Several days ago, I posted a piece about fear and my riding teacher Linda telling me, in response to my fear of my own horse, “As long as you’re afraid of that horse, she’ll scare you.” I want to elaborate on on this matter of fear and on two other lessons I’ve learned from horses and the people who love them, lessons that help me live each day in relation to the terror that Trump is generating.
LESSON ONE: FEAR. What Linda meant was that, when our fear is irrational, when it is a learned response without any real basis, we do well to find a way through it — to take heart, to tap our courage — so that we can move on without the fear. Linda did not mean that we shouldn’t fear dangerous horses, people, creatures, guns, bombs, violence, any thing that threatens to hurt us or others. Fear is a vital emotion that can alert us to very real danger — like the presidency of Donald Trump. We should fear Trump, Bannon, Pence, Sessions, DeVos, Price, et al because they are threatening the well-being of our nation and world, especially the most vulnerable people and creatures. But we should not fear those whom the Trumpites want us to fear: refugees and immigrants, people of different colors, cultures, customs, religions, genders, sexualities, and languages, people who are “different” from us. Indeed, as long as we are afraid of Syrian immigrants, they will scare us. As long as we fear Muslims, they will terrify us.
But there is more. As long as we progressives, feminists, radicals, socialists, and others associated with the “left,” fear our more conservative and conventional neighbors, they will scare us. Of course their homophobia, racism, sexism, or xenophobia should scare us — because it alerts us to very real danger. But many of these more conservative women and men do not wish or intend to harm us — they do not realize the impact of their attitudes, their religious beliefs, or their votes. They often don’t realize the significant difference between their honest intent and its harmful impact upon us or others. If we can hold our fear lightly enough of these people’s attitudes and, for example, the impact of their votes — lightly enough to connect with them in a spirit of mutuality — we and they can, perhaps, learn something about the other’s perspective and the other’s life. Is this learning, if it’s mutual, a way of beginning to heal a wound? I don’t know for sure, but I believe it can be a small step on the way of personal and social transformation.
I think of my friend whom I’ll call Sarah, a caring, creative, compassionate and very conservative woman. She and I have something splendid in common — our passion for therapeutic horseback riding and its impact on kids and adults with special needs. But Sarah’s a Southern Baptist, and I’m an Episcopalian who’s more of a universalist Christian, about as far removed from the Southern Baptist Church as a Christian could possibly be. I don’t know for sure if Sarah and I could try teaming up to talk candidly about how our lives and our faith assumptions bump against, scare, and maybe even hurt each other. But I do know for sure that as long as I’m afraid of Sarah, she’ll scare me.
LESSON TWO: BALANCE. Something else I’ve learned from riding horses, an adventure I undertook about fifteen years ago, in my mid-50s, is that you tend to be more balanced if you sit gently on the horse, holding lightly not tightly with your legs, and steadily not harshly on the reins. The more balanced you are, the less likely you are to fall, and if you do fall, the more likely the fall is to be easy, the impact less brittle.
What, you may ask, does this horseback riding lesson have to do with resisting Trump? We need to be balanced in order to persist, in order not to burn out, and in order not to break apart physically or mentally or spiritually as we struggle for justice-love over the long haul. We don’t yet know what will be involved in this struggle. We have no idea how long it will be. We can’t well imagine the difficulties we, and others, may encounter in the context of a presidency and a congress which, after just three weeks, are already lambasting us with lies and more lies to mask incompetence, mistakes, madness, cruel policies and, I suspect, some terrible truths.
For example, I imagine that Trump and his campaign conspired with the Russians and Wikileaks and possibly even James Comey to darken public perceptions of Hillary Clinton so that Trump would more likely win the election. Simply imagining this turns my stomach and causes me to tremble. The very thought of such a plot, together with the evident ineptitude of our government to stop it, makes me feel like I’m falling…. If I were holding on tightly to my various needs and desires — for somebody, Obama, the CIA, the military, the courts, somebody to do something to stop this terrible coup that has happened — I would surely fall from my sanity. I would break apart. I would shatter.
As it is, I try to sit lightly and stay balanced — to take myself, my experiences of what is going on and my perceptions seriously, but not in ways that are final or fixed, tight or rigid. I sit lightly by staying informed but not dwelling upon the news 24/7. I stay balanced by praying/meditating, especially walking in the woods with my dogs, working and playing with my horses, listening to and playing music, going to movies and concerts, reading mysteries, eating sensibly most of the time, and yes working with friends and colleagues in whatever ways we can to generate kindness and justice, healing and hope, through organizations and movements committed to resisting everything that Trump stands for.
LESSON THREE: COMMUNICATION IN SILENCE. One day, as I was struggling in vain to get my horse Red to obey me, Linda yelled across the arena to me, “Communicate with your horse, Carter!” So seminary teacher that I was at the time, I began to talk to Red: “Stop it! Quit that! Come on, girl!” Linda heard me and yelled again, “Carter, I said, ‘communicate with your horse,’ not talk to her!” Ah, I realized at once, and laughed. So I shut up, I quit using words, and I began to signal to Red with my hands and legs, my seat and the posture of my body. Within seconds, Red and I were communicating back and forth and were totally in synch.
This is the most radical lesson I have ever learned about anything, including the Spirit I often call “God.” While words are useful, necessary, and can be beautiful, we use them too much. We talk too much. We listen too little; therefore, we often fail to communicate with each other what is most important, because it seldom can be spoken. Mystics have always known that God can seldom be spoken, and never spoken adequately. That’s why music and art play such major roles in much religion.
But what, again, does this have to do with Trump — how we resist and how we survive this damaged and damaging man and his reign of terror? I believe, my friends, that we need to be able to listen — listen not only to those people we trust, some good journalists (and there are quite a few), our friends and mentors, and people who are “different” from us in so many ways, but also listen in and through silence. There is so much chaos and noise coming from so many places right now. We need to get outside the noise and listen to the silence.
So much of the noise is lies and “alternative facts”. Could it be that in silence we will hear the truth and come to understand what, in fact, is happening? We will hear the spirits of earth and universe, of our fellow creatures? And we will hear the voices of those humans who’ve gone on, those whose spirits are here to guide us? those who come bearing the Sophia/Wisdom to show us what we can do and to empower us to do it?