Into the Fire of Social Reckoning

September 24, 2018

Fire rising from the belly
burning up the solar plexus 
hot blood pumping 
through the heart becoming 
bile that bubbles 
into the the throat 
either erupting 
through searing words 
or scalding face 
red with rage 
scorching with shame.

This is what change feels like. Through fire the life-force rises up and screams NO MORE. The mother feels the heat in her belly as she stands her ground, lays down a boundary. She feels the heat in her heart as compassion which assists her to hold the space for her toddler to thrash and push and bounce off of those boundaries. Fire ignites the will of the toddler to fight and to test and to find where the edges are. Fire creates the alchemical bond of lived love as mother arrives in her fierceness and child surrenders into embodied safety. 

Fire transmutes and transforms. Fire teaches us respect. 

We are in the midst of a societal reckoning. And it’s a beautiful, excruciating, glorious fucking mess. In case you’ve missed the news, for the first time in several thousand years, women aren’t putting up with the behaviors and social contracts that deemed us second class citizens. Yes, powerful men in powerful positions that have abused that power in inexcusable ways are being held accountable for the first time. This is the beginning of a time that is changing the course of human history and culture, it is nothing less than the beginning of a new era. Our grandchildren may not have to know what it is like to live these distortions of hierarchical power and privilege that we grew up thinking—that’s just the way it is. (If you are wondering how we got here in the first place, see my piece published on Medium on the social constructs of gender, How Darwin Ruined Dating.) Beyond the retribution that is finally happening for criminal acts of assault and harassment, many of us are becoming increasingly, and acutely, aware of all of the subtle energies at play—the insidious micro assaults on expression, will, choice and personal space. 

The business meeting that begins with a comment on your beautiful smile.

The unsolicited, nonconsensual, awkward touch on your shoulders, back, or thigh. 

The way in which you shrink to disappear from the eyes that objectify and consume you. 

The joke, that you laugh at out of discomfort, or horror, that is not funny and not really a joke but a gruesome reminder of who has permission, privilege and power and who does not. And further, who is blind to this permission, privilege and power and the way that it just diminished a gender, a culture, an ethnicity, a social class and the souls of everyone in the room. 

The ways in which you feel bad for not being nice

And then the ways you wake up to the costs of being nice and teaching your daughter to be nice. 

Being nice maintains the status quo. Being nice perpetuates rape culture in which we deny victims the transformative power of their anger and protect perpetrators from their shame. 

In this moment, we are changing this and it is just the beginning. 

Today Bill Cosby will receive sentencing, for his conviction in drugging and then raping an unconscious woman. This sentencing occurs in the context of a judicial system that does not have consistent laws and practices for sentencing. A judicial system that notoriously favors the rich and famous and has equal notoriety for disproportionately penalizing the working class and African-American men. (See the film 13th by Ava DuVernay and/or read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.) 

We also have a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, coming forth accusing supreme court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford previously accused Kavanaugh of attempted assault when they were in high school. We see the culture responding in both the old way and new way as we fumble through this post #MeToo unexplored territory. On one hand we hear government officials saying, that Ford should be heard and be allowed to testify—this is new. I don’t think this accusation would have received so much attention and credibility pre #MeToo and likely Ford would not have even considered speaking out in this earlier era. And yet, the old way bleeds through when in the same breath as certain officials say that Ford should be heard, they also say things to the effect that she is being used as a political pawn—which is inherently discrediting. Ford has also received death threats—remnants of the persecution women receive when speaking up. 

We are witnessing our historical narrative as it is being rewritten and we are remaking culture. This is not the time to fall asleep. This is not the time to freeze. This is the time to participate fully in your life and to wake up to the culture you were handed. This is not a story of powerful figures in Hollywood and the government abusing their power. This is a story of a culture built on colonization, scarcity, and religion that vilifies the body, woman, and the erotic. It is based on a belief system that says you have to take power from another in order to be powerful. This is a narrative dependent upon there being victims and abusers. We all have participated in this paradigm through our institutions and our most personal relationships. (See my blog on The Drama Triangle.) 

This moment is here for YOU and your remaking of this culture so that your grandchildren do not have to know the pain of separation and violence that we were indoctrinated to know as normal in our workplaces and in our love relationships. We have to face the fire and then step into it. We have to become OK with feeling really uncomfortable in order to midwife this transition. We have to become OK with not knowing. We have to listen and receive course corrections with humility. We have to look at how we are implicated. We have to rewrite our contracts and make new choices. We have to learn to live with that heat burning up our bodies as we have very uncomfortable conversations. We have to learn to say, I am sorry. And we have to remember everyone. 

If it took this long for wealthy, European-American women of privilege to speak up, what about the women that are in the service industry, living paycheck to paycheck? What about the women of color that clean your house, cook your food, that take care of your children. The women who are supporting extended families on minimum wage. What about the undocumented women. The women working in factories and on farms. The women whose exploited labor has both built and holds together this society. If our Hollywood royalty have been through horrific sexual abuse, what might these blatantly exploited women experience? And who is listening to or protecting them? 

Yes, the task at hand is daunting and overwhelming. It is also necessary and it is also happening. Last week we saw women walk-out of McDonalds to protest a hostile climate of sexual harassment in that company. This is a step in the right direction. Again this isn’t just a story about power dynamics between men and women it is about power dynamics that have oppression built in. As we untangle sexual violence we will inevitably be led to racial and economic inequity. 

So what can we do?

We have to stay awake. Our task is to live with incredible curiosity and to question all of the things we take for granted as being “just the way things are.” Our task is to build inner resiliency so that we can feel the grief and the rage and to be the very instruments that transmute that fire into a world that is safe for everyone. Our task is to say yes and step into this unprecedented opportunity to create this culture. Our task is to live with intention and to extend our concern beyond our immediate friends and family. And our task is to be kind, not nice. 

Our task is to slow down in the eye of the storm. To breathe consciously. To tend to our own trauma. And to practice mindfulness so that we can stay centered and become released from our habitual thinking—thoughts that are not ours but that have colonized our minds. (Here is a yoga practice that you can do to work with your erotic fire.)

Fire transmutes and transforms. Fire teaches us respect. Fire ignites the will. Fire purifies.