The continuing journey

[This is the latest post in my Wayfinding series. It’s also published in the Pages section. It’s N0. 19]

Yes. Surviving through great adversity.

That may be the thing that has kept me on this path, kept me practicing the various mindfulness techniques and meditations that have come my way through the years.

Though I suppose my life is not really filled with “great adversity” as compared with much of what people go through in life, the emotional challenges that PTSD and daily life in family, school and community relationships sometimes threatened to overwhelm me. The therapy and associated practices I mentioned previously were a great help in working through the depression and anxiety that I faced.

I found journaling to be a great tool, especially combined with meditation and done in a meditative way. I had always done some kind of journaling since my college years, so it was natural. I took a very structured approach to it for a while, setting up several tracks and trying to follow each one on a near-daily basis, and that was helpful to clarify things. Eventually, I relaxed that approach and my journaling became sort of a loose, random approach. I’d write about whatever was going on in different areas of life in different notebooks, though that’s made it hard to go back and pull up a consistent narrative!

As a practice though, it seemed helpful to just write whatever came up as a means of getting it clear in my mind at the time. I didn’t do it with any intention of using it later, just working through things.

I also was engaged in a lot of discussion with my mother during those years of therapy and after. Though it was something I didn’t think of as practice at the time, in retrospect those discussion were, in fact, a deep and helpful process.

My mother was a deep and profoundly spiritual Christian, somewhat unconventional in much of her beliefs, but I think very true to the real meaning of Christ’s teachings as I understand them. She had long been skeptical of my Buddhist practices, and she never gave up on hoping that I’d “accept Jesus”— though I had been baptized at seven — but I think she eventually came to realize that my practices were good for me and made me the better person she hoped I would be. She told a friend later in life that she and I were the closest spiritually of the family.

Talking to her about all these spiritual things made me subject my ideas and practices to careful consideration and present them in non-dogmatic ways.

A poem that she shared with me in 1997, “Drench your soul,” seems to express her best response to our discussions. (I will share that poem in a separate Page here.)

Another practice, Grofian (holotropic) breath work, was also helpful to me as I worked through the deepest years of my depression. I went to a workshop in conjunction with training for hospice volunteering, and it was a powerful, slightly scary, deep opening kind of experience.

It is not something you can do on your own, but with an experienced guide, it’s a way to get through blockages and find release for pent up negative emotional energy. I suppose its a different experience for everyone, but in my notes following the session, I wrote, “Cycling through grief, release, understanding, deep gratitude, joy, laughter, bliss, ironic laughter and tears of happiness.”

The message from it all for me was, “I’m gonna make it! I can let go!”

Another parallel and amplifying practice for me during this time was also associated with the hospice training. We had several sessions over a few years of attentional skills training with Michael Lipson, whose approach to meditation comes from non-Buddhist sources, but it is very helpful.

During this same time, we began holding sesshin one weekend a year in Statesboro. Helping to organize and conduct these was also a practice in itself. We even held a few meditation sessions in the loft of my wife’s pottery workshop. Being responsible for others’ meditative practice is instructive and helped deepen my practice.

I began the Zen group in Statesboro with a few Sundays at the Unitarian Church, and a small group grew up around the meetings. Eventually, we began meeting monthly at a friend’s house outside of Stateboro, and it was a great group experience.

Somewhere in 2001, I began to do a phone dokosan — dharma teaching/mentorship by phone — with my teacher, Miki. He’s actually Roshi Michael Elliston, head of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, but we always called him Miki. It was often profound and usually helped me get back on track when my practice would start to slide for one reason or another… I think it was most helpful in answering the questions that occasionally arose, like “Why am I doing this?” He was, and I imagine still is, very good at bringing those theoretical Zen questions to bear on the real life difficulties of maintaining a practice.

On March 28, 2001, Miki ordained me as his disciple. It was at one of the Statesboro sessions and was very emotional and inspiring for me. It was really my formal decision or declaration that I was planning to stick with this Zen path.

I showed my mother a photo of me as I bowed and Miki placed the little rakusu around my neck, and she shuddered slightly! I just laughed, and she was actually okay with it after a moment, but it showed me that she never really could accept the whole thing. It’s all just too foreign to her, I suppose.

My friend Claire and I conducted a sesshin at the Atlanta center, but I never did much more as an actual disciple. Things didn’t continue for many years at the Statesboro center. The illness of one of the people who hosted the sesshins made it difficult, so most of the formal things there ended.

Later, controversy in the Atlanta center, most of which I was not part of and don’t remember much about, caused them to split into two groups. I attended a few sesshins in North Georgia organized by Red Clay Sangha, and they have continued to expand their activities over the past several years.

Events and developments in my life have made it hard for me to attend sesshin in the past several years, but it was a very helpful element of my practice that I may at some time resume when my responsibilities at home allow it.

Another important vector in my Buddhist practice was developing what I called “School is Zen.” That’s the next chapter in this story.

The elements of fascism

Because fascism is such an insidious thing, we must be vigilant and well-informed about how it looks in the early stages, before it’s too late.

[First published in November of 2016, this is pretty pertinent today, as the fascist elements released into our society by the Trump Effect are rampant, though seeming to lose much of their momentum lately. We need to remain vigilant.]

Fascism has been sneaking into our lives, into the hearts and minds of our countrymen, slipping into the national dialog in the guise of patriotism, strength, purity, religious piety, safety – all things that seem positive and non-threatening.

Trump and his appointees are pretty clearly leading us to an authoritarian state in the name of protecting us from “outsiders” and that’s why it’s problematic. From Dave Neiwert, a researcher on fascism who’s been following its rise for many years, here are a few of the characteristics that struck me as particularly noticeable in the current political climate:

— Attempted mass mobilization with militarization of political relationships and style and with the goal of a mass party militia
— Positive evaluation and use of, or willingness to use, violence
— Extreme stress on the masculine principle and male dominance, while espousing the organic view of society

— Specific tendency toward an authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of command, whether or not the command is to some degree initially elective. — [from Stanley Payne, in Fascism: Comparison and Definition]

— a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal constraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion. [from Robert Paxton’s definition of fascism]

From Paxton’s “mobilizing passions” of fascism:

— the belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against the group’s enemies, both internal and external;

— dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effect of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;

— the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny;

— the superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason;

From Roger Griffin: “Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and often presses for the destruction of elections, legislatures, and other elements of democracy.”

Neiwert’s entire essay is worth reading:

Latent cruelty

This has all been building up for a while, I know, but the last few weeks have seemed to be particularly offensive and painful to watch in America.

Reading John Pavlovitz’ latest blog post today seems to have crystalized in my mind a few things that have been bubbling around there for a while, too. He calls it The Trump Effect, and he lays out the development of it pretty clearly. It’s been remarked on before by others and I’ve certainly been thinking it since it began to surface during the T-thing’s administration, as racism and white supremacy began to be expressed in new and more open ways, violence increased and the quality of the national conversation began to decline daily. The slide away from truth and accuracy and decency in his daily rants had its effect.

There are lots of examples, and Pavlovitz relates some of the most egregious, but to me its in the essential failure of basic human compassion in the face of this raging pandemic that it is most clear.

How people can equate the simple discomfort and slight inconvenience of wearing a mask with putting other people–and other people’s children–at risk of serious, life-threatening disease has just been beyond me to understand. But seeing it as just another expression of the crass, stupid insensitivity to others that is at the heart of the Trump Effect helps me to understand it. It somehow makes these people feel empowered, self-righteous, justified in their own petty hatreds to be pretending that refusal to wear a mask or get vaccinated is somehow an exercise of their rights as an American.

So it’s not enough just to not do it, they have to proclaim their heroic stupidity and even harass others who are wearing masks and getting vaccinated. It’s so remiscinent of something…. what is it? Oh yeah. Nazi rallies. Book burnings. Klan rallies. Lynchings.

All these are of a piece. People venting their anger and fear and seeking justification in some kind of twisted version of “rightness.” Pavlovitz lays it clearly at the feet of Trump’s monstrous venom.

Though certainly not created then or by the man, for the first time in America’s history the latent ugliness in people was revealed and validated and celebrated by a sitting president—it was officially normalized. And what we’re experiencing now; this staggering, insensitive posturing in the face of so many people’s suffering, is the late-ripening fruit of something that has been set into the bedrock of half our nation. It is the malicious entitlement that MAGA was designed to nurture from the beginning.

If you’ve followed the rise of fascism in America over the past few decades, which has been documented by many including the guy on Orcinus, you know this strain of “americanism” has been festering under the surface, held in check by the sense of decency and fair play that is–at least I believe it is–a stronger, more truly American trait, but developing under cover of various rationalizations and facades. Trump’s legitimization of that strain is what has allowed the racism to swell along with all this other petty hatred. The whole development, of course, has been facilitated and exacerbated by the ease of vicious communication made possible by the internet and social media.

So now we are facing fascist America. Big Time. Trump’s America.

{Post script: My brother was one of the 599 people who died of of COVID in Florida yesterday, so this is all very personal to me. He was a victim of the anti-vax conspiracy theory wackos, didn’t get the shot, didn’t go to the hospital when he got sick. They kept him alive for weeks, but it ravaged him so that he eventually succumbed to a cardiac arrest.]

Pro-lifers really aren’t

A great column that goes far to explain why these Christians have pushed to such extreme positions on abotion, and showing just how un-Christian it really is. And how anti-life they really are.

John Pavlovitz