The half-life of my courage can be short. I need small, consistent boosts of inspiration. Poems work well! –Dale Biron
For many friends and loved ones, this is a time of deep cultural anxiety. There is a feeling that this time it’s more than simply partisan bickering, but that the fabric of our very democracy is tearing and threatened. Many say it is no longer enough to simply watch the news and vote. It seems the time to act is now.
In fact, having been in New Zealand for nearly a month over the holidays, I felt an abrupt shock as we reentered the force field of current American politics. Of course, not that New Zealanders are anxiety-free regarding our situation, but at least their concerns are buffered by the great expanse of the Pacific.
Which brings me to why I’m writing. Of course, things look pretty dismal right now. I think even those who wanted change, didn’t quite bargain for this. But let me say despite the current gloominess, things are going to be OK. More to the point, I want to prove to you right now just how strong and ready for this challenge you really are.
All who know me know that I love and use poetry in every nook and cranny of my work and personal life. I teach poetry-based classes at the university. I use poetry to expose counter-intuitive lessons about life and leadership in business and community conferences. I pass out useful poems in schools, corporations, and non-profits alike. Of course, naturally, I’m going to lean on poetry again here.
But first, in addition to poetry, I have two other tools that we need to add in order to round out our troubled times toolkit. The first are ideas and moves borrowed from the martial art of Aikido. The second is paradoxical gratitude. Let me explain.
I’ve studied and practiced Aikido for many years. Quite simply, Aikido is the practice of resolving conflict without fighting or running away. It is neither aggressive nor passive; rather its goal is to resolve conflict without resorting to aggression and force. If anyone, the attacker or attacked is hurt… the Aikido has failed.
One of the most poetic things the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba ever said was: “He who has the mind to fight, has already lost.” This is, when we are kidnapped by our anger, we are no longer aware, centered or ultimately effective. Staying calm in a charged political environment is one tall order. Think being the change you want to see. Think neither fighting nor running, but rather standing in the fire until resolved.
Is this easy to pull off? Of course not! But it really does work and with a little practice you can do it. Next, lets talk about the power of paradoxical gratitude.
By now, hundreds of my clients, audience members, and workshop participants have shared with me what I call their stories of paradoxical gratitude. These are stories about hard and difficult times and experiences in our lives. Quite simply, these are events and happenings that by definition are painful and that we would, of course never have wished on ourselves.
For example, stories of losing friends, family, and other loved ones. Stories of lost jobs, homes and failed companies. Stories of illness, bad luck and yes, stories of political upheaval, dysfunction, and cultural challenges.
And yet, at the same time in a deeply mysterious and yes, paradoxical way we can also not imagine who we would be, had we not had to face and grow to meet our difficult or even tragic event with courage, compassion, and determination.
Of course, we all have painful and difficult stories. We have all had to deal with some level of tragedy in our lives and grow in ways we could never have imagined.
So now my dear friends, we have all been handed a common cultural experience and unfolding narrative we must transpose into one giant story of paradoxical gratitude.
And yes, of course, we would have never wished for this. And yet, just like every other story of paradoxical gratitude I’ve heard, this one is just as ripe for catalyzing and revealing the best, most centered, effective and courageous part of us all.
Will this be easy? No. Can we simply show up for a demonstration or two? I don’t think so. Will it be comfortable? Not always. But we have all transformed some degree of loss or tragedy into strength before and we can do it again.
And this is where the poetry comes in. Great, well-selected poems recharge our courage and resolve like nothing else. And they are so portable; we can take them anywhere we need for support. We can read them just before calling a congress member. We can read them after we’ve failed or won or lost our cool on social media. (Remember, Political Aikido is a standard and goal we will not always achieve. That’s OK, that’s what makes us human!)
I can tell you this. I attended the recent Women’s March in San Francisco with my beloved and the feeling of support standing among all those 40,000 kindred spirits blew us away. So yes, some demonstrations of our resolve will be hard. But at other times we can expect to receive far more energy than we give.
OK, as promised let’s now lean into some poetry. These are just the kinds of power tools for the heart and soul that we will all need. Poet William Stafford wrote one of the shortest, simplest poems you could imagine which fits pretty well with our theme. (By the way, poems needn’t be long or complex to be helpful. I have many other such poem suggestions if you need them.)
By William Stafford
straw, feathers, dust—
but if they all go one way,
that’s the way the wind goes.
And so it goes, here even a few brief lines can shift our mood and resolve. Just like straw, feathers, and dust, our individual words by themselves are also little things. Even we as individuals are small things too. At least compared to the power, money, and influence aligned against the values of respect, understanding, caring and fairness.
But here is the main thing I want to say to each of you reading these words right now. If we all will simply combine and join our words together, it will be different. That is when we say them together, continually, respectfully and with a deep, abiding conviction our words will become the way the wind goes. And the wind is big and bold and has the power to affect and change almost anything.
Lastly, if these words have resonated let me invite you to hear a few more of them spoken live at the beautiful Marin JCC located in San Rafael, Calif. next month from 1:00 to 2:30 PM on Wednesday, February 22, 2017. Here is the description for the event. I will also include the link below to reserve your spot.
A FIERCE AND ENDURING GRATITUDE
How Poetry Supports The Happiness and Joy of Grateful Living In Good Times and Bad
Please join us for a visit with the well-known and accomplished local poet and speaker, Dale Biron for his; “A Fierce And Enduring Gratitude; How Poetry Supports The Happiness and Joy of Grateful Living In Good Times and Bad.” We’ve all experienced difficulties and losses in our lives. From career and business setbacks to divorces and family breakdowns. From health challenges to losing friends and loved ones. Perhaps our most heroic act in the face of such loss is simply allowing our hearts to break and then transforming that pain into compassion, healing and finally service. Of course, no one would ever wish for these kinds of challenges, and yet we can be genuinely grateful for our capacity to gather the courage and strength needed to carry on with skill and dignity. Poems are wise and timeless tools that can help us at every stage of our life’s journey, especially those times of difficulty and loss on our path back to gratitude, happiness and yes, even joy.
Dale Biron is a speaker, poet, leadership coach and adjunct professor at Dominican University’s OLLI Program. He is former poetry editor and board member for A Network For Grateful Living (gratefulness.org). His longtime friend and mentor, Brother David Steindl-Rast has long inspired Dale’s work with gratefulness and the power of grateful living. Dale has shared his poetry-inspired presentations at TEDx, The Herbst Theatre, JCC Marin, The Center for Attitudinal Healing, Community Congregational Church of Tiburon, various political rallies and a host of business conferences. His poetry collection is entitled Why We Do Our Daily Practices.
With love and gratitude,
PS: Let me (us) hear from you in the comments below with any stories, poems or experiences you think will help us all.
PS PS: If you know others who need some poetry and might enjoy my musings, I would be grateful if you would send this along to them.
PS PS PS: I’ll be teaching a fully updated version of my most popular course ever taught at OLLI Dominican University called Those Wild Women Poets in the Spring. Stay tuned for more details…