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: http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2015/11/donald-trump-may-not-be-fascist-but-he.html

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.

JohnPavlovitz.com

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

Election challenges

The Orange one’s fascist

project to challenge the election

A final nail in the coffin of the Orange one’s desperate attempt to convince the world that he was cheated out of his throne just came from a district court judge in Michigan.

We all know, at least those of us still capable of rational thought, that it was a massive scam and an international disgrace, but the judge does a great job of laying it out.

It probably won’t convince those who drank the Orange Jim Jones’ coolaid, but it is at least confirmation at the highest level that this is nothing short of an illegal insurrection.

According to the National Law Journal report (rerun on law.com‘s Daily Report Aug. 25), the judge censures a group of lawyers–one of whom is Georgia Attorney Lin Wood–for their actions in the election fraud challenges. The whole group has been referred to their licensing states for potential disbarment.

“U.S. District Judge Linda Parker issued the orders in response to motions for sanctions filed by lawyers for the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan over the quickly rejected election challenge.”

The Law Journal

Those sanctioned are part of conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell’s team. The judge says the group showed bad faith in trying to use the judicial process to frame a public narrative for which there was no evidentiary or legal support.

“This lawsuit represents a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process,” Law Journal quotes Parker from the opening to her opinion. “It is one thing to take on the charge of vindicating rights associated with an allegedly fraudulent election. It is another to take on the charge of deceiving a federal court and the American people into believing that rights were infringed, without regard to whether any laws or rights were in fact violated. This is what happened here.”

It’s a pretty strong condemnation of the whole effort.

Parker also said that the election challenge “was never about fraud—it was about undermining the people’s faith in our democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so.”

This is all so clearly a fascist project aimed at pushing such a big lie that people believe it simply because it’s normal to think that no one would say such outrageous things unless there was some basis in fact.

It’s a tactic borrowed from the playbook of Hitler and Mussolini and has no place in our national process. These people should be disbarred, humiliated and prosecuted. Everything they stand for should be exposed to the light of public scrutiny and revealed for exactly what it, and its inspiration, is: a deceitful attempt to grab power.

The judge continues:

“But when viewed collectively, they reveal an even more powerful truth: Once it appeared that their preferred political candidate’s grasp on the presidency was slipping away, plaintiffs’ counsel helped mold the predetermined narrative about election fraud by lodging this federal lawsuit based on evidence that they actively refused to investigate or question with the requisite level of professional skepticism—and this refusal was to ensure that the evidence conformed with the predetermined narrative (a narrative that has had dangerous and violent consequences),” Parker said.

She goes on to explicitly show that the free speech these charlatans have claimed in their defense is not the same as that offered on public forums, because they were presenting affidavits to a court, which are required to reflect the truth, not speculation, conjecture and guesswork.

She specifically notes that lawyers presenting a case in court are not the same as journalists and are held to a higher standard of truth.

The judge wrote:

“It is not acceptable to support a lawsuit with opinions, which counsel herself claims no reasonable person would accept as fact and which were ‘inexact,’ ‘exaggerate[ed],’ and ‘hyperbole. Nor is it acceptable to use the federal judiciary as a political forum to satisfy one’s political agenda. Such behavior by an attorney in a court of law has consequences. Although the First Amendment may allow plaintiffs’ counsel to say what they desire on social media, in press conferences, or on television, federal courts are reserved for hearing genuine legal disputes which are well-grounded in fact and law.”

Four other judges around the country have recently passed down similar decisions related to Powell and other lawyers involved in election lawsuit cases. I hope these judicial responses put this foolishness to rest at last.

Climate denial

You’re already talking about, as we said, already experiencing more extremes, so we’re already experiencing enhanced hazards as a result of climate change. And every bit of warming, whether it’s above or below one-and-a-half degrees C, increases the risks that we face. So, anything we can to limit the amount of warming will reduce the hazards we’re creating for ourselves.

Bob Kopp, Rutgers

Clarifying words from the UN-sponsored report that came out this week, a report that makes starkly clear that the threat of climate change/global warming is real — and dire. And further confirmation that it’s the extremes that are effect of climate change, not just warmer numbers. In my simplified version of this a few weeks ago, I made the point that heat powers change and creates all kinds of extremes.

John Sauven adds a few of the details in his remarks to Democracy Now:

You can just read the headlines — you know, the wildfires out of control in Greece and Turkey, the heat domes in California and, you know, British Columbia in Canada, the wildfires out of control in Siberia, the floods in Germany and in China. You just look anywhere around the world, and you see climate catastrophe unfolding.

John Sauven, UK Director of Greenpeace

And he doesn’t mention the fires in Oregon and other west coast areas that are devastating whole towns, threatening to spread destruction and smoke across the country.

The report also is very clear — the clearest language yet — on the point that it’s what we humans do that’s making it happen so fast. Kim Cobb, one of the authors of the UN report, points out in the Democracy Now report, that they’re now saying, with full scientific consensus, that the human connection is unequivocal.

Well, this report is obviously an unprecedented new foundation for our science and our world at this critical moment. It is something that involved hundreds of authors over the last three years and really assessed the relevant scientific literature across 14,000 different articles in the published, peer-reviewed literature to make assessments as to where we are with human-caused climate change and where we’re going and what lies ahead in the choices that we have to make. So, really, a stunning, historic pillar in our field and a reminder of the futures that we have to choose in the next decades. … We’re going from “virtually certain” human-caused climate change in the last report to “unequivocal” wording for this report in terms of human influence on climate, and thinking about piling up on the absolutely factual column more and more and more aspects of the impacts of climate change. And this report, I think, makes a very strong emphasis on the rising climate and weather extremes, that have been more uncertain in previous reports. This year, the science has — over the last years, the science has matured to the point that a lot of strong wording in this report around the links between human-caused climate change and any number of different climate extremes.

Kim Cobb, Ga. Tech

It’s clear and very strongly supported by the scientific community — 14,000 articles — that this is the case. Which leaves the climate-change deniers with nothing but bluster to rely on. Denial of the need for action on this issue is just based on the selfish, greedy refusal of the industrial world to take responsibility for their huge part in this problem. Their words ring hollow in the face of the overwhelming evidence that’s been gathered in decades of research. The petroleum, coal, power and auto industries are among the worst, and they have lots of paid voices that present pseudo-science to cover their refusal to make changes that might cost their stockholders money.

And, of course, they have lots of paid lobbyists and lawyers to cajole and threaten our representatives so they are afraid to do anything about this issue. Even the half-hearted provisions in the infrastructure bill and other recent legislation doesn’t seriously take on the corporate roots of resistance to action to improve the situation.

I look at what’s happening around the world, the weather going crazy, people dying, children’s future threatened, and I seriously wonder what it will take for our leaders to do something.

Blithering idiots

Yes, that’s a bit of an angry, unkind and vicious name-calling for a title!

I won’t try to defend it as justified, but I’m somewhat at a loss as to how to characterize what is happening with folks in our community, and, it seems, the nation as well. Much of what I see from folks who have been sucked into the “orange experiment”–as someone has dubbed the past few years–just seems to be blithering. Talking for effect and pandering to people who’ve abdicated their rational responsibility to critical thinking, evaluation, sorting through things for themselves. And not really making a whole lot of sense. That’s what I mean by blithering.

And they could fairly be called idiots in the sense that many of them just don’t really know much at all about what they’re blithering about. They haven’t bothered to look into the history, the scientific facts, even the reality of current reports floated on social media and propaganda masquerading as news sites, such as Fox News. They just take what someone they have decided to admire says as truth and repeat it without thought.

Locally we have just seen the impact of such blighted thinking on our school board.

The superintendent — responding to the CDC call and the obvious spike in COVID cases in our state and our county — had announced that masks would be required and caution would be exercised as school opens next week. Then the semi-republican echo chamber began to react to the idea of mask requirements, ranting and roaring about “standing up for our rights” and government mandates and other such phrases that have been put out to manipulate them. This week, the board held a special meeting and said the superintendent couldn’t mandate masks and school would be normal.

I want to call each of the four who voted to do this and ask, “Have you looked at the recent data?” Our county has seen rates go up by a factor of six times in the last few weeks, and the state has quadrupled its rate. We had four people in the hospital last week, this week we had 12 and in the past few days there have been 16 hospitalized. This is a tiny community and that’s a significant change. The curve is now going nearly straight up on that graph.

It is literally incomprehensible to me that people think that being asked to wear a mask in public is some kind of effort to exercise government control over their lives. They have long accepted that we expect kids to meet certain standards when they come to school, that we stop at red lights, that we follow laws and reasonable standards of behavior on the roads that make things work for everyone. That’s what this is. Not some violation of rights. The constitution doesn’t mention the right not to wear a mask

And then we have the true fascist, Florida governor DeSantis, who has ordered that any school district who does mandate masks will lose funding. So, being asked to wear a mask is infringing on someone’s rights, but the governor dictatorially mandating what a supposedly independent school board does is defending freedom? It truly boggles the mind the degree of twisted thinking, propagandized mentality required to think that way.

People who blast out about “standing up for our rights” by refusing to mask up or get vaccinated are somehow imagining themselves as some kind of hero. It’s really sad when there are so many places, so many issues that we truly need to stand up for our rights about, and these folks just don’t notice those things. Things like the blatant racism in our community, the inequity at the heart of the economic system, the injustice that is visited on poor or even middle class people every day by our legal system, homelessness and PSTD in our veteran population, hungry children and other issues that threaten to undermine the functioning of our democratic way of life — why are these people not worried about “standing up for our rights” on these issues?

I don’t blame social media for this turn of events, but it does seem to be making it worse. It gives people a platform to easily and freely spout un-researched, ill-considered notions that are absorbed without reflection by a numbed audience, all full of self-congratulatory blithering and self-righteous ignorance.

Candidates for local political office are “announcing” on social media platforms, reducing the political process to some kind of debased level of unhealthy posturing and attacks beyond even the low levels we’ve been seeing in TV political ads.

It’s all pretty discouraging to see. Especially as the pandemic threatens to once again disrupt daily life to an intolerable degree.

Selfishness…

John Pavlovitz, a progressive Christian blogger whose critique of the recent Fascist (he doesn’t use that term, I don’t think) surge in the American political landscape aligns well with my own, has spoken out strongly in the past year about the pandemic and the poor response from his fellow Christians.

His blog is Stuff That Needs to be Said at johnpavlovitz.com, and the post today pretty much summarizes the problem with vaccine hesitancy/resistance as one of plain selfishness. Which thoroughly indicts Christians who buy into the whole fascist republican stance on all this for the hypocrites they are, professing as they do to follow a spiritual leader whose most powerful message was “Love one another as I have loved you.”

As a former mega-church youth minister who was fired for refusing to support racist policies, he is well-acquainted with the fundamentalist approach and has very thoroughly debunked all that. This post today clarifies much about how and why these pseudo-Christians think the vaccine is not something they need to do. He says, starkly:

Selfishness is America’s second deadly virus and it may be one we cannot overcome.

And he makes it clear that it’s pretty un-Christian at heart:

I wish there was a vaccine that could make these people give a damn about other human beings; that we could inoculate them against whatever toxic cocktail of ignorance, fear, arrogance, political tribalism, and bad religion that has rendered them resistant to the suffering of others.

I suppose this shouldn’t have been a surprise. I imagine their denials of the virus and their refusal to mask and their defiance of safeguards should have tipped me off, but still I did not expect this entrenched and strident refusal to help other people, especially the many who claim to follow a “love your neighbor” Jesus.

And the prognosis for the country is also quite stark:

Until love and mercy and kindness take hold in the hearts of these people, until they are burdened with the common good, that lack of empathy will be a sickness that will destroy us.

I hope that he’s not right. I hope that goodness and mercy will prevail. I hope at least that these people will eventually recognize that the cost/benefit ratio for taking the vaccine militates in favor of reasonable action instead of this self-absorbed, ignorant attitude that puts ones own comfort ahead of the life and health of a whole nation.

The climate

In support of my thoughts on the seriousness of the climate change/global warming situation, I’m posting a link to a recent news report from the LA Times. I hope the link works for everyone. If not, Googling “Summer of disaster: Extreme weather wreaks havoc worldwide as climate change bears down” will likely turn it up.

The report links all the recent increasing extreme weather to global warming, and it gives the scientific explanations for how those things are connected. It’s a bit more in detail than my simple notion that heat powers everything, but it bears that core notion out pretty well, I think.

A seminal paragraph:

The scenes of desperation and devastation in Zhengzhou added to a portfolio of disasters this year that have raised the specter of irreversible climate change as never before and offered glimpses of what it means to live on a warming planet where human survival grows more fraught.

LA Times July 21

There are lots of similar reports out there, though your climate denier friends and Congressmen have likely not read any of it. Sorta like the mental blinders that the folks wear who want to claim Jan. 6 Capitol rioters were just a bunch of tourists…

The link:

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-07-21/extreme-weather-worldwide-climate-change-disasters

Longleaf Dream (2000)

“Only the rarest of characters have genuine insight into the future or the past, and those seem crippled with grief at what they see.”

Barbara Kingsolver, 1992

I wake to moonlight and wind, old pines soughing in the night.

Three A.M. moon bright through my window, alive through the needles.

I sigh with the trees; I want to sleep but moon and pine song draw me out.

My dreams turn to memories of lost landscapes: the wiregrass prairie, Longleaf’s domain, stretching forever, covering coastal plain.

Like imagined lost lovers grieved for in the night, I grieve with the pines the loss of their mothers, fathers, lovers and friends, the loss of a world rampant with life, our birthright traded for a mess of porridge.

Tears slide slowly down my cheeks, and my chest aches with unreleased sobs.

What madness is this that comes in the night? How can I explain?

Who would believe?

:That I suffer the loss of the old growth forests like the loss of a child;

:That I feel the pain of what has been done like a blade in my chest;

:That sitting here in the moonlight, I feel the the attacks on the long-lost landscape as attacks on my body, as a deep abiding pain, an ache of heart and chest and head;

:That I am “crippled with grief” at what I see, immobilized by rage at what has been lost, at what cost… and at what gain.

How to explain?

Hobbling through life, heart bursting, lips frozen in a silent scream.

But the sweet moonlight pours over me yet like honeysuckle scent. Tears of crystal grief sparkle.

The pines’ sad songs are soft lullaby, and at length, I sleep.

In dreams, I walk along in moonlight down ancient corridors of pine!

(From a journal sometime around the year 2000.)