Healing America’s Narratives: Resistance: Sources and Resources

[Part of a series, this essay continues our exploration of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow. Now available.]

Bear navigating resistance with the suet cage

While we did not explicitly explore resistance in Healing America’s Narratives, it is implicitly present in every chapter of the book — always there any time we bump up against something that challenges our current view or way of doing things. Europeans resisted embracing Africans as equals and instead enslaved them; Europeans resisted embracing the indigenous peoples of what are now known as the Americas and instead lied to them, took their land, and tried to force them to abandon their cultures. Men have resisted embracing women as equals for millennia. You get the idea. There are many more examples, but resistance can lead to good as well.

In my training as a coach with Integral Coaching Canada, we got intimate with resistance in our own lives so we might better work with it when it showed up in a coaching (or any other) relationship. In coaching, both the client and the coach are apt to resist something. Kevin Snorf — a mentor, colleague, and friend — is steadfast in his belief that resistance is necessary for, and is in fact a first step in, progress or development. What follows arises in large part from what I continue to learn from him.

In coaching, we find resistance when coaching is not the appropriate modality for the client (this rarely happens, and when it does, it tends to become evident in consultation — before formal coaching begins). Once coaching begins, resistance may arise for various reasons. Here are three, listed in order from least to most common:

  • The scale of the coaching is not appropriate for the client (usually this means the coach has miscalculated at some level or is projecting something onto the client).
  • The client doesn’t understand or is not convinced of the value of a particular request or practice (usually because the coach has not conveyed the purpose, meaning, or “why” adequately).
  • The client’s current view or “way of being” in the world — how and who the client is at the onset of the coaching — opposes any change to the status quo (changing the status quo in some way is the goal of most coaching, and resistance to change is an expected and “normal” part of the process).

So, translated from the specifics of a coaching relationship and into our ongoing attempt to recognize, own, and integrate Shadow in order to heal an individual or collective narrative, resistance might arise based on:

  • Scale: The depth of the denial and projection (Shadow) and the complexity of the healing that is warranted feel overwhelming, so it’s hard to know how and where to start, and resistance to both the Shadow work and the healing arises. When this happens, finding one accessible, simple step is essential. You can’t eat that entire meal in one bite. Start somewhere, chew thoroughly, swallow and repeat. Monitor your serving size, clean your plate, and don’t overeat.
  • Lack of understand, purpose, or “why”: In our lives (outside the coaching relationship), this one will usually prevent progress. It can stop us cold. In the absence of an understanding of why we might benefit from Shadow work and healing our narratives — without a sense of purpose — the status quo will feel all right, or at least better than trying to change. Communities of practice, professionals, family, or good friends might help us here. (In future essays, we’ll address the importance of practice).
  • The current way or view is getting in the way: We tend to enjoy and welcome what is comfortable, habitual, or familiar. By definition, growth and development move us beyond habit and familiarity, and inevitably involve some discomfort. When it comes to a more flexible body, our muscles initially resist the stretch beyond what’s comfortable; one way toward a stronger body is literally called resistance training — push or pull against the weight. Our minds tend to resist the unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar is how we learn, grow, and develop.

So, if you’re bumping into resistance, don’t fall in love with or attempt to exile it. Rather, pay attention. There’s a message in there somewhere. To paraphrase Rumi in “The Guest House,” be grateful for every unexpected visitor.


More on resistance: Joanne Hunt, “Coaching: The Dance of Change and Resistance. Joanne founded Integral Coaching Canada with Laura Divine (1954–2022). Kevin Snorf and I were both fortunate to have them as teachers. https://www.integralcoachingcanada.com/sites/default/files/pdf/danceofchange.pdf

Healing America’s Narratives: The Power & Paradox of Silence

[Part of a series, this essay continues our exploration Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow, specifically in the context of what may serve the healing process moving forward. The book is available.]

Author photo

In “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” Audre Lorde wrote that “I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”¹ Millions of voices have been silenced over hundreds of years by America’s narratives and collective Shadow. Yet, the mystical branch of every wisdom tradition and the deepening evidence of true science are increasingly clear that silence — becoming aware of, working with, and quieting our incessant mind chatter, and regularly retreating from the noise of our human-made infrastructure — is good for us and allows us to hear, see and feel more deeply. Each is true and necessary. Preventing the external silencing of any voice and encouraging and choosing the intentional silencing of our interior and exterior noise are necessary for individual and societal health.

Photo © by Jamie Street on Unsplash

The United States’ external attempts to silence others is clear whether we look at the histories of womenNative Americans, and African Americans, or the attempts to impose our will and way of life on the people of VietnamAfghanistan and Iraq, among others. Despite formal statements regarding the freedoms of speech, the press, and assembly, also known as the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, both formal and informal behavior and the nature of many of our systems and institutions at worst limit or deny these freedoms and at best make them inconvenient for selected people at specific times and in specific places. Revisit the links at the beginning of this paragraph for some examples.

On the other hand, the prospect of intentionally choosing silence (and its sibling, stillness) remains and may be becoming increasingly counter-culture, in cities for sure, but even in rural and suburban areas — anywhere people choose to be at the mercy of phones and apps, and yes, that includes the apps that invite us to engage stillness, silence, and meditation. Try the following suggestion the next time you eat a meal or snack alone in a quiet space (if it’s rare for you to eat in a quiet, private place, perhaps give yourself a brief opportunity to try this). It’s especially effective if what you’re eating is crunchy and requires robust chewing.

About halfway through a mouthful, simply stop chewing, and sit with the stillness and silence that remain for 10–15 seconds (or longer). Perhaps close your eyes. Simply notice how this feels, then begin chewing again. Stopping virtually any activity for a brief time period may bring you a similar experience.

Because of the expectations, speed, and noise that are common in American culture, getting still and silent may feel uncomfortable because of the apparent rewards for getting things done, getting them done quickly, and letting others know you got it done. Less apparent, research-based rewards for practicing stillness and silence, however, can positively impact blood pressure, heart rate, muscular tension, and the ability to focus attention (see resources below).

Your homework:

  1. Notice and speak out against the inappropriate silencing of others.
  2. Give yourself the gift of practicing silence and stillness every day — even for just a few minutes.


  1. Audre Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” Sister Outsider, (Crossing Press, 1984), 41; and The Cancer Journals, (Penguin, 2020/1980), 13. The essay appears in both volumes.
  2. Some resources (among many) regarding the benefits of intentional silence:

An Ode to Silence: Why You Need It in Your Life

And how to find more of it Silence. Some of us welcome it. For others, the thought of sitting in silence is enough to…



The power of silence: 10 benefits of cultivating peace and quiet

We live in an increasingly noisy world. The constant drone of traffic, household appliances, music, television and…


How Listening to Silence Changes Our Brains

Quiet is increasingly scarce in the modern world. But growing evidence shows that we need it for our health and…



Healing America’s Narratives: Background and Foreground, Context and Content

[Part of a series, this essay continues our exploration of Chapter Eleven (So, Now What?”) of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow. Now available.]

In the context of the history¹ of the United States, of the nation’s collective national Shadow and state of affairs in the third decade of the twenty-first century, and our reflections on who we are, the stories we tell and embrace, who and what we impact or impacts us, what we might be missingwho our people areour inevitable death, and how we’re in relationship with all of this, what might we do individually or collectively in order to engage this healing and Shadow integration? Good question. Thanks for asking.

Our exploration of this question in forthcoming essays will necessarily revisit some concepts and practices that we’ve already acknowledged (cultural givens, skillful means, healthy development, intentional practice, silence, openness, truth, and love) as well as some that we have not explicitly addressed, such as resistance, trauma, self-discipline, self-compassion, empathy, and community.

In preparation for what’s to come, as you read this now, consider the previous paragraph and get a sense of — perhaps write down — one or two (or more) of the concepts and practices listed that you feel you would like to work or play with and develop further, and one or two that you feel you are in a good place with — that don’t need your immediate attention. Feel free to add your own if there’s something in your awareness that’s not listed above. And you can always change your mind and revise your list.

Another way to do this, which I find more challenging, is to prioritize the list: #1 would be what you feel you’d most like to work or play with and the final item you list would be what you feel is in pretty good shape right now. Again, none of this is etched in stone; just playing with the list might bring an insight. Stay open and curious.

Be kind to yourself.


¹The brief histories explored in the book include womenNative AmericansAfrican Americans, the Vietnam War, and the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — all in the context of the book’s title and subtitle.

Healing America’s Narratives: How Am I in Relationship With Everything in My Life?

[Part of a series, this essay explores a subheading from Chapter Eleven of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow. Now available.]

In an earlier essay, we considered six questions and statements that are important for the healing process. Here they are again, with the first five linked to a brief overview:

We’re focusing on that final question here. Another way to ask the question is “What is the nature of my relationship with…” who I think I am or whether or not everything is a story or what I might not be seeing. Underlying the importance of relationship is the context of healing, which, as we discussed earlier, begins with coming to terms with things as they are. More to the point, when something happens — whether it is expected or unexpected, or considered “good” or “bad” — how we relate to it is as important as — perhaps more important than — the thing that has happened. What is my relationship with the positive or negative test result, the new job or job loss, the argument with my friend, the election result, the stubbed toe, the spilt milk?

This is nothing new. Teachings on our relationships with our minds, events, and stories have been around for millennia:

“It is true that the mind is restless and difficult to control, but it can be conquered… through regular practice and detachment” (6.35) — The Bhagavad Gita, c. 500–200 BCE.

“What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.” ­ — Epictetus, The Enchiridion¸ c. 0–200 CE.

“No one finds it easy to accept the lot Fortune has sent him….So nothing is miserable except when you think it so, and vice versa, all luck is good luck to the man who bears it with equanimity.” (II.iv) — Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophyc. 522–524 CE.

“Be grateful for whoever comes, / because each has been sent / as a guide from beyond.” — Rumi, from “The Guest House,” c. 1240–1260, CE, trans. Coleman Barks.

“[E]verything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.

“The question we should be asking is not ‘Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?’…. A better question would be ‘Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?’” — Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

“I want to … encourage you to think about the creative responsibility involved in the fact that there are different ways to tell your stories. It’s not that one is true and another is not true. It’s a matter of emphasis and context….The choice you make affects what you can do next.…what I want to emphasize are the advantages of choosing a particular interpretation at a particular point in time, and the even greater advantage of using multiple interpretations.” — Mary Catherine Bateson, “Composing a Life.”

“I don’t mean to say that my diagnosis makes me special. Life, as I’ve said before, is a terminal condition. Those of us with terminal illnesses simply have been blessed — and I mean blessed — with having the facts of our own mortality held constantly before us.” — Philip Simmons, Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life

“Even more astonishing was the realization that, as sick as I was at that moment and as preoccupied as I was about the task awaiting me in less than ten minutes, there was still some kindness, serenity, and compassion inside me to send to others on the out-breath….[Tonglen] took me out of my small world.” — Toni Bernhard, How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers

“Expressive writing is a self-reflective tool with tremendous power. By exploring emotional upheavals in our lives, we are forced to look inward and examine who we are. This occasional self-examination can serve as a life-course correction.”
— James W. Pennebaker and John F. Evans, Expressive Writing: Words that Heal

Indeed, our relationships with what we perceive as triumphs, disasters, successes, and failures determine and are determined by the stories we choose to tell about our lives. What stories are you telling such that your relationships are as they are? How might your relationships (and you) shift if you revised your stories?

Bateson, Mary Catherine. “Composing a Life.” Sacred Stories: A
Celebration of the Power of Stories to Transform and Heal
. Eds.
Charles & Anne Simpkinson. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco,
1993. (42- 48).

Bernhard, Toni. How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the
Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers.
 Somerville, MA: Wisdom, 2010. (99).

Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Trans. V.E. Watts. New York: Penguin, 1969. (63).

Easwaran, Eknath, trans. The Bhagavad Gita. Tomales CA: Nilgiri, 1985. (108).

­Epictetus, The Enchiridion. https://gist.github.com/romainl/d67523aae35c34d36ad5

Frankl, Victor E. Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. 4th ed. Boston: Beacon, 1992/1946. (75).

Kushner, Harold S. When Bad Things Happen to Good People. New York: Avon, 1981. (136).

Pennebaker, James W. and John F. Edwards. Expressive Writing: Words That Heal. Enumclaw, WA: Idyll Arbor, 2014. (21).

Rumi, Jelaluddin, “The Guest House.” The Essential Rumi. Trans., Coleman Barks, with John Moyne. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995. (109).

Simmons, Philip. Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life.
New York: Bantam, 2002. (14).

Healing America’s Narratives: I Am Going To Die

[Part of a series, this essay explores a subheading from Chapter Eleven of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow. Now available.]

Photo ©by Philippa Rose-Tite on Unsplash

We’re returning to Chapter Eleven of Healing America’s Narratives after our departures in the previous two posts — the inevitability of the current state of the country and the apparent belief, shared by both Democratic and Republican leadership, that they need never-ending millions of advertising dollars in order to win elections and defeat each other (for the good of the country).

“I am going to die” is the fifth of six statements and questions that frame Chapter Eleven, which explores some approaches to manifesting the book’s title — Healing America’s Narratives. The statement is ‘simply’ an acknowledgment of what is — what’s true — that given enough time, we all die. No one knows how, when, or where, but with each breath we take, we get closer to our final breath.

Our responses to the some of the earlier questions and statements from Chapter Eleven inform how we might respond to this acknowledgment of our mortality. If who we think we are is simply an assembly of flesh, bone, instinct, thought, and mood — nothing but separate animated objects with a few shared traits and some noticeable differences — then the horrors of the histories of womenNative AmericansAfrican Americans, the Vietnam War, the post-9/11 war on terror, and other significant histories, while still horrific, make sense in an ignorant, arrogant, fearful, bigoted, violent kind of way.

If, however, we all share an origin, a common ancestry — whether through a religious or a scientific story — and if we each have a unique ecological niche — our ultimate place in the world, our Soul, expressed through mythopoetic identity as a one-time-only manifestation of Spirit, All That Is, God, Source, Ground of Being — then it becomes a tad more difficult — it makes no sense at all — to proclaim the supremacy of any race, to declare you’re either with us or you’re with the enemy, or to in any way dehumanize others. The stories we choose about who we are, really, make a difference.

Each of us has our own dying and death stories. If we’re lucky we get to bury our parents and older siblings, our grandparents, aunts and uncles, and others from the generations that precede us. Some of these deaths, while sad, are expected and feel natural; sometimes they are unexpected and feel tragic. What is the story each of us tells, what is the story that you choose to tell, about the inevitability of death? As Mary Catherine Bateson told us, “The choice you make affects what you can do next.”¹

The late surgeon and author, Sherwin Nuland, wrote that death results “all too frequently [from] a series of destructive events that involve…the disintegration of the dying person’s humanity,” and that he had not “seen much dignity in the process by which we die.” Nuland, however, complemented his surgeon’s intimacy with the sterility, knowledge, precision, life, and death of the operating room with his philosopher’s view and his poet’s heart. “The greatest dignity to be found in death is the dignity of the life that preceded it,” he told us.²

If you want a dignified death, your best bet is to live a dignified life. If you want a dignified country, your best bet is live, and help others live, a dignified life by coming to terms with things as they are, being the change you want to see in the world, and at the very least, doing more good than harm through your words and actions.


  1. Mary Catherine Bateson, “Composing a Life,” Sacred Stories: A Celebration of the Power of Stories to Transform and Heal. Eds. Charles & Anne Simpkinson, (HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), 42–43.
  2. Sherwin B. Nuland, How We Die, (Knopf, 1993), “all too frequently…,” xvii; “The greatest dignity…,” 242.




Healing America’s Narratives: Money, Elections, Democrats, Republicans, & Money

[Part of a series, this essay explores aspects of the idiocy that characterize America’s two-party approach to political campaigns. Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow. Now available.]

Photo © by Maria Thalassinou on Unsplash

Note: I am an unaffiliated voter — I am a member of neither the Republican nor the Democratic party. I used to be a member of one of them, and am still more generally aligned on most issues with that party. This essay captures the essence of why I dropped my membership with one party and why I would never become a member of the other party.

From October 20, 2022 through the publication of this essay, I received over 500 emails asking me for money in support of candidates for office in states in which I do not live. More than 300 of those emails came after election day, November 8, and specifically asked for money regarding the Georgia Senate runoff. I also received a significant number of snail mail documents — all of which were focused on local elections for the town, state, and national districts in which I actually live.

Between October 21 and November 5, I made four modest (two-figure) contributions to the campaigns of candidates whose positions on most issues I generally agree with. Despite the 300-plus emails that arrived in my inbox after election day, and despite my strong support for one of the two Georgia Senate candidates, I did not contribute to the runoff campaign.

Here’s why, and this is equally applicable to the Democratic and Republican parties and their leadership: if you really believe that the only way you can win and govern is by telling me multiple times a day you need another $250,000 by tonight’s (and tomorrow’s and the next day’s…) deadline — amounts and deadlines that you conjured within a system that you created— and that you’re counting on my $35 or $45 or $75 (which you’re willing to quadruple!!!) in order to outspend the other party’s extensive fundraising; and if you’re going to continue to ask me for money multiple times a day WHETHER OR NOT I MAKE A CONTRIBUTION this time; and if your requests are characterized by BOLD AND CAPS and yellow highlights (which I can’t reproduce here), then you must think I’m an idiot (I’m not, for the most part). Those highlighting tactics are consistent with what used to be used on late-night television commercials for kitchen gadgets, pain-relief gadgets, and OTHER important and REALLY good DEALS! They may still be used, but I don’t stay up late anymore.

Plus, if you can actually quadruple all those modest contributions, why do you need them at all? Just use the cash you already have on hand for quadrupling. The problem is that you (Republican and Democratic leadership) make the case that what’s needed to save the country (from each other) is more money from me and other citizens. You use this money for advertising. You advertise using hyperbole, insult, and distorted photos of your opponents (i.e. each other).

What the hell is wrong with you?

Yes, I understand that you wouldn’t be behaving as you do if you didn’t have research-based evidence that it works on American voters who suffer from civic (and other types of) ignorance.

Here’s one specific example — my views on a letter I received from a candidate in a race to represent me in Congress. The lowlight of this particular letter was the candidate’s (or his handlers’) attempts to associate his opponent with the “defund the police” folks. His opponent’s spouse is a veteran police detective. That’s a rather tame example, but it makes the point.

So again, I ask, what the hell is wrong with you?

Healing America’s Narratives: The Inevitability of the Current Mood of the United States

[Part of a series, this essay explores the inevitability that surfaced amid the research for and writing of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow. Now available.]

Photo © by tom coe on Unsplash

If we begin with Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 and work our way forward through each day since then, especially those days not included in some of the more (in)famous years like 1619, 1776, 1787, 1830, 1865, 1868, 1920, 1945, 1964, 2001, 2003 (et cetera)¹ and into our current state of affairs in the third decade of the twenty-first century, where we are as a country is inevitable. Said differently, our ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, excess, bullying, and untrustworthiness are not surprising.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning A Bright Shining LieNeil Sheehan wrote this about the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam:

“What Calley and others who participated in the massacre did that was different was to kill hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese in two hamlets in a single morning and to kill point-blank with rifles, pistols, and machine guns. Had they killed just as many over a larger area in a longer period of time and killed impersonally with bombs, shells, rockets, white phosphorous, and napalm, they would have been following the normal pattern of American military conduct. The soldier and the junior officer observed the lack of regard his superiors had for the Vietnamese. The value of Vietnamese life was systematically cheapened in his mind…. The military leaders of the United States, and the civilian leaders who permitted the generals to wage war as they did, had made the massacre inevitable.”²

Sheehan’s words indict the worst of leadership that arise through unhealthy masculine energy. Be it military or civilian, local, state, or national, such leadership renders inevitable, or at least highly likely, horrors such as My Lai in 1968; the mutilation and slaughter of Cheyenne men, women, and children at Sand Creek in 1864; the massacre of Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee in 1890; the more than 6,000 lynchings of blacks between 1865 and 1950; the incineration of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood district in 1921; the degradations of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo in the post-9/11 war on terror; and the incessant gun violence in the U.S. Among other examples.

In response to a school shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives³ created Christmas photo cards, posing their families holding assault rifles in front of Christmas trees in 2021 in support of the weapons commonly used in U.S. Congress-enabled mass shootings. Evidently, these folks were channeling the intersection of what Jesus meant when he said “Love one another,”⁴ and what the framers had in mind when they penned the Second Amendment.

That’s a small sample of evidence regarding the inevitability of our current culture of violence. What about greed and excess, you ask? A country built on slave and peasant labor, sweatshops, migrant workers, and now cheap international labor renders inevitable a 2022 second quarter report that the wealthiest 1% of Americans own 31.1% of the nation’s wealth; the top 10% own 68%; and the bottom 50% own 3.2% (the 40% of Americans who fall between the bottom 50% and the top 10% own 28.9%). Said differently, the top 10% of Americans own more than twice (68%) of what the bottom 90% own (32%). This is like saying that the folks in Texas and Montana (together about 10% of the nation’s population) own more than twice as much wealth as the rest of the country. In a nation where owning and having things is important, this is a big deal.

Here’s one more juxtaposition: the defense industry — those companies that build and maintain the weapons and infrastructure of war and everyday violence, and the insurance-pharmaceutical-medical-government-finance-lobbying industry (euphemistically referred to as healthcare in the U.S.) are both for-profit endeavors. Need more deterrence, want to go to war, or choose to keep assault weapons available to our huddled masses? Cha-ching. Need to attend to the physical and psychological effects of war, everyday violence, and active shooter drills for school children? Cha-ching. Need to make sure none of this changes? Have more lobbyists in D.C. (more than 700) than there are members of Congress (currently 535 when all seats are filled).

The above are selected, limited examples, painted with broad brush strokes. For more specific information, see Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow.


  1. Briefly: 1619 (initial delivery of enslaved Africans to what is now Virginia by the British); 1776 (U.S. Declaration of Independence); 1787 (U.S. Constitution); 1830 (Congress passes “Indian Removal” Act); 1865 (Civil War ends; 13th Amendment passed); 1868 (14th Amendment passed; Second Fort Laramie Treaty); 1920 (19th Amendment passed); 1945 (U.S. drops two atomic bombs on Japan; World War II ends); 1964 (Civil Rights Act passed); 2001 (September 11 terrorist attacks on U.S.); 2003 (U.S. preemptively attacks Iraq).
  2. Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, (New York: Random House, 1988), 689–90.
  3. Lauren Boebert (R-Colorado) and Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky): https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/christmas-card-guns-lauren-boebert-thomas-massie-start-new-culture-ncna1285709
  4. For younger readers: Christmas began as a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and had nothing to do with retail sales, garishly decorated real and fake trees, and assault weapons.

Healing America’s Narratives: Who Are My People?

Part of a series, this essay explores a subheading from Chapter Eleven of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow. Now available.

Photo © by Brittani Burns on Unsplash

Who Are My People?

In the perfectly integrated, comprehensive, inclusive, and balanced universe in which most of us do not (think we) live, we can hear the mystical cheerleaders’ rhythmic, enthusiastic, and obvious response echoing around the arena: EV-ree-one! Where most of us do think we live, it can be helpful to have a sense of who our people are — not in the unhealthy us-against-the-others sense that governs most finite games, but in the sense of realistically assessing how and with whom I might do the most good in the world as it is, with what I have to offer, without harming others, to the benefit of the whole shebang. Taking care of my, or our, little niche is often the best way to serve the greater good.

Often, the answer to this question lies not in some definitive choice we make but in our authentic attention to the intersections of who we think we are, the stories we choose, the impacts we both have and receive, and what we are able to uncover and own that we previously had not seen. While “my people” may be superficially identified, or at least narrowed down, through blood, geography, and chronology, they are inevitably found and known through experience, belief, and worldview. They include those I learn from and learn with and those who learn from me — whether the learning emerges in the classroom, on the street, at the checkout counter, in the healthcare office, at work, or at the kitchen table. Consider the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, as his writing led him into “contact with more human beings”:

“I had editors — more teachers — and these were the first white people I’d ever really known on any personal level. They defied my presumptions — they were afraid neither for me nor of me. Instead they saw in my unruly curiosity and softness something that was to be treasured and harnessed.”¹

The friends we choose and who choose us in childhood and adolescence, the groups we align with when we choose a craft, profession, or area of study (or one chooses us), and the individuals in our chosen craft, profession, or discipline towards whom we gravitate may provide insight and evidence about, but don’t necessarily define, “our people.” Many folks will come, stay for a while and go; others will come and stay. We begin to recognize some who stay, and even some who go, as our people.

As tempting as it can be to espouse an all-of-us perspective and claim everyone as our people (as those mystical cheerleaders did above), if we’re operating primarily from a Body-Mind identity, it is difficult to embody and live up to that claim — despite its value and attractiveness. Better to live in a healthy embodiment of who our people truly are right now, than to delude ourselves with an espoused, but not yet embodied and lived, self-aggrandizing claim.

Still, part of our intentional practice might be to “act as if” all humans are our people and to see how such practice impacts our sense of self, our beliefs about others, and our behavior.


  1. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, (One World-
    Random House, 2015), 62.

Healing America’s Narratives: What Am I Not Seeing?

Part of a series, this essay explores a subheading from Chapter Eleven of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow. Now available.

In our previous three inquiries into subheaders from Chapter Eleven, “So, Now What?” we explored identitystory, and impact. Here we’ll consider what any one of us — or millions of us — might be missing with regard to our own lives and/or our country. “Shadow,” as it’s referred to throughout the book, is one reason, among others, an individual or a collective might not be seeing something.

There are various ways to work with Shadow.¹ One hint that an element of Shadow may be clamoring for our attention is if we notice a disproportionate emotional response to someone or something — especially if that response recurs. So, a recurrent, disproportionate, emotional response to someone or something we experience as being angry or lacking in compassion may be inviting us to explore our own anger or lack of compassion. Likewise, if we have such a response to someone or something we experience as exceptionally creative, generous, or successful, we may want to explore our own as-yet disowned creativity, generosity, or success.

Whether what we’re not seeing is considered positive or negative, recognizing, owning, and integrating it into our sense of self leads to a more integrated, “wholer,” fully human being.

Questions such as these may begin to uncover what might be repressed, denied, and projected:

1. What is it about this situation, person, event, issue, idea, emotion, or dream, such that I respond as I do?

2. What is it about me, such that I respond to this situation, person, event, issue, idea, emotion, or dream as I do?

3. To what extent do my reactions or responses feel disproportionate?

4. What might I be projecting onto this situation, person, event, issue, idea, emotion, or dream that I need to explore in myself?

The first question engages through an external locus of control. It helps begin to identify the source of the disproportionate response by looking toward something out there. Getting clearer about what that something is moves us closer to identifying Shadow — what we don’t yet see or know about ourselves.

The second question engages through an internal locus of control and is more challenging. It implicates us. What is it about me such that I respond as I do? Ooh, is my discomfort with his ease in expressing anger related to my unowned anger? Is my admiration for her success in the art world the result of my own as-yet-unrealized creative potential? What is it, exactly, that brings up my disproportionate response? Now, I’m curious. Repressing and projecting parts of ourselves requires energy. Owning and integrating what we repress and project frees up our energy for other aspects of life.

The third question invites us to authentically consider the extent to which our response is disproportionate to the reality of the situation, person, or thing. Honest, challenging, trusted friends may be helpful here.

The fourth question explores the quality, emotion, trait, or characteristic that may be repressed, denied, and projected. Sometimes we recognize it immediately, and perhaps experience a mix of relief, guilt, or simply, oh, THAT! Sometimes it may be slower to emerge — harder to see and even harder to own and integrate. Oh. That. Me? Lacking compassion? Nah. No way. For that one particular colleague/friend/sibling…? Um, perhaps, yes.

Working with Shadow can be discomfiting. Be kind to yourself.

  1. Among many, see Bill Plotkin’s Wild Mind (207–34) and Soulcraft (267–80); and Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams, eds. Meeting the Shadow (65 essays from a variety of authors).

Healing America’s Narratives: What’s My Impact & What Impacts Me?

Part of a series, this essay explores a subheading from Chapter Eleven of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow. Now available.

What’s My Impact & What Impacts Me?

What’s my impact — what’s the nature of the wake I’m leaving as I swim, paddle, sail, or otherwise make my way along the river or across the ocean of life? How does my wake impact other vessels and the water itself, and to what extent am I aware of this impact?

What impacts me — what is the nature of the impact on me of other vessels, the wakes they leave, and the river or ocean itself? Less metaphorically, what beliefs, behaviors, habits, cultures, relationships, environments, systems, and people affect me; to what extent, large or small, do they affect me; and what, if anything, am I doing or can I do about it?

With such questions, it helps to explore the broadest, deepest view available of my current beliefs, behaviors, relationships, and environments. Shining the light of awareness on my current awareness — witnessing myself as I am — is a significant practice. What interiors and exteriors impact who and how I am? Whether, when, where, and how I choose to shine this light of awareness emerges from the story I hold (or that holds me) about who I think I am, and the worldview — focused on me, us, all of us, or all that is — that holds my story.

The world of experience continues to offer additional givens throughout our lives. The concrete manifestation of our earliest and ongoing givens are the literal infrastructures and systems — the natural and human-made environments — in which we live our lives, from the tablet, computer, or phone you’re using right now, to the physical space you’re in, to the electricity or to the sun itself that lights that space. Cultural givens and environments co-arise, co-relate, and impact each other and each of us. Beliefs and values lead to things and systems, which in turn revise and create beliefs and values — which in turn lead to new things and systems.

Intentional fire, writing, the wheel, horticulture, agriculture, gunpowder, the printing press, steam power, trains, electricity, internal combustion, the automobile, paved roads, airplanes, the assembly line, the radio, television, space travel, atomic power, computers, robotics, the World Wide Web, smart phones, social media and many other technologies shaped and shape our environment, and, in turn, they shape us. Way back in the previous century, Neal Postman proposed six questions that are worth exploring each time a new technology is being developed or emerges:

1. What is the problem to which this technology is a solution?

2. Whose problem is it?

3. Suppose we solve the problem and solve it decisively, what new problems might be created because we solved the old problem?

4. Which people and what institutions might be most seriously harmed by a technological solution?

5. What changes in language are being enforced by new technologies and what is being gained and lost by such changes?

6. What sort of people and institutions acquire special economical and political power because of technological change?¹

The importance of these types of questions occurs at the intersections of everything is a story, technological impact, and who we think we are. Here are some variations on a theme:

1. How does who you think you are impact what stories you are telling yourself about the impact of the technologies you choose to use or must engage with every day?

2. How do the stories you tell yourself impact who you think you are and the technologies you choose to use or must engage with every day?

3. How do the technologies you choose to use or must engage with every day impact the stories you tell yourself about who you think you are?

The above is not an attempt at cleverness. Consider spending some time with these questions in the context of what you believe is true, first in your own life, and then in the history and current affairs of the United States. Identity, story, and impact matter.


1. Neal Postman, “Staying Sane in a Technological Society: Six Questions in Search of an Answer,” Lapis, (New York Open Center, Issue 7, 1998), 53–57.