Feelin’ It

I recently finished a fascinating book called The Extended Mind. (If you’re on Goodreads, you can find my review here.) It covers all sorts of realms where we store intelligence, adaptation, knowledge, and wisdom beyond the skull, starting with the rest of our own bodies. I’ve been all up in listening to my body since I started body scan meditation over a decade ago, but interpreting that as a kind of intelligence is new for me. The combination of body awareness, interpretation, and situational analysis has had some interesting results of late. Here’s one example.

I did a session of “below the belt” exercises yesterday, following my virtual kickboxing platform, and decided to perform the dead lifts I usually skip because they always hurt my back. They weren’t so bad this time, but I still had some pain. B was up when I finished, so I mentioned it to him. I showed him what I was doing & asked what could be wrong. He said I was bending my back. I said I wasn’t. He demonstrated. I didn’t see the difference. Eventually he said I should tuck my butt more, and that made sense. I tried it. He might be right. Pretty dull scene.

Behind the scenes: drama! When he said I was doing it wrong, I immediately got defensive. I noticed this when we were moving cedar planters in the yard over the summer, too. B said I was lifting with my back and I responded maturely with something like, No I’m not! or So’s your mom! and left both of us mildly annoyed. I was just as defensive this time, but decided to be “adult” and power through it. Once the instruction was over, I took a shower and sat down to unpack what had actually happened.

What actually happened is that when he corrected my form, he used a tone he doesn’t use often – slightly excited, slightly loud, and with a bit of upspeak at the end of the sentence. My body immediately went defensive. I could feel it: a tension that my brain interpreted as a threat, and to which I immediately wanted to respond with denial. I assume it’s a holdover from childhood, from a father who responded to every mistake and demonstration of ignorance as if I were deliberately fucking with him. This would lead to a long (sometimes hours long) narcissistic and inane lecture or interrogation in which I was not learning or growing or investigating, but just desperately trying to come up with the answer that would get him to stop.

The response is different with B – I don’t see him as a threat, but the physical tension motivated by the tone caused me to react with a defense of my intelligence, an ego defense that makes it impossible to learn. I didn’t forget about the yard incident; I knew my response was not ideal, but I assumed it was embarrassment, not wanting to be wrong. The thing is, I like being wrong these days; I’ve actively worked on detaching any ignorance I unwillingly harbor from my self-esteem, or from myself at all. It’s been incredibly liberating, and these days I usually don’t have to work through much of my own shit before I can come to a place of openness and acceptance. Why was this different? Well, it turns out I’m more forgiving of content than style. If B had said the same words with a different inflection, there would have been nothing to overcome. I memorize the exact phrasing of every singer or every song I’ve ever liked, and apparently the exact tone of every phrase that has ever hurt or humiliated me. The ears keep the score.

Though I didn’t fully understand why it was happening, I was able to observe my body with just enough distance to recognize that my reaction yesterday was unreasonable and unhelpful. I couldn’t make it go away, but I could decide how to react to that feeling. Instead of saying, “you’re wrong” again, and giving into the amygdala hijack that was taking place in my monkey brain, I decided to white knuckle my way through it and take the imperfectly articulated advice.

Progress, but still not ideal.

Once I figured out what had happened, I talked to B about it. I said he had used a certain tone that he doesn’t use often, and that probably came out of concern for my physical safety, but which my body interprets as a threat to my intelligence. My reaction to that type of threat is to get defensive, which makes it hard for me to reap any value from what he’s saying. He said he wasn’t entirely sure where the tone came from, and didn’t know if he could stop himself from ever using it again. I agreed, but said I wanted to explain what was happening so that we would each have a better understanding of the dynamics underlying those interactions in the future. I think we both walked out of the assessment without any wounds or additional defenses, and with a better understanding of each other.

I don’t know whether his tone was caused by fear, if he uses it with other people, or if investigating that fear might help him modulate his communication style in similar situations with me or others going forward. That’s his journey. For my part, I now have an ally in breaking up similar chain reactions going forward. That’s potentially one less wound, one less grudge, one less bitter pill to carry around and cram down someone else’s throat.

Healthy for me? check

Healthy for this relationship? check

Good for the world? check.

Is this ridiculously boring? It sure feels like it might be. (Ever listen to someone talk about meditation? I sat without moving! I observed my breathing! Jesus.) To me it is thrilling. It’s like I’ve been hauling around this box of tools for decades, and I suddenly know how and when to use them. All these gifts, all these answers that I didn’t know were here all along.

Still haven’t found the tool that fixes my employment situation. More on that another day.

she walks in beauty

she walks in beauty
this was in Seattle’s Japanese garden last year, but the colors are comparable

Autumn has arrived in, and nearly departed from, the Twin Cities. We were out of state for the kickoff and I was afraid we’d missed the best of it, but as with most fears, this one was unfounded. It’s been a particularly weird fall: 80 degrees on a Tuesday, highs in the 20s the following Monday, record high today, 6 days later, and finally retreating to normal temps tomorrow. Everyone was out cleaning gutters and raking leaves in the gorgeous, sunny, 70 degree Saturday, which I find kinda sweet, in the same way that I feel connected to all the folks shoveling as V and I walk past the morning after a snowstorm. There is something about living in a place with real seasons that creates a landscape for community in a way that living in LA did not. Of course, the relational fertility of this climatological setting is marred by the repressed nature of the culture, so it may be a wash.

I haven’t done any formal, deliberate leaf-peeping this year (anyone else find that term creepy?), but my meditation-ripened mind has been just overwhelmed by the beauty of the trees I encounter in my everyday travels around the neighborhood. On the first snowy morning (yes, we had that too in these wacky few weeks) we walked under the stunning red maple across the street and I could hardly stand it – the ruby leaves dappled with and descending into white snow was almost too beautiful to bear. Again yesterday, walking under a waterfall of apple and orange colored leaves as the wind dragged them off the branches, I had to stop and, weirdly, close my eyes. I felt like I was in some kind of fantastical landscape, some sci-fi world in which photosynthesis produces a vast array of colors and this evanescent beauty is the norm. How long would I live there before I failed to appreciate it?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter where you are. There is always beauty to be found (though I know in some places you have to have exceptional vision), and humans can become accustomed to anything. Take the weather in Los Angeles, the mountains, the ocean. Yes, people who live there will say it’s perfect, say it’s beautiful, but in my experience Angelenos are just as susceptible to taking that beauty for granted as folks are anywhere else. It often takes a change, a newness, an outsider to really get it, to see what is performing right before our eyes.

It’s the watcher, right? The observer. Emerson’s transparent eyeball. Buddhism’s witness. It fills that crucial role of observing without judgement, but there is also the secondary purpose of experiencing with minimal baggage, of seeing with fresh eyes, of childlike love and appreciation. When people ask me what I’ve gotten out of meditation I have a lot of guesses, but the benefit I am most sure of is the exponential increase in moments of spontaneous joy and gratitude. Not because I’ve worked on it or talked myself into it, but because meditation has simply allowed it the space to enter in.

Waking Up is Hard to Do

Funny what intensive meditation will do to you.

In my experience, it’s never what you expect. Most of the influence on your life is subtle and hard to read – maybe you’re a little more patient, a little quicker to laugh, a bit more generous. I haven’t had a lot of big revelations that I can attribute to the causality of sitting.

But I got one this time! And I didn’t necessarily want it.

Not long into my intensive meditation course in April, and just minutes after an hour long sit, I went up to my office, logged into my work desktop, and heard, crisp and clear inside my head,

“girl, you cannot keep doing this.”

Yep, I have to leave my job. I don’t have to do it now; I don’t have to do it before I find a new one; there is no great urgency to it, and the admission has made every day a little more bearable, but that doesn’t mean I’m talking myself out of it. I have to leave.

I’ve spent the last 7 or so years justifying my job (not that anyone has asked for that, but the ego do take a bite out of honesty), as such:

  • I work for a nonprofit
  • my work doesn’t do any discernible harm
  • I am improving things for some people, if in an indirect way
  • I’ve learned some stuff
  • the pay is fine
  • I’m mostly respected and appreciated
  • I don’t take my work home
  • the benefits, particularly the PTO, are generous
  • as a result, I can do good (questionable term) in my free time

Many of you are probably looking at this list and thinking this is a pretty low bar. Some of you may think this is pretty sweet, and hardly worthy of complaint. I can take either perspective, but as someone who wants to do good (ugh), to have some kind of positive impact (meh), to increase the net amount of love and reduce the net amount of suffering in the world (that’s it), I have to open my eyes to not only the opportunities missed by spending my time at this essentially neutral job, but the fact that I am suffering from boredom and the knowledge that I do actually have skills and talents that could be applied in a manner that could actually reduce suffering, but I’m afraid to put myself out there.

Thus, this phase of this journey begins: the resume I haven’t looked at in 8 years (and can’t even find), the blahdom of job hunts, the agony of interviews. I am fortunate in that there is currently no rush. If I stop hoarding PTO, I can reduce my suffering by reducing my hours. If I increase my engagement outside of work, I can minimize the impact of my current work life. If I allow myself to be myself in job interviews (if I trust that I am not a shameful, broken thing who has to pretend to be someone else in order to be acceptable), I might actually find a job that I deserve and vice-versa. I’m excited about it, despite many avenues for fear and dread.

There’s a reason so many of us walk around with our eyes half-closed most of the time. Once you see what’s in front of you, you may be compelled to do something about it. And that ain’t always easy.

Practice (lots)

Practice (lots)

My intellectual energies are being diverted to my other blog this week, so this will be relatively short and feely (gross); call it observational, if you prefer.

I am a week into a mildly intensive three-week practice through my local meditation center, which entails as much as participants can manage or want to include of the following:

  • an hour or more sit in the morning
  • meditation in the afternoon
  • meditation in the evening
  • attending a weekly talk
  • attending weekly Qigong
  • read the recommended readings
  • listen to the recommended listenings
  • post (but only a little!) in the community Google group
  • read and comment on (but only a little!) others’ posts
  • attend Practice discussions with a teacher
  • attending a daylong retreat at the end of the 3 week practice period

Looks like a lot, listed out, for a practice that is supposed to be incorporated into your everyday life, rather than taking you out of it, as a retreat would. But you are encouraged to set your own goals according to your abilities and responsibilities. It doesn’t seem excessive to me.

Let me get my petty bullshit out of the way first. I’ve been to a handful of sits at this meditation center (and another dozen or so online) and I like the space a lot. Many meditation centers in the area are Zen, and while I love my UPAYA peeps and so many more in the Zen tradition, I’m not big on the type of ritual and formality it typically expects. Fortunately, this closest place to my home is pretty generically Buddhist. However, I was hoping for more from the main teacher, who I first sat with on Monday. My assessment is based on almost nothing: I didn’t get much of any vibe from him, and he didn’t laugh or smile at all during the 10 minutes or so he spent talking to us, so Fuck That Guy!

Just kidding, of course. I look forward to sitting with and listening to him more and seeing what he has to offer – I have no doubt it’s a lot. But I can’t deny that I am greedy for one of those knock-you-off-your-feet, Holy shit experiences that the White folks who interacted with Baba Neem Karolyi or Tcich Naht Hahn or the Dalai Lama talk about: that thoughtless knowing that this is someone special, the embodiment of, or at least confirmation of the possibility of, enlightenment. I know the hope that I would just happen to run across one of these exceptional folks at the Center that just happens to be a mile from my house is asking a bit much, but I’m disappointed whenever those hopes are dashed. Giving up hope is “the beginning of the beginning,” as Pema Chodron wrote.

If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. […] Without giving up hope that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be [that there’s someone better to meet?] – we will never relax with where we are or who we are.

Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, Chapter 7

Second, the Google group itself. Again, I get it. People want to connect over their practice and we can’t all be in the same place every day, so it’s a nice alternative. When we had that option with my UPAYA group we never used it, because we were all so sick of written, online communication, I presume. But beyond that, the main guy gave pretty specific instructions about how we were and were not supposed to use it. In fact, we should only comment if we were really inspired and we should probably wait several days and see if anyone else posted before we posted at all, but we should definitely post, but really we should wait and make sure that what we wanted to say was worth posting, but there should be maybe three posts a week, with maybe five to ten comments per post …. And then he emailed us three days later to point out that no one had posted and maybe someone should post.

I know we don’t want folks to go nuts and annoy everyone with constant emails and notifications. I just thought that could have been better conveyed by simply saying, “be mindful about what you post, ask yourself if it is contributing something helpful, and go to essence” rather than a weird collection of rules/not rules that seemed to make everyone reluctant to engage and felt a bit infantilizing.

Honestly, I think those are my only complaints with the nuts and bolts of the Intensive. Pretty minimal for me, so yee-ha! I am so very happy to have this opportunity to suffer practice with others, and particularly for the weekly meets and full day at the end, because far more than being urged into more mindfulness for a short time, what I really want and need is a sangha. Fingers crossed this may become one.

Now onto my responsibilities and self-assessment. I am likewise mildly disappointed in my behavior this week. I’ve focused very hard on the long morning sit and 1-2 additional sits during the day, as time permitted; I’ve read some of the readings and listened to some of the audio, and attended the Qigong & weekly meet in person; but I have basically behaved as though pushing myself through that physical discomfort and clocking more time would magically transform me, rather than making the effort to apply mindfulness to my regular everyday activities. I have perhaps been more conscious of what I’m doing – how much I’m eating, how I’m reacting to conflict, etc. But it could be much more, and I want it to be. It is possible that the magic is making me reassess my job satisfaction, which is scary, so that is … something.

Funny how I so look forward to sitting down to a half hour meditation, and am filled with dread when I settle in to double that. As if time itself is the problem. It is, in the most obvious way. After a certain point, the pain sets in. It doesn’t always come in the same way, or at the same time, but I have never sat for more than 40 minutes without feeling something – pain or discomfort (hard to distinguish between them in the early days). For some folks it’s the knees or back that cry out for attention or just (just! LOL!) overwhelming restlessness and anxiety. For me it used to be the I’d rather rip my crawling skin off than sit a minute longer, but nowadays it’s typically hip pain. I don’t know why it’s changed, but I’ll consider it progress. It still ain’t fun, but it’s easier to deal with physical pain than what was essentially terror and self-pity, in my case. I had at least one good sit this week where I just focused on the pain – the physical pain, not the psychological shit that it picks up while rolling around inside me. But in other sessions I was like, what should I really be doing here? and can I really sustain lovingkindness meditation for a freaking hour? and this is boring, there’s got to be a better way to use my time. I like mixing it up with guided meditations or focusing on a particular intention in a sit, but the fact is, I don’t need that. The best meditation response to this is boring is, of course, the boringness itself.

Maybe I needed this week to just power through the physical adjustments before I could focus the spotlight of my consciousness more deliberately throughout the day. That’s what happened, so I might as well believe it’s true. Starting today I intend to pick up the mindfulness a little more often, carry it lightly, let it watch as I walk through the daily grind. We’ll see how that goes. I’m going to take the recommendation in Norman Fischer’s so-far-excellent book, The World Could be Otherwise and try not to criticize anyone (maybe anything?) as well. I guess that starts now, since I ripped into the teacher and meditation center above (facepalm). Trying to be honest without flaunting irreverence. I definitely sense a warning there.

Wishing you enlightening sits, sitters.

Defunding Police & Seeing Clearly

IMG_20200606_152227604Two hours ago, the Minneapolis City Council voted, in a veto-proof majority, to Defund the Minneapolis Police Department. This will be a hasty post, but I’m just sooo excited, friends!

I have never been so proud to be a Minneapolitan. Today, I add this label with pride to my geographic identities of Chicagoan and Angeleno/a. There is no city I would rather live in right now. Real change is resting in our hands; not just in policing, but in community resilience and care and connections and in our way of thinking.

As a pseu-Bu* meditator, this week has been an inspiration. Sure, some of the folks who I marched with yesterday may have been anti-police across the board, or anarchists, or willing to swallow whatever the most radical voices were saying, for better and worse, but some of us have spent decades living in cities, witnessing corruption and brutality and racist policing, and yet have not imagined, until recently, that there was any other way for us to be. Getting rid of the police sounded as crazy as getting rid of capitalism, or personal car ownership, or one of the many other exciting ideas on the horizon that now seem possible.

BECAUSE IT IS ALL POSSIBLE.

One of my favorite things about Buddhism is the commitment to see what is really in front of you, without preconceptions or embedded beliefs; letting go of ideology and history to see what is really there. And we old (over 30) folks who were willing to look at the problem differently, to consider the evidence and recommendations that had been put before us by younger, less White, more revolutionary people, really did do something significant.

We changed our minds.

If you’ve studied the way the brain works, this is really not easy to do. And while we are not by any stretch the heroes of the Defund movement – that label goes to Reclaim the Block and MPD150 and many other brilliant and tireless activists, it will take those of us who are plugging along, doing our best, wanting to help, all the clearsightedness we can muster to support the changes that are coming. How do we reimagine policing? What can we actually do to help? How do we think of crime? And punishment? How can we build a beloved community where people help each other instead of anonymously calling an outside, armed force to intervene when we have problems? How can we see these as our problems? Loosening our grip on the way things have always been, our beliefs, our fears, will all be necessary in the new world to come.

I am so excited, I can hardly stand it. I just want to throw my arms around everyone. Love and peace and resilience to all.

*pseudo-Buddhist

Fast-tracking Enlightenment?

enlightenmentA lot of people come to meditation through drugs. Usually in one of two very different ways. Either they find meditation as a respite and palliative from alcohol and drug addiction and toxic patterns of behavior, or, like the recently deceased Ram Dass, they touch another, entirely different world through drugs – psychedelic drugs – and seek a spiritual life as a way to hold onto, or expand upon, or share that world.

Why psychedelics? I’m certainly no expert, but in reading Ram Dass, and Michael Pollan’s latest, and watching countless YouTube videos (both biographical and scientific), psychedelics offer your brain a method of functioning that stretches above and beyond our typical patterns – in fact, it can help break patterns that bury people in rumination and anxiety, as well as offering a view of reality that is entirely different from what we’ve come to accept as acceptable. Psychedelics have helped dying people lose their fear of death. They have broken depressive cycles for some people for years on end. For some lucky few, these experiences may be enough to change the way they live, completely, for years. But most of us need help.

While a psilocybin or ayahuasca trip can show someone a different view of the world, it doesn’t show them how to live in that world. Everyday living takes practice, and unlearning the way you’ve learned to live through a lifetime in a competitive society is even harder. So now that you have seen that love is all that matters (for example), how do you bring that to work, to a traffic jam, to your abusive parent? There is a huge gap between knowing and doing, as anyone with any philosophical leanings will surely recognize.

It seems to me that the role of meditation is more or less the same whether you’ve experienced a transcendent moment or not: it’s practice for better living in the world. You practice, second by second, guiding the mind instead of letting it take you for a ride; you practice not automatically scratching that itch, not adjusting your body to relieve that pain, not clinging to that feeling of joy that just came out of nowhere. You practice being in the moment so that you can love without expectation or fantasies; you practice nonattachment so you can give when someone needs help and can accept generosity without pride. Enlightenment is a glimpse of something better than what we currently live in, but it doesn’t change our living. I imagine it’s great to know that there is a real, true universal love underneath it all, but we live on the surface. And letting go of the ego? Sign me up, but I still (have to) live in this person, in this place, with these abilities and failings as best I can, and good god that takes a lot of practice. In the words of Jack Kornfield, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.

The idea that drugs are cheating (as some meditators have proposed) is pretty ridiculous, and pretty Protestant-Work-Ethicky. If it were a shortcut to nirvana, wouldn’t we all benefit from more enlightened people in the world? More realistically, if shrooms or LSD or ayahuasca can motivate people to live more lovingly, with less fear and less ego, if it can motivate them to find meaning in compassion and connection, who cares how they get there?

And if you’re wondering why the government has been so resistant to exploring the benefits of these drugs, imagine what a monumental increase in compassion and egolessness and acceptance, and reduction in competitiveness and ambition and greed would do to the economy. It’s not just the “dropouts,” those few who choose to detach themselves entirely from the mundane, who can disrupt the enforced order. There are so many ways to live, and many of them do not revolve around money, careers, or the nuclear family; some of them don’t even see the self as the most essential unit, or self-preservation as the highest goal. Imagine that.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Sigh.

Meditation as Practice

group meditationHi, folks! It’s been a while. I’ve been all sorts of busy lately, with classes, work, and taking care of stuff that is even more challenging than blogging, believe it or not, including setting up a new blog. I cannot tell you how much I loathe making the countless decisions a new blog requires. But I’ve also decided it’s important, so it’s taken me away from writing time. I’ll let you know when that’s good to go.

I did hit up a 2-day Vipassana retreat last weekend, which is a good way to kick off the re-initiation of the writing life. Not so great, maybe, when you start composing blog pieces in your head as you’re supposed to be meditating, but that’s what happened. Accepting what comes up is just as important as redirecting back to the body & breath, right? Since pen and paper aren’t allowed on retreat, I’ll try to recall my no-doubt-brilliant ideas as best I can.

My mulling was not over the practice of meditation, but meditation itself as practice for life. This is the reason I meditate, and probably the reason I keep going back to Vipassana, despite the rules and rigor, instead of some other practice (well, that and the commitment to financial accessibility). I don’t meditate to reduce stress or relax or be happier, though that happens. I meditate in order to make myself a better person. Not better in the sense of more ethical or helpful or kind (though they tend to latch on like burrs, too), but better in the sense of less judgmental and less reactive. To me this is the key to everything I want.

If I can sit through a burning pain in my leg without walking away, maybe I can listen to a coworker say something offensive without throwing a correction in their face. If I can sit with that pain without labeling it bad, maybe I can accept the person without labeling them racist and have enough compassion for their unavoidable experience to find out where that comment came from and engage them in a discussion that might create a space for them to hear me (and me them), instead of defending themselves against my impulsive reaction. If I can allow waves of tingling sensations to flow through my body without seeking to hang onto them, or mourning their departure when pain inevitably returns, then the next time I’m walking down the street laughing with friends and someone approaches me for money, maybe I can meet them squarely and fairly in that moment without being angry about the intrusion of the world on my fun time.

And maybe, maaaaaaaaaaybeeeeee if I can stop critiquing my experiences as good or bad, I can stop likewise critiquing myself.

Oh, I also intend to reach enlightenment. And end all my suffering. Cranking the sitting back up to an hour a day should do it. Onward!

 

 

Anger (The End of Empathy, pt. 2)

rageAh, Anger. It’s the hip vibe of the Trump era. Friends and acquaintances and annoyances and feminists and proud white supremacists all sing the praises of anger. It’s the caffeine of activism: perceived as necessary to wake up.

Trying to categorize sensations or psychological states as feelings or emotions is about as difficult as trying to distinguish between Empathy and Compassion. Just so we’re on the same page, though, let’s agree to this: emotions are uninterpreted physical sensations: they start in your body and often are almost instantaneously translated into something else (one of the things meditation tries to slow down), but they are real things, no matter how you interpret or indulge in or ignore them. Feelings or secondary emotions (don’t ask me to distinguish between them), are emotions interpreted on a very quick and base level: maybe fear or anger or attraction. I used to be a proponent of the Two Emotions: Love and Fear theory (pretty, isn’t it?), but now I buy into four: pleasantness, unpleasantness, arousal, and calmness. These are vague and hard to describe, but I think that’s the point. Meditation in the back yard on a lovely summer day: calmness; light breeze: pleasantness; neighbor’s dog growls menacingly: arousal; dog bite: unpleasantness; your neighbor calls you an asshole for bothering their dog. Anger is the most obvious next step, right? Probably. The neighbor’s reaction is unjust, and you have been done wrong, which typically leads to anger. And that’s fine and natural and all that.

Here’s the thing: the anger may be caused by the injustice, but it isn’t necessary to address the injustice. The most gut-level, emotional reaction would be to punch the person or kick the dog or both. Most of us would agree that this is not the ideal reaction, however, and few of us would do it. Maybe we know the neighbor’s going through a rough time, or the dog is sick, or maybe now that you think about it, you might have accidentally hit it in the face when it startled you. There are reasons why you don’t act on your anger.

And yet, people love to talk about how anger is necessary to social justice work. I simply don’t believe that the most effective actions that have been performed in the name of reform and progress are actions of anger. The anger may well have helped the recognition of the social ill, but acting in anger, instead of assessing the situation, looking at the history, finding an appropriate organization through which to organize, or a creative way to call attention to the issue, is typically feckless and often disastrous.

I used to love the saying, “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” but now I find it offensive. No one should judge or police anyone’s feelings. You can be informed and aware and active and mindful. You don’t have to buy into anger activism. At best, the anger clouds the message of the activism. Did the marchers in Selma act out of rage? No. Were they angry? Fuck, yeah, but that was not how they chose what to do. They marched because of a reasoned decision that this action would bring attention to the cause and have the greatest national impact and likelihood of changing the law. Nonviolence itself is a suppression or redirection of anger. Action in anger leads to riots.

Maybe you like riots; maybe you think they’re effective. I can’t say you’re wrong, I can only say my heart hurts when a single innocent (no one is innocent, yeah yeah) person is hurt in blind anger. Not only is it immoral (the forces that led to it are immoral, yeah yeah), it makes those in the right look like they’re in the wrong. It’s a terrible recruiting strategy. It is true that the organizations working for civil rights in the South in the sixties knew that white kids would have to die before the national media would pay attention to what was happening, but they didn’t kill those white kids. Riots are understandable, and they may sometimes lead to indirect positive action, but the pain caused is deep and awful.

My father was extremely angry, and did not hide it. He did a pretty good job of not expressing it in the form of physical abuse, which his parents did, but the threat of violence was always there nonetheless. I wasn’t really allowed to be angry around him, so I suppressed it or let it out in short bursts of screaming to punk music. And then when I got out of the house, I exploded with anger all over Los Angeles.

When I was in college, anger was my #1 go-to secondary emotion, by a longshot. And it suuuuuuucked. Yes, there was something invigorating, something exciting about it, but at the same time I could feel it eating away at me, depriving me of sleep and joy, draining me of energy and focus. I chain smoked and cut myself to release some of the stress of that raging rage, but my main outlet was on the streets of LA, where I could drive recklessly and aggressively and yell at people from the bubble of my car without consequences (usually), and lay on my horn and speed on the freeway at 3:00am. But none of it made me feel better, and some of it was truly dangerous.

I am now a recovering rageaholic. If you catch me on a bad day, I don’t look like I’ve recovered much. (My partner would agree.) But the bad days happen less since meditation, and even better is my ability to move on when I am overtaken. I used to cling to anger, because it is energizing and it feels purposeful. It can be a kind of hot, thrilling mania. But I have never made good decisions while I was angry. Most of the really embarrassing moments in my life have been born in anger.

I know there’s a popular book about the power of women’s rage. I don’t need to read it, but I’m sure it has value. Black people have historically been pressured to stuff their anger because of the manufactured stereotypes of primal, unbridled emotion; and because it could sometimes get them killed. And of course that’s horrific and of course women and Black people have the right to be angry. Anger and rage are a part of life, but sanctifying rage or dwelling in it is always destructive to the rager, and often to others. Maybe I’ve put too much weight on this – it’s the longest post I’ve written in months – but a central tenet of the great Claw to Enlightenment is not acting on my base instincts, my raw emotions, the bullshit behavior that’s fucked up humanity for centuries. I’d like to better. I think we all can do better, but we first we have to know what we’re doing.

Filler is better than Emptiness (Buddha would disagree)

It is hard to tell if meditation does any good. Anyone who does it for a while can give you examples, real or imagined, of how they are less stressed, less angry, more patient, but is anyone really measuring levels of ire or compassion? Tracking the increase in seconds between agitating action and reaction? Unfortunately for us datageeks, no. We can convince ourselves that meditation has had an enormous impact on our lives or none at all, and who’s to say who’s right (especially since the latter don’t typically put in the amount of practice necessary for adequate scientific comparison. Quitters!)

I choose to believe that my recent feelings of awakening, of intellectual openness and learning and discovery, are a combination of the state of the world, the state of my world, and, crucially, the state of my consciousness. I have soooo much to discuss with you all, but I need a bit more time to process.

The great work begins. (Tony Kushner, Angels in America)

App vs. Enlightenment

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sorry for the crap image; our phones have terrible cameras & WordPress is TESTING ME

Early on, I mentioned my meditation app in passing. Since then, I’ve been forced to confront some spiritually materialistic tempations of the app, temptations in the lure of which I was a squirrel on an unsustainable California almond farm.

The good news is that the app has corrected itself! I no longer have to be strong (or start being strong)- the poisoned nut has been removed.

Here’s the deal. Continue reading “App vs. Enlightenment”