I want to pass along these thoughts from Toni Morrison on white supremacy because they make a lot of sense to me, in a world that doesn’t make much sense.
The whole interview with Charlie Rose was posted on Esquire.com–August 2019, shortly after the Pulitzer prize winning writer died–in the article Toni Morrison Broke Down the Truth About White Supremacy in a Powerful 1993 PBS Interview.
I haven’t posted much in the last couple of weeks because I haven’t been feeling well on the chronic illness front (CFS/ME). It is wonderful to hear such a strong and self-possessed woman share her experiences and wisdom. I find it calming and galvanizing. Somehow I feel understood although she is speaking of her own life and from a perspective I can never fully understand. The wise words of people like Morrison feel like refuge amidst the haste and confusion of 21st century life. They are a blessing.
I feel a bit like I’ve been losing my mind lately because I’ve been dealing with brain fog (one of the lovely symptoms of CFS/ME).
When I’ve got brain fog, I can’t think clearly. I can’t hold in my working memory the larger context of things.
I don’t fully know what’s going on. This scares my highly capable, executive director mind. Then it goes into further distress trying to find footing, which is impossible until I properly rest (sometimes for days, even weeks when it’s really bad). Along with that came some ongoing social dilemmas this week that I have struggled with for years.
I’ve been engaging more recently over ongoing debates in my work community. This has brought up a lot of social anxiety. I’m trying to approach issues better through connection and a generous frame of mind… but my place is no longer clear to me. The old ways don’t work anymore, and I feel like people keep moving the goal posts. My mind finds clarity, then loses it, and a fear pops up that I’ve made a huge mistake!
People with CFS are basically in a continual state of fight/flight/freeze, and the mind becomes hyper-vigilant, scanning for tigers or threats of social exile. One way it is described by the experts in my treatment program is that with CFS, you are like the canary in the coal mine. You can sense (or suffer) danger that most people need more information to notice. BUT your imagination can also take you captive. It can exaggerate and distort problems, WHICH makes the mind hype up its vigilance further to check the facts. It’s a vicious cycle that wears you down and down and down unless you can identify and derail it.
One thing to watch out for is the should storm.
I’m shoulding all over myself, as a beloved mentor likes to say–“Don’t should all over yourself.” My mind is bouncing around worrying about what I should or should not have said or done. And if I’m not careful, I will revisit a social dilemma and respond out of fear, and this insidious, false core belief that I need to please everyone. Or criticism that what I thought was a reasonable peace offering was actually selling out. Why do I feel like I should be on one “side” or another?
Don’t should on yourself.
Talk about a recipe for disappointment. “Goodbye clarity and confidence, hello confusion and shame.”
When I stop a moment and listen to the wise words of Toni Morrison, I am reminded that …. How can I put this? It’s not exactly logically related to her particular words but to her own sense of clarity. …to her generosity to white supremacists in identifying their racism as “a profound sort of neurosis.” First of all, I think this insight is genius and yet so simple, elegant. Also this notion struck me like the clear ring of a bell, whose vibrations brought my anxious and agitated thoughts to rest. It spoke to my deeper insides and reminded me of my problem.
It is a perennial one, I believe coming from female social conditioning and greatly exaggerated by chronic illness.
Here I am looking outward for how to feel, for whether I’ve done something right or wrong when, in fact, that question can only be answered by looking inside. It’s an inside job.
What a relief! I’m still not clear on the social issues, but I can stop trying to figure out things I can’t control. I can’t control what people think about me. Certainly, I need to make myself right with the world and important people in my life when I mess up. But I don’t need to be perfect, and making myself right with the world starts by making myself right with my inner connection to myself and that mysterious wisdom that arises through looking inward. Not like Narcissus but Buddha.
I can remember that a true opening of oneself to change and growth can feel a bit like insanity, like horror, and just simply confusing. Getting through the confusion requires trust that my itty bitty self is alright. I will be put back together again eventually. This falling apart is scary as hell to the human ego, but it is the only way to heal and grow at some stages of life.
And actually I have no choice. This illness is turning my world upside down whether I like it or not.
I need to learn to tolerate the discomfort of uncertainty…. I need to learn this lesson over and over again. (Some of my other posts on this: Entropy …Things Fall Apart, I Disappear, and I think The Secret Life of Trees.)
I can remember that sleep and art are great remedies for anxiety. My inner wisdom will get me “there”, one step at a time, even if it takes years. And then I’ll have to do it all over again over some other issue. C’est la vie.
To Toni Morrison, a light in the dark night of the soul.