Starting the second year of this blog, I’m thinking about where we stand. What does that mean? Where I stand is where I am in this moment, sitting in the living room looking out on the small lake to our west, while my husband watches football. Where do we stand as a country? Boy, I wish I really knew. Yesterday people in Hawaii were scared out of their wits when an imminent ballistic missile attack alert came over cellphones, TV broadcasts and from outdoor speakers. It took a full 38 minutes for the official push announcement to come through on cellphones that it was a false alarm. 38 minutes! People were running around like crazy, some even lowering their kids down the manholes of storm drains.
Most of us baby boomers can recall the Cold War air raid drills in the 1950s and early 1960s where we had to crouch under our desks with our hands over our heads, preparing for the possibility of nuclear attack. Many still harbor vestiges of those early fears of being attacked by a missile with a nuclear warhead. We learned as we got older that hiding under a desk would have done nothing to prevent our extreme injury or annihilation, as the entire industrialized world knew after Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Some of us wondered when the bomb was going to get us, and how old we would be when it did. Some families actually built bomb shelters in their back yards. It was a thing. I knew a kid whose family had one. Did you?
Most parents and working adults today have no such memories and only know the recent feud the so-called leader of the free world has been fomenting with North Korea as a potentially imminent threat. No “duck and cover” drills for them. Yet out of fear and chaos yesterday, little kids were dropped by their parents into storm drains! Given that Hawaii is closer to North Korea than the US mainland, within reach of their missiles, and that Pearl Harbor was the site of a deadly attack on Hawaii, this preventable false alarm seems especially cruel.
Now that I’ve scared you, tweaking that old nuclear specter from your unconscious yet again, let’s get diverted! This may seem counterintuitive, but to be relieved of the torment of this fear, you are going to have to look at it. As a psychologist, I know this from professional as well as personal experience, and although it’s not necessarily easy, doing it really helps. Experiencing fear is a form of suffering. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has said that rather than running from our suffering, we can hold it as we would a crying child and we will suffer less. You can read more about this in his book No Mud, No Lotus. Here is an excerpt from Goodreads:
The function of mindfulness is, first, to recognize the suffering and then to take care of the suffering. The work of mindfulness is first to recognize the suffering and second to embrace it. A mother taking care of a crying baby naturally will take the child into her arms without suppressing, judging it, or ignoring the crying. Mindfulness is like that mother, recognizing and embracing suffering without judgement.
So the practice is not to fight or suppress the feeling, but rather to cradle it with a lot of tenderness. When a mother embraces her child, that energy of tenderness begins to penetrate into the body of the child. Even if the mother doesn’t understand at first why the child is suffering and she needs some time to find out what the difficulty is, just her act of taking the child into her arms with tenderness can already bring relief. If we can recognize and cradle the suffering while we breathe mindfully, there is relief already.
― Thich Nhat Hanh, No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering
So let’s imagine for a moment the fear evoked by that scary reaper, or descending nuclear annihilation or fire of death or whatever you will. As you allow yourself to think of this fear, see if you can pinpoint what are you actually afraid of. Is it pain? Death? Nonexistence? Separation from loved ones? Seeing loved ones hurt or dead? Losing your possessions? Living under tyranny or despotism? Okay, if you know what fear thoughts of a nuclear attack evokes, imagine you can hold it in your arms. Give your fear loving, caring attention. Don’t try to silence it with a mood-changing substance or activity. Just sit with it, if even for only a minute. Breathe deeply as you hold your fear. Breathe in with awareness, and breathe out with gratitude. You might do it for a few minutes longer, but only if you want to and feel you can. Now take a couple of deep, cleansing breaths and go do something else. Good for you!
Another diversion for you, more interesting than that first one, I suspect. Former Army soldier Chelsea Manning has decided to run for the US Senate in the state of Maryland as a Democrat. This will pit her against veteran Democrat Senator Ben Cardin, a tough slog due to his strong role fighting for progressive issues and taking on Russian interference in the recent presidential election. Chelsea may not win, but she’s definitely showing her mettle. This Guardian story elaborates and includes her YouTube video.
Something more fun, you ask? Okay, there’s a new bar in Brooklyn called “Kick Axe” where drinkers can throw axes at a target! Wheee! Can’t wait! Um…
More? Love inspiring kitty stories? Me too! Meet a cute black and white cat named Pusic.
Since the prospect of nuclear war arguably spawned some of the best the folk music of the 1960’s, let’s not forget that “The Times They are A’Changin” then and now. And since we heard this anthem from composer Bob Dylan earlier, now we can enjoy Simon and Garfunkel covering it.