Thursday, June 23, 2016

Love Doesn't Always Make Things Easier


I am humbled to admit that for a long time, I held this against my mother: she struggled to raise me the rest of the way to adulthood alone. 

I have only realized this recently - meaning - I was aware I was angry with her, and upset/disturbed that some things went (on occasion, horribly) wrong in my adolescence. But recently I've come to understand I also associated those feelings with an assumption that somehow she loved me less.

Because if she had loved me more, wouldn't things have gone better?
Wouldn't it have been easier, for both of us if she had loved me more? Enough?
Luckily, just in time for me to see that these beliefs exist, I am able to let them go.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

My Orlando Post


Note: This post is primarily written for a white audience, suggesting better news connections for reading about Orlando and having a sense of "what to do".

I have been very careful with my media consumption this week. My first hit on what happened in Orlando came via Facebook, one of the first things I check when I wake. It came through a trustworthy queer friend, who is discerning about what he consumes. It was a good introduction to the basics, though, already at 7 am CDT, there was talk of Radical Islam behind all of it.

Speculation, side taking and assumptions are par for the course after a national tragedy. It is easier to say "This is the answer," or even, "This is the problem" than it is to reckon with the ultimate fact:
This situation is complex, multifaceted, and not easily addressed.

I mentioned to someone this week that I am thoroughly anti-gun.
Just don't like em.
It's pretty personal, more emotional than logical, though I have my logical reasons.
I never had them around as a kid, other than my brothers using our grandfather's rifle to shoot cans.
I don't feel comfortable around violence, and definitely think semiautomatics are way beyond necessary in any instance, even war.

That having been said, the tendency to jump to anti-gun/pro-gun control rhetoric tires me. So does the knee jerk tendency to jump to allyship for queer folks.
All stances, so sudden, so strong, exhaust me - even the ones I agree with wholeheartedly.

The point is not that I disagree. The point is that taking a tough stance, even if it is just on social media, exhausts me. Speaking only to one aspect - mental health, gun control, islamophobia - discounts the many other aspects (including, but not limited to) the actual presence of anti-gay sentiments in some Muslim communities, the incredible origins of violence and perpetuation of violence against particularly queer people of color in this day and age, and the lack of even an operational mental health system to actually address the core causes and issues of people who struggle with serious challenges.

This is a place where Buddhism comes through for me. When I feel helpless, I do Tonglen or Maitri/Metta to work with my own mind, but that is not even what I am talking about. What I am talking about is responses that respect the whole, like these from well-known Buddhist teachers. And this is also where listening carefully to queer and/or people of color leaders really comes through. I generally - and yes, this is a generalization - find that white thought leaders (and yes, I am white, and don't hate myself for it) don't speak to nuance. We don't have to. We aren't accustomed to it, we aren't sensitized to intersectionality.

So who are some of those folks? My personal favorites - some friends, some thought leaders I follow - by no means an exhaustive list, but a good pinhole into resources from mostly queer and mostly people of color thought leaders I have been following:
Angel Kyodo Williams (who also has an amazing co-authored title out THIS WEEK called Radical Dharma which faces the intersectionality of Buddhism and Race and Liberation with:)
Lama Rod Owens
Zaynab Shahar
Not1story on Twitter
Jay, Brown Menace on Twitter

If you are only following white media, and white thought leaders, please tune in to some of these or other folks who actually meet the demographics of those killed in this horrific tragedy. When people need your help, you need to ask: what help do they want from me? If they are asking for anti-gun legislation, then help support them in that. If they are asking for support in fighting homophobia, go for it - by supporting their causes.

Luckily, quite a bit of mainstream or side-mainstream media is picking up on the issues these folks are pointing to: 
Queer Muslims speak to what they need in these times.
And some more of that - so important - what Queer Muslims need in terms of support.
Undocumented folks have extra concerns post-Orlando.
Noting that the focus should be on Latinx LGBTQ survival for this event.
Forgotten and unmentioned in mainstream media major killing of LGBTQ at a bar years ago.
A queer Muslim writing about what it is like to not be welcome at an anti-racism pro-gay protest.

Diversifying your media input is always, always helpful, but especially in instances like this. 

Side benefit: instead of getting caught up in politicking and slogans and quick reactions of white media, you can relax into the depth of suffering going on. Though that may sound less pleasant, in general queer people of color have known for a long time this is a battle that won't end soon. They are more patient and have more stay power than the fragile whites among us. 


Thursday, June 09, 2016

Relentless Gentleness


It may seem funny to pair the word "relentless" with the word "gentleness", but this is what I am working with more and more. I can be a somewhat relentless person - relentless in business (note I did not say ruthless), in personal relationships, in working on/with myself. However, that relentlessness can be quite tiring, has been exhausting, in fact. And so I am learning that my gentleness needs to be as relentless as the more common things associated with relentlessness:
ambition
appetite
striving.

What does relentless gentleness look like?
For me it looks like

1. Holding space in my schedule for resting, protecting time with cats, meditation, exercise.
2. Standing my ground against my own self-hating tendencies, the ones that push me too hard to work.
3. Leveraging the same pushy bits of myself that force me to work, to criticize and instead use those forces to force myself to rest, relax, just hang out.

It's a ground teaching in Vajrayana Buddhism that the place from where our confusion arises is also from where our wisdom is born. This relentlessness in myself is not inherently bad - it's strength, resilience and dedication. How I apply it, on the other hand, changes everything. Learning to direct the need to be committed and clear towards kindness is key; changing the tack of the sail of "get it done" to "make sure I sleep a full nine hours" is tricky but rewarding. And slowly but surely, the strengthened gentleness takes over more easily when the seemingly more powerful self-critic tries to take the reins.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Calm Mind During Crisis


It's been a rough couple of weeks around here, struggling with depression and anxiety for us both, as well as some potentially difficult changes in income and schedule. But I have found something very interesting out about my own mind. When I am in an actual crisis - a chance of physical damage or threat, possibility of life or limb lost, I am very clear about my choices. I can choose clearly what is needed for the situation, and separate out emotional needs from physical ones, prioritizing both, holding the paradox when they come into conflict with each other.

However, when the crisis is more emotional or mental, when it is a mental health challenge of either mine or my wife's, I lose a lot of that clarity. I know this likely doesn't sound that surprising, but it's been powerful to observe how that happens - when there is an external threat or cause, I can see clearly. When it is more internal or relational, things get foggy.

In particular, when I am struggling with my own depression or anxiety, I don't reach out for help. I don't value the need for self-care as much as I do when the cause seems immediate and obvious. It's not even that I resist being vulnerable - I am pretty ok with that. This all happens at a much deeper, less obvious level, wherein I don't even consider contacting anyone. It only becomes obvious to me I am avoiding getting support when I begin to avoid incoming calls, texts or emails asking how I am.

I am inspired by the calmness of my mind when things are externally rough. I am inspired to apply that, to find ways to engage it - through mediation, breathing, loving kindness and tonglen - knowing it is there helps me to trust I can build it for more difficult emotional times.

And at times like this, when I can get some clarity and relief - like I have today - I am grateful. So grateful for the teachings, my teachers, my students. So grateful for practice. I can feel how lucky I am - to have a loving partner, a good community and amazing opportunity to access teachings that help me not just survive but thrive. Wow. Yes.

PS Extra gratitude for the GoFundMe campaign, which reached our goal of $5000 by June 1 for the next volume of the Way of Seeing: Heart of Perception by John McQuade and myself. Double wow!

Friday, May 20, 2016

High Stakes Practice - Between Mother's Day and My Birthday

Here's my talk from last night's weekly Dharma Gathering at the Madison Shambhala Center. In it I discuss the idea that everyone may have been your mother (and what that might mean for your practice if you and your mom don't get along, or, for instance, if your mom is dead, like mine). As well, we weave in the slogan "Self Hatred Never Helps," plus seeing the enemy that is us as the friend that is us, and more.

40 minutes.
Listen here.