Saturday, May 31, 2008

fantasies of death

I've been thinking about death. I blame my meditation practice. Fantasies of death have been coming to mind while meditating with increased frequency over the last couple years. About a year and a half ago, near the end of a meditation course, a particularly excruciating one arose.

In the realm of apocalyptic 2012 theories, one I've heard is that not only will the earth's magnetic poles shift, the planet's axis will shift, literally role over on its side so that points on the equator will become the new polar ice caps, and the antarctic continent will become habitable. This could happen quite quickly in this theory.

Now, I don't give this much credit. But somehow, on the morning of the tenth day of this meditation course my wandering mind, my whimsical, flittering, fluttering mind landed on this idea, and explored it. I imagined a scenario where it happened so quickly that all of a sudden we at Twin Oaks (where I was still living at the time) would get snowed in before we realized what was happening. And in this scenario there would be now relief, no escape. It would be a death sentence.

Of course, our stores of food and fire wood would keep us alive for some months. Then, gradually they would run out. I knew what I would do. I would meditate a lot. I would prepare myself for death as I've learned to do. But what about Willow? How could he understand what was happening? How could he cope?

I imagined trying to teach this (at that point) four year old boy how to meditate. Sitting with him as he cried, screaming, "why can't we leave?!" or "I'm hungry! Why can't we get food?!" or "I'm cold, why won't it stop snowing!" or "What's going on? What's going to happen?" And I would hold him and try my best to explain. "We're trapped, and eventually the food will run out, or the fire wood. We're going to die. It's going to feel really bad and there's nothing we can do to stop it."

I would try to stay calm, try to keep peace in myself as my heart broke over and over again. As a parent, as a human, one of the most painful experiences I've had to face is seeing Willow in pain, physical or emotional. Often, it's like I'm feeling it, only I feel more powerless, which only makes it worse.

Lately, new fantasies of death have been coming out. In case you didn't know there's been a world food crisis. Millions of people all of a sudden finding themselves without enough to eat. There have been food riots. I've been thinking about that. What if that happened here? Simply not enough food on the shelves to feed everyone, or it's so expensive that people, that I, can't afford to buy enough. What if people rioted? Would I riot too? Would I try to get enough for myself in a mad rush knowing that if I did someone else would go hungry? I'm lucky to be close with people who garden. But what happens when winter comes and there's just not enough?

There are other more plausible theories of catastrophe. Atmospheric, geophysical, solar disasters. All unlikely, but they've all happened before, and could literally happen again at any time. The southeast Asia tsunami. Katrina. The typhoon in Burma. The earthquake in china. I'm lucky. Any one of us is lucky.

Willow and I saw a movie in a planetarium that showed a representation of the asteroid colliding with the earth that wiped out the dinosaurs. Scientist think that in the first hour after the asteroid hit the temperature on the planet reached 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Planet wide black out of ash and dust ensued, dark enough so that plants didn't have enough sunlight to survive for 6 months. How anything on the planet managed to survive that is a wonder to me.

Thinking about all these things, I feel very small. I realize how fragile and insignificant I am in the grandness of time and space and geophysical, planetary, intrastellar phenomena. And then I look around me, in the coffeeshop I'm sitting in, or on the street I'm driving down, or in the dance club with people in their cute outfits doing their mating rituals.

And I think, what is life? What is this complexity of culture we've created that we so take for granted? Large scale cataclysmic events aside, there are the age-old cataclysms of sickness, injury, old age, death.

A friend recently dislocated her ankle in a bike accident. She may never walk right again. Even at 28 years old I'm finding that I gain weight much more easily than I use to, and my digestive system in general is much more sensitive. I have a chronic neck spasm from a childhood injury that will never fully heal, and will probably lead to gradual decrease in mobility the older I get. And I know I'm going to have to keep dealing with an increasing number of ailments.

I firmly believe that facing our pain is most profoundly life changing, transformative, revolutionary, social change-making action we can take. The less afraid of pain we are, the less afraid of death we are, the more open to love and joy and life we are. I've dealt with a lot of pain through my meditation practice, but I know I still have so far to go. I'm still very afraid of pain. Getting shots, or my blood taken, still makes me cringe, for example. And the thought of a painful death, particularly burning to death or drowning, are very hard to think about.

But I welcome these fantasies. I don't dwell on them, but I greet them when they arise, acknowledge them, feel how they feel, and let them pass. I'm grateful that I've started this practice now. It is perhaps naive hope, given the state of the world, that I will live to a ripe old age, but that is what I imagine. May I, and may we all, learn to face our pain and, ultimately, our deaths, with peace and calmness and gratitude.

earthly betrayal

Like a rebelious teenager, we have created an antagonistic relationship with our progenitors. We have betrayed they earth, and the earth, out of self-preservation, has broken from unconditional love and is betraying us. Our response is complex. How do to deal with it?

Kneel down, beat the earth with your fists, say,
"how could you!?"

Clutch the earth, grip it, dig your fingers into it, say,
"take me back!"

Leap from the earth, reach towards the sky, say,
"let me go!"

Lie on the earth, sprawl out in surrender, say,
"I accept this."

Stand up, face yourself, face others, face the world, say,
"I love you, I will better myself, I will better the world."

I heard an interesting concept last night. Corporate america has been increasingly co-opting the idea of being "green." "Green washing" has become popular, esp. among automobile and oil industries. Green consumerism is constantly gaining ground. Some of this is a sham, some of it is a step in the right direction. But generally, none of it is "sustainable."

Sustainable is the increasingly popular buzz word, the cutting edge of appropriate technology and socio-economic systems. But sustainable, in a sense, means neutral. It means not making things worse.

So, there's a next level: restorative. We don't really want to sustain things the way they are right now. We want to restore our natural and social environments to some previous state that is more balanced.

But there's a level beyond that: regenerative. And to me, regenerative implies an evolution beyond what has been to something new, something we are only beginning to imagine.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

willow and my life

After two and half months apart Willow and I are back together. The first night here, as we cuddled up for bed, I said, "you know what?" "What?" he said. "It's been two and half months since we've seen each other." "What the heck!" he exclaimed. "But you know, now that we're here together it seems like it's been no time at all." "Yeah," was his thoughtful reply.

Jumping back into full-time parenting has been good and challenging, natural and jarring. I'm immensly thankful for Kassia's presence. She's been spending lots of time with him, in addition to the three of us spending time together. I've always been the strictest of Willow's parents (in monitoring his screen time, for example) and the most demanding, around things like learning time and dietary choices. Kassia has been a good ally for me in this in that she doesn't come with the same level of anxiety towards "being a good parent" that I do. I've been appreciating her patience and persistance, as well as her creativity in find ways to engage Willow, rather than just making him do things, which is the approach I tend to fall into.

For some reason about a year ago parenting, and my relationship with Willow, all of a sudden took on a very natural and comfortable feeling for me. I still struggle with insecurities. When Willow gets into being fearful or insecure a part of me starts thinking it's my fault. When he gets into being lazy or obstinate I think I'm not pushing him enough and am not creative enough in my methods of engaging him. But I feel connected to him in a way I haven't before. There's more we can do together. He's more capable of grasping the various aspects of life and reality that I find awe inspiring. And somehow I just get what's going on for him better, and find it easier to talk with him about his experience. He's also getting more affectionate and cuddly with me, which I really enjoy.

I'm going back to virginia. Even before Willow came out I came to this conclusion. I can't subordinate parenting at this point in my life, in his life. Each year of his life right now is so special and unique - I don't want to miss it. I want to keep growing up with him. Pax, Hawina, and I seem to be in a stronger place that we've been for a long time as well. It would be a shame not to take advantage of strength and closeness of our family.

But I can't live at Twin Oaks anymore, that's clear. Charlottesville is the plan. Kassia will be coming too, and I'm very happy that we'll be continuing our partnership. In thinking about all the crazy plans and schemes I want to work on it seems like it would be much harder without her.

The best laid plans of mice and men, as they say. My personality likes to plan, likes to set myself on a track and follow it. Fortunately this about-face hasn't been too disruptive. I credit my meditation practice for that. And I'm looking forward to these next couple months in Portland, a month at a meditation center, Europe, and then hitting the ground (in C'ville) running in January.

Let's see how long this plan lasts ;0)

Friday, May 9, 2008

listening to Obama

Tonight I got to see/hear Barack Obama speak at the University of Oregon campus in Eugene, OR. He focused on issues, which I liked. He said lots of things I liked, about ending tax breaks for the rich, about renewable energy, about raising wages for teachers and funding early education programs, about increasing mass transit, around not accepting campain contributions from federally registered lobbies. His comments were also superficial. He was saying all the right things. That's what politicans do. They're not stupid... well, okay, at minimum they've got smart people working for them. And there were things he said that just didn't work for me, and things I wished he'd said.

He played down the conflict between his and Clinton's campaign, saying that the differences between them paled in comparison to the differences between either of them and McCain. He talked about people talking about how Clinton supporters won't vote for him and vise versa, and dismissed that. He said that the Democrates will be united come November. What I wanted to hear him say is, "even if Clinton wins the Democratic nomination I want every democrate to support her and vote for her."

He talked about the intention from the beginning beging to keep the campaign positive, no negativity, no mudslinging. He acknowledged that hasn't always happened. He said, "you know, when you get hit enough times you can't resist the temptation to hit back." He said, "we (meaning his campaign) haven't always kept to that (meaning keeping it positive." What I wanted to hear him say is, "I acknowledge that despite my promise to keep it positive I have attacked Clinton and McCain at times and I apologize for that."

He talked a lot about unity. But he still talked about "America's adversaries" and keeping American's "competitive on the international market." He talked about the need for new technologies to address global warming and how "we need to make sure those technologies are developed here." He talked about making America a leader in international politics again. So, the unity ends at the border? Cooperation is only for U.S., not for THEM?

He made various references to renewing the possibility of the "american dream." The presidential candidate I will get behind is the one who acknowedges that for the mass majority of people in this country since day one the american dream has been a lie.

He talked about universal health care. But from what I've read he's not talking about single-payer, nor is he talking about seriously changing the policies that require, or at least enable, the bureacracy of health insurance industry, which is a huge monetary drain on the system.

He talks about it being time to bring the troops home. But from what I've read he's made no committment to a deadline or outlined a timetable for withdrawl. Indeed, in his speech he said, "we need to be as careful leaving as we were reckless entering." What does that mean? 1 yr? 5 yrs? 10 yrs?

I think Obama is probably the best to come along, in terms of matching political platform with "electability," since Carter. But he's no Dennis Kucinich and he's no Ralph Nader. Obama ended his speech by saying, "the thing that's going to make it possible for all these changes is you." I do believe a critical mass of people are ready for real change and that it's that critical mass of people that's going to make real change possible, not the president.

I hope Obama is inspiring enough to inspire people past the idol worship that's developed around him to a sense of empowerment that will actually make things happen. And hopefully Obama will shift legslation enough to support that. An article in the Nation summed it up well for me. The authors wrote that, like JFK, a tepidly liberal yet charasmatic candidate can incite a popular movement to take things far beyond what they had actually intended. Here's hoping.