Monday, November 28, 2016

Flashback to a Philosophical time

During the time that I was a student at Virginia Wesleyan from 2007-2010, I took a class on Buddhism from Dr. Steven Emmanuel.  One of the short papers we had to write on the class was about meditation.  We were supposed to meditate for a period of time.  I can't recall how long and somehow that didn't make it into this paper. Which will surprise you given the extreme nature of its rambling.  I was reminded once more of this paper during a conversation with my fairy godmother, and I thought you might enjoy it.  With minimal interruption from present day, here's the paper.  I hope you will be amused by it.  

A glimpse into the inside of Heather’s head during meditation (present day interruption:  I was definitely blogging at the time and this title was likely inspired by that)

Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Wait, I’m supposed to be counting breaths.
Three.    I sure wish I didn’t have a cold.  I just can’t breathe out my nose and I’m sure that I’m not supposed to breathe out of my mouth.  And I must look ridiculous sitting here with my mouth hanging open.  And did I just hear a fly…?

Shoot, I’m not supposed to be thinking…. In…

Wait, I was counting.  What number was I on?  Oh, I’m supposed to start over if I lose track.  

Four…  This Buddhist thing is really hard.  I mean, you wouldn’t think that thinking about nothing would be that hard for me.  I used to be blonde.  At one point it was even natural.  Of course, saying I’m a blonde is just a label and what does that really even mean?  

Shoot, lost track again…  One.
Seven.   Wow, I made it to seven this time.  I mean, I know I’m not supposed to notice or anything but it’s just so impressive that I made it to seven.  That means that I can maybe even get higher.  And how am I supposed to know when the time is up if I’m not supposed to be noticing the outside world?  Maybe I should set my internal alarm clock.  Okay, I’m really not focusing here.

One, breathe in.
Two, breathe out.
Three, breathe in…  

But, maybe it should be one breathe in, one breathe out and like the whole pattern is one and then it starts at two.  But at that rate, I may never get past one.  I can’t believe that anyone is a Buddhist.  Do they even know how hard this is?  Okay, of course, they know how hard this is.  I just can’t figure out what makes them think it’s a good idea.  I’m going to embrace Buddhism so I can do this really hard mental exercise over and over again.

Four.  This is so hard; it’s like aerobics for my brain. It’s like I have the brain of an eighty year old woman.  Not that there aren’t plenty of sharp eighty year old women out there.  Who knows, if I get this meditation thing right, I might be one of them.

Eight.  I hope it’s okay to think about the numbers as big and colorful.  This really helps me to focus on them, but maybe they’re not supposed to be so interesting.  But, making them more interesting slows down the wandering of the mind a little.  (Obviously, only a little.) 

I thought I remembered reading that it was okay to wander off track, as long as I was aware that I was wandering.  I’m not supposed to fight the wandering, just try to get back to where I was.  I should imagine the meditation as a path in the woods that I should try to stay on.  If I were on an actual path in the woods and I wandered off, it’s natural that I would try to find my way back to the path.  But, along the way, I spot a butterfly on a flower and it would feel wrong not to try to appreciate the butterfly first.  After all, I would not have seen the butterfly if I had not gone off the path.  I would not have discovered and appreciated some of my skew thoughts if I had not veered off the path of meditation.  Still, the point is to concentrate.  Think about the breathing.  Remember to breathe.  Sit up straighter.  Okay, breathe in, breathe out.  More like snork in, snork out.  I really should have taken something before I started this.  I think that would have made me sleepy though.  At least if I were sleepy I may have been able to stay on track though.

Three.  I wish I could remember how many years the Buddhists have been practicing this.  How do they stay so focused?  Do they have a website with support?  And doesn’t that take away from their meditation time.  I like the idea of the mindfulness bell, but how does that work again?  How long do you stop and think?  Is there a second bell to let you know it’s okay to get moving again?  Or is it just a reminder to step out and get re-centered?  Like the stoplight meditation.  Or being qualified to answer the phone.  I liked that.  I tried that, and that was particularly difficult because I work in a call center.  The phone doesn’t really ring, just a beep and someone’s there.  There’s really only five seconds to be qualified.  It does help though.*

Shoot.  One.
Five.  I wonder when that kitchen timer is going to go off.  How long have I been sitting here?  It’s almost time for dinner.  Wonder what we’re going to have.  I should have eaten before I started this.  Since this is so mentally strenuous, perhaps I’m even burning calories.  I’ll be sure to put this into my exercise journal, if I ever start one.  I’d probably have to meditate through a meal in order to really make it worthwhile.  Maybe I could concentrate with half my brain and let the other half wander.  

Who am I kidding?  I just recently mastered walking and chewing gum, typing and talking.  I don’t think meditation is supposed to be out multi-tasking.  In fact, it’s probably the anti-multi-tasking.  I really thought this Buddhism thing could be for me, but all of this non-thinking and thinking at the same time are certainly not for me.  Not to mention this whole elimination of self.  I’m pretty self-centered, so if I were to drop the self, then that would make me… Centered.

Oh.  That’s neat.

Five.  It would be nice to be centered.  Balanced, even.  I would like to live outside of my own head once in a while.  What’s interesting to me is that the practice that is so focused on getting outside of your head also wants you to be inside through meditation.  It’s a bit of a paradox, but then there is so much about Buddhism that is like that.  It’s not just the heads or tails of the coin and it’s not even the coin itself.  It’s just this extraordinary focus on completely being present inside and outside of your head with as much accuracy as you can muster.  I think it’s starting to come together now.



*The mindfulness bell, stoplight meditation and "being qualified to answer the phone" are references to classroom discussions.  I know that the mindfulness bell had something to do with bells that apparently ring at Buddhist monasteries (or whatever they're called) and when they ring, you should stop whatever you're actively doing and just be mindful.  I don't remember much beyond that, and I definitely don't remember the specifics of being qualified to answer a call.

Fun trip down memory lane that I think may one day be part of my one-woman show.  :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Let's Unpack This Mess

One of the current buzzwords in corporate speak is "let's unpack this."  I'm not sure what the exact corporate to English definition is, but in emotional baggage speak it's pretty obvious.  Let's get the election souvenirs out of these bags and then examine them.

That's kind of where I am with the president-elect situation.

1) First souvenir out of the bag is my loss of mojo....

I follow the Pantsuit Nation and am in awe of the amazing women who are ready to stand tall, band together, kick ass and take names.  They're educating themselves, planning rallies and basically trying to save the world.  I am in awe because they are the definition of awe-inspiring.  I hope I do not offend too greatly when I say I wish that they had had this momentum a few months ago, but honestly -- that's part of the unpacking.  I didn't have this momentum either.

Part of why I lost the momentum -- or maybe never had it -- is because of the echo chamber of Facebook.  It's all many of us have talked about since this was over.  We're friends with like-minded people, we block and/or unfriend people who don't agree with us.  Because, as one friend eloquently phrased it, you cannot "change a mind made of concrete."  But, I just didn't think I was dealing with so many people who were also in echo chambers.  Completely different echo chambers.  Chambers echoing that a country run by a misogynist, racist, homophobic, xenobic, lying liar was somehow better off than one run by a woman, a qualified and yet flawed woman, but a woman nonetheless. Echo chambers that believe that we're somehow going to be okay as women's rights and gay rights and Muslim rights and black rights slowly get more and more stripped away.  I know you didn't either you.  You thought our truth was THE truth.  But, even within that, you're probably now being inundated with stories about how fake news stories contributed to our current state of affairs.  People sharing stories ad nauseum that are completely false because they like the fake headlines and maybe didn't even read the actual article and certainly didn't fact check them.  The statistics have been done and shown that while there were far more of them done on the right than on the left, they were still done by the left.  It's not RIGHT for anyone to do it, but that can't be stopped anymore than the ubiquitous spam emails promising you instant weight loss if you just send your bank account to that poor little prince in Persia.

In order to get this unwieldy souvenir out of my bag, I have to stop denying that its a problem I possess.  I can't promise I'm going to be any better about getting my "news" from the Facebook, but I promise I will be more vigilant in verifying the stories I read, fact-checking them through SnopesProPublica and Politifact.  I will stay more in touch with my own local news -- especially through my favorite super local source The Princess Anne Independent News (even if J-H Doucette has kicked my ass in poker more than once).  I am unpacking my own deliberate head-in-the-sand attitude and if I come across fake stories, I will do what I can to quash them and dispel them.

2) There will be many, many more posts about this if I can manage to keep writing, but we gotta keep talking about white privilege

I'm not going to sugarcoat this.  If you are a white person, you have privilege.  If you think that means you had it easy or you never had to struggle, then you don't fucking understand what privilege is and you need to check yourself.  If you care enough to educate yourself, this is my favorite essay on the topic. I have yet to have a conversation with someone about white privilege who doesn't understand it and suddenly change their mind, but I continue to hope that there are people out there who can be taught.  Having privilege doesn't mean that you don't have to be worried or scared about the pending changes with our new administration, it just means that the reality is you don't have to be AS scared.  White people who deny their privilege like to say that they have had to work hard for everything they have and they are "tired" of hearing people of color (whom they also rarely refer to as people of color) use their skin color as an "excuse" for not getting what they want or for the world being messed up.  I think those people are lost.  I think those people are never going to "get it."  They don't understand even the basic matter of not being able to buy a "flesh-colored" ANYTHING that doesn't remotely look like THEIR flesh and then translate that into how that is just ONE example of what "privilege" means.

I feel awful that I lost sight of this issue.  That part of the rage so many Americans felt was over their inherent racism over our current administration.  (See also:  evil, awful woman who called our current First Lady an ape and then denied that she meant anything racist about it.  HUH?)

I'll leave it like this for now, because again -- if I can keep up writing (see also - don't want to lose my my mojo), I know I will write about white privilege again.  It's something I feel particularly passionately about.

3) While I have a lot more in my emotional baggage, this is the hardest one for me to deal with right now. My constant anxiety about the future.  It's always there now, gnawing away of my guts.  You know that feeling that you have when you go on a road trip and you think you left the stove on or forgot something important at home?  It's like that.  It's not a crushing anxiety, it's like test anxiety.  Because, that's what I really feel like this is, friends.  I feel like I'm about to be tested and I fear -- greatly -- that I will be found lacking.

I'm not a marcher or a protester.  I'm obviously no great essayist poised to write about and undergo a movement.  I don't have a great memory for facts and figures in the face of finger-pointing arguments.  In short, I do not feel up to this challenge. And yet, I can't see myself backing down either.  Because just doing nothing doesn't feel like an option anymore.  So, even if it's small things like calling my elected officials or starting my blog back up or sharing this YouTube post from a 14-year-old boy who understands that this dude shouldn't be president of ANYTHING, I'm going to keep doing whatever I can to keep my own little protests going...


Thanks for reading -- love to you all!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Inspired by John Oliver -- day 6

While I have always loved John Oliver, I have really grown completely devoted to him since his coverage of the 2016 election.  (Here's the link to his post-election show: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

There are a lot of really good points in here.  Most notably the start of the answer to:  what the fuck do we do now?  One answer is to donate to causes that may need resources because of some of Trump's planned policies.

These are the organizations he has proposed:

Planned Parenthood  
 Because Roe vs Wade still stands and they do much more than just abortions anyway.

Center for Reproductive Rights
  Because Roe vs Wade is in potential jeopardy and women should get to keep choices over what they can do with their bodies.

Natural Resources Defense Council
  Because Trump is planning on installing a non-scientist, climate change denier as the head of the EPA

The International Refugee Assistance Project
  Because Syria

NAACP Legal Defense Fund
  Because Black Lives Matter

The Trevor Project
  Because the Veep and other proposed cabinet members think that being gay is some kind of choice. 

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
  Because walls are stupid.

There are probably many more, but this is a good start.

Another key take-away from his show is that most of us get our news from our Facebook feed.  Which lets face it, Facebook is an echo chamber of lies and misinformation.  (This was also the proposed title of the first Harry Potter novel.)  So, we have to stop accepting things as fact just because we like how they sound.  I'm good with that.  But, how do we get "them" to do that?  How do we bridge this divide when "they" don't trust or believe the media, other than Fox?  Because we have got to push this train forward, even though its engineer is batshit crazy.  How do we force those who truly don't believe in facts that you can't just deny the facts?  Because by definition they are "a thing that is indisputably the case" OR "something that truly exists or happens."

I am genuinely asking this, because I do not know.  In the wake of the results, many articles came through my facebook feed and one that has really settled and taken hold is this one.

       You can’t say that you’re for progress and then stay quiet because it’s too awkward. We’ve tried   changing the minds of racists, and it hasn’t worked. So it has to come from you. Not the you that posts “woke af” articles (like this one) that only your friends can see, but the you that goes home for Thanksgiving and silently digs into the green bean casserole while someone talks about Black Lives Matter being thugs. Use your voice. Those mashed potatoes won’t stand up for Black people—you have to.

 Wow, right?  How do we do that?  How do we get to a point of being able to hold rational conversations with people who don't believe facts?  I am genuinely asking this, again.  Because I need to know.  I am going to be in these positions, and I need to know how to open this dialogue and keep it going.  And not back down.... 

The rambling will continue again -- but for now, you are welcome for the Tom Petty song now currently stuck in your head.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

“America, let’s just breathe”

I heard this phrase during the puzzles this morning on Sunday Edition on NPR.  The contestant was just asking for a moment to breathe because she was nervous, but the co-host turned the phrase “America, let’s just breathe.”  And I was inspired to finally finish writing this piece that I’ve been picking at all week…
We are coming off a life-changing week.  For most in my own newsfeed, it’s a week of sadness and loss.  During a time when we expected to see the first female president, we have not.  Every single possible negative characterization has been assigned to our pending President-elect.  I have said many of them as have my sister- and brother-hood.  There is no need to repeat them now.  And there is no need to continue to assign all of those characterizations to our fellow Americans who chose to vote for him.  We made a choice and they made a choice, and in both cases and on both sides of the country, those choices were made as a protest, as a vote against the other party, et cetera.  We can all continue to play Monday morning quarterback and analyze what happened, why it happened and what we could have/should have done differently.  The point is moot.  He was elected.  No, as we need to remind ourselves to placate our damaged souls, not by a majority of the POPULAR vote, but because of an arcane system called the Electoral College.  Nevertheless, it happened. Look at the maps – they were red.  Red like the rage that we ignored that has been plaguing our country.  We, the Pants Suit Nation, are mystified and stunned and wanting to assign all of the possible negative characterizations to this half of the country as we were to the President-elect.  But, the truth is while those characterizations may be true for many of the Trump voters, there were just as many who felt just as strongly against Hillary and US.  “We” were deemed narrow-minded and out of touch and a whole lot of other things after the fact.
I’ve thought about some of those characterizations, particularly after I watched Michael Moore’s segment on Morning Joe.  (Link:  (Note:  I am not a regular Morning Joe watcher, but I do follow Michael Moore on Facebook.)  Michael Moore is certainly NOT a Republican, but his case for why the Democrats lost the mid-West cannot be ignored.  “We” do not try to understand the anger and fear that rises out of this segment of society and “we” belittle it as being uneducated and misinformed.  In other words, it’s the very reason that “we” are considered elitist snobs.  One of the panelists tried to make the point that “they” are not trying to see things from “our” point of view, either.  Unfortunately, he was shouted down, as is often the case on any of these pundit type shows.  (Which is frankly why I so rarely watch any of them.)  I think both sides have an equally valid point.  We DON’T hear their cries for help and we DON’T take them seriously.  If we did, don’t you think Hillary would have campaigned more fiercely in Wisconsin after she lost to Bernie? 
There I go, Monday morning quarterbacking again…
Right now, I feel just torn down the middle.  Part of me truly believes, he won, we lost.  We do need to try to find a peaceful way forward.  I hear his supporters say that we should all just trust that things are going to work out and just accept the fact that we lost, et cetera.  I grit my teeth until the enamel feels thin, but I know that there is truth in there.  Like Michelle Obama preached, when they go low, we go HIGH!  (Link:  I want that.  I want to be the better woman, aligned with better men and women… 
But, I think about how before the election results even came in, Republicans as a coalition were pledging to block her nominees to the Supreme Court, pledging to block all of her legislation, and that’s not even taking into consideration all of the blocking that was done in the previous 8 years.  I think about how the president-elect was one of the founding reasons that the racist, hate-filled “birther” movement even started and…
That’s when the rage and bile rise and that other part of me rises.  The She-Hulk part of me rises and roars and believes that I should join in the protests that are cropping up around the country (including the biggest one being planned, the Women’s March on Washington in January the day after the inauguration).  (Link:  I’ve read many of the posts and articles from Trump voters who say “they” aren’t racist, misogynist, et cetera.  And I’ve read the responses – “we” believe you, or at least, we really, really, REALLY want to believe you.  But when the part of my worldview shows that in the wake of a Trump election, there is a rise in hate crimes -- I am scared.  (Link: I’ve seen battles between family members play on the pages of Facebook.  I’ve heard stories of family members shaming other family members because they didn’t vote Republican.  I have family members who are genuinely afraid that their marriage will be dissolved and their rights stripped away. 
I want to bring reason to the She-Hulk.  I hear from a man on the news who voted for Trump and even sounds at first to be a little skeptical and even, dare I say, reasonable.  Until the reporter asks him, do you think that it’s possible for us to find a way to live in a peaceful, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society?  And the man says no, it’s can’t be done.
All hope is gone again.
And here, on Day 5, She-Hulk and I, we try to figure out how to remember to just breathe.

I'm back

Quick note before the post I wrote.  I'm bringing this blog back from the dead.  The only thing I have ever been any good at in my whole life is writing about how I feel and view the world.  It's narcissism at its finest.  I want to find a way to merge this with my spring off blog, Inside Heather's Fat, because even though I have stopped trying to lose weight and just embraced being fat -- that's part of my journey too.  But for now, I'm back.

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