The Hideous and the Beautiful: A Good News Newsletter on the Two and the Infinite Sides of Humanity

There’s so much in our society and world right now that angers or frightens me, but also so much that is providing optimism, maybe, or at least, reassurance, that what we need or wish for is possible. I’m often tempted lately to write a good news newsletter to cheer up and energize myself and others.

 

First, there is the news that our legal system is greatly damaged but not broken. In 2021 and 2022, the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty of murder and hate crimes. The DOJ has also increased its efforts to prosecute hate crimes.

 

Secondly, it has been so jarring and has created such anxiety in so many of us to see DJT’s obvious criminal, unjust, even traitorous actions escape any legal consequences, until, maybe, now. The Jan. 6 Hearings have and will continue to present for all to see (if they’d look) new and old evidence of DJT working to violently overthrow our constitutional democracy. Then there’s the evidence collected at Mar-A-Lago that DJT illegally took government documents, including classified files, with him as he left office. He obstructed investigations into that theft.  And the DOJ has opened investigations into his election interference, and issued over 40 subpoenas to people in DJT’s orbit. He faces a very good chance of a criminal indictment.

 

The GOP cry they must enact controls on voting (i. e. suppress the vote) due to voting fraud, but the evidence shows their claims are disinformation. Such fraud is a GOP created myth.

 

The biggest voting fraud is by DJT followers, some of whom are now being held accountable. For example, GOP officials and lawyers, such as Sidney Powell, have been exposed for breaching and illegally sharing voting information. In Michigan, DJT’s pick for attorney general is being investigated for a conspiracy to get access to voting machines. There is Representative Scott Perry in Pennsylvania and a GOP election official in Troy, New York, named Jason Schofield. According to the DOJ, Schofield “was arraigned on an indictment charging him with unlawfully using the names and dates of birth of voters to fraudulently apply for absentee ballots for elections held in Rensselaer County in 2021.”

 

Then we have criminal investigations against DJT in Georgia, fraud investigations in New York. And the investigation into DJT fraudulently raising money to fight a fraud that never happened, but he spent the money for his own personal uses. Some of these charges could result in jail time and/or disqualification from running for office.

 

Thirdly, with abortion, the GOP have exposed their heartlessness. Having an abortion is an awful choice to make, but it’s a mother’s choice. The GOP are not only trying to rip from women the right to make decisions regarding their own bodies; they’re demonizing mothers who want the right to decide when, how many, or if they have children. They’re trying to ensure women are legally considered second to men.

 

This has frightened and angered so many people. And GOP Senator Lindsey Graham’s call for making abortion illegal nationally just increased that anger. The number of those registering to vote to protect the right to abortion even in red states like Kansas has increased dramatically, and with young people as well as women. The whole election calculus is changing. In many states, the number one concern motivating women and young people to come out and vote is abortion, second only to protecting democracy. This is happening in many other states as well.

 

People are saying, “enough.” …

 

**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

Why Is Nature Capable of Being So Comforting? We Can’t Escape the Earth or the Universe Because We Are It

Why does nature have this effect on us?

 

I take a walk in the woods and thoughts fly off like birds⎼ swallows, crows or chickadees, to be replaced by insights or a beautiful sense of quiet. Or I sit on the beach, by the ocean, and my attention goes to the seemingly infinite space over the water. My whole body seems to move rhythmically with the sound of the waves. Before I was tense, my mind and body racing. Now, as I’m sitting with the ocean, I am comforted. Relaxed.

 

Why is this?

 

I’ve used the rain, the sky, the sound of birds and peepers, crickets, and cicadas, the feel of my breath or the air on my face, the seasons, the glow of the moon in the middle of the night or the wind in the middle of the day as doors to meditation, or to calm and slow down enough so I can feel or perceive the world and myself more clearly.

 

Even an ice storm can evoke a sense of beauty; and the dark clouds of a hurricane can reveal a sense of awe⎼ right alongside the fright.

 

Being outside in nature or viewing it helps us stay healthy, happier, and recover more easily from illness. We experience less stress and pain and heal quicker in a hospital if our room has windows facing trees, streams, or mountains or there are murals of such scenes painted on the walls.

 

Something like 170,000 years ago, evolutionary changes like a loss of body hair and a subsequent need for protection from the elements led early humans to clothe themselves. Or maybe it was also for artistic reasons. Maybe as long ago as 400,000 years ago, certainly by the Neolithic Revolution of 12,000 years ago, we began to build homes, shelters from the storm, or from dangerous animals. Later, we began to build walls to protect us from our own species. We then tried to control nature or wall it away, but we couldn’t, so we walled ourselves from nature, or tried to do so.

 

Likewise, in our personal evolution, so many of us had to wall away traumas that were too much to face at the time or aspects of ourselves we didn’t know how to integrate or accept.

 

And because of this effort, of walling ourselves from nature or ourselves, the question arose: why is nature⎼ why is what we are walling away so often healing to us, despite the storms, the ice, the fires, and the bears?

 

Because nature ultimately includes everything. It’s not just trees, beaches, streams, and sky that can comfort us. Almost any aspect of nature can be used as an object for meditation and for calming ourselves, but so can almost anything we perceive. A poem, a work of visual art, a person, pet, park bench, building, a piece of paper, a question. We can use the mere act of looking to help us see more clearly, or a moment of fear to study how we construct emotions. The key is to find what comforts us….

 

 

**If you’d like more information on any of the practices referred to in this piece, click on any of the links provided, and, if possible, find a reliable and experienced teacher, therapist, mentor to be a guide.

***To read the whole blog, please click on the link to The Good Men Project.

Putting Out the Flames: A Frightening Letter to Awaken the Conscience of Senators

 

A reader of my blogs shared with me a frightening letter. He felt something must be done, or that he must do something. He wrote by hand, to two Senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and sent the correspondence to the Senator’s offices. He also sent copies to a few media outlets hoping to motivate thousands of similar letters. Making a phone call, he thought, was ok. But a handwritten one is so old school and personal.

 

Here is the letter:

Dear Senators Sinema and Manchin,

Please vote for the voting rights bills now in Congress. Donald Trump is supported by people who call themselves Nazis. They praise Adolf Hitler and glorify war. If Trump wins again he will declare himself dictator, ending democracy forever. We must assume this because they will kill people we love.  

Senators Manchin and Sinema, when they start killing Democrats and minorities, the Republicans will let you join their party. You and your loved ones will be safe. For the love of my family and millions of families worldwide, please pass the voting rights bills.

Thank you,

 

His letter certainly expresses the fear he is feeling, not only for himself and his family, but for all of us. He sent it to awaken the conscience of these Senators, so they’d finally help put out the flames that are burning this nation and our world ⎼ or so they’d at least stop fueling the fires with their opposition to crucial legislation.

 

There is no doubt our nation and world are on fire. We know this, or many of us do. I think secretly we all know this. It’s hard to miss the fires that burned forests and homes in much of the western part of our nation this year and the recent past. It’s hard to miss sidewalks and roads that melted this past summer, record droughts, record windstorms and tornadoes that struck just a few weeks ago. Unless maybe we think they will only happen to someone else. They happen to all of us, one way or another, one disaster or another.

 

It is hard to miss the hate that too often walks our streets, or even our schools and workplaces. People shot or attacked. For being Black, Brown, Asian, HGBTQ, Jewish, Muslim, Native American ⎼ or a woman. They attack women who just want a choice as to what happens with their own body, or who want healthcare and rights equal to men. In Texas, the GOP passed a bill that could lead to mob violence against women and those who support them….

 

*To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Remembering What It Is to Laugh: The Importance of Good, Honest Conversations

Being together this Thanksgiving with good friends reminded me of the importance of friendship, honest conversations, and laughter. It led to a powerful discussion about our fright and despair over climate change and new COVID variants⎼ and over our need to act politically to save democracy and our world. But I can’t say we totally agreed.

 

Many other people showed up in the discussion. New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, novelist Ben Okri, Buddhist teacher and author David Loy, environmentalists Joanna Macy and Paul Hawken, Gandhi, John Lewis, George Floyd, and others.

 

Michelle Goldberg wrote an opinion piece in the NYT on 11/22 called The Problem of Political Despair. She said “marinating in the news is part of my job, but doing so lately is a source of full-body horror.” She writes about obvious GOP efforts to undermine voting rights and end democracy, to lie and attack anyone who opposes their efforts at tyranny or who support anything that might make Democrats or democracy look good.

 

It’s natural, she says, that democrats pull back, take a break, after such a contentious election, the traumatic previous 4 years of DJT and almost 2 years of a pandemic. But there’s more going on. A burn-out, a sense that the relief from autocracy or tyranny that we now have is just temporary. We cannot assume that things will one day become ok. Things are not ok. And she worries that progressives and others will retreat from active participation in the fight for democracy.

 

In our discussion, I shared what I wrote in previous blogs about Joanna Macy and Paul Hawken’s  books, about the despair over the inability, so far, of this nation and our species to do what’s needed to slow down, or end global warming. To end global warming would mean each of us helping not only to save our world but convince others about what is needed to do so. This is not an exaggeration, not a doomsday fantasy, just reality.

 

Hawken said we need to digest the fact that passing voting rights protections, improving health care, promoting equity in law, education, and the economy, ending warfare is saving the earth. We must get Democrats to pass legislation that makes people’s lives better so the mass of people will support efforts to increase democracy and fight climate change.

 

Buddhist teacher David Loy introduced me to the writing of both Joanna Macy and Ben Okri. Okri recently wrote a piece for the Guardian about the need to find new forms of creativity and imagination to face the crisis we are in. He called for “existential creativity”, creativity at the end of time. We are facing the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced, and we must adjust our philosophy and way of life to fit these times. Artists must not waste a single breath or word or tube of paint but focus their work entirely on making people aware of what we face and of actions we can take.

 

We are not wired to grasp long-term changes and threats as easily as short term ones. And many of us live so much in our ideas, stories, personal dramas we don’t feel present in our bodies or at home in the natural world and so don’t digest deeply enough the threat of climate change….

 

**To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

How Do We Face What We Believe is Unfaceable?

How do we face a fact or situation we believe we cannot face? Or respond skillfully to a personal or collective crisis?

 

In the Winter 2021 issue of Tricycle Magazine: The Buddhist Review, there is an article by environmentalist Paul Hawken adapted from his new book Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation. Hawken says we live on a planet dying due to severed connections between human beings and the natural world that sustains and contains us. The decline of the earth is its’ adaptation to what we are doing to it.

 

72% of Americans know that the consensus of scientists is that climate change is human caused. A U. N. panel recently labeled the situation a climate emergency. But Hawken says that if we stop making the mistakes we’re making, if we end the disconnection, if we cease the production of fossil fuels, redirect the economy to stop overconsumption, deforestation, wars, etc. the earth will come back to life. This is difficult but possible. But many don’t, won’t or can’t allow this to even be a possibility in their mind.

 

Many have come to think we have already gone too far, or it would take generations to stop catastrophic global warming. But Hawken says, if we can reduce carbon gain and achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050, we can regenerate the planet in one or two decades.

 

It is easier to not-think about it. To not consider the possibility that the planet, or human life on it, can be saved. For some of us, to bring the earth’s future back to life inside our heart and mind brings the hurt back to life. Pain. It can feel easier to fashion scabs of anger or ig-norance than face pain.

 

I think of two friends and neighbors who say they have given up. They usually vote. Maybe this is a sign that vestiges of hope or commitment remain⎼ or of love. But they won’t do anything more. Won’t help get out the vote or call politicians or take to the streets. They say it will do no good. Maybe the grief they feel over the dying earth has immobilized them.

 

And I understand this response. I too feel the grief for what and whom we’ve lost, for the losses from the pandemic, for an easier time when I did not feel the earth itself was on the way to the emergency room, or that white nationalists might once again inhabit the White House like they did just a year ago. I, too, yearn for comfort.

 

In a recent blog, I described how it’s less the situation we face, or the sensations we feel, that determine our emotional state, but our response to the situation and feelings. We often think of fear as what readies us to act to protect ourselves. But as psychologist William James pointed out over a hundred years ago, we don’t have an emotion and then act. We don’t see a bear in the woods, or maybe a domestic terrorist on the street, and then feel fear, and run.

 

Instead, our response is constructed in stages. We feel fear as our body begins to sweat, our heartbeat speeds up, our legs twitch. Fear is an interpretation added to sensations. The sensations themselves are the same as a stress response or emotions like excitement. The interpretation includes thoughts such as labeling a threat as unmanageable as well as an inclination to act, for example, by hiding….

 

**To read the whole article, please click on the link for the Good Men Project, who first published the piece.