Republican or Democrat? No, a Poet.

In her new book, Bittersweet, bestselling author and speaking Susan Cain narrates a story that took place during the civil war that left Sarajevo a shell of its former beauty.

A journalist/correspondent watches as close to 50,000 displaced people emerge from a forest after escaping an attack.

The correspondent asks an elderly man if he is a Muslim or a Croat.

“I am a musician,” the man responds.

I have written little during these days of extreme political polarity, little because so many are writing so much about it, little because I can do so little about it.

At least, that is how I often feel.

But is it true?

The journalist who asked the question was haunted by the man’s response years afterward. Haunted and humbled.

“I am a musician.”

And me? I am no musician, but I am a thinker. I am a poet. I am a highly sensitive person.

I grieve at the polarity and the tension, the anger that runs hot and the lack of true dialog and discourse and understanding between one side and the other.

How quickly anger and disrespect can turn to violence.

Is this what we are waiting for?

Is this what we want?

I believe that some people think so, but these must be those who do not truly think it through, just how much damage can be done in such a short amount of time.

And how such damage is, in most cases, irrevocable.

It cannot be undone.

Am I a Republican or a Democrat?

No, I am not.

And I feel that we have done and are doing a great disservice to a nation and to its peoples and to the deep and nuanced issues we face as its people by thinking that we can so easily cut any one matter into just two sides …

And assume that a person must stand so easily on one side or the other.

And assume that if a person feels strongly about one thing that is considered a Republican value, then they must feel the same about every single thing that is pushed forward by the Republican agenda …

And the same for the Democrats.

How simplistic and shallow we must be if we think that everything cuts so cleanly, so surgically, and falls so easily to one side or the other.

What if, instead, we chose different words in our dialog?

Claimed different words for ourselves and our beliefs?

Are you a Republican or a Democrat?

I am a musician. I am a poet. I am a highly sensitive person.

I am a teacher. I am a lover. I am a parent.

I am a human, a feeler, a thinker, a believer.

Are you not as well?

A Political Post from a Highly Sensitive Person

The more I think about it, the more I feel that highly sensitive people should make themselves heard in this current (far too heated) political climate.

Because we HSPs think deeply on things and process information more deeply than most, we go beyond the binary.

The HSP’s depth of processing is described this way by Dr. Elaine Aron:

At the foundation of the trait of high sensitivity is the tendency to process information more deeply … HSPs simply process everything more, relating and comparing what they notice to their past experience with other similar things. They do it whether they are aware of it or not. …
Studies supporting the depth of processing aspect of the trait have compared the brain activation of sensitive and non-sensitive people doing various perceptual tasks. [Research has found] that the highly sensitive use more of those parts of the brain associated with “deeper” processing of information, especially on tasks that involve noticing subtleties.
In another study, by ourselves and others, sensitive and non-sensitive persons were given perceptual tasks that were already known to be difficult (require more brain activation or effort) depending on the culture a person is from.
The non-sensitive persons showed the usual difficulty, but the highly sensitive subjects’ brains apparently did not have this difficulty, regardless of their culture. It was as if they found it natural to look beyond their cultural expectations to how things “really are.” 

Dr. Elaine Aron, in The Highly Sensitive Person

When it comes to the political system, this depth of processing that highly sensitive people have often means we do not default to the current (and highly divisive) structures of the two-party system that has become so unhealthy and even dangerous for our nation.

Because this two-party system – the Republicans and the Democrats, the conservatives and the liberals, the red and the blue, the right and the left – has grown so pervasive in recent years, it seems as though this is the way it has always been and the way it must be.

But it’s not.

And as difficult as it might be for some to grasp this, there are ways of looking at things that fall outside the two binary categories.

It is deeply flawed thinking to assume that just because a person aligns with some aspects of one part of the party system that they must align with every aspect of it.

It’s like saying that because you enjoy eating blueberries, you must therefore like everything that is blue, including blue cheese and blue raspberry ices and any other food that is blue.

Okay, so that wasn’t the greatest analogy, but I hope you understand …

And if you are also a highly sensitive person, I trust you understand what I’m trying to say.

A person can be more than either pro-life or pro-choice.

More than either pro same-sex marriage or homophobic.

More than either pro Trump or pro Biden.

And if we neglect to see this, then we are not thinking deeply about matters that will be affecting our world our nation for years to come.

We have grown far too used to strawman arguments and one-sided simplistic explanations.

We have grown far to use to casting doubt on “the other side” and throwing everything about that other side under the bus, when there is so much more to life than two sides.

I know, when it comes down to voting, it is said that if you choose to vote for a third option, rather than the most popular Republican and Democrat in any political race, you’re throwing away your vote.

And I know that votes are important because they help to determine what direction the nation goes in overall.

Yes, I’ve heard it all before, but forgive me if I admit that I don’t agree with it at all.

This is why I have never voted and why I never will unless something changes about this current political system. It is limited, and flat out wrong.

What about a person who is anti-war yet pro-life?

Or someone who believes that two people can love each other, no matter who they are, and who agrees with more gun laws and free education for all, but who also understands the concerns of the more conservative among us?

I have never watched a presidential debate, as they are too intense and anxiety-producing for a highly sensitive person like me to view, but I do remember thinking this when hearing some people talk about how much mud-slinging there was during one such debate:

Why should the future of a nation depend on how well someone argues?

There is so much more to life than arguing.

Why not ask the candidates to write a poem? Or require them to spend a couple of hours playing with preschoolers or volunteering at an old folks home? Why not have them play an instrument or choreograph a dance or paint a picture?

How has one of the most advanced nations in the world become one known for arguments and an inability to move forward because of the deeply divided political climate?

It has been said that a house divided against itself cannot stand …

How much longer can such a divided nation continue on?

But all is not lost, and I am hopeful …

Hopeful that the emotional and the sensitive among us will find our voices and be willing to speak out for options that do not fall into one or another binary.

Hopeful that we who learn who we are – with our sensitivity and our tears, our depth of processing and our longing for beauty – will learn to inspire others to also seek these things.

I am hopeful that we will be able to use the gifts we have to share a desire for peace and beauty and a better world with others.

And who knows … maybe one day someone who identifies as a highly sensitive person will hold the highest office.

Maybe one day, presidency will be determined by poetry and music rather than mud-slinging and arguments.

What have we if not hope?

And where there is life, there is always hope.

Church, Coronavirus, and the Comfort Level of an HSP

On Sunday, I went back to church for the first time since early March. My husband had been attending for several weeks now, along with whichever of our kids wanted to go. I stayed back with whoever did not want to go.

In truth, I did not want to go to church.

Maybe it’s because I’m a highly sensitive person, but the idea of gathering together again, wearing a face mask for safety and the comfort level of other attendees, practice social distancing all the while, feels to me like an exercise in futility. After all, the messages have been made available on social media and we have been watching regularly as a family.

It actually turned into a fun Sunday tradition: watching the Sunday School message at 10:00 am, making a special brunch at 10:30, and eating while tuning into the 11:00 message.

In all honesty, the last few months have been totally my “worship style.”

As an HSP, tuning into inspirational podcasts at my leisure while working out or tidying up, listening to contemporary Christian bands on YouTube when organizing, and watching sermons online are simply easier for me.

I find it more natural to connect with God and to receive from the song or the message or the text when I can focus on it completely. And I can more completely focus when I am not surrounded by people.

At church, I automatically tune into people’s actions or reactions … or the noises they’re making … or their interactions with others. Or I tune more into my children and trying to make sure they’re not disturbing anyone.

These months of staying at home due to the coronavirus pandemic have been challenging for many; they have been challenging for me, too. But church from home has been a blessing in disguise.

Obligation and Depth of Processing Information

Then, our church started gathering again: face masks and social distancing in place, but still there at church. And although I skipped a few times, I have simultaneously felt obligated to attend because of my family.

And at the same time, I have felt guilty because attending church feels like an obligation rather than a joy. What is wrong with me? I wondered.

As a highly sensitive person, I have a different makeup … different ways of processing information. I get overwhelmed easily, and even a small church can cause those overwhelming feelings. I can’t deal with crowds. Feel anxiety rising if I don’t immediately see a place for myself and my family to sit. Hate walking through what I have dubbed “the gauntlet” — a group of people standing around outside waiting to “greet” people as they walk into church.

The Power of Introverts, The Tension of Introverts

Not long ago, I read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking , where she discusses this very problem. The book provides amazing insight and helped me understand myself as an introvert far better than ever before.

It also helped me feel a little less guilty about my ambivalence regarding going to church as an HSP with a strong depth of processing. Of course, that’s not what the whole book is about; she only discusses churchgoing and evangelicals briefly, but that part had stood out to me because it spoke to that part of me that has always struggled on Sunday mornings. One quote states:

“Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme…If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love. It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine; it must be displayed publicly.”

Now, I support the idea that fellowship and gathering with other people of the same faith can be a positive experience. (I also believe that respectfully connecting and gathering with people who have very different beliefs and walk different paths is a hugely important aspect of growth and empathy … but that’s for another post.)

The Inner Tension of Church Attendance

But what I mean by the above comment about attending church seeming like an exercise in futility is that in some ways, for some people or groups of people, the idea of attending church during COVID-19 has become yet another politically-charged event. It has turned into a “freedom” cry … and the kind of freedom being cried out does not feel much like the message Jesus gave when he walked the earth.

Of course, that’s getting into a whole ‘nother topic … and I don’t really want to go there. What I do want to do is get to the heart of this tension within myself – my desire to go along with my family and simply enjoy gathering together with others at church, against the all-too-frequent reality that I don’t usually enjoy it.

I get so much more out of a Bible passage or message I listen to on headphones from my phone while I’m out walking our two dogs.

And I don’t think I’ll figure this out any time soon. In the meantime, I will get up and get dressed and smile and greet others; I will chat and those who see me doing so will never guess how much of a struggle it is, as a highly sensitive person, to do this week after week.

Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps

Maybe there’s a special blessing in store for HSPs who make that extra effort to gather with people.

Maybe it is nothing more than an exercise in futility.

I hope that, if nothing else, I am providing for my children a place where they learn to call home and feel comfortable with people they know and love … which is the main reason I return to church week after week.

I did not have that “place of belonging” when I was growing up … and I feel that it is far better to feel a place of belonging, even though it comes with awkwardness and discomfort, than to have no such place.

Turning to Love in Times of Fear

When I was growing up, I remember being taught that faith is the opposite of fear and if you have enough faith then you cannot be a captive to fear. I spent much of my childhood teen years and even early adulthood captive to fear and anxiety, and often assumed it was because I did not have enough faith. No, I no longer believe what I had been taught.

Faith Is Not the Opposite of Fear.

Love Is.

There is a lot of fear speaking out today in so many ways. And it seems strange that we are fearing it because terribly fearful things are already upon us, are already happening.

Today, we are suffering a worldwide pandemic in COVID-19. You might even call it a plague. This is something that has not swept the world in hundreds of years. A year ago … even a decade ago … just the idea of something like this happening would have been preposterous. But here it is.

And here we are.

And in many ways, we are succumbing to fear. Not succumbing in that we are growing agoraphobic and that fear is keeping us home. In fact, what is keeping us home, for the most part, is the mandate to do so for our protection (or if you are not concerned for your own health, then for the safety and protection of the more susceptible members of society).

No, we are succumbing in that although we are facing fearful things and we could be responding with courage and hope and support, many are responding with anger about the coronavirus and the blame game.

I understand. It is frustrating. I have barely had a moment to myself since this started. Before COVID-19, my personal schedule was more conducive to my needs and personality. I had some “me time” several times a week … but no longer.

I also lost roughly 80% of my income due to the coronavirus pandemic and on top of it had to homeschool a few students for the last quarter of the 2019 to 2020 school year while still paying for their school fees.

There are uncertainties, frustration, and unrest, to be sure. But I feel encouraged by the many who are responding with hope and ways to reach out such as a child sewing and donating masks for people who need it and other people performing acts of kindness during the pandemic.

I suppose that during this time … as in all times … one primary choice before us is what we will tune into. Sources that dispense fear and ignorance and hate will always be there; yet, so we’ll be sources that spread hope and charity and love.

From Fear to Faith to Love

I’m trying to think when and how my mind made the transition to what the opposite of fear is. I think it was when I became a parent.

There is an anecdote about how faith is trusting the hand that holds you even in the dark, like a child being led home through a dark forest. The only thing he has to hold onto is his parent’s hand.

But that faith in the parent must be predicated by the love of the parent. If that child was not confident his parent loves him then he could not have faith that the parent would lead him home. Although his hand might have been momentarily grasped, he would be afraid that the parent might let go of him and leave the child alone.

Sometimes as a child, and sometimes as a teenager and young adult, I found myself like that child, suddenly without a hand to grasp onto, and I was afraid.

But when I became a parent and felt an intensity of love that I had never felt before, I realize that that love was the foundation of faith. And that it was the antidote to fear.

I think this is a thought I’ll have to unpack more as I spend more time thinking on it but for now, maybe the task is to think about it. To consider what love is, what faith is, and what fear is for you during this time.

And perhaps think about ways that you can find sources that dispense love and faith. Tune into those rather than sources of anger and fear. Because, as cliche as it might sound, right now we all need a little more love.

HSPs and the Need for a Bit of Space

It’s strange and welcoming that on the first day of my 40-day focus on healthy living, I am back in a place – a situation – where I feel I can write. When I left this place, I did not foresee myself returning, especially not so quickly. But here I am … and although I am tired after a long day and although it is not over yet, I am – I feel – at peace.

Something I have not done for months now is to write regularly and this is one of the main things I want to do over the next 40 days – write every day. Some days, I might reflect on the events of the day; some days, I might share something from what I’ve read, as another thing I am attempting to do is read every day from a book that is meaningful and true.

And as I mentioned when introducing this 40-day focus, not every journal post over the next 40 days will be mine. Three friends are making this same journey – or similar ones – with me, as well as keeping journals of their decisions, observations, and daily challenges.

We haven’t yet decided how it will work … who will post and on what days. Perhaps some days you will see more than one post, depending on how inspired each of us feels to write. 

Space for Writing

About the place I find myself right now, the situation in which I feel able to write once more. It is a physical place; often, this is not the case. Often, my ability to write has little to do with the physical place I am in, but more the mental place – space – where I find myself.

As a highly sensitive person, it is very difficult to write when I do not feel that I have space or “air” enough to write.

And the place we are right now, as a whole, is a difficult one from which to write, is it not? With so many voices clamoring to be heard and so many speaking in anger or frustration or simply ignorance, it is difficult for anyone – much less a highly sensitive person – to process and filter and find a safe place from which to write.

I could say something cliche like “Sometimes all it takes is just getting started,” but it would not be true. Otherwise, I would have been writing over the past several months, but I could not. Even if I sat in front of my laptop or sat with a notebook and pen in hand, I could not have commanded myself to write.

It takes more than physically being in the right place, but mentally and emotionally as well. I know that this goes against what some people say about writing. Many successful writers claim that you must write even without inspiration and the inspiration will come. I am not saying this isn’t true, and I have written “on command” plenty of times in my life to know it is true.

And yet, there is that feeling that comes when you finally feel that you have space enough to contemplate and process and from which to write. Again, perhaps this is an HSP thing. Perhaps those who are not highly sensitive people can more easily write on command and maintain a strict writing schedule.

But this is something I am going to try to do for the next 40 days of healthy living. 

Being a Bridge

Sometimes I feel that we as a whole are on the edge of something and the thought is exciting, and at other times the thought is frightening. Because being on the edge of something often means falling or building a bridge.

And so few of us, these days, it seems are willing to be bridge-builders.

Some people reading this might even say, “Well that sounds good, but I’m going to wait to make my final assessment until I know what side of the political spectrum she is on.”

Well, I’m not going to make it that easy. You will find no strict borders here. No walls to shut out those who don’t agree.

You can call me a bridge if you’d like.

But even the fact that this is my first time writing in a while and on day one of my 40-day journal of healthy living, I have resorted to talking about politics frustrates me. So enough of that.

Finally, you might find these journals start but don’t quite seem to find an ending place. They are thoughts that have begun and have the potential to carry on … perhaps you will carry on these thoughts and journeyings in your own heart and mind and take them somewhere.

Perhaps you will contemplate what it means to build a bridge, or to be a bridge, or how you might find ways to create space in your life. Perhaps not for writing, but for something else you deem important.  

I wish you space and peace and the most beautiful of views from your bridge. 

Looking Up – Attentiveness Amidst COVID-19

What will people think when they look back on this time?

COVID-19, the coronavirus, pandemic, fear, anxiety.

What do we think, we who are in the midst of it now?

COVID-19, the coronavirus, pandemic, thinking, anxiety.

I wonder if we do think about it as we should, as we might. If we consider and contemplate it enough.

It is hard, yes, because there is just so much to reflect upon, so much to think about, to process and try to understand.

And there is so much we will never understand.

COVID-19, the coronavirus, pandemic, thinking, understanding.

And there are so many conflicting messages, each message containing perhaps some truth along with a lot of fear and tension, anxiety about the future.

Perhaps the call for us at this time is to stop, even in the middle of the chaos and the conflict, to look around us … even, if possible, to step outside – mentally if nothing else – and take stock.

COVID-19, the coronavirus, looking, thinking, understanding.

What do we see when we stop scrolling an endless news feed and look up?

Yesterday I stepped outside. I looked up and saw a bird, sitting on a ledge, a strange shimmering substance in its beak. At first I thought the bird might have been searching for material to make a nest. Then it came to me that midsummer is not generally when birds build nests.

I looked closer and realized the shimmer belonged to a dragonfly’s wings. The bird had been hunting and caught a dragonfly midflight. I delight in watching dragonflies skirting through the air, following some strange patterned flight that is theirs alone. But this one now had become food, sustenance, for a bird who had met it in that place both creatures claim – the air.

Within a few seconds, the spectacle had ended. The bird consumed the whole of the dragonfly and, an instant later, took flight once more.

I looked up at a sight that was at once both sad and sacred. It was as if, for a moment, some parts of me also had wings – my sight or my soul – and I beheld this thing in wonder.

COVID-19, wonder, looking, thinking, understanding.

And I have no direct analogy for that thing I saw. No great and deep revelation. It was a thing that takes place a million times in a million ways. It was, that is to say, mundane and ordinary.

But at the same time, it was one in a million. Beautiful and captivating and fierce, this single sampling of nature the moment I looked up.

We surround ourselves and are surrounded by so much that brings sorrow in its fierceness, in its strangeness and the unexpected way it comes upon us.

Yet we are also surrounded by the wondrous and the beautiful.

Beauty, wonder, looking, thinking, understanding.

Perhaps a way to see ourselves through this time, to look back upon it one day with a heart that takes in all the complexity of all that we are seeing and experiencing, is by looking up.

Letting our thoughts take flight, and our hearts.

Or simply beholding some mundane yet sacred portion of nature. Looking, taking it in, and giving thanks for the moment.

The Problem with COVID, The Problem with Us

We are far more concerned about the coronavirus than we should be.

We are far less concerned about the coronavirus than we should be.

Yes, both statements are true and both at the same time.

As a society, we have grown so accustomed to politicizing issues like the coronavirus that almost before we gave ourselves a chance to understand COVID-19, we had already formed strongly opposing opinions.

If you think this is an overstatement, consider how you personally respond when you see someone wearing a mask in a public space.

“That person is clearly overreacting and is probably a liberal.”

Or …

“I’m glad that person is doing their due diligence …”

…with a nod from behind your own mask.

What about when you see a person outside without a mask?

“That must be a Republican. I know who they probably voted for in 2016.”

Or …

“I’m glad that person hasn’t bought into the nonsense of the coronavirus scare.”

When it’s simple matters such as whether or not a person is choosing to wear a mask in a public place or outdoors draws such harsh responses, something is wrong with our society.

This was brought into stark reality when I saw someone’s comment on a friend’s Facebook post. The post itself made a statement that it’s all about power … and among the politicians, perhaps it is. But 99% of us are not politicians, and we spend way too much time considering the partisan politics surrounding a worldwide pandemic (as if Americans are the only ones dealing with the coronavirus).

The comment, made by a person I don’t know, expressed that a local government official could kiss a certain part of their anatomy, along with the statement that they would not be wearing a mask. By the anger of the person’s comment, it sounded as if they thought COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic had been personally created by this local government official.

Sadly, many of us are allowing ourselves to take sides and oppose others when we should be reaching out a hand to help. 

It’s easier to feel anger than grief.

It’s easier to express an opinion than to express concern, especially since we’ve grown so accustomed to doing so with our use of social media. 

Social media is good for many things, but one unexpected result of seeing so many problems, browsing through so many issues, reading about so many statistics … is growing numb to all we see on social media.

Instead of grieving, we might utter a mere, “How sad,” and keep browsing. We have largely grown desensitized and instead of allowing ourselves to feel the more complex emotions of grief and empathy, we settled for a quick “like” or “dislike” or an angry comment that only deals with emotions on the surface level.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION? 

How do we fix this? Therein lies the problem.

There is no quick-fix.

And there is no easy solution.

For someone who finds themselves growing angry and anxious every time they log into social media or browse through news headlines, the solution might be to take some time off social media. Go for a walk in nature; whether or not you wear a face mask as you take in some solar vitamin D is up to you.

For someone who drops strongly opinionated comments on every slightly political or COVID-related post, maybe take a breather. Instead of responding with a first reaction, try to consider the matter more deeply. 

Perhaps even (shocking as this idea might seem) think about this issue from the other side.

And for someone who finds themselves incapable of empathizing with anyone on “the other side” of the political and partisan spectrum, why don’t you have a civil conversation with someone who holds beliefs different from your own? Really have a mindset of listening and learning. 

The idea is not necessarily changing your mind or revamping your political ideology (although it might be). The idea is to understand that there are so many of us in this big, wide world.

So many ideologies and beliefs. So many life experiences. We are each made of what we have experienced and learned and how we have been brought into this world.

And really … really … most of us are just doing the best we can with what we have.

What we all need is a little more understanding, a lot more listening than speaking, a bit of empathy and compassion, even a bit of grieving for the darkness and the loss and the sadness of this world.

WHAT WE ALL NEED IS A BIT OF HOPE.

Why don’t we each consider how we can spread some of that hope today?