September

I was thrilled to see this image for September in my calendar from Nikki McClure. I love everything about it: LIBERATE, all the books… Perfectly aligned for me with the time now. September marks my official return to the library world. I’m so happy to be back in the library where I belong. Most of the work I do in the world is related to helping people find the resources they need. It’s beautiful to see it illustrated in this way, LIBERATE. Finding freedom, finding a way out of no way, finding inspiration, finding tools and information, finding what’s needed, finding resource.

September from Nikki McClure's 2021 calendar. Image description: black and white image of books stacked floor to ceiling against yellow backdrop with a person in the distant center gazing at them, standing on yellow ground.
September from Nikki McClure‘s 2021 calendar
Image description: black and white image of books stacked floor to ceiling
against yellow backdrop with a person in the distant center gazing at them, standing on yellow ground.

I was talking with friends yesterday about the differences between doing our soul work/heartwork/living our dharma: being on the path, being in alignment– it’s called many different things– and doing what we have to do to survive. The differences between what that heartwork is and what we do to survive as physical beings living within a system of Capitalism.

My life’s work, my heart’s work isn’t always what I do to help pay the bills, to put food on the table. I think for a long time I thought that it had to be. Like if I was truly living my truth, committed to my spiritual path I would only do work that matched that ideal. Like if I was doing anything other than teaching yoga and meditation and writing poems it was defeat/failure/sell out. Why did I think that? Where did that idea come from?

Meaningful work

Right livelihood doesn’t mean having to extract enough payment for my own survival from the things that I love. That takes the joy out, infects love with some desperation and anxiety for me. It seemed cool to make a living doing the things I love and value, why wouldn’t I want that? More power to folks who make enough money doing the things they love to survive and thrive. It doesn’t always happen though. I think it may actually be quite rare.

What happened for me with poetry years ago (why I never wanted to teach, why I dropped out of the scene a bit) has recently happened again with dharma and mindfulness practices. They are vital to me, essential for my own thriving and liberation AND I cannot have them coupled with my physical survival. I can’t have my ability to eat and pay bills and care for my family dependent on whether people want to read my poems, buy my books or sign up for my classes.

It’s possible that I suck at marketing or I haven’t tried hard enough– that may be true. Also, I prefer not to. I don’t want to have to hustle in the marketplace to share tools for liberation. What I am doing right now is feeling immense gratitude that another path opened up for me. I get to fall back on another of my loves: libraries. I’m grateful to have options. I know not everyone does. I appreciate how lucky I am to have many loves.

Love

Anybody who knows me knows how I love me some libraries. They have been essential to my own survival and liberation in a way that’s not so different from dharma. In fact, there’s a lot of crossover the way I see it. I was comparing insight dialogue with informational interviews and they’re not all that different: pause, relax, open, attune to emergence, listen deeply, speak the truth… Helping people identify the questions beneath the question, what they’re really asking, what the need is. (Not so different from Nonviolent Communication either, come to think of it.) The adventure of setting out on a path of discovery, of finding out for yourself what’s needed, what’s true. (Ehipassiko, see for yourself.)

Worldly concerns

It’s been ten years since I was last a librarian: librarian as role, task, job, identity. I was one of the librarians at Occupy Wall Street and it felt important and transformative. As much as I tried to stay off the radar, I did get some attention for it and just like the Buddha taught, I was tossed by the worldly winds: where some people praised me, invited me to speak at their conferences and gave me awards, others blamed me, attacked me, sent me hate mail and stalked me. While some people loved the People’s Library and were inspired by it, some took offense. Whether it was objectively true or not I felt low-key blacklisted in the library world because of my participation. I didn’t/couldn’t get another library job until just now: ten years later.

The air outside is getting a little bit cooler, it’s chilly at night. NYC public school starts tomorrow. September finds me digging out my cardigans, adjusting my glasses and totally giddy about the opportunity to be back in the library again helping people find what they need. Whether folks are looking for liberation, looking to transform oppressive systems or just looking for the bathrooms, I’m happy to help and grateful for the opportunity.

embodiment

I’m thinking about 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.

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.

Feliz Dia De La Tierra / Happy Earth Day

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. Our embodiment impacts our experiences. 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.

Embodiment 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?

Embodied experience

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. How does embodiment show up in our lives, in our bodies, in this present moment? What are we made of? Imagining what will we can create with the elements we share. What’s residing in our hearts now? What are we capable of? How will we shape this transformation? What structures will we put in place? How do we manifest the embodiment of our ideals, bring feeling and aspiration into form? 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.

Cultivating embodied awareness

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–

Writing prompts

  • 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