They locked the doors and threw away the key, there's someone in my head, but it's not me.
Last week, my wife Julie and I had a rare evening with nothing else to do but drop in and checkin. It had been a while since we'd had a true heart to heart, and were both feeling like we'd drifted a bit from true connection.
When I tried to pinpoint that vague sense of distance, I said "yeah, not sure when it started but it felt like sometime in the last 6-9 months? We just haven't seemed as close."
To be sure, I've been heads down writing, and we've been really busy helping kids launch into college and all the normal things of life, but then Julie reminded me of some of the abnormal things of life, lately.
"You know," she said, "it's been exactly a year since we went into lockdown, a year since I've taught yoga, or been a part of any of our local communities."
And then I realized something painfully obvious––that vague "6-9 months" of drift I'd placed wasn't right––it was a very specific 12 months, and it's been happening to all of us, slowly, insidiously, so incremental that it's really hard to note exactly how it has invaded and corrupted our minds and hearts.
This week The Atlantic published a really insightful article:
How Late Stage Pandemic Is Messing with Our Brains
It's definitely worth reading and sharing with friends, because if you're anything like witless me, what was once Figure (i.e. everyone top of mind relentlessly factoring COVID into every decision) has now receded into the back Ground (the almost invisible wallpaper of our "new normal").
Except it's still wreaking havoc on our minds and lives. Pre-pandemic, 1 in 10 of us experienced depression and anxiety. Today, it's 4 in 10. That's 400% increase in 12 months.
So let's remember we're in a reality distortion field not of our own making, and if you're harshly criticizing your health and fitness, your relationships, or generally your stoke factor on life––let's give ourselves a collective mulligan until the Autumn?
In the early American colonies of Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, they called the month of March "the Starving Tymes"––because it was the longest season since they'd stocked their pantries and well before any new crops could be harvested.
It's always darkest (and hungriest) before the dawn.
You could say we're in our own version, "the Grieving Tyme." So hang in there folks––we're almost, but not quite yet, through this.
Here endeth the ePiSAl.
Speaking of "Grieving Tymes"––our friend and mentor Dr. Zak Stein just shared his latest knowledge bomb with us, and I've been thinking about it ever since. Check out Zak's talk here.
He mapped how in the Kabbalistic tradition, there are three phases of "Ensoulment" i.e. how a person comes into full maturity in their being. And it's a move from Pre-Tragic, to Tragic, to Post-Tragic.
Pre-Tragic is the naive and optimistic phase of "anyone can grow up to be president or an astronaut" where life is our oyster and we are filled with idealistic promise.
Tragic is where we get the living shit knocked out of us, and realize that life is not always kind nor fair, and that our seemingly unlimited options and choices are constricting rapidly, often to the point of despair.
Post-Tragic is where we accept our yoke, get back up and keep going. Saying this I remember and today I begin again. Practicing resurrection. Again and again.
You could make a case that the waves of collective rage and grief that are rippling around the world today, are a whole bunch of people kicking and screaming their way from Pre-Tragic to Full Catastrophe Tragic.
Most contemporary grievance movements on both sides of the political spectrum are actually moving from pre-tragic to tragic right now. They're hurtling into the pain and grief of that, not yet coming out the other side. That puts them a whole stage behind the high water mark of the Civil Rights Movement. And that's critical to understanding our current situation.
The black civil rights church of Dr. King was undeniably a post-tragic tradition. It was birthed in the liberation theology of slave spirituality and syncretic Afro-Caribbean traditions. It was forged in suffering and the triumph of spirit through struggle. When it blended with Gandhi's notion of soul force––peaceful non violence rooted in integrity––it transformed the world from India, to South Africa to Selma.
Laws of the Jungle vs. Glimpses of the Sublime
"The world breaks everyone," said Hemingway, "and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills."
It’s a hard hand we’re dealt, playing this monkeys-with-clothes game.
On the one hand, we are blessed with complex abstract consciousness capable of divining the orbits of faraway planets and penning sonnets that make us weep.
And on the other, life is cheap, violence and cruelty abound, and precious little of this brief experience of being alive makes a whole lot of sense.
"Man is literally split in two," Pulitzer Prize–winning anthropologist Ernest Becker acknowledged, "he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever."
Reconciling this "red in tooth and claw" Law of the Jungle with our glimpses of the Sublime isn’t guaranteed. Feeling torn between those two truths causes much of our suffering.
Nearly one in ten of us will be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in our lifetimes. The rest of us suffer micro-PTSD nearly all the time.
Having a way to digest our grief, rather than choke on it, becomes essential. As Bessel van der Kolk writes, our bodies really do keep the score.
Our nervous systems accumulate stressors until we’re fibrillating messes.
Once we’re in a hijacked state, we are less perceptive, resilient, and resourceful. We are then more likely to stumble and make things worse. Hurt people, the old joke goes, hurt people. It would be funnier if it weren’t so true.
There’s too much tragedy in the human experience to process it all unaided. Without some way to wipe the slate clean, our lives become mired.
When we have cultural processes that hold us up while we suffer, we can transform that suffering into something profound.
"Grief is praise," explains poet and Mayan elder Martín Prechtel, "because it is the natural way love honors what it misses."
Regardless of which branch we enter through—whether it’s deep healing, powerful inspiration, or committed connection, this three-legged process is more or less how living gets done.
Life is irreducibly tragic—we know that much. That’s where healing becomes so essential—it gives us a chance to patch our bones and mend as we go onward.
But occasionally, it’s undeniably magic—and that’s easier to forget. That’s what inspiration does: It reminds us that there’s beauty and perfection around us, if we only remember where to look.
When we find ourselves whipsawed between those two poles, we have to laugh together at the Full Catastrophe that is our mortal lives. Then it’s Comic too. That’s what connection does—it gives us a chance to share the burden and absurdity of life with others.
If we couldn’t weep, worship, and laugh, we wouldn’t be able to bear witness to this crazy ride. So that’s what we’re shooting for: a way to wake up, grow up, and show up. Just in time.
They locked the door,
and threw away the key,
we're stuck in this together,
thank god it's not just me!
Massive snowstorm about to hit the Rocky Mountains––gonna go out now and earn our turns, surf the earth, and sweat our prayers...