Sunday, August 26, 2012

Praying for Paul Ryan

I was surprised Thursday night to realize how grateful I was for the prospect of sitting on a bus for two and a half hours the next morning. I'm almost never as aware of my own need for down time as would be good for me. Over and over, I notice, as though it were dawning on me for the first time, that I'll be happier, in the face of an overloaded agenda, if I slow down rather than speed up. Nothing on my list will get done. But I'll feel very different about the list when I go back to it: I won't feel like it owns me.

On my way to the bus, I saw an especially beautiful Rose of Sharon in bloom and wanted to take it in. Just breathe, I told myself. Breathe into the perfection of this one moment that's slipping away as quickly as it's coming into being. And then found myself reaching for the mala in my bag, thinking that if a few breaths were good, 108 breaths counted out with the beads would be even better. And soon slid into breathing for the people waiting with me for the bus. For the driver of the SUV inching by in the slow August traffic. For the couple I was rude and dismissive to last week in a disagreement over a much-coveted parking space, on which all our lives desperately depended. And then for people I've known better and longer.

The five people I know who currently have cancer.

The friend now living in chronic care after an incapacitating cerebral hemorrhage.

The men in my ritual circle.

The friends I'll say goodbye to over the next few days until next summer.

The friend who had a difficult meeting with his employers at work that morning.

And here's the kicker: the delegates to the Republican National Convention.

The delegates to the Republican National Convention???

Please don't misunderstand me here. It's not that I think Republicans are nice, well-intentioned folks just like the rest of us and deserve my respect because, hey, there's only you and me and we just disagree. Republicans in 2012 are, at best, willfully blind in their elevation of greed and selfishness to the status of national virtues. At worst, they're self-aware liars about the real nature of their agenda. They won't be satsified until the last poor person of color is disqualified from the voting roles; until the last option women have for control of their own bodies is criminalized; until sexual minorities are forced back into the closet; until schoolchildren are given standardized tests twenty times a year and their teachers blamed for weak results; until the health care system in this country is run like a commodities market; until every ten-year-old is presented with an attack rifle and told to exercise his right to keep and bear arms; until the last unspoiled place on earth gets its own oil well.

Take Paul Ryan as a case in point. There's virtually no distinction between his position on abortion rights and that of Todd Akin, the Republican Senatorial candidate in Missouri who notoriously opined last week that in cases of "legitimate rape" women are unlikely to conceive. Like Akin, Ryan in his support for a ban on abortion doesn't even endorse exceptions for rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother, though he defers on these points to the position of his lack-lustre, flip-flopping, off-I-go-to-the-highest-bidder running mate.

Ryan is the poster version of the self-made man, the guy who, when he lost his father at sixteen, rolled up his sleeves and supported his family; became a hunting enthusiast who butchered his own kills and made his own sausage; who read the ponderous, self-important screeds of Ayn Rand and found himself on every page. He's the man who wants to slash Medicare but has the duplicitous gall to level precisely that charge at Barack Obama.

Friday morning, Paul Ryan felt like a good person to breathe for, to pray for. Wrapped inside all that rhetoric of the self-made man is still the sixteen-year-old who defended himself against the pain of bereavement by telling himself to buck up and get past the loss. The strategy worked so well for him--he pushed the grief and pain down so effectively--that now he can tell himself that if he could surmount his own obstacles, then so can everyone else: like him, they should all stop whining and stand on their own two feet. Any softness of heart that comes of staying in touch with our own experience of suffering, loss, and need, any chance of connecting through that experience with others, gets buried like rich topsoil under asphalt.

That rich topsoil is what Buddhist teachers like Ani Pema Chödrön call bodhichitta: the noble and enlightened heart. And they remind us that we all have it. Even Paul Ryan; even delegates to the Republican National Convention.

If there's hope for me, it's the same hope that's there for the likes of Paul Ryan: that something will lead us to break through the asphalt we've laid down and find rich, soft soil underneath. That we'll find what's soft in our hearts, despite execrable politics, or fights over parking spaces, or whatever else we use to defend ourselves against a more basic and life-giving truth: that we are vulnerable; that we are mortal; that we need one another as seedlings that have found their way through a crack in the pavement need water and light.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Few Axioms for a Day at the Beach

If you inscribe a labyrinth in flat, packed sand at low tide on the beach, some or all of the following will happen.

A middle-aged man will walk across it as though it weren't there.

Most of the other adults will walk around it rather than cutting straight across.

Two men or two women walking the beach together may turn to admire it. It thus may serve as a useful tracking device for spotting gay men, lesbians, and/or feminists on a straight beach.

Almost all of the children who pass by will notice it.

Some of the children will jump around on it.

A few of the children will decide to walk it.

The children's attention may induce a grownup to walk it with them.

The tide will claim it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rabbi David Dunn Bauer: Bodies of Knowledge, Bodies of Wisdom

The following is a cross-post from David Dunn Bauer's site,

In a recent conversation with a Spiritual Counseling client, I made reference to the ancient and yet startling Jewish blessing for the internal functions of the body – all our internal plumbing – a blessing that traditionally is recited after going to the bathroom. The blessing begins with the words

Blessed are You, God, who created the human being in wisdom.

My client (this one happened to be literate in Hebrew) pointed out that the original text could legitimately be translated quite differently.

Blessed are You, God, who created the human being from wisdom.

I think what blew me away was the simplicity and the obvious rightness of his reading.

Not only can we perceive a wisdom in the structure of the body, but we can mine wisdom from the very tissues and fibers of it. The medium – the clay, if you will – from which we are sculpted is wisdom. We connect to that wisdom through what our bodies experience and feel. That experiential wisdom may be something we can translate into words, or it may remain inexpressible. Truth can get lost in translation. The sensation of a caress, a squeeze, an ache, or an orgasm can communicate a wisdom to our souls that no words can contain.

This reminded me of a healing session I experienced once with my friend and teacher Joe Weston. During a spiritual body work session shortly after my father died, Joe found places on my torso that were painful to the touch. I said, “Make the pain go away.” Joe replied, “You don't want the pain to go away, you want it to tell you what it knows.”

Bodies are made of wisdom. It's an obvious truth, yet it is a very Queer truth.

The acknowledgement of an authority competitive to the mind is Queer.

Recognizing the sensations and experience of the body as wisdom – that is so Queer!!!

To hold as a religious truth that the erotic body can teach the mind through its sensations is Queer.

The conforming approach has been that the crude and ignorant body must only be lectured to and made wise by the mind. Queer God, Queer faith, Queer experience tell us different.

May we bless the Queer God who creates us from wisdom and in wisdom, and teaches us not to judge the ways in which we are wise.