How to stay grounded in the face of dread and oppression?

Asked by: T.P.L., Bakersfield, USA

Answered by: Kristin Prevallet

T.P.L., Bakersfield, USA

What keeps you alive? What does the journey toward joy and calm look like? What are your rituals for staying grounded in the face of dread, grief, and oppression in the world?

How does one navigate a sense of peace, a sense of gratitude when it feels selfish given everything going on around us? What would be less disappointing but communal to find joy in?

Thank you. Thank you for existing. Writing. Creating energy for creation.

With love,



Oh! Thank you for your letter which hits me right where I live in my mind, heart, work and soul on a daily basis. I would say especially now but as we know, the dread, grief, and oppression in the world have always been present. It is because we pay attention, not just read the news, but witness and feel the effects of oppression on the suffering of people in our lives, those who are close to us, and those who are our kin, but far away. Not just witness, of course, but live through ourselves (in varying degrees of severity) the material effects of systemic oppression as we struggle with health, housing, and the terror of the future – of what is coming. I become so depressed and overcome with inertia thinking about how all our cries for peace and justice – from 1619 to the present – have fallen on deaf ears or worse – have been devoured and transformed into a weapon to be used against us by those seeing power for power’s sake.

I know that you are writing this letter to me because you too are tired of platitudes; you too have meditated, kundalinied, yogaed, and breathed with the best of teachers, you too have burned with the effigies and ayahuascaed with penultimate sacred drum circles. And yet here we are. That omnipresent notion that if we can just stop aggression in ourselves the world will change has turned out to be the opposite. Aggression is the world, the suffering is insurmountable and is getting worse every day.

And yet, I have a Merlin app on my phone which tells me that right now there are cardinals, catbirds, blackbirds, robins, doves, rose-breasted Grosbeaks, wood thrushes, cedar waxwings, warblers, and orioles all singing at the same time. How can I not feel gratitude to be amongst this cacophonous symphony? And yet, I am surrounded by people I love and who love me, who I try to the best of my ability to reach out to on a daily basis because I don’t know when or how they will die and I want to be held and hold them as best I can. How can I not feel tender joy in these moments of connection? And yet, the genocide in Gaza gets more and more brutal every day, as do humans living on the brink of climate change, as does the drug crisis and the suicide epidemic, as does the systemic war against poor people and whatever I have done to contribute, protest, write letters to senators, isn’t about me doing these things, it’s about the momentum of collective action, being a spec on the pantomime, the blackbird against the snowy mountain, a recognition that I am but one small part.   

I guess what I’m saying is I wish I knew how to answer your question. 

But you ask me what I do, so I’ll answer that as best I can: live your life, love who you love, create what you need to create, and move through time with generosity, compassion, activism, grace, and a strong compass kept tethered to your inner truth which means homing in on what you value, care for, and love. Oh and avoid the noise – so many people telling you how to think, what to say, how to be this or that…forget about all that. It’s confusing and causes inertia.

I offer you this poem by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, who I met a long time ago in a workshop she was leading on the Zuihitsu, a form of poetic composition into the material ephemera of everyday life, the loud and the soft, the horrific and the gentle. I don’t know how humans hold it all at the same time. But I return to this poem when I am feeling powerless, hopeless, and filled with dread. And then I look around to find a wrist to munch on:

After Robert Fuller

Will the new aunt Jemima have dreads?
Why did Susan Smith kill her children and blame a black man?
Would a black man hang himself from a tree with his backpack still on?
Is it justice or revenge we are seeking?
What does justice look like?
What else can I do to feel safe?
Several times a day I stab my fingertips to threads
Looking for something more than blood as a reminder of life
An angry rain whips the window
We lay quiet in bed
Invite Kimiko Hahn to serenade us with her new poems
When she’s done   my lover says
Give me something   something to munch on
I offer her my wrist.

-Cheryl Boyce-Taylor

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