Let us be quicker to praise than to find fault.
DESMOND TUTU

Every morning I sit and consider “Right View” – right defined as skillful. “Right Intention” – defined as skillful intention. Some days I am fully aware that it is an effort of self-improvement, despite my wanting very much to give up that particular effort. My determination not to be “on a journey” – but rather be here: just shifting perspective as the world changes.

For over a decade now the Christmas season has been marked for me by a party a friend and her partner host this time of year. It isn’t your typical holiday gathering of interlocked friends: there is a brilliance to their tradition of inviting a core group of weak ties, and each year a few new faces. It’s positively “urban” in its inclusiveness. And as someone who borders on recluse, I find it relaxing.

The food follows in a similar vein: familiar (though hardly “traditional”) dishes and deliberately introduced new recipes. Near the end of the evening every year, M. plays the lacquered white piano and we sing carols.

These parties may be the only parties I have ever attended without feeling a pressure to secure my belonging, or wriggle into tightly-knit cliques by way of an interesting anecdote, or tactical compliment/question. I still don’t know how to do that, and am comfortably past trying, actually.

But this year there’ll be no seasonal gathering around dinner table and the piano. I feel the loss, and am trying to re-frame the fact. I am pulling back to identify the loss, and to appreciate exactly what was so very pleasant.

We aren’t supposed to cling to the pleasant, but I don’t think that precludes seeking to experience it. And maybe for the first time I am observing my passive social life, not in terms of an area for self-improvement, but as a potential for creativity.

I suppose in the self-help jargon the word is “agency”, but oh what connotations come with that: productiveness and goals. Not for me.

When the world pulls apart as it has, I am noticing the spaces between. The loose ties, the fluidity of interactions. My perspective has shifted.

Loosening the weave
potential in every thread
ever-new garments

Practicing contentment is a radical act in a consumption-driven society.
ROBIN WALL KIMMERER

It’s interesting that after years of charting my moods on the advice of therapists with various degrees, the Buddhist teacher I listen to now talks about “feelings”. In this system of categorizing, there are only three feelings: pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.

Moods on the other hand are conceptual interpretations, applied meaning based on an understanding of context. Understanding in this context being an understanding, not knowledge in any objective sense.

This works for me.

I have no idea if this is “right” but I think about all the studies of the reptilian brain – the idea that organisms of all kinds exhibit either attraction, aversion, or disregard to phenomenon. How scientists continue to argue whether an aversion response is an indication of “pain” – or of what we call “suffering”.

This has changed my yoga (asana) practice entirely. It has also ushered in a brutally honest confrontation with my own psychological pain. There is a pleasantness in the familiar. That is a truth. Though not particularly noble.

It’s pleasantness in a dark groove of melancholy; pleasantness in naming a scapegoat for what is uncomfortable.

I find this kind of sorting of language and concepts pleasant, too. It somehow makes familiar ideas shiny and new. I think this pleasantness conceptualizes as pride: “I’m so smart.”

At dinner tonight E. and I were talking about the difference between delusion, hallucination and illusion. His curiosity about the language. Mine about my own ignorance of specifics.

Every year I have a few students in movement who complain that the exercises hurt. I ask, “Does it hurt, or is it just uncomfortable? Because each of those states requires a very different response: stop, or breathe.”

Only now, with my own children grown and my mistakes made – only now as my body is edging closer to limits and requires more attention – do I surrender to the truth of subjectivity.

Does it hurt? I hold the world

crying
as if it were my own newborn.


I’m still thinking about contentment: a mood. And how maybe contentment isn’t pleasant at all – but neutral. It’s a place to rest after the highs of gains, and achievements, and moments of wonder – but free of any fear of loss, and of any desire to accumulate more.

It requires an odd kind of faith, I think, to be content: faith that the continually changing world will bring both horrors and wonders into our present.

And we can learn to rest between them.

Breathe in.
Rest. (Wait – don’t hold – don’t clench with a glottal stop – ssh – just wait.)
Breathe out.
Again.

I tell my students if you’re never uncomfortable
you’re never learning, but

nothing in the world must try
to grow.

Parkinson’s Law.

Tuesday mornings I have a late start at work, and when the alarm goes off at the usual time, and when E. isn’t here with his own obligations, I find myself negotiating with myself. My morning routine takes 2 and a half hours, and I start counting backwards to see if I can lie in bed another half hour.

The thing is, all this math wakes me up anyway but now I am in the wrong groove. It takes me a half hour to tie the bows on my running shoes. And because E. is offshore, I start my run from home and head to the lake: the first kilometer on the sidewalk, dogging sulky teenager, and mothers with their six-year-olds walking to school three-abreast, forcing me into the street.

It isn’t until I hit the trail that my breathing eases. It takes me even longer before I hear the birds. Even longer before I fall into a gentleness of spirit.

This morning I’ve been meditation on being less judgmental. “Haaaa”, I chant. And I imagine a storm in a teacup settling into a clear reflection of the real problem: my own thoughts in a teacup.


Everyone is talking about the documentary about the man and the octopus. But I spent the first hour focusing on how he managed to do all the filming himself, on the miracle of his having found this one octopus who lived an entire, heroically dramatic life cycle under his gaze. I started to wonder if anyone would know better had he pieced together footage of twenty octopuses to make a story. I wondered why the credits included two writers when the narrative film clips seem confessional.

I wondered why I am such a jerk.

Where is the middle way when it comes to questioning what we are told? Between unhelpful skepticism and unhelpful naivetè?

I suppose it is about the source from which the questions arise. Even knowing that I can sometimes be arbitrary for the sake of being arbitrary – looking for an opportunity to be oppositional – but that is still not the source of the impulse.

At this point in my life – self-analysis does little more than foster self-pity, self-loathing and shame… which sends me looking for a way to bolster my ego. Looking for the source of the need at this point seems like little more than justification and permissiveness. Fake spiritual work.

Maybe I need to come at it all from the other end. What – in the present tense – do I need to let go of?

Maybe all that matters is stopping to ask the question,
Is this helpful?

Or am I just throwing chum in the water to avoid my own discontent?


The blackbirds are singing in the driveway.
That should be enough for the next few minutes.
The sun is rising.

“speak. stumble. be seen. be known, be known.

beloved.”

NEIL REID

I love it when the written language can give room to the misinterpretations/multiple interpretations that spoken language can offer our imagination.

“Be(-)loved”: affirmative imperative verb, adjective, noun.


I’ve struggled with what to call myself since I’ve committed myself to a very spiritual practice of “secular” Buddhism. (It isn’t easy to give up the feeling of belonging that labels can provide.) I don’t believe in a Buddha deity. But I’m following the eight-fold path, and I definitely believe in a spirituality of our existence as a part of all things.

I cherry-pick from my personal experience with religions. The childhood faith, which I mourn but cannot accept as a whole cloth faith. And I consistently question my cherry-picking with concern for well-intentioned, but ignorant appropriation.

As part of my morning meditation, I hear the words of a camp song: “Beloved, let us love one another” [1 st John 4:7-8 ] Please don’t look it up. I promise you, what you will find is not what I hear anyway. Words. Rhythms. They burn into our minds. As they are intended to.

But they are also uniquely embedded within each of us – within the contexts of our individual experiences – even if it is nothing more than an intonation of a single word: misheard, misunderstood, misremembered, and repeated enough to become real.

Beloved.

I believe we have to give in to the facts, and the poetry of our past and make it all work for us. I believe this includes the doctrines on which we may have been reared, and the healthy skepticism that personal experience demands for our mental/physical/spiritual health.

Beloved.

I tweak the words to another verse: I rewrite “His” as “It’s” to be more in accord with my recognition of the spiritual righteousness of Nature/God (thus circumventing the bearded old man concept of God the Father of my childhood).

I remember reading once that secular originally just meant temporal or “of this century”, and not necessarily at odds with religion and/or spirituality. With this definition it would seem all religions should encompass a set of secular guidelines for ethical behavior.

I didn’t intend to write about this when I sat down this morning. But aren’t we all digging continually in the wreckage of our own lives and purposing what we find?

Shouldn’t we be doing this always?


I’m taking part in a zoom reunion today with cast members of a production of Steel Magnolias – oh, so many years ago. It’s brought up things I haven’t thought about it years. I find myself ashamed of who I was then (-in a world of pain-).

I was surprised that they reached out to include me, and I feel a bit like I want to make reparations à la some kind of 12-step program. But I’m going to let it go. Let it be. And focus on the moment.

This is who I am in the world today:

10.10.2020 World Mental Health Day.

Beloved.