It swung in high gear at the Women’s March in January, and now, six weeks later, resistance is clearly a long-term deal. We’re running a marathon not a sprint. Yet it’s hard to keep going with new wrongheaded and cruel decisions coming down by the minute.
So how do you keep from getting dragged down? In the middle of sacred rage, is it possible to find joy?
Joy is not only possible but crucial to resistance. Joy is, after all, the fuel of life. During a marathon of resistance, joy is what can keep a person ready to find hope and poised to act.
So how can we stay in touch with joy?
I need regular help with this, so I turn to meditation. In the nature spirituality path I follow, meditation consists of conversing or going on spirit Journeys with my unseen spirit Helper, who is Bear. Helpers are always ready to offer a few suggestions for how to live with more ease, and here, from a recent Journey, are a few suggestions I needed to hear.
Bite off no more than you can chew
When tackling a steep or rocky trail, we avoid fatigue by choosing only a portion of it. In the same way, to stay closer to joy during this challenging time, pick only the activities you have energy for.
Spend a little time reflecting on where your limits are. Then take a moment to feel affection for them. Your limits are good limits. No need to be impatient with them; where they are is simply where they are. Being aware of what one can and can’t do keeps one in touch with joy.
Stay close to what is life-giving—art or beauty in all its forms; green-springing shoots or bright flower petals; laughing; hiking; playing with children; bird-watching; visiting the expanse of an ocean or the sanctuary of a forest. Allow your breath to open and your perspective to widen. Whatever is refreshing to you, do it now and do it often.
Stay close to those who love you—your partner or family or friends, your dog or cat. When interactions with others begin to slide toward heaviness, resist. Instead, welcome lightheartedness.
Check in with that little place inside that is in touch with life. If you find that it’s feeling tired or stale—or, worse, that you can’t quite imagine laughing—take a break and find refreshment. Seek the juiciness of life—belly-laughing fun and activities that energize you.
Enjoy the contradictions
Laugh at absurdities. This is different from laughing at stupidity; it’s not about snark. It has to do instead with the ungovernable quality of nature—that every moment and every event holds within it pieces that don’t fit. The actions people take rarely have the results they expect. Unintended consequences abound—consequences that contradict and even undermine the intended outcomes. Just because X has been decreed does not mean Y will happen. Reality—or nature or life—is just not that linear or predictable.
Think of the symbol of the Tao: a small circle of the opposite held within each half. Those who try to control nature—whether people, events, or land—have to work extremely hard to quell the popping up of those contrary bits. The life force is unquenchable.
Noticing contradictions can bring a smidge of equanimity. It also provides toeholds for resistance. A hate-inspired ban on Muslim immigrants? It brought about an outpouring of love and support for Muslim neighbors. Vandalized Jewish cemeteries? Muslims took the lead in fund-raising for repairs.
On the face of it, events driven by hatred and fear are unmitigated disasters. But look deeper, and each of them holds the seeds of its own unmaking. Look for those seeds. Enjoy them. Plant them and nourish them.
Stay in touch with sweetness
Many years ago I attended sohbet—a gathering of people around a Sufi teacher who tells stories and parables to open their hearts. Baba, a quiet Sufi man from Turkey with warm dark brown eyes, directed a few remarks that day to each person around the room. Looking at me, Baba said, “Every sweetness holds a bitterness, and every bitterness holds a sweetness. When you go through a bitter time, look for the sweetness hiding inside it. Find the sweetness in the bitterness.”
When life is painful, the mind is tempted to clamp down around the pain. One begins to lose touch with the possibility that things can change.
To resist with joy, it is crucial to resist that urge to close down—to instead remain open to sweetness. This is not to deny horror and pain; they are real. But so is this more-hidden thing taking place at the same time, a sweetness slipping right out of its bitter wrappings. A prime example is the “great new accidental renaissance” in humane values taking place in this country—a tremendous sweetness that no one could see before it was forced out of hiding.
Staying in touch with joy is a decision; it requires a choice. And that choice forms the foundation of resistance: the choice to remain free within your own heart, not allowing the decrees of others to dictate the state of your own spirit.
Love is a tough practice. It takes rigorous training to keep the heart open in peacefulness instead of closing down in hatred or fear. Consider this time a boot camp in learning how to steady the heart. When resistance is powered by such love, it cannot be defeated.
A loving, open heart is on the right side of history. It holds the moral high ground. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Hatred and fear are unsustainable. They squander the life force. Nature washes the impurities away, and what is left is justice. Love. Equality. Room for all. What Thomas Merton called “that hidden ground of Love for which there can be no explanations.”
Trusting in nature’s ability to set things right can bring comfort and joy at this time.
Wishing you a heart firmly grounded in love. Wishing you resistance with joy.
Responses to Resisting with joy
Wonderful advice, Priscilla. I love especially finding the sweetness in bitterness. Yes, we need to keep our hearts open.
Thanks. It helped me too. Yes, Baba’s words have carried me through a few upheavals. Thanks for dropping by!
Thank You, Thank You! I much enjoyed Kissed by a Fox, met you briefly at the Audubon Center outside Santa Fe a couple of years ago and look for to Tamed by a Bear. I was blessed by the company of a very special black Aussie/Labrador I called Bear. When we were out on the trail, sometimes people were a bit spooked, thinking they had stumbled upon a bear cub, before seeing me on the trail. Our 10 year love of adventure, sharing her wild spirit with me will stay with me forever.
Hi, Kathryn, nice to “see” you here! Love your Bear story! Sounds like she was a special one. And yes, they do stay forever, don’t they.
Thanks much Priscilla– spot on as per usual. A take home message I been getting these uncommon times is that this wonderful upsurging of progressive political activism stands every chance of petering out over the long haul… that folks just might get worn out, worn down or otherwise hit the wall all activists seem to– which is burnout. We CAN NOT let this happen in the present circumstances.
One time 30+ years ago, after the first International Conference on Permaculture in Australia, some of us went with John Seed on his Rainforest bus to a rainforest commune of sorts where we were led through a Despair Workshop for a few days that John and Johanna Macy had cooked up to help folks such as us find the ‘sweetness in the bitterness’ and keep the joy and verve and environmental fervor alive and kicking. With us were Arne Naess, Bill Devall and a small scattering of other long time permaculture and deep ecology activists and we sure did go to good heart ground/good mind mending during that short sojourn , leaving the rainforest refreshed and reinvigorated and all the more determined to do right, and kick butt where necessary. Your blog here speaks to that, kinda sorta, in some most sensitive, empowering and practical ways– I sure do thank you for it….
Joanna Macy’s despair-and-empowerment work is super important. She has helped many people face their despair and pain and come out on the other side of it. Here is a very recent interview with her, published last month at Truthout. In it she says, “So this has been a lot of my work. To help people open to and become enamored of the idea that they’d really like to see what was going on. And to open the eyes and open the heart to discover, again and again, universally in the work, that acceptance of that discomfort and pain actually reflected the depths of your caring and commitment to life.” http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/39448-learning-to-see-in-the-dark-amid-catastrophe-an-interview-with-deep-ecologist-joanna-macy
Much thanks much for this connection to Johanna Macy…. I am sure it will prove valuable. I bet she has been ‘going at it’ for 50+ years. To reach that milestone, I got another 20 years to go… Looking forward to your next blog!
There’s so much I could say about this, Priscilla, but I’ll hold off and just say thank you for putting your thoughts together in this way. Sending love.
Thanks, Linda. As I said in the post, it was a partnership effort.