Reaction, response, and resolution: on PantheaCon & protests

When I was formerly employed as a health educator at a community healthcare facility for people over 60, I taught several classes on chronic pain and chronic disease management. As part of my observation over 4 years of working in chronic illness management, I witnessed the ways that chronic pain over time brings on a level of stress that releases hormones into the body which exacerbate the chronic condition or pain. In other words- it’s a vicious cycle. Pain causes stress, which causes more pain, which causes more stress…and so forth.

During my tenure in this position, I read a wonderful book by Jon Kabat Zinn called Full catastrophe living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Kabat-Zinn is a Professor of Medicine Emeritus and founder/director of the UMASS Med School’s Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society. He is also a student of Zen, yoga, and meditation. I highly recommend this book and his work for anyone who deals with chronic pain/illness, lingering trauma or PTSD, or anyone who lives/works in a job environment they find stressful. I know this book changed my life.

Among other things, Kabat-Zinn peels back the layers of understanding around the difference between a reaction and a response. While I suggest you read the book to gain your own personal understanding of his work, I will humbly offer my perspective here. I feel that the most important first step in stress management is to discern the difference between reaction and response.

Reaction is unbidden, reflexive, automatic, and guided by a sudden release of adrenaline and other stress hormones in a given moment. It’s visceral and raw. Reaction shouts, lashes out, cries, whines, pleads, bargains, runs away. Reaction is fight or flight. Reaction is the inner child who throws a tantrum.

Response is thoughtful, measured, mindful. Response takes a long view. Response reasons, synthesizes, contemplates, formulates, and revises a strategy. Response is deliberate. Response is the inner parent that says to the inner child, “Yes, I know you are upset and hurt. You have every right to your feelings. However, you still need a plan for dealing with those feelings. Let’s develop a plan rather than just exploding.”

It has been my observation working in this field that for those who had extremely stressful early childhoods, it is really challenging to formulate a response rather than a reaction. Since so much of our conditioning happens in early childhood, the fight or flight response becomes a way of life. Literally, the brain is automatically washed in hormones that make it very difficult to keep a level head. You have heard the phrase “seeing red?” You may have experienced this level of anguish yourself, where you just can’t see past the now moment of pain and hurt to any kind of future. I know I have had those moments.

Watching the unfolding events of the past year regarding gender, inclusivity, exclusion, and how these topics affect pagan community, I can see how reactions and response have played out. I can see where, as a child who literally had to leave every single thing she ever knew behind during a bloody revolution, Z Budapest’s raw words, feelings, and expressions are a reaction. After all, I have known her for 7 years. I know her stories. I know that this is a woman who, for all intents and purposes, grew up and came of age during a war. I know that for a long time she considered it a good day if she could say, “Ok, I have not been shot, raped, or killed today. I got some food and water. I will be able to go on to live another day.” I can see where she felt defensive and protective of the Dianic Tradition, and how reactive that was. Adrenaline pumping, fear rising, pain welling up, then…explosion. I can also see reaction in the number of people who never followed up with me for clarity, who issued me violent threats, words of insult, etc. I don't hold that against anyone. These feelings are natural, predictable, and part of the cycle of life.

I can also see, having walked through the hall where Thorn Coyle and others sat in silent, peaceful protest before Z’s ritual at PantheaCon last weekend, how moderated, noble, disciplined, and poised the action was. It was a response, rather than a reaction: thought out, planned, cultivated, tended. It came from mindfulness. Thorn’s post that called the protest to action speaks of inner investigation, clarity of motivation, and purpose. I was struck, walking down the hallway, at how very similar the energy seemed there to the recent peaceful protest in response after police violence escalated around the Occupy movement at UC Davis. If you have not seen the hauntingly beautiful footage of peace and justice in action there, please watch it. (I am having computer issues with attaching the link this morning, but google UC Davis Chancellor protest and you'll get it. The energy of the protest felt a lot like that.) A notable departure from this comparison, however, is that Z Budapest is decidedly NOT the 1%, nor were the protesters the 99%. I hold that we are the 100% in a state of community evolution.

While reaction and response may be the natural chain of events that lead from a stressful situation to a place of resolution, they are not resolution itself. Reaction is the first step. It's the activating force. It's the Om that disturbs the Void and begins to seed creation. Response is evolution. It is trial and error and research and experience. But resolution itself involves commitment.

In the Pagans in the Media Panel on Sunday at PantheaCon (of which there is an audio recording that will be shared later), I described the Conflict Resolution procedure I have developed within CAYA Coven, with the help of several others, over the past few years. I based this conflict resolution procedure on the writings of Thich Nat Hahn, and the methods used to resolve conflict in Buddhist monastic communities. Pending the approval of the CAYA High Council, we'll be publishing an outline of the procedure for free at our web site in hopes that other communities might make good use of it. I also recommend reading Bridging the Gap by Crystal Blanton, who has written there about restorative justice.

In applying the principles and model of the CAYA Conflict Resolution procedure to myself over the past year so that I could move beyond feeling hurt and misunderstood in my own intentions and actions, I have committed myself to finding creative solutions to our problems and moving forward. I am one of many who share this commitment. There are more of us who want peace than conflict, this I know to be true. I feel blessed to be in a community where my own evolution has been lovingly held, and where my community's growth over the past year has been able to find expression at events such as the Pagan Pride Festival, the recent Conference on Gender and Paganism, and this year's PantheaCon.

During the protest of Z's rite at PantheaCon, the members of Devin Hunter's Living Temple of Diana and priestesses of CAYA Coven (including members of Grove of Artemis and member of the Amazon Priestess Tribe) were preparing for our Rite of the Bear Mother, which was being hosted at the same time. We circled up to get ready, but we felt incomplete. There was so much pain happening just downstairs from us- how could we stand by and allow that to unfold without being present to bear witness and send waves of love in all directions? In fact, our very intent in the Rite of the Bear Mother was to help those in attendance heal and move beyond the reaction or the response to true resolution. We decided to go to the protest, and to stand in the liminal space between the ritual attendees and the protesters, singing songs of peace and transformation. Our magical and political intent was to offer energies of healing and resolution for the best possible outcome. We feel that we have found our own best possible outcome in working together. Two separate lineages coming together in ritual and learning that...guess what? We use many of the same prayers, ritual methods, and our energy actually fits like hand in glove. It was amazing to be part of that unfolding.

Storm Faerywolf, a well-known teacher within the Feri Tradition, is also a member of the Living Temple of Diana. He wrote an eloquent statement that he posted to his Facebook wall, and I don't think I can say it better:

"Tonight, the Living Temple of Diana together in solidarity with the CAYA Grove of Artemis, held the sacred space in between Z Budapest and those organized by T. Thorn Coyle who chose to hold a silent vigil in counterpoint to Z's hurtful statements made last year regarding the invalidation of trans-women. We bore witness as Z issued a statement about the issue, and we sang "We All Come From The Goddess", by Z, and "Beauty and Darkness" by Thorn. We hold the space in between to show that there is, in the words of Rabbit, "no 'them', only 'us'". Let us heal as a whole people. Let there be love."

In order to get to the love, I definitely see a need for there to be some sort of extremely boundaried, well-defined, targeted conflict resolution proceeding to happen for healing to begin around this issue. The best way I know to move forward is with a plan. In my humble opinion, whatever conflict resolution comes of this really requires three very clear commitments.

Commitment 1:
to establish a set of language and behavior expectations to which we all commit, lovingly and respectfully, in this conversation: online, offline, in person. These need to include protocols around terminology, protocols around anger management, and protocols around transparency. We need to stop undercutting our very valid intellectual and thealogical commentary with emotional outbursts, insults, and snide asides, for starters. Let's try to be dignified in our communications with one another, sensitive to the structured language that is necessary to evolving the conversation, and mindful of our conduct. No angry flailing allowed here. Sorry, but it's counterproductive at this point. Perhaps if someone needs to express anger in a healthy way, it would be useful to find a support group or therapist who is trained to help you release and process that, or a great friend to whom you can vent.

Commitment 2:
to take some time AWAY from the discussion for each to familiarize ourselves with helpful educational materials. If you are a trans person or ally and have not read Z's books, maybe pick one up and look through it to get to know the worldview of Z's practice of the Dianic Tradition and the historical moment of its arising in the U.S. a bit better. For those who find themselves feeling oppressed and shamed for their choice of focus on the concerns of cisgendered women, for the Dianics out there who feel resistant to seeing trans women as "real women", I encourage you to take some time to read Whipping Girl by Julie Serrano, or avail yourself of other information with the intent to better understand the diverse worldviews of our trans sisters and brothers. If you Google "cisgender allies" or "how can I be more sensitive as a cisgender person" you will get about a billion possible options to choose from. There is no monolithic stance or worldview here, as all trans people have their own unique voices and stories, so don't look for an "offical transgender guide." Just wade in to the sea of information and learn as you go. When we feel we know a bit more about one another, as people, we tend to approach even difficult conversations with greater affection and patience.

Commitment 3:
to establish a gradual plan of continuing education and conversation over time. This issue did not start this year, last year, or even ten years ago. This is a centuries-old topic, actually. We need at minimum a 5-year plan of resolution here. Perhaps drafting guidelines and educational materials for how anyone who wants to might facilitate an open dialogue in their local community or at a festival about these issues would be a good step toward broadening the spectrum of awareness. From there, perhaps a group of committed leaders might come together and formulate plans of action for restorative justice. I hope to be included should that group come together. I feel I have some ideas that might be of value or help in some small way.

In the end, many people have asked me whose side I am on. I think this is a very ironic question. Throughout all of history, no matter how generous and loving someone might be, ultimately everyone is always on their own side. My motivations for standing as loving witness between the ritual and the protest, and for offering an inclusive women's rite at PCon as well as an inclusive Dianic rite with men, were both selfish and altruistic at the same time. I want healing, for myself and everyone. I want PantheaCon and other Festivals to be fun and refreshing and enlightening, for myself and everyone. I want our community to evolve, for my benefit as much as everyone else's.

Now, I plan to write up vivid descriptions of some of the Rites I saw and participated in at PantheaCon, but in terms of this topic, I am going to watch, wait, listen, and learn for a while.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.

-Rumi