Holding Space


 

 

 

 

By Neal Lemery

 

These are not gentle times. And, having a mean streak seems almost a requirement these days, as we navigate social media and the cultural and political climate.

Our culture, and so many commentators and “leaders”, are so quick to make judgement, to express opinions, and eagerly offer criticism and condemnation of others’ points of view.  Political, social, and artistic criticism now is so often unkind, harsh, even vicious to the point of hostility and intolerance.

It is an easy train to climb aboard, and my snarky and off-handed comments are often a computer click away from getting out into the world, showing up on the social media “news feeds” that have become the path by which most of us engage with others. Be quick, spontaneous, “get it out there”, and move on to something else.  The popular term, “click bait” comes to mind as having a meaning larger than how we define the term. Is being polite too time consuming, too unfashionable? It seems easier just to fire off a salvo, and “let it fly”.

We’ve come a long way from the days when social commentary and personal expression in public came after laboring over a sheet of linen paper with a quill pen, and a pot of ink.  A letter to the editor not only took time to compose and hand write, but also required an envelope, a stamp, and a trip to the post office. Public expression took time and effort, and hopefully a lot of thought in the process.

I am realizing I’ve been conditioned to be the Pavlovian dog, to respond to stimuli in an expected, routine “in a New York minute” way, simply becoming a product of this age of advertising, manipulation, and conditioning.

But what if I was, instead, calm, supportive, caring, and expressed unconditional compassion and love? Perhaps just being present, in a kind way, should be my response to others in conflict and crisis. Can I just suspend judgement and criticism? Maybe not feeding my ego with my unappreciated and intrusive opinions when simply being there for someone, and exuding gentle support and kindness would be much more appreciated and needed in the situation.

            “You walk along with them without judgment, sharing their journey to an unknown destination. Yet you’re completely willing to end up wherever they need to go. You give your heart, let go of control, and offer unconditional support.”

    —Lynn Hauka  —Coach

In life, we have numerous job titles and duties, and often, those are multiple roles, calling upon our experiences and our ability to navigate the complexities and subtleties of modern life. Being the son, the father, the uncle, the spouse, the friend, the mentor, the teacher, the confidante is a role more appropriate by just quietly being there for someone.  Unwanted and often uninformed advice often taints the situation, and shame, guilt, and a sense of failure soon follows.

Holding space “…means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.”

—Heather Plett

 

What the situation really often calls for is compassion and unconditional love, a holding of sacred space to just “let it be”. That may not be what our culture seems to expect, yet it is a revolutionary and culture-changing response.

For me, I need to take a breath, and let it out slowly, taking my time to plan my response, and to put myself in the most effective position of the supporting, compassionate friend and listening post that the person in need is really needing to have around when the crisis is at hand.

We don’t have to rush in, armed with our snap judgements and fire hose responses, issuing our breathless bulletins on social media, or even feeding the local gossip mill.  Time is on our side, and is an ally for the managers of crisis and personal angst. Time will tell if I need to voice an opinion, or give some wise counsel, and if I do, then the wait will be worthwhile, and the Universe will give me that guidance.  And, I can frame the most appropriate, the most effective action.

Or, I can simply be there, offering support quietly, by my presence, exuding kindness and love and understanding, and offering the balm of friendship and compassion.

Silence, often, becomes the best tool, the most effective fix to the matter at hand. One kind, thoughtful, compassionate soul become an ally, rather than an unwelcome new factor, the volatile instigator of an even larger conflagration.

Simply by holding space, by being the calm in the storm, you can make a better world.

 

5/28/2019

 

Immersed in the Richness of Community Life


 

 

by Neal Lemery

 

 

I found myself in the heart of the richness of my community’s life the other day. Tillamook High School charity drive students were handing out checks to a wide variety of community organizations, funding grants for over twenty community projects and activities.

The money comes from a ten day frenzy of fund raising in February that engaged the entire community.  High school students, along with parents and other community volunteers, pitched in to raise money.  Car washes, dinners, garage sales, a scrap metal drive, donkey basketball, silent auctions, and other events made sure that you have no reason to cook dinner that week, or stay at home on a rainy evening. The high school classes competed with each other, and organized the various events so that every day was filled with tempting meal choices and other activities.

It was also a week of socializing with the rest of the community, reconnecting with old friends, and strengthening our community ties.

“It’s all about relationships,” I heard on numerous occasions.

The fund raising capabilities of these kids is phenomenal, usually raising over $200,000 during the week, astonishing in a rural area of maybe 8,000 people.  Half of the funds are given to the Doernbecher children’s hospital, and half stays in the community. This is an annual affair, and has been going on since the 1950s, when it started as part of the March of Dimes campaign against polio.

The student committee invited community groups to apply for grants, and again, the community reaps the benefits of our hard-working, community-minded youth.

This year, $56,000 was given to local non-profits to support their own charitable activities in the community.  Applicants have to justify how the funds will improve community life.

I gathered with people from other organizations, as students began handing out the checks. We shared our stories with each other, eagerly chatting about where the money would go, how people’s lives were touched.  We are so rich in the ways that we help others, and make a real difference.

I happily received one of the checks, destined to help one of my organizations improve its capacity to serve the community, and to give youth another activity to enrich their lives.  There were smiles all around, as the students connected with us, as we shared the joy of giving back to the community, and building better lives.

“Bending to a common purpose is more important than arising from a common place…”. (David Treuer, The Heart Beat of Wounded Knee)

As we all gathered in front of the high school, we stood united.  In this small town, I didn’t see an unfamiliar face. We had all played a part in the charity drive, and now, we had come together, to share the rewards, to invest back into the community, and build again in service to the common good.

That sense of satisfaction, of common community purpose continued on, as I stood in line at the bank a few minutes later with some of the others who had received checks.

“A special day,” one of them remarked. “A day of giving back to the community, and making a difference.”

This celebration was in sharp contrast to what I’d just seen on the national news, filled with stories of disasters, political discord, and crime. How nice is it, I thought, to be part of building community, rather than hearing of social discontent and chaos.

As the passive observer and a consumer of the national political and cultural scene, I keep wondering what is my role in all of that.  I tire of being the passive witness, the feeling of impotence and paralysis.

Can I be an instrument of change?  Rather than just hear about a problem, I could step up and be a force for making a difference. Yet, most of the organizations that operate nationally, seem to be only wanting my check, or me to sign an electronic petition, rather than invite me to roll up my sleeves and take on a problem, fully engaged, hands on, giving a little of my talent, a little of my sweat and time. I yearn for that sense of connection, and relationship.

That opportunity is right here in front of me, I realized. Here and now is the place where change can and does happen.

Locally, there are ready made roles for all of us.  Our neighbors, our friends, and family are deeply involved in local life, in activities that are changing how we live, providing opportunities and resources for others in our community.  Almost literally outside of my front door, I can be involved, and I can help make a difference in other people’s lives and the health and wellbeing of my community.

I saw that in the smiles of the high school students the other day, their joy a reflection of their own hard work, their own commitment to the community, their satisfaction in applying their own talent, time and sweat into making a real difference, in building better lives and a better place to live for their neighbors.

 

 

5/1/2019

Befriending


 

 

Kindness

Comes in so many forms, so many ways

A smile, a cup of tea,

Reaching out, giving a hand

Listening

Accepting.

 

Together

We honor ourselves and each other

Gifts to share, building community

Bonds, interactions, communion

Union, reciprocity

Strengthening, a weaving together

The whole greater than the parts.

 

Compassion

Understanding the Other, each other

By opening our own hearts

Being open, exchanging, offering

Receiving

Accepting

Enhancing

Uniting.

 

–Neal Lemery

11/29/2018

Living In A Strong Community


Living in a Strong Community

 

–by Neal Lemery

 

“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”
― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth

 

I’ve been taking a look at my community, and wondering how we measure up, in these challenging times, when some are wondering if our society is in decline.

 

Here’s a checklist of seven attributes of a healthy community:

  1. Good governance
  2. Walkable, connected, mixed-use character
  3. Parks and gardens
  4. Partnerships
  5. Programming
  6. Neighborhood-responsive schools
  7. Tree culture

–Scott Doyon

 

Being in community is vital to my own mental health and emotional well-being.  Given the continual national stream of tragic events fueled by racism, prejudice, bigotry, and selfishness, I often feel the weight of despair and hopelessness. I am increasingly more sensitive to reaching my limit of how much of that “news cycle” and horror I can be exposed to.

Much of that angst is relieved when I immerse myself in building up my community, and being present with others who are caring, selfless people engaged in taking care of themselves and each other in these turbulent, emotionally exhausting times.

In my town, we are doing it right. I think we get high marks on Scott Doyon’s list of a healthy, engaged community.

In the past three years, the state highway department has funded a major revamping of the traffic pattern (our previously confusing junction of two major highways), narrow downtown streets, and a dilapidated, underused waterfront.

This week, we are celebrating the completion of that project, as well as other efforts by the city and the business community to rejuvenate and invigorate the downtown, making it a welcoming and prosperous town.

Now, we have new sidewalks, a smoother flowing traffic pattern, a town pedestrian plaza, bike paths, a food truck cart center, bike racks, a fresh look in two waterfront parks, and a walkway encouraging people to walk to other parks and attractions.  New bridges span the slough at the north edge of the downtown. New landscaping adds a fresh, inviting look.  The local restaurant scene is vigorous and inviting. Open mics, featuring local musicians and writers, are now the norm.

Downtown merchants have also gotten on board, with renovations, fresh paint, and interesting shops.  We have a number of new downtown events, including a monthly Art Walk, a thriving community art gallery, and a museum which not only showcases local artists, but a continuing schedule of regionally renown speakers and presenters.

 

Community organizations are thriving, and numerous activities are filling up the community calendar with a wide variety of events for every interest. New ideas are being discussed, and plans are underway for even more activities and ways to build a healthier community. We have a “can do” attitude now.

 

Our “Year of Wellness”, a public health collaborative to focus on ways to improve individual and community health, has brought together the entire spectrum of health service agencies, government, and individuals to collaborate on improving public health and a sense of community spirit. We are challenging ourselves to live healthier, more informed lives, and doing it from the ground up.  Grass roots activism at its finest! We’ve decided a year wasn’t long enough for the tasks we identified, and now the work is seen as long term, with increasingly challenging and meaningful goals. Community wellness is now part of our collective experience.

 

The library is spearheading the building of a new downtown park, and library programs are enjoying wide popularity, engaging the community on a variety of experiences and informative activities for all ages.  Public use of the library is setting records.

 

Teachers are developing state of the art educational experiences for students, and we are becoming increasingly well informed about the impact of childhood trauma, domestic violence, hunger, and addiction recovery.

 

The best part of all this is that we have a sense of belonging here.  Each of us is important, and each of us is a valued contributor to the common good, the whole community.  An individual has something unique to offer, and is a valued, unique player in the common effort.  I feel I belong here, and so do all my neighbors.

 

In this town, one person makes the difference, and others listen to their voice, and value their experience, their perspective, and their talents.  And, we have the will power and the courage to take on the difficult, ugly issues that our community, and the nation, has.  Much of the work is hard, and the tasks are daunting at times.  We don’t always achieve 100% success, but we are trying and we see a lot of progress in what we are trying to accomplish. And, that feels really good.

 

In this town, there is hope, and there is a sense of collective purpose. We are committed to be winners, and the changers that create a better world.  Now, we are a town of optimism and determination.

 

Community partnerships are everywhere, knitting together our community fabric in a fresh spirit of resolve and collaboration.  There’s an attitude of “get it done” and pitching in to just do it.

 

As my friends say around town, “Onward!”

 

Gratitude and Aspirations: My Intentions for the New Year


 

 

By Neal Lemery

 

 

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
― Epicurus

 

At the beginning of a new year on the calendar, I am reminded of the many things that I am grateful for in my life. I celebrate all of that, and seek to be mindful of those treasures: friends, experiences, opportunities, and being present in a beautiful place on this Earth.

 

Gratitude is being thankful. And, being patient for what has come into my life and what awaits me in the future. By living in the moment, I can fully appreciate and be grateful for what life has brought to me and who I am becoming. I am a work in progress. Perhaps I need to wear a “construction zone” sign around my neck to remind me of that.

 

Being present with my intentions, and focusing my intentions on what is to come is my goal for this coming year.

 

In this coming year, I intend to:

 

  • Be fully present when I am with others. I need to listen with an open heart and an open mind, and be tolerant of our differences and the wisdom and experiences of others. In doing that, I will learn and grow. Remind myself that I have one mouth and two ears for a reason, and that I am only learning when I am listening, and not speaking.
  • Work out of my comfort zone. Try something new, something challenging, and strive to have new experiences and opportunities. I will only grow when I am challenged. I only learn when I am uneasy with whom and where I am at. Allow others to be my teachers and guides. Be open to new ideas, new viewpoints.
  • Be a lifelong learner. Embrace new experiences, listen to different and challenging ideas, read books I disagree with, and be open to other ideas. Be tolerant and mindful. Wisdom comes from unanticipated sources. Remind myself that I may be wrong, that I can change my mind, that I am not all knowing.
  • Embrace creativity. See the art in everything in my life, and seek out the creative energies of others. Tend to the artist within me, and celebrate the messages of my Muse, pay attention, and allow the Muse to work through me as I create. Tend that fire, and allow the heat of the moment to fill my heart. Grow that creative energy by sharing it with others. In that, I grow community.
  • Build community in everything that I do, everything I say. Do that in big ways and in small, ordinary ways. Have the intention of building community without fanfare or ego, but instead because I am a child of the Earth and it is my moral and ethical duty to improve and grow community.
  • Be fully mindful of others. Heed the saying that one should walk a mile in the shoes of another. Every person has their own wisdom, their own Truth. Be a good example of what I value.
  • Live life according to my morals, my ethics, my beliefs in the goodness of others, and the unity of humankind. Small kindnesses can open hearts.
  • Speak out against intolerance, fear and hatred. While silence has its place in changing the world, let me be aware that there are also times to speak my peace, share my thoughts, and take action for the good of all.
  • Act according to my beliefs and my purpose in life. A good life is not all talk and no action. Be congruent with my thoughts and beliefs and act accordingly.
  • Social change comes from being a example of what I want to see in the world. Life is not “do as I say and not as I do”.
  • Avoid judgment. I strive to avoid assumptions, or jump to conclusions. I cannot assume the roads traveled by others. I seek to be compassionate.
  • Act with humility. Recognize that I don’t know everything. Life still has lessons to teach me. Be open to new ideas and new experiences.

 

12/31/2017

The Power of Silence


 

 

 

I can be pretty verbal. Thirty plus years as a lawyer gives me a well practiced arsenal of words and Socratic debate skills that let me hold my own in the political discussions that surge around my family, friends, and community. I seem to thrive when faced with a point of view that begs for a counter argument, a voice in opposition.

Often, I speak without first asking myself if I should even speak, should I take up the cause. Not every conversation is a call to a debate, or a heated argument worthy of a case before the Supreme Court.

I learn more when I listen, and the proverb that observes we have two ears, but only one mouth, is always worthy of a revisit.

Am I speaking to change someone’s opinion, or am I just arguing for the sake of being a dissenter, knowing that, of course, I am right?

So I often try to practice the art of falling silent, of not engaging in debate. My silence isn’t saying that I agree, either. Let the other person’s words echo and be contemplated in unexpected quiet. Let the speaker’s words and their ideas linger, so that we may truly hear them, and take in what they are saying. Maybe the speaker, in that silence, will hear what they have said, and take the time to really hear themselves.

My silence certainly can’t be taken as agreement, or even acquiescence, in the hypothesis presented by the speaker.

I yield the floor to them, letting them give voice to their thoughts, letting the ideas flow around the room. Perhaps they have never been heard before; perhaps their ideas haven’t been aired.

My ego likes to believe that when the speaker finally stops to hear their own flawed ideas, they will abandon their line of thinking, and agree that I’ve been right all along.

If they are “loaded for bear” and ready for a heated argument, I don’t have to agree to wage battle.   That’s my choice. And, I often don’t learn much if I don my armor and throw my own spears in a heated argument.

There’s the old saying about not learning when your mouth is open.

Thus, I often try to fall silent. My lips don’t move, and I focus on disengaging the clutch between the argumentative brain and my mouth. I keep in eye contact, letting them know I’ve been listening, and I’m still present.

I’m just not engaging in debate. I’m not ramping up the temperature. I’m reacting, just not in the way we’ve been socialized to react.

I’m changing the rules. And, I’m certainly making a point, just not the point that the speaker is expecting.

The interchange gets even sweeter when the speaker asks if I have anything to say, and I don’t say anything. I’m making a point. I’m not invisible, and my silence is not agreement. I’m exercising my power in the conversation, and making a point.

The uncomfortable silence is my friend, a valuable energy in the conversation. I’m expressing myself, by not saying anything. It’s a paradox, one that is often a valuable teaching tool.

What I’m saying, in my silence, is that I hear the other person. But, I don’t have to respond, in the usual way. And, I give them something to think about. Even just letting their words echo back to them, giving them space to actually hear what they’ve been saying, can be a powerful reaction to their words. I’m giving them personal space.

I can think they are being an idiot. I just don’t have to say the words, and go into battle. Instead, I can let them wonder what I am thinking, if they even care about that.

I also don’t have to be the hypocrite, saying I agree even if I don’t, say something benign, or be a diplomat.

From my point of view, it’s a pleasant mystery.

I’m giving them the luxury of contemplation of their own spoken words. How often do we engage in thinking about what we have just said?

They aren’t hearing my approval, and they aren’t getting a verbal response. I’m not adding fuel to their argumentative fires. Instead, I’m letting their flames die down, dropping the temperature, letting things cool.

In that silence, I can grow my disagreement, my dissent. I can also grow the speaker’s own reflection of their own words, and let those words lie exposed to the clarifying sunlight of truth, logic, and social sensibilities.

And, the speaker is now really listening to me. I’m not mouthing words, but I am present, and I am hearing them. My silence is speaking volumes of words. And, what that means is now the puzzle the speaker is trying to solve. The silence is making my argument for me.

I’m not even marshaling my debate tactics and my own thoughts on the subject at hand, except in me being silent. Silent, yet engaged with them, respectfully listening to them, and being present.

 

“I answer her with my silence, understanding the full power of it for the first time. Words are weapons. Weapons are powerful. So are unsaid words. So are unused weapons.”
― Emily MurdochIf You Find Me

 

–Neal Lemery, 9/29/2017

 

Taking Non Violent Action


“Non Violent Action”. I came across that phrase today, quietly found in an article in the midst of all the news of violence and political dystopia.

 

How do I respond? I speak up, I voice my opinions, I keep informed. People have invited me to march, write letters, sign petitions. But is that really engaging me, really making a difference?

 

I believe I can do more.

 

I try to give back to my community. I may not be able to change the world, but I can change myself, and help others. And when we learn to work together, we change ourselves, our neighborhood, and, eventually, the world.

 

I’m helping to start a non-profit foundation to improve local parks. Working with others, maybe we will build a trail, help someone to experience nature, find some inner peace, connect with the world.

 

I’m helping to set up an art gallery to support local artists and bring art to the heart of my town. We are teaching art to kids, and planning a mural to brighten the downtown. I need to make art, too. Creating is part of me, and essential to a balanced, healthy life.

 

I’m helping other master gardeners in a variety of community projects, teaching each other and others about gardening and scientific inquiry and curiosity.

 

I play in a community band. We help each other be better musicians, and we’re playing at a cancer charity event this summer. Every week, we play and laugh and build a better community.

 

There’s a groundswell of community engagement going on. People volunteering, initiating projects and events, and helping others better their lives. They cheer me on and I cheer them on. Together, we are moving ahead and taking non violent action to change the world, one person at a time.

 

 

 

Neal Lemery 6/5/2017