Life of Carmen, Politics & Activism, Zen & Dharma

When shit happens

There is no question that my escape from  Homeland Security was partially pure dumb luck—or if you prefer, fate, or karma. Others have handled such situations with greater skill and been refused. The winds of confusion and paranoia blow in all directions and right now those winds are blowing strong in the US of A. They are clearly on a witch hunt for people who don’t fit neatly into their established categories. When it comes to folks like us crossing the border, all bets are off.

However, looking back on this very interesting adventure, I can identify some strategies which I consciously engaged and which at the very least upped the odds in my favour. I have been in similar situations in the past and similar strategies have helped me through. The next time shit happens, I want to clearly remember how this worked. And maybe next time shit happens to you—when you find yourself in a situation of confusion or opposition or personal conflict—these  reflections might be useful.

And so I offer this 10-point guide to What to do when shit happens:

1. Sleep on it. Resist the urge to react immediately and impulsively. Remind yourself that there is nothing you can do right now, and worrying won’t help.  New information will arise and things will look different when you’ve had some time to rest and reflect.

2. Practice acceptance. Of course I would have been bummed out if I had been forced to remain in Vancouver. But as soon as the initial shock wore off I started to consider the possible outcomes and their upsides. Getting over-attached to one specific outcome closes the door to many possibilities.

3. Engage support. Don’t ask everyone you meet for advice, but do contact people who you know have relevant experience and especially those who are wise and have a positive outlook and who will bolster, not erode, your confidence.

4. Resist superstition. Obi Nine had me pull a tarot card. It was some nasty thing with a heart full of daggers, which he didn’t care to analyze. Terry refused to deflate my bed because he thought it might double-jinx my chances of leaving. OK, fine. But actually it is better to disregard all omens whether good or bad, and just proceed with intelligence. Btw, it was Friday the 13th when I managed to escape.

5. Don’t get aggro or pathetic. Blustering, threatening, crying or pleading is likely to just piss someone off.

6. Evoke calmness. I practiced a technique my friend Amy Kiara Ruth suggested, called “lunar breathing” to try calm the entire environment in a panoramic way. I invoked ease and relaxation by recalling the peacefulness of the zendo—at the very least, into my own mind. I called on this especially when the child started to cry, knowing that it was irritating my interrogator and that wasn’t going to help the situation.

7. Stay present.  It is easy to drift into fantasizing happy endings and concocting worst-case scenarios. I tried to catch myself every time this happened, and simply return to the present moment, in my breathing body, where any outcome was still possible. When you are fully present you can act much more effectively.

8. Be honest. This is a big one! Tell the truth in the most simple and palatable way you can phrase it. In the case of the border people, once you are under the microscope, lying is always a bad idea. They are trained to detect the least inconsistency or suspicious gesture, and absolutely everything you say is recorded, down to the smallest detail. Also of course, lying in general is just bad strategy because not only is it difficult to pull off well if you’re not a trained actor, but it means you have to remember all the details of your story and most of our brains aren’t up to it.

And this is really the clincher:

9. Assume a non-adversarial stance. Be respectful. By which I don’t mean act respectful (which is not genuine)—I mean, be respectful. Cultivate a deep sense of friendly connection. I practiced regarding every person I encountered with respect, realizing that they are all good intelligent people, simply trying to be happy and to do their jobs well. I tried to remain open and receptive, keeping as Roshi says, a strong back and a soft front. We cannot hope to be treated with respect unless we truly embody it.

The person you are confronting might have baggage of their own, but they are not there to mess you up. They can be your ally. They are your mirror. I kept repeating to myself, “S/he wants to help me. We can see eye to eye.” The fact is that all borders are imaginary, especially the borders between people.

And finally:

10. Be grateful. For any help, for any hearing, for any kindness, for any opportunity to practice. I wish I had thanked my third inquisitor more explicitly—annoying as it was, she did her job as she was trained to do it and she saved my Canadian bacon in the end. Shit happens. But we are so lucky.

5 Comments on “When shit happens

  1. Being white doesn’t hurt. But I would add that almost all of my fellow detainees were white. I daresay class is as big if not bigger of an issue than race. I suspect that as a Canadian the best ticket through the border is a salaried job, a credit rating, a mortgage and a marriage license, all within Canada.

    And no matter what colour you are your chances are better if you don’t piss off the border guards.

  2. and yes being nice is a good strategy at the border.

    advocating for social justice is the key. part of that I think is becoming conscious of, naming and owning both our privileges and oppressions.

  3. There are as many keys as there are locks, my bro. Love ya. (btw Ki is really my not-by-blood little brother, who is working hard for justice for sex-trade workers in Vancouver)

  4. A great article. Thank you.
    Gave me the confidence to finally handle a confrontation of my own earlier this morning, which ended up being very smooth. It felt as though my honesty and preparedness disarmed the person on the other end of the phone who at first sounded demanding and aggressive but quickly became at ease and helpful.

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