I’m not someone who tends to freak out on my birthday. I don’t call exceptional attention to it either. But this year I’ve decided to give myself a more significant gift (dinner, fancy drinks, a movie, the pedicure I’ve been talking about for 5 years, Cadbury milk chocolate eggs, 2 days and 3 glorious nights off the anti-inflammatory diet, 3 days without working, 2 days without touching a computer) and to try and articulate some recent thoughts I’ve had on getting older.
Zoe and I were sitting around a bonfire at an open prairie campsite when a chipmunk cautiously ventured from the tall grass onto the mowed trail next to us, grazing for crumbs. The little guy was easily spooked, darting undercover at any sudden movement, but who could blame him? Birds of prey hovered constantly overhead, scanning. Our chipmunk lived under relentless threat of death from above. Continue reading “Separation Anxiety: Is Feeling Separate the Enemy of Happiness?”
If you believe people with arguably racist thoughts, feelings, or beliefs are irredeemable;
If you believe that conversing with them or treating them with respect is a waste of time and energy, if not immoral;
If you consider yourself liberal, in the sense of being generous, broad-minded, not bigoted;
(Or if you just like cool stories about people undergoing shocking transformations despite significant obstacles)
Take ½ hour and read this article on the heir apparent to the American white supremacy movement who got turned around by the light touch of a liberal arts college and a welcoming Jew.
I lied. At the end of my last post, after writing about my problems with the word ego, I promised to steer clear of any more wonky language rants and post my next update instead about the concept of separateness. But as I started researching that topic, I ran into a snag. I came across another word I realized causes just as much confusion and raises even more questions than the word ego, and I decided the meaning of this troublesome word ought to be clarified before I move on to other subjects, because it’s so central to what this whole blog is about.
The word I’m talking about is “spirituality.”
No angst to report, readers. I was wrong about pretty much everything. There was so little to criticize and I felt so little inclination to do so. I just couldn’t get past the love: it enveloped me and I was happy and everything was good.
It was all a beautiful mess, a modernist composition: not discordant, but unpredictable and unique. We managed to miss the rally — not because we were late, but because my group somehow concluded that it was not happening where it was obviously happening. That was more than fine, really. I’d rather be walking than standing, and we consequently weren’t crushed for more than five minutes the whole seven hours we were on The Mall. (And the speeches are on YouTube.) We marched in a march that wasn’t the actual march, then caught the real thing after we thought events were wrapping up. We all teared up multiple times. There were artistic and inspiring and clever signs. I met lots of great women (most of whom were from Kentucky — should I be living in Kentucky?). The collective event was greater than the sum of its parts, but even the parts were beautiful. Here is my personal scrapbook:
OOOOH!!! LOOK AT ME! I did 165 hours of silent meditation last year! Aren’t I spiritual?
And this is the first time I’ve shown this to anyone. Isn’t that humble? And this screenshot was from over a month ago, when I had many fewer hours logged. Isn’t that modest? And I’m clearly making fun of myself now. Isn’t that self-effacing?
I don’t tell you about all the hours I volunteer and all the money I donate not because I’m such a spiritual person, but because I’m not – because I think that withholding that information makes me a better person. Have you ever read The Fall by Camus? The opening monologue yanked out my precious soul and ground it into the cheap meat I always knew it was.
Am I being too hard on myself? Probably. Am I utterly devoid of pure, loving motivation? No, not utterly. But my cup runneth over with spiritual materialism. This isn’t novice meditator stuff & I promise I’ll explain more later, but I’m behind on work and living out of a bag this weekend and I just wanted to say hi and lay this on you. Dig it, man.
Ego is the archenemy of an enlightened life. At least, that’s the impression I get when I study modern Tao and Buddhist teachings. But when I talk with people about ego, including fellow Zen students, I get the sense that we never quite agree on what the word actually means. If ego really is the archenemy of the enlightened life, shouldn’t its meaning be universally understood?