I’ve been thinking of you every day — of your heart, your spirit, and how you are navigating the unbearable realities right now.
I imagine that you, like me, are feeling deep grief and heartbreak over the devastating atrocities in Israel, Gaza, and now Lewiston Maine.
I am sending softness and support. I wish I could sit beside you — to listen to your story, to hear of the sorrow, fear, and uncertainty that may be on your heart — and to bear witness to your experience.
While I don’t have the right words or answers, nor does language alone in any way suffice — in this month’s letter I’m sharing some words and resources for your spirit that are helping me stay grounded and awake — sourced from voices who are leading with love, justice, belonging, historical context, and collective care and imagination.
It’s possible there may be something here that may not align with your beliefs or the needs of your heart right now. I’ve probably written over 40 drafts of this post, and while I do my best to say the truth as I see it, triple-check my sources, and think deeply about what use, if at all, I may be to you, I still may not get it right. I apologize in advance if anything here does not serve you or support you. And this is NOT a list telling you what to think, do, or feel.
My intention is to offer some kind of tenderness and hope.
On creativity, love, and hope
These words from Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg have become a guiding mantra for me:
“Do something — anything — in service of showing Love. That is how we reclaim our power.”
The first and most foundational quality of a creative life is choosing love and curiosity over fear and destruction. To me, this is what it means to center humanity. It’s the reason I get up in the morning and it’s the reason I believe in your creativity so deeply as an essential resource for building a more nonviolent world.
As a descendant of Quaker ancestors, and growing up in the Quaker tradition I have always been dedicated to a practice of nonviolence, but recently have felt this belief stirring and becoming more urgent.
The other foundational principles of creative life feel relevant right now too, which include choosing to commit to…
- the possibility of the unknown over the false promise of certainty
- a culture of trust over a culture of control
- courage over perfection
- what brings you alive over what makes you fit in
- radical imagination over the status quo
- to hold multiple truths over binary thinking
- love and curiosity over fear and destruction
- to stay hopeful when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard
To engage with these qualities of creativity is the practice of a lifetime. Never easy. All of them require you to listen more deeply, to loosen the grip, to be willing to open the gate of your heart when it wants to stay closed.
As a beloved reader of this letter, I know that you are someone who chooses these brave ways of being and seeing every day — probably 100s of times, and imperfectly, of course, because you’re a human — in your work, in your practice, in your relationships, in your parenting and caregiving — even when things feel impossible and terrifying.
I cherish this about you. And if you have not taken a moment to acknowledge this, I hope that you can hear me on this:
How you choose to see the world matters. Choosing to see the world through a lens of love, curiosity, hope, and possibility — especially in dark times — is an act of courage. And it’s essential for our co-creation of a more just and beautiful future.
But/and/also… when we are in crisis, experiencing collective grief and trauma or vicarious trauma, we very understandably may not have access to our capacity to see in this way. A most essential ah-ha in my work over the last decade is this:
Safety is one of the most important prerequisites to being able to access our creative spirit, voice, and power.
And so many in our human family are not safe right now.
If you are not feeling like you have access to your most creative parts right now, I hope you are holding yourself in deep compassion. Your heart is working overtime. I hope you can let me hold with you what feels unholdable, and offer you the capacity of my heart — both for our collective grief and to hold a space where love and hope can incubate, even in the dark.
Words and Resources:
1. As I mentioned, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s words and work have been a lighthouse. “These times are agonizing and horrifying,” she writes, but “we must keep the fires of the liberatory imagination burning.” This article on parenting and mothering as a frame for a peacemaking lens was deeply awakening, and also this one on the importance of holding multiple truths.
2. Dr. Thema Bryant is a psychologist and minister who helps us recover from trauma, and she offers daily prayers on her instagram which, for me, are an incredibly soft place to land. In this restorative conversation with Mel Robbins she talks about how to find the difficult balance between staying informed but not overly exposed, and how the amount of hours we spend listening to the news is not a measure of how much we care (this was something I really needed to hear). She poses a question that has been reverberating through my spirit:
How can I be a part of the solution?
3. My remarkable friend, artist, Jewish activist and host of the Mom Curious Podcast Daniella Rabanni shared this beautiful video of her Yiddish singing and I was moved to tears. I watched another video of Palestinian Doctors singing to signal they would not leave their patients. May we lift up the persistent, resilient voices of creativity and beauty. May we lift up the voices of everyone who, with mighty courage, and in spite of it all, continue to sing.
4. As a recovering perfectionist, I have to myself that our job is not to find the perfect way to help, support, or speak up when the world is breaking, but to do the next brave thing from wherever we are. The Social Change Ecosystem Framework, created by Deepa Ayer, is a helpful framework in to direct your energy (and release you from trying to do everything) based on your personal strengths and tendencies, in times of collective crisis.
May we each find our own way of responding to this moment. May we not let the violence of the moment infiltrate the culture of our hearts. Tenderness — both for ourselves and others is a radical act in the face of unspeakable violence and destruction.
5. I’ve been thinking so much about these words from writer Sarah Schulman in her recent article for NY Mag: “The most difficult challenge in our lives is to face our contributions to the systems that reproduce inequality and consequential cycles of violence. Every person has to face their own complicities, and we start this by listening to whoever is suffering. Even if it is by our own hand. It is this transcendence that can lead us all to a better place.”
Rabbi Sharon Borus talks about “stepping closer” when others are suffering as a “sacred responsibility.” This. Yes. This.
6. BUT/AND/ALSO — to do this — to accept the sacred responsibility of stepping closer to others in their suffering, we need to tend to our own resilience and capacity so we can be effective. All of you who have been working with me this year know that I have been studying the relationship between nervous system regulation and our ability to thrive creatively, and how deeply invested I am in understanding how this body of work can help all of us.
Breath, sound, laughter, movement, and tears are necessary to help us complete emotional stress cycles — it’s essential, not selfish, to practice care right now. Palestinian-American Psychologist and Poet Dr. Hala Alyan shared this necessary, beautiful thread on resetting and caring for your nervous system as an act of self and collective care. Dr. Alyan writes:
“The act of witnessing requires replenishment.”
7. “Practice the world as it could be” are words from Sikh activist, filmmaker, and civil rights lawyer Valarie Kaur that have changed my life. It reminds me of what Barak Obama recently wrote in his thoughts on Israel and Gaza, that we must “make the effort to model, in our own words and actions, the kind of world we want (our children) to inherit.” As much as this is how I want to live, I fail at it regularly. I think the only way we’ll move toward the progress we all crave is if we give ourselves permission to do it imperfectly.
Kaur writes, our “most powerful response to the horror in Israel and Palestine is to refuse to surrender our humanity,” and to this end, she offers an array of free resources on her Revolutionary Love learning hub that helps us put our nonviolent values into practice in our own lives. She writes:
“If you are falling apart: Your breathlessness is not a sign of your weakness, but of your strength. Of how deeply you feel the horror, how deeply you care. You still feel. And that matters in a world that wants us to feel nothing.”
8. “My dream is for the imperial and patriarchal war machine to be dismantled and replaced by a council of mothers and grandmothers from either side…It’s time to accept that the old way has failed us and humbly listen to the voices of the women and the mothers calling for peace, reconciliation, compromise, deep listening and forgiveness. Only with a radical shift in approach on both sides will we have any hope of our children inheriting a more just and peaceful world.” — Nat Kelly, Quechua Story-teller
9. A mantra for navigating right now from writer and teacher Sebene Selassi that I have been repeating every day since I heard it:
Listen. Stay in my heart.
10. “The children are always ours, every single one of them, all over the globe; and I am beginning to suspect that whoever is incapable of recognizing this may be incapable of morality.” — James Baldwin
To all of you who are Jewish, Israeli, and Palestinian, I am standing alongside you in deep sorrow and solidarity as you grieve the unforgivable atrocities, continue to endure trauma and violence that you never should have had to go through, and are forced to reckon with a world that is failing to recognize your humanity on devastating levels.
I stand for the protection, liberation, and deep value of every innocent human life. I stand for all children, the immediate, safe return of all of the captives, and an immediate end to violence, siege, and war against the defenseless civilians of Gaza. I stand against the unspeakable terrorism and astoundingly inhumane acts of Hamas, and the horrifying waves of Anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, and Anti-Arab racism that continue to ripple out here in America and all over the world.
I acknowledge and grieve the trauma that this will cause, in so many families and communities, for generations.
Every day my prayer is with the children, the captives, the parents, the grandparents, the pregnant women, the sisters, the brothers, the doctors, the friends, the partners, the peace activists, the helpers, the healers, the aunties, the uncles, the artists, the teachers, the cousins, the fathers, and the mothers whose hearts are broken open by violence.
Including those in Maine and the families coping with the devastating loss of their loved ones.
I pray for miracles, peace, and justice.
Here are 3 poems for right now:
For these things I weep, my eye, my eye runs down with water
For our children crying at nights,
For parents holding their children with despair and darkness in their hearts
For a gate that is closing, and who will open it before the day has ended?
And with my tears and prayers which I pray
And with the tears of all women who deeply feel the pain of these difficult days
I raise my hands to you, please God have mercy on us
Hear our voice that we shall not despair
That we shall see life in each other,
That we shall have mercy for each other,
That we shall have pity on each other,
That we shall hope for each other.
— An excerpt from A PRAYER OF THE MOTHERS FOR LIFE AND PEACE, by Rabbi Tamar Elad Appelbaum and Palestinian women’s advocate Sheikha Ibtisam Mahameed
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the stars’ stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
— REMEMBER, BY JOY HARJO
As you prepare your breakfast, think of others
(do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you conduct your wars, think of others
(do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others
(those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others
(do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others
(those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others
(those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself
(say: “If only I were a candle in the dark”).
— THINK OF OTHERS, by Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian poet
Peace begins with me
My son started a new school this year, and one of the first things that every student in the school learned is a mindfulness practice for peace. He came home excited to share it with me, only a few weeks before the horrific events of October 7th. I’ve been doing it every day since, usually through tears. I’m sharing it here in case it offers you any kind of inner space, or you might want to teach it to a young person in your life who needs support right now.
While the instructions guide you to use your hands, this mantra will be effective by gently contacting any part of your body that works for you, or simply by saying the words.
- Repeat the words Peace begins with me as you touch your thumb to your 4 fingers. One word for each touch.
- Touch your thumb to your forefinger and say ‘peace,’ your thumb to your middle finger and say ‘begins’, touch your thumb to your ring finger and say ‘with,’ and touch your thumb to your pinky and say ‘me.’
- You can do both hands at once or one at a time. You can say the words out loud or inside of your head— according to my son, the latter is the more advanced version but I personally like saying the words out loud.
Practice the world as it could be.
There is so much misinformation right now, but this list is one of the most comprehensive, vetted list of organizations helping civilians and children on the ground that I have found – I am giving to several of them in addition to contacting reps and continuing to better inform myself on the nuanced and complex history that got us here.
Here is a prayer from Rabbi Ruttenberg:
May all of the captives be returned swiftly and safely.
May no other innocent lives be lost. Not one more.
May there be an end to the bloodshed soon.
May this be the last moment of horror before the creation of a new, whole tomorrow for everyone.
May everyone be safe.
I am thinking of you and how we belong to each other. I am praying for miracles. I am carrying your heart in my heart.
In love and hope,
An immense thank you to Danielle Coke Balfour for sharing the artwork I shared in this post, you can view the original here.