Crises & Mindfulness

Crises reveal your values because you have to choose.

Ed Milliband

In a crisis, I can’t have it all. When push comes to shove, what do I choose?

It’s now the end of a too long day and I haven’t done either of the exercises the doctor recommended to speed recovery. There isn’t time to do both—so I choose the mental exercises, like always. I rationalize that the physical exercises are stimulating and make it hard to sleep, but the mental exercises are also hard and cause anxiety.

Mindfulness practices urge me to pause before reacting and notice what’s going on. Looking at my choices, I ask, “Is this serving me well?” No, better to sometimes choose physical exercises instead. With no load over eight pounds, I’m not going to end up too pumped to sleep.  False concern.

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Expanding on “What Would Martin Do?”

The election of Donald Trump is profoundly disturbing for many reasons: the process (e.g. fake news, probable Russian intervention, and the ugliness of the rhetoric) and the results (e.g. his nominees reek of crony capitalism). Resistance is necessary, but not sufficient. It only slows the Trump agenda. We need to set a better agenda and derail the Trump agenda.

While I look to Sun Tzu (The Art of War), and Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching) for direction, I also look to the modern contemplative-activists: Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Thich Nhat Hanh, etc. In this essay, I’m using “Martin” as a stand-in or exemplar because MLK is the most widely known activist for this world view.

The racism and prejudice of many supporters made the news, but these weren’t enough to elect him. Trump also appealed to the left-behinds—those hard working people whose jobs, identity, and community has been lost to globalization, automation, and productivity increases. There are enough of them and they are angry to the point of violence or at least violent language. They are not the enemy but potential allies.

So what would Martin do? First—pray or meditate in silence. Gandhi is widely quoted as saying, “I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.” MLK prayed on his own and in community with those working along side him. Use creative tactics: take the unexpected way, what Richard Rohr calls finding the Third Way, takes time spent in silence, patience, not simply reacting against. All of the people mentioned in the second paragraph spent a lot of time in prayer or meditation. It is necessary for creative planning, but also to stay centered in confrontations with others.

These people were kind, but not “nice”. They did not go along to get along, but neither were they violent. One of the tactics I learned in martial arts is to pull when pushed. Gandhi used this to excellent effect in a famous incident:

At one stage it became known to Gandhi’s followers that he was to be visited by a British official who would threaten him with prison if he did not give up some of his—to the British—subversive activities. They came to him excited and said, “We have a great idea: we shall put nails on the road he will be driving along and they will puncture the tires of his car so that he will not be able to get here.”

“You will do nothing of the sort”, said Gandhi. “We shall invite him in politely and offer him a cup of tea.”

Crestfallen, his followers obeyed. The official arrived and strode in full of imperial purpose.

“Now then, Mr. Gandhi, this so-called Salt Marching has to stop at once. I shall otherwise be forced to arrest you.”

“Well,” said Gandhi, “First of all, let’s have some tea.”

The Englishman agreed reluctantly. Then when he had drained his cup, he said briskly, “Now we must get down to business. About these marches …”

Gandhi smiled. “Not just yet. Have some more tea; there are more important things to talk about.”

And so it went on. The Englishman became increasingly interested in what the Mahatma had to say and eventually forgot completely about his official task, drank many more cups of tea and eventually went away, fully won over to Gandhi’s cause.

Notice how Gandhi did the unexpected, a necessary part of being a prophet, a change agent. He was setting the agenda, instead of the Englishman. The Salt Marsh was both symbolic and practical, salt is life critical in a tropical environment. The British Empire had given themselves a monopoly. Gathering their own salt was civil disobedience and fulfilling the people’s need, not simple resistance.

During the campaign one of Trump’s popular proposals was spending a lot on infrastructure. It was needed and it would mean a lot of middle class jobs for a Presidential term or two. He has since backpedaled, proposing tax credits for private companies who do infrastructure improvement, not any actual Federal spending. One of the lessons I took from the Great Recession is that private industry has very little interest in improving infrastructure, even their own. The only way private industry will do things like fix the Flint MI water system is if they can jack the rates up. I’ve seen that here in Austin. The rich and middle class people fled Flint years ago. The people there can barely the current rates.

Bernie Sanders has re-introduced his $1 trillion infrastructure bill. This is pushing back on Trump, but it is also pushing or pulling forward. It also reinforces the evidence that Trump is not there for the ordinary people, just the rich. The rich have it made. Their water systems are fine thank you. There are other Trump campaign promises that benefit us all, not just the rich. We should get behind them.

Right now, Trump is setting the agenda and the liberals are resisting, responding, reacting. Some of his proposals, if real, are so egregious, they must be resisted or responded to, but much of it is “a tale … full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” He has already abandoned many of his campaign promises that fired up his base, but are unimplementable or like jailing the opposition, would set a precedent even he is unwilling to set.

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Lent

Do you want to fast this Lent?

  • Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
  • Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
  • Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
  • Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
  • Fast from worry and have trust in God.
  • Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
  • Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
  • Fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy.
  • Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
  • Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
  • Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.

Pope Francis   Lent 2017

Having recently attended several funerals and just sent out three sympathy cards this morning, I might change sadness in the second one to despair or pity. Also, be compassionate to yourself so you can be compassionate to others.

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Responding Skillfully

5 Ways Not to Bite the Trump Hook by Susan Piver strikes me as some of the best advice I heard lately to make it through life with grace and balance.

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What Would MLK Do?

I’ve been struggling to write a post on “What Would MLK Do?” Now I don’t have to. Charles Johnson has written  The King We Need: Martin Luther King Jr., Moral Philosopher,. He is a student of Dr. King’s life, writings, legacy and has written several books, including at least one novel, on MLK. A thoughtful post by a very good writer.

“What would MLK Do?” in brief:

.

Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus
Remember always that the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation-not victory.
Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

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What Would Macy Do?

Joanna Macy is “a Buddhist scholar, environmental activist, and author whose teachings are informed by the dharma, deep ecology, and systems thinking”, i.e. an activist-contemplative like Martin (Luther King). Rilke’s Book of Hours as Portent and Guide is a report on a workshop Macy did recently using Rilke’s poetry as guidance and support for activist-contemplatives. Contemplatives, as their practice deepens, start having more in common with contemplatives (mystics) in other traditions than the regular churchgoers in their own tradition. Macy nicely bridges Buddhist and Christian contemplative thought and practices.

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What Would Martin Do?

The recent election has troubled me and caused me to wonder how to respond.  Lashing out with the same ugly tactics does not improve the state of the world.  Neither does apathy and inaction.  I have been asking myself, “What would Martin (MLK) do?”  How to be kind without falling into being “nice”, appeasing the hateful?

A Time for Discernment – A Muslim Woman Calls on her Buddhist Cousins in Faith, a post by a Muslim woman on a Buddhist site, lays out a path for the faithful of all religions and peoples.

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Thanks

I have made it
  to the two year mark,
thankful.  I made it with a wife
  who was the light out of the dark place
where I was not sure I could go on.

The chem doctor says "Two years is key
  though for three, we'll watch carefully
and then free you to fly on your own at five."

I've learned compassion, to suffer with,
  because now I have enough
suffering of my own to begin
  to hear, to understand, to relate, though
no two sufferings are the same.

I've learned humility, painfully, bumped
  off the place of privilege
that an 800 lb gorilla mind carries.
  I now see sometimes where it sat
was on me and my relationships.

I've had a rainbow of guides through a place
  where there are travelers
but no natives; caravans in fact
  because solo travelers
seldom thrive.

Though insurance picked up
  most of the bills, I can pay more
in the coin of the realm: in thanks,
  in good news, in being a success story
where not all
  are so successful.
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Mindfulness in Crisis

Crises reveal your values because you have to choose.

Ed Milliband

It’s the end of a long day. I’m behind on the doctor recommended exercises, both mental and physical. I tell myself the physical exercises are too stimulating to do this late in the day. They’ll make it hard to sleep. Who am I fooling? The mental exercises push me and I get anxious. My first thought is the cancer related cognitive dysfunction scares me, a lot. My second thought is without a healthy body, a healthy mind is impossible.

Let’s get some perspective. The heaviest weight is 8 pounds. That isn’t going to get me too pumped to sleep.

Mindfulness practices urge me to pause before reacting and notice what’s going on. Are my choices serving me well? No, not really. I need to do both.

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URL Change Complete

The URL for this blog is now http://blog.zaml.us/. The old URL, http://austinblues.dyndns.org/, now redirects to the new URL. The old domain name will not be renewed and some time next year will stop working. Please update your bookmarks and RSS feed addresses. Thanks for reading.

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