Finding Comfort Within: Flying Like A Bird or Setting Like the Sun

What brings you comfort?

 

It’s a wonderful sunny day. Despite the cold temperature, I open a bedroom window and take a breath. The air feels remarkable, clean and tasty. It’s been weeks since we’ve had a day like this.

 

Close your eyes partly or fully, or as much as you feel comfortable doing, take a nice breath in, and out, and taste the air. Just enjoy being nowhere but here for a moment. Then let come to mind a time you felt a deep sense of comfort. What was the situation? Where were you? Were you by yourself or with others? What were you doing? Notice what comfort means to you.

 

When I think about this question, I realize the answer has changed throughout my life. As a child, I remember walking my dog in the wooded area in our neighborhood. Sometimes, we’d take off on a run and all else would be forgotten. All that existed was us, running, together.

 

When I returned home during my college years, to visit my parents in New York City, I remember late nights, after everyone else was asleep and the city had quieted, my mother and I would sit and talk, openly, like at no other time.

 

When I first moved to Ithaca, my future wife and I lived with a group of people near a gorge and waterfall. When I’d go out and stare into that waterfall, I’d see first the flow of water. Then my perspective would shift to focus on one drop, one amongst the multitude, racing down, crashing, disappearing into the current of the creek. Any tension I had previously felt, any thoughts, would be washed away. I’d be left emotionally calm and mentally clear.

 

Now, after getting up and doing basic exercises and stretching, I love to sit with a book that inspires or challenges me. It is a grave mistake to think of reading as an automatic or passive activity that involves simply repeating in your mind someone else’s words. When you give reading your full attention you get to see the world with someone else’s eyes. And this new perspective illuminates depths missed in yourself.  Without a quality reading, the quality of the writing is never perceived. This is why holding a book can feel like holding a mystery or a treasure chest. Reading online or with a kindle doesn’t do that for me no matter the content. In fact, it turns me off.

 

Or writing⎼ I love to write stories, blogs, poems, etc. in the morning, when my mind is fresh. The words enable me to transform into other people, or to fly like a bird, to rain and snow and set like the sun or cuddle with a cat. Creativity can be so satisfying….

 

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

Recovering from the Trauma of DT and Creating A More Democratic Nation

When I listen to the news, I still find myself ready to cringe. We’ve grown used to one attack, one shock after another, continuing assaults on our lives or humanity. It’s been such a relief since President Biden was inaugurated. But the trauma of 4 years of DT, culminating with the domestic terrorist attack on January 6th and his escape from being prosecuted in the Senate for his role in inciting that attack will not go away easily.

 

This is partly because the threat is still here. The politics of hate is all still here. We face a domestic terrorist movement built on hate, lies and a grievance mentality that have walled off about one third or more of this nation from the truth. As Bill Moyers put it, “a democracy can die of too many lies.”

 

And we have a mutating virus that has killed over half a million people. Ken Burns said that we face three viruses: COVID-19, white supremacy, and misinformation.

 

An article by Jeremy Adam Smith from the Greater Good Science Center talks about how to recover from the trauma of the Trump years. These last four plus years have been extremely traumatic, especially 2020. What we face now is grief. We grieve not only the lives lost but the loss of hope, sense of security, and the activities and contacts that sustained us. Many of us have lost our livelihood and home.

 

And we can’t simply let go of grief. Smith quotes psychologist Frederick Luskin, who said, “When we lose something, human beings have a natural reintegration process, which we call ‘grief.” We must integrate it, feel it, suffer it, and understand both the fact of the loss and how we feel about it.

 

We can ignore it for only a short time. We have gone through hell. “January 6 happened, and it can never unhappen. COVID-19 happened. At this writing, 466,000 Americans are dead, and they will never come back.“ “The research says that people who go through horrible experiences but keep it to themselves suffer more, not less.” Sharing the load with others can help lighten the load. Caring, compassion for ourselves and others will lighten the load.  Recognizing how the trauma has affected us can change so much for us all. But even more is needed, more ways of speaking.

 

The DT and GOP attack on our rights and freedom has been building since Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem.  Government is the problem.” Fareed Zakaria, in his book Ten Lessons for A Post-Pandemic World says anti-Federal feeling and distrust in centralized government is in the DNA of this nation and Reagan re-invigorated that sentiment. After all, the American Revolution was a revolt against a King.

 

But Reagan also re-invigorated a concentration of wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands. So his assault on government actually was a masked assault on democracy. It was an assault on the power of the people in favor of the power of the few, the rich. It was in favor of people who want to be kings⎼ or dictators. Or who want a dictator to rule.

 

This anti-federal feeling also led many people to not participate in government. In 2020, we had the highest rate of citizen participation in recent history, 66.7% of eligible voters voted in the presidential election. This was the best turnout since the early 1960s. That means that even in this most meaningful and contentious election, about one-third of adult Americans didn’t (or weren’t allowed to) vote⎼ or speak. According to the Pew Research Center, the U. S. is 30th out of 35 developed democratic nations in terms of the percentage of people who voted in recent years. Since voting is the primary voice of the people, we were censored by ourselves or our government.

 

Our representatives are supposed to represent the interests of all citizens, but they don’t always do that and we’re in trouble if we think of democracy as letting our representatives do all the governing for us. Nor can we allow the GOP to win by preventing us from voting. For example, the lawyers for the Arizona GOP in a Supreme Court case admitted recently that without suppressing the vote, they lose.

 

Many of us hope and/or expect President Biden will get pandemic relief passed, protect voting rights, re-build infrastructure, re-structure health care, free young (and older) people from overwhelming debt from schooling, end Global Warming⎼ and end the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, end the concentration of privilege and power in the white, rich and male (that has existed ever since, or before, our nation’s founding). Do we intend to hold him responsible if it all doesn’t happen, and quickly? Or hold democracy itself responsible? The GOP would love that.

 

On FB recently there was a meme saying, basically, “Why did we elect Biden if he can’t even get us a guaranteed minimum wage of $15 an hour?”  Why? We know why. Four years of DT is why. Just look at how Biden is managing the pandemic. Despite all the challenges, he is assuming responsibility, one thing DT never did, and doing it with compassion and competence, while recognizing the need to fight inequities in our health care system and government.

 

Biden is a president, not a dictator or wannabee dictator. To pass the New Deal, F. D. R. needed not only Congressional action but the support of the people. And in February the research firm SurverMonkey reported 72% of Americans supported not only pandemic relief but most of Biden’s recovery plan.

 

But as Fareed Zakaria pointed out, our legislative system only works when there’s a willingness amongst our representatives to work cooperatively and to compromise. This isn’t the situation today. The GOP have made cooperation almost impossible. 147 of the GOP in Congress voted to overturn the 2020 election and a few still refuse to recognize that Biden won. Some even assisted in or supported the 1/6/21 assault on our nation, assisted in an attempt at a coup. They are a coup itching to happen.

 

We are still recovering from DT and we need a break. But the forces lined against Biden are powerful and desperate. So, let’s support his efforts while pressuring him to foster policies that sincerely meet our needs. We have a new administration that is more inclined to listen to us and do what serves us, so let’s take advantage of this opportunity. Led by Black Lives Matter protests against the murder of George Floyd, racist policing, and the policies of DT, Americans created the biggest sustained protest movement in modern American history. Millions of voices together can help turn this system around.

 

As we take responsible action to change the state of the nation, to make calls to Congress and find other ways to speak, we consequently act to overcome the trauma of DT and change the state of our hearts and minds.

 

 

 

 

 

Amidst the Rubble, Flowers Grow

When we’re quarantined with one person, together day in and day out, what happens or can happen between us?

 

The pandemic, magnified by the negligence and mismanagement by the DT administration, has led to isolation and anxiety; it has cost almost one-half a million American lives and over 10 million jobs. It has upset the entire way millions of people live. And losing jobs, losing homes, losing in-person in-school instruction, for example, is not just an inconvenience. It is an unquestioned loss, of stability, of hope, and of income.

 

But can we, at least with our loved ones, re-imagine our time together? Many of us have already begun to do so. Our lives have been simplified. I’m retired and live with just my wife and pets and this is clearly true for me. Are we “stuck” together while quarantined from others? Or are we privileged? If we have less to do and fewer distractions, maybe we can get closer to those we live with instead of taking our fear out on each other. Frightening as it has often been, maybe we can learn to see ourselves and each other more directly and kindly.

 

D. E. Harding, in his book, On Having No Head: Zen and the Re-Discovery of the Obvious, proposes ways to directly encounter our true self. Many of us imagine we are our memories, habits, a self with a head and body standing at a distance and separate from what we see. But one day Harding saw himself differently. He was actually walking in the Himalayas, the sky and air absolutely clear, and suddenly “all mental chatter died down.” Just looking around was completely absorbing. He forgot who he was. Past and future disappeared.

 

And when he looked internally, where he thought his head should be, he instead saw the clear blue sky, the outward scene where his eyes were pointed. He realized he “had lost a head and gained a world.” Or where a head should be situated, he carried the mountains and sky.

 

Imagine looking through a tube, one eye on one end, and our spouse, best friend, lover looking in the other. Eye to eye. This is a startling way to lose a head and gain an intimacy. (The exercise was inspired by Harding but created by Richard Lang, who led workshops worldwide on Harding’s teachings. See the article in the Spring 2021 Tricycle Magazine by Michael Haederle.)

 

There are similar meditation exercises. In sitting position, face another person, eyes to eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Together.

 

What do we see when we look in the tube or we face another person directly?

 

Every morning when I get up, after I put on my pants, I go downstairs to look for my wife. 90% of the time she is up before me. I find her in the kitchen or den. And I greet her cheerfully. It’s a promise I make to myself. No matter how well or poorly I sleep I am happy to see her. “Good morning. How are you? How did you sleep? What a day this is!” Being happy with her, I am happy with myself.

 

It’s almost a ritual, or a song we sing to make our house a home. No matter who any of us live with ⎼ children, parents, friends ⎼ or we’re alone, we can adapt the lyrics to fit the situation. But as best we can, make the tune loving, so we wake up to what’s most important ⎼ the nourishment love and kindness give us…..

 

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

Freeing Our Minds: So We Don’t Feel Caught in A Place We Don’t Want to Be

In every life, there are moments (or months) that feel endless, when we don’t like where we are but fear we can never get to somewhere other than here, sometime other than now.

 

This is the nature of fear. It can hold us so tight in its embrace that one moment can seem eternal, and we forget all but a tiny fraction of who we are and what we are capable of being.

 

One such moment happened years ago, when I was hitch-hiking in Europe. Today, during the pandemic, it seems incomprehensible that anyone could have traveled so openly. At one point I was hitching from southern France to Sweden with Ingrid, a Swedish friend I had met in Nice, France. I was actually escorting her home, as she had run out of money to fly or take a train and I didn’t have enough to lend her⎼ and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. The fastest and easiest route was through Germany. We decided to stop off in the capitol, Berlin, and found a ride to take us there.

 

It was 1966. Germany was divided into 4 zones: one controlled by the Union of Soviet-Socialist Republics, one by each of the main Western allies⎼ the U. S., Britain, and France. Berlin was similarly divided but was located in the East or the Soviet zone.

 

When we arrived at the border between East and West Germany, we found it to be a scene out of a war movie. It was heavily fortified. On the Eastern side, not only were there East German troops but Russians. An American troop convoy, with several truckloads of soldiers, had arrived just before we had, and the border guards were inspecting the vehicles before letting them through. This was the height of Soviet-American tensions from the Cold War. Just four years earlier was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Five years earlier, the Soviet-Russians ordered the wall between East and West Berlin to be built to stop people from escaping Soviet oppression.

 

Two border guards stopped our car and told Ingrid and me to get out. We were led inside a cement block building where we were searched and asked to take out our passports. When Ingrid opened her passport, her photo fell from the page to the floor. At that moment, everything stopped, and we froze in place. A large female soldier took Ingrid’s arm and led her to a back room. I was told to stay put.

 

While I was waiting, the driver came in with our back packs. He said he was told to continue on without us and left, wishing us luck.

 

Here we were, stuck at the East German border, with no ride, my friend being questioned in a back room, the authenticity of her passport now doubted by authorities hostile to both our nations. Any attempts by me to ask questions about Ingrid’s status were rebuffed.

 

And it was getting late in the day. Hitch-hiking across the border was difficult anytime, but at night, it could be dangerous….

 

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

Mindfully Healing from Hurt and Feelings of Revenge

Teachers know just how traumatized both adults and children have felt this past year, with all of the political tension and ongoing COVID crisis. As we hope for a more positive year ahead, mindfulness can be the first step in letting go of pain, but it has to be used in a trusting space, with awareness of what we as teachers and our students might be facing.

 

A trauma is an incapacitating form of stress. Stress by itself can be helpful or harmful. But when it is deep and we can’t integrate or face it, it can become traumatic. The DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines a traumatic event as exposure to “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.”

 

In his book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness, David Treleaven makes clear that this exposure can come in many ways, from directly experiencing or witnessing a trauma or from learning about what happened to a relative, loved one or close friend. Children are especially vulnerable. One in four children in the U. S. have experienced physical abuse, one in five sexual. Then we add a pandemic, political instability, and oppression, whether it be sexism or violence directed at one’s gender identity, race or religion, etc. and we have a huge number of people who have suffered from trauma. We have not just a coronavirus pandemic but a pandemic of extreme emotions like hate and a craving for revenge.

 

Teach Compassion and Turn the Classroom into A Compassionate Learning Community:

 

Compassion can include but is more than empathy. It is close to kindness, with the added commitment to taking action to relieve the suffering of others as well as ourselves. It is one of humanity’s greatest strengths. And when it lives in us, the hurt lessens or disappears.  In fact, practicing compassion is a way to skillfully let go of any hurt. By acting with compassion, we walk a bigger road and rediscover our strength.

 

Having students research compassion can be a way for them to teach themselves the benefits. A wonderful resource is the Greater Good Science Center

 

Explore what emotion is and specifically what revenge is.

 

How do we as teachers explore negative or hostile feelings if they arise in class, either online or with in-person instruction, considering the time restraints, stress, degree of trauma, and unique circumstances we face today? [https://www.badassteacher.org/bats-blog/for-blended-teaching-its-not-just-the-covid-its-the-stress-by-dr-michael-flanagan]

 

A useful guideline especially on-line is be short and simple, with processing afterwards and weaving the practice into the subject matter of the day. Before introducing any type of meditation or visualization to our students, we must first practice several times by ourselves and then imagine how specific students would feel doing this type of practice. Provide choices in all aspects of practice, including postures, whether we keep our eyes open or closed, etc.

 

Start with asking questions to stimulate engagement and intellectual curiosity. What is emotion? Feeling? How do you know what you feel? Why have emotions? Work on increasing self-understanding and our ability to calm mind and body and focus through mindfulness. We strengthen ourselves and our students with visualizations, compassion, and other exercises, then apply those practices to better understand the person and situation that hurt us, and how to respond in the most healing fashion.

 

A student once asked me what to do about his “feeling” he needed to take revenge on a classmate. He obsessed over it. Young people can be especially vulnerable to this emotion, as they are so aware and sensitive to how others treat them

 

I told him that it was a difficult question, but like any emotion, the inner push or craving for revenge can seem like it is one humongous stone in our gut that we can’t handle. But it is not one thing and not just a feeling. It is composed of many components that can be broken down so we can handle them.

 

What is emotion? Daniel Siegel makes clear emotion is not just feeling. One purpose of emotion is to tag stimuli with value so we know how to think and act. There are phases in the process of constructing emotion. The first phase is jolting the system to pay attention, what he calls the “initial orienting response.” The second is “elaborative appraisal,” which includes labeling stimuli as good or bad, dangerous or pleasing. We begin to construct meaning and then prepare for action, to either approach or avoid something. This sets up the third step, when our experience differentiates further into categorical emotions like sadness, happiness, or fear. Memory and thoughts are added to feeling and sensation. Teaching about emotion, its uses and how it’s constructed is one of the most important subjects we could teach our students. In fact, it takes up most of my book on teaching compassionate critical thinking.

 

Revenge is a complex of emotions, like anger, hate, humiliation, fear and a sense of being threatened. According to Janne van Doorm, hate, anger, and desire for revenge are similar but have a different focus: “anger focuses on changing/restoring the unjust situation caused by another person, feelings of revenge focus on restoring the self, and hatred focuses on eliminating the hated person/group.” …

 

To read the whole article, please go to MindfulTeachers.Org.

Waking Up to a New World

I wake up to a new world. The standing Buddha in the yard is wearing a large conical white hat and is surrounded by a foot of virgin snow. The solar lights on the deck are miniature mountains.

 

And even indoors⎼ near my bed, a painting on the wall I’ve looked at almost every day for ten years named “Golden Woods,” by the English artist Jo Barry ⎼ suddenly, the painted light flows through the artwork. It is absorbed by dark trees and adds so much life to the yellow, orange, and gold leaves and flowers they pop out and become so distinct that, for the first time, vast depths can be seen behind them. Unrevealed details.

 

And Linda, a wife, partner, and best friend⎼ is standing by the dresser, the universe seen and loved in her eyes. What a beautiful morning.

 

Already it’s different outside. The light has changed, dimmed. Near the Buddha, under the bird feeder, Cardinals, Chickadees, Blue Jays, a Mourning Dove⎼ is that a Nuthatch?

 

Writing, like a good conversation, can be one of life’s greatest gifts. Yet it can be so tenuous. It is best when words just emerge almost by themselves. When I started writing this morning, my mind was fresh from a good night’s sleep. There was clearly something pushing to be noticed and written, but I didn’t know what it was. The only thing clear was the fresh snow, the light in the painting, and that naming emerges from the nameless. Writing can be like that, when we trust the process. We pick up a pen and don’t know if we will get what we aim at or what, if we let it, we’ll say.

 

Other times, it’s amazing that we can speak at all or write about anything. One minute, we feel we are in the grip of a great revelation, only to find, on the very next day or next moment, a contrary revelation. We speak, thinking we know what we’re talking about, but so much lives in each word, each perception, that all we can ever describe is one moment’s cupful. The rest spills out or jumps from the cup as if our speaking or looking gives it feet.

 

We can worry so much about saying the wrong thing or how we will sound that our voice becomes foreign to us, as if spoken at a great distance, like an echo. And this echo can be  painful and isolating, made worse when we think only we personally carry such burdens or there is something missing in us because we do so. If only we could step right through this distance.

 

When we study ourselves closely, mindfully, study our actual sensations and feelings, we can eliminate the seeming separation between us and everything….

 

This piece was published by The Good Men Project. To read the whole post, please click on the link. 

What A Week: His Foot Is Lifted Off Our Necks⎼ Let’s Keep It Off!

What a week, wasn’t it? I can hardly believe it’s over. It was one that will long be remembered by each of us, in our minds and hearts, and history books. A time and an administration that hopefully will never be repeated and will soon, hopefully, come to an end. I don’t think any week of my life was consumed by so many moments I felt almost sick from anxiety.

 

Last night, I had a dream. Thousands of people in long lines were climbing down a steep mountain. I could see myself having to find footholds and lower my weight very carefully. There were people all around me. Some were disparaging, seemingly ready to trip people up. But most were helpful, giving each other tips about where to place a foot or get a good grip. Our attention was absorbed by the climb.

 

We have hopefully succeeded in climbing down from the height of anxiety and holding off dictatorship. We have hopefully made it to a point where, for a moment, we can breathe. Where one man’s malignant ambition, supported by thousands of followers, no longer presses its foot against our necks. Where we can and will celebrate. And then go back to work.

 

But almost immediately, before a winner of the presidential vote was clear, some were already laying blame, casting doubts, dividing us even further. I understand the followers of the wannabee dictator making false claims. They have been immersed in DT’s universe and will not, for a while, give up on their fantasy of a white nation, or their fears that Democrats are the red (or black or brown)  horde coming to steal their freedom.

 

What is more disturbing are a few Democrats claiming the election was so close because the Democratic Party went too far. They, we, were too extreme.

 

Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D, VA) was one of the loudest voices. She was angered by the fact that she barely won re-election and Democrats lost seats in the House. CNN labeled her message as speaking a “hard truth to her party.” She blamed two main “extreme” Democratic messages for the losses and cited the stated concerns of people in her district as the source. The first was “defunding the police.” The second was the talk about ‘socialism.’ But was she speaking a “harsh truth” or something else?

 

Alexandria Octavio-Cortez responded to her fellow member of the House in a tweet, “You can’t tell the Black, Brown, and youth organizers riding in to save us every election to be quiet or not have their Reps champion them when they need us… Or wonder why they don’t show up for midterms when they’re scolded for existing.”

 

Spanberger and others do express a truth, but it’s not the one they think they’re making. They’re expressing a truth about the success of the GOP messaging with certain audiences. Spanberger, and the voters in her district that she references, are just repeating back to us GOP propaganda, maybe Russian disinformation. They took ‘Democratic’ out of Bernie’s ‘Democratic-Socialism’ and demonized ‘socialism’ so the message would be obliterated. They turned “Defund the Police” into “destroy our defenders and let the hordes of chaos loose.” Or letting thousands of brown and black people speak to the truth of their lives?

 

But since the word ‘socialism’ is so distorted by the GOP branding, why not speak of a democratic economy? Wouldn’t a government of, by, and for the people care about the health of all its citizens? It would be interesting to hear GOP speak in opposition to a ‘democratic’ economy. And “defunding the police” is what? Re-thinking policing and how we treat each other? It certainly includes stopping the killing of black and brown people.

 

Democrats, or people who want to turn this nation into a true democracy with more equity in the economy as well as the political structure, need to work on including in our thinking and speaking not only those who agree with us but those who might agree with us if they listened. Not the committed White Supremacists, but others. A democracy requires a very diverse group of people to work together. That means everyone speaking their needs and viewpoints, but no one demanding their view or nothing.

 

On Friday, I listened to a Zoom panel discussion on “Where do we go from here?” with Naomi Klein, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Astra Taylor. They clearly agreed with and expanded on AOC’s response. Although I have a slightly better view of President-Elect Joe Biden then Klein, Taylor and Taylor, I totally agree with their analysis of how he gives us a clear opportunity to move forward.

 

We are in a very fragile situation, said Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. We don’t have time to change everything. We need to first increase our cohesion and collaboration. The Democratic response to the GOP cries about socialism, the economy and the lockdown due to the pandemic was weak. Naomi Klein spoke to the intersecting emergencies we face (agreeing with Biden on their centrality) ⎼ COVID, racial injustice, climate, and the economy.

 

And all three panelists made clear the way to move forward is to show people that Democrats, and the government, can deliver, can create laws and institutions that meet their needs. We need to bridge urban and rural. We need things like the Civilian Conservation Corps to both get jobs and help the environment. We need to revitalize the care economy. People need their housing, food and health care to be covered. We do that, and we show the nation what our words mean by letting all of us live their truth.

 

Without this living example, then after two years of Biden we might see an increase not of democracy but of DTism, hatred, and division. We need to use this opportunity of a Biden presidency to pull together as the community of care, of 75 million people or more, so we can show ourselves as well as the rest of this nation what is possible.

 

*This post was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Traumatized Nation

Even before COVID-19, even before DT, a great number of us were carrying the pain of a trauma. But since the onset of this pandemic in February and March, the pain and suffering has become ubiquitous. Sure, many of us can be relatively safe in our homes, quite content and even happy, and we need such a refuge. But what does it do to us when we can’t stand to hear the news? Or fear leaving our homes? We often think of trauma in terms of individuals. But a whole nation can be traumatized, as we have been at different times in our history, including 9/11 and, for multiple reasons, now.

 

I’m reading a book that has been extremely helpful for me, called Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing by David A. Treleaven. The book has expanded my understanding of my own practice of mindfulness, how to help others, as well as how to better understand this time we are all experiencing.

 

A trauma is an incapacitating form of stress. Stress by itself can be helpful or harmful. But when it is deep and we can’t integrate or face it, it can become traumatic. The DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines a traumatic event as exposure to “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.”

 

Treleaven makes clear that this exposure can come in many ways, from directly experiencing or witnessing a trauma or from learning about what happened to a relative, loved one or close friend. Children are especially vulnerable. One in four children in the U. S. have experienced physical abuse, one in five sexual. Then you add war and oppression, whether it be sexism or violence directed at one’s gender identity, race or religion, etc. and you have a huge number of people who have suffered from trauma.

 

There is a spectrum of trauma, of course, a difference in intensity and symptoms. We can feel stressed out or suffer from PTSD. Symptoms can vary from repeating thoughts and memories, to images flooding consciousness, to being cut off or alienated from our own feelings. We can have trouble sleeping or feel our own bodies are booby-trapped.

 

And what happens when we come to fear a person’s maskless face or touching a surface in a public place? Or we don’t know how we can feed our family or if we will be thrown out of our homes? What happens when our social-economic-political worlds are being destroyed, our rights ripped away, and people who look like us are killed by police without being held accountable? All while the water we drink and the air we breathe is poisoned?

 

Mindfulness Practice:

 

One way to begin is with mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is both a present centered awareness of whatever is going on with us as well as a practice that develops self-regulation. Traditional mindfulness and meditation is based on a deep understanding of the causes of, and ways to relieve, human suffering. It teaches us how to study our conditioned responses to stimuli as well as our own sensations, thoughts and feelings so we can interrupt ones that lead to suffering.

 

Mindfulness usually helps me with any problem I face, even when I am ill or frightened. In fact, for the first few years after I learned how to meditate, I would only do it when I had a headache or felt sick or stressed. I had headaches frequently. Then I realized if I did it every day, maybe the headaches would stop. And they did….

 

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

What Do We Do When Faced with Someone Who Proclaims the Coronavirus a Hoax?

The Coronavirus, and DT’s mismanagement and exacerbation of it, has put many of us in a state of stress, grief, anxiety and trauma⎼ and that doesn’t count the feelings of those who have been sick or have lost a loved one. So what do you do when faced with someone who believes the coronavirus is a hoax and refuses to wear a mask? How do you talk to such people without losing it in anger or dehumanizing them as they might be dehumanizing you?

 

This is becoming too familiar a situation. Political discussions are notoriously difficult to have, and the coronavirus has become severely politicized. We have the example of DT refusing to wear a mask. In Georgia, where the coronavirus is spiking, where 50 people died yesterday (7/15) and 3,441 new cases were reported, the Governor sued the Mayor of Atlanta for issuing a mask ordinance. The lawsuit comes one day after the Governor issued an executive order suspending such mandates. He did not sue any of the other cities with mask ordinances.

 

There have even been instances where store clerks have politely confronted customers, or one person on the street confronted another, and the response was violent and in a few instances, deadly.

 

But let’s say we know the person, they are not prone to violence, and we are facing them, maskless, on the street or in a store. It might help to be prepared.

 

In all the cases I know of, the maskless person was white, often but not always, male, so just imagine a white male. What might be going on in his mind? It would be helpful to hear his response and not make assumptions.

 

So I imagine asking him, directly, “Why aren’t you wearing a mask?” Of course, his actions put the health of other people at risk. But in his mind, there might be no risk, because the threat is unreal. A lie even.

 

Maybe he is only listening to GOP politicians and right-wing propaganda sources and hasn’t questioned what he heard. To him, Dr. Fauci is the threat. News outlets that check the reliability of their sources, like the NY Times or the Washington Post or NPR, are the threat. Simply presenting facts as we know them won’t work.

 

Maybe deep down he feels powerless and his belief covers that up, replaces it with the potent sense that he is one of the select few with the inside information. To him, I am a dupe, blinded by the “media” or whomever, either lacking information or the thinking capacity to see through the deception. And what a deception it must be. Just think about all the people in the media, politics, police and medical profession that must be conspiring together to create the hoax.

 

And he must not know anyone who has gotten sick or died. He must not know anyone who has cared for or treated or is the friend or loved one of one of the sick and the dying. He might not know that according to a recently released report by the CDC, people of color are 3 times as likely to become infected with the virus as white people. Or maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe racism is involved, and another sort of conversation is needed here….

 

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

Mystery and Presence: Feeling that Creates Understanding

I am sitting on my deck, feeling a slight breeze, and watching the play of sunlight and shadow on the trees and flowers that surround the lawn. It is early morning. A statue of a Buddha under a rhododendron bush is just uphill from the deck. Two cats, Milo and Max, sleep near to me. I feel a sense of peace, and privilege, even mystery, that I can be here, that this exists, that these cats want to be with me. Their lying here with such trust is somehow baffling to me, even though they have been with me for years.

 

The philosopher Jacob Needleman tells a story in his book, The Indestructible Question: Essays on Nature, Spirit and the Human Paradox, about how, when he was young, he met a renowned authority on the traditions and culture of China. The man was regularly consulted by governments, linguists, mapmakers, and even people seeking spiritual advice.

 

Needleman, at the time, was a delivery boy. He entered the scholar’s office to deliver and collect library books and found it piled high to the ceiling with books, papers, arcane documents, and diagrams. It was like a small library from another time and place. As he stared around the room, he accidently knocked to the floor an old book, which fell open to an illustration of the human body with strange symbols surrounding it. He bent over, somehow drawn to study it. In the midst of speaking a magical Taoist incantation, the scholar noticed where Needleman was staring, and stopped what he was doing.

 

“Shut that book,” he said by way of a greeting. “Do you know what journalism is?”

 

“Certainly,” Needleman replied, as he looked up.

 

“There are three, maybe four books in this whole room that are not journalism,” that do not merely repeat what other people have said or done. “But all the rest, including that one on the floor, are journalism. … I am practically at the end of my life. I know more about Chinese religion than maybe anyone in the world. …Yet, the most important thing I don’t know. Because I have never felt the tradition” or know what it means to practice it.

 

“I have only begun to recognize this. In order to know what one knows, one must feel.”

 

We might think that understanding is just about rational thought. But rational thought travels on a road laid out for it by feeling. Daniel Siegel, MD, and professor of psychiatry at UCLA, describes phases in the process of constructing emotion. The first phase is the “initial orienting response.” It is pre-thought and can be relatively unconscious. Our bodies are jolted to pay attention and feeling is born. The second is about appraisal, attuning and connecting, using feeling to label stimuli as good or bad, pleasing or dangerous. Memories are aroused. We construct meaning, thoughts, and want to approach or avoid someone or something. Our experience then differentiates into full emotions like sadness, joy, fear and love….

 

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