By Finding The Courage to Look At Yourself, You Discover the Courage to Defend the World

Right now, take a moment to simply breathe in, and then out.  Listen to your own body and what is happening inside by resting your awareness wherever it is called.  Maybe you’ll feel a bar of tension in your jaw or mouth or shoulders. Maybe you’ll feel an expansion in your belly as you breathe in, or a relaxation, letting go as you breathe out. Simply feel it.

 

If a thought or judgment arises, if you think, “I shouldn’t have thought that” or “why can’t I concentrate better,” just notice whatever occurs as you breathe in. And as you breathe out, return your attention to your awareness of feeling. Instead of letting your awareness be captured by self-judgments, simply observe, learn, and be kind to yourself. In this way, mind and body become one. You live in your own body and mind. Your sense of time slows to the pace of your attention.

 

The more you maintain focus on whatever arises, the more you feel a timeless awareness.

 

Slowing time is a beautiful remedy for stress and anxiety, and for the emotional harm this GOP administration is trying to impose on us all. Most, if not all of us, know what happens inside ourselves when we see his face or hear his voice—attacking Democrats as the enemy, attacking those seeking asylum at our borders as invaders or criminals, attacking reporters who question him as  “the enemy of the people,” attacking even his own cabinet.

 

When hate hits our bodies, we react. We tense. We don’t want to hear it—or most of us don’t.  How we respond depends a great deal on our past, on how we think about our own strength, or what theories or stories we tell ourselves about how the world works. These stories determine whether we respond by closing our ears, shield ourselves with hate, or whether we oppose it.

 

His attacks are meant to spread fear. We often think of fear as warning us to flee. But as we flee and hide, fear can increase. We stop acknowledging what we feel, stop being aware of what is happening inside. And thus we give him this power over us. We feel powerless. We allow him to turn off our interoception or inner knowing. This allows the inner tension to escalate.

 

Or we feel anger. But how do we direct and interpret that anger? Anger is an emotion of awakening. It awakens our sense of threat or danger and can prepare us to act. But if we don’t have clarity of mind and feeling to direct it, anger becomes self-destructive. We can feel angry that we’re angry. Or when we feel anger in response to fear, we treat it like a savior, a weapon of safety, and we can’t stop wielding it. We become our anger. We lose control. We lose ourselves.

 

When we look directly at our own anger, when we feel what it does inside us, we might notice the pain it causes. And behind that pain is an enormous realm, of caring about what happens to others, our world, and ourselves. When we perceive what is behind our anger, it yields to clarity. We focus on a larger reality.

 

We need to honor and respect our own inner world, feel what we feel and hear what we say. This way we let go of things more easily and live more fully. There is no inner warfare, no constant rumination, and no unnecessary conflict with others. We can think with every part of ourselves without fear and so we feel free to allow every part of others to be acknowledged.

 

Almost every act of this American political administration tries to teach the opposite. It tries to create in all of us a sense of inner chaos, disharmony, war, so we will war against whomever or wherever they direct us. They try to dehumanize us so we will do the same to others.

 

So by listening to and caring better for ourselves, we resist this administration. By honoring our humanity, we realize and cherish the humanity of others. We see ourselves with clarity and thus see the world with more clarity. Then we can act politically and socially with determination, kindness, and insight. Then we preserve our freedom.

 

When we have the courage to look directly at ourselves, we find the courage to act with clarity to defend our world.

 

 

Here is an exercise (based on a Buddhist compassion practice) to help you find both calm and understanding when you need it, or when the mindfulness practice above is not enough:

 

Close your eyes and take a calm and deep breath in, then a slow, long breath out. Simply sit, quietly. With your next breath, imagine feeling care, love, a parental sort of love, toward a young pet, or a young person. Just allow the image of a young animal or person to come to your mind, or the words care, love, child. Where in yourself do you feel this care or love? What does love feel like?

 

Then imagine a friend. Imagine this person, too, feels a similar feeling.

 

Then imagine someone you don’t know, someone you saw on the street, or in a store. Or imagine someone you disagree with. Imagine she or he feeling love, care, just like you do. They are different from you in so many ways, yet they, too, share this capacity with you. They, too, can love.

 

This is a simple thing. Yet it is so often lost. Sit for another moment, and find the feeling of love inside yourself. Find the recognition that those around you—no matter how different in some ways, they, too, want to find and feel this love. They share this with you.

 

*This post was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

 

Democracy, In Some Ways, Is Like A Love Relationship

There was a time just a few years ago when people in the US felt the world was relatively set and would continue largely as it was. People found meaning in their careers, not through political action. It was easy to be complacent. If you had a home, enough to eat, owned a TV and watched it,  and were absorbed by social and other digital media, it was easy to think any apparent crisis was just that—apparent, not real, more like a commercial interrupting the important stuff.

 

I read an article yesterday in the Intelligencer by Rachel Bashien, Zak Cheney-Rice, Amelia Schonbek and Emma Whitford entitled: “12 Young People on Why They Probably Won’t Vote.” These young people were clearly responding not only to the reality developing when they were growing up but to the election of T. “2016 was such a disillusioning experience.” They were disheartened by the election results. They saw their ideals shot down. And now many of them have trouble motivating themselves to take action. Only an inspirational leader could motivate them to act, but the Democrats are just not inspirational.

 

Other sources say our young adults are more likely to vote then in previous years. According to MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle and Ali Velshi, an NBC News poll of GenForward Millenials found that 31% are planning to vote, 26% probably will vote. That doesn’t sound very good, but it’s up from 19% in 2014.

 

Let’s examine the implications of the way of thinking spelled out in the article. They, we, didn’t get what we wanted, so why act now? We failed once; why try again? It would be better, more fun, to go back to TV, entertainment, and to social media and forget about the world outside our imagination.

 

This way of thinking robs us of power. It places the responsibility for what happens inside us on something or someone external to us. I wrote a blog just a month ago about how people in a love relationship can attribute their own feelings of love to the loved one, and thus make themselves feel powerless. Or they think, when they feel anger, the person they are angry at will suffer from their anger. They therefore let their belief blind them to the reality of how they suffer from their own anger.

 

Likewise, instead of learning how to participate more effectively in politics, we let ourselves feel powerless about effectively influencing the political reality. We mistakenly think we need someone else to inspire us, and that we ourselves are not strong enough to do so. …

 

So, on Tuesday, let us vote. Let us vote not just to win (and we must do everything we can that is humane and effective so we do win), but also to learn how to be even more humane and effective next time.

 

**To read the entire post, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

T Is A Hurricane Of Historic Proportions

I have many calm moments, when I meditate, exercise, walk in the woods, talk with friends or simply breathe. Beautiful moments. And then—I turn on the radio or my phone and who knows what insanity might ensue.

Like everyone I know, since the Kavanaugh hearings and his appointment to the Supreme Court, and almost two years of the T administration, I have become overly sensitive to bad news.

It’s just eight days since I heard the news about Hurricane Michael smashing into the Florida panhandle with winds of up to 155 miles an hour (on Wednesday, October 10). The hurricane is now recognized as the strongest to strike the coast in 100 years. And it grew so quickly, from a category 2 on that Sunday, to almost a category 5 on Wednesday. It grew so quickly probably due to waters overheated by global warming, the same global warming the GOP deny despite the overwhelming scientific evidence.

Nature itself seems to be yelling at us to wake up to what we humans are doing to our world. The day after the hurricane, a neighbor called to tell me of two sightings of Fishers, a carnivorous mammal related to weasels. They have only recently returned to this area (along with other recent and not-so-welcome additions, like coyotes, coy-wolves, and ticks) and kill squirrels and other small animals, including porcupine and hare, occasionally wild turkey, bobcat, and even house cats. They are excellent climbers and can be vicious. I immediately went to the front door of my house to call in my cats.

This administration puts us all on a continual threat alert and I think this is exactly what they want. People continually stressed are not as likely to think clearly or feel powerful or vote. According to Tali Sharot in the book The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others, fear is most effective in influencing the behavior of others under two conditions—when what they are trying to do is cause inaction and the person they’re trying to influence is already anxious.

 The last two weeks and the hearings and discussion on Judge Kavanaugh were especially bad. They were a continual assault, a political hurricane of historic proportions threatening not only women but all of us who are not misogynists, not white nationalists or sycophantic supporters of the President, or who are not in favor of considering corporate rights or the rights of the wealthy as more important than any other rights.

These GOP attacked anyone who called for a real investigation into Kavanaugh’s past and were especially vicious in their attacks on any of the women who came forward. In fact, T even mocked Dr. Ford.  He called for holding those who made “false” claims against Kavanaugh liable. What about false claims by, or in support of, Kavanaugh? Would Kavanaugh or any his supporters who lied or rushed to hide the truth be held accountable?

Many wondered: was the GOP rush to judgment due to fears about what will happen in the November election? Or was something else involved?

The Supreme Court is going to hear a case called Gamble v US. It involves a felon arrested for possession of a firearm. It could, however, have grave implications if T is ever impeached, indicted, or tries to use his power to pardon anyone from his administration or campaign who have been prosecuted for crimes or called to testify to the Mueller investigation….  

 

To read the whole piece, please click on the link to the Good Men Project.

 

 

 

 

Stories From the Borderline of Hate and Suspicion

In the locker room of the gym yesterday, three men changing their clothes near to me were talking about incidents of road rage and random anger they had witnessed. They were upset about how the mood on the street had changed since the last election. I could easily relate to the discussion and was relieved they seemed to be on “my side” of the political divide. But the remarkable thing was that on previous days I had felt suspicious of two of the three men. They had looked angry to me, aggressive, not on my side at all. Taking sides means sides to stay away from.

 

When politics gets as divisive as it is now, it reaches into almost every aspect of our lives. It’s not just online and newspapers, television and radio. It is on the street, in the gym, work, and travel. We don’t know from what side of the borderline of hate and division the driver of the car next to us might be or the person on the check out line behind us—or the policeman standing at the street corner. Hate and suspicion are contagious. This is one reason the level of anxiety and depression amongst college and k-12 students is at all-time highs.

 

And this is obviously not the first time the U. S. has been so divided. Think of the Civil War, the revolution, the suffrage, civil rights, and anti-war movements, etc. I grew up in the 1950s and 60s. Back then I was under the illusion I could discern sides by looking at the length of hair, the clothing, the age, and facial expression. All such illusions are shattered now, although sloganed t-shirts and confederate or Nazis flags speak all too clearly.

 

In December 1970, after vacationing in Berkeley, California, I had to return home to New York City. I didn’t have much money so I arranged for a drive-away car. It was easy to get such cars back then. In exchange for driving someone’s vehicle to their home for them, I could receive free transportation.  An Englishman I had met in a theatre workshop, who I will call Adam, was going to share the ride with me.

 

Adam had met a woman, Nancy, and she wanted to go east with us. That was fine with me. What wasn’t fine was that Adam had developed a drug dependency. He had been on speed and other drugs for weeks. I told him we could only travel together if he stopped using. No drugs were allowed in the car.  He agreed.

 

We left a few days after our talk. I started the driving. It was winter and a storm was forecast for that night so we had to get across the Rockies before the snows began. We drove south towards LA before turning east….

 

To read the whole story/personal essay, go to Heart and Humanity magazine, which published this piece.

Beginning The School Year —or Anything—With Mindfulness and Compassion

There is nothing like a beginning. Imagine a beginning from your past. First meeting someone. Building your own home. Starting on a vacation. Doing something new, unknown, exciting, scary yet filled with promise.

To start the school year, or anything, it is obvious that we must make plans. We need to determine where we want to go, what we want to accomplish, in order to fulfill those objectives. But we often ignore the emotional side of getting ourselves ready.

No matter what you are beginning, take a moment to feel what you feel and notice your thoughts. Only if you notice your thoughts and feelings can you choose how and whether to act on them. If you’re a teacher, start with understanding what beginning the school year means to you and what you need. Then you can better understand what students need.

Many of us plan our classes or other activities so tightly that the realm of what is possible is reduced to what is safe and already known. It’s not a beginning if you emotionally pretend that you’ve already done it. Take time daily to strengthen your awareness of your own mental and emotional state.

Starting the morning

When I arrive at school energized but anxious, I get out of my car, stop, look at the building and trees around me, and take a few breaths. Then I am in my body, present—not driven by thoughts. After greeting myself, I am more prepared to greet students.

Practice SBC: Stop, Breathe, Notice.  Periodically stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, take 3 breaths and notice your thoughts and feelings. Notice how it feels after such a break.

You can do this with students to begin each lesson, or in the middle of a heated discussion….

 

To read my full post, click on this link to The Good Men Project.

The Power of Tenderness

Have you been to the ocean when it is hot and humid and the wind rides the waves to cool off the day? Or it is summer and hot at the base of a mountain, but as you climb, the breeze cools you and wakes your attention to the flowers and views?

 

I am now upstairs in my house, which is in an old apple orchard, in my bedroom, not at a beach or a mountain. The wind is loud, but not noisy, blowing not from a storm but from the few clouds on a bright day.  It is a wind blowing direct from the last moments of spring into summer. I can almost hear waves playing with the wind. It is a healing wind, a comfort.

 

To read the whole post, please go to the Good Men Project.

The Healing Cries of Outrage and Compassion

So much has happened in the last week or more. So much cruelty, so many lies. Yet, the hearts of many have awoken, have reached a point where mutual feeling and compassion has overcome fear or disbelief or inertia and has led so many to speak out. It feels like, or maybe I am just hoping, that the opposition to T is growing and will continue to grow.

 

T’s policy toward immigrants, of separating children from their parents so their pain will scare others away from our borders, is not only so inhumane and cruel I can barely stand to think about it, but ignorant in terms of the long range effects of this policy. If our borders are marked with red in the hearts of so many, then we, as a people and a nation, are marked with red, like targets. Like a cruel threat to eliminate. As an immoral nation. It is unbelievably costly in terms of human suffering. It is costly in terms of the money spent in building and staffing the prisons to hold the people, and providing judges to judge them, food to feed and doctors to care for them (and hopefully that will get such care).

 

And it is based on so many lies. As most of us know, and despite T’s statements and tweets to the contrary, undocumented immigrants from the south, and elsewhere, are less likely to commit a crime than US citizens. The border, despite T’s claims, has not been overrun by illegals, certainly not more than in past years.

 

T claims his policy is nothing new. President Obama supposedly did it. Democrats passed a law to do it. And he’s helpless to stop it. Congress must stop it. Then a few days later, he signs an executive order claiming to do just what he said he couldn’t do. Of course, the order, in effect, is almost as cruel as the policy it claims to end. It creates more chaos and does nothing to help re-unite parents with the children the government ripped away.

 

Of course, Obama did not have a policy of separating children from the parents of asylum seekers or immigrants as a way to scare away other immigrants. Of course, Democrats passed no law forcing T to separate children from parents.

 

Friends have cautioned me to look behind the headlines. Whenever T does something spectacularly awful, something else awful is hiding in the shadows, or something threatening to T is being hidden. It is painful to say this, but T is ripping children from their parents not only as a way to satisfy his political base and his own base instincts. He is hiding the fact he is ripping off social welfare and health care programs from most Americans as well as hiding his own possibly treasonous and criminal activities.

 

So, while many of us are focusing on the cruelty being done to immigrants, the GOP, on Tuesday, 6/19, quietly passed through a House committee a budget proposal that would fast track large cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, as well as education and other programs that actually serve most Americans, all to finance continued tax cuts to the rich. This proposal is expected to pass the House—unless there is a public outcry.

 

On Thursday, they released a plan to reorganize the federal government, and cut programs like food stamps. It would combine the education and labor departments and give private industry a more direct role in the government. This could, for example, undermine the teaching of the humanities and redirect education to be totally concerned with one goal —providing labor to corporate interests. It could undermine the power of workers in general and the enforcement of civil rights in schools.

 

However, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort remains in jail, a judge ruled that the evidence seized by the FBI from his office can be used in his trial, and new evidence has been uncovered of Trump advisers like Roger Stone meeting with Russian agents.

 

What is heartening is the outcry. Millions of Americans are calling Congress, and as Rachel Maddow revealed in a story on Thursday, 6/21, lawyers are organizing to defend, pro bono, federal officials who refuse to “follow orders” on immigration.  Multiple states are suing the T administration to stop his immigration policy. And millions of dollars have been raised in just a few days to provide legal assistance to the parents and children separated at the border.

 

Even more, the number of people who are ready to enter politics to defend America from the racism, sexism, etc., criminality, greed, and shortsightedness that this administration represents has increased dramatically this year. Over the last week, I have attended a fundraiser and/or donated to two amazing people who are running for office. One is a friend, Michael Lausell, who is running for the New York Senate in district 58. The other, a former student and graduate from the Lehman Alternative Community School, Satya Rhodes-Conway, is running for Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin. And five people are competing in the Democratic primary in New York’s 23rd district to unseat T supporter Tom Reed. I have met and talked to two of the candidates at different political demonstrations and think both are worthy of my vote (Max Della Pia and Tracy Mitrano).

 

I just hope that all those who oppose and are outraged by this immigration policy, as well as the GOP tax policy, can keep in mind that our differences are less important than what we share ⎼ our humanity, and the drive to unseat T and his whole administration. To protect our environment and create a democratic government that works for and looks to promote the rights, freedom, education, and quality of life of the great majority of people in this nation.

 

**There is a New York primary on Tuesday, June 26th.

***And remember to make calls and speak up against this immigration policy and against cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in order to continue to finance tax cuts for the rich. On Saturday, June 30th, there will be demonstrations all over the nation to support immigrants. In Ithaca, the demonstration will be on the Commons, at 11:00 am.

Wish For A Storm of Mass Insight

I deeply want to write a blog, or even one line or image so powerful it would transform the world, or at least shake it up so much it would see itself more clearly. Or shake me up so completely I would see myself more clearly. Is that too much to yearn for? It doesn’t even have to be me who writes the blog. I’d be a happy reader. I’m speaking of the political world. The trees outside the window shake themselves every moment there’s a wind — or every moment the sun gives light to leaves to drink, or the night gives rest.

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project and enjoy.

Humility, Clarity, and Critical Thinking

How do our actions differ when we feel secure in ourselves versus when we don’t? Or when we are unsure what to do, but have to do something? Or when we are very sure of what we think, but someone disagrees with us? If we want to think clearly, a little humility can go a long way.

 

When I first started teaching at the Lehman Alternative Community School in 1985, I hadn’t taught an academic class for ten years. I had taken a break in my teaching career. Walking into a large public building, with the sounds of hundreds of people in the halls, and working 10 or more hours a day to create and teach five or more lesson plans—all was new and stressful.

 

And since it had been ten years since I last taught, it was a struggle to remember the techniques I had used in earlier years or what I had studied in college or graduate school. I felt I had to appear to be an interesting person, and to provide something engaging and worthwhile for students. Only later did I realize the job was to help them find their own lives interesting and worthwhile.

 

It is often when we are unsure that we speak the loudest. I was unsure of so much, so I tried to sound sure about whatever I was teaching. It was difficult to admit what or how much I didn’t know. It was difficult to feel the school was a home where my true self could live.

 

But that changed, thanks to the students, the structure of the school, gaining experience, many hours of study—and practicing mindfulness, both by myself and with students. As I grew more comfortable with myself, students grew more comfortable with me, and it was easier to admit what I didn’t know. The classroom became a second home. I realized it was more honest and real to model asking questions instead of dictating answers, so students could discover reasonable answers on their own.

 

We all think our view of reality, of politics, of certain people, is correct. This is partly due to our biology. Even when we doubt ourselves, we can believe our self-doubt.

 

When we see a red rose, the redness arises from the way our brains interpret a certain wavelength of light. Red is the way our consciousness recognizes and interprets the light reflected off the rose. A colorblind person, or another species of animal, won’t perceive the color at all. For a red rose to appear in the world, we need at least three things: the thing seen, enough light, and a brain capable of learning about and providing color. But we don’t perceive red as a gift of our own mind, or as a way we make sense of the world. We see it as an inherent quality of the rose itself.

 

A similar thing happens in social situations. We think someone is a “good” person, or beautiful or ugly and think those qualities are permanent and totally inherent in the person, not supplied by us. The other person is just, forever, good, bad or beautiful. Or we think our solution to a problem is the only good solution, and think the goodness we perceive is objectively true. So, we never understand our own role in the world; never understand the world or ourselves.

 

We might even think, when someone disagrees with us, they are being stupid or  ill informed, and they should adopt our viewpoint over their own. And they might be ill informed, or unreasonable, but so are we if we think we can simply dictate to someone else what to think. Or if we imagine any viewpoint is objectively the only truth, and we forget that a viewpoint is just that: one way (hopefully based on reliable and verifiable evidence) to view a particular situation from the context of that particular person’s brain structure and life experience.

 

It might seem a contradiction, but feeling some humility about our own ways of understanding the world might reveal answers when none are apparent. It might help us look before we conclude—to notice what we might otherwise ignore or hear what we might otherwise never listen to, and thus save us from situations that seem impossible.

 

Humility is the quality of being humble. To be humble has very different connotations. For some people, it has negative connotations, as it can mean to be brought down low, even humiliated. Or as Wikipedia points out, in some religions, humility can mean submission, even self-abasement, to a deity. It can mean one is economically poor. Or it can have positive connotations, and mean being simple, modest and unassuming, even virtuous, in contrast with being narcissistic, vain or greedy.

 

The root of humility is humus, earth. The connotations of the word might arise from how we think of earth. Is it dirty, lowly, as contrasted with heavenly? Or does it mean grounded, or focused on the place out of which all life emerges?

 

In the martial arts, to move forward with power, we push down and back against the earth or floor. We curl our toes to grip the earth and be grounded. There is no place else we want to go, nothing else we want to do. We are thus at home in the situation and ourselves.

 

When we feel at home wherever we are, with whomever we are with, and with whatever role we play, we are more present and open. We don’t need to try to be what we aren’t but think we are supposed to be.

 

And when we realize how much our own minds color the world, we are more humble and real. We are able to perceive other people and our world with more clarity, more compassion, and more depth. Thus, we are more able to help others perceive and think about the world with more clarity, compassion and depth.

 

This is a powerful way to be and act, a powerful way to teach and relate. Humility and critical thinking should be two core elements of a modern education. This might help us save ourselves from the political and economic situation we are in. In my “humble” viewpoint, acting with some humility towards our own viewpoints, and compassion for the lives and needs of others, is certainly better than the narcissism, greed and lack of self-knowledge that we too often face today.

 

 

The Wasteland of Today

“April is the cruelest month, breeding

            Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

            Memory and desire, stirring

            Dull roots with spring rain.

 

So begins The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot, first published in 1922. It is considered a landmark, one of the most important poems of the twentieth century.  I disagree profoundly with the author’s political and religious beliefs, yet find the imagery truly beautiful and able to reflect today’s world in startling ways.

 

During this hard winter of 2018, I long for spring, but fear it will never come—or, even worse, fear that the meaning of spring will be forever violated. I think of spring as renewal, as a “sea of green” (Beatles) pushing out the “dull roots”(T. S. Eliot). I might be reminded of old memories and longings. But what I see around me, politically and otherwise, is a modern version of the kingdom of the mythical, wounded Fisher King described in Eliot’s poem. ……”

 

This post, originally written in February, was published yesterday by OTV Magazine. To read the whole post, click on this link. Enjoy.