70s candy

Sebene posed some interesting questions about how we’re experiencing relative reality/absolute reality and I can’t articulate in words right now my experience in a way that doesn’t operate inside of a binary, sounding like an opposition. That’s not how it feels to me. All day long we can talk about both/and and paradox, but it literally is, at some point, the actual same thing in my experience. There’s this convergence. How to talk about this?

The closest I can get is two sides of the same coin where the coin isn’t an object but a portal where each bleeds into and through the other. Normally I keep these kinds of thoughts to myself, but I’ve made a commitment to showing up in a more engaged way so I’ll just put this here for now. It’s on my mind. Holler if you’ve got thoughts to share. The only other way I’ve been able to conceive of it is like candy from the 70s:

Where chocolate = relative reality and peanut butter = absolute reality. Or the other way around. Perfectly absorbed in their own experience, headphones on, oblivious to everything else around them. I guess this works for now. (lol @walking around eating a tub of peanut butter, I mean absolute – we’re all one ❤️✌🏽😂)

we celebrate each other

We love each other, that’s what we’re here for. To alleviate suffering as best we can and to treat each other with respect, care, honor and dignity. I dreamed everybody in the neighborhood got together to celebrate Mary. Organization happens by word of mouth around here so I didn’t know it was happening until it happened. All the neighbors came out and formed a circle in the field just a ways from the building and J and someone else helped Mary walk out. She’d gotten dressed up for the occasion and it was a very big deal.

Of course it was a big deal. Making it to 93 years old is an incredibly big deal. That’s a lot of life lived. It makes you a treasure. An asset is what people call it, but how can we say that in a way that’s not wrapped up in financial systems? Elders can embody wisdom, strength, lessons learned, but the passing of time isn’t enough to confer the title. I remember how my father cringed on that retreat when people started calling him an elder. He said it himself: age doesn’t automatically confer wisdom. Just because someone’s old doesn’t mean they’re wise. But everyone advanced in age has seen some suffering, lived through varieties of heartbreak, had all the ups and downs you can have in 90+ years and they are deserving of extra care and respect just for that. I don’t know why folks imagine themselves immune from aging and its challenges: mystery illnesses, breakdown of the body, loss of mobility, of cognitive functions. One breakdown or another happens to everyone who’s lucky enough to reach old age. We are of the nature to grow old, we cannot escape aging.

Toward the end of her life, Mary heard music no one else could hear. She was very thin and frail, not able to handle going up and down the marble stairs anymore, but loved connection and would hang out on the landing like a spider in her web, ensnaring anyone who passed by in conversation. It didn’t cost much to talk to her, though because her hearing was poor sometimes it took some extra effort to communicate. She told me a little about the music that drew her up toward the roof and I think it was maybe not dissimilar to the lights my maternal grandmother saw at the end of her life. Lights that were a friendly energy, spirit, angels maybe. Companionable lights no one else could see. There were threads of light, dancing.

Both of my grandmothers lived into their hundreds and managed to keep their wits about them, more or less lucid to the very end. In my last conversation with my grandmother she shared her outrage and sense of injustice, can you believe this shit? No grandma, I cannot. I truly cannot believe this shit and trust me, you got out when the getting was good. I’m so glad she didn’t have to live through what’s happening now. She made her exit in November 2019 at 103 years old. My heart aches for the lack of dignity older folks experience in this country at the end of their lives. Losing agency, condescended to, ignored, hidden from sight. Part of the tragedy of covid is how many of our elders we’re losing. Numbed by the the enormity of our losses we’re even losing the capacity to mourn, to grieve together, to share ceremony honoring those who’ve passed.

A couple years back, in our neighborhood we had a funeral for the hamster of a kid in the building next door. People from different buildings all came out, we had a moment of silence, said a few words honoring its life and its contributions and it was buried in the park, sticks for grave markers. R played Taps on his phone. The kid cried and cried and adult neighbors stood by respectfully. Part of me thought it was too much, but another part of me was honored to participate, grateful to share in holding space for the child. He had loved. He lost a good friend. His heart was aching. We were paying respect to the life lost, to the love, to all of it. Honoring their connection to each other, the love and joy present between them, our connections with each other and life itself.

We’ll die too. All of us will die. What will happen then to the ones we love that are left behind? Ceremony is important. Me saying it doesn’t make it so, but I hope maybe people can feel it by now. We need to grieve. And not only in isolation, feeling like we bear this suffering alone. Some things are too much to bear alone. We need to feel our pain and allow it to move through us, transforming us in the process. Grief and helplessness and rage, we’re not in charge of those feelings or how they manifest in us– when they arise and pass, but we can create space internally to allow them to be present, to be with them for as long as they need and then when ready, they will continue to flow. Uncried tears are poison. Denied anger and grief, poison. It’s essential that it be honored and respected because it is there, it’s part of this life, this being human. Allow it to clear you out, burn you to the ground if need be. Not because you like it, but just because it’s happening.

Some things are just too much to bear alone. We need each other for this. That’s what the ceremony was. The boy cried and it was ok to cry because we were there with him, holding space. Honoring and allowing and supporting him in all his expressions. That is love too. The collective mourning that’s necessary now to integrate the experience of this pandemic and all the losses it’s brought us is more than my mind can conceive of. I know we need each other to bear it. None of it is meant for anyone alone.

P noted wisely that the great anthem isn’t called “I shall overcome,” it’s “We shall overcome.” And folks weren’t singing it because they felt happy or confident in victory, more likely they felt beat down and devastated by all the violence, hatred and loss on all sides. But there’s being held by the collective (many hands make light work) and a place where faith can come in to support as well. (Don’t call it faith if that word bothers you, call it something else like determination. Maybe even just intention would do.) What kind of life do you want to live? What kind of relationships do you want to have? How do you want to be treated? What world would you like to live in? A culture of care? Good, because that’s what we’re doing now. Welcome aboard, thanks for joining us.

“We Shall Overcome” from Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday Concert (Clearwater Concert), Madison Square Garden, 5/3/09. Featuring: Pete Seeger, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Toshi Reagon, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Billy Bragg, Keller Williams, Ani DiFranco, Ruby Dee, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, New York City Labor Choir.

it’s a revolution

Sunday January 10, 2021 5:51 am

Calligraphy from Thich Nhat Hanh. Text reads: peace in oneself peace in the world
Calligraphy from Thich Nhat Hanh. Text reads: peace in oneself peace in the world

All I keep seeing and knowing again and again is to sit with it, be with the discomfort. Allow the anger and pain to arise and be with it, be in it. Care for myself enough to recognize what’s happening for me, in me, around me and bring care and compassion to myself because this is how it is now. This is what’s happening. Turn to myself with kindness, feel into my own experience and meet myself there, meet my experience with love. However it is in this moment. (A note on pronouns: “I/me” could be “you” or “they/them” could be “we/us”. Use what works.)

Check in with your self and recognize the qualities of your experience. How is it in your heart? How is it in your mind? What sensations are arising in your body? What thought forms are passing through in this moment? How is it right now? See how it is, be with how it is and generate some kindness and compassion for yourself. That’s the beginning. That’s the initiation point. Move from there. Sit in whatever is happening, allowing it, meeting it, naming it, recognizing it for what it actually is. What is true right now: not what stories you’re hearing or telling yourself. Not your ideas or beliefs. Not what you think is happening, what’s ACTUALLY HAPPENING right now in the body, at the sense gates. What sensations. Is the body hot or cold, is the heart racing or is it steady and calm, how is the breathing? What are the qualities of the breath? Is the breath cycle long and deep or short, truncated, shallow. What’s it like to take a breath? Is it easy? Is it a challenge? How is your heart, the heart beat? Is it racing, pounding, is it steady? Notice. Notice these things. Recognize what is true.

Dharma is truth.

Idgaf what you THINK or what you BELIEVE. I don’t need you to agree with me. I’m asking you what’s happening right now. Only in the body. Only at the sense gates. What do you smell, what do you see? What’s above you, behind you, below you. Look at what’s happening within, internally. Attend to experience as it is. Not your stories, not what others have convinced you to believe, not what your parents or friends say or what you saw on the internet. Your own experience. See for yourself. How is it for you right now in this moment? What are the tastes in your mouth? Does it taste like blood? Can you feel the sensation of the air on your skin? The texture of the ground or floor beneath your feet? The texture of clothing against the skin? Is it tight, restrictive, loose? Soft? Pinching somewhere? What are the sounds in your environment? Is it sirens like it is here? Is there yelling? Is there pounding at the door? Are there mobs in the streets? Are you sheltering in place, hiding under your desk like we’ve trained the children and senators to do? Maybe you can hear a gurgling stream or a peaceful fan whir, the wind in the trees nearby. Can you hear birdsong? Traffic rumble? Explosions? How is it for you right now?

Be where you are right now. Recognize what’s happening, physically. Bring this attention, this awareness to your experience. What’s happening internally in the physical body, the emotional states, what’s the quality of mind? Distracted? Concentrated? Where is your focus? Are thoughts racing? You making some plans? Fantasizing about something better, different? How is it right now? This investigation leads to a cultivation of capacity, the strength to stay with what is, whatever it is. So that you can sit still long enough to tolerate discomfort. You can tolerate uncertainty, you can tolerate hostility, fear, aggression. (Is there some reason you feel you should be immune to discomfort and uncertainty, always get your way? That could be interesting, look at that.) Build the capacity to sit with whatever arises. Joys and sorrows. Not only pain also pleasure, sublime states of joy. Anything that is possible, the whole range of experience is all right here. Can you be with it? Can you recognize it as it’s happening?

Can you allow it to unfold without trying to exert control or influence over the outcome? That’s a sticky question. Why would I want to do that gets into examining wtf you think an I is, which is a larger exploration. (Where I am, how I am, what I am, why I am, whereby I am: I am a reassuring illusion.) For now, maybe we can leave it at this idea of building tolerance, capacity. Maybe it’s possible to accept that responding from anger hurts us and hurts others. Responding from anger, responding unskillfully causes more harm than good. I’m not sure about this, just testing the idea out. Isn’t it always more skillful when responses come from a place of calm and self-care, self-compassion rather than reactivity? When we’ve allowed whatever is happening to happen, taken it all in, been able to receive it, see it, come to know it in some way before we engage with it.

Deeper investigation of the video of “Elizabeth” from “Knoxville, TN” (or is it Bowie, MD?), the one wearing a Trump flag as a cape who stormed the capitol building the other day because “it’s a revolution!” showed that she was rubbing her eyes with a sliced onion she held in that towel in her hand. Was she really maced? She gave a great performance. Lots of performances happening, lots of grifters, lots of emotion. I’m not giving my power away to any of this. I’ll choose what I get worked up about, what gets my attention and what doesn’t. I am human, so of course I have my own reactions, but I also have choices about how I respond. When we move away from pure reactivity, we have more power, more agency. We’re not as tossed about by emotional reaction or habit patterns, we can begin to decide for ourselves. Use discernment to identify an appropriate response. Sometimes the appropriate response is to do nothing.

I can’t believe I’m saying this!! I’m Mars ruled, Mercury in Aries. Believe when I tell you I can’t believe this. I like ACTION. I’m all for action: quick, direct, decisive action. Direct action gets the goods. I can’t keep my mouth shut most of the time, I truly can’t. Especially when I feel somebody’s doing wrong/being wronged. Anybody who knows me has seen. For me it’s like a volcano inside, I feel like I’m going to explode. Just saying this to say that I surprise myself hearing me preach temperance, but apparently I do now. I’m not saying do nothing. I’m not saying don’t respond. I see a lot of buddhists out here will just close their eyes, sink into a meditative state and bypass. Not about that. Fuck that. That’s not what I’m saying at all. Don’t do that, that’s bullshit. We have ethical responsibilities, moral obligations and there are karmic consequences for folks who believe in karma.

May all beings be safe and protected from harm. May all beings be happy and peaceful–free from fear, anxiety and worry. May all beings be healthy and strong. May all beings live with joy and ease. May all beings be free. I am one of all beings, may I be safe and protected from harm. May I be happy and peaceful–free from fear, anxiety and worry. May I be healthy and strong. May I live with joy and ease.

May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself. May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself. May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day. May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent. May we all know peace.

(some of these metta phrases are from Thich Nhat Hanh)

untethered grief

May 5, 2020 2:18 am

I’ve been up half an hour at least because L was silent screaming in her sleep– fair enough response. We should all be screaming at the top of our lungs now (those of us who can). This is a nightmare we’re living in, a fucking nightmare.

I keep pondering the absolute lack of ritual. There’s zero collective mourning happening. Next to none. I see Lincoln Center with Union Theological is hosting concerts every week. I see facebook has added a couple emojis to indicate CARE. Individuals light real and virtual candles, but where are the altars, the shrines, the tributes? Where can we cry out, shake out, celebrate the lives of those who’ve passed, move grief through our bodies? Savage Remix ain’t it. It’s bothering me.

Responding to a twitter post from Kristin Rawls, the importance of collective mourning has been gnawing at me.

Grief– this grief– is collective. Treating it as an isolated experience, compartmentalizing it as individual suffering isn’t just wrong, it’s lies. That’s not the truth of how things are.

One of the many lessons we learn in opening our hearts is that all beings are connected not only through love and joy, but also profoundly connected through pain. Recognizing our connectedness in suffering is one of the ways we can recognize our common humanity. Fronting like we must bear the enormity of this pain alone is an offense– a moral offense and an affront to our humanity.

Reading the above twitter thread, there were many folks who wrote that they didn’t want to acknowledge all the suffering of this moment because it’s still unfolding, it’s not over yet. It reminded me of what Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote, “the Buddha says that there are few who are stirred by things that are truly stirring, compared to those people, far more numerous, who are not so stirred. The spurs to awakening press in on us from all sides, yet too often, instead of acknowledging them, we respond simply by putting on another layer of clothes to protect ourselves from their sting.” (Meeting the Divine Messengers)

Death is considered one of the four heavenly messengers in Buddhism, offering us opportunities to reflect deeply, re-evaluate our lives. Confronted with the mass death we’re surrounded with in this moment, it makes sense to me that “we must make drastic changes in our existential priorities and personal values. Instead of letting our lives be consumed by transient trivia, by things that are here today and gone tomorrow, we must give weight to “what really counts” (Meeting the Divine Messengers)

Moving forward, we need care and nurturance built into the very systems that support society. Care and connection– acknowledging our interbeing must be centered in the framework of our societal structures. They’re not now. Not here. Right now we’re still collectively operating out of this myth of the solitary hero, the lone wolf, all those pick yourself up by the bootstraps narratives– it’s all lies based on an outmoded worldview of power over, of us vs. them, of exploitation for profit, of individual vs. collective freedom.

Those times are behind us. I see building power with, all of us together, a culture of nurturance and care. Moving forward we build together, we care for each other, we mourn losses together acknowledging that all belong, all are worthy, all are loved– all beings above and below, seen and unseen, heard and unheard, living, passed and yet to be born.
All beings without exception. No one left out.

some reading:

Rebellious Mourning, Cindy Millstein ed.
“The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture,” Nora Samaran
We’re Still Living and Dying in the Slaveholders’ Republic,” Ibram X. Kendi

Those We’ve Lost, The New York Times
Faces of the Dead, The Washington Post
Mourning America

embodiment

I don’t often go into astrology here because it’s not everybody’s thing, but today’s Taurus new moon is joining up with Uranus as it’s squaring Saturn. That’s talking about a profoundly deep movement toward liberation & previously unimagined possibilities while confronting restriction, rules, limits, pressure, with possibly burdensome responsibility.

It’s got me thinking about embodiment, this 50th anniversary of Earth Day (lol, every day is earth day). Really being present with the transformation happening now, including the chaos, uncertainty, fear and grief that accompany it. It’s a wild ride & these bodies are our vehicles. Our physical bodies, the body of the earth. Sitting with what makes a body up.

via GIPHY

In the Satipatthana sutta, we get great instructions about how to contemplate the body internally and externally, both internally & externally at once. We attend to our breathing, the breathing body, the whole of the body being breathed. The body in different positions: sitting, walking, lying down. Attending to the ways the body inhabits and moves through space aware that our experience of moving through space is different for different bodies. There was an article in the NYTimes recently addressing this, about being a black man wearing a mask in public during this pandemic, “For Black Men, Fear That Masks Will Invite Racial Profiling.” To extend the contemplation of the body externally, contrast that to the masked and armed “protests” taking place around the country to “liberate” the states.

That’s not the kind of liberation I’m talking about when I say liberation.

How it is to be embodied in this time is unique to each individual body. We are sharing a collective experience and can talk about the collective body, but our experiences are wildly different. (There’s an insightful reflection on It’s Going Down, “All We Have Is Us: A Report From A Delivery Driver In Manhattan.”) Structural inequities are laid bare now. We’re seeing what there is to see, but how are we experiencing it in our bodies, how are we making sense of it?

The body doing activities, the body’s experience of impermanence– of arising and passing away in the body. I love the anatomical parts part of the Satipatthana myself: “in this body there are head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, bowels, mesentery, contents of the stomach, faeces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, snot, oil of the joints and urine.” (from Ven Analayo’s Satipatthana, the direct path to realization.) These detailed methods of contemplating our component parts are a highly effective way of herding our attention toward what we’re made of.

Disclosure: that’s an affiliate link. My first one ever. If anyone ever buys a book from my site, Bookshop will throw me a couple coins. Literally, it’s pennies. I want to encourage and support independent bookstores especially in these times. Bezos won’t miss your business, I promise.

These parts of ours (each part worthy of attention, worthy of love and care) are comprised of elements. “In this body there are the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the air element.” Celebrating earth day, honoring the earth, we celebrate ourselves. It’s not poetry, it’s highly practical and pragmatic. As within, so without. What are we embodying in our lives, in our bodies, in this present moment? What are we made of? What will we create with the elements we share? What’s in our hearts now? What are we capable of? How will we shape this transformation? What structures will we put in place? New moons are for planting seeds for future harvest. These are the things I’m thinking of as I do what I can to move us all closer to true freedom.

Laura from the Poetry Project asked me to share a few writing prompts from the workshop I led in the Fall, meditation in an emergency. I’m sharing them here as well, a few writing prompts to cultivate awareness of the body and practice communicating with/through embodied presence. Some ways to write when it feels like an emergency–

  • Cultivate present moment awareness– deliberate, non-judgmental, bare attention to the now. Write from that place: what you can discern through your senses right now, in this very moment? What do you see, hear, feel, taste, smell? Not thoughts or ideas, you’re the scribe of direct experience, what’s happening now? And now, and now?
  • Inhabiting that awareness, write to and from the body (personal body, body of the earth, fear body, grief body, body electric) &/or body parts.
  • Too anxious to generate new material? Write into or from (take a line, phrase, words, ideas, anything you like) this poem https://poets.org/poem/i-sing-body-electric or any other text or song that you like.
  • Anything that supports moving beyond self-focus can be a useful path through emergencies. Finding and creating flow states, for example. Flow = a state of being completely immersed in a project or learning experience that challenges us.
  • Write for 3 minutes without picking up your pen. I do mean write, not type. (I guess you could type if that’s your thing.) Try to incorporate the sensations of the writing experience into the work. (How’s your posture? How are your eyes feeling? Are you getting sweaty? Is trying to write new work stressing you out? Are you having fun yet?) Try 5 minutes.
  • Try creating: collaging, chapbook making, drawing or painting without judgement around it, simply focusing on the pleasure of the experience.
  • If none of that’s working, ask what Bernadette Mayer would do & try that: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/library/Mayer-Bernadette_Experiments.html

there is a path_wisdom

It is said that all the Buddha ever talked about was suffering and the end of suffering. In the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha laid out the diagnosis, the prognosis & the prescription to end suffering: there is a path. I don’t want to leave folks hanging, let’s get right into it – that path is the Noble Eightfold Path (ariya-magga in Pali, the language spoken in the Buddha’s time) & it can be explored in three different sections.

Discussing the Eightfold Path, folks often use term RIGHT (“right view,” “right speech,” “right livelihood”); I find myself using WISE instead. Right can imply wrong. Wise works just as well and allows for a little more subtlety.

The first grouping deals with the cultivation of wisdom or discernment (pañña) and is made up of wise view and wise intention. The second group is concerned with the cultivation of virtue (sila) and is made of wise speech, wise action and wise livelihood. The third is all about concentration and meditation (samadhi) – wise effort and wise mindfulness. Let’s check out wisdom.

1: Wise View: knowledge of the Four Noble Truths

(crying emoji!) If a clip of a half-naked Seth Rogan singing the “Age of Aquarius” is enough to lure anyone into learning more about Right View, then my work here is done. This is time well spent.

2: Wise Intention: motivation to resolve suffering – resolve, renunciation, loving-kindness

I’m not much of an Aziz Ansari fan anymore, but it’s a good clip. Apologies if that kicks anything up for anyone. I haven’t gotten around to writing up notes on supporting last weekend’s API Chaya / Project NIA training to address gender-based violence, support people experiencing harm, and support people causing harm to change. That’s a post for another time.

Right now is a chance to learn more about about the Eightfold Path! Here are a few places to start:

letting go

I’ve been sitting with the intention to write up a dharma talk. It’s my homework. For weeks now I’ve been talking ideas over with friends, listening to other people’s dharma talks and writing unending notes, getting nowhere.

Not nowhere exactly. I got nowhere writing the kind of talk I thought I should be writing, but I’m getting everywhere looking at clips of little videos, which I LOVE. I could do this all day. I have actually. I present the fruits of my labor: The Four Noble Truths in video clips.

part one: there is dukkha (suffering), it is to be understood

part two: the origin of dukkha is craving (thirst, clinging) it is to be recognized

part three: dukkha ceases with the relinquishment of craving, this is to be known 

part four: there is a path leading to the cessation of dukkha (=eightfold path) it is to be cultivated

Read/hear more about it:
There’s so much to learn and study about the Four noble/ennobling truths. Here are a few links to start with: