John Wood (1922-2012)Blackbird, Some Have Hunger, 1986Collage, cyanotype and graphite
The terrible things that have happened in recent days, the culmination of decades if not centuries of bad behavior and deliberate cynical acts of oppression, are not necessarily our fault– but they are our problem. We all need to be prepared for an extended period of re-introducing truth. It’s not enough to be not a racist, not a homophobe, or not violent, we have to be actively anti-racist, anti-homophobic, and non-violent. Taking care of the planet, taking care of one another, connecting the dots. It will involve much more than “liking” a post or “signing” an online petition– uncomfortable actual conversations will need to occur.
Never in my lifetime has it seemed more important to remember and acknowledge the life work of Martin Luther King, Jr. As a 14 year-old I attended the I Have a Dream speech on the Washington Mall, having joined the members of the Ithaca Friends Meeting on a bus to DC.
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
As folks who’ve been doing qigong with me these past four years have heard countless times, Chou-En Lai, when asked his opinion of the French Revolution, replied, “too soon to tell.”
Stacey Abrams has demonstrated the way forward, and it’s not flashy or social media-driven: it’s actual human connection and engagement, sustained over time with a long view, pulling back from the temptations and distractions of the moment.
I wanted to share a short essay that feels so timely. Here’s a quick pull quote and a link to the piece in The New York Times.
“Routines and rituals conserve precious brainpower. It turns out our brains are incredibly greedy when it comes to energy consumption, sucking up 20 percent of calories while accounting for only 2 percent of overall body weight. When our routines are disrupted, we have to make new predictions about the world — gather information, consider options and make choices. And that has a significant metabolic cost.”
The mind and heart react according to their well-worn habits. Whatever habit of mind you have now comes from your actions and thoughts of the past (however unexamined or unintentional they may have been). Whatever habits of mind you will have in the future depend on what you do or don’t do from now on. The way you spontaneously react in times of trouble is not fixed. Your mind, your heart, can be trained. Once you have a single experience of reacting differently, you will be encouraged. Next time it is more likely that you will take yourself in hand. Each time becomes easier than the last. And little by little you establish a new habit. When something difficult happens, you will train yourself to stop saying, “Damn! Why did this have to happen!” and begin saying, “Yes, of course, this is how it is, let me turn toward it, let me practice with it, let me go beyond entanglement to gratitude.” Because you will have realized that because you are alive and not dead, because you have a human body, and not some other kind of a body, because the world is a physical world and not an ethereal world, and because all of us together as people are the way we are, bad things are going to happen. It’s the most normal, most inevitable thing in the world. It’s not a mistake, and it isn’t anyone’s fault. And we can make use of it to drive our gratitude and compassion deeper.
(This was from a Jon Kabat-Zinn video. I transcribed this segment, which means that any mistakes are mine alone, he’s not responsible.)
Meditation is about living your life as if it really matters in the only time you’ll ever have. If you want more moments—if you want to live longer—the more moments you’re present for, the longer your life is. If you go on autopilot for ten years and miss what’s most important and most beautiful in your life, time goes by very quickly—and all of a sudden—whoops, how did this happen?
But you’d know what happened, if you’d been paying attention from moment to moment. And not only that, you can change the future . . . In my experience the only way you can change the future is by inhabiting the present. If you inhabit the present, the next moment, the future, is already different because you’re already here for this one. If you’re out to lunch for this one, it’s going to color the next one, more likely than not.
So if we really want to change the future, the only thing you can really do is own your life in the moment that you have. That is a huge, what I call orthogonal rotation in consciousness. Nothing changed—you’re still the same schlub you were before—except that you’re awake. And that exception is enormous. . . .
That’s what this is about: it’s about waking up from the somnabulence of automatic pilot. That has implications for learning, growing, healing, transformation, education—for virtually every human endeavor, because each of our endeavors, and the energy we bring to it, is no better than the quality of our attention, and the awareness that we can mobilize and embrace it.
In case you’ve been curious about what I’ve been up to lately, I’ve been spending the Pandemic doing a deep dive into my teacher’s amazing qigong form on Zoom every day since March 17th.
I’m hoping the classes and this site will re-create the feeling of community that we’ve enjoyed the last 16 years practicing together outside. This is such a strange moment in the universe, and maintaining strong loving connection, even over distances, seems very important.
I’m also hoping that this becomes a forum for a free exchange of ideas, and that you sign up for updates. I really want to know what you’re thinking and feeling.