“We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way that we have learnt to work and speak when we are tired.”
These words of Audre Lourde have had a profound impact on me for over a year. Her essay "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action", in the collection "Your silence will not protect you" seemed to pierce through to the very essence of who I was. Its ripple effects have continued to spread through my life, and no doubt were a catalyst to the big life changes I have been making.
There is much I could say about this essay. Of how it emerges from a period in which Lourde is faced with her own impermanence, waiting to find out if she has cancer. Of the intense and valid fear of violence she is exposed to as a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” willing to speak out against prejudice.
Of her realisation that her attempts to keep herself safe from external threats were ultimately futile when her body could turn on itself so unexpectedly – her very, VERY clear message that we are all going to die at some point, so what are we going to do with this life?
But for now I want to focus on one of the hints she gives as to how we can bear this all, learning to break free from the conditioning that binds us and the fear that comes with that breaking free.
We need to surround ourselves with a community in the mutual pursuit of love and truth.
Here is how Lourde puts it:
“But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. And it was the concern and caring of all those women which gave me strength and enabled me to scrutinise the essentials of my living.”
How does this play out in my own life?
Today I handed in my notice at work. In the evening I met online with a group of Buddhist women for a weekly study session I co-lead (say hello to Daisy, Rosie and Jo in the photo above). We have been meeting for about three years now and a lot of life has happened. At the end of the session, one of my friends said that she was inspired by the courage and confidence I have in creating the life I really want, even though some elements of it terrify me.
In turn, I reflected on what had inspired and gave me that courage and confidence:
How I felt so alive when I co-lead a retreat with them and around 30 others last summer, that I realised I should just do something that filled me with that much joy;
How seeing one of them move into freelance work and have much more control over her holidays and longer adventures showed me that I could do it too
The care and love I have been given by all of them, particularly one who has let me rent her other flat on mates rates this year, while I went through the turbulence of my Buddhist ordination.
I have surrounded myself with a community of honest, brave, kind people (including my work colleagues who have so much integrity, intelligence and compassion) and that has filled me up enough for it to spill over into the world.
I still feel fear about many things – particularly whenever I am challenging power dynamics and making myself financially vulnerable – but these connections prevent the triggering of my threat system from overwhelming me for too long.
So when you feel fear, what helps you to still speak and act to create the world and life you want? Do you have enough people around you who lift you up and have your back and if not, how can you find them, because they are out there.
We’re waiting for you.