On Grieving This Historic Moment
By: Tara E. Atherley, M.S.T., M.A. Psy, Doctoral Candidate, Depth Psychology with emphasis in Community, Liberation and Eco-Psychology
To those of us who are hurting from the shock of this traumatic moment in our human history, please know that it is okay, and necessary to grieve. For many of us, this is more than simply the shock of being on the losing team. For many, the outcome of this election is a sort of death. Not to say that we have died (we have not and we must remember this), but that this election’s outcome is for many, akin to the feeling of losing a person one loves deeply. That person is not necessarily the candidate we voted for, but the collective hopes and dreams we invested in her. Many now feel that these hopes and dreams are carcasses rotting in the desert at high noon. Though, for many our candidate was problematic, many felt that, with her at the helm of our ship, we might have at least stood a chance of staying afloat on the perilous ocean of our multiple oppressions. We hoped that we might have a chance to ride its waves, as we sailed towards the calm waters of a more just order.
Tragically however, the result of this fiasco, this reality TV show called the presidential elections (an aberration of our national image, our national core values, character, and constitutional responsibility which are imbedded in and carried by the image we have long held of ourselves as Americans), was for many the felt sense of being swallowed up by the crushing waves of tyrannical triumph. Many feel as they have been slammed to the ocean’s floor, with nothing left but small reserves of air in our lungs as we now try to make it back from the watery grave to the water’s surface, to exhale long held breaths and breathe again. Nevertheless, we must remember this: that our origin, our mothers’ wombs, are oceans. It is from salty bodies of waters that life emerges. Thus, we say that water is life! From our conception to the point of birth, our entrance into material reality, we know how to breathe under water. We are aquatic beings. Adaptability is our design. We too are amphibious in nature, traversing many worlds, material and spiritual. Whether the seas delight us with gentle breezes and ease, or whether they seek to consume us, we are one with all the waters that be, both around us and within us! It is our nature to weather the storms, for we are drops of water and entire oceans ourselves.
Now, in this moment of our history, the seas rage within us and around us. Many of us fear being drowned from within by the waters of deep, dark, murky emotions of fear and despair, at the promised obliteration of our pursuits of social justice and true democracy. Though we, through our ancestors, via epigenetics, have been here many times before, still, many of us could never have imagined the depravity we sense has come upon us, shredding our social fabric, leaving it thread bare. Some of us, however, those who know the secrets of Sankofa, were not surprised. Nevertheless, we can hardly breathe with the realization of our greatest fear: the nightmarish imagery of those touting fascist ideology co-opting our democratic process, deciding our political and social reality. This is a collective trauma for all!
We, on the disappointed and disillusioned side, know and feel the traumatic shock, knowing that something about our world and its trajectory has fundamentally changed. Those who think that they are winners, gloating in a deluded sense of having gained something, are those who, debased by and drunk on the intoxicating wine of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and every other ism, have won one thing and one thing only: a trip aboard the Titanic. The supposed victory is no victory at all. It is an elusive and empty promise granted by those who truly detest the bigoted masses. It is an all-expenses-paid vacation to a fantasy island that, in fact, is only a mirage, an apparition of white supremacy. They, the bigoted and deceived masses suffer from the illusion of inclusion. The impending dispelling of their illusion, though near, they cannot not yet fathom. Near it is nonetheless, for they too are used as wood for the fire when the purpose for which they were exploited, has been achieved by powers that be. We, who have weathered many storms, at least, know the true reality: that we, the people, los pueblos, have, once again been divided that we may be ruled by those unworthy of the authority they wield. However, having survived worse, we are consoled knowing that we are well seasoned as warriors of light. No weapon formed against us can and ever will prosper!
Nevertheless, let us remember prophet Maya Angelou’s declaration— “And STILL, we rise!” For, if we are trodden in the dust, we must remember that we are made of earth. We simply return to our collective higher self, to be re-formed and re-fashioned, as the mountains and the valleys after the devastation of earth’s quaking are reconfigured into new form and new ways of being. Our beingness is a river that continuously flows. We are, collectively, the fountain of eternal life. We are living waters. For as we converge into oneness, through love, our waters combine to form new oceans, that multiply exponentially. This is the fact of nature and humanity is not divorced from that, no matter how dissociated our conditioning can make us feel.
To weather this storm, we must remember who and what we are—one with the planet, our great mother, as well as one with all of the forces of the universe from which we were formed. Thus, when we know our true selves, beyond our individualistic or clannish self-interest, we know that neither the fires of hate, nor the shark infested waters into which we are cast boatless, nor attempts to contaminate and cut off our supply of air (the life force upon which voice delivers the contents of our thoughts as word) nor the destruction of the earth that nurtures us with bounties from her bosom, can eliminate our being! I am, that I am! For we as humanity, are a part of an infinite cycle of life perpetuating itself! Furthermore, while we strive, through our various modes, to come into this awareness of our omnipotence as rightful heirs of this planetary system, let us TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES AND EACH OTHER!
Let us acknowledge that we grieve, and allow ourselves and each other to go through the stages of grief in our own ways. Also, let us remember that what we grieve is not the fear of impending doom, but the loss of the illusion that kept us in blissful ignorance of the demise that awaited us. Today, all of us must shed the illusion that any one of us can sit idly by in complacency while oppression is enacted upon the bodies and psyches of “the other”. We must dispel the myth, the lie that isolation preserves and protects the isolated. We must recognize, admit and come to terms with the FACT that the oppression of the other cannot be detached from one’s own self-interest.
The treatment of blacks historically in this society and globally, has always been the litmus test of global oppression. If it can be done to us today, the wretched of the earth, with little to no opposition from the masses, it will be done to the masses tomorrow by those who did it to us.
Thus, our (blacks’) fate at a people, determines “our” (the collective’s) fate as a People. Now, the whole world sits in tension and suspense, breathing shallowly and barely, as fight or flight mechanism kicks in in response to the fear that spreads like hurricane clouds, obscuring the light of hope. For, this is more than a national issue. We have long arrived at the era of a globalized society. What happens here is of global proportion. In this regard, mostly all lives are concerned with how their worlds will be transformed as the the lamb unmasks itself and reveals the face of the dreaded dragon that has scorched the bodies and institutions of blacks for centuries. This dragon now threatens to breathe fires of nuclear proportion onto all of existence on this earth plane. Since we are a global community, united through our global economy dominated by the American empire, we must face our dragon. We must face ourselves.
Many with citizenship in other lands speak of returning to their countries of origin, forgetting that we, diverse peoples of this world, are tangled together in one massive web, via homogenized culture, economy and technology. The tentacles of oppression have reached every corner, nook and cranny of our world, as it seeks to extend beyond planetary limits. There is no where to run, and no where to hide! We did not read the writing on the wall. We ignored the voices of our prophets because they came as paupers rather than as princes. Now, we’re all in this shit together, as in fact, we have always been! And though putrid and potentially toxic, shit also offers the possibility of fertility. Either we cling to that which is degraded, the hopes and ways of yesterday that keep finding themselves in our todays, or we plant new seeds in the fertile soil of the ground upon which we now stand.
Thus, let the seeds we plant be the seeds of self-knowledge, not only the singular, individual self, but the plural collective self. What does it mean to be a human family, emanating from one mother’s womb? How can we come into relation with our estranged brothers and sisters, those who we call legitimate and those we bastardize? The rupture of the human family is the breach that we must repair, for it is the source of the knowledge of our true selves as a human organism, consisted by us all. It’s knowledge, is the source of our collective power, the unifying principle that so often eludes us in our denial of our one common root. Everything else springing from tribal consciousness has been a denial of the whole that is constituted by us all, along with every other form of life, planetary and beyond. Let us know ourselves on every level of our being. Let us learn and teach ways to soothe the troubled self, to calm our amygdalae, the control center of our emotions. For, while in fight or flight mode, we are temporarily cut off from access to our executive brain functions, our higher ordered thinking and our problem-solving capacity. Only when these two, the emotional and the rational centers of our brains, are in communication and relation can we forge constructive actions and recover what feels lost within us—our sense of personal and collective power. While flooded by fear-based emotions, a loop of fear cycles through our psyches and somas, repetitiously. This is so until we have grieved enough to relax again into the confidence that we have the inner and collective wisdom to face any fear that threatens our existence and our right thereto. Let us shift from questions of how we will fight the other, though fight we must, since, as prophet Frederick Douglass (one who defied all conditions of enslavement, corporal and psychological, to exist as a free being) assured us that “power concedes nothing without a demand”. Let us decide, in little and not-so-little ways, to direct our individual and collective will towards making efforts to heal our divides and to learn to love each other, in the spirit of humanity, in the spirit of existence.
We can and we will over come this and all else that lay ahead of us. Prophet Sam Cook foretold that, “Change gon’ come!” However, that change that we strive so hard to effect through the electoral process must happen first in our hearts, our minds, our beliefs, our attitudes and feelings towards those who do not look like us, and those whose ways of being we cannot yet understand. We did not lose this election because they were stronger. From the gate, their hatred and fear of a changing America, evidences weakness, fragility and poor ego structure.
Nevertheless, we lost (this battle, though the war still wages) because, what we want to change in the other, in those upon whom we project the evils of bigotry and greed, is something that inhabits us as well, no matter how “woke” we believe ourselves to be. This common thread between us and them, the fear of the other and the shortage of concern for the other, gave hate its momentary rise, that we mistake to be its victory. This failure to love our neighbors as we love our selves (perhaps because we have yet to learn how to love ourselves, to undo our conditioning) is something that we must monitor within ourselves. For, the truth, as revealed in this election is, that if blacks’ lives do not matter, the quality of all lives is diminished. The failure of those who, through power of pen and of collective voice could have chosen to enact and enforce policies and laws that would affirm the value and worth of blacks as citizens and as living organisms on a planet that gave birth to us too, refused to hear our cry. This was a failure of humanity. For in sanctioning policies and actions that denied us our right to be, they allowed the forces committed to our destruction, to grow to now threaten all lives and humanity as a whole. Thus, in order to continuously refuse to hear our cry, they must detach from the feeling part of their humanity, in zombie like fashion. Thus, they function as the living dead, expanding death in each oppressive action the take to see reproduced only their image and likeness.
Nevertheless, we must hold the light of hope by deciding and committing to let peace live, not in but as each of us. We can achieve this in how we strive to love ourselves and in how we strive to love each other, recognizing always the principle of Ubuntu—I am because you are! Strive is the key word here, for only practice leads to mastery. Let us grieve as we must, that we may cleanse our psyches from the fear-based rhetoric that infests, infects, and erodes positive emotions, one of our greatest sources of power. The death and abandonment of the fear-based dream, the dream that led us to believe that evil was our only option (whether we saw it as greater or lesser evil), can create a renewed womb-space in which to conceive of and birth a new dream, a dream of faith, hope and love. This can only be achieved by allowing and supporting everyone’s right to be, no matter how we feel about their way of being, no matter what our faiths and cultures tell us about who is unworthy of existence. Like prophet Bob Marley sang, “when the rain falls, it don’t fall on one [person’s] house top.” Love, as my late uncle shared with me as final words before departing into the swamp waters that swallowed him, transporting him to ancestral realms, “Love is respecting another’s right to choose.”
Let us learn to respect others’ choosings, while rooting our choices in the soil of unconditional positive regard. For, vitriol is vitriol, no matter in what name it is spewed. Let us not be poisoned by vitriolic fear but be empowered by knowing that, no matter the extent to which fear is enacted, sanctioned, and perpetuated through legislation, or channeled through the portals of our technological devices, we can still choose to create a new world. We can build the foundations of this new world amongst our families, with our friends, in our local communities, and across the boundaries of race, culture, age, sexualities, gender, ability, nationality, faith and creed. We can hold in light those who are behind the wall, the unduly and duly convicted, as they suffer ostracism from a world whose corruption and injustice contributed to their psychoses. Rather than commiserate and fear-monger (though anger is allowed and necessary to the grieving process, so long as one does not remain stuck there), let’s come together and form council circles to process our emotional reactions to the shock whose silver lining is our call to come together in action. Let’s make art, in all forms, to alchemically materialize images of a new world based on the principles of inclusion and mutual respect. For when we hurt the most, we must turn our attention to beauty. It is in expressing beauty that our longing for that which we seek is fulfilled. Let us be unafraid as we stand undaunted, in the face of worse-case-scenario to do the social and political work that is needed to survive the attacks that we know will come from those who are in lust with a past that has long died. Though they think to turn the hands of the clock back to the days of their romantic delusion, as Kahlil Gibran reminded us, “life moves not backwards, nor tarries with yesterday.” We cannot and will not go back to ways of old. Thus, we press on to realize our vision in the face of opposition, knowing the power of our vision to liberate psyches trapped in fear and division.
This nightmare many of us are living began too as the oppressor’s dream. None us could see it coming because we believed so much in our dream (or perhaps fantasy), that it could never come to this. But the one who was elected, saw this long range, and prepared diligently, fortified by confidence in his dream which has now come to be. He faked it until he made it and his conviction the ethos that drives him manifested into form. He is living his dream, the cost of which we bear. Now, we must have even more conviction in our own dream for an equitable and just world! Let’s begin to envision that which we wish to be! For actions, all actions are birthed from the seeds of imagination. That which we out-picture through our yearnings and our strivings becomes our reality. Faith (beliefs and convictions) and works (our behaviors and actions) create our worlds.
The one source of our origin as living beings gave birth to us all on this physical plane in diverse forms. Diversity is nature’s design, its creative expression of its eternality and originality. Diversity is nature’s impulse, its intention, its purpose. Thus, diversity is its only trajectory, in spite of our fear that homogeneity and hegemony may have prevailed. That which feeds upon itself cannot last for long. Thus people, fear not! Fear not those who cannot make us, for, neither can they break us. History is all the proof we need to be assured that, after the fires reduce life to its lowest denominator, to ashes and particles of dust, new life bursts forth from within the great mother’s belly. She is always pregnant with new life and we are her seeds, spread across her fertile soils, rooted in our oneness with her. Though in flesh we suffer as we encounter and move through the density of oppression, we must remember that our true being, our eternal souls lay enshrouded and protected from the effects of this world, beyond the reaches of hatred, fear and inhumanity. This is why healing is possible. We die to be reborn into truer, clearer versions of our selves. As prophet Kahlil Gibran told, “Pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses our understanding.” Though we do not ascribe virtue to our suffering, for there is nothing good about oppression, we affirm that good is always available to us, even when living through oppressive circumstances. The resiliency of the human spirit is well documented in the lives of those who, not only survived, but thrived through oppression. We are the infinite potential of nature manifested in human form. We must live on and work on, striving always as we learn how to, as my grandmother used to say, “live and let live!” Let us move through the stages of grief, into the fullness of our power as change agents. As we forge still towards the unknown, the mysteries of our many tomorrows, may we affirm as often as we need to for our sanity and for the sake of our planet and all of its inhabitants, “Peace lives as [YOUR NAME HERE]”!