winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

The last week has been challenging for all of us. In the depths of my own fear and uncertainty, I reached for one of my favorite books —Pema Chödrön’s Comfortable with Uncertainty— and opened to a passage at random. On friday, a friend of mine asked how I’ve been able to deal with it all. I told him about the passage, and he (a non-buddhist) found it helpful in dealing with his own pain, so I wanted to share more broadly.

Before getting to the passage, I think it’s important for people to recognize that this pain we are feeling is a collective trauma. This is not our day-to-day pain, not our usual suffering. Everyone develops habits and skills for addressing the typical discomforts of life, but those skills are often inapplicable or ineffective for recovering from truly traumatic events. When someone is in a car wreck, or attacked, or raped, or abruptly loses a job or loved one— we recognize these things as traumas. We recognize that these events take some extra work to recover from. In the aftermath of the election I have seen many of the symptoms of trauma in the people around me. Depression, hypervigilance, difficulty concentrating, short tempers, and so on. When trauma hits, our usual coping mechanisms often fail or go haywire. A drink or two to unwind, turns into bleary drunkenness every night. Playing games to let go, turns into escapism to avoid thinking. Solitude, turns into reclusion. A healthy skepticism, turns into paranoia. If we do not recognize traumas for what they are, it becomes all too easy to find ourselves with even worse problems. Recognition is necessary for forming an appropriate response.

Now, the passage. As humans we have three habitual methods for relating to suffering. All three are ineffectual at reducing that suffering. These three ineffectual strategies are: attacking, indulging, and ignoring. And I’ve seen all three in great quantities in all the OpEd pieces floating around over the past week.

By “attacking” Pema Chödrön means not just lashing out, attacking Trump’s supporters or their ideals, but also all the ways we attack ourselves: We condemn ourselves, criticize ourselves for any indulgence, pity ourselves to the point of not getting out of bed. This strategy shows up in all those articles criticizing us for not having interpreted the polls correctly, or chastising us for not voting, or condemning the way the internet has formed these echo-chamber bubbles, and so on. But all this self-flagellation, all this beating ourselves up, does nothing to heal our pain. Now we suffer not only from our fears of what’s to come, but also because “it’s all our fault”. We refuse to “let ourselves off easy”, so whenever someone tries to address our pain we attack them and beat them away, protecting our pain because we feel like we deserve it.

Indulging is just as common. Though we are haunted by self-doubt, we condone our behavior. We say “I don’t deserve this discomfort. I have plenty of reasons to be angry or sleep all day.” We justify our pain to the point of turning it into a virtue and applauding ourselves. This strategy shows up in all those articles that relish in the details of how bad things will become, or congratulating ourselves for saying something like this would happen. But again, by cherishing our pain and presenting it as something to be praised, we are preventing ourselves from healing. Noone wants to give up something they cherish, nor give up on all the attention and sympathy they are lavished with.

Ignoring is no less common. “Ignoring” means not just refusing to acknowledge our pain and fear, but also pretending it doesn’t exist, dissociating, spacing out, going numb, acting on autopilot, or any of the other ways to try to keep our suffering out of sight and out of mind. This strategy is advocated by all those articles talking about how things actually aren’t that bad, or how this is just business as usual, or how it’ll all get better once the mid-term elections happen. While ignoring seems effective in the short term, it does nothing to address the suffering you feel. In addition to not healing that initial wound, it creates more pain as we inevitably force ourselves into tighter and tighter spaces in order to keep it out of mind.

There is an alternative to these three futile strategies. The enlightened strategy is to try fully experiencing whatever you’ve been resisting— without exiting in your habitual way. Become inquisitive about your habits. Recognize when you are pushing your suffering away, or embracing it, or denying it. Become inquisitive about your suffering. What is it, exactly, that you are denying? Why does it feel so urgent to push it away? Why does it feel so necessary to cling to it? Stop trying to justify your feelings, stop trying to explain them. Start instead to look at them, to see them for what they really are. Ask why it is they hurt, what part of your ego they compromise, what ideals they belie.

The passage on the three futile strategies follows a koan about “heaven and hell”. From a buddhist perspective, “hell” is not a place, it is all the feelings of pain and fear and suffering we experience. Nor is “heaven” a place, but rather all our feelings of gratitude and joy and understanding. Thus, the buddhist does not say “hell is bad and heaven is good” nor “get rid of hell and just seek heaven”. Rather, one should approach all things with an open mind, greeting both heaven and hell with that openness. In her words,

Only with this kind of equanimity can we realize that no matter what comes along, we’re always standing in the middle of a sacred space. Only with equanimity can we see that everything that comes into our circle has come to teach us what we need to know.

I find these words powerfully healing. It is healing to remember that no matter where we are or what befalls us, our life is a blessing, and in virtue of that blessing our bodies and the places we move through are sacred spaces. The sacred is not something which exists without us, but something which is created from within. Moreover, it is healing to step away from questions like “what did I do to deserve this?” and instead remember to ask what it is we can learn from the experience.

I have endured many traumas in my life, and I half expected the election outcome, but still it felt like a kick in the chest. This wound brought back all my darkest habits. Once I recovered from the shock enough to begin the rituals of healing and self-care, I reflected on the question of why this particular wound hurt so bad. In my experience (and not just because I’m buddhist), deep emotional pain always stems from some threat to one’s ego; so what part of my ego is on the line? For me, the reason the election hurt so much is because I had become complacent in believing that the world is steadily becoming a more just place and believing that people are by-and-large fundamentally good. With the election of Obama, the passing of the ACA, the supreme court ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, and so on, I think a lot of us on the progressive side have been susceptible to those beliefs. The election hurt so much, for me, because it forced the recognition that it’s not just the legacy of systemic institutionalized hatred we must fight, but that over a quarter of the population actively supports the worst extremes of that hatred. Yes, the election itself was offensive. Yes, I fear for my life and the lives of those close to me. But the real root of the pain itself, the reason it hurt so bad, is this refutation of those optimistic beliefs about humanity and the path towards justice. Realizing that this was the root cause of my pain did a lot to help me process it and move on. It also gave a healthy way to shift focus from the pain itself, to something actionable. Having experienced the pain, I can accept it. And having learned what it has to teach me, I know what I must do.

So sit with your pain, and try to experience it fully. Stop pushing it away. Stop embracing it. Stop beating yourself up over it. Approach it with an open mind and let it pass through you. And, finally, ask yourself what you can learn from it.

TDOR

20 Nov 2013 02:06 am
winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

On this day we remember our dead.

When right-wing bigots lie and fabricate stories about trans* people, you look at our dead and tell me with a straight face who should fear whom. While you worry about your kids feeling nervous about nothing happening, I'm too worried for the children who will one day soon be shot, strangled, suffocated, stabbed, tortured, beheaded, lit on fire, and thrown off bridges simply for existing.

And you on the left: I love all you queers, and I'm glad for your victories; but the next time you celebrate an "LGBT" victory you take a long hard look at your history of throwing that "T" under the bus and you look at our dead and tell me with a straight face how it's not yet time to fight for trans* rights.

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

Finally, hard evidence of what we've known all along: Everything the TSA has been doing is a waste of time and money, and violates our privacy for no security gain whatsoever.

quoted from the TSA's own statements: "As of mid-2011, terrorist threat groups present in the Homeland are not known to be actively plotting against civil aviation targets or airports; instead, their focus is on fundraising, recruiting, and propagandizing."
Elsewhere, in the redacted portions, the TSA is quoted as admitting that "there have been no attempted domestic hijackings of any kind in the 12 years since 9/11."
Amazingly, it appears that the government forced Corbett to redact the revelation that the TSA's own threat assessments have shown "literally zero evidence that anyone is plotting to blow up an airline leaving from a domestic airport."

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

Why I disagree with Wesley Yang’s conclusion:

We are not the mythical Hollywood Spartans Aaron and I laughed at together many years ago after watching 300. We were slowly, reluctantly, falling in love after both of us had rejected dayjob life at Wired. That night we were both amused and just a little bit horrified that this primitive notion of what makes virtue; that the heroes of this story would have killed us both as children. Aaron and I were part of a culture that prides itself on not slaughtering deformed or sickly children, or leaving unwanted babies to die of exposure. Instead we were the people that could go to the moon and builds ADA ramps. We hold people like Stephen Hawking up as paragons, not of their virtues, but ours. We contend that we live better and more wisely for keeping brilliant minds in useful arts and sciences not only alive, but offering a place where they can thrive and enrich us all.

And we are lying.

Gender Bias 101 For Mathematicians:

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. -JFK

(This is followed by a list of myths and refutations.)

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

An Atlanta area mother was recently convicted of vehicular homicide. Convicted for the crime of being a pedestrian hit by a drunken driver, a driver who was also on painkillers, also half blind, also convicted of two previous hit-and-runs. Her child was also hit, and killed, which is why she's now a criminal. In truth, she was convicted for the crime of being black and poor in America. I haven't been in the country six hours and this is the news story that greets me. Racism, the othering of people who take public transit, and the deadly violent car culture that dominates the US.

A (white) friend of mine was killed in a crosswalk in Portland years ago. The SUV driver couldn't be bothered to check if it was safe when making a left-hand turn across a busy street, at full speed without slowing at all. There were witnesses. He also fled the scene. She was headed to the corner to next to her apartment to buy a mop.

I've been hit three times in crosswalks, all three with the walk sign on and a red light for the cars. Only one of those times was it serious. But I was saved by the fact that the rich white man was driving a sporty little thing so I went over the hood instead of under.

What a welcome home.

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