The Living Well

“Living well is the best revenge” – attributed to George Herbert, but apparently it was already old in the 1600s

I received a missive earlier in the week about connecting with our sexual energy in the face of the (frankly awful) situations in the world. The people we are angry at do not suffer because we deny ourselves pleasure and connection… we do. And I thought, “Yeah. That’s true. Orgasms all ’round. They hate that.”

As I lay in bed this morning, I came up with a whole list of other things that “they” hate, including vegetables (especially served in a vegan meal), drum circles, yoga, meditation, chai lattes, potluck suppers, permaculture, weird hair, co-ops, collectives, and anything fairtrade or organic.

They would also really hate me if they knew me, even though I look enough like “them” that they wouldn’t be able to tell at first glance.

Picture of Batty from the movie Fern Gully

Then I stopped myself. “Oh, but they love it when I think ‘us and they’. That plays right into ‘their’ hands.” (1) I fretted about that briefly, and thought, “Also, revenge is a lousy motivation.”

In the face of looming catastrophe, in the midst of conversations that come down to the question of, “How bad does it have to get before we can use the word ‘fascism’,” I carried on with my day, secretly plotting disruption through joy.

Because I also realized something important, lying there considering the possibility of revenge through orgasm – so many of the things on the list are what I like to think of as the “living well”: the energy that sustains life-itself. We need to do the things that give us joy, lead us to connection, and bring us into harmony with our surroundings and our communities. When we deprive ourselves, thinking that they are frivolous, we are cut off from our sources of support.

We can’t be effective when we are depressed and anxious, fearful and furtive. We need (actually need) affection and relationships, laughter and good food, fresh air and regular infusions of water. We need moments of levity, and tastes that remind us that we are alive and can experience pleasure. We can sustain ourselves for long periods without those things, but if you look back at that whole Maslow’s hierarchy thing… he never said, “This physical security on the bottom rung is a need, and all those other things are nice to have, if you can get there.” No. These are how we become whole, through belonging, and meaning, and connection, and beauty, and sharing our gifts.

And it is needed most when the social fabric is under threat. Because the secret of the living well is that it is replenished as it replenishes. We put ourselves into community and our community is strengthened. We reach our hands out to one another and the ties that bind become stronger.

We have been offered mediocre counterfeits, and told that they are all that exists. Sex in lieu of intimacy, money to stand in for security, prestige in place of the luxurious wealth of deep beauty and the time to appreciate it, and fame and power, oh, power, instead of connection and community.

The Living Well is abundant. It is the essence of abundance, for it is what becomes possible when we stop competing and start cooperating. It is what happens when we acknowledge our life force and our mortality, and our kindredness with all those who share it (the green ones, and the crawling ones, and the ones who fly, and the ones who swim, and the ones we haven’t even imagined yet). And it is deeply empowering, this Living Well, because it gives us something precious, something sacred, something that we can protect, that will protect us in turn.

And suddenly the need for revenge seems pale by comparison. This Living Well is the best Refuge. It is the nourishment (and joy) that sustains us in dark times. It is the stuff we are made of. Don’t hold yourself apart from it.

Drink deep.


  1. I will acknowledge the problematic nature of my “us” and “them” narrative on the cosmic scale, but on the day-to-day scale, there are neo-Nazis working openly in the U.S. and I am picking a place to stand that firmly allows the possibility of being “over here” rather than “over there.” There is no barrier that prevents somebody from coming “over here.” The space only exists in the mindscape.

When Things Fall Apart

I think it is safe to say that, for many of us, the world is not as (we hoped) it was before the U.S. election. And yes, it feels like something is falling apart. Our hopes, our sense of safety, our expectations of the future… all of these are up in the air, and our imaginations are bringing them to earth in one catastrophic configuration after another. I know I’ve been lying awake imagining disaster for weeks – and I’m not even American.

As small people in a big world, we are probably finding ourselves overwhelmed, exhausted, scared, and disillusioned.

 

Here’s a key: disillusioned, as awful as it feels, is a good thing to be.

We thought we were going to live in a particular kind of world, and now we don’t know what comes next. We fear for our lives, and our physical safety, for our neighbours, for the future of the environment and basic human rights, and we fear who will be holding the codes for the nuclear weapons. We have prognostications, but we genuinely. don’t. know.

And we don’t know what to do.

Move? Stay and “fight”? Stockpile food? Move to a cabin in the woods? Or an island in the Pacific? Plan for the refugees? Put our bodies on the line? Wear a safety pin, or maybe a paper clip? Write a blog post? Hope everything is going to be OK if we just love one another enough? Cocoon? (I have considered all of these at five in the morning over the last couple of weeks.)

The one thing I know won’t work is, “panic.”

 

Pema Chodron wrote an entire book titled “When Things Fall Apart” (subtitled, “Heart Advice for Difficult Times.”) It is beautiful, and challenging, and difficult to read. I remember trying it before I had taken any meditation classes, and it all seemed so beyond my comprehension: “Let go? What does she mean let go?” I also remember that it made me angry. But it got me started on this path, and I’ve returned to it several times, because it is a situation that arises in our lives over and over again. Usually the disintegration (and I use that word carefully) is more mundane. Our relationships, our jobs, our houses, our bodies – all things fall apart, given enough time.

Let me repeat that: all things fall apart.

Our sense of stability was never grounded in reality. Whatever our situation, it was never going to be permanent.

Wait! Don’t despair! That means that this isn’t, either! (Whatever this is.)

I don’t mean “don’t fear.” I also don’t mean, “don’t grieve.” I mean that the grief doesn’t have to consume you. You are not your fear; you are experiencing it. It is like the weather, which you can prepare for and cope with. You can put on your oxygen masks to deal with these difficult emotions, and it may be as literal as breathing.

So right now, take a breath. Feel your feet on the ground, your body in space. Find One Good Thing to connect with, whether that is a kitten, a fuzzy blanket, a cup of coffee, or the presence of a sunbeam in your bedroom.

When things fall apart, acknowledge it. Rage. Grieve. Do what you need to do. But please don’t go with them, or we’ll never be able to put them back together again.

The word "Love" coming out of a smart phone

 

to you all. I’ll be over here, breathing.

Tuesday Tuneup #3 – Just breathe

Sometimes, all you can do is take a breath. But if you give yourself that moment, that breath… other things become possible. Like remembering the name of your website.