In-brief: Meditation

I was thinking about the Headspace app, and how for me, it was the real introduction to mediation.  It’s a great app for the beginner, and it does a wonderful job at making something long-considered esoteric more approachable and welcoming. 

I started using it in early Spring 2016 and I continued meditating consistently for the next 2-3 years. 

The experience taught me how to better handle my thoughts by adding some context and theory to what I probably already knew intrinsically—the simple idea that thoughts come and go and that there is no need to attach ourselves to them unless they are useful.

Simple enough, theoretically, though not necessarily easy to grasp.

The problem I ran into was that I got preoccupied with the notion of how I thought it should be.  That is, how mediation should be and how I should be having started the practice.  

This of course only led to more thinking, which inhibited me and had me second-guessing myself on matters I’d already more or less settled.  How I approach my creativity, chief among them, but really a broad range of matters from how I relate to people to my morning routines, from how I dress and to my taste in music

Those hiccups might seem unfortunate, but maybe they were necessary in order to stand on more solid ground further on up the road.  

I’m beginning to see how that sort of thing happens from time to time. 

Originally published // renmichael.com

Why We Are Voting Blue in 2020

When we started out in February of this year, we didn’t imagine we’d be making too many direct political or social statements.  We did hope to shed light on the deeper ideas and underlying philosophies that typically steer American politics, such as the size and scope of government or the importance of voter participation, or constructive ways to have a discussion about politics.

The intention was to try and distill the current political landscape from the corrosive, long-established binary model of “Republican and Democrat” or “Red and Blue” into a set of specific issues, complex at times but no less manageable, all of which are more universally relevant than we might realize—whether it’s climate change, racial justice or immigration.

We wanted to make sure the writing never felt like a lecture or came across as preachy in any way.  This was due not to any lack of enthusiasm on our part, but rather what we felt was an understanding of more effective communication, of understanding that nobody likes a lecture unless maybe they already agree with it.

However, this year more than ever before, it seems the virtues of fairness, decency, critical thinking, compassion and listening are on the line.  The deeper underlying principles that govern how we communicate with one another, far deeper than those we hoped to talk about, are themselves at stake.  

This is an election on what we normalize in our collective character and consciousness for generations.     

In the Presidential Election we have one candidate who has demonstrated a fairly consistent philosophy throughout his career while the other demonstrates no real philosophy outside his own brand and the hyper-inflated paranoia he thinks will elevate him politically, beginning almost ten years ago with his crusade to have President Obama prove he is a citizen.

We have one who trusts science and empirical data; while the other says “I don’t think science knows,” in response to what a broad, worldwide coalition of scientific research concludes as a climate crisis caused and further aggravated by human activity.

The reason that listening, critical thinking and empiricism, open discussion and compassion are all at stake is because our current president has proved to be their walking antithesis.  Equally, and quite successfully, he has labeled anyone calling out his vulgarity as too politically correct or sensitive, which has only encouraged a growing culture of not listening, unfounded conspiracies, bigotry, sexism and delusion.  

Examples of his oafish and repulsive behavior include but are certainly not limited to a gross imitation of a reporter with a disability, and saying that John McCain “is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”  

The will to survive and maintain one’s honor in the face of overwhelming despair and torture is indeed heroic; and anyone who has heard the story of John McCain’s five and a half years in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp must recognize Trump’s statement as not politically incorrect, but simply indecent, heartless and foolish.  Donald Trump never served in the armed forces.  He’s never tasted real danger in his life.  

Other examples include drawing an equal degree of blame between white supremacists–some of whom Trump declared to be “very fine people”–and those who stood up to them in Charlottesville, Virginia; and then most recently, the mocking of those taking COVID-19 seriously as he continues to hold open rallies with no social distancing or requirements for masks while the pandemic has now claimed over 200,000 American lives.

To that point we’ve provided a tweet posted by Donald Trump 23 hours ago as of this writing, drawing a comparison between one of these rallies, and a speaking event for Joe Biden in which people are exercising responsible safety measures and social distancing.  Yes indeed, there is a stark difference.       

Joe Biden has demonstrated a personal and political philosophy founded mainly on compassion, critical thinking and facts.  Donald Trump evidently isn’t deep enough to think about anything other than himself.

Beyond the scope of the Presidency, we are witnessing the mutation of a political party into a warped and twisted cult of personality that seems to honor and endorse whatever Donald Trump tells them.   

In 2013 the Republican-led Supreme Court voted to cut a critical component of the Voting Rights Act which required districts with a history of voter suppression to get federal approval before making any changes to their election laws.  This ultimately led to the closure of more than 1,600 polling places throughout the South, typically in Black communities and communities of color.  House Democrats passed a resolution to restore the Voting Rights Act, but it has yet to be passed in the Senate.  It still sits on the desk of Mitch McConnell, the Republican Majority Leader, as it has for over 200 days.    

In Texas meanwhile, 750 polling places closed following the Court ruling.  Most of these closures took place between the 2014 and 2018 mid-term elections. 

Just weeks ago, the state’s Republican governor issued an order to limit the number of places voters could hand-deliver their mail-in ballots to a single location per county—clearly problematic for the populous Harris and Travis Counties for example, which had previously designated a dozen and four drop-off locations respectively.  

Of course, the Republicans’ latest egregious attempt at holding onto power regardless of popular will reveals itself in the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.  She was confirmed three days ago by the Republican-led U.S. Senate—eight days before our election.  In 2016, a whole 293 days before the election, the Senate, still led by Republicans, refused to hold a hearing for President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.  Their reasoning for delaying the vote four years ago was that it was too close to an election, and that the American people should have a say on the selection of the next Justice.  

Of course, with a dim fraction of that time remaining this year, that reasoning somehow no longer applies in the confirmation of their own nominee.  The double-standard and hypocrisy is loud and clear. 

The Republican Party itself has been morally declining for years, as they have proven to care strikingly little about actual democracy and equal representation than they do about holding onto their power.  They know the majority of eligible voters don’t stand with them.  The people don’t stand with them.  The country doesn’t stand with them.  And consider this additional fact.  In the last 30 years, a Republican candidate for President has won the popular vote just one time.  The Democratic candidate has won six times. 

Yet the Supreme Court now has a 6-3 conservative majority.  Something’s not adding up.  Given one party’s long enough history of suppressing the vote—alleging voter fraud whenever they can, in a country where less than half of eligible voters even vote at all—it should be pretty clear why that is. 

We can debate all day the size and scope of government in our lives, the strengths and pitfalls of capitalism, and a host of other ideas that invite different points of view.  But the modern-day Republican Party and their chosen leader and champion have long outstayed their welcome.  It’s time to vote them out.  

We are voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, along with Democrats up and down the ballot; though not just because they are, quite simply, everything the Republicans are not.  We cannot vouch for every candidate individually, but we can say that as a whole, over the past twenty years, they have done far more to expand voting rights and access to affordable health care, they’ve worked far more to cultivate a cleaner and more sustainable environment, and they’ve fought far more for equal justice. 

In this election, more so than ever, there is really no comparison.  

We are voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.  We are voting Blue up and down the ballot.  We encourage you to do the same.  

Please vote.  And if you can, vote early and in-person.  

Thank You.   

Al & Dean: Bleeding and Breathing

Al and Dean are two old friends and neighbors who live across the street from one another. Every so often, they’ll get into a little discussion over things. What follows is one of their more recent conversations.

Dean: Hey Al…

Al: Hey Dean, you’re looking kind of blue.

Dean: You been watching the news?

Al: Yea, sure

Dean: The riots…

Al: Yea well, an innocent man was killed by the police before that.

Dean: I know.

Al: You ought to say something about it.

Dean: What, like the way you do?

Al: No, the way you do.

Dean: I don’t have anything to say, man.

Al: That’s not true. I’ve heard you speak. Granted it was like ten years ago.

Dean: Yep.

Al: You’ve been kind of quiet since.

Dean: Yep. I guess I have.

Al: Why is that? Have you really given it much thought?

Dean: Not that much.

Al: Why do you think?

Dean: I think I’m afraid to admit it.

Al: I’m a friend.

Dean: Yea, I know…

Al: Go ahead.

Dean: You know I’ve always had a problem adding my voice to something that I know to be common sense, an obvious truth. What really could I say? People evidently were failing to grasp that obvious truth anyway, no matter how strong and eloquent people spoke about it, and so I felt like anything I did say wouldn’t make a difference.

And the worst part about it was that I started feeling a little numb to it, to the point that a part of me stopped caring. I even turned a little bitter. For one thing, I figured why should I care about anybody outside my family and friends, anyway? They don’t care about me, and I figured few people in the world actually cared about justice–justice for all people–half as much as they let on anyway. Few people genuinely, sincerely care about a complete stranger.

Al: Well I don’t–

Dean: What they do care more about is being right. They care about shaming and pointing fingers, more than they care about having a real discussion with the other side.

Al: Well, wait a minute. What about those voices on the front lines, the ones you were just talking about, the voices I know you still admire, advocating for social justice–

Dean: And doing so far more powerfully than I ever could. So again, what is the point?

Al: I–

Dean: What is the point beyond reassuring those who already know me that I stand on the side of common sense and decency? What are the chances that my voice really contributes anything of value to the many voices already out there making a difference? Or at least trying their best.

Al: Well, how do you know your voice couldn’t make a difference?

Dean: I know.

Al: Why, because you’re white?

Dean: Well, in the end…what do I really know about the suffering they’re going through?

Al: That might be, but that doesn’t mean don’t say anything at all.

Dean: Ok…but where do you want to draw the line of moral outrage when it comes to the history of this country? Because I tell ya, I think once you start down that path, it becomes hard to stop, or at least harder to draw the line.

Al: Hmm…

Dean: But you know, I’m hesitant to say any more on that last point, even now, because I think the truth of the matter is too frightening for any of one of us to face without falling back into the same…well, the same kind of apathy I experienced.

Al: Right.

Dean: You think I’m a creep?

Al: No I don’t.

Dean: No?

Al: No, and I don’t think you’re entirely wrong. But of course, you’re not right either.

Dean: Ok.

Al: First, I don’t think it’s any big secret that apathy is easier to indulge when you’re white. When the cost of inaction isn’t so directly consequential to you that it could mean your life, or the life of a family member. Black people don’t have that luxury because they experience most directly the consequences of inaction.

Dean: Yea. I agree.

Al: Well, there you see…I got this feeling you’ve already made up your mind about speaking out, before we even started this conversation.

Dean: Yes, I think I have.

Al: Right. I mean, nothing I’ve said so far is anything you don’t already know. George Floyd isn’t the first man to be murdered because of race.

Dean: No, he’s not.

Al: So what’s brought you back to wanting to speak up? What’s brought you back from your apathy?

Dean: I can’t pinpoint one specific cause. I think, for one thing, I needed to listen, and make good use of the time to figure out how I wanted to say certain things before I even said them. There’s a lot of noise out there and it’s only getting louder. And so, I think if you’re going to speak out, you ought to make it count, you know? And to do that, you need to figure out how you effectively carry that message across. It’s worth taking some time to figure that stuff out, otherwise it just blends into everything else and adds to a cacophony of noise, which people get numb to after a while. Anything you say goes unheard, and then you’re back at square one, questioning why you even said anything to begin with.

Al: I see, so practicality was more important than principle.

Dean: Well…yea. I guess so. You think I’m a creep?

Al: Of course not.

Dean: What, you don’t believe me?

Al: I do believe you. I just think it’s an interesting admission. I don’t know that I agree, but I do understand where you’re coming from.

Dean: I’m just still a little mixed up about where to start now.

Al: I’ve got some ideas.

Dean: Let’s hear it.

Al: Ok. First thing is to stop being guilty over being white. I’m not saying that you are, but just in case you are, don’t be, because in the end, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Dean: Well let’s say I was a little guilty. Can you blame me?

Al: Yes I can blame you. It’s the way you were born, so get the fuck over it. Nobody cares. You mentioned before, “What do I really know about the suffering they’re going through?” The answer is “Little to nothing.” But all of us, to some extent, are limited by the sphere of our own life experiences, and we have far less control over that, I think, than we could ever know. The control we do have begins in our ability to listen and empathize. So listen to people. Really listen, so you can truly begin to empathize.

Dean: I have been.

Al: Yes, but not exactly the way you should be, at least it doesn’t sound that way. It’s gonna be hard to keep listening and internalizing the problems of the world if you’re so busy punishing yourself and feeling guilty all the time. Especially when you’re already a good person. Guilt won’t do anything but inhibit you, so drop it. In the meantime, remember that being white does still enable you, for now, with a greater privilege and political advantage in improving our world, so use it.

Dean: Yea. I hear ya.

Al: Alright?

Dean: Right.

Al: Now, the most fundamental thing to remember is that there ultimately is no them or they. Never has been, never will be. Those are distinctions of our own creation, illusions which have led to humanity’s suffering instead of its progress. So I think it’s important to recognize that black people are not them or they. No matter how much we’ve convinced ourselves otherwise…in the end, there is only us. Our society and history tells a different story, of course, but if a behavior is learned, then it can be unlearned, at least enough to make a lasting difference in our institutions.

Dean: Yea…

Al: When I look at any ‘people’, that is, any community in the world, I see them as my people. First and foremost. And they’re my people because they’re people. This is the most fundamental and universal truth.

Dean: Right.

Al: Second, they are American. My countrymen and women. And as such, an attack on them is an attack on me. That is what a country is, and if it isn’t…then it needs to be.

The riots we see are a result of these basic truths being denied for hundreds of years in what is essentially a violation against nature. And the violence will continue so long as people are denied the basic freedom to be what they are, so long as humanity is kept from living in its rightful state before nature, or if you think this way, before God. Living as equals, each serving his or her own vital role in one life-force that is humanity.

Dean: That’s heavy man.

Al: Yea but it’s really simple.

Dean: So you say…

Al: Begin by unlearning the biases we’ve been taught from our friends, family and media. Divorce yourself from prejudice and recognize the act not as political correctness, but as mere reality.

Dean: How do I do that?

Al: Well I think everybody has to find their own way. Some might turn to books and other resources, while others might consult alternative perspectives elsewhere. For others still, maybe people like you, the decision itself might be enough. Again, everybody is coming from their own specific experience and perspective.  I mean, I think it’s important to remember that outside the laws of physics there is no objective reality, only perception and our ability to interpret data as constructive or destructive. To that point, for thousands of years, we’ve experimented with prejudice and the conclusion is that it’s destructive.

Dean: Agreed.

Al: We are responsible for the world we create, so let’s start by creating a sustainable one, by recognizing that we are all equally human, as equally flawed as we are capable of creating something of beauty and of lasting value.

Dean: Then what?

Al: Then we roll up our sleeves and get to work. If there’s someone in your life who harbors their own prejudices, remember that those prejudices are taught. So they can be untaught. Don’t be so quick to condemn that person or judge them, otherwise that person’s ego is going to step in the way and dig them deeper into their beliefs. The same applies to someone who fell into the same apathy you experienced. The conversation might be uncomfortable, but that’s part of doing the work. Simply speak, and stand up for what you believe. You can be respectful and firm at the same time. You may not convince them, at least not that day. But you will have achieved one thing at least, in the name of decency and creating a better world.

Dean: What’s that?

Al: You weren’t silent.

____

Resources to Take Action

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/