I can’t help it. My little human brain loves the idea of fresh starts and propitious dates and all that bullshit, no matter how much I try to ignore them. I don’t make insanely detailed resolutions like I used to (terrifying lists of quantified, specific behaviors designed to make me more likeable to myself), but as a human clawing my way to enlightenment, I also can’t pretend that I’m fine with the way things are. The great dichotomy: everything is perfect and things are fucked.
… which brings me to my theme of the year. 2021’s was the embrace of Non-binary truth and Not Knowing. Of all my Buddhist study in 2021, the many talks I listened to, all my own practice, that was the lesson that resonated most with me. As an Western intellectual (in focus, if not … intellect) who is primed to seek non-ambivalent answers, it was clearly a lesson I needed to learn, and continue to learn. It’s drawn me further away from politics (not that I needed much nudging) and closer to people, and has helped me dismember a lifetime of shame around any ignorance I have around any topic on which I think I should be well-informed. So fucking liberating, y’all. When I admit to Not Knowing the answer to the urgent question of the moment, I feel the spine-crushing weight of identity-based inadequacy falling to a harmless heap at my feet. I feel my mind open up and my curiosity let loose. This Not Knowing was the foundation of what became my spiritual theme of 2022: The lesson you need is always right in front of you. More about that here. I’m not entirely free of the burden of intellectual pride, but I know how utterly useless it is in moving me forward on either spiritual or intellectual paths, and I recognize how gross it makes me feel.
Ah, feelings. The first play I did in Minneapolis was called Why We Have a Body. I loved the script, but couldn’t answer the implied question until a few months ago. We have a body to experience the world. And yet so many of us, me foremost in my mind, go through our lives not trusting the messages of our body. Or, rather, we believe the messages we shouldn’t, and ignore the messages we should. It’s understandable that we would trust what our eyes tell us they see, and our ears tell us they hear. We don’t witness the intense work that goes into crafting our visual or aural experience, the interpretation that precedes our perception, creating the illusion of reality when what we are actually experiencing is the filter our brain has chosen for us. No judgment here, I know we’d likely be overwhelmed into a silent, frozen scream if we perpetually absorbed all of the stimuli available to our senses. But what we perceive is not an objective reality, and it’s not really trustworthy.
Meanwhile, our body regularly sends us essential messages which we generally ignore, or only acknowledge in the form of emotional reaction, bypassing the message itself and skipping directly to the response. We don’t do this consciously, either. Those of us caught in this cycle of obliviousness (which I’m guessing is most of us) think we’re having reasonable, defensible reactions to the given situation. My spouse is home late, so I’m angry. Makes sense, right? Not to everyone. There are plenty of rational people who don’t get angry when their spouse is home late. If I recognize that, I might be tempted to follow that logic: if everyone doesn’t get angry when their partner is late, then I don’t have to be, either. This is not a universal response; this is not the fear that rushes through my body when I slip on ice. So, do I want to be angry? Maybe in the past; but nowadays, No. So where is the anger coming from? If I stop, if I slow down and honor my body when the clock ticks past the presumed arrival time, I might notice a tension in my gut, something I can recognize as fear. I’m afraid that he’s dead. This is not his problem, but mine. I can acknowledge the feeling and move on without a reaction that would make me tense and make my partner unnecessarily chastened once he arrives intact. (How dare he.)
But how? How did I exercise this magical power? Same boring answer: MEDITATION.
I don’t think meditation is the solution to every problem. I don’t think it will bring enlightenment (though I still hope!) and I’m sure there are other ways to achieve similar ends. Yoga may do it. Breathwork. Reiki. Psychedelics. I really don’t know. I can only speak to my own experience, and meditation has trained me to be aware of my own body and to pause before blindly reacting to an impulse. These have been essential to my PRESUMPTIVE THEME OF 2023: My Body Knows Shit.
I’ve been an Instinct Denier for most of my life. I witnessed the fucked up magical thinking that people attributed to instinct, and I decided that, while good instincts may exist, they are so muffled by our own biased thinking and life experiences that we don’t have the ability to access them in an unsullied form. But with years of meditation and study and most recently the book The Extended Mind, I see that the body doesn’t actually lie. That the body is not subject to the same biases and fears that our brain (protectively) forces upon us. That if we actually stop and listen to the body, it can often move us in the right direction. (Not always, I’m sure. Physical addictions definitely bring this theory into question, though I don’t know that somatic awareness would never work even in those extremes.) It’s giving me a trustworthy message, I’ve just been interpreting it all wrong. I’ve been playing with this new way of living, and it’s been magical. I find myself in situations I’ve probably repeated thousands of times (the late partner example, to wit) where I can now stop, feel what’s happening, and bring some wisdom into the scenario before I go off on some reactive tangent. It’s a pretty impressive superpower, folks. And one I’ve only begun to explore. I can’t wait to see what my body tells me in 2023. I HAVE INSTINCTS! It’s really exciting. Like having a supersmart, inspirational new friend. And, despite the Minnesota ethos, everyone can use another good friend.