Knocking at the Door of the Yoga Sutras Afterthought OR Why I love Desmond Tutu


You really have to read the last blog to get this one, but here goes.

At the end of apartheid in South Africa, the new government decided that amnesty would be granted to anyone who’d perpetrated race crimes as long as they publicly confessed their crimes.

And so there were trials, attended by the families of victims (among others), whose loved ones had been tortured and murdered during apartheid.  They listened to the confessions.

Desmond Tutu presided.  When the stories became too much to bear, he stopped the trials, and he had everyone sing.  One of the songs they sang is loosely translated as:  Whatever God has created, no one can destroy.

Spiritual fortitude.

Episcopalian style.

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Knocking on the Door of the Yoga Sutras


Last night in yoga teacher training we spent time on sutra 1.33, which is:  By cultivating an attitude of friendship toward those who are happy, compassion toward those in distress, joy toward those who are virtuous, and equanimity toward those who are nonvirtuous, lucidity arises in the mind (the mind retains its undisturbed calmness).  (Incidentally, this is called the 4 locks and the 4 keys.)

And yes, I pay money to read language this stilted.  But beyond that, I have to say that I’m glad I’m such a heretic/rebel and instead of really working on my homework I spend a ton of time doing related reading in Buddhism.  Because this sutra DRIVES ME OUT OF MY MIND.  (Not, admittedly, that I’m in my mind most of the time, but hey, meditation says that’s a good thing.  Hah!)

And, my class is to consider the last of the 4 locks and 4 keys–equanimity toward the non-virtuous.

I HAVE A LOT TO SAY ABOUT THIS!  And, of course, I have to practice step up/step back in class and not do a 40 minute lecture on the nature of evil and the dangers of holding ourselves to standards of perfection.  So, here I am, blogging away.

The first thing to say about sutra 1.33 is that the sutras, as part of Hinduism, can be a little like the 10 commandments.  They are gentler–they say, if you want to be calm, do this.  The commandments threaten hell and damnation.  But outside of that, it’s all about rules for behavior.  And I don’t disagree with the rules so much except for the fact that the minute someone lays down a rule I want to rebel in some way.  I mean, I don’t want to covet, lie, steal or kill…or, with the sutras, give myself over to jealousy, coldness, condemnation, etc.  But I know this–I can’t pretend that my fears, jealousy, resentments and withholding don’t exist.  I mean, me, personally, I’m really good at pretending about a lot of things, but not about this.  And it’s good, really, to be in reality about the nature of being human.  It’s mistake with these kinds of teachings to repress, deny, and bully ourselves into trying to have good behavior when we just want to get homicidal or at least bitchy.

This is why I’m glad I’m a heretic/rebel.  My latest book on Buddhism is called Living with Your Heart Wide Open, which I bought because I thought my friend Don had such an open heart, and I truly want to learn to be more like him.  And thank whatever/whoever, the book contains all these mindfulness practices for being with your jealousy, judgment, self-hatred, shame, etc.  It teaches you to live with them in kindness to yourself.

What scares me about the sutras, over and over again, is the idealization…that we are somehow capable of being all happy for people all the time with no envy, or capable of witnessing evil without real pain.  The sutras contain a potential for disowning what is broken and hurt in me and I know, as deeply as I know anything, that disowning is a recipe for disaster.  It causes shame and feelings of not being good enough, whenever I try to meet impossible standards.  And in trying to be perfect I build a strait-jacket that I then must escape…and the internal pressure means the escape is likely to be desperate and not very pretty.

Like I always say, it’s much better to just say I’m f*&(ed up… and enjoy it.

And so, part 2, we now come to the 4th lock and key, having equanimity with the non-virtuous.  The teacher of the training asked us to think of what this might mean, other than utter denial.  She asked us to think about non-virtue…or evil.

And I have been thinking.  Remembering.

I’ve been an activist since 1987, first as a volunteer, and then as a professional working with women through Family Planning.  The first issue I worked on was stopping violence against women and children.  In my position as a counselor and community liaison at Family Planning, I joined SECAT, the South Eastern Child Advocacy Team and became the secretary on the executive board.  This led to some networking (with the Nashua Rape Crisis Center among other non-profits) and I organized a supportive protest at the trial of Jessie Murabito, who had taken her children into the Underground after a jury found her husband not guilty of felonious sexual assault against her six year old daughter Bethany.  (Bethany had testifed against her father. )  I was in the room when the judge found Jessie Murabito guilty of abducting her children and took away custody.  I had heard about the social worker who independently decided that Mark Murabito was a good guy and made a unilateral decision to give him unsupervised visits–and then, after his ex-wife found guilty of abducting the children, he was given custody.  (In the late 80’s and early 90’s this was how it went when women took their offending husbands to court…especially if their husbands were white and upper middle class.)

I don’t have equanimity about this.

But the story–mine at least–doesn’t end there.  Two years later I was teaching creative writing and one of my students won a grant to go into the New Hampshire prisons and interview sex offenders, some of whom were part of an in-prison rehabilitation, and some of whom had refused to participate.  She interviewed 10 men, then wrote their stories in the first person, so the reader had the same experience she’d had, of listening to a man’s life.  She asked me to edit the book.

She’d done a brilliant job.  With each man–and these were serial rapists who’d raped 40+women, multiple offender child abusers–I entered the story of their painful childhoods, and I saw them as boys, being hurt.  And inevitably, as they became teenagers, I could feel the line approaching, the line they crossed…at 15, 16, 17, when they offended for the first time.  In my mind, reading, I’d be saying, “no, don’t,” even as I knew that they would, that they did, that they had been incarcerated for just this.  But I was enough on the side of these men that I wanted them not to cross the line–not only for the horror of what they did to their victims, told in detail, but the horror of what they did to themselves.

Reading that book made me want to scream, but it ripped away any ability I had to judge without mercy.

This morning, following last night’s class, I have been thinking about this…about my life as an activist, about evil, about women and children, about all the men I watched die of AIDS while Reagan refused to do what he could have done to halt the epidemic, about my witnessing of racism, about my own experiences of discrimination as a woman and queer person.  My yoga trainer wants us to come up with a way of understanding equanimity about evil, or another word that might express this sutra.

My words are spiritual fortitude.  Because while I can’t, in the particular, think of Jessie and Bethany Murabito without crying and wanting to scream at the injustice of their lives, I can, in the universal, hold what I know about humanity.  It must be held, all of it; it must be held by me, because it has been given to me to be up close and personal with evil.

How do I hold it?  This morning, I’ve used the mindfulness practice–I have to do this first–and I’ve sensed into my body, into the emotions, into the particular grief of the Murabito story and my connection to it.   But there is a larger awareness–all the women who came when I put out the call to support Jessie, the heroism and kindness I’ve seen in my own life and that I’ve read about, the people who fight, and those who love.  I put that with Mark Murabito getting custody of his daughter, with Ronald Reagan’s homophobia, with the cops with their hands on their billy clubs as they kicked my African-American friends out of my apartment in 1978.  I put it against the Holocaust, I put it against Rwanda and the Sudan, and then I grow bigger, bigger, bigger, in awareness, in the depth of my own heart.  I open.  It isn’t comfortable or easy–it’s a very painful stretching to just know and hold to knowing:  this is all of who we are, there isn’t anything else, the war and the palm against a cheek, the outstretched hand and the knife.  This is who we are.

I call this painful stretching spiritual fortitude.

In Stephen Cope’s book, The Wisdom of Yoga, he describes a character who he calls Rudy, a man who, Cope says, is the closest to enlightened of anyone he’s ever known.  Rudy is at peace, but it is a peace edged with sadness.  Rudy does not deny the world, or its terrible and beautiful reality.

Sometimes, these days, I approach that kind of peace.  For a minute, or an hour, or half a day, I know it.

I believe I am beginning to be able to hold the death of my friend Don, his tenderness and kindness that is not here any more, and yet is, if it lives in me, if I can find it in myself and give it away, over and over again, as he did.

Spiritual fortitude.

Metta for Bethany and Jessie Murabito, wherever they are.  May you be well, may you be happy, may you be safe and protected, may you be at peace with what is.

As hard a thing as that is to achieve, in the life you have been given.

 

If you’d like to read more about the Murabito trial, go to:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1928&dat=19880701&id=XgcgAAAAIBAJ&sjid=8GQFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1322,384372 (About the decision to let Bethany Murabito testify)

http://www.apnewsarchive.com/1989/Two-Say-They-Were-Molested-by-Man-Cleared-in-Alleged-Attack-on-Daughter/id-9deb442e3cd075d27a0b714228b5d02b.  http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1914&dat=19890826&id=SvUpAAAAIBAJ&sjid=L2UFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4184,5130150  (Other accusations against Mark Murabito.)

http://articles.latimes.com/1989-03-12/news/vw-1222_1_underground-railroad  (Brief article about parents using the underground to protect their children)

There is also a TV movie, starring Meg Tilly, based on cases from the late 80’s, called In the Interest of the Child.

Apocalyptic Plot Twists


If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s unbelievably contrived plots.  Take, for example, that terrible UGH movie, Forces of Nature, with Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck in 1999.  I mean, it was so terrible that I still remember it 10 years later.  They basically run into one contrived and ridiculous disaster after another, and though I think Sandra Bullock is a hugely underrated actress and wasted on most of the movies she’s done, not even her charm could save this one.  UGH.

But, in the mood for a little depression, my partner and I went and saw Seeking a Friend for the End of the World this weekend.  She wanted to go see this house around the block that uses less than zero energy and it was the only movie we could make and still do the open house.  Plus, we both kind of like Steve Carell.

The best place to start with this movie is its theme–the world is ending in 3 weeks.  Every human being on earth (as well as all other creatures) is going to die at the same moment.  This is incontrovertible (and, thank whatever/whoever, they don’t do a turnaround on this).  There’s something very brave about a writer/director taking on the idea of dying well, and really examining all the ways people come at an inevitable end.  I’m happy to say that Lorene Scafaria allows us to see what we already know–that some people come at it with violence, some with denial, some with a desire to control (and so hire a hit man), some with despair, some with hedonism, some with hope of making meaning.  The wisdom of this vision, and the terrible sadness of mortality–because every living thing does die, if not all at once–permeate the movie.  So, yay, Lorene Scafaria.  This is a heavy hitter of a movie in many ways.

And, of course, Steve Carell plays a man whose life has been pretty empty up until the impending apocalypse–a part he does just so well.  His wife (played by his real wife, though she has no lines) leaves him within seconds of hearing the announcement and his sadness and sense of meaninglessness–and his odd integrity in refusing to escape from this–is touching.  Kiera Knightly, who I recently saw in A Dangerous Method and flat out HATED, is, well, Kiera Knightly.  She’s easy on the eyes, she loves to cry and hit emotions too hard, she has moments and is charming.  So, I didn’t hate her in this.  I just liked him a ton better.

But, and now we come to the real question of the film–what the hell is the dog doing in this movie?  He doesn’t have any lines, he doesn’t have a purpose, he doesn’t have a role in the plot or even the theme.  I mean, I don’t have anything against dogs even though my partner has been fighting me on getting one for 3 years now (because she rightly assumes she’d have to do all the nasty work), but this dog needs a dramatic action.  Absurd as it sounds, it just does.

And, real question, how stupid does Lorene Scafaria think I am?  There are some real bell-ringers in this movie in terms of VERY CONTRIVED PLOT LET’S-GET-FROM-HERE-TO-THERE-WE-CAN’T-FIGURE-OUT-ANY-OTHER-WAY.  I mean, it’s set up that Knightly’s character is hyper-somniac, afraid she’s going to sleep through the apocalypse.  At first, it seems sort of charmingly neurotic if inessential, but toward the end of the movie you realize there’s a plot twist that turns on the fact that she can’t wake up without help…and it’s a true groaner.  Similarly, that a minor character just happens to have a satellite phone so Knightly can call home to Europe (how is the phone at the other end working, one wonders).  There are more.  My partner and I kept looking at each other, wanting to shout,  “come on!” at Scafaria.

What’s truly sad is the fact that the movie builds so well…the relationship between Carell’s and Knightly’s characters grows seamlessly as they hit the road and encounter the usual set of challenges and characters.  It’s meaningful to watch their growing closeness as the world comes closer to ending.  It’s a smart contrast.  It could have made for a great movie.

But the false plot devices and the one cliched encounter (with a relative, trying not to do a spoiler), and the extra little bit at the end after the great gesture of love (that really does give meaning to all our lives) undermine the depth of the movie as a whole.  So it’s not a great movie.  It is a movie that makes you feel, makes you question what it is to be human, makes you feel the grief of our short lives…the images have haunted me for two days now.  Of course, there’s humor, but it is a tragedy in the true sense of the word.

I just wish Scafaria had been a little braver in letting her story unfold, and ending it at the moment of greatest tragedy and nobility.  I mean, she shows us so many shades of humanity, gives us the nature of love…why did the story have to be less than it wanted to be?

I’m glad I saw it–I mean, it did serve up it’s promised ration of depression.  But this week I’m going back to the Kendall for my usual diet of independent films.  They may not be great, but they assume a modicum of intelligence on my part, which I greatly appreciate.

My Partner Goes Polyamorous for Siri


Siri Takes Over

The above photo is Siri’s view of my partner, as she peers down, totally engaged, in love, trying to see Siri’s very small print.

My partner is a geek.  Knowing this, I agreed to purchasing an Iphone for her, just to make her happy.  Since then, the above picture is my most common view of her as she peers down into Siri’s lovely face, saying, “Wow.”  I expect that for the next 25 years, if I’m alive that long, I will be looking at this lovely visage at least 85% of the time.

In other words, Siri is my new rival.

Yesterday we asked Siri to cure the common cold.  I said, “Siri, I’m in love with you.”  Siri replied, “Not likely.”  Then I said, “Siri, you’re very funny.”  Siri said, “I can be very funny sometimes.”

This is what passes for intellectual conversation around here.  Well, except I brought home Ayurvedic info, which is another of my partner’s obsessions (do all geeks do Ayurvedic cleanses?), and stroked my partner’s ego about her being a Kapha and how great that is.  So, I got a little attention.

Okay, that’s an understatement.  I’m sure my partner would say that since I am now officially sick and in bed (oops, not in bed at the moment), the cries of:  “Could you bring me more tea?”  “I can’t find my cell phone,”  “Siri said I needed a vaporizer,”  “Would you make me chicken soup?” and “Do you have any more of those slippery elm cough drops?” certainly qualifies as attention since she does end up bringing me all that stuff.

Siri only requires a periodic battery charge.  In the competition for who is lower maintenance…well, I cannot compete.

I said to my partner, “I love when you take care of me and wait on me and cuddle me,” and she said, “I know.”

You can imagine the tone of voice she used.

I said, “I’m just being honest.”

Just then Siri gave off some sound or another and my partner left the room.  She is now lying on her own bed with Siri and her laptop, fighting off the cold so she doesn’t get as sick as me.

I supposed if I get well I better brace myself for bringing Kleenex, chicken soup, Kombucha, ice cream, ice chips and batteries for f*(&ing Siri.

I mean, on the plus side, those are things Siri just can’t do.

Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles Made the List


On the rather long list of people I am in love with is Jennifer Nettles.  I fell for her totally and completely the first time I saw her on PBS.  I said to my partner, “Come see!  This woman is made of joy!”

I don’t even really like country music and I watched the whole program, because Nettles’ sense of fun was so infectious.  I hadn’t ever seen a musician do what she did–and it filled the living room, the way it must have filled the auditorium.

This was, of course, before Sugarland and Nettles made it big.  I’ve kept half an eye on her, to see if she would be changed by fame.  Sometimes I thought her voice sounded kind of nasal.  I thought there was too much twang.  But I never got tired of watching her.

So yesterday, when I was zoning out of everything I should have been doing and watching Internet tv, Hulu gave me the option to watch Duets, and I was like, what the hell.  I haven’t wanted to watch the show, mind you.  Like, all we need is more reality tv.

I was wrong.  Kelly Clarkson remains completely herself and very spontaneous in what she says, which is great.  But Jennifer Nettles–it’s truly amazing to watch her work a duet.  She is entirely generous in the arrangement (she sings much less than her contestants), and in performance she calibrates her voice so she never overpowers her partner.  The episode I watched had two incredibly moving ballads (both by the guys working with her), and she was so genuinely kind to them, so empowering, I was like, Is this even for real?  I mean, ON TELEVISION, someone is truly partnering someone else?

Kelly Clarkson is also very empowering BTW, but the two male coaches (John Legend and Robin something or other) sometimes even sing more than their contestants!  But it’s the way Jennifer Nettles connects, the way she joins with her mentees, that’s so outstanding.  I have to ask, Does she have Meisner training?

Regardless, she has remained herself, relatively ego-free for the business she’s in, feet on the ground, available to the people around her…at least that’s how it looks.

In other words, it can be done.

Thank you, Jennifer Nettles, for exemplifying grace.  It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  The most awake Buddhist monks are joyful.  The more joy, the more depth and compassion.  (And, BTW, the woman can really sing…so clear when she’s not singing country.)

Anyhow, in my own quest for grace, it’s probably a good thing that I gave up wearing black and being “Ms. Dark Side,” all sharp and sardonic at, what?  22?

Suffering Is Optional?!&*%#@


What about my poor partner, for whom kvetching is an art form?

No, seriously, this saying has always DRIVEN ME OUT OF MY MIND!  Like, okay, say I’m sad.  I’m just supposed to presto-change-o kill that emotion?  I mean, outside of alcohol, drugs, chocolate, lots of sex, shopping, etc, how is someone SUPPOSED TO DO THAT?

I have a lifetime full of attitudes that may, perhaps, at times, mildly, gently, occasionally need adjustment.  My attitude toward this saying can be summed up in the delightful sentence, “Can you New Age lightweights go get some real grief?”

But in my obsession with Buddhism and yoga, I have been reading The Wisdom of Yoga by Stephen Cope (because even though yoga teacher training means I’m reading about 10 other books, I just have to go off on what interests or informs me).  And it turns out that the full saying is this:

“Pain is a given, but suffering is optional.”

Ah-hah!  I wasn’t so off in talking about real grief!  Because the thing is, it’s really, really, really important to draw the distinction between the first and second halves of that sentence.  Pain is a given.  Meaning, it is inescapable.  We die.  We lose people we love.  We sometimes treat each other horribly.  There are natural disasters, wars, epidemics.  Fear, sadness, sorrow, anger, horror…these are a part of life.  You can’t avoid them.  They are not optional.

Then what is suffering?  According to Cope, who is liberally quoting the Buddha, Patanjali and Jung among others, suffering is the constant re-enactment of our own life patterns.  He says that this, really, is karma.  These patterns.  They are laid down in childhood, they are laid down by repetition, they are grooves in the brain.  We fall into them like ruts in a dirt road.  But they are not inescapable.  Of course, here’s the thing: They are not exactly easy to escape.  It’s not easy to find the way to freedom.  It’s just very, very possible.

The Hindu religion and Buddhism were and are very concerned with the nature of suffering or dukkha.  The sages in India studied the mind in order to learn about human suffering.  The Buddha himself, after entering samvega (the full realization of suffering and meaninglessness), wanted to eradicate suffering.

Now, I’m a beginning meditator (even though I’ve been at it off and on since 1987), but not at all a beginning seeker.  And what I know is this–your patterns don’t whoosh, disappear.  They remain, but not so deeply grooved, if you find a way to freedom.  You have more choice.  You are not held by your history to the constant dukkha of repetition.

There’s something else, though.  As you grow into an ability to hold your own patterns, to know them as you and not you simultaneously, as you grieve for the pain at the heart of them, you become sad in a permanent way.  It’s a mature sadness, that is held within freedom.  It’s compassion and understanding, because you have gone into the dark and come out alive.  It’s a recognition of the world of causes and conditions, the world in which war and poverty and pain exist.

I know that grief, fully lived out, teaches us our humanity.  I have yet to read, in Eastern religions, about the power of grief (or intimacy, for that matter, which is also a path).  But I also know that, as one of my meditation teachers said so eloquently, that there are many paths to the moon.  We all look up, we see it, but we take different routes to get closer.

The best thing about meditation and the full practice of yoga is that they are practices.  I think it’s probably best to be in a sangha, a community, to deepen and practice, but it’s just really great that you can practice alone and get freer.  In other words, you DON’T NEED A F*&(ING THERAPIST!

This is a great relief to me.

And, I’m going to meditate again right now.  Because this morning I was super edgy with my partner.  I’d had another one of those moments of seeing her, hearing her, completely separate from my own experience and fear; and, once again, the world shifted.  I realized that I don’t know squat and I’m madly constructing reality all the time and I got her wrong, which is not something I like to see or admit.  Even though she’s more loving than I even knew, even though I felt an incredible opening, a sense of compassion, yesterday, seeing her.  Truth is, this morning, I was just pissed off.  I mean, who is she to make me change how I see the whole world?

I have confessed this to her already.  One might suppose that I would be grateful to her for popping me out of a dukkha rut, but I found it incredibly disorienting, to tell you the truth.  I didn’t know where or who I was without my familiar way of seeing.

Need I mention that I live for these moments?  Popped out of dukkha, admitting I’m crazy, which pops me into closeness as long as my partner doesn’t judge at all.  Which she hasn’t been doing.

I get to be happy for a little bit in my dukkha, unenlightened life.

Onward.

I mean, what else is there to say?