As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m working on being happier this year. Not that I wasn’t pretty happy last year. I just want it to be more…conscious this year, I guess. More intentional, since last year’s was in large part the result of non-repeatable actions. Moving 1/2 way across the country, downsizing to a new house… That accounts for a great deal of my excitement last year!
This year, however, we’re living here already. And have more or less ‘settled’ in. We’re (literally!) putting down roots: planting trees & shrubs & flowers and garden beds and swing sets. Well, if digging holes and filling them w/wet cement to ‘plant’ swing set legs counts…
It seems like I’m grownup enough (finally!) to work towards happiness, if necessary. And it appears that’s actually not a bad plan. Last week’s prompt asked me to consider what I do well. And how much of that comes naturally, compared to what I’ve worked to grow better at. And it turns out? There is very little I think I’m ‘naturally’ good at.
This week’s prompt asks me to list ‘what things do you do that take you out of your head?’ Good question! And many of them are the exact things I listed the week before, that required me to study them, practice 🙂them, learn them.
I wonder how many of us still believe the happily-ever-after stories of our childhood. That we would somehow just ‘become’ happy…? That it would descend upon us like a warm sunbeam, and wrap us in light.
Instead, it’s beginning to look as if happiness is more like the garden bed I put in last fall: I had to dig out the execrable red clay (down 10+ inches!), mix peat moss & manure & dirt together, and then put it back in the bed. My beloved had to put in edging to hold the newly raised bed surface in (N.B.: other folks aren’t responsible for our happiness, but they can help!). I had to plant seeds I bought into tiny peat pots, and put them under the lights on the light table, and water them until they were ready to transplant outside. And then I had to mulch the little plants, watering when it was dry weather. But by October? The bed was so lush & lovely no one could believe it! See above. And that was in autumn, when gardens are supposed to be winding down!
Another metaphor (you knooow how I love metaphors): aging is like autumn — full of brilliant light, even when the leaves are falling and the air is chilling. Even on the days when arthritis is a royal pain, and other attendant challenges rear unreasonable heads, I’m grateful to be here.
That too is a part of the whole happiness thing, I’m learning. Gratitude. Another thing I’ve been practicing, writing regularly in my gratitude journal. With entries that range fom the chickadee on the feeder outside, to my elder grandson telling me you’re the best, GiGi!
So here’s my prescription for you and your future happiness: practice it. Treat it like a skill that you can learn. Because it is, I promise. And the more you practice, the better you’ll get at it. Honest.
I’m of a generation that has seen much ‘owning’ of formerly negative names. My sons’ generation — those unfairly bashed MIllenials — used to say, that’s so gay. Not at our house, though. Now? It’s gay pride. And ‘queer’ used to be another homophobic slur. Now we have entire departments of queer studies at universities across the globe.
Same w/the motivation behind the current administration’s supporters trying to ‘own’ the term ‘deplorables.’ But you know what? It’s not the same thing. Not by a verrry long shot. To be gay, or queer, or is a descriptor. The judgment is attached by the insulter, not explicit in the word itself.
But deplorable is an intrinsically, BY DEFINITION, negative label. There can be nothing good inherent in the term. Sure, you can wear it as a badge of honour, as you can white privilege (yes, there are such folks). So let’s talk about what I mean when I say the current administration is deplorable.
We have a candidate for Secretary of Commerce who hired an undocumented immigrant for 7 years, then fired her when he was tapped for the position. In other words? We may well have a SoC who KNOWINGLY broke the law. And doesn’t care who knows it, as long as he gets his position.
We have a candidate for Secretary of Education who hates public education. Did you really hear that? The backbone of American democracy is public education. And she not only doesn’t support it, she doesn’t think disabled students are entitled to it, if it’s inconvenient for the school/state/whatever. REALLY? Either that, or (worse in my horrified opinion) she doesn’t even understand what the federal law says. She also doesn’t think all federal laws should be enforced…. Wow.
We have a head of the Environmental Protection Agency candidate who has sued it multiple times, as Attorney General for poor benighted Oklahoma. This one I know well. He’s not only not particularly smart, he HATES public lands, and wants to dismantle all federal protections. Talk about fox and henhouse: Scott Pruitt is about as deplorable as a non-criminal gets.
Secretary of HUD? Ben Carson, whose only qualification for the position seems to be he’s black & lived in an urban neighbourhood?? Attorney General? Jeff Sessions, whose longstanding racism & lack of support for women in domestic abuse situations is legendary.
The list is long. It doesn’t matter what I think of the President Elect (not much). The proof of his active dislike for American government is in his selection of appointees. What is even more deplorable, however, is that many of these men & women have, at the very least, significant conflicts of interest (as does the POE, just in case no one’s told you).
So yes, I think that’s all deplorable. It makes me angry at the same time it breaks my heart, to see this country so happy to disenfranchise its citizens, sell out our public lands, give free license to polluters, and all the rest of the varied anti-government agendas of these deplorable ersatz leaders. As for you wearing a Tshirt that says you’re proud to be part of this trainwreck? I don’t think that’s deplorable. I think it’s just incredibly sad. Right now, I’m spinning between incendiary anger (bad for a Buddhist!) and heartbreak. Trying to draw on lessons of compassion — even wrathful compassion! — that will get me through this dark dark period. I won’t be watching the inauguration.
As I noted yesterday, I’ve already voted. And, I’ve also taken myself off FB until after the election. The result? A bright expanse much more contented time. Today, I sat on the deck, as I do most clement mornings, and wrote in my morning pages. I do this most days, and while I don’t always make my 4 small pages goal, I do write. Almost daily. And I have for a few months now, as well as sporadically in the past.
What I noticed today was a lightening of heart. Really: something about being done w/ this whole election year (& yes: I know there will be fallout after the election, but it’s DIFFERENT) is so freeing. Just because… I already got it over with!
So what I’m grateful for today is just that: I’m done! Whoohoo & praise the universe! I don’t have to read the editorials in case I missed something. I don’t have to listen to weak arguments (or what passes for one) from folks who think they may change my mind. I don’t have to even THINK about this crap! How cool is THAT??
And I wonder: how many of the things I dread, in my otherwise damn near perfect life, could be dismissed if I just did something? You know — instead of dreading & whining about it? Just a thought.
That’s my gratitude today: I’m grateful for freedom from the vitriol this election has filled the media with — both social and un-. I’m grateful for a space to breathe, and get on w/ my ordinary (but very precious) human life. It’s such a Buddhist realisation, isn’t it? That action bring peace. Now, if I can just remember this epiphany…????!
When I was a very young woman, I was a card-carrying member of the ACLU. Really. It was during the 70s, and the Neo-Nazi party was demonstrating (or trying to) in Skokie, IL. There was a huge outcry, because (you probably don’t know this) more than 1/2 of Skokie’s population was Jewish. In addition, a large number of the Jews who did live in Skokie were Holocaust survivors. In other words? A tragically incendiary situation.
I was a journalist for years. And as a radical liberal — if there is such a thing! — I defend freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly. They are building blocks to a liberal democracy. So I sent money to a financially strapped ACLU; liberals weren’t happy to see ‘their’ organisation defend Nazis, and there weren’t many donations coming in. My friends were horrified.
But I remembered someone had told me, in a class I had once on ethics in media, that freedom of speech wasn’t about defending the things we agree with. It’s about making sure that even the things we HATE are also given the right to air. Even things that make us crazy angry.
I still believe that.
However, it’s just not that simple anymore. There are, of course, limits to free speech: you can’t yell fire, as we know. And you can’t incite riot. And yet… Surely this political season, we have seen many ‘leaders’ fomenting hate: saying that entire groups of people should be deported, even (possibly) executed, if ‘necessary.’ We have seen jokes made (in verrry poor taste) about guns and various candidates, followed w/ ‘wink/nudge’ that ostensibly excuses the ‘joke.’
We’ve seen people with, ostensibly, the same political goals make accusations without any basis. Families (once safe from mud-slinging) are fair game, and spouses are attacked w/ impunity. A man’s father has been impugned as an accomplice to murder, a woman’s husband’s affairs alleged to be ‘her own fault.’ Debates have disintegrated into finger shaking and eye-rolling.
And it’s not just ‘them.’ It’s all of us. We’re all angry.
Yesterday, my younger son sent me a link to an article I’m posting here. It talks about ‘in-groups’ & ‘out-groups,’ & how we range ourselves against the ‘out-groups’ of our choosing. It’s not a new (or even overly recent) article: Scott Alexander, the author, posted it back in 2014, almost exactly 2 years ago. But it’s never been more relevant. For the next week or so, I’ll be referring to it more than once. Alexander so neatly articulates the tension these days: liberals are just as apt to forget freedom of speech as someone from the ‘other’ side.
As a Buddhist, I know about ‘attachment.’ Upādāna (it literally means ‘fuel’) is the fire that arises when we cling fiercely to a longing, a wish for things to be different. Maybe it’s a desire for $$, or freedom from pain. In my case? It’s a visceral ache for justice for all: equity (which is NOT the same as equal treatment, per se: equity is levelling the playing field — quite different). I want that kind of ideal fairness to EVERYONE. And so those who work towards that goal are my ‘in-group.’ If you’re not working for equity? You’re in my ‘out-group.’ And I’m almost certainly angry about it.
Equity also means that you can’t be a racist, or a homophobe. You can’t be a misogynist, or indifferent to your own privileges, racial or class or gender derived. I don’t think I’m any of those. But as Scott Alexander notes, I get no ‘virtue points’ for being ‘tolerant’ of differences like race, gender, class, religion. Unfortunately, I also get no virtue points for being tolerant of my out-groups(s), because I’m not. Instead, I’m angry. Almost all the time.
I”m leaving this here for now. Next blog? More on trying to live a Buddhist life of non-clinging while remaining socially engaged, and activist.
I’d like to think that I can calm myself. I know how ~ breathe in, hold, breathe out. Repeat. But these days it’s so hard. People I know, even like, are filled with fear and loathing. They aim it at my beliefs, at my core values, as we seem fond of saying these days. Leaders of our country ~ MY country ~ spew vitriol at women, at people of colour, at Muslims and others. All in the name of ‘safety.’ Read: fear.
I try to meet people in their good intentions (years of teaching teaches the teacher). I understand that hate emanates from fear. I am taught daily ~ it used to be student by student; now it’s mistake by mistake ~ that no one gets up in the morning wanting to hate, wanting to mess up, wanting to ruin someone else’s day. Or life. The difference between my intentions not to hate, mess up, or ruin someone’s day (or life), and what I see as other people’s intentions, is who we see as ‘someone.’ And what ‘hate’ means to each of us.
It’s not hate if your minister tells you it’s okay. After all, s/he would know, right? So if the church says that my gay niece and my many dear gay friends are hell-bent sinners, it’s not ‘hate’ to taunt them, goad them, drive them to suicide. Is it? Because after all, this representative of God urged that we punish these ‘wicked,’ right?
So people who are ‘different’ from us ~ by skin colour, religion, dress, sexual preference, whatever ~ aren’t really ‘someone.’ Instead, they are wicked, or terrorists, or somehow ‘other.’ Not the wonderful, lovely people I know. My niece Mary, my friend Soha, my friends Ben & Dewayne…these people I love dearly, they aren’t ‘someone’ to many many Americans. Soha makes people uncomfortable with her hijab; dining out w/ Dewayne or Ben (tall, elegant black guys) is rife w/ studied inattention from waitstaff and other customers. Mary’s wonderful partner, whom I love like another niece? She is a bad person, too.
This makes it so hard for me to breathe. I mean that literally: I catch myself w/ breath held, sometimes, and have to breathe out, then in. Yet I’ve been working for a very long time ~ years & years ~ to balance the dragon warrior in me (speaker for the voiceless) and the novice seeker. I know so very little about how things work, about why we are the ways we are… I’m both the speaker and the infant, the child who has just hatched.
My son had asthma as a child. Still does, but as a baby, it almost killed him. Coupled with severe croup, he was turning blue from lack of oxygen on late night. I held him in my arms as my mother drove at lightening speeds to our hospital. She made the 6-mile trip in right at 7+ minutes — through the dark streets glistening with rain, as I crooned to the baby I held carefully.
At the hospital, there were miracle drugs they could administer. Drugs that cleared my son’s lungs, and let the bright air fill him with life. I lay beside his crib that night, listening to his breathing, and thought of what a miracle it is, just to breathe.
These days, I feel as tight and starved for light and air as that infant, struggling for each breath. I’m once again driving down dark streets, it seems ~ looking for a way to breathe. And I know there is no magic medicine to ‘cure’ this ugliness, this lack of breathing space. In fact, I’m the only one who can get me through this. I understand that this is my own tight place through which I must somehow pass. Somehow, I have to figure out how to see beyond the hatred and the fear that tears me up to the human hearts beneath that darkness. I don’t believe that any of us is innately dark, even those of us roiled with violence and spilling ugliness and hatred. No child is born with hate in heart. And somewhere, there is love — there must be love, within these dark dark hearts.
So I’m trying to breathe again. Catching myself as I slouch at my desk, sitting straighter. Remembering to throw my shoulders back, remembering that the imperial dragons once were humans (hence their five toes…:)). So the anger of my inner dragon can be turned to light, as fire lights darkness. I just have to figure out how.