Poetry, Healing, and Social Awakening
How art and trauma recovery led me to Social Change activism
I never knew language had died
while I lay in my solitary room.
This waking to the world in April
beckons me back from my tomb.
“Why do you write?” she asked. “What do you get out of it?” “We write because it is what gives us joy and mitigates our pain, it is what gives us breath”, we answered. “It changes the world within us, and by changing us it changes the world around us”. It seemed the most natural conversation to be having at 1 a.m. in the ER.
True art, writing — and penning poetry especially — is to rebel against what society, history, and community expect us to be. I have a large vocabulary but I write in small accessible words that come from my writing place, not the place of my academic achievement.
I was taught 45 years ago that good poetry, true poetry, was a moment caught in time, a single image, a single thought, a single emotion. But at the same time I was also studying Chaucer, who had written the most bawdy narratives in Canterbury Tales. And Shakespeare, whose rhyming raunchy plays were not the things of simple beauty I was told pretty poetry should be. Or Dante’s Inferno, fiery and detailed in its imagery. This definition was repeated to me at a UCLA Extension writers program in 2008 by someone who was teaching there only to sell his own collection of (really bad) poetry. Like any art, we know what bad poetry is when we see it. Like pornography.
Poetry is knowing devastation and still finding compassion for ourselves, knowing rejection and finding the core of our own truth so we are not dependent on others for the acknowledgment of our existence. The locus of my self-worth is within myself. Poetry is having enough abundance to share ourselves and make room for those in the same struggle as us. I love some fellow poets here on Medium, I am inspired by them. “Let us, you and I, collaborate on some written love to share with the world”, said I. She did not answer then, perhaps she is still mulling it over now.
When, many years ago, I had become resilient enough for radical acceptance of my own past, it felt the natural progression to question the past of others who had affected my life. Exploring their socio-economic realities, surmising their own abuses, researching their family dynamics gave me a clearer perspective of how they came to be as they were. This allowed the softening of my own heart and much greater compassion for them as human beings and not view them only as the monsters they had been in my life.
This questioning Why things happen as they do continues to inform the way I see other misbehaviors, be it racist policemen killing unarmed men, mass incarceration for profit, the murders of transgender persons by ignorant or misinformed perpetrators, or incompetent leaders debilitating social infrastructures both in this country as well as around the globe. I do not condone any of these actions, yet I can see how generational and societal trauma plays a part in the unwholesome ways these adults function. Even when it is motivated by other supplies like greed or hatred or blind following of others’ teachings, where does this greed or hatred originate? Most often it is the result of unknown or unacknowledged childhood traumas experienced by these (mostly) men who run the world, being born into, raised within, and surrounded by this groupthink that continues unexamined into their adulthood. This form of thinking and action becomes so ingrained that those practicing do not even question it.
Being on a path to healing is a prerequisite for making healthy connections with the world. A lot of people in pain never find others to receive support and community, much less find themselves. But people willing and able to face and resolve the effects of their own personal trauma with self-love often find their way to others who are following a similar path. I am cognizant that not everyone has the emotional, physical, mental or other resources to even begin this journey, much less conclude it. It took me a long time of being lost to learn to find myself.
When the desire to do good comes from “helping others” we have already done a disservice to ourselves, believing that we do not benefit from our own positive actions. There is nothing altruistic about altruism. We cannot teach from a place of presumed superiority. We can only share our journey, with compassion of our own past self and empathy with our listeners and readers.
If everything happening around the world feels too overwhelming in its pain and immensity, I work to keep just my own little corner of it (my pixel) healthy and happy, and the entire picture gains clarity. When the burden becomes too heavy to carry, we have to start setting it down. For me this has been the path of my journey to awaken. This may not necessarily be how others have experienced their road to liberation.
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. — The Talmud
Patriarchy and misogyny.
Sexism, ageism, ableism.
Racism and xenophobia.
Gender bias, classism.
Capitalism, that keeps this entire world turning by assigning value to human beings according to their socially assigned earning capability.
Each person must find their own corner of change to begin unraveling the unhealthy whole. If we do nothing else to help bring about change, we can at least support those who are on their path of activism to creating this change. Starting with self love and community empathy.
First we live in ignorance
blind to the pain around us
lounging in the luxury of our blindness
or so deafened by our own pain
that it drowns the wails that surround us.
Then somewhere within
opens a door, a dam breaks.
Rose colored glasses fall off,
myopic eyes begin to see
a world too agonizing to bear.
We languish in the pain,
too deadened to move
or thrash around for change
that is beyond the scope
of our still puny arms.
This takes up all the clocks
years, decades, lifetimes
spent in swimming upstream.
With no rest or respite in sight
Only the blighted arms of struggle.
The goal becomes for some
to find the strength to fight
still holding tight to knowing
there is joy after all
in living the fighting life.
Love is greater than hate.
Doing right betters doing easy.
Dancing shakes more walls
than weapons of war employ.
Always always choose joy.