Amanda Quraishi writes...

The widespread adoption of digital technologies over the last two decades has ushered in a long-awaited and much-idealized era of democratized media. Certainly, having knowledge and information accessible to the greatest number of people at any time in history is a marvelous development for global human society. But along with our new media landscape have come challenges that were both unforeseeable, yet in retrospect, inevitable.

Today, the American public finds itself in an information crisis. The sheer volume of information we consume today is overwhelming, even for the most discriminating media consumer. News, opinion and entertainment is coming to us at light speed, giving us only seconds to react to ideas and stories – some of which have profound intellectual, spiritual or political implications for our collective. These “big” conversations are packaged together with all manner of inanity in our feeds, which can make us feel that everything is equally relevant; or even, perhaps, that nothing is. In the past, we may have spent time reflecting on these critical issues, but with the widespread adoption of social media, we are poised (and encouraged) to respond with emotion-infused knee-jerk reactions informed almost exclusively by our biases within seconds of consuming new information.

Furthermore, while we struggle to process this excess of information, the wisdom and expertise of professional journalists, teachers and intellectuals has been drowned out by a cacophony of self-proclaimed subject-matter experts and citizen journalists, none of whom have any professional or ethical obligation to preserve the integrity of the information they share. Individual users can now create media micro brands and influence public opinion that rivals those of long-standing institutions. In this murky environment, even terrorist organizations and criminal operations have been able to achieve a veneer of legitimacy.

While politicians argue about whether or not to even invest in our nation’s physical infrastructure, Americans have flooded the internet and are building and inhabiting a thriving online society that has no formal system of civics or governance. Might makes right, and, much like in our Wild West days, the fastest draw is the one left standing.

According to the Pew Research Center’s 2022 Social Media and News Fact Sheet: about half of U.S. adults – 50% – get news on social media, and 17% do so “often.”

When it comes to where Americans regularly get news on social media, Facebook still outpaces all other social media sites. Roughly a third of U.S. adults (31%) say they regularly get news from Facebook.

A quarter of U.S. adults regularly get news from YouTube, while smaller shares get news from Twitter (14%), Instagram (13%), TikTok (10%) or Reddit (8%). Fewer Americans regularly get news from LinkedIn (4%), Snapchat (4%), Nextdoor (4%), WhatsApp (3%) or Twitch (1%).

When looking at the proportion of each social media site’s users who regularly get news there, some sites stand out as having a greater portion of users turning to the site for news even if their total audience is relatively small. For example, while Twitter is used by about three-in-ten U.S. adults (27%), about half of its users (53%) turn to the site to regularly get news there. On the other hand, roughly the same share of adults (31%) use LinkedIn, but only 13% of its users regularly get news on the site.

What is most concerning about this trend is that many users of social media are unable to differentiate between authentic, verifiable information and what has now been dubbed “fake news.” The media site Buzzfeed did an analysis on the kind of news people were sharing on social media during the 2016 presidential election and found an alarming trend:

In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News…During these critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyper-partisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. Within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

Propaganda, revenue-driven content marketing, mis/disinformation, and other forms of manipulative engagement on social media are having real world impact that we simply cannot afford to ignore. American society is now inundated with media, yet there is almost no effort to ensure the voting public has basic media literacy skills. Even if there were, it’s not clear that Americans believe they need help understanding their new reality. (Though they will readily agree that other people do.) 

Fear and Loathing Online

The online communities where the majority of Americans are getting their news and information are intense hives of discussion where the loudest, strongest, often most vitriolic people set the tone and interpret the facts for others. There’s a sort of arms race of consumption and dissemination of information, rhetoric, and opinion that takes precedence over our shared humanity. As such, is not uncommon to see high-level conversations around the loftiest of subjects devolve into name-calling, personal attacks, and the lusty embrace of logical fallacies (often by people who really should know better). The intellectual bastions of critical thinking and thoughtful debate have been effaced by even those in historically austere leadership roles. It is not uncommon to find elected officials, academics and celebrities exchanging abuses online.

Interestingly, those who disparage the lack of civility on social media platforms display a lack of personal responsibility for contributing to an unhealthy online culture. A long-running poll titled “Civility in America” (Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate with KRC Research) found in 2016:

Nearly all Americans, 95 percent, say civility is a problem, with three-quarters (74 percent) saying civility has declined in the past few years and two-thirds (67 percent) saying it is a major problem today. In the online poll conducted among 1,005 adults 18 years and older from January 7 to 14, 70 percent also say that incivility in this country has risen to “crisis” levels, up from 65 percent in 2014.

Asked to identify the groups contributing most to the lack of civility in society, both likely voters and the overall public cite politicians, the Internet/social media and the news media as the top three sources – each being named by more than half the respondents.

But… We Are The Media

Today, more people can make and disseminate media than at any other point in human history. At the same time, distrust in the media is at an unprecedented high. These two phenomena are not unrelated.

We blame The Media” for the lack of online civility, but we fail to recognize that because media has become democratized, we the people are “The Media”. No longer are we passive consumers. We all are making media every day through with our content and comments in digital spaces; not to mention that professional journalists have defaulted to ripping content directly from public online spaces and placing them on their news sites and broadcast programming as under the auspices of “reporting” the news.

It is true that social media platforms employ algorithms that make it more likely to see information that confirms our biases. This has been widely discussed and documented by communications experts and again speaks to the need for greater media literacy for the general public. (Media literacy meaning not just knowing how to identify good information, but how to actually use social media to our benefit, rather than passively consuming whatever is served up to us.)

However, many users knowingly self-select and construct their ideological bubbles because challenging our deeply held beliefs is hard. It’s a painful process, made even more difficult in a harsh environment where the opposition is free to be abusive. Any effort to truly understand opposing viewpoints online requires engaging with people who will say awful things about us and our ideals.

Today’s digital media landscape is a recipe for a total communication breakdown from which no society could be expected to survive. However, it is also an opportunity for real leadership to bring their knowledge and expertise to overwhelmed citizens who desperately need to make sense of the issues on which they are expected to contribute.

Yet, many of the brightest minds and most authentic thought leaders shy away from engaging online around the very subjects where they have real expertise. Part of the reason is that there is a lack of familiarity with the unique social environments and platforms where these conversations are taking place. But a large part of their aversion to social media engagement is because they see the extreme vitriol that has taken hold on public discourse in digital spaces–from which no one is immune. Why would a thoughtful, intelligent, and empathetic person willingly subject themselves to it?

A Leadership Vacuum

Efforts at building leadership in digital spaces (social, political, or otherwise) have focused almost exclusively on creating a few “power users” that wield influence over huge numbers of “followers.” Many of these “leaders” have succumbed to bad communication practices (either because they lack competencies that allow them to effectively use digital media for the greater good, or simply because they are culturally influenced by the hostile environment in which they find themselves online. Usually, both).

Today, online leadership spends much of its time reinforcing itself, building influence by prioritizing issues over people. Some of this influence is used for the common good (social justice activism or fundraising for causes), while others use it to market themselves and their ideas. Still other “leaders” use influence for more nefarious purposes like manipulating voters or reinforcing hierarchies that oppress. Regardless, influence of any kind online must take positions that are loud and polarizing (often with hyperbolic posturing) in order to win the fight for attention.

Witnessing the general lack of respect for fellow citizens, even those who have demonstrably made great contributions to our society, has caused many qualified voices to reject social media as a useful medium for sharing their ideas, knowledge and wisdom, leaving a vacuum that bad actors and unqualified pundits are happy to fill.

There is a desperate need for authentic, courageous digital leadership that is invested in humanizing the space and consistently reframing the conversation around our shared human experience.

We need Digital Civics.

Digital Civics is a framework for online spaces that positions leadership at the center of the diverse community of people to whom they are related. Digital civic leadership is defined by leadership that serves as guides, educators and facilitators—not only in their own areas of expertise–but in productive online engagement that employs emotional intelligence. This is a conscious effort by dedicated individuals to reshape the nature of public discourse to be productive, and to set high standards for digital communications across a broad range of subjects and issues.

What digital civic leadership does:

  • Builds and curates healthy digital community that is organic and non-hierarchical
  • Leads by example
  • Acts as a gracious host for community engagement
  • Facilitates healthy discussions and productive disagreements
  • Sets a clear standard for engagement in their community

What digital civic leadership does NOT do:

  • Builds consensus
  • Acts or speaks duplicitously
  • Try to please everyone
  • Ignores or shuts down disagreements
  • Marketing

We need leaders who know how to navigate digital spaces and harness the benefits of social media for real world impact. Leaders with strong identities rooted in the communities they represent and a calm, clear voice with which to manage online conflict. Leaders who are committed to lead by example, to master social listening so that they can speak to the real concerns of even their detractors. Leaders who are more interested in the realities of the people they claim to be helping than in self-promotion and vanity metrics.

This is not about getting more followers or building mass movements that can battle other mass movements. It is about transforming online culture by infusing humanity into digital spaces. Healthy online leadership means building influence through person-to-person engagement that honors pluralism and prioritizes education, truth and productive disagreement.

Authentic human communications are never easy, especially when conflict arises. It requires discipline, conscious decision-making and patience. It is the lack of these very things online that have brought American society to where we are today: conflicted, frustrated and unable to work together when we need to the most.

But How?

Healthy digital civics will not emerge on its own. It must be consciously cultivated and supported through a network of leaders who all agree on a set of principles to which they will hold themselves and one another accountable.

For a cultural shift to occur online, it must start with a small number of determined, passionate people willing to prioritize the greater good over their own selfish pursuits or the short term, superficial gains of web traffic, likes and media coverage.

We at the Institute for Digital Civic Culture, along with our colleagues who represent associated institutions, communities and programs, envision a national network of professionals, educators and subject-matter experts who agree on core principles of productive digital engagement, and who are committed to support one another as leaders in transforming digital culture into a place where intelligent conversation, healthy conflict and rigorous truth-seeking are valued.

We are seeking leaders in various fields who can bring both subject-matter expertise and emotional intelligence to digital spaces, so that we can provide them with the tools, training and community support they need to transform digital culture for the betterment of global society.

Join us as we explore our human potential on the internet; be part of a movement to discover ways that we can build and facilitate online community that actually makes the world a better place—for everyone.


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Calling forth words from above,

     beyond.

Isn’t that the goal?

Not to produce, no,

     but to usher in.

*

Searching the 

     edges of the known universe

     where the creation is very old,

     and the view is clear

     and true.

Putting down onto page

     that which can’t be denied;

     that which smolders and compels us

     even through our calculated distractions.

Sending us to the pulp each day,

     swords unsheathed.

Drawing out inspiration with 

     ink made from primordial ooze and

     the sticky residue of our collective unconscious.

*

We are destined to spend our lives

     vainly attempting to translate The Real.

A never-ending battle with clumsy, filthy hoards of words,

     desecrating the holiest of our holies;

     while we lie on our faces

     at the foot of a cold, marbled altar—

     grasping,

Begging to be worthy

     to express what she has showed us 

     when we weren’t looking.

*

A trickle of my will runs down

    my back.

This liar,

     Language.

She taunts us with a calling,

     then laughs at us without mercy

     as we beat our heads against

     the walls of her limits.

And only when power is depleted,

     fear laughed at,

     ego exhausted,

     does she come.

*

Sometimes she arrives

     direct, and commanding.

You take dictation from The Source.

She flows like electricity,

     a current of truth.

You cling to her with whitened knuckles, 

     trying to keep up for as long as possible.

*

Sometimes, she comes slowly,

      surrounding you like warm honey;

      infusing you with the understanding

      that makes sense seem foolish.

You release your relentless thinking

      into a slow river,

running its course.

Creating as she flows.

Making the truth,

     not simply abiding by it.

*

You know it, don’t you?

The sound of her call.

The whispers in the pre-dawn 

     that insist you cannot rest

     until you say what must be said.

*

     

Those of you who are celebrated, and 

     those afraid to show us even a single word.

We are a kind;

We attempt the impossible.

But we do it with a secret knowledge,

     tucked deep inside our chests

     and hidden from view.

This thing we do, and our need to do it

Is exactly

     Write.


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I remember the first time I tried to write by hand.

Another child who was slightly older than me had come over to our house to play and she’d brought a pad and pencil — one of those big pencils they used to give us as pre-schoolers. It had Snoopy on it or some such thing. The writing pad was one of those landscape-bound cheap pads made with inexpensive, grayish paper bearing rows of solid and dotted lines. I distinctly remember the older girl showing me how to write an ‘A’ and getting super fucking excited about it.

Even in preschool I’d already begun to understand the power of language. Like most children, I was first introduced to the written word through reading. My parents read out loud to me before I could talk. Unsurprisingly, then, I was an early reader and books became my constant companions throughout my life. At a tender age, I came to understand that printed words unlocked all kinds of awesome things in my brain, and that the world was filled with words just waiting to be discovered.

But writing was like a second revelation to me.

Taking a pencil in my untrained hand as a very little girl was the moment I discovered that I could actually make words myself. Immediately I begged my mom for my own writing pad. I was four, and I was ready to write.

As enthusiastic as I was about learning to write, however, I was definitely not enthusiastic about having someone teach me. I specifically remember being bummed out when I realized (only after getting a big pencil and notepad of my own) that I didn’t get to just write the letters any old way. I had to follow very specific instructions on how to draw each line and curve. It felt insulting that the authorities in my life would try to dictate in such detail the actual, visual manifestation of what I had to say. But they insisted.

I went along begrudgingly with the whole “proper handwriting” agenda until the fifth grade when I received a B- on my report card with a short note from my teacher about the deficiencies of my script.

For such a crime I was sentenced to months of daily handwriting practice at the kitchen table after school. I don’t even remember what I wrote. Just lines and lines. The content didn’t seem to matter. The form had been divorced from the function. I’d sit, perched over my paper, in a trance, watching my hand move for the sole purpose of making my words pretty.

This punishment of writing lines to improve my handwriting (which to this day I contend was judicially unfair), changed something in me. After that point, writing started to become something I did all the time, in all kinds of places. It was almost a compulsion. Wherever there was a scrap of paper I’d find it and start scribbling on it. It was soothing, and it helped me sit quietly and focus. After doing it repetitively for so long – first by punishment, then for the comfort it brought me – I began to find it pleasurable.

Many times I’d write unconsciously, in a trace, using word association – an exercise in limbering the mind and fine-tuning the hand-eye coordination. Sometimes I’d work on a story or poem. I’d practice writing my favorite words over and over again, just for the joy of seeing them appear on the page. I’d also make lists, journal, scribble notes and ideas, etc.

*****

I realized a few years ago that I’d almost stopped handwriting completely. For more than a decade, if I did write anything by hand it usually related to some piece of mail, or an occasional birthday card. I still kept notebooks and stuff, I just wasn’t really using any of them on a regular basis.

But then two things happened:

Last year I was in one of the darkest depressive episodes of my life. I realized that I needed – needed – to pick up a pen again and write some things out of my head. A laptop wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to see what I had to say in my own hand. It was a holy compulsion, and for once in my goddamned life, I decided to trust myself and just go with my intuition.

Second, my friend Susan introduced me to a short-lived-but-has-crazy-cult-following television series based on the life of Anne Lister, a historical figure and ‘the first modern lesbian’ – who wrote a diary of around 5 million words over her lifetime. And she only lived to be forty-nine. The show is great and it totally deserves its cult following – but my big takeaway from that series was how Anne seemed to depend on her writing. She trusted it when she could trust no one else in her life with who she was. It made sense.

Anyway, when I started writing again last year, it was like riding a bike. It took a few weeks to get into a groove with it, but now, I’m back to handwriting all the time. (I will say, there was some initial discomfort with my right hand. I had to rebuild some of those muscles and so when I started writing daily I could only write for maybe five minutes at a time before stopping because my hand was hurting. I write pages now, no sweat.)

(Un?)fortunately, my renewed zest for writing by hand has come with a small liability. Perhaps it’s because the world is smaller and there are more things in it than ever before; perhaps because we didn’t have a lot of disposable income growing up. But I now understand the pure lust that may be evoked by a well-stocked stationery store.

How can I describe what it’s like — to enter a space filled with things that are designed to delight that weird little part of you, deep inside, where your creator lives? The colors and textures – infinite variations and combinations. Paper and notebooks and pens and ink. Stickers and watercolors, and tiny paperclips shaped like kittens. The air is cool and dry. The clerks and clientele? Appropriately funky.

To write by hand is a joy. To be able to write on a $15 journal made of smooth-as-silk Japanese paper when just a $.99 spiral notebook would serve the same purpose – well that, my friend, is what I call real luxury. (With regard to pens, I personally don’t think you need expensive pens. I mean, it’s nice to have some expensive fountain pen but it may not be your best for everyday writing. Find something you can buy by the box – stash them all over the place, especially in the goddamn car – and keep ‘em on auto-ship from Amazon.com.)

Aesthetics aside, what I’m realizing these days is that writing by hand has – dare I say it? – a mystical aspect to it. At least, it does for me. Sitting quietly with what amounts to a magic wand cradled between my fingers, taking dictation from my unconscious, has the effect of pulling things out of me that I keep hidden from even myself. It gives me the ability to think critically, dispassionately about my own thoughts. It provokes me to think creatively about everything in my life. It provides me with a sense of comfort and contentment; a silent morning with my notebook on my lap and a cup of fresh coffee is the very definition of peace. Writing by hand demands the kind of reflection that creates a foothold for honest, private, personal growth.

Also. It feels fucking amazing. It’s a delight to the senses. To see the abstract from inside my head spilling forth in Royal Blue, taking form at the end of my nib is to begin to understand the reality of self. It’s an affirmation that I am here, and real, and that I have things to say, and beautiful ways to say them. Watching the sheen of fresh ink in the lamplight, pausing to take in the wonder of language – the lifeblood of civilization – and feeling a sense of awe that I can make it appear, at will.

That’s some sacred shit.

*****

When I’ve asked other people about their handwriting habits, most of them dismiss it as an inefficient and practically useless activity. I would argue that the inefficiency of writing by hand is actually its strongest selling point (not that I want to sell you on it). I’m no technophobe, but we’re becoming increasingly integrated with and dependent on digital technology, and it’s starting to impact our humanity. For real.

I’m not saying that writing by hand is *the* antidote to our culture of transactional engagements and ego-driven content-as-communication. But, like, anything that you can do to keep yourself here, grounded. On the earth. In your body. Do more of that.

Maybe handwriting ain’t your bag. But I hope something is. I hope there’s something that you do that helps you see yourself clearly, as a creator, in three-dimensional space. I hope you have a chance to take stuff out of your head – stuff that has been bothering you, stuff that has been waiting patiently for you – and look at it in black-and-white, in a private way, and then process it. And then grow.

Yes, it may result in a slightly unhealthy addiction to stationery stores and a new desire to sit under trees and pour your heart out to no one but yourself on beautifully crafted notebooks – but there are worse addictions.


There's no greater honor for a writer that the time and attention of a thoughtful reader. If you've enjoyed your visit here and would like to support my work, please know that anything you offer is accepted with gratitude:

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I understand a language

beyond mere words.

A frequency

picked out from the static.

I’m

tuned in.

turned on.

Right there,

in the groove.

My spine vibrates like the strings,

and thought becomes useless -

a hindrance, in fact.

Guided by sound,

poured into the cup of life

consumed by a tongue of primordial fire

and carried away like a feather;

Surfing the melody of wild abandon

on an evening breeze.


There's no greater honor for a writer that the time and attention of a thoughtful reader. If you've enjoyed your visit here and would like to support my work, please know that anything you offer is accepted with gratitude:

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Bolder than

a red goddamn pen.

Subtlety is admirable, but never my default.

To be free. To be alive.

What is subtle about that?

Why pretend that ten-million years of

evolution have not brought me to your doorstep

with a message written in blood

sweat

and tears?

Keep your tidy, pale civilization

choking off your humanity,

giving us all nightmares.

Waltzing through the high desert night sky

is where I’ll be.


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I'm writing to you from the crossroads. I've arrived here after two years of arduous travel during which I have felt irretrievably lost for most of the time. Today I'm feeling relieved, and also, understandably exhausted from my journey.

It feels like the moments one experiences just after giving birth: joy at having survived something so harrowing, so intensely painful, combined with a tangible release as the body begins to reclaim itself and heal from the process. Underlining all of it is the holy knowledge that something has changed forever.

Before I started on this journey, I was in a prolonged state of discontent for several years. In retrospect I realize that it was because I’ve spent my entire life adhering to values, standards and ideals that don't actually belong to me. My jobs, relationships, even my choices about my personal appearance had always been dictated in large part by social norms that I had no input into creating. I took what was given, I tried to make it work. That was how I lived for four decades on this planet. It's not unusual.

Even if we want to build our lives in the way that best suits us, most of us aren't actually even sure who we are and what we really want. I certainly wasn't. I accepted the definitions and confines imposed on me by my social environments, moving (sometimes literally) from place to place trying to find acceptance by contorting myself into things I could never be. (The really shitty part is that I was good at it.) I didn't love myself enough to even find out what was important to me.

One of the downsides to being tribal creatures is that we don't give ourselves and others the space and resources to figure ourselves out; to determine exactly what makes us different, and to nurture the important parts of us that don't conform. Some of us will live our entire lives like this. Few of us welcome this urge in ourselves, or others.

I had a bit of an epiphany somewhere along the way: the shitty systems of the world run on our misdirected energies. For, if you know yourself – truly – then no one can exploit you, force you to submit, or demand from you the sacrifice of what makes you irreplaceably YOU.

Last summer my therapist asked me, “What do you want?”

Read more...

Last year I learned how to embrace my own suck and make peace with being profoundly terrible at something. My journey to a blue sash in Tai Chi was nothing less than a battle of will against my own feelings of worthlessness and my reflexive desire to give up on things that don’t come easily to me. Spoiler alert: turns out sucking is a huge opportunity for personal growth.

I’d started taking Tai Chi classes in 2021 at school run by a husband and wife duo. Masters Joe and Sheryl Schaefer are black belts and they, along with their team of accomplished teachers, offer both Kung Fu and Tai Chi lessons. I quickly earned a white sash and then a yellow sash in Tai Chi, so when it was time to start on the next set of postures toward earning my blue sash I had no reason to believe I wouldn’t be able to do it easily.

Something strange happened, though. Almost immediately after I started this next section I found myself falling behind in class. Weeks passed and I watched classmates who’d started at the same time I had earn their blue sashes and move on. I found myself struggling to remember the postures and getting confused, even regressing at times. At first I made light of it, but as weeks went by and my extremely slow progress began to be noticeable by everyone else, I became embarrassed. I started to question whether there was actually something wrong with me. Why was this so hard?

I thought about quitting. I looked for a good excuse but there was none to be found. I had committed to learning Tai Chi, and to showing up for my teachers and classmates. Besides, even with the challenges, it’s one of the few times each week I get out of the house, away from my devices, and focus on my physical self. I enjoy going, and I enjoy the people I’ve met there. I didn’t want to quit, it’s just… I didn’t want to suck.

I’ve spent most of my life ‘up in my head' and not really living in the moment; staring off into space, daydreaming or distracting myself with books, television and social media. I accumulate bruises that I cannot remember inflicting on myself. As a kid, my teachers were always calling me back from my imaginary worlds, scolding me for not paying attention. Recently, however, I’ve started to feel that getting to know my own body is important for my own wellbeing, now and in the future. Tai Chi is a gentle but powerful way to do this.

I’ve been at it for a year and a half now, and I still feel like a toddler when I go to class, struggling to control how I move. The coarse, red practice mats under the soft soles of my feet remind me to pay attention to all the points where they make contact. I consciously, painstakingly try to attune myself to the mechanics of my own body, and in turn, my own life as I go through the slow movements that require balance and breath.

Perhaps the most surprising thing I’ve discovered during my time with Tai Chi is the importance (and also, my own lifelong lack) of balance. Balance is often mistaken for stillness, but that’s not what it is. Even my Zen meditation looks like someone sitting perfectly still. But there is no ‘set it and forget it’ in Tai Chi or Zazen. It is about maintaining an alert consciousness and being responsive to the external forces around you so that you can hold a posture. This looks like stillness (or extreme slowness), but in reality, it’s done through a million subtle micro-adjustments your body makes to keep you in the proper posture. Thousands of years of meditative and martial arts practices from around the world have taught us that without balance, there can be no peace – internally or externally. Peace, then, cannot exist in the world without a finely tuned, constant, disciplined control of the self – including mind and body.

Read more...

When I was a little girl I used to get growing pains in my legs, usually in the middle of the night. My legs would ache so terribly that it would wake me up and I would cry out into the darkness. My mother would rouse herself out of her sleep and come sit next to me on the bed, massaging my legs and reassure me that this was normal and natural and that everything was going to be ok. She told me she’d had them when she was growing up, too.

Of course, neither her words, nor her touch could stop the pain. But they helped me relax into it, and eventually I would find some peace of mind and drift off, letting my small body do its important work of growing up and becoming stronger.

Right now, I see a lot of growing pains happening all around me. There is lot of psychic and emotional pain and discomfort on display. Our society is grappling with changes that need occur so that we can live up to our shared ideals and be strong, healthy and mature.

Some of the reactions to this pain are difficult to watch. I see people becoming listless and depressed. I see others losing their control, lashing out and becoming angry and aggressive. Still others dissolve into tears. And some are trying to numb the pain with all manner of distractions.

Growth — whether physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual — is not easy or fun. It takes energy. It takes determination. It takes patience with ourselves and others. It hurts.

I look back on those long nights of pain and discomfort now with a sweet heart. Not because I relish pain, but because those were moments when I felt my mother close to me. My relationship with her is built on a million small interactions like this over the years.

Imagine if she’d told me to just suck it up and stop crying. That I was too fragile and weak. That I deserve pain and should learn to deal with it because she’d suffered, too? Imagine what that would have done to a growing little girl, and my ability to help others who were in pain. Imagine how that would have impacted my relationship with my mother, forever.

I think what the world needs right now are people who come in and sit by us in the dark of night. Those who can’t and won’t remove the pain, but who will let us know we’re not alone. Who make it easier for us to process and find peace in the discomfort. Those who have experienced those pains in the past and can assure us that we’re going to be ok.

And in fact, we’re going to be better than ok.


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While I do think it’s important not to give in to despair, my experience tells me that when it comes to the hard stuff in life — difficult relationships, mental health struggles, money problems, addiction, questions of faith, and political action — the only way out is THROUGH.

This means accepting and acknowledging that we’re not going to feel good all the time. Some of us may not even feel good most of the time. And that’s just the way it is.

Feeling bad isn’t actually a bad thing. Assigning morality to our human emotions penalizes us for simply being who we are. Feeling bad is part of life — and I would argue that it’s even a beneficial because if we don’t feel bad, we feel no impetus to change; and if we feel no impetus to change, we stagnate. Our full potential is reached through a dance between wins and losses, achievements and failures, teaching and learning.

The most powerful thing you can do for another person is to witness and affirm their pain. This is also the most powerful thing you can do for yourself.

On the other hand, one of the most abusive things you can do to another person is to refuse to acknowledge their pain. To try to compete with their pain. Or to make them feel like they are morally/spiritually inferior because of their pain.

Affirmation isn’t approval. Acknowledging that you feel shitty, or that you’re struggling with something big and awful and scary isn’t weakness — nor does it mean you’re willing to stop trying. As Susan David said in her talk, “courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s fear walking”.

To expect people — to expect YOURSELF — to show up constantly as an inhuman source of positivity to guide others isn’t realistic. It’s also sort of taking away from the role of The Divine (if you subscribe to that kind of thing). Even history’s most beloved prophets and gurus were not free from the hardship of life and or from their own internal demons.

I am here to tell you: you can learn to appreciate the pain. You can learn to embrace the difficulties, and recognize that they are part of the rich emotional tapestry of your life. You can reset your expectations for yourself and others and make room for the natural, normal human responses to life’s challenges — and you can do it without getting stuck down there forever.

When you embrace the struggle and really feel the discomfort, that is when you know you’re growing.

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When I was a little girl, I’d look at the faces of older people and wonder why they grew so serious during long moments of quiet reflection. Why the corners of their mouths turned down, and their brows wrinkled, and their eyes drooped. Some very old people looked downright angry, though I came to understand that it was just the canyons of lines across their faces that gave them that appearance. Even the older folks who I knew were usually jolly would look too serious at times.

Not that I didn’t understand sadness or anger as a child. But this look was about something more than these. This seriousness I saw in their faces was a weight, a heaviness that comes from bearing a load. It was the look of someone who was resolved, but never fully surrendered to difficulties.

Life is hard, people. It’s really hard. For all of us.

We’re all struggling with some things internally and externally that eat away at our ability to maintain a sense of optimism and joy in our lives. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s a real thing.

I also think a lot of us are expending a lot of energy in a society that favors youthful verve and carefree smiles, trying to pretend that the load that we’re carrying isn’t carving canyons of worry and stress into our faces and our souls.

Because after all, the only thing worse than struggling is looking like you don’t have your shit together, isn’t it?

Yesterday afternoon I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror. I looked like I felt — heavy, tired and worried. And older. I quickly smoothed my face and went about my day, hiding my concerns with a smile and a joke, as we do. Until, of course, we can’t hide it anymore. And it becomes our face to the world. And young children look at us and wonder why we’re so serious in our long moments of quiet reflection.


There's no greater honor for a writer that the time and attention of a thoughtful reader. If you've enjoyed your visit here and would like to support my work, please know that anything you offer is accepted with gratitude:

Paypal.me Ko-Fi Patreon

And if you're looking for a nice place to hang out on the internet, consider joining me on the RealSocial.Life federated community.

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