Generating Joy

Photo by Nuno Ricardo on Unsplash

Friday was gorgeous GOR GEE USSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. I cut out of work early, dug up some grass in my yard, and biked over to the pie place in the hopes of some weekend dessert slices. The line at the pie place was a block long, so I laughed it off and kept biking. I couldn’t just turn around and go home because the weather was GOR GEE USSSSSSSSSS. Like, perfect. Like, bike down the street no-handed singing and conducting songs from the playlist of your youth gorgeous. I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt so happy. No – joyful. I was filled with unintellectual, full-body joy. It was fucking glorious. The only stain on the afternoon was a brief realization that, “fuck, I’ve become my father.”

I wasn’t mostly naked, I wasn’t riding an old Schwinn, but those were the only significant differences in our behavior. I didn’t hate my dad’s weird behavior as much as my sister did, but it was sometimes embarrassing. It wouldn’t have felt like such a betrayal if he had allowed us to be ourselves as he insisted on being himself, but it was only acceptable to be authentic if our authenticity matched his, and we were continually shut down for not behaving, thinking, or being exactly what he wanted us to be.

It’s difficult to separate the action from the person, and difficult to separate admirable behavior from a person whose behavior was often inconsiderate or cruel, but there is always that yin & yang. No one is all evil all the time, all inappropriate all the time, all annoying all the time, but our need to recognize and predict patterns and our emotional attachment/aversion to the behavior of people with whom we have complicated relationships is often tough to work past. As is our assumption of impure motives. Sure my dad was unconventional and weird, and I generally value that in people, but because I associate it with his narcissism, I don’t give him the credit others may earn from the same nonconformity. But what do I know? Just because he had narcissistic tendencies doesn’t mean he was incapable of a pure act of joy & self-expression. And just because I express my joy in a similar way doesn’t mean I’m a narcissist.

Or … does it?

Honestly, I don’t fucking care. I’m not hurting anyone and I’m alchemizing bliss out of spring air. The critical they can roll their eyes and think whatever they want. I am so tired of our joy-crushing culture.

Life Lessons From a Mouse

Life Lessons From a Mouse

Mice, really.

It’s been a good year for mice in the Twin Cities. Are the raptors in bad shape? Are mice fucking more than usual? It hasn’t been a particularly frigid winter (79th most cold, which hardly seems worth mentioning), so it doesn’t seem like their survival is under unusual threat, but many people we know in the area have had exceptional mouse problems this winter.

Ours has been a blessing.

You’d think we’d be a rodent nirvana, here. We are both messy and Buddhish. We are a philosophically and temperamentally no-kill family. Yes, we still eat fish (for the time being) and I honestly have no problem killing mosquitoes, or the wasps that have come after me that last 3 summers (because wasps are all-around fuckers and mosquitoes are humans’ most powerful enemy) but other than that, we remove insects from the home rather than kill them and try to protect the baby bunnies that their shitty mothers dump in our dog’s yard. Even the dog is exceptionally gentle. She observes and lightly bats at beetles, and tries not to drool when the bunnitos emerge. Mostly she squishes them. I think she likes the sound. 😦

We have occasionally had A mouse over the last decade. They say you never have A mouse, but since we never saw more than one at a time, we could convince ourselves otherwise. But this year, we had to face up to it. Unless they were teleporting, we had mice. The good thing about being messy is that it was easy to know where to first address the issue: we cleaned. That is, we started cleaning. We (my partner mostly, far messier than I and afflicted with ADD) are still cleaning. Because of some dabbling with diffusers and lotion-making years ago, I already had plenty of clove & peppermint oil, which I scattered all over the house (peppermint in the living areas; clove in the sleeping areas). We cleaned areas we’d never cleaned before, we shoved steel wool in anything that looked like a hole, we started picking up the dog bowl when she wasn’t eating, sealing her food in a plastic bin, not leaving plates on the floor for her to lick for longer than a few minutes, sweeping regularly.

I knew this wouldn’t fix it – most of our friends with mouse problems were clean people – but it was a start, and it was a life improvement, regardless. We were also very lucky. The mice never got on a counter, never got to even the second from the bottom shelf of the pantry, never got into the dog food or any food container. (I started keeping all my bottom-shelf food in glass or ceramic jars ever since the first mouse appearance way back when.) so when people laughed at us when we said we weren’t going to put down poison (Big No) or even traps (death isn’t the worst, but having your face or leg scraped off is), we would explain that they weren’t more than an inconvenience. Then came the emailed articles on hantavirus and other hazards. We kept cleaning and hoped the critters would find the living situation unpleasant and leave … from wherever they came … which we still haven’t figured out.

They had made it upstairs (shiver) to the bedrooms (shiver), so I thoroughly cleaned out my tiny shoe closet for the first time since we moved in, jettisoning some heels I will never again wear in the process. For a month, I refreshed the water and dropped clove oil into my diffuser every night; folded my clothes and put them on a shelf, tossed them in the laundry, or draped them over the hamper for reuse. I did not leave an AlterEco truffle or peanut-butter filled pretzel on my bedside table in case I woke up in the middle of the night and needed a snack. I (sloppily) folded up my meditation cape and blanket after I sat every morning and placed them on the designated ottoman instead of leaving them on the rug.

The mouse has done wonders for us, honestly. It told us to get our shit together and we’ve done our best to comply. We are still not clean by many standards, and we will probably never be neat, but we are so much cleaner. I have been disciplined about my bedtime habits for the longest stretch of time ever. That’s right, I have never consistently put my clothing, etc. away in my life. Better still (and YES, I AM AFRAID TO SAY THIS BECAUSE DESPITE EVERYTHING I AM STILL STUPIDHUMAN SUPERSTITIOUS), with all of these changes, and perhaps with the help of the meditations I have devoted to asking them to leave, there have been only two mouse appearances in the past month, and none upstairs, even though we’ve had some very cold days. It seems almost unbelievable. I find it hard not to believe it is a combination of right effort and right thought and right intention and … I know it sounds ridiculous, y’all, but I have learned over the past few years that there are more things in heaven and earth […] than are dreamt of in your philosophy and that it is possible that the winning combo of changing our habits and asking the mice to leave so that we didn’t have to kill them to protect the health of our dog & ourselves may have sent something out into the universe that encouraged them to find another home. The mice told us to get our shit together and we’ve done our best to comply.

Whatever it is, I hope it all continues. Not only the absence of the little guys, but my discipline, our increased cleanliness, the commitment to close up potential house holes in the spring, our squishy no-kill policy, and my spiritual concern and attention to the little guys. All of that is good, and more than that I am so happy that the path of compassion appears to have won out over the path of fear or aggression or convenience. I don’t begrudge those folks the killing of their invaders – we all have our stuff, and mice can be scary – but for us, it looks like it’s working. And I’m honestly a little astounded that I have kept up the new habits for so long. Really, I’m pleasantly surprised that I have adopted any new habit, at my age. Folks used to think that the we were far less flexible as we age, but studies of meditators, in particular, have shown remarkable plasticity. I’m not an example of a great meditator and this isn’t an example of an exceptional change, but I have to say I’m really enjoying it.

Ram Ram Ramy

Hi, y’all.

It’s been very hard to write this week. Feeling blah and everything I write seems to go nowhere and the post I’ve been working on for Out of the White Nest for months is just hard and sad. Not your concern; but I’ve committed to averaging a post a week in 2022, so this is why you’re getting…

a TV show review!

Sort of. There’s a vague spoiler or two in this, but nothing you couldn’t see coming once you jump into it. Ramy is such a good show, and so groundbreaking for Muslim-centered media, that I strongly recommend you give it a try. If you hate vague spoilers, go ahead & skip this in lieu of the show itself.

Is Ramy the first TV comedy centered on spiritual development? I think it’s the first I’ve seen. Of course there are sitcoms that deal with spirituality in an indirect manner – there are spiritual elements to some of my faves, like The Good Place and BoJack Horseman, but any centered on spirituality? Enlightened! Yes. Excellent show, but it wasn’t a sitcom. I’d heard good things about Ramy (awards, etc.) but it wasn’t until a friend told me that the spiritual quest was the plot of the show that I started watching. The Muslim focus was also intriguing for me, because I know so little about the religion, because I do have some Muslim acquaintancefriends, and because I lovelovelove irreverent approaches to any religion that outsiders perceive as arbitrarily rigid.

Ramy is a 20-something second generation (American born) Egyptian-American Muslim. Neither his mother nor sister wear hijab, no one in his family prays regularly, his parents drink wine and bother him about marrying a Muslim girl in the same way a high-holy-days-only Jewish family would harass their kid about marrying a Jew. Ramy dates lots of Jews. And others. But not Muslim women. Except his cousin. He’s admittedly fucked up, but not exceptionally so, and not in any exceptional way. He’s very American: hungry in the midst of plenty, unable to be satisfied with what he has, and looking for answers. What’s exceptional about him is his persistent attempt to not be fucked up, to do the right thing, to be a better Muslim.

This fixation doesn’t stop him from sleeping with married women, lying to his Imam, offending his parents, neglecting his friends, and compulsively masturbating. In fact, almost everything he does wrong is the result of a messed up attempt to do the right thing. Some of these mistakes are laughable, some have serious consequences. Almost all of them are understandable, even if you are shaking your head in frustration as he falls into yet another ironic predicament.

The show is very funny, very educational for the non-Muslim, and just a quality piece of work all the way around, but what has me so excited about it (enough to share it with my Socially Engaged Buddhist group, appropriate or not) is how the show demonstrates, again and again, that there is no Answer. The Ramy on the screen is ignorant of the lesson he is teaching (at least so far – I’m only partway into season 2).

His attempt to remake himself during Ramadan reminded me of my desires around meditation retreats. I feel for him when he tries to “do good” and ends up in a morally questionable situation. I, too, have tried to get the people around me to dwell on spiritual matters when they had no interest in doing so. I have thought myself both better and worse than my peers in focusing on spirituality more than other elements of life. I have thought that a change of environment would get me up the next rung of enlightenment, that a different kind of practice would move me forward, that deprivation would help, that the right teacher is all I need, etcetera. That’s all fine. In fact, it’s all good, but it’s not a solution. As the Sheik says, “Nothing in and of itself is haram [forbidden]. It’s a matter of how we choose to engage with it.”

Those of us with a spiritual drive so often hope for that One thing that will solve it all or us, or enlighten us, or make us less irritable, more focused, less egocentric, “better” people. But we know, and we are forced to see again and again, that it’s a continual process. It’s day in and day out practice, returning to the cushion again and again, returning to the present moment, returning to love and empathy again and again, the pausing and listening and letting go of our ego and recognizing our interbeing moment after moment after moment. It’s not easy. And I love how the relatable mess of young Ramy demonstrates that again and again.

Celebrity Deaths

Began to compose social media post about David Bowie dying then thought “the world doesn’t need to hear my thoughts on David Bowie dying”

This gets you +224 points on The Good Place

We, the social media generation, often react to the deaths of famous people (who are, in reality, strangers to us) as an order to sit in judgment over their lives. Often this is positive, sometimes it’s not. Either way, it seems arrogant. I have my own bubble, so I tend to agree with the final judgements passed on the formerly living, but regardless, I’m usually, like, “why?” What is the point of this? Is there anyone reading your post who doesn’t already know why you think Donald Rumsfeld or Rush Limbaugh is a bad person? What’s the motivation? To get more angry “likes”? Or dull hearts? I dunno. Even the generic praise seems boring and unhelpful. I can get interested in people’s artistic or spiritual connection to folks they don’t actually know: the Prince album that got them through their coming out period; the Joan Didion book that weirdly made them feel seen, but more often I just skip over these so-called tributes.

This is, of course, prelude to writing my own…

I rarely respond to celebrity deaths in writing – maybe 3 in the last 5 years – but quite a few hit the press in quick succession last week, and at this moment I feel inspired to celebrate the good they brought into the world, or into my particular little life, now that their active contributions have ended. Yay, humans! In that spirit, here is a tiny tribute to these guys:

  • Bob Saget
  • Meatloaf
  • Louie Anderson
  • Thich Nhat Hanh

Bob Saget’s reputation was huge among comedians, a group with which I’ve had perhaps too much interaction. Folks seem to agree that he was a good guy, and who doesn’t want to know that a celebrity is a good guy? Right on, Bob. I know little of his work, but I lovelovelove good standup comedy, and profane standup is typically my favorite standup. I believe pushing people out of their comfort box is not only okay, but important; that addressing issues and ickiness that people don’t want to talk about opens our minds and even our hearts; that finding the humor in the horror is finding light in the darkness and that nothing is “off limits,” if it’s done right. As Wavy Gravy said, “if you don’t have a sense of humor, it just isn’t funny.” The Comedian as Court Jester has probably never been more important than it is right now. Perhaps never less important, either. When is speaking comic truth to power unimportant? Saget followed in a centuries-old tradition of Jews and others who laugh to keep from crying.

Meatloaf. Ah, Meatloaf. Lots of folks have referenced his embarrassing show of Trump support several years back, but if you’re getting your political guidance from Meatloaf, I don’t know what to tell ya. Let me instead evoke the sweet, goofy, steroid-enhanced, testicle-free, ex-wrestler he played in Fight Club. Robert Paulsen is the most compassionate and lovable character in the movie, and admirable in a sea of toxicity: a burly man who holds space for other men to cry; a goofy and loyal friend; a person who can fight without anger, hatred, or guile; a character whose death is the warning light that things have gone too far, the trigger for the protagonist to battle back to consciousness and self-awareness. (Oh, and a friend in the music business who worked with him said he was a kind man, if you need that topper.)

Christine Baskets

I liked what I knew of Louie Anderson’s standup, though he wasn’t one of my faves. I heard good things about him personally once I moved to his home state (good guy!). But he really grabbed me in an interview with Terri Gross several years ago. I just fell for him. There was a sweetness, mindfulness, and openness about him that was so gentle and refreshing, and so aligned with how I want to approach the world. It was that, more than anything else, that led me to start watching Baskets. And Baskets is where I fell in love with Louie, as Christine Baskets, who is one of my favorite characters ever. She is subtly hilarious, but broke my heart repeatedly. She’s bold and strong and sensitive and loving and sometimes misguided; her vulnerability and strange generosity is beautiful and devastating. A less compassionate actor could have easily made her a joke; Louie made her an suburban American warrior.

And then there’s Thich Nhat Hanh. (I think I can leave out the character assessment for this one.) I can’t possibly begin to pay tribute to perhaps the most influential Buddhist monk of our time. (I know most would say the Dalai Lama, but in my spiritual world, Thay was more directly inspiring.) If you have a spiritual practice or inclination and don’t know him, check out some interviews or one of his scores of books. Although I am not a religious Buddhist, he’s been a huge influence on me. Not only through the many teachers I’ve learned from who started their journeys with this sweet-voiced little Vietnamese man, but because he lived the practice of and apparently invented the phrase “engaged Buddhism”, which I’ve been actively studying for the past year, and hope to commit to for as long as I’m still on the list of life. He stood up to conservative and monastic Buddhism before it was fashionable and spent much of his life trying to make the teachings understandable and accessible to the Western world, in a way our ilk could understand. He opened a path to liberation from our materialist, consumptive culture, our mindless anger, and our blind selfishness. To Hanh, mindfulness necessarily encompasses not only our own “selves” but our interdependent world, and right action necessarily includes the work to help alleviate suffering wherever one finds it. I know a lot of people have a hard time with death, and this post is, let’s face it, inspired by death, so let me close with this wise man’s words on the topic:

Our greatest fear is that when we die we will become nothing. Many of us believe that our entire existence is only a life span beginning the moment we are born or conceived and ending the moment we die. We believe that we are born from nothing and when we die we become nothing. And so we are filled with fear of annihilation.

The Buddha has a very different understanding of our existence. It is the understanding that birth and death are notions. They are not real. The fact that we think they are true makes a powerful illusion that causes our suffering. The Buddha taught that there is no birth; there is no death; there is no coming; there is no going; there is no same; there is no different; there is no permanent self; there is no annihilation. We only think there is. When we understand that we cannot be destroyed, we are liberated from fear. It is a great relief. We can enjoy life and appreciate it in a new way.

This body is not me. I am not limited by this body.

I am life without boundaries.

I have never been born,

And I have never died.

You Are What You Love

You Are What You Love

I have a friend in the Twin Cities, a guy I performed with years ago, who is one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. It is always a joy to see him and it is not possible for me to wish anything but the best for him. At one point he made a comment about what a kind person I am, and rather than disillusion him with the reality of my day to day reactiveness to the vicissitudes of life, I realized, yes. Yes, of course he would think that I’m a kind, friendly, loving person because I am incapable of being otherwise with him. It’s as inconceivable as punching an affectionate puppy. And I reasoned that someone like him must have a far more positive view of humanity, because they are not getting the typical blowback that most of us experience on a regular basis in our grumpy or even neutral interactions in society. And how much, in turn, that must reinforce his naturally (whatever that means) loving behavior.

Some people simply bring out the best in us. I don’t think many would argue against that, but I do think a lot of us fail to fully embrace what that means: they bring out something that is already there. My friend doesn’t make me a better person, he creates a mini-culture around him in which that is the easiest and most acceptable way to be. He brings out my goodness; he doesn’t create it. He simply welcomes, embraces, and rewards it. I am lucky to have stumbled into several gracious, generous, joyful people like this in my life.

I attended a virtual retreat with Ram Dass’ Love Serve Remember foundation back in August and this idea came up several times – how friends loved and missed Ram Dass, but that the love he evoked in them was as present as ever. Krishna Das talked about how utterly devastated he was when Neem Karoli Baba (his and Ram Dass’ teacher) died, how difficult it was and how long it took for him to recognize that the love he found in Maharaj ji came exclusively from inside of KD, that the holy man didn’t manufacture anything in him that he didn’t already possess; that the absolute, unconditional love that all of the Maharaj ji’s followers say washed over them as soon as they met was never other than what they were always capable of, indeed what they inherently, effortlessly are.

Another excellent explanation of this is in Duncan Tressell’s gorgeous “Mouse of Silver” episode of The Midnight Gospel (on Netflix), in which his dying mother assures him that the love she has for him could not possibly leave with her; that it is eternally present in the world and there for him whenever he needs it. It made me feel like we have the potential to keep generating more love in the world, filling up empty and negative space with this endlessly rejuvenating and infinite resource, restricted only by our capacity to liberate it.

There’s a moment in one of my favorite films, Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, when the depressed of the Nicholas Cage twins brings up the time when they were teens and a girl pretended to be interested in the happier twin as a joke. But the latter didn’t take offense, and remembered his time with her fondly. He tells his brother, You are what you love, not what loves you. I always thought there was something profound about that statement, but honestly couldn’t get much of a handle on it. So an asshole obsessed with a good Samaritan gets credit for the benevolence of the one desired? But I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s the same idea as the stuff I’m talking about above. The act of love – not desire for dominance or ownership, but actual love – is what defines us. Our ability to love, to manifest love and draw out love and act out of love in the world is the best measure of what we are, what we have contributed to the world in our brief time in it.

It’s been a rough year for love. For me, anyway. I feel like I’ve been fighting against hate with almost every supposedly good thing I’ve done. So much of activism and politics is fueled by hatred and anger. I tried not to get wrapped up in it, but didn’t always succeed, and allowed what I thought was “important work” to take priority over the how of it all. With the election (almost) over and some more knowledge and experience under my belt, my 2021 will prioritize the motivation over the act, the being over the doing, to the extent that I can and as long as I continue to believe this is the path the follow.

I’ve lived long enough to know that change is the only thing I can count on, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get excited about the prospect of a stronger spiritual focus in the coming year. A joyful new year to all of you.

Radical Facts

dictionaryDictionary.com gives me hope.

I’ve received their word of the day for the last decade, because I am a nerd. Over the past few years, they have occasionally sent little articles as well. Mostly innocuous and ignored – quotes from famous writers or where holiday-related terms originated – but I have noticed some more topical stuff popping up as well. I never opened any of it, but after they declared misinformation the word of the year last week, I finally got curious. Were they tipping their hand? Was one of the only popular sources of factual information not discredited by our current government actually taking a subtle stand against the world as it is?

Yeah. I really think so.

Clue #1: Words of the Year since Trump’s election

  • 2018: misinformation
  • 2017: complicit, in an analysis of which they called out Ivanka Trump’s rebuttal that, “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit,” as patently wrong. “Whatever your politics, this meaning is not up for debate… being complicit is decidedly negative, as it means that a person is involved with someone or something that’s wrong.”
  • 2016: xenophobia, which they warn is “not to be celebrated,” citing not only fear-mongering Trump quotes and the Brexit phenomenon, but human rights abuse statistics from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Amnesty International. Dictionary.com also enlisted Robert Reich and his giant drawing pad of awesomeness to explain the word. Robert fuckin Reich.

Clue #2: historical & current events

You didn’t know Dictionary.com had a historical & current events section, did you? I have revealed the great secret!  The first three pieces you’ll see if you find your way to this section are:

  • the Great Depression
  • Black Panthers
  • Trail of Tears

Bold choices, especially since the description of the Black Panthers is overwhelmingly positive, and highlights this quote from Claude Wilson of the Daily Tar Heel:

The Black Panthers’ open carry tactics led the then-Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, to enact the Mulford Act, which outlawed the public carrying of loaded firearms. Isn’t it interesting how conservatives suddenly became pro-gun control when it was black people who were open-carrying?

Of the 11 articles in this section, 6 of them refer to atrocities against people of color or the subjugation and abuse of women, including the Salem witch trials, prima nocta, lynching, and Roe v Wade.

Clue #3: Still not convinced that Dictionary.com is part of the resistance? Check out a couple of selections from their in-depth examination of complicity last year [bold type mine]:

President Trump’s statement following the events in Charlottesville in August, in which he said “both sides” were to blame, showed his complicity with ideologies that promote hate, especially directed toward marginalized groups. 

Additionally, the new EPA chief Scott Pruitt has been complicit in his refusal to acknowledge that humans play a primary role in climate change. And, we can’t forget that information on climate change was removed from the government’s website this year, as well. 

We chose our Word of the Year, in part, because of noteworthy stories of those who have refused to be complicit. In the face of oppression and wrongdoing, this refusal to be complicit has been a grounding force of 2017:

  • We saw an estimated five million people participate in the the [sic: Dictionary.com typo!!!] worldwide Women’s March on January 21
  • We saw NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s 2016 protest against systemic injustices gain even more traction in response to President Trump calling for players who kneel during the National Anthem to be fired or suspended
  • We saw women, as well as people of all genders, come forward with personal stories of sexual harassment and assault with the hashtag #metoo
  • We saw high-profile resignations from the Trump Administration, perhaps most memorably from the Arts Council, who submitted their letter of resignation in the form of an acrostic spelling of the word RESIST

In just these few articles, Dictionary.com recognizes our President’s alignment with hate groups, anthropogenic climate change, a non-binary range of genders, systemic racism, and praises the resistance to all of it. How excited does this make me!?

Too excited? Should I really be this excited about what are, when it comes down to it, simply facts? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe my standards have dropped too low. But in a week where CNN repeatedly gave toadies for the oil industry a platform to call climate change a greed-driven hoax without questioning their motives, maybe Dictionary.com deserves the time I’ve devoted to this blog post. It makes me happy that the love of words leads to a love of truth, whether than truth is wrongly defined as political or not.

 

Thanks for Not-things, 2018

In Nest Birds WildlifeI am thankful for countless entities in my little life, and I’ll happily tell you all about them some drunken night, but this year’s statement of gratitude has come out of a different place.

I am thankful for being unmoored.

For feeling insecure, for being unsure, for being uncomfortable

For every time I didn’t have a strong opinion, or wasn’t willing to fight for my side

For every time I realized I was wrong, had been wrong, for years, decades. I am so very wrong.

For every person I lost respect for and every one that no longer inspires feelings

For every thought I no longer think & every song I no longer hate

I’m probably no better than my Thanksgiving 2017 self, but many mini revelations have left me feeling vulnerable & ignorant & exposed & inspired in the past year and I am hungry to put all this not-ness to work.

To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.  (Pema Chodron)