adjective dem·o·crat·ic \ˌde-mə-ˈkra-tik\
: relating to the idea that all people should be treated equally
noun re·pub·lic \ri-ˈpə-blik\
: a body of persons freely engaged in a specified activity
If you had told the teenage or twenty-something me that, during what may later come to be regarded as the most divisive and important election of my lifetime, I not only had not engaged in, but actually had avoided political discourse, I would never have believed you. If you had told me that, by the time I was 50, I would have come to believe our government so irrevocably broken that I no longer felt compelled to participate in conversations about how to rebuild it, I would have said you were nuts. And if you had told me that I would be at best completely dispassionate about every single candidate who put forth their name to run for president in this campaign, well, frankly, I would have thought I had either suffered massive brain trauma or completely sold out. But all of those things have felt true during this political season.
From the time I was a little girl watching Walter Cronkite report on the the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War on the CBS Evening News (which always ended with a body count), I felt that political, civil-rights, and animal-rights activism would be the most compelling conversation of my life -- my path, my raison d'etre. I became politically active as early as I could, and remained passionate in my activism into my early thirties. But then something happened. In retrospect, I think I would describe it as dis-heart-enment. I no longer felt the Love behind the movements about which I had cared so much. Everything began to seem more like rhetoric and less like the deep caring and concern for the wellbeing of ourselves and our planet, which had so inspired me in leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Although I still considered myself an engaged person, I really wasn't. I mostly watched from the sidelines, and sometimes just showed up for the fourth quarter.
Not coincidentally, my early thirties were also the time that I found my way back to the daily spiritual practice, which had been so central in my life up until my mid-teens -- when suddenly my desire to "feel like everyone else" had outweighed the pull of my soul. It was rediscovering that spiritual path twenty years down the line that led me to place I find myself another twenty years on. . .today. Am I disengaged from political discourse? Yes. Disheartened by all the divisiveness? Yes. But I am also more profoundly hopeful than I have ever felt in my whole life.
This blog is about that hope.
I have been an avid student of history my whole life. I remember my father telling me that he had heard Hitler speak during the 1930s and how he could FEEL what was coming -- not from the power of Hitler's blustering rhetoric as much as the effect it had on the massive crowds who turned out to hear him. It is easy, in retrospect, to look back on the poor decisions made at the end of World War I that led to the nationwide disenfranchisement and disillusionment that gave rise to a Hitler. I have seen the million mark notes that barely bought a loaf of bread. I have been a student about the art, culture, literature, and politics of that period. Do I see the parallels to our the escalation of hate-mongering, senseless violence, and divisiveness all over the world? Yes. And does that kindle fear in me? Yes and no.
The best part of being 50-something is that the urgency I felt in my teens and twenties to DO something has shifted into a calm clear knowing that doing might not always be the best first step to take. Instead of being shot from a cannon by everything I read that inspires or angers me, I now try to take things in more deeply, see more honestly, and hear more openly. Instead of trying to solve a problem "out there", I recognize that, if I am seeing something out there that angers me, makes me afraid, about which I feel judgmental, I probably need to turn the mirror around and look at those things in myself first.
I didn't come to this place easily. It is a lot easier, as so many people have recognized, to be a human doing than a human being. As someone who has a hard time sitting still for 20 minutes, whose general solution to almost anything is to do or to plan, getting to this less reactive place has been a struggle. It took reaching one precarious precipice after another and teetering from many edges for me to recognize that I had to save myself before I could do anything about saving the planet. How could I possibly show up in anyone else's life if I wasn't showing up in my own? So, that's what I started to do. Slowly but surely. But it wasn't until I began practicing joy and writing this blog that something really clicked. I had been trying to take more time off, eat better, get more exercise, have fun. But there was one thing I hadn't really been doing. And that was loving myself. In choosing to practice joy, I finally had to face down the lifelong fear and self-loathing which had so often won the day and choose Love. Because without Love, not only is there is no joy, without Love, there is no anything. Period.
Let's be real. To love ourselves, one another, the other beings on this planet, the Universe itself -- it ain't always easy. I have always adored C.S. Lewis wonderful little book on love, in which he wrote, "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell." But not to love, not to choose joy, not to connect with one another absolutely is the Hell of our our own creating.
Over the past few weeks as the conventions splashed across social media and news headlines, I wondered how I would feel about them. I couldn't watch them: I have no television and idiosyncratic internet service at best. But I have been able to see clips and to observe the responses of my friends as well as total strangers, from pundits to regular people. As people started commenting and posting on Facebook, I could feel the youthful activist me want to Like, Dislike, Wow, Angry, Sad or Comment on Facebook. But from the get go, I set myself the goal of not reacting -- in any way other than one. That one was inside my heart.
If a car is in a wreck or a house suffers a major disaster, an appraiser is brought in to decide if the damage can be repaired or whether the car or house should be totaled. For years I've been saying that the system is broken, but what good does that do? The only thing that happened to me was that I felt disempowered and apathetic. It was as though the appraiser came and said, "Wow, what a disaster." And then walked away. Great. You have a car you can't drive or a house you can't live in. . .Now what?
In choosing not to react to the conventions, I worried that I had just chosen another form of that apathy. But this felt different. It wasn't that I had no feelings, or even no opinions. It was that I was trying with every fiber of my being not to have any judgments. In fact, over the course of the past two weeks, I have had to take myself to task about my sweeping pronouncements about our "broken system" and really look deep and hard at my own judgment. What I remembered was that systems, institutions, governments, electorates are comprised of individuals just like me, and all individuals face the same choices every day -- a choice which, in everything we do, comes down to choosing fear or Love. And what I am seeing out there is something I have lived for many years inside myself: We are afraid. Some of us are afraid of one thing, and some another. For some, that fear is embodied in a person. For some an issue. For some a skin color. For some a foreign country. For all of us, there are fears around health, safety, financial stability. But fear is up for all of us. Big time.
So what happens when we are afraid? Our instinct is to look outside ourselves both for safety and for someone to blame. We judge to deflect our own fears onto Other, whatever or whoever that Other may be. But, as Honore de Balzac so wisely wrote, "The more one judges, the less one loves."
When I look at people whose politics do not seem to be like my own and recognize their fears as parallel to mine -- even though to some I may be an embodiment of their fears -- when I have compassion for their fears in the way I hope others can have compassion for my own, then what am I doing? I am choosing Love. And, to quote Anais Nin, "What is love but acceptance of the other, whatever (s)he is."
So that's what I have tried to do for the past two weeks. And as each day passed, with the news and social media filled with hate and hope, love and fear, joy and anger, I realized something. I realized that I was ready to engage again. But not with parties or systems or saviors. I was ready to engage with people. People like me who are afraid -- whatever their fears may be. To hear and hold their fears -- even when they cause my own fears to surface, to love them even when I know they do not want to love me, to be present to what is instead of ruing what I keep saying is broken. And as I allowed those feelings, those desires to sink in, one of my lovely little light bulbs for which I am always so grateful suddenly switched on. I realized that I, homeless though I may be, I have a place to live: The Democratic Republic of Love.
The Democratic Republic of Love: A state of mind in which all people are engaged in Love and so are treated and treat others equally -- with love.
The Democratic Republic of Love has existed forever. It is in each of us. In the Democratic Republic of Love, we do not look out from either/or eyes, but rather and/also hearts. In the Democratic Republic of Love, we do not need walls, because everyone belongs there. In the Democratic Republic of Love, all we do is love -- ourselves and one another. Which means that, in the Democratic Republic of Love, there is no hate, no judgment, and no fear. Sound pie in the sky? Some ridiculous utopian fantasy that has no place even being dreamt of in our dystopian imploding planet?
In the Democratic Republic of Love, we "love one another" (Jesus); we "love the whole world as a mother loves her only child" (Buddha), and our hearts are "joined in love" (Qu'ran). In the Democratic Republic of Love, "Love is the Water of Life" (Rumi) and "everyone is welcomed, loved, and forgiven" (Pope Francis). "We are united. . .with. . .Love, dwelling in our heart" (Bhagavad Ghita), and we all recognize that "we are made for loving" (Desmond Tutu).
Crazy? Unrealistic? Not relevant now? I don't think so.
Written in 1939, on the cusp of World War II, Auden gave voice to a truth that must never be forgotten. Unless we all choose to take up permanent residence in the Democratic Republic of Love, there will be no more planet over which political parties, politicians, dictators, demagogues, hatemongers, terrorists can fight. We must love one another or die.
The problem is that none of us really feel we can live in there, in the Democratic Republic of Love, every single day. It feels too hard. Too unrealistic. Too scary! We all feel afraid, disenfranchised, and we are all struggling hard enough to love ourselves and our families, let alone the person we read about in the paper who makes our blood boil. So where do we start?
We begin with ourselves. Loving ourselves. Even when we hate who we see in the mirror, when we say something dumb and feel like an idiot, when we flip off the driver who cut us off, when we hate having to pay taxes, when we yell at the dog or treat the customer service person we have called poorly. Even then. Because we move on from there -- loving the person to whom we said the dumb thing, that driver we just cursed, the IRS, the politicians, the people whose lawn signs differ from yours, the man in line talking about the candidate who scares you, the mosquito that just bit you, even the person who invented the mirror. Love them all. And then keep doing it. And doing it. And doing it. And then do it some more.
If this was easy, our planet wouldn't be hanging on by a thread and everyone wouldn't be calling one another names or blowing up innocent people. It isn't easy. We all know that. But it's the only way. We must love ourselves and one another or die.
Ilia Delio writes, "Our challenge today is to trust the power of life at the heart of life, to let ourselves be seized by love, to create and invent ways for love to evolve into a global wholeness of unity, compassion, justice, and peacemaking."
You can's say it any better than that. And still, that sometimes seems so lofty and huge that it feels beyond us. And we can't let it. We have to find ways to love every single minute and let that love ripple out into Wholeness and healing. For me, I'm just trying, every minute of every day, to practice what I preach: Love everyone, everything. No matter what. Do I succeed all the time? No way. But what I do succeed is witnessing when I fall out of Love, and then choosing to fall back in. So, instead of ending this blog with another lofty call to action, I'm going to end with a Country Western song I just love. Because what Kacey Musgraves so beautifully captures in this song is the reason why, ultimately, loving so much easier than we think it is. If we each remind ourselves of this one thing: Every single person out there is just like me. They have a Democratic Republic of Love inside them as well. Like me, they are flawed and hopeful, powerful and weak, fearful and brave, hopeful and heavyhearted. And like me, they are just looking for Somebody to Love. We are all just looking for Somebody to Love.
Let's be that Somebody to ourselves and one another.
And so it is.
PS I don't photograph people much, but when I do, it is because I am connected to them in joy. So the more joy I feel, the more I photograph other people. As though the camera is a thread of love between us. It was really fun going through these photos and remembering each moment of connection. Because I do! And so now I have a new Daily Practice of Joy. . .Stay tuned!