Thursday, June 26, 2014

Feeling the Pull

I miss you. I really do. There's so much on my mind right now, so much I want to share and consider here.

I'll be back soon, I promise.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Guest Post: Free Tibet?

From rainbowsummits.com

A guest post from my husband, writer, artist, and generally wonderful human being, on the 25th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square massacre.


Twenty-five years ago today, the Chinese army opened fire on its own civilians. These civilians were students protesting for democratic rights. They were unarmed. Apparently arresting the protesters didn't satisfy the government, because on June 4th, 1989, tanks opened fire, killing...how many? We don't know. Estimates range from the high hundreds to the thousands.

Why don't we know? Because in the twenty-five years since then, the Chinese government has arrested and detained anyone who will write or talk about the massacre. It has burned newspapers and scrubbed textbooks and censored the Internet. Repeat, it has removed references to the massacre from the Internet in China, with the cooperation of Google China and Yahoo China. To talk about June 4th -- in the privacy of your own home! -- is grounds for indefinite detainment.

It's said that you cannot keep a cover-up hidden unless you are willing to kill or kidnap anyone who might talk. Well, that's exactly what the government of China has done.

It's not Tibet that needs to be freed. Free the citizens of China from the Chinese government. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hi! My name is...

What is it that makes undivided reality appear to be a world of separate, transient objects? What makes each of us believe that we are the body rather than our own Self? The sages answered with a story still told after thousands of years. Imagine, they said, a man dreaming that he is being attacked by a tiger. His pulse will race, his fists will clench, his forehead will be wet with the dew of fear--all just as if the attack were real. He will be able to describe the look of the tiger, the way he smelled, the sound of his roar. For him the tiger is real, and in a sense he is not wrong; the evidence he has is not qualitatively different from the kind of evidence we trust when we are awake. People have even died from the psychological effects of a potent dream. Only when we wake up can we realize that our dream-sensations, though real to our nervous system, are a lower level of reality than the waking state.
--Eknath Easwaran, Introduction, Bhagavad Gita

(I seem to have an unsolicited, uncultivated talent for upsetting folks, and I don't mean to do it now, but I have to write what's on my mind, so please, view it with the Best Interpretation Possible.)

I've been turning over non-duality as a concept in my head and in my hands for weeks now. It seems entirely radical to me. It is the opposite of separation: the interconnected-ness of all things and all people--and not in any tree-hugging, Pacific Northwest, communal farmer way, but in a sloppy, insecure, dust-of-the-earth, touching the gross, quivery nastiness of humanity way.

Everything about the way I was raised reinforces the separateness of people, and of the divine from the mundane. I learned early on that I am a black woman, that being one had powerful repercussions, that it was often confusing at best and threatening at worst. There were many people on the planet who were black, and many people who weren't black, and that fact dictated a lot about how we related to and treated each other. There were passwords and code indicators you had to know, and not being able to say Shibboleth cost you (me) a lot in relationship. Racial identity was flexible, dynamic, but also an indelible lens through which I understood myself and the world around me. So it goes also with things like gender and nationality.

Faith was an even more complicated division. Not only did the tradition I was raised in encourage my separateness from other people of other faiths, but it put forth a kind of separateness between me and the Divine. I, like the rest of us on the planet, was born into sin, it said. I must use an intermediary to connect to God, it said. We are separate beings, and can only hope to be connected through a complicated series of behaviors and beliefs, it said.

So with these identities firmly in grasp, I lived for a while. I hurt a lot of people (and was hurt deeply by lots of people) for employing these lenses as part of my world view. Sometimes I was pushy and militant, sometimes I was accommodating and inclusive. But I was always living, viewing and interacting with life grounded deeply in the skin of my own experience: my feminine body, my brown body, my God-fingerprint-between-my-eyes body--all of it was how I knew the world.

Lately I've been reading some theology? philosophy? that makes me wonder. This flesh suit that I wear through the world, it's just a case, so says this theology. It holds the good ideas and the compassion, the fury and the frustration, and almost all of those are created by the giant lump of nerve cells at the top of it. But beyond the flesh-case and the lump of nerves there is a part of me that is ethereal and divine and beyond all the sensory and cognitive lenses and interpretations of life. What if these sages are onto something? What if that Namaste that we mutter to each other at the end of asana class isn't just cliche, but is a real salute, a certain and legitimate acknowledging of the Divine Spark that is housed within my flesh suit? What if beneath the bones and adipose and smooth muscle, in my transcendent body, I am Love?

What if, the same Love that dwells in me also dwells in my husband?
What if the same Love that dwells in my husband also dwells in that waitress he was checking out last week? (she was kinda hot)
What if the same Love that dwells in me and my husband and the hot waitress also dwells in that woman who still holds anger toward me?
What if the same Love that dwells in me and my husband and the hot waitress and the woman with the anger in her fist is also in the senator who wants control of my reproductive rights? And the #22 bus driver? And the clerk at Falafill? And POTUS? And every angry, hurting, shooter who has yet to pick up an automatic assault rifle? And the corrupt official abusing his wives on the other side of the planet?

What if we, all of us, carry with us the spark, like tiny, magnificent, glowing grains of rice, that is g_d? If it lives in all of us, whether we believe it's there or not, regardless of how we name it or commune (or don't) with it? What if the thing that is the Divine already dwells inside me? I don't have to sign or pledge or practice anything.

This feels incredibly radical to me. What it means is that the lenses we've been using to define ourselves and to understand the world--our race, our orientation or gender, our citizenship status or nationality--are irrelevant. Or greater still, the elements of our experience we thought were lenses aren't lenses; they're veils.

Usually, when someone says something like this, they're a white person (man) who just wants everyone who doesn't identify with and like them to assimilate. Why don't you water down your cultural experience and be more like me? English only please. All roads lead the This Particular Kind of American Experience. I hope it's clear that I'm not saying that. Still, I know that when I start saying that how we identify doesn't matter, or shouldn't people get very twitchy and start taking it personally.

I used to love writing and reading about the particular nature of my racial experience in America. I felt I was telling a story that hadn't been heard, and doing so with reverence and respect and maybe a little bit of challenge for my audience. But it was deeply important.

I think now that I was soaking in the experience of my body to do that. I think that the same eyes I use when I see the man pull the rabbit out of the hat are the eyes I use to notice my blackness. I might be saying that the existence of race is an illusion. (It occurs to me now that maybe this was Mary Patillo's point all along. But man, she was dry and tired about it. I wanted so much more from my classroom experience with her.)

I'm not advocating that we should all seek an ascetic life devoid of the trappings, that we should absent ourselves from our bodily, sensory experience and seek transcendence on a higher plane. (Having said that, those caves do look alluring sometimes. I've surprised myself by the number of times that I've wanted to absent from the goings-on, but it's just an act; I wouldn't last an hour.)

Is it possible that our race, our gender, our sexuality, our nationality, our political affiliation: is it possible that the labels that we wear can be a way to move beyond the need for labeling at all? I'm not asking in a kumbaya sort of way if our differences can bring us together. I'm asking if its possible for our labels to move us toward a place where we see our labels don't matter, and where we see the labels of others, and ultimately how little they matter too?

I don't know. I would imagine there's someone who's reading this who still feels quite threatened by it. I suppose letting go can be threatening. We've been holding onto, defining, knowing ourselves this way for so many months, years, decades. (Lifetimes?) To let go, to know ourselves in the place beyond language-based labeling might sound like No Great Shakes.

But I think it might be the only way.

Monday, February 24, 2014

dormant.

It has been so hard to make language here lately. Thinking, thinking, but writing not the friend it once was. I don't know what it is anymore. But, a short sample of image to share that has kept me company this quiet, heavy, sleepy season.

I ache for spring like the seed that knows the clock is ticking.















Monday, January 20, 2014

sitting quietly at the feet of my teachers


"Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love."

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Close-together love

It's been difficult for me to write here lately. I've been thinking about a lot, and while I often enjoy this space as a space for thinking aloud (which is how I throw down) some of what's on my mind is still in that dark, mossy, hidden-under-a-rock stage. It's true, I suppose that I'm holding something back from you, but it's not in malice or distrust. I'm just trying to think about a thing, and before I can think out loud about it, I have to do it quiet and in the dark.

Did I say here recently that I've been thinking about love? It's on my mind, it feels as if the word's been following me, although I'm not complaining. But I've been moving slowly, trying to figure out what the next chapter of life holds for me, and here are some of the images that come my way.

Ah, Cornell West. I might not always appreciate your particular brand of political style, but I do love your words. "What love looks like in public" seems to have a sweet kind of resonance now that Illinois has joined 15 other states in validating a particular civil right (now, can we resume fighting for incarcerated black men who need to be treated as humans and not a pest problem? I just have to ask...). What love looks like in public: how our systems honor our myriad beliefs, how our institutions care for our citizens. What if we had justice that did look like love? Or, what does a small act of justice look like? What does it mean for you to be, show, do love-as-justice right now, today, to one other human being?

There's this one, too.

I made this one my lock screen because it feels so important. It's Che Guevara, someone I know nothing about--I see his face silkscreened onto onsies, and I want to buy them for every woman I know who's having a baby; what stops me is the low likelihood that the moms I know would actually dress their kids in clothes with Che's face on it. It would either be too ironic, or there's an enduring ignorance of Che and his enduring legacy. Still, it sounds nice to consider love as an act of revolution. I think the real revolution would be if that love manifested itself in diplomacy, advocacy, education and compassion, and not occupation, violence, bullets and explosives. It's not impossible.

I wrote this post recently as a kind of call to love-as-engagement: to love means to buy in, to a community, to a relationship, to an experience. Participate. Now I am thinking of love as a choice.

When I was younger, I think I remember my mother saying to me that you could choose who you fell in love with. (I wonder if she said this in order to communicate with me that she wanted me to choose a "certain" kind (gender? race? religious affiliation?) of person to fall in love with.) At the time I remember thinking that seemed inconceivable to me. Love is... powerful. It felt like magnetism, not just like lust. Love seemed like... like a plant finally, finally blossoming in the sun it's always needed to grow joyfully skyward. Love makes people behave stupidly. How could anyone control that? How could you look at your lover and say, "hm, no, I've decided not to love you after all." I mean, come on. If it were that easy, would we even have break up songs?

I feel quite different from the rest of my community lately. I don't mean special, just different. After Thanksgiving, I realize how different I am from the people who raised me. Many of them are kind, warm and generous with me, and they try to know me and to understand what matters to me, but we are different. After last weekend, I realize how different I am from the family I married into. The difference between us seems pretty insurmountable. At times I wish we were less different; or more accurately, I wish my families were more like me. I wish I didn't have to field so many questions about my interracial marriage or my dining choices or my spiritual practice. I wish we had more in common politically. It gets old, and it reinforces my belief that I'm the family's black sheep. It would make the holidays an easier experience.

I feel like there's rhetoric in black pop culture that says you didn't choose your family but you gotta love 'em 'cause they're your family. Usually it's someone from at least one and often two generations back, declaring this in a booming low voice in order to resolve some years-long conflict. Do you "gotta love 'em"? What does that mean? Does that mean that you put up with behavior that hurts you, or that you don't say anything about it when a relationship pains you? Does it mean you roll your eyes when your grandfather says homophobic things after dinner but you stay quiet, that you don't call your aunt on her racist remark? Does it mean that you avoid talking about what matters to you because no one will agree and it's better to keep the peace than to speak the truth?

I don't know. I wish I did. The more I think about love, the more I wonder if it's not an experience that has to exist between people.

I've often thought that love was an act of will. Like, you can't make someone love you, but you can will yourself to love somebody. I've heard a friend of mine describe love like bedtime: you do all the things you do that read love to you, and you sort of trick yourself into feeling love and trust that when you get there, the love will have arrived. She also described forgiveness this way, but I don't think it worked for her.I don't think this is how love works, that you fake it on the outside and hope you'll feel it on the inside.

I think maybe love means you have to keep choosing over and over to put yourself with people that make you feel vulnerable and exposed. May you'll be exposed to joy and compassion and beautiful closeness; maybe you'll be exposed to unkindness and belittling and biting judgment. But through it all, you see the people you want to love with the eyes of god. You look at them as struggling, scared little people who want, just like you, to love and be loved. You do your best to love them, even though they hurt you--because they will, even when they don't mean to, or don't want to, this is certain--and when they hurt you, you try to love them through that hurt.

And if they really can't be nice to you, if being with them means you get hurt over and over and over again, then you love them from far, far away. Until you can learn to love each other close together.

I wish for us all people with whom we can share close-together love.