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Category Archives: reality
Another four years of this man? Thank you, don’t mind if I do.
But here’s the truth, the real, raw honesty of it: election night was one of the most anxious nights of my life, and I spent it huddled under a blanket on the couch, shrieking at Lovie to TURN THE CHANNEL BACK TO SCOTT PELLEY any time a commercial break came on during our recorded episode of 30 Rock (because Lovie, being the smart one in the family, thought it would be more relaxing to spend the evening with Tina Fey than Karl Rove).
After Ohio’s results began to reveal Obama’s lead, I did relax a little. I opened a beer, checked Facebook and Twitter and CNN and the Huffington Post, and suddenly I was hit with such a wave of sadness that the first beer magically disappeared and I had to open a second.
Here’s what bums me out: seeing the graphics and numbers on the screen, I realized that being divided is the only way our country knows how to exist. It’s our modus operandi: the country is neatly split in ideological halves. So is each state, and each city and county. The marriage amendment in Minnesota was knocked down only by the slimmest of margins (thanks to the tremendous efforts of a hard-working, compassionate group of people who tirelessly fought for my civil rights these past few months), which means that 48% of the voters in my own state turned up at their polling places Tuesday morning and filled in a circle indicating their preference that I never marry. Forty-eight percent!
This divide keeps going, so that if you reduce our country to its most basic form, you get this: two people who hate each other.
No, I think it goes even further than that, actually. It’s one person, having an argument in her head with another imaginary person and feeling helpless and oppressed by this fictional interaction (this just happened to me an hour ago as I was toweling off from the shower). Every problem in our country and in our world is already a problem in our own minds.
When the post-victory buzz wore off and I was solemnly eating toast and watching my Facebook friend count drop Wednesday morning (apparently not everyone is a fan of picture of Obama without his shirt on), I realized that the only way to begin moving in the direction of unity is for every person to begin with himself. Stop that nasty chatter in your mind about the miserable day you had yesterday, and what you could have said to that Republican Evangelical from your home town who claimed that Obamacare requires all Christians to have microchips implanted in their bodies, and stop hating on Donald Trump, and Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and that other Evangelical on Facebook who said the country’s in the toilet because Obama prays to Allah every day.*
Because that half of the country is just like the restless half of your mind that refuses to stop ruminating and worrying and being anxious: it needs love, and the gentlest touch of kindness.
Sometimes I feel like getting really worked up with anger is the best thing that could happen to me, because it gives me the chance to take a good, clear look at my own reactive patterns. It gets violent up in there, in my mind, so it’s no wonder that our country, which is simply a telescoped version of our inner lives, is so messed up. Since the only thing I have control over is how I choose to react to all the crap that I encounter, I may as well spend my time practicing how to manage that control. And watching 30 Rock.
*Just kidding. It was the same Evangelical.
I’m a bad blogger, it’s true. I don’t have a good excuse. I’m just busy with life being very good–a topic for another entry, another day.
So I finally listened to the Radiolab podcast episode called “Voices in Your Head.” I’ve been carrying this around on my iPod for awhile now, afraid to listen because I thought this might be the episode that confirms I’m completely nuts, but I finally got up the courage (sunny morning, hot cup of tea) to hit play on the bus ride to work yesterday.
They discuss a concept first introduced by a psychologist named Lev Vygotsky, a man who may only be 88% consonants but is ALL Russian. Vygotky posited that perhaps the reason we “hear” voices in our surface-level, narrative thoughts is because we’ve absorbed the dialogues we had with our parents when we were just diaper-wearing kiddos, arguing with Mom about how it’s none of her business why our hand is in our pants again. In essence, then, none of our thoughts are intrinsically ours.
This episode was a nice complement to the incredible weekend I just spent at a retreat with Dr. Richard Davidson and Matthieu Ricard (Google them!–they’re the scientist and the monk behind the new neuroplasticity*/science of meditation craze), where Matthieu spoke at some length about the Buddhist concept of emptiness. (There is no nutshell, but in a nutshell, nothing exists inherently on its own; everything is dependent on the causes and conditions of other things).
Made me think that if he were still alive, Lev Vygotky might have been an interesting third party to the excellent team that Dr. Davidson and Matthieu comprise. I know he would have loved all the gadgets they’ve got up in the lab.
Also, I got Pema Chodron’s new book and, as usual, she’s fresh and fly and full of the choicest wisdom. If you order it from Shambhala Publications, you get a free gift with it, too–The Pocket Pema Chodron, which is good to consult when you’re having trouble practicing loving-kindness because your poodle keeps pushing the tennis ball under the couch and won’t stop crying until you get flat on your belly and stick your arm into the dust-bunny circus beneath to retrieve it. Over and over and over and over again.
*When Microsoft Word stops putting a red line under the word “neuroplasticity,” then we’ll know it’s real.
I am constantly humbled by the kickass spiritual community here in Minneapolis. Today I had the privilege of seeing Swami Veda Bharati lead a 40-minute guided meditation and deliver a brief lecture on the power of silence. Swami Veda is taking a 5-year vow of silence next March, the mere mention of which made us audience members fidget and cough and think mournfully of our dear cell phones, tucked snugly away in the backpacks at our feet.
Swami Veda said that the stillness, the silence that we find when we retreat within ourselves, is the language of God, and if we listen carefully and quietly, we can understand the conversations that happen between flowers and butterflies.
“I am not being a poet,” he said. “This is just the reality of it.”
As a writer, I appreciated that comment. My brain’s primary function, its joie de vivre, is to absorb the ephemeral, nebulous nature of reality and smash it with the clunky mallet of language, concretize the crap out of it, so it becomes solid–something worthy of a sentence! Something that could be easily narrated by Morgan Freeman in a movie! So when I hear about butterflies and flowers and the language of God, I’m like–cool, it’s a metaphor, or a simile, or some other comforting figure of speech that I can wrap my head around.
But that’s not exactly right. When Buddhists say the mind is like the sky, pure and open, and thoughts are like the hazy clouds that sometimes get in the way–it’s not a simile. It’s the way things are. Our minds are made up of the same stuff as the rest of the world, so it’s not that our minds are like the sky; they are the sky. And it’s not like silence is like the language of God; it just is.
This is something I like to chew on when I’m sitting on my deck, looking up at the sky and wiggling my toes and wondering What the Freaking Heck it All Means. Letting go of language, and of the tendency to rely on figures of speech to illuminate universal truths–well, I’m never going to do it (I’m writing about this after all, aren’t I), but the idea of pure silence can bring little glimpses of comfort.
Good luck to Swami Veda during his five quiet years. Because of him, I had Simon and Garfunkel in my head the entire bike ride home.