On being lonely
I’ve been facilitating a men’s group since around the beginning of the pandemic. I didn’t quite know what to expect when I started it. I just felt called. It’s turned into something that I really appreciate. Something that I love.
One of the things that I’ve been struck by is just how alone people can feel. It’s a feeling that I’m all too familiar with. I’m reminded of the lyrics from the Michael Franti and Spearhead song Stay Human:
Starvation is the creation of the devil, a rebel
I’m bringin’ food to the people like a widow
Bringin’ flowers to a grave in the middle
Of the city isolation is a riddle
To be surrounded by a million other people
But to feel alone like a tree in a desert
Dried up like the skin of a lizard
But full of color like the spots of a leopard
Drum and bass pull me in like a shepherd
Scratch my itch like a needle on a record
Full of life like a man gone to Mecca
Sky high like an eagle up soaring
I speak low but I’m like a lion roaring
Baritone like a Robeson recordin’
I’m givin’ thanks for bein’ human every morning
(Emphasis mine. I couldn’t just pull those lines…the full verse is amazing).
I remember when I first heard this song, maybe 20 years ago. It was at a time when I really felt what it was saying — how can I feel so alone among so many? Flash forward to today, to social isolation. I imagine we are going to face a different kind of crisis in our society as more and more come to terms with just how alone they feel in the midst of this pandemic.
Hosting the men’s group is a small act I can do to try and alleviate that feeling for at least a few men. If that’s you, join us. If it’s someone in your life, send them our way.
Regardless, reach. Let’s walk with each other through this.
What there is to listen to
I began learning a number of years ago that information can be shared and received in more ways than verbally or with written language. We share and receive information through our bodies, through our feelings, and through the way we show up in a space. Learning to listen to more than words is critical. Learning to listen to what isn’t being discussed — information shared and received through silence. Learning to listen to the reactions we have to information — reactions that live in our (physical and our emotional) bodies. Learning to listen to what comes to us as images, movements, (non-verbal) sounds. Art, dance, expression.
Listen. Listen closely.
…you know? Our experience, no matter the times — but maybe especially during times such as these. I liken it to a spiral; perhaps on an angle. We go up, and we go down. We feel ready to meet the day, and we feel like pulling the covers off of us in the morning is the last thing we want. It cycles month-to-month, week-to-week, etcetera. You know the drill.
I’ve been lucky to be in an intimate space with some new (as well as a couple of old) friends during this time. They are men who showed up for the men’s group I’m offering. We meet once a week in the morning. We connect. We support each other. The cycle is apparent here. And there can be a synchronicity to it. We’re traveling together, it turns out.
Personally, the last couple of days were rough. Not horrible, but rough. I had some stories pop up that made it a bit harder to be present than I’d like. I’ve had worse, but you know, I’d prefer the easeful days. Today was more easeful.
It cycles, you know?
Here’s the thing, wherever any of us is at any given point is okay. We can be angry or afraid or sad or disappointed or dispondant or bereaved or dejected or cynical or joyful or eccstatic or on and on and on. It’s all what it is, and that has to do. I’d say we’ll get through this together, but that’s not entirely true. We are all going to get through this in ways that we get through it. We’ll all have the experience we have. If we can make room for each of us to do that, I suspect we’ll have come a long way.
Let’s see if we can make that happen.
And the cycle goes on.
I had this thought while walking outside with the dog: what would I say if I was asked to give a commencement address? Of course, it’s a silly proposition. I’m certainly not on anyone’s list for such a thing. That said, something popped into my mind. I thought I’d sketch it out here.
You have been lied to. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but someone has to rip off the band-aid. To let you in on a little truth. Without any further delay, here it is: you cannot be whatever you want to be. Take a moment, and let that sink in.
I’ll say it one more time, just for clarity’s sake. You. Cannot. Be. Whatever. You. Want. To. Be.
[hold for silence]
There are lots of reasons for this, but I’m not here to get into that. I’m simply here to tear down the lie, and to reveal the truth behind it. Because, while this might seem like bad news, it’s not. In fact, it’s great news. It’s maybe the best news there is. Why? Because knowing this allows you to begin to sift through all of the cruft and detritus floating around your mind and heart and sort out what is yours to be.
We get fed a lot of things over the course of our lives, some of which we end up believing is ours. Much of it — most of it? — isn’t. It belongs to someone else. This can be fine, and we can live a fine life by swimming along the grooves left for us by others. But what we can’t do in the midst of that is the most fundamental thing. It’s the thing that comes to us as a gift when we see it on the other side of the truth that I just laid out.
I’ll say it once more: you cannot be whatever you want to be.
The gift on the other side of that is this: all you can be is…get ready for it…you. Fully you.
The trick is the want part. That lies in the stories that our culture tells. It lies in the things that our friends and families, our teachers, and our marketers have been telling us our entire lives. That want part tells us that we are striving toward something. Let go of it, and the path will open up.
Now, this is about where I get hung up. There’s something in this tale that feels right. But there’s something else that doesn’t. Namely, it doesn’t take into account the systemic oppression that many folks live with. Is this, at the end of the day, just a veiled form of white supremacy? I think there’s a way to say what I’m trying to get at that breaks past white supremacy, but maybe not. Anyway. This is what came to me. Outside. With the dog. Just gonna leave it here.
What do you mean by…
I could go on I’m sure. This should be enough to chew on. What do you mean when you say these things? What informs your understanding of them? What gets left out? What is intentionally excluded? What do we make up about those who see things differently?
What if we slowed ourselves down enough to interrogate ourselves at this level? I suspect we might see some change.
What does it mean to be helpful? How wide of a reach do we need to have in order to have the largest possible impact?
It’s interesting — there is this desire for a broad reach. To get to as many folks as possible. I saw a post on LinkedIn that said something like, “I wasn’t getting the reach I wanted until I started commenting on people’s posts and writing my own posts. Then I went from a few hundred connections to 2 million. That’s how you do it!” I suppose if we have an audience of 2 million, a lot of folks can hear our message. But does trying to get to that audience size allow us to have the biggest impact we can really have?
I’m beginning to feel like the place for the most impact is in the small group. The intimate space. Over time. It doesn’t necessarily scale — but it might be more long lasting. Depth over span.
Quality. Not quantity.