… he was bearing witness to the incarnate nature of the frenzied person, and the incarnate oneness between the two of them, without invading, or abandoning him (or for that matter, being invaded or abandoned, himself).
At the time, all I could see was the contrast. In all my readings and heart comprehensions about the “unitive way”, I had never been so close to what unitive consciousness looks like, lived out, until seeing this sort of violently scattered person, not being able to sway the presence of infinite love being channeled through this unassuming man with a cane.
And we all completed the task at hand, and I was changed forever by bearing witness to the subtleties between the lines.
James and I worked a lot together for about three years. Of course, we found out that neither of us are perfect. I gave him quite a bit of technological support, and at times he would laugh and say of computer related issues, “It’s enough to make the Pope swear.” Humour… yet another misplaced art form in our discourse today.
I relay these stories to you, because if there was ever a time to understand what “move slowly” means in a fast paced, complicated world, it is our present moment. How do we act in such a way where we are not emotionally swept up by the intensity of political tantrums, and reactivity, that could have dire consequences? For goodness sake, I am still learning how to do this as a parent. Intensity is... intense! But see, the catch with parenting is the same catch as elsewhere, how I react, is how they behave. Or as Krista Tippet so beautifully put it in her course The Art of Conversation, "the nature of the question illicits the nature of the answer".
Move Slowly is a song relating to the personal healing journey… but I am pulling out a lesson within it, that as we move slowly in the personal healing arena, we can treat it as a practice, to move slowly when we are faced with the intensity of the world. And to move slowly when faced with the intensity of the world is not the same as spiritual bypassing. It is about drawing nearer to the incarnate nature of the suffering at hand, and not being drawn in by the strong mob-like frenzy at the surface of things.
That we have no common ritual grief practices, and no initiation into adulthood (service of the community), we should really expect no more from leftover chauvinism, than what we’re seeing in the political sphere today. All it knows how to do is fight to win, even to the point of not understanding that win/lose at this point, is lose/lose. There is a term floating around today, that claims that even the 100 billionaires will soon realize that their win and everyone else’s lose, is really also a lose for them. And there is the potential for what folks are calling “omni-win/win”. But this will not come about through the frenzied energy of condescension. It will be more like the process of titration.
I will say here, I think it is especially hard to move slowly with the task of healing, when there is the additional daily pressure of being constantly held suspect, or racially profiled. Trying to find safe spaces just to be imperfect, are hard enough to find, without having the insidious nature of racial profiling being added onto the perception of who we are. That being said, some of my greatest teachers in this art form of moving slowly amidst the fray, have been especially, indigenous elders.
Move Slowly is about learning to be safe and vulnerable at the same time. That’s the personal part. But how that looks in the collective part is, it that Move Slowly is also an energy thing. It is about having daily practices that build our “count to ten” muscles, that keep us from spending all of our energy, on half-baked reactions.
I’ve sometimes been asked why I don’t speak out about this event, or that event, and why I do about others. Firstly, sometimes when I do speak out, I regret how I do it later, because I did it in a way that unleashed my reactivity… and wow… does that ever bring on the reactivity in others and it feels like such a waste of precious energy! Secondly, I spend a significant amount of time reflecting on where to place energy, because energy is powerful, so I can always tell if I spoke out in a way that was immersed in wisdom.
In Richard Rohr’s now classic book The Naked Now, he says, “this ability to stand back and calmly observe my inner dramas, without rushing to judgement, is foundational for spiritual seeing.” And he also says, “the most amazing fact about Jesus, unlike almost any other religious founder, is that he found God in disorder and imperfection - and told us that we must do the same or we would never be content on this earth.”
When I listen to the song Move Slowly, and apply the Big Picture to it, that is what I hear. What I see, is James Finley being present with the disorder and imperfection of a hyper-stressed out young man, and bearing witness to what was incarnate in him, just as he was.
It was the presence of real grace.
But we all have to start somewhere.
So… slowly… safely… and onward.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.