finding words in hard times

credit - amazingphotography30

credit – amazingphotography30

I have been silenced. In response to the enormity of what has happened to this country. How the past several decades’ of political posturing, decline of civil discourse, disregard for truth has ultimately led to this period of utter unconsciousness on the part of so many. The causes run deep. The impact defies comprehension. And I, to borrow a phrase from a sister-writer, have turtled.

But turtling is not a healthy response. It is not what I feel, what I want to do or how I want to be. It feels more shameful to remain silent than to urge beauty and peace where I can, as small and insignificant as that urge may seem in the enormity of so much ugliness and despair.

Thankfully I have been snapped out of this especially dark doldrum by the wise words of two wonderful women writers I value:

“In a time of destruction, create something: a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow, a moral principle; one peaceful moment.”  Maxine Hong Kingston

“In a time lacking in truth and certainty and filled with anguish and despair, no woman should be shamefaced in attempting to give back to the world, through her work, a portion of its lost heart.” – Louise Borgan

And with that, I recalled the intensely powerful words of another beacon of consciousness, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, who post-2008 election (remember THAT one?!!!) penned the following inspirational and important words. I offer them here that you, too, may remember to stand on deck, and let our shining souls spark one another back into the light.

… In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency too to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails. We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear…

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing.

We know that it does not take “everyone on Earth” to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these; to be fierce and to show mercy towards others; both, are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumults, this is one of the strongest things you can do…

There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate. The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours: They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall:

“When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe,
there can be no doubt.
But that is not what great ships are built for.”

This comes with much love and a prayer that you remember who you came from and why you came to this beautiful, needful Earth.

By Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D,
 from ‘Letter to a Young Activist During Troubled Times’ (Jan 28, 2008)


16 thoughts on “finding words in hard times

  1. Pingback: finding words in hard times — sarahscapes | Meanderings of a Tellurian Metaphorist

  2. Couldn’t find anywhere else to offer deep commiserations today. It looks just as incomprehensible from this side of the ‘pond’! In some inexplicable way I can’t help wondering about phoenixes and ashes? The natural world now has every reason to shrug off humanity and start again! Yet could a madman, debased, vulgar, ignorant be the touchpaper? Just wanted to touch base somehow.

    • Oh, Philippa, I am so grateful for you reaching out. I admit to feeling severe shock with significant associated physical responses. After some time passes I expect to return to my belief in the goodness of people, the value of deep listening and the possibilities for truth to rise up. It will be slow but I cannot give in to my impulse to flee. Despite commentators’ efforts to normalize what has happened and what we are in for, perhaps there will prove to be a silver lining hidden in the uprooting of civility, progress, equality and fundamental human regard. We can only hope. And what you say about Mother Earth – so sadly true. There is a staggering amount of anger and hate swirling about this country. I can only do what I know to do, with kindness and compassion. Thank you for your words. I hope to be able to return to blogging soon. I miss it.

  3. This so echoes my own recent wail of impotence! I was gently and deservedly kicked for it. I copy the exchange to illustrate a conversation on identical lines.
    ‘Jeffrey’s post this morning was a necessary revision reminder. What’s behind? The Story that generates the creative energy for the creative act. Since ArtMark ( a group I joined to determine my relevance) I have been fallow, beached by the recognition of the seeming triviality of my single ‘story’ in the face of the world tsunami of horror, hatred and determined lemming-like rush to the cliff edge. The story, important to me, retains a general validity, but does seem spitting in the wind,
    Have yet to find a way to continue spitting in the wind. Perhaps I should just shut the door on world events, hole up in the heat and write regardless?! Or go into the garden and tend my thirsting plants and quietly ( and modestly) prepare to swiftly decline. Is the hero inevitably an active fighter? Or as heroic accepting the tumbling power that fills the lungs with salt?

    This was the immediate comment that followed.

    I am always fascinated by the fact that what we tell ourselves to be true defines the experience we will have. This is my polite and selfish way of saying, “PLEASE stop telling yourself that your voice doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of things.” One of my greatest delights in ArtMark was reading your posts. You have such an extraordinary wit, clarity, wisdom and depth of caring – how dare you deprive us of what you would say if you knew how important and enriching it is for the rest of us. To silence yourself is a crime. I don’t care what rationalization you give yourself about how awful things are in the world, etc – all the more reason we need your input – to hear your voice. Please write on and on and on and on and let us know what you are thinking. And, I will reserve the right to speak up if I think you are getting caught up in stinking thinking about the futility of your writing. I, for one, want and need to hear what you have to say. Ta da!!!!!

    Never was a kick more welcome! It illustrates all you say (and quote) above. But its good to hold hands across the virtual void.

    • Always a delight to hear from you, Philippa! And the first line of the response – “I am always fascinated by the fact that what we tell ourselves to be true defines the experience we will have” – rings so true. In fact, it seems to define precisely what is going on. It has become commonplace that saying something makes it so, completely independent of reality.

      So we need a new story. Let’s do our part to keep it unfurling into this dark time, our threads of light, humor, tenderness, hope, truth … Yes, hand-holding across the void, virtual and otherwise, greatly appreciated. Thanks for the sharing – consider yourself double-kicked and carry on 🙂

    • This was never intended as an opportunistic shout out ( though on re-reading it that might be what it appears) but to demonstrate that continuing to use words gives the opportunity for a reader to make sense of their own world(s). It is so easy to fall prey to an inverted self-importance that takes refuge in silence rather than pit the sails against the prevailing headwinds. ‘ A piccolo will penetrate a unison bass’ I once wrote in more believing times!

      • No opportunism taken! I was taken by the interesting paradox in the line I responded to: it works both ways! We tell ourselves we are not worth listening to and fall silent. But it can also go the other way: we can tell ourselves we are the ONLY thing worth listening to and yell about it … Just happened to touch on something I’ve been pondering.

        I agree with you, P – it’s easy, for the likes of you and me, to feel less-than in the face of ‘prevailing headwinds.’ Again I say – let us carry on and use our words!!! Thanks for the boost.

  4. To turtle – great verb! I know that feeling so well – I’ve decided to stop reading the news because it just gets me down every time. Surely there must be something good happening out there somewhere too? Beautiful quotes – I will find myself a copy of ‘Letter to a Young Activist During Troubled Times”, it looks like a very good read.

    • I’ve quoted most of it here; couldn’t choose any less of it!!! You can find it online – I’ll add a link. Shows how dispirited I’ve been, that I didn’t do that before posting 😦 We must do everything we can to counter this downward spiral – because there ARE folks following/being hugely influenced by the ‘news’. That’s what keeps me going. The absolute necessity to speak truth and hope into the world. Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts.

  5. It is so tempting to shut down, with so much noise surrounding us–so many loud voices and so little listening. I will remember to raise my sails and set my compass for a kinder world. We will build it together, eh?

    • OH, yes, please Jeannine. Build together. Two really crucial words. As opposed to, for instance, tear down alone. Thanks for stopping by. Glad to see you taking some time off from the books!!!

  6. Thank you, Sarah for these reminders, so beautifully expressed, that we are never powerless to respond to the darkness that sometimes seems to fill our world..

    • I appreciate your visit and your comment, Phil. It’s caught me by surprise, how off-balance I have been recently. Feels like I’ve regained center by remembering these powerful words. Glad you find them helpful, as well.

your turn!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s