Sunday, July 31, 2016

Don't Peer Too Far

Do not set your eyes on things far off.” - Pythian Odes

I've had at least four people mention to me some iteration of, “What are the gifts where you are?” so it seemed like a good post to write today.

I am deeply unhappy about a few things in my life. There are a few things I want to change and they aren't changing fast enough, darnit. It's easy for me to peer ahead, to fantasize about the future, and then get frustrated when the future is not my present reality. I've had so much resentment this week about that and accordingly, people keep asking me to practice gratitude for where I am.

Don't peer too far ahead.
Don't peer too far ahead.

It didn't go well because I don't want to practice gratitude for where I am. I don't want to see the gifts from my current situation. I'd much rather live in the imagined future where my dreams have come true, thank you very much. But here's the icky thing: I'm not there. As much as I want to be, do, or have something else, that's not this present moment. And because I don't enjoy this present moment, it means my compulsions have kicked up. I keep checking facebook, email, and instagram to pull me from the here and now because I'm not enjoying the here and now.

As you can imagine, my compulsions haven't solved anything either.

I experienced a shift when I asked myself, “What if I viewed this situation as temporary? What if I knew it would end?” Somehow that made all the difference. For me, whatever I'm experiencing now, I think I'll experience forever. It's hard for me to keep in mind this too shall pass, and it's the notion there isn't an endpoint that causes me so much distress. When I know there's an endpoint though, everything becomes more bearable. And when I know there's an endpoint, I can start to see the gifts of my current situation. I view things differently and understand this is a period where I'm being given the opportunity to cultivate whatever, fill in the blank, and I get myself back to a place of gratitude.

I know this is a vague post but that's because I'm not ready to discuss the specifics in a public forum, but I think the lesson is a good one. How often do we view our present situation as interminable? How often do we think the way things are will be the way things continue? It's helpful for me not to say to myself, “This too shall pass,” because, great, glad to know maybe when I'm 95 this will pass, but instead to affirm this has an endpoint because it does. When I know there's an endpoint, I can quit asking, “When will this be over?” Staying present can be difficult sometimes, but maybe if we knew there will be an end, staying present would be easier.

I dream of a world where we're able to focus on the here and now, even if we don't like it. A world where we understand all things are temporary. A world where we do our best to stay present because we understand each experience or period has something for us to mine.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Why Discernment is Crucial

There's a lot of talk recently about how Americans are uninformed, uneducated, etc. I've seen quote after quote about how we need to fix our education system so that tyrants are not believed and do not come into power. However, as someone who has a college degree, I do not consider myself to be uneducated, yet I'm still taken in by high-minded speeches. I am easily swept away by rhetoric, especially if the person is addressing a pain point.

I read an article recently about why poor whites chant “Trump, Trump,” and the author said it's for so many reasons, but one of them is Trump speaks to the frustration of poor whites. Of people who feel like the government doesn't care about them. The author said, “Trump supporters believe he’s different. They believe that he cares about us [poor white people], that he tells it like it is, that he gives us a voice, that he can’t be bought because he’s already rich, that he’s railing against politics as usual.”

Discernment is so critical right now.
Discernment is so critical right now.

Related, I read another article about the historical perspective of what will happen next with Brexit and Trump. Tobias Stone said, “Lead people to feel they have lost control of their country and destiny, [and] people look for scapegoats, a charismatic leader captures the popular mood, and singles out that scapegoat. He talks in rhetoric that has no detail, and drums up anger and hatred. Soon the masses start to move as one, without any logic driving their actions, and the whole becomes unstoppable.”

The part that stands out to me is “rhetoric that has no detail.” I think it's crucial not that we become more educated, but that we become more discerning. To ask ourselves, “OK, you promise to make America great again, but how and at what cost?” It is so easy to get swept away by something because it sounds good. It's much harder to use our brains to dig in and figure out the details. I say this as someone who struggles with discernment herself. I can't tell you how many books I've purchased because the author proclaimed they had all the answers and could help me live the life of my dreams.

My spiritual teacher is a big advocate of discernment or discrimination. He says it is only through discrimination the mind can determine the goodness or evil in a thing or in its uses. And also that proper questioning is vital. Proper questioning is “asking questions to the right people who will provide appropriate answers to help one solve any problem one may encounter.”

I appreciate that he says the right people. That means I need to ask questions of people who know more than me, someone more experienced. An expert if you will, not someone who sounds like they know what they're talking about but is actually full of crap.

What I'm advocating here is not that we become more educated, more informed, but rather that we approach things with a healthy degree of skepticism. That we ask ourselves, “How do I know this is true?” instead of assuming automatically it is. Does this post sound preachy? If so, it's because I'm gunning for our future. When we stop discerning, that's when despots rise to power and very few people benefit in that instance.

I dream of a world where we practice discernment. A world where we ask how we know something is true instead of automatically buying it hook, line, and sinker. A world where we understand using our brains not only benefits us, but the entire society. A world where we realize discernment is crucial.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

One Race: The Human Race

Fyi, this is also a podcast.

The other day I entered into a discussion with a facebook friend about “Black Lives Matter” and “All lives matter.” His point was that all lives matter and that we should focus on unity, not division. He then proceeded to quote our spiritual teacher who said, “There is only one race in the entire world, and the name of that race is the human race. We are bound together with the same breast milk of mother Earth, and the same sun and moon are our common companions.”

I get where he and others are coming from. We all have the same needs. We all want respect, we all want to be valued. I think most of us are saying in one form or another, “What about me?” so when one group is highlighted or given more attention, the reaction of others is to say, “Yeah, but what about me?” I understand. But my question for the people who are chanting, “Unity, unity,” is how exactly do you propose we become unified? How exactly would you like us to become one human race?

There is only one race.
There is only one race.

I think of unity like a marriage. When both people are committed to working on themselves, to treating each other well, the marriage is great. However, when one person is abusing the other, it's not so great. It seems to me the people advocating for unity are requesting minorities stay in a loveless, abusive marriage. I understand vows were made, but how is staying married helping anybody? Just because you're committed to each other doesn't mean the abuse will stop. The abuse only stops when one person says, “Enough. No more.” That to me is what's happening with “Black Lives Matter.” Black people in this country are finally saying, “Enough. No more.”

A recent article in the Washington Post by Stacey Patton sums this up nicely. Patton said:
"Talk of unity, reconciliation, and restoring trust is a diversion from the raw, ugly, excruciatingly painful work of addressing the systemic racism that is tearing our nation apart. In their rush to avoid the real work in favor of a kumbaya fantasy comfort zone, they refuse to confront history and the truth about the present moment.

[W]hat the message of unity winds up doing is blaming communities of color for failing to assimilate, rather than acknowledging that the very fabric of this nation is built upon a diabolical, calculated, and constantly evolving system of racism."
Far from leading to a divisive, destructive place, I see rooting out racism as the first step toward real unity. Toward identifying with only one race: the human race. I thought about citing statistics of how black people are unfairly targeted as evidence of the abuse taking place, but from my perspective it's unnecessary because what the Black Lives Matter people are advocating will help us all, no matter what color we are. Asking for more accountability and transparency from the police can only benefit all of us. Yeah, it may be seemingly divisive right now to focus on black people but I think it's more important to look at the big picture. Where are we heading? What is this leading toward? From my perspective, it's leading toward one human society where we can say, “All lives matter,” and it rings true not only in rhetoric but in practice.

I dream of a world where we ferret out problems so that we may solve them. A world where we understand sometimes we have to focus on one group at a time in order to benefit us all. A world where we act as if there is only one race: the human race.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Beware the Cushy Life

I've been distraught this week at the state of the world. That seems to be a common theme lately, but this week felt especially intense. I didn't watch the videos of Alton Sterling or Philando Castile because I am far too sensitive for that, but even hearing details I sunk into a depression. I started feeling helpless and hopeless.

Instead of living in those states, I reached out to my community and asked about service projects. When the world gets like this, I think it's important to contribute in any way we can as opposed to shaking our heads and saying, “Isn't that awful?”

It's easy to do – to feel something and then continue with the status quo. After all, bills need to be paid. It's easy to fall into the mindset of, at the very end of the day, if I have any energy left over, then I might help other people.

This dog gets it.
This dog gets it.

Friends, this is no way to live and does not lead to any sort of fulfillment. My spiritual teacher says the formula for bliss is service minus information. I have been decidedly low on service and high on information, so of course I’m not feeling bliss, besides the fact there are some pretty terrible things going on in the world.

Service often gets relegated to that one weekend of the month volunteering for so-and-so, and that's fine because it's something. At this point, something is better than nothing. It's excruciating for me to sit on my laurels watching what's going on around me; I can't do that. I'm not a person who can tolerate crowds so no, I will not be at any protests unless I get a nudge from my higher power, but it's important for all of us to keep making the world a better place, whether that's through after-school tutoring or leading a men's group or planting a community garden. It may not be directly related to the Black Lives Matter movement, but that's OK, because in my book, any sort of service leads in the direction we all want to go.

I didn't sleep well last night so this post might be all over the place, but what I'm advocating is: beware of the cushy life. The life where it's all about being as comfortable as possible. A life that puts us at the center of existence without thinking of others. A world where we may feel something but then carry on as if nothing has changed. I'm asking that our feelings get translated into action, into service, into helping our brothers and sisters in any way we can.

I dream of a world where we serve each other. A world where we take action to make the world a better place instead of lamenting how awful it is. A world where instead of striving for a cushy life, we strive for a blissful one.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Why Freedom of Speech isn't Free

I'm officially a podcast! Click here if you want to check it out. =)

The other day, a friend posed a question on facebook: “Where's the line between hate speech and incitement? What's an example of someone talking about white supremacy, warning against 'race mixing mongrelization' and takeover by international Jewry, recommending re-education or death for gays, deportation of migrants, where you could make an intellectually honest assessment that they are 'just stating their opinion' with no intention of recruiting?”

I love that my friend brought this up because it's a reminder that ideas have consequences; words matter. Far from the childhood rejoinder, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” words DO hurt. They hurt a lot, especially when those words translate into policies and practices.

Cliche, I know, but I had to use this image.
Cliche, I know, but I had to use this image.

In the U.S., we tout how great our country is because we have free speech. But is it really free? I'd argue that freedom of speech comes with a cost – sometimes emotionally and sometimes physically. People are literally paying with their lives sometimes; the price doesn't get any higher than that.

I'm a journalist so in no way, shape, or form am I arguing for governmental censorship. Having governmental restrictions on what we can and cannot say usually ends in disaster. However, there is a big difference between a whistleblower exposing the dark underbelly of an institution and spewing hate. Essentially what I'm advocating for is subtlety of expression.

In yoga, there is a concept called satya. It implies action of mind and the right use of words with the spirit of welfare. Satya is often translated as benevolent truthfulness, but I think the concept is more subtle than that because it's so relative. There are no hard and fast rules. Sometimes it's in the best interest of all parties involved to be brutally honest and sometimes it's better to withhold the truth. What's really important is welfare. Will the comment help the person or hurt them? And if it will hurt them but they need to hear it, how can the comment be delivered in the gentlest way? If I'm a terrible singer and I'm convinced I'm the next American Idol, no one is doing me any favors by saying my singing voice is fantastic. To practice satya, it would be better to say, “I know you love to sing Rebekah, and that's great! but I think you could sound even better if you took singing lessons.”

Hate speech I would argue is never about the welfare of others and always about expressing fear and insecurity. And instead of adding to the din by declaring the white supremacists to be racist jerks, to put it politely, I think we'd be better served at asking what the person's underlying needs are and how can those be addressed. Nothing gets solved by shouting at each other and in fact, all the shouting can have dire consequences. I know that sounds terribly naive, as if I'm advocating we all sit by the campfire and sing “Kumbaye,” but I'm not. White supremacist jerks should not be allowed to call the shots or get into positions of power, and it's our responsibility to make that so. But to really solve anything we have to address their unmet needs and those of their ilk while also practicing satya ourselves. It's a tall order but I believe it can be done.

I dream of a world where we take into account the welfare of others, and ourselves, when we communicate. A world where we speak the truth, or withhold it, without hurting others. A world where instead of freedom of expression we practice subtlety of expression.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.