Intentions For Dark Times

A few months ago, after the attacks in Paris I wrote a blog post called "How I Cope When The World's Fucked Up." And lo, how little things have changed! In fact, it seems doomsday is even more neigh than ever, what with the RNC circus/ Hell's Mouth yawning open before us, spewing sulfur into the air. Two nights ago I couldn't sleep and was awake talking to my partner in bed. "Which is more horrific and evil," I asked, "Shooting an unarmed black man lying on the ground with his hands in the air who was trying to help his autistic patient, or bombing and killing 32 children in Syria?"

There is no way to answer this question, of course, because horror is not quantifiable. What do we do in this kind of political climate? How do we stay sane in the midst of overwhelming ignorance, bigotry, and rising sea levels? What do we do with the feeling that we can't actually change things? The question I am really asking, of course, is how do we become a light in times of darkness and not let the dark overwhelm us?

I have scoured books and the internet for answers to these questions, but of course they don't exist, because no one knows. If we knew, there would be no problem. So once again I've had to write my own list. This is mostly for myself, to calm myself, but maybe it will be helpful for you, too.

1) Keep doing the thing you love to do that only you love to do

I study Japanese. I have a Japanese tutor come to my house every week, and next year I'm starting a Master's program in East Asian Studies, where I'll study even more Japanese. Why do I do this? Do I think studying Japanese and Buddhist texts will save the world? No. Or, hell if I know. But it's something that's unique to me. It's a skill and interest I have that not a lot of other people have. I also really like tea ceremony, dum sum, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and snuggling.

Dictatorships and massive programs of social control thrive on fear of humanity, on fear of difference, and so it feels important for me to assert my unique humanity and encourage others to do the same. Keep doing your stained glass, or your weird baking projects, or writing that novel. Affirming our individuality connects us to humanity and makes us more fully human.

2) Read

I consume a lot of internet content, but this isn't the same thing as sitting down in a chair and reading one book for several hours or days. I'm going to try to read more-- real books, or at least a full book downloaded to a tablet, and I'm going to try to concentrate on one work at a time instead of bouncing around between windows, clicking on random stories. It's important to read novels. Full-length non-fiction books. Short stories. Poems. Studies have shown that reading novels increases empathy, and empathy is one of the strongest weapons we have against dehumanization.

It's also more important than ever to be able to think critically and independently. My Spanish teacher in college, Joanna, was an old, fiery woman who had been jailed during the Spanish revolution. She told our class that what kept her sane in prison was reciting old poems in her head, and so she made us memorize many poems in Spanish. "They could break my body," she told us, "But they could never break my mind, because my mind was free."

3) Love who you love as much as you can

I'm not going to wax poetic about this one, but you know what I mean. Also, learn how to apologize. That skill will get you far in life.

4) Speak up when people are hurting others

One of the speakers at the Black Lives Matter protest I attended last week said, "You do not have to be a great, revolutionary person to do great, revolutionary action." There are many ways to stand up for what is good and humane. I'm personally very upset by police brutality right now, and so it feels important to actually do things. Whether it's donating money, attending a workshop, writing your senator or your representative, there are plenty of small and simple things to do.

In daily life, at our work and in our families, we can shine the light on delusion and encourage people to show up as there best selves. This is an act of love for others.

5) Meditate and be silent, away from the internet

I read a quote recently that said, "We are drowning in information and starving for wisdom." I've been feeling this very intensely in the last months, that there is too much information and not enough truth. This is why silence is even more important now. Silence is the mother of truth, as they say.

6) Stay sane, but don't check out

One of my favorite quotes by William Faulkner (writing in 1950!!) is this. In fact, I recommend the whole speech, but here is an excerpt:

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

None of the death and ignorance going on around us is new. Human beings are messy and we have to be in touch with the pain and mess in order to be in touch with the joy and connectedness that also is our birthright. There is no way to experience only sadness or only joy. It helps me when I remember that it is the nature of the human heart to be in conflict, that both internal and external conflicts are signs of a shared humanity.

6) When all else fails, humor.

I've watched this video about seven times in the last two days ("yaaaaaas queen" is an expression used mostly by young, queer, people of color).

Thanks for reading, I'm going to go read a book outside. What books are you reading?


  1. Thank you for this writing. I have been thinking a lot about the same topic lately-how to cope with all this happening around us. I came to very similar conclusions: trying to stay peaceful inside, continue doing what I love (for me it is photography and studying photography), staying open and emphatic. I will share your post also on my fb-profile. I think it will be very useful for many of my friends as well. I will save this post in my bookmarks. Thank you once more

  2. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
    in gassho,

  3. Thank You,
    I'm not as worried about the world as others are right now. A family tragedy has usurped thought and concern. My heart and mind wrestle with that.
    I have returned recently to reading Ulysses by James Joyce. I've been working on it for 11 years, now with a guide I continue.
    Being conscious of too much internet time is important. It has a the same effect on me as drugs and alcohol.



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