Who’s ready to get off this roller coaster?
Bazinga, no dice! We are strapped in like fat toddlers to professionally installed car seats and this hellish ride ain’t stopping anytime soon.
What am I talking about? COVID? Racial injustice? The economy? Politics? Riots and looting? Wildfires? Square dancing hurricanes? Climate change? Well, all of it, of course. We are in it, my friends. Oh. Yeah.
As always, my friend Donna enlightens me and I feel better. In our recent conversation I recalled her assertion a decade ago that humanity pushes toward ever increasing consciousness and enlightenment. Right after the 2016 election I may have laughed out loud (or cried) at this idea. But today I take a different perspective. How can I say this in the middle of all the tumult and crisis? Because tumult and crisis are exactly the evidence of impending breakthrough. Anyone who has done any truly deep, inner work knows that enlightenment cannot come without a whole shit-ton of pain and suffering. We also know that on the other, light side, when we get there, the effort was always worth it. My “Sh*tpile” post may be only the second or third I ever wrote on this blog:
Everybody has one. We inherit large parts of it from our parents, whose parents passed theirs down, etc. Life experiences add mass and odor as we grow up. It sits squarely in the middle of the house of our existence. For the most part, we simply live our lives around it, walking past every day, careful not to knock any pieces off. The surface gets dry and crusty; we grow accustomed to the smell. No big deal.
Once in a while, something moves us to start digging, like that sudden urge to clean out the closet. We quickly learn that sh*tpile insides stay fresh and painful, like unhealed wounds when scabs suddenly get torn off. Our eyes water, our senses are overwhelmed, and we want to escape, and fast. Maybe we avoid that room for a while, or we come back driving a tank to flatten the pile, to the destruction of other property.
Then last year I wrote about the poop flinging that happens when somebody else knocks off a piece of our shitpile, in “All Hail Your Dark Side”:
What triggers you?
I don’t mean your pet peeves (please, stop using “there’s” when speaking about anything in the plural). I mean what gets under your skin and affects you viscerally, really hijacks you? I’m talking about the thing that escalates you so fast or intensely it’s like an out of body experience—you know you’re overreacting, you know it’s irrational, and yet all you can do is sit by and watch it unfold, powerless to control or direct it.
I submit that we are at this moment, collectively, neck deep in our triggered societal shitpile. I’m thinking mostly about systemic American racism, but I also include our profoundly political, ideological, and cultural polarization. We’ got some serious reckoning to do, my peeps. How the hell did we get here, and how the f*** do we get out?
“What if this is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?” Valarie Kaur asks. What if this is exactly the Work we all need to do to reach that higher plane of human relationship? What if we are all called to participate—fully, both feet, deep end—with only one another as life preservers? Brené Brown calls it “Day 2,” the messy middle between realization and resolution, where the Reckoning, Rumbling, and Revolution happen. It’s the second act in Joseph Cambell’s hero story arc, after the hero has tried every way of avoiding, denying, deflecting, and averting the task, and finally resigns, and rises, to meet it. The gripping, tense, thrilling part of any story is this messy middle, the part we dread and relish at the same time.
In the Shitpile post I assert that we can use our life manure to cultivate a life garden that brings joy, fulfillment, and peace. I use the metaphor of wise gardeners and tools that we can recruit to make the Work easier and more meaningful. The pile is deep, pungent, and squishy in that way that creates a vacuum, sucking you further in every time you move, apparently impossible to escape. But we can do it. Look for help from people who already wield the most effective implements—Curiosity, Humility, Respect, Openness, Non-judgment, Kindness, Empathy, Self-Awareness, and Self-Control.
I present below my hardware store of other tools, accumulated to date, that help me relish ‘way more than dread. They inform, educate, challenge, and stimulate me. Along with my pit crew, these resources and practices give me the vital energy and strength, and really the joy, to pursue the hard conversations, to engage ‘the opposition,’ and to make a God. Damn. Difference. I hope at least some of it resonates with you. What else would you add to the store?
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Four Days to Change by Micheal Welp
How to Be and Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (still getting through this one—it’s the esoteric lecture)
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad (will revisit this one—it’s the life workbook)
But I Don’t See You as Asian by Bruce Reyes-Chow
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
Braver Angels—depolarizing America, one conversation at a time
Uprooting Inequity –Ayo Magwood—American history scholar teaches history of racism in America online. I’ve taken two of her classes and recommend them highly.
The Root—“The Blacker the Content the Sweeter the Truth”
The Dispatch—conservative news
All Sides—news from left, center, and right organized around topic/issue
David French, The French Press
The Concepts and Practices
Technical vs Adaptive Challenges and Change—Heifetz and Linsky
Asking truly Open, Honest Questions—Parker Palmer, Center for Courage and Renewal
Cone in the Box: Perspective taking—Judy Sorum Brown
Managing Polarities—Barry Johnson