Monday, December 19, 2016

Creating Narrative in the Age of Trump

19 December 2016
On the Spiritual Life

It sounds all so mawkish and maudlin but what we see before us is a tipping point in history.  We will be mocked for our desolation and ridiculed for cynical despair.  We will tell ourselves stories to reject  cheerless defeatism and encourage each other with hopeful admonitions to action.  Well and good, I say, we will need redress however we can find it.  We will need plans to thwart the plunder of decency and the exploitation of this beautiful earth.  But make no mistake about it: humanity has taken a turn that portends changes we cannot reverse or merely anul with good intentions or soporific spiritualities.

Today I am sure of this: the forlorn cries you hear inside yourself are not mere crestfallen hopes, they are the chorus of truth coming to terms with a vision, it is the end of the republic as we have known it and the rise of an authoritarianism from which we may never recover.  Why so bleak, you say?  Because there is more at stake than four years of political reversals and rejections that mean to undo and refuse so much hard-won progress.  The facts of climate change, the proliferation of statism and merciless war will bring outcomes and recriminations that may be irreparable.  Today is a day for grief equitable to these losses and honest to the facts of that insipid reality.

Tomorrow we must take up again the task to endure and procure what decency there is to a world bent upon its dissolution.  For some the path may be reinvention, as we confront what is most important and try to find a way.

For my part, "yoga" has always been of _this world_, with little concern for the weariful claims to unconditional realities and blissful banalities.  Yoga has always meant an affirmation of the human condition for all of its foibles and inadequacies, not so that we might offer some respite or balm, much less some prosaic claim to "realization," but rather so that we might find the resilience to persist in our shared humanity.  We discover in that common human condition all that is good and all that is not.  There is no parsing of one without the other.  There is no final mitigation that provides unqualified solace.  There is only the time we take to care for each other.

I mean to contend with the inclusion of all that is hidden in the shadow and revealed in the light without false consolations or self-proclaimed solutions.  We will not "cure" our human condition because we were never perfect and will never be. So, I will continue to tell the kinds of stories, as best I can, that allow us to inhabit ourselves more fully as human beings born into a world that is full of all of its wonder and includes all of our failures.  There are bright days ahead because life itself confers the astonishment of living and, with the blessing, the company too of great souls.  So long as our living is unfinished we will need more ways to tell our stories.  We mustn't fail to celebrate when we can, all that we can. We are going to need each other more than ever.  Love your life, that was my teacher's teaching.  Find every way you can to share that, however you can.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving, Mr. President-Elect. Here's my plan.

Thursday, November 24, 2016
I hope we all have some time to rest today, on Thanksgiving. Time to reflect, even learn. So save this one for later, when you have a chance. It'll put you right to sleep. Or not. It's a lesson from Sanskrit, never all that easy because all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare. 
धृतराष्ट्र उवाच ।
धर्मक्षेत्रे कुरुक्षेत्रे समवेता युयुत्सवः ।
मामकाः पाण्डवाश्चैव किमकुर्वत सञ्जय ॥ १-१॥
In the opening salvo of the Bhagavadgita, the blind king Dhrtarāshtra spoke knowing too well that his own army and that of the Pandava were "itching for a fight." There is no turning back because their hearts are set upon their differences. Their differences are real and the calumny warrants the sentiment. To express that sentiment the Sanskrit word in the text is "yuyutsavas." It means "desiring to do battle," "belligerent for a fight," we might say, "battle hungry." This is masculine nominative plural of the rare desiderative form used here as an adjective. Got that? In the complex algorithms of Sanskrit grammar it takes 16 rules from Panini's magnificent Ashthādhāyī, the complaisantly titled "Eight Chapters" to create just this one form --- all rules assiduously applied in just the right ways, and just for this one word. I will spare you the math. You can trust me on this. I've got your back, but today it's about far more than arcane grammar. Today this one word means something even more to me. Because I'm not giving in. I'm going to be yuyutsavah for as long as it takes to wage this battle. I will never be less battle hungry for what awaits us. It is my heart's Thanksgiving Day wish. Hear me, Mr President-elect, there will be no reconciliation, no peace made with the likes of you.

Charles Blow of The NYTimes expresses my sensibilities perfectly. He writes about President-elect Trump, "I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, but rather to speak up for truth and honor and inclusion. This isn’t just about you, but also about the moral compass of those who see you for who and what you are, and know the darkness you herald is only held at bay by the lights of truth...I’m thankful that I have the endurance and can assume a posture that will never allow what you represent to ever be seen as everyday and ordinary.
...No, Mr. Trump, we will not all just get along. For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity — and certainly this columnist — have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn.
I know this in my bones, and for that I am thankful."
I am thankful for the will and the resolution to never give in to you, Mr Trump.  You will find me your nemesis for as long as you serve, and in my every breath forward.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Thanksgiving’s Conversation, Towards Compassion and a Mourning Not Yet Shared

I’ve been thinking a lot about the coming Thanksgiving holiday.  For our family it will be the first we spend without my mother’s valorously compassionate presence and so a time of reckoning and remembrance.  For all of us as Americans this too will be the first Thanksgiving we will spend wondering what the changes in America will bring.  I hope you can see this to the end.  There's much to think about.  We face a mourning not yet shared.

For some of us this coming holiday of Thanksgiving will be shared with family and friends who, how shall we put it? Challenge our emotional boundaries?  Perhaps too our moral imaginations.  Is that too politically incorrect or merely prosaic?  How do we wish upon our gathering an irenic, even festive effervescence when our hearts are so deeply troubled--- not only by the prospects of regressive, mendacious policies targeting the most vulnerable among us, but by having to explain to ourselves how people we love can condone such ideas, values, and actions.

This week the narrative of a coming Trump Administration began to take shape in the form of policy makers and players whose menace is anything but mere hackneyed politics.  We see it coming.  It’s plain as day. The signs of hatred and the acts of violence are emboldened and already manifest.  We gather the evidence before us and we must insist the stories be told.   And to some we love, such changes inspire great promise?  We should come to normalize the deliberate corruption of our shared American experiment?

People we adore and respect, who will sit with us for dinner, who we have known for years or all our lives, people we just can’t think of as racist or hateful, misogynist or blithely ignorant have cast their ballot, their lot, and ours too for a President that is, in addition to being all of those odious things, wholly unqualified, unfit, and unserious.  We are not prepared to bargain with our moral sensibilities to give Trump “a chance” just because our loved ones or others making claim to some inequity are willing to endanger the future of the republic by placing it in the hands of an arrant incompetent.  Generations of progress seem likely to be turned around with policies, appointments, and indifference to the majority of voting Americans.  We will not normalize a man who fails so miserably every impartial test of decency. 

If we cannot feel with our complicit family and friends then how do we feel for them? And how do we feel about ourselves?

When I search the lexicon of yoga culture, particularly in the sources composed in Sanskrit, the word karuna most commonly conveys our inner sensibility of “compassion.”   I think we will need more compassion, but for whom and why?

 Karuna describes an elemental human feeling (the rasa) that reaches into our pathos and suggests also, as Buddhist sources commend, the realization of the necessary virtue that extends consolation for our shared mutual suffering.  Everyone has it and everyone will need it.  But not everyone will recognize it or evolve it.  Compassion is and compassion comes to mind.  In other words, we innately possess this karuna as a primordial emotion and it is also a complex process of offerings we make in order to create value.  However we are compassionate, we can choose to learn more about it, cultivate and create ways to live more deeply with it from the inside out.  The issue at stake is not only how deeply we are willing to go.  It is to recognize that compassion is not one feeling or any one kind of thing we experience.  Where it comes from is not the same as how it comes forward.  How deeply are we willing to go to further the examination of the source and to make more complex connections?  Compassion the singular must become compassion the plural if we are to integrate our yoga into a more comprehensive sense of self.

We need not take on another’s feelings in order to suffuse ourselves with feeling that allows us to uncover our human experience.  As we look carefully at traditional sources, compassion comes from within by drawing upon resources that are so deeply imprinted as to be part of our very nature--- but it is brought forth by our willingness to capture such an essential and expand it into diverse forms and expressions.

There is no guarantee everyone will take up these tasks, no matter how innate or elemental the source of experience.  People can live estranged from their essentials, from their heart’s resources, not because they are “bad” or align with corruption but rather because this being human invites us to be more than it takes to be merely good enough.  Just how do we succeed and fail in making those choices that would demand more of us?  For that we will need to look even further.

Another comparable sense of compassion is in the word “krpā,” which appears at the crucial moment of the hero Arjuna’s breakdown at the opening of the Bhagavadgita’s second chapter.  If you will bear with me, the original Sanskrit can help us sense the direction of the Gita’s conversation and what accompanies krpā, usually translated by the word “pity.”  You can see the words even if you don’t know the language:

taṁ tathā kṛipayāviṣhṭamaśhru pūrṇākulekṣhaṇam
viṣhīdantamidaṁ vākyam uvācha madhusūdanaḥ

So burdened (āvishtam) with pity (kripayā), eyes filled (pūrna) with tears (aśhru), his vision (īkshanam) confounded (ākula), stricken with grief (viṣhīdantam), the Slayer of Demon Madhu, Krishna, spoke to him these words…

We may well think of “pity” as some kind of feeling for that is really quite different than compassion.   After all, we don’t feel pity for our loved ones whose votes and values seem so compromised.  Or do we?

In Sanskrit the sense of both karuna and krpā suggests we are grieving and mourning something lost or changed, that there is a real and palpable lamentation. We feel at a loss for just what to say or do.  Like Arjuna, the entire somatic experience may be overwhelming because it is comprehensive ---eyes filled, vision blurred, the whole body feeling being at one with all of the damage done to conscience, memory, and relationship.  We might find ourselves genuinely filled with (pūrna) distress and imploring within--- not only to reach more deeply inside but in asking how to make some outward gesture to affirm our relationships.  However depleting these complex feelings are, we still want to love when there’s frustration, hurt, and anger.  And that still-wanting-to-love: that is compassion too.  We haven’t merely been let down, we’ve been brought to further questions from within ourselves: Who is this person I really love that I say I know and how then could he or she have stood for this?  Compassion doesn’t just provide answers, it asks the more difficult questions more deliberately.

We know from the Bhagavadgita conversation that Krishna gives his friend Arjuna no quarter when it comes to arriving at the decisive moment of reckoning.  To be compassionate then is not to linger with feelings but to act on them.  How might we act?  The answer Krishna gives is to be ourselves, to carry forward the person we have always been.  Whatever more we will need to be, we will need the person who has been present from the start.

We’ll need especial forbearance and clarity, and a host of other virtues that can only come from summoning within the very source of courage.  Remember: that source is nothing extrinsic to you because we have been born with a rich and complex resource of compassion.  These fractures of feelings are parts of our elemental self.   And that self always has more from which to draw.

What we can grieve for and mourn in truth is that this deed of choice and values has now been done---we are in this together however fractured we are--- and karma will have its way.  There will be cause and effect, possibilities realized, abandoned, and unheeded, and consequences for all.  I am not suggesting we merely wait and see, as if compassion were some passive acceptance of a tragic fact.  I am instead saying that we have before us a process of recognition in which there will be facts, if only they can be told.

We will see the dreadful consequences of this new America. Its effects will be ubiquitous, even for those abdicating participation.  The people who have believed this turn will bring the change they hope for will have quite a time explaining how his plans didn’t go their way.  The effects of dystopic policies and contorted values will speak volumes.  We won’t have much time for schadenfreude as we pick up together our shattered pieces.  But that is why we will need the power of compassion.  Not because compassion will somehow heal us but rather provide for us some of the pieces that can be reassembled. 

I am more than disinclined to suggest that karma will provide its own recompense or that some supernal agency is at work to indemnify our efforts towards social progress.  I think, in fact, there is no such promise of human progress like our innate feelings, like compassion.  As much as I want to believe President Obama’s claim that great persons and events bend the arc of history towards justice, what we have seen in evidence is just as much a case for ignoble atavism.  We can create progress but there are no guarantees.  Still, karma will tell the tale and there is more to come,.

What we can say to satisfy ourselves of the mystery--- how our own good people contributed to this debacle-- is that we learned from yoga more about the meaning of compassion.  That compassion will invite us to mourn together in the future the better America we have not chosen and so re-invite us to choose again.  What we protest now, his supporters may yet be compelled to yield in time.   Karma always means that facts are pesky and real.  It means that our grief serves a purpose when our actions speak to loss and the need to forge a future with hope.

So, I say, there is no argument to be had at this Thanksgiving table, save the common American value that what we are free to protest with all our hearts is also yours to celebrate.  Our shared consequence will be all too clear before too long.  And then we will need an even greater sense of compassion.  The need to mourn, to feel that grief will be a call to act in ways that will insist we join more wisely together.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

About Our Friends, Relatives, and Neighbors Who Voted Trump, Entering The Fire of This Time

We don’t live in abstractions, we live in relationships.  And to secure our human rights we must come to respect relationships.  To become more respectful we must kindle our hearts because where there is light there also heat.

Somehow now we are supposed to relent, calm down, and take this?  No way. I mean to carry on in dignified rage, however unfashionable it might be among friends to suggest that fury and acerbity fails some test of commiseration.  It strikes me as a far greater breach of decency to indulge in some dozy, anodyne bromide about our peaceful inner nature.  For my part, I mean to keep the fires burning to Rudra, that god of Vedic lore, who was determined never to blaze less when he saw the world burning.  Some may merely want to see the world burn but others will want an incandescence far more animating.

And so I am not willing to give Trump voters any benefit of any doubt.  There’s no room in my conscience for their voting rationale or defense of their leader’s positions. That we have Trump voter friends and relatives inclines us to speak of their good hearts and what we know about them in ways that weight the moral scale to mitigate culpability and complicity.

But I am unwilling to give Trump’s enablers the same status as those he has victimized.  Whatever we claim to know about their inner lives, which we may declare rife with kindliness, will not relieve them of the responsibility they share in effecting the actual lives of good people.  Allow me just a little more of this before we turn to a more affirmative, more incandescent So Now What?

Can we reduce the fact that their votes condoned nationalist racism, homophobia, and misogyny?  As individuals they may well disavow their personal malice and moral culpability.  If they are our friends, what are we to think?  How do these facts match our feelings for them as human beings?

Whatever empathy we share for their economic disenfranchisement or social gripe strikes me as utterly incommensurate to the impact their choice will have on victims of Trump.  We are not all equal in that matter of consequence.  Will the legal status of same sex marriages be erased?  Or is that when?  How many families will be broken by promised mass deportations?  Can we even estimate the consequences of placing climate change deniers and industry’s corporate polluters the tasks of saving our planet?   

No one will be immune to the consequences of elevating this inept, incompetent narcissist to the Presidency, much less the white nationalists who will soon find his promises as hollow as their choice.  However absurd it might be in labeling 59 million Americans ethically answerable for their deplorable decision, it is the practical impact on human lives that we will all experience that threatens  our social fabric and our collective identity.  Just how do we say that we are all Americans?

There is no viable detachment from how such sordid politics will enforce a warrant on our conscience and affect everyday lives.

So what about that What Now?

For all of our need for workaday affability, this is no time to be normal or allow the normalization of values that must be discredited.  That’s right, discredited.  We’ll need a bit of prosaic etymology to take this one to heart.  Or more precisely, not to heart.  We must not allow these ideas or values into our hearts: our credo (Latin), our hrdaya (Sanskrit).  We must deny them credit.  This is not the same, I think, as lacking empathy for those with whom we disagree.  “Empathy” in its Greek base, empátheia implies that we suffer with another when we feel the actual power of life coursing through us.  If you are feeling rage with those you love it is not despite their choices but because of them.  So long as we are feeling with we can occupy some of the same space and create alternatives to violence that enfranchise rage as a viable riposte.  To do less is to deny how we feel and nothing good ever comes of that. 

However, let us also not be confused: our sympathies will not be the same because we will not all suffer equally.  Trump’s targets have far more at stake than those protected by racial identity or concurring convictions.  We cannot absolve Trump supporters for what happens next even if he doesn’t do what they thought or they wanted.  We are indeed in this all together and no disavowal of him as somehow not being my President will diminish his consequences for all of us ---and some of us far more than others.  James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time that “… it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”

We can, we must work for the social change and education that will replace the values of Trumpism, no matter how we will now be left out of government.  When Trump means to deny people rights, we will take to the streets to express our values. When corporations act in ways that claim the rights of people, people will demand accountability and make a case for greater values.  And when we feel powerless in government, ruled by the authoritarians, we can govern ourselves, and sustain, nurture, and promote those values that are at the roots of change.

How we comport ourselves, with all of the dignified rage we can muster, will demonstrate the morals and standards that we live and bring our values into actions. We will need more and more ways to express our values.  To find those ways we will look to each others’ lives and to the gifts we can create: write, speak out, dance, sing, protest, but above all live your life and love your life in ways that make it perfectly incandescent how your light burns.

We may in fact have little impact on others’ convictions but our task right now is not to persuade but rather to exemplify, to embody who we are and who we want to be.  When we incarnate our values we hold the authoritarians to accounts and so make our political and social case to rally to the causes of decency and more honest respect.  Rage on, I say.  Burn brightly.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Note Written in Some Haste. How Do We Respect This Outcome?

3am, Wednesday, November 9th, 2016.
Hillary Clinton concedes. Donald Trump is elected President of the United States.

This election was a test of character and America just failed.  What is before us is no less than an American tragedy.  To measure it against other failures of the American spirit may not be premature but we are in uncharted territory.  America has chosen a narcissistic demagogue wholly unprepared for the office of the Presidency and his election wasn't even close.  

I am not sure how to respect this outcome because this is the first time in my life that I am honestly embarrassed and ashamed to be an American. Does democracy always succeed because the will of the people has spoken? Must we admit wisdom to the people when everything in our hearts tells us that what has happened is more than a mere mistake, more than a poor judgment of policy or ideology? I am afraid of this majority that will soon control our polity because they have given us every reason to be. I can't be hopeful because I know too well what it is they are hoping for. And I am not sure we can know just what to do because power now belongs to those who've told us they don't know or that their plans are hidden. The plans they have revealed are a true cause of my horror.

What can we do to resist enough the kinds of tyranny with which we have been explicitly threatened?I don't know how emboldened our opponents will be but they have surely promised retribution. Those they have threatened by name--- immigrants, LGBT communities, the lists go on--- have every reason to be afraid, for their lives, for their rights, for their very existence. What we have not been told is only half the matter. What they have told us is wholly sufficient to bring us to a living terror. I'm inclined to take them at their word, as I always have. That's enough worry for even one breath. And in four years? We can only be prepared for what to do next. That may not be much of a plan but it is what we will need to do. Now it is in their hands, what they choose to do with this power and what they claim as their authority over the rest of us. For our part, we can stand our ground and do all we can to make our case.

What will happen when they are our sovereign leaders?

The world will undoubtedly become more dangerous. Let us not fool ourselves, much of the progress won over the past 75 years will be in peril ---and all of the more immediate gains regarding human rights during the past eight years of President Obama---for same sex marriage, for transgender, for women, for the poor and healthcare and the ret--- all of these they have promised to erase or throw backwards. We lost the argument. We failed to persuade. We are a minority opposition, no matter how many of us there are.  We must stand for American ideals, the experiment of equality, dedicated to a proposition that today seems more distant than it has been in generations.

So what more can we do?

First, we come closer together for the sake of more conversation. We need frankness, not recriminations. We need candor and clarity, and more, not less, healthy debate. We must not capitulate or allow ourselves to lose our compass. We need to do good and to be good. No retreat, no surrender. But make no mistake about it, President-elect Trump is not qualified for a job that requires every last bit of qualification and the world will not wait for him or tolerate his incompetences. We are all in this with him and we're in very serious trouble.

Let us take seriously the evidence before us. Less wishful thinking, more even handed and one day at a time facts on the ground. The storm we find ourselves in is real and life is going to become far more stormy. We'll need our resources and when we don't have a direction, we'll need to weather these storms and they will not likely abate. So we'll need each other more than ever. And we will need serious and sober reflection and conversation. We will need more stories from which we can learn, more practices we can share, more insight and care. We will need to take care of each other and each other's needs and feelings. We will reach out, look inside, and help one another in ways we have not yet imagined. We won't give up on anyone.

Then we will need to prepare for what Trump and these Republicans will bring. The republic was not built to withstand well the kinds of changes they are proposing, revolutionary changes that were understood at our founding to be the forms tyranny takes. The government was built to resist suddenness and to respond to it with collective effort. There is no reason to believe our ideas and values, our contributions and hopes will be included. They have already told us as much. Surely the Republicans will over reach but we must not underestimate their fervid religiously, their zealotry and willingness to impose their will. They mean what they say and have meant it all along. If we think about it, it's been only President Obama who has stood between us and their agenda as they have clearly stated it. So what do we do? We resist, we speak out, we use every instrument of government and civil disobedience we can to do everything we can to hold our ground.

Hold fast. We will not gain ground in this environment. We will not progress. But we must try to prevent them from taking back our progress, even as we refuse to diminish our ideals or abandon our values. We must get better at explaining, educating, and working together to make our aims clear. We must win people over and invite them to our shared commitments. We must remember that we failed to make our case. We too have failed this test of character. So what are we going to do about that? Admitting our mistakes will not guarantee that we have learned anything about their making.

And we must do our best not to take this out on each other. We must compromise with each other even as we resist being bullied, railroaded, burnt down, and oppressed by those who want nothing to do with our visions of progress. We must admit to ourselves that progress is incremental. The call for revolution plays only into their hands. Authoritarians want nothing more than to claim us the rabble. We are outnumbered because we have failed and we have been beaten by those more passionate, more committed, and more serious about winning. What are we prepared to do better? We stand at present no chance to change the "system," so how do we work within it in so diminished a form of power? We must hold our ground and create more common ground together. It's time to rally, not to retreat, and certainly not to surrender.

Part Two

We should never underestimate the role of the shadow in our lives and what happens when our fears and disappointments, our dashed hopes and desire for blame takes hold. We humans have only the most tenuous hold on our humanity, because self comes to mind and we know not what to do. Every other living thing relies on nature, its instincts, the pre-made messages that guide and direct life's choices. But we humans, we have to learn to _be_ human.

Learning to think more lucidly, cope and compromise with more empathy and compassion, create dignity and purpose that includes differences, these are not simple matters. We need culture and family, we need education and effort; and everything that is of value demands more than we expect and often delivers less than we'd hoped for. We need _each other_. And when we fail to create circumstances and the culture that calls forth our better nature, we easily succumb to the easier paths of fear, selfishness, and delusion. It's hard to tell honest stories, and the kind we need seem crowded out by fantasies and false consolations. Are we prepared to be more compassionate and more honest about what it takes to live with our differences too?

We'll need to stand fast, stay close, and when it is necessary resist with all our might the injustices and forces of tyranny. We going to have to go deeper into our own conversations, be better friends to each other, and rise to the occasion to act, to compromise, to include. We're going to need more stories that help us tell our stories and less fear about what we might learn when we go into those shadows. But that is where we must go, into the shadows together, and do what we must to face what we find out about each other and ourselves. What we do to bring those shadows to light and how we do that will make all the difference. In the meantime, more ksanti, more forbearance, and more "as if" so that we can carry on. For carry on, we must.