Stay In The Gray

Showing Up with a Broken Heart

I am grieving with many other people in this world for the constant, manufactured, and preventable loss of life that we are all witnessing. There is a genocide unfolding in occupied Palestine! We are all bearing witness to the current tsunami of devastation it is leaving in its wake, and we will continue to feel the lingering intergenerational ripples for many, many years to come. How can anyone’s heart be whole, and how can anyone feel “okay” and grounded in the face of such vile atrocities? 

Palestinian lives matter! This is a complete, whole, standalone statement. It does not require qualifiers; it does not require defence by complex intellectual or pseudo intellectual geo-political arguments. It does not require PhDs in global affairs or international policy. It is a simple fact! All that is required to wholeheartedly believe this fact is, empathy! Empathy, and a belief in the dignity, value, and preciousness of all human life. All that is needed to embrace this reality is a resolute internalization of the belief that we are all united in our humanness. We are all one! 

If you are tempted to reject this notion, or if a feeling of discomfort washes over you as you read this simple statement, I would invite you to get curious about the defensiveness you are holding in your mind, body, and heart. When you hear Palestinian lives matter, are you interpreting this as a comparative statement, or a de-valuing of another’s pain and suffering? Are you hearing that people do not hold unique identities and their individual lived histories do not matter? Or are you hearing, what I believe to be a deep truth, there is nothing more important than the thread of humanity and compassion that unites us all as? Palestinian lives are just as valuable as the lives of all other humans on this planet. Every single person holds intrinsic worth as a human, and this fact deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated for all peoples, not just some- not just for those whose lives, beliefs, and expressions most closely resemble our own. 

I gently invite you to challenge the idea of viewing most things from a place of comparison and competition. This is a manufactured construct that Capitalism constantly perpetuates because it helps us maintain the status quo. It helps us maintain the lie that our hearts are not elastic and all encompassing, and that they have room for only one priority, and that priority is individualism.    

In the West, this concept of individualism is often celebrated and encouraged. We are taught to privilege personal comfort over many other values. Often times, we are taught versions of self-care that are devoid of community and connection, and that are grounded in isolation and hyper individualism. We are trained to look away when things become uncomfortable because we are told that nothing is more important than our own sense of self and our own personal comforts. Turning away is often conflated with tuning inward. These do not strike me as the same. 

To tune inward is to realize that we need the most expansive versions of one another to thrive in harmony as a global community. To tune inward is to recognize the light, ingenuity, kindness, and uniqueness of others. Tuning inward is staying connected to all of your layers and allowing them to bubble to the surface. It is the recognition that connection is sacred and nurturing. Tuning inward is love, grief, connection, rage, softness, and all the layers of human emotion and experience channelled and expressed individually and through community. Tuning inward is the knowing that we need to show up in our fullness and hold space for others to do the same. It is knowing that we are all better off when we are well cared for and loved, and when we have our needs met. 

Turning away is akin to a hibernating heart. It is a numbness that overwhelms your senses, and it is often coupled with a message of fragility that attempts to undermine your capacity. Perhaps the message is, your heart is too soft to witness atrocity. Perhaps it says, you are allowed to safeguard your mental health and feelings above all else. Or, maybe it is a hopeless message of disempowerment that tells you, you hold no power and you have no say in the way of the world. I am gently inviting you to challenge the notion that to feel is to fall apart! 

To feel is to connect. Sometimes that means unraveling, yes, but unraveling in light of truth can open up space for you to see the world and yourself in a more vibrant, less fragile, more empowered way. Maybe it’s okay for us to fall apart together, and to take turns uplifting one another. What is the alternative? Living in disconnected ways that alienate us from self and others; ignoring the pain of others because it is easier to look away? Perhaps you are thinking, this is an unfair characterization of individualism. If that is coming up for you, I would gently invite you to tune inward and ask yourself who benefits from this type of turning away from another’s suffering and pain? 

Over the years, I have had the privilege of meeting a lot of people from very diverse backgrounds, and one of the things I often notice about connecting with folks who operate from more individualistic lenses is how deeply moved they often feel to receive the type of love that is grounded in collectivist values. I have witnessed the awe and surprise wash over peoples’ faces as they have been held by community. I have heard people express their bewilderment at being received with such openness and love, and I have witnessed them sink into the softest, most vulnerable versions of themselves in the presence of collectivist love. 

Powerful colonial systems of oppression do not want us to unite in our struggles and joys! It benefits these broken systems of capitalism and colonialism to keep us divided, and invested in the stark “differences” of our experiences. 

I do not think our oppressions are distinct. I believe our oppressions are as interconnected as our humanity. The fight against Antisemitism, is the fight against Apartheid, misogyny, Anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, Anti-Indigenous rhetoric, hegemony, and the fight against all other forms of violence and oppression. There is only one fight! The fight to safeguard humanity, hope, and dignity for all humans! This may sound trite and simplistic, but some truths are, in fact, very simple! We are all entitled to all that is good, safe, soft, and secure. We all deserve to choose our life journey knowing that we will be respected, honoured, and protected from physical, psychological, sexual, and emotional traumas. 

This is what many people are striving for. This level of collective liberation will not be easily attained, and as we fight for a more equitable version of humanity we are not always going to be okay. It is okay, human, and adaptive to not be okay right now. 

If you are are feeling angry, you have every right to hold onto the rage and outrage that is bubbling up inside you. Anger comes up for us when something is wrong. The genocide that is is being inflicted upon the Palestinians is unjustified and wrong! If you are feeling incredibly dysregulated; if you find yourself distracted and unable to concentrate, or if you find it hard to stay focused and to follow through with tasks, assignments, work, or studying, know that you are responding in a human way to inhumane violations. It makes perfect sense! How can you be focused when you know of the atrocities that are being committed by global colonial powers? It would be impossible to expect anything other than distress at a time like this. It would also be unkind to you and to your heart to expect from it anything less than expansive compassion; you cannot ask your heart to betray its own softness. Softness is your heart’s home.

As the compassionate voices of the people of world unite in solidarity with Palestine and Palestinians, I would gently invite you to reimagine the idea of self-care and community care as co-existing parallel processes. They cannot exist in isolation, just as humans cannot exist in adaptive ways without community. The fight for human liberation is a perpetual and long-term one. We all, especially those of us who are privileged enough to be safe and secure (on many levels), need to keep advocating for Palestinians and any peoples who are being brutalized. To do this, we need to ensure that we are here for long-term activism and advocacy. In order for that to happen, we need to make certain that we don’t quickly deplete our resources and fall into a pit of apathy and numbness. This is exactly what these broken power structures push us toward. 

So, instead of disengaging with your pain and the pain of your fellow humans, perhaps you can try weaving nourishing activities into your daily life and daily activism; activities that allow you to be attuned to yourself, your feelings, and the pain and suffering of others.

Here are some things that I often find helpful. Please take what fits, if anything, and leave the rest. I would gently invite you to create your own approach to intertwined self and community care from one holistic lens that allows for self and community to co-exist in the same realm. 

Listen to music, read books that help you expand your heart and mind, and connect with people and talk about your feelings and the pain that you are holding. Cry. Check up on Palestinian friends. Get some anger out through any type of movement/expression that allows you to channel this anger. Connect with Palestinian joy. Protest ( in all its forms). Hope. Learn about the beautiful cultures of this world. Connect with the many voices who want liberation for all. Write to your MPs and demand a Ceasefire. Connect with music and art- these can be powerful forms of resistance and hope. 

I gently invite you to do things that help you recharge- knowing that you are likely not going to be fully okay. You are a caring person with a gentle heart who cannot feel grounded when your fellow humans are in pain. Perhaps this type of care can support us to feel held by our own strengths and resources. Perhaps it will allow for wholehearted connection with self that is different from the constant cycle of numbing and avoidance followed by reactive performative activism that is often perpetuated by individualism. The type, I am certain, I have also engaged in, and try actively to work away from. 

Caring for your community is a form of caring for yourself. It is honouring the truth of your kindness, and it is living from your authenticity and in congruence with your heart. If we stay connected to our hearts, to each other and to our collective pain, we may discover a less binary, more flexible way of moving through the world where we build resistance into everyday living. I hope we can all continue showing up for one another and for our global community with fierce resiliency and dedication even when our hearts are broken and wounded.       

As the Iranian poet Saadi once wrote:

Human beings are members of a whole,

In creation of one essence and soul.

If one member is afflicted with pain, 

Other members uneasy will remain.

If you have no sympathy for human pain,

The name of human you cannot retain