Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Note on Our Weary Hearts, Some Ideas about Ksanti and As If

This election year has taken tolls on each of us, on our families and friendships.  We must also invest in making a peace, finding ways to tolerate each other and ourselves.   In the ancient world we are reminded that there is no light without heat.  There is a fury in each of us and what we decide to do with that violability and passion will determine if we entrust ourselves to the difficult and unruly processes of civilization or if we burn it down.  So here are a few ideas about our weary hearts and, if I might be so presumptuous, a few teachings from the worlds of yoga that I learned long ago.
Disclaimer: I did indeed once upon a time go to Divinity School and despite my best efforts, I was not expelled. This means that delivering the occasional sermon is sometimes part of my job. Sermons are really annoying and still, once in a while, they can do us some good. 
What has this past year really done to us?  I think we are all weary and worried, how could it be otherwise? We have seen the worst of us emergent in voices that we never thought existed and in ways we knew all too well were present.  We voted once for hope and it seems the conversation has embraced little more than hopelessness, fear, and, above all, anger.  There is likely more to come. There is no end in sight.  Let's not kid ourselves, we're in trouble as a society, as a democracy, as a republic. 
We need to decide to be part of those who want more inclusion of everyone, even our adversaries. I'm not romantic about our adversaries: Rajanaka Yoga teaches us we live with demons, the kind we cannot trust, the kind who will eat flesh and will certainly eat us, deceive us, and shamelessly hate us; we're not just gods, we're also those demons.  We are every character in the story, even the ones we despise.  But we mean to live.  There's refuge in each other's patience and decency and support.  I would never suggest we deny or repudiate our anger.  Humans are angry because we have survived with that feature of our character: it is as real and as important as patience, empathy, and tolerance. The issue before us is what do we do with the all of ourselves, even the parts we know we need to manage, work with in healthy distrust, address in ways that can cause us harm. To engage fully is the only yoga I know about.  We are far more than good and evil.  We are far more than any one idea or opinion or claim.  If we don't learn to live with our real differences, we stand to lose far more than we could ever gain from the machineries of opposition.
Put first and last the dignity that every human being deserves, even the ones who oppose, demean, or reject you.  In the middle we can argue seriously and disagree vociferously. It's hardly clear at all that the storm will settle even after next Tuesday's election: the grifters make their coin sewing anarchy and discord.  We know that there's always more news in pain and hurt.  The plane landed safely is hardly worth a news cycle.  In a world that commodifies everything, anger, intolerance, and fear are just more coin.  So what can we do about it and with ourselves?
I'm more than disinclined to tell shiny happy stories about The One, the singularity of Unconditioned Consciousness, God's Love, blissful heart tribes or any such religious imaginings. For my part, I get no consolation from dissociative interiorizations or theological claims; I prefer the messy world in which we rely on ourselves and each other in ways that keeps things elemental.  Are you resting and eating well? Are you reading a good book and taking care of your time at work, at home, with each other? Simple stuff, Rajanaka stuff: food, sex, survival, relationship, death. Keeping our eye on those simple matters is the beginning of what's better, the saubhagya we call it, the richer sense of lovng life and prosperity.
So at the risk of sounding soporific, let me make two suggestions because we must remain stalwart, calm and clear as we can, we must not let the barbarians win--- we all know that. 
First, ksanti. This Sanskrit term is usually translated something like "forbearance" but that can sound all too Protestant or Franklian, too much nivrtti, "turning away," for a world that will demand our attentions and our passions no matter what story we tell ourselves. We are in the world, like it or not.  Stay in the game, don't quit because there is no honest abdication, there is no real safe harbor, there is no perfect retreat: don't surrender.  Ksanti means endurance, patience, putting up with each and every stage of criticality. Crisis is the ordinary state of affairs, it is no exception. There is no perfect calm or peace or permanent, lasting state: each of us is about three meals away from catastrophe, a few days from death without water, and yet we want to make it, we manage, we have supper and do the dishes. We're the lucky ones, others are not nearly as fortunate.  Fathom your fortunes for their value and grant that value to others.  We will carry forward, we will carry on, do the next right thing: this is ksanti.  In that process we  tolerate each other a little more when things get tense or the stress becomes more palpable.
Ksanti means rising to the occasion and so asks us for the little more we need to be better, to let things slide that don't matter as much, to know the stakes, keep our heads and hearts in an even more welcoming place. We all have our stuff, we are all very genuinely different in beliefs, values, attitudes, and experiences. Work with yourself to breathe through the spaces of incongruity and dissonance, not to find common ground but to use the ksanti --the power of cool warmth and warm coolness, the vital pertinacity to give others their due and their dignity, to pause and allow that moment of pause to be a place of empathy and perseverance.
Ksanti is the virtue that resides closest to courage. Appa used to say that courage is not itself a virtue, it is what you need in order to have virtue --and that the first virtue is ksanti becauase we all want what we want, have our opinions and strong sentiments, we all say things we don't quite mean and can't count on being understood.  As Krsna so dryly reminds us, we must not desiccate ourselves when we need more to remain fluid and firm at the same time: "The senses," he says in the Bhagavadgita, "Endure them."  So we need to forebear a bit more, listen even more closely, and suffer some of our own insistence without giving up convictions or imposing oppression or censorship. Everyone must get their say and ksanti means learning to disagree, to welcome the dissonance that we must endure to remain in the conversation. Ksanti is the bulwark we create to allow ourselves to be permeable and channel our passions and fury. Without ksanti the ferocious gods Rudra and Kali are reduced to little more than domination and selfish anger. Give everyone some break, first, then restart the conversation with your dissent coupled to empathy. Let that paradoxical relationship endure the fight you feel you must wage. That's something more about ksanti.
Next, (yes, I promised two things and while I don't always finish my lists, a list of two I can probably manage). Appa said something like this, Hitchens made it clearer, he got it from Vachlav Havel. It goes like this: When the world is little more than storm and fire, oppressing even the slightest shards of decency, live more as if. Use as if to find a way, sometimes for respite and brief pauses, momentary retreats into a calmer place, sometimes just to see more than just the storm and fire. Tell yourself the other stories that you know too are real. Sure, things are a mess with crippling stupidity and self-serving anger, but you have each other, you have your accomplishments and what you have earned by your own wits and efforts, and you can create more from using a bit more as if to address your hurt, anger, and frustration. We are not children. Our task is to engage the passion and the pain, to make something more from our rage and fury. That is at the core of the howling, weeping, bleeding gods we love: there is a way to create more that is worth our while. This begins by acknowledging human dignity first and recognizing that we may define that dignity quite differently from one another.  Envision such a life as if,  tell those stories too, don't let your opponents get you only into their story, and use some as if to help you when you need more than just the facts.

Havel said that in the worst of the political oppression he endured (ksanti), he lived as if he were free, and told himself those truths too. He didn't deny or ignore or console himself with nonsense, but he also didn't become just the feelings of oppression and frustration. He added more to his story without denying the facts on the ground, the real world. That's what Appa, my teacher, called the value-added project, the way we come to accept that there is more than we have or now can identify. Like in love, we find that others add value we find hard to find when we take too uncompromising a stand in our aloneness. Pups help, or cats if you love your cat. But really, there is a way to tell yourself the Laksmi story too, not just the horror. 

Kali always asks for some better reason, Rudra isn't madness alone, and Siva and the rest are there to so that we can create more reflection and refraction. There's more to see even if that requires breaking down, breaking into, and breaking more in order to expand, to grow, to put things together.  Don't let all the broken pieces finish the story. Our human story remains beautifully unfinished.  Our truths remain provisional and subject to revision.  Our powers of imagination provide the gifts we need to make a better real world.  Rather than only break more and claim only more puzzle, know that there is also more experiment yet to try, and let the problems come and be solved in course. We need to do more with our rage than merely claim our correctness, no matter how right we know we are. We have to help everyone who needs a hand, because we can actually do that. Change is incremental, revolution devolves to anarchy and anarchy is always tyranny. Live a bit more in the as if, and let that intention and process lead you as well. There is an alternative to the tyranny of being right: it is to include the possibility that we could also be mistaken and that others too deserve some kind of respect, especially when we vehemently disagree.  Look for that too.  There's always more if we decide for better days and nights ahead.  There's no bridge too far that it cannot be crossed.

Sermon over.