Tuesday, February 16, 2016

You Are Not Broken and You Do Not Need To Be Fixed



My laptop is back after a week in the ER.

It's past midnight and my kid is asleep and I should be, too, because he'll be up like a lark in about six hours. But I'm so damn excited to have my hands back on this new shiny-glossy-sparkly-fast machine of mine that I can't wind down enough to get to bed.

(It's either that or the 50%-off post-Valentine's Day chocolate I slammed after teaching tonight. Sugar rush! No crash yet, three hours later. I'll take it.)

I'm consumed by the news cycle surrounding Supreme Court Justice Scalia's death. Fascinated and intrigued by all the political posturing that's resulted. I was lying in bed Saturday afternoon having just put the little guy down for his nap, scrolling through Twitter as I usually do in those first few moments after he's dropped into slumber and I'm waiting til I can pry myself away.

Shocked, like most of us were, to see the news. Voraciously reading every wonky analysis about which brilliant lawyer Obama will nominate and what the Republicans will do to stop it and whether Kamala Harris might be the Chosen One or whether it might in fact be Loretta Lynch and loving every word Elizabeth Warren has to say about the constitutionality of Republican obstructionists acting like jackasses in trying to block the confirmation process til after the Presidential election.

(I say jackasses with the most kindness and gentleness and lovingkindness possible. Naturally. Well, trying.)

Valentine's Day has come and gone.

We stuck sparkly heart stickers on every possible surface. I entertained making pink pancakes for breakfast, and failed to score the necessary beet juice so as not to poison my kid with Red Dye 40. Thanks to a sweet reminder from an old student and friend, I unwittingly revisited an old self from a Valentine's Day spent behind the bar five years ago, and felt some unexpected fondness and nostalgia. We've stashed the glittery frog and hamster cards away in the closet to recycle next February. I've read Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown a thousand times now, and accidentally torn off the pop-out chocolates that Linus bought to give Miss Othmar.

Duke and I tromped to the library today to return our 15 or so children's books and check out 15 more thick philosophical tomes featuring Mickey and Donald and Elmo and Grover. And monkeys and elephants and lions and giraffes. And fire trucks and bulldozers and tractors.

Just the kind of heart-rending literature I've always loved.

They were closed. Presidents' Day. D'oh.




In the event that you're doing a little light reading not involving Oscar the Grouch, here are a few recent favorites not to be missed:

Death, The Prosperity Gospel, and Me: An incredibly powerful piece from the Sunday NYT. A professor of Christian history finds herself diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer at age 35. With a husband and a toddler. Gulp. She's just published a book analyzing positive thinking and the Prosperity Gospel and our contemporary American obsession with proclaiming ourselves "blessed." Please read it.
In my vulnerability, I am seeing my world without the Instagrammed filter of breezy certainties and perfectible moments. I can’t help noticing the brittleness of the walls that keep most people fed, sheltered and whole. I find myself returning to the same thoughts again and again: Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.
Next up: I am digging everything this new site puts out. Check out Embodied Philosophy for seriously good yoga shit. And I say that with the highest regard. Excellent podcasts with intelligent thinkers. Fantastic articles. Listen to this interview with Buddhist teacher and author Michael Stone first. Follow it up with this saucy one with yoga teacher Alex Auder. She calls out everything about the contemporary yoga "scene" that I'd like to say but am afraid to. Then dive into their archives and learn more than you ever wanted to about yoga philosophy. I can't wait to read further myself.




After that, for a little gendered reality check, hit up Having It All Kinda Sucks. Amy Westervelt nails the shitty and impossible conundrum of trying to "have it all" as a mother with a family and a career. Nails it. (I think of badass grandma Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who famously acknowledged some variation of: "I've had it all in my life, just not at the same time.") A must-read for anyone who knows how hard it is to both raise a child and maintain your professional passions. And a definite must-read for anyone who doesn't yet know that.
I do think, though, that we should cut it out with the fairy tales already. Stop telling women they can have everything without sacrificing anything. Here's the truth: You want to have a career and kids? You totally can, but both will suffer. You will never feel like you are devoting enough time to either. You will never feel like you are good enough at either. You will never get time off (at least for the first several years). You will always be choosing between things that need your attention, and you will almost never choose yourself. You will be judged for nearly every move you make and you will never measure up to anyone else's expectations.
I'm not talking about crazy special treatment here. I don't think we need to get all Oprah about it and coo on and on about how being a mom is the toughest job in the world. Nor am I saying, as one men's rights advocate put it to me recently on Twitter: "Give me money and special treatment. Because, vagina."
I'm saying let's make it okay for women to admit they're pregnant, or take a little bit of time off to recuperate from having a baby without having to worry about tanking their careers.
Let's redefine "having it all," or better yet let each woman define for herself what the best version of her life might look like. Because when you think about it, reflecting back on the first month of my son's life and reveling in what a good job I'd done at covering up the fact that he exists is pretty fucking sad.
Boom.

On a more, er, meditative note, check out Omid Safi's beautiful recent On Being column on The Microclimates Of Life. So often when we teach meditation, we describe feeling-states and sensations as being like weather patterns: thoughts and feelings as being like clouds moving through the clear blue sky of our minds, staying for a moment or three, and then blowing by again. I love how Safi mirrors this metaphor here:
I wonder how often I have thought of life as something that happens in perfect, sunshine conditions, instead of thinking of life as the whole thing: the rain and the sunshine, the soaking and the drying, the puddles and the umbrella, the rain gear and the cap, the boots and the water soaked inside the boot....
I wonder how it would change our own relationship with the microclimates of life if we thought of life as being all of it: the tenderness and the anger, the love and the heartache, the hurting and the healing. What if we thought of all of the “climates” and “weathers” of life as necessitating different “clothing choices,” choices that are not permanent, but ones that we put on and take off? What if we thought of these clothing choices not as ultimately who we are, and more as “guests of our guest house?”
Lovely. Do read the whole thing.




Finally (finally!): I follow Susan Piver's Open Heart Project, and in so doing, receive a couple of email meditation practices throughout the week. This particular one, an old February meditation from a few years ago that I happened upon the other day, struck me anew. It speaks about meditation as a practice not of fumbling, desperate self-improvement, but as a practice of learning to allow, to relax, to stop the perpetually churning desire-to-achieve and to rest exactly where we are.
Maybe it’s my objective in meditation that is the problem. As I’ve been taught, the aim is not peace, nor is it bliss. It is to wake up. Another way of saying this is that the aim is to have no aim whatsoever but to relax completely. Absolutely. At this point, awakening is discovered rather than manufactured and suffering ends. The advice to stop, slow down, look within, and allow for both your brilliance and your brokenness flies in the face of conventional self-help. Self-help is not about relaxing with yourself exactly as you are. Meditation is.

Somehow, though, the idea of relaxation has become synonymous with spacing out. This is not what is meant. In my experience as a meditation teacher, basically every student I encounter has to be taught how to relax. It does not come easily to anyone, myself included.

What most of us do to relax is some version of corpse pose on the couch, remote in hand, staring, clicking, clicking, staring. There’s nothing wrong with this–until you try some alternate form of relaxation (say, going on vacation or lying on the couch to read) and you find it impossible. You’re too antsy. You start thinking about dinner and jump up to begin chopping vegetables. Or you think, let me put in one more load of laundry or answer that email that’s been bugging me or wipe down the outside of the refrigerator or take out the recycling or revise the last chapter of my book or find a cure for cancer. (You get the idea.) Hey, we should all chop our veggies in a timely manner and have smudge-free fridges and cures for cancer and whatnot. But let me suggest that we have become so egregiously task-oriented that we are in danger of forgetting how to relax altogether.

Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that we are so broken that a full-on 24/7 surge of endless, repetitive, and unflagging attention to our failings–or, if not our failings, to our “opportunities”– is called for. I would like to tell you something my friend Patti Digh says: You are not broken and you do not need to be fixed. ....

I ask my students, “What do you think would happen if just for one hour, you stopped trying so hard?” What they say is so recognizable to me and also so sad. They say, “I’m afraid everything would fall apart.” As if our lives were held together by spit and yellowing tape. We walk around with the sense that the whole situation is just so tenuous and, if we rest even for a moment, it will break apart. ....

In a very real sense, meditation is the practice of relaxing, nothing more and nothing less. From this relaxation springs joy, creativity, and clarity. It arises with cessation of effort which, after all, is the very definition of relaxation to begin with.

You are not broken and you do not need to be fixed. 

Roll around in that one for a minute or two. Imagine how different your life would look if you walked around knowing that was true, oh-so-deep in your bones.

Then, really, read the whole thing. I found Piver's writing to be incredibly powerful, and deeply radical. Counter-cultural, in the truest sense of the word.


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