Kitchen Table Revolution, Interrupted

On Friday, my Mom and I spent the day in the kitchen talking about a revolution.  Well, we were talking about the state of the world, daring to broach our  fears about countless taboo topics.

What happens when we all find out that Al Gore has been right?  What happens when people really start to run out of water?  How many links in the chain have to break before our global network of food distribution?  How many days of product are in an average supermarket?  For a proud liberal, why do I have a funny perspective on guns that I don’t talk about much?  In what part of the psyche and the spirit should stories like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Jean Hegland’s Into the Forest reside?

Ach, Marisa!  What are you doing to your dear readers on a Monday morning?  The sun isn’t even up yet and with gloomy thoughts like this you are practically daring it not to rise!

Fear not, if you are anything like Mom and me you will plunge into your seas of worry and dredge up all of your 3 a.m. thoughts even though it is the middle of the day.  But then you’ll get up for another cup of tea and the phone will ring and you’ll pay the cable bill or head to the dentist and you’ll pretty much forget this little dip into the nastiest recesses of your “what if…?” consciousness.

Of course, we all do this.  I, for one, have no idea how I would get through each day, full of all sorts of mundane beauty and banal ugliness, if I was truly tuned into my concerns about the state of our collective future.  It is pretty much impossible to fully enjoy an infant’s laugh if you allow yourself to focus on all the evils that might endanger it.

And so we engage in these impassioned discussions and stir up the sediment that our modern, Western, wasteful lives have created in the riverbeds of our awareness and then we start making dinner.  The conversation I had with my mom was so amazing and touched on so many important topics, it had me wanting to take meeting minutes.  But, I had my hands full with the baby when I was not clearing up the endless piles of clutter and I never got around to writing til right this Monday morning minute.

If I had had the chance to play scribe and record the litany of ills and the faint glimmers of solution would we be any closer to solving any of the world’s problems?  The tragedy of the whole conversation was that, as much as we were both so invigorated to trade ideas mother to daughter and back again and to flow along in the tides of conversation, we really felt pretty powerless.  Talking about Washington’s party politics and the conservative pundits’ maniacal desire to debase our president’s every action and motive left us rather deflated.  We were saved by a gently shaken snow globe of a January day  and by an infant just discovering her voice.  A baby who has not yet had to worry about the lies that the media propagates and the impossible search for truth.

We are not powerless, of course.  We have the loving bonds that allow us to dive deep and surface together.  It is as true that enough of these conversation will change the world as it is necessary to believe that they can.

Pledging Allegiance to a New Flag

Opening for Ani DiFranco on Wednesday was an ageless, potty-mouthed bald dude with an unstoppable guitar and an undeniable voice. His goes by Hammel On Trial and he is… an experience. I think I remember being incited to join a chorus of “F@*$ YOU!” in the distant past, and I assume I joined in with gusto at the time. Expletives generally have a way of being more cathartic than belting out a good “Om,” but I only offered a half hearted contribution this time around.

Have I stifled my primal need to curse with a crowd under a sheen of gentrified repression or have I reached the point where that throwaway term that can be everything from a threat to a verbal comma no longer holds the same kind of power for me?

He occupies a necessary place in music and society – to hold up the mirror to our world’s racism and homophobia, the general fear of sex and rebellion, our inability to stomach some essential ugly truths. This is not to say that I want to play his CDs when I wake up in the morning or that I could have handled much more than his thirty minute warm up set (though warm up the place he certainly did), but I have respect for what he does.

I say that especially because even after all the anger and deliberate attempts to shock, which I have limited attention for, he offered this bit. It’s his new stab at the pledge of allegiance, written in response to his six year old son’s lessons in the age old recitation:

I will pledge allegiance to no more flags until they come up with one for the earth.

A republic of humans all races and colors for which they stand. One planet in an endless sea of other planets.And if they discover life on those, I’ll pledge allegiance to those too.With respect to your religion as you respect mine. Where liberty and justice is not determined by how much wealth you’ve accumulated,or your political or military power,or your sexual orientation, or how you control the media. Where no one can maintain their wealth as long as one person on the planet doesn’t have adequate food or shelter or health care or educational opportunity.

THIS IS THE FLAG I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO.

Belief in the Nation, Belief in the Individual

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Victor Frankl

I was introduced to Victor Frankl today in an article by Russell Bishop in The Huffington Post that discussed coping with the possibility that the “the other side” may win next week. Bishop was not picking sides – a rare enough feat these days – because he was crediting both parties with the passion and emotional investment that have made this such singular campaign.

No matter who wins, the world will not end and the country will not become unrecognizable (at least not right away). Sure, so many of us talk about moving to Canada if this one (as opposed to “that one”) wins, but we are the same people who threatened to do that back in 2004 and stayed on to realize that as much as we may differ with the guy in the oval office, our lives still looked pretty similar even if the news looked more and more grim.

Am I hiding my head in the consumerism-soaked, triviality-obsessed culture that watched American Idol as two wars dragged on? Am I too much a part of the nation that watched An Inconvenient Truth, wept, ranted… and then went to the air conditioned big box store to buy a couple of new light bulbs?

Must I believe that everything is going to be alright, regardless of who we elect, not because I truly believe that American is indestructible and her best days are ahead of her, but because believing anything else is just too damn terrifying?

Or is there actually hope to be harvested in this turbulent time regardless of who gets the top job? For all that we must be aware of the world around us and vote and care for the poor and question industrial pollution, what if all of our rhetoric is true and widespread change truly does begin at the individual level? What if we really are the change we have been waiting for and as amazing as it is to have an incredible leader sounding the charge, we actually have the power to make those changes ourselves?

Frankl’s work was indelibly marked by his three years in a Nazi concentration camp. For all that is at stake in this election, we are still going to wake up with a democratically elected leader (I know that the electoral college problematizes that statement, but bear with me) and we still have one of the best opportunities in the world to have a government we can be proud of. If Frankl could endure the greatest cruelties that one group of human beings have inflicted upon another in modern memory and emerge with this steadfast belief in the potential of the individual, why can’t we?

We have watched people from all segments of society rally around a candidate who we hope enacts the kind of change that he so eloquently describes. It is human nature to desire such figures with shoulders so broad and voices so powerful that they can bear the burdens of our dreams and sing the songs of our longed for freedoms. I can only wish that we can elect a hero and then awaken with a president who will recede to the edges of our vision so that we can recognize all of the potential that sleeps within each one of us.

I do not mean to introduce any defeatist notions into our push toward next Tuesday. I am confident that hope and reason will win out over fear and duplicity. Nor do I wish to tarnish the greatness of a candidate that I truly believe in. It is just that in the pursuit of being more accountable to the path of wisdom, I need to begin to allow myself to believe that we can walk in our own sense of greatness and then watch the ripples shape the rest of this world.

Activism and Service, Fear and Necessity

Yesterday’s post about a renewed perspective on suffering that was illuminated during my yoga practice was a late night piece of writing about an issue that I usually push to the darker parts of my mind. It could have been four times longer and still would not have begun to encapsulate my thoughts on the tension between tending to the garden of one’s own soul and looking beyond one’s fences in hopes of effecting change in this troubled world.

The beautiful BlissChick spoke to some of the very issues that have me feeling so conflicted. I mentioned a speech that Bono gave to call attention to the neediest people in Africa, but I did not offer the usual caveats. I didn’t say I was taking with a grain of salt an address by a zillionaire superstar in love with the sound of his own voice who should clean up the streets of Dublin and downgrade his own jet fueled lifestyle. I let his wisdom stand and simply appreciated that a guy in orange sunglasses who may or may not have been wearing leather pants made me think. I spoke only of my recognition of destitution half a world away without offering myself, and perhaps my readers, the consolation of “thinking globally, act locally” with a strong emphasis on the local, be that defined as inside your own head or your own neighborhood. I let my heart bleed for the people of a distant continent without the qualifications that keep their poverty far enough away for comfort.

It is as if I am in a state of almost perpetual frustration when I stop looking into my own third eye and start seeing the man pushing a shopping cart full of his possessions through the streets of Poughkeepsie and when I let myself read about AIDS orphans. Of course, I am often trapped in a similar state of frustration when I am letting the world fall away and am diving deep within myself. The discontent I have with the state of the world is more than mirrored buy the unquiet nature of my own soul.

I thank BlissChick for sharing her experience with making a difference at a local level, and reminding me of its importance. Thing is, I have yet to be successful at finding a way to reach into the community to make that sort of a difference. There are always so many excuses: the lack of time I currently have for creative projects and soul work, family commitments, a phobia of those large busted, overly-efficient women in charge at soup kitchens who you to scrub pots with a worthless sponge even though your blouse is dry clean only (I admit, I have an inner princess who is a bit of a scaredy-cat in such situations). There is an unnameable fear that must be a sign of something unresolved in myself. And that gives me two options: continue to stay at home and work on this elusive issue or just face that fear and watch it evaporate under the light that’s generated when I help someone else.

I found what Bono had to say compelling because he freely admitted that America has its own troubles and that we could gain much by focusing our activism and resources here at home. When we are already awake to crisis, however, why not also challenge ourselves to look a little further? He said:

When America looks outside of itself, its view of itself is never clearer. Its faith in itself is never firmer. Its purpose is never stronger.

As vital as it is to work deeply on our psyches and our souls, we are also at risk of falling to narcissism and protectionism both on the individual and national scale. I can translate Bono’s rallying call into doing something as little as writing a letter to Congress on behalf of the people of Africa, but I can go further and move outside of myself and finally show up to help at that battered women’s shelter.

All of these points do not add up to a cohesive thesis, but they reveal that this inner work I am doing needs to be accompanied by a willingness to move outside of myself. I need to break the barriers I have created that were formed of a belief that my prosperity is so fragile it might shatter in the face of another’s need. I must realize that I am a hell of a lot stronger than I let myself believe, and I have to think America might just be a whole hell of a lot stronger than we are letting on.

(Heady stuff, this, but I was able to stop in the middle of this harangue because this song came on. It always reminds me of my Nanna and tells me that no matter what happens, she’s always looking over my shoulder. “The world has lost her way again, but you are here with me…”)

Yoga as Metaphor, Suffering as Reality

It was one of those unexpectedly commitment-free rainy Saturdays, and I spent much of the day at the computer, mostly dodging work on my novel. Eventually I willed my way through one of Elsie’s yoga podcasts and though there were a couple of shining moments of bliss as I unfurled cramped muscles and remembered the strength of my shoulders, most of my practice was like wading through a personal hell. Marisa over at Creative Thursday talks about whether blogs are “too nicey nicey” and lacking in honesty. Here’s an honest confession: sometimes yoga is not a beautiful affirmation of what it is to be an aware being, sometimes it is just a miserable parade of all of the body’s limitations, the otherwise hidden aches of ligaments and sinews. Sometimes it is like lifting lead weights with nothing but balsa wood bones. Sometimes you cringe at unsightly flesh you never imagine bulged in hidden places and are haunted by memories while you lie prone in pigeon pose. Oh yes, sometimes yoga is transcendence, but how can I talk of it’s solace unless I admit to its torture?

Of course, countless teachers have talked about how yoga is mat-bound metaphor for the rest of life, so mine is not a fresh epiphany. Like so many of the realizations I record on these pages, however, this bit of wisdom didn’t become reality until I actually groaned my way through another miserable bid at a well formed chattaranga. If I am going to apply the lesson that the mat is a microcosm of existence beyond the relative safety of asana, then I must come to the recognition that, despite our noble dreams, sometimes life is truly suffering.

Perfectly illustrating this realizations of the life’s vicissitudes, I came across Bono’s speech to the California Women’s Conference in which he talked about his work with The ONE Campaign and their bid to eliminate global poverty, hunger, and disease. I found his entreaty that we not only care about what is happening to the people of Africa, but to actually do something to be deeply affecting. He closed with “America: We are asking you to help put humanity back on this Earth.”

My struggle on the yoga mat not only made me receptive to the devastating reality that half the world lives on $2.50 per day, but also reminded me how difficult it is to understand true, base need from the middle of a cozy weekend when I berate myself for too many trips to the fridge. To compare the crippling nature of my privilege or a lousy yoga session to the reality of starvation is irresponsible and detestable, and I do not dare to tread on such territory. I only remark on how it is challenging to understand the sheer scale of deprivation and decide how to react to it in a more active fashion than lending my name to another petition.

The revolution that we need will undoubtedly start from within.  Still, I must ask: when must your focus on the internal work expand beyond the borders of your own mind and daily experience to allow yourself to be so affected by the plight of others that it is no longer enough just to pray, but becomes necessary to act?

I think that’s a rhetorical question.

Wise Woman Working

When faced with the impossible problem of what I want to be when I grow up or who I want to be for the next twenty minutes I often panic at the multiplicity of options. Sometimes I am crushed when I realize that whatever path I choose will inevitably eliminate a host of other equally attractive, urgent possibilities. So often I become completely mired in all that I cannot do; I just freeze up and let the night dissolve into television for fear I might waste time chasing after the wrong star. I suppose this is one reason why many passionate people who really want to affect positive change end up being stymied by the weight of their own potential. The vastness of the universe, with all of its beauty and ugliness, is devastating in its scale and the abilities of one person seem laughably inconsequential.

Of all the causes that call to me but do not seem to fit into a single lifetime, I think I have finally distilled my raison d’être to one articulable goal: I want to be a wise, wise woman.

For some time I have been sitting behind my eyes, watching as I move through the world, keeping an inner score card. My awareness has been heightened and I surf from epiphany to epiphany, so often conscious of this phenomenal world with its limitless possibilities. But I constantly find myself forgetting all I know about the life of the soul and the love of the Divine and the power of healing. The epiphanies all turn to dust as I find it impossible to practice all that I know when I am confronted with another unenlightened day at work or a quiet night when I am too tired to think.

And so I am ready to introduce a second stage to all of this shouting about revelations: it is time for Wise Woman Working. The pursuit of wisdom seems a relentless one that takes dedication and conditioning. At the same time, I think there is a need to let the world pass through you and allow the knowledge to pool at your feet, but I think that certain groundwork must be laid first. All those books I have read, all the classes and seminars I have attended – their brilliance dulls and I just find myself becoming an enlightenment junkie dying for a new hit. Wise Woman Working is about practicing what I have heard preached and letting all those lessons marinate until they are not airy-fairy icing, but the real sustenance one can build a life upon. It is about living through these flashes of insight and distilling them to their essential stuff so that I can blossom into being that wise, wise woman who contributes something to this miraculous, fucked up world.

The Reading Radicals

Over lunch, a friend and I were talking about my post from yesterday and about David Edwards’s Burning All Illusions. Though I still fear that some of his ideas are being called in from way too far out in left field, it was wonderful to share ideas with some one who also senses that there is a kind of madness lurking at the edges of our nicely constructed social reality. She and I both would identify as “conscious hypocrites” (my husband’s phrase – he certainly includes himself in this camp too); sometimes I think we tend to get carried away by the sweep of our own consciousness. But that is another matter…

Since we are both library types, we drifted to the topic of the book itself. Usually, I am an obsessive underliner who has not truly absorbed a work unless its margins are dripping with my slanted script, but this time I actually borrowed Edwards’s book from the library. I was pleased because I found I was interacting with the text in a different way by taking notes in my journal as I read. Instead of cramming my thoughts between printed paragraphs, I was able to take the time to move further into ideas and take them over several pages. My liberation from the book was enabled by the fact that Google Books has the text available online. I could mark page numbers in my notes with the confidence that I could reference the book whenever I needed – even without paying Amazon twelve or fifteen dollars for the privilege.

I was about to wax complimentary on the fact that Edwards was such a democratic soul (in the originaly sense of “democratic” that goes beyond the limping giant that currently could be called democracy) that he allowed his decade old book to be fully available online, but I just looked a little closer and realized that “limited preview” in this case means that scattered pages are missing. The first chapters seem fully available, but it seems they start leaving out bits of the punchline as you delve deeper into the work. I guess I will figure out how lucky a reader I am depending on whether the passages I found most stirring are available. At any rate, the limitations of digitization projects does not really affect what we were trying to discuss (though it may prove a lot about my ambivalence about compensating people for their work and wanting to make information available to everyone).

We talked about the ownership of books and the drive to possess knowledge if not by reading them, then at least by purchasing them. There is so much ego tied up in filling shelves with spines that reflect who we are as people, both to those who might visit our homes and to ourselves (when all seems too confusing and desperate, at least we stare at the legion of titles and contemplate all of those authors who had things figured out well enough to write it all down). In a time when we drown in paper and curse junk mail and do not even have time to keep up with the magazines that arrive like clockwork, how is it that we can justify purchasing just one more book to get us over the free shipping limit?

My friend had the idea that it is an inherent distrust in the structures of our culture to be the ideal guardians of a beloved book; she felt that there were some volumes she couldn’t leave to chance because they just meant too much to her. I agree with that need to protect an object we can love so intimately, a sacred symbol of the ideas that alter the course of lives. Also I think such behavior is a half-acknowledgment of the sense of impermanence so many of us have. But I also think it to be an interesting example of the way that our addiction to the material and to security in general becomes abundantly clear. I can become galvanized by idealistic talk of changing the way that society defines success and decry the capitalist system that allows the rich to become even more ridiculously wealthy at the expense of those who happen to speak funny languages or live in far flung lands, but I shudder at giving up a book collecting habit that can be described as nothing other than a crazy luxury (especially since, as I said, I spend Monday through Friday in a library boasting one million volumes).

This little radical heart has a lot more searching to do before it is going to convince this bibliophile to change her ways. Maybe if I do a little more reading…

(And thanks to the divine Miss M for inadvertently playing a role in tonight’s entry!)