06.27.22

holding myself

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:42 pm by Administrator

over the past three days, i’ve observed my ego go through its frenetic exertions, railing at imagined enemies and inflicting the suffering of intense emotions upon my body and my mind. yesterday, as i held him, i felt a turn in myself, as my ego wilted under the scrutiny of my conscious awareness. certain memories and facts surfaced as his voice relented.

once, i too was vigorously pro life. i too opposed abortion on moral and ethical grounds, up until the day that i learned that my mother, whom i respect more than any other woman on the face of the earth, chose at one point in her life to abort a healthy pregnancy.

even now, i can understand how abortion can be viewed as the murder of a fully fledged and yet defenseless life. and if a pro life advocate sees it this way, how can one question the fervor and passion that comes from this view?

no one can possibly view the termination of a fetus as a good thing. at best, it is among the lesser of many evils; but even in this, abortion is not a straightforward proposition.

there are good people in this country who really would go the extra mile to offer support to a pregnant woman in distress, and to care for her child after birth.

in the end, i still have my view—but in this moment at least, i am not defined by that view, regardless of how strong my recent feelings and convictions have been. i have a perspective, but i hold that perspective, and that perspective does not rule me. i have the choice today about whether to suffer and whether to inflict that suffering needlessly on others around me. and i can choose to acknowledge my sensibilities and the leanings that come out of them without losing my capacity to listen, to change, and to be aware. there are good people who disagree with me on the ruling of the supreme court to overturn roe v wade, and their goodness is not diminished by their view. it is exemplified in their view.

yesterday, i reflected on whether my views—and my movement away from religion—have actually added to my well-being or made me a better person. it’s interesting for me to consider that though i do not perceive myself as being much different of a person, the fact of the matter is that the nature of my personality and how i deal with struggles have been transformed by my journey into mindfulness. i’d describe that transformation in the following way.

when i was a man thoroughly embedded in the church, i dealt with suffering and struggle by identifying with christ. this process of identification was for me a habitual, ritualistic mental process characterized by the following steps: 1) through prayer and reflection consciously entering a space in which the will of God was primary and in which my own feelings and priorities were intentionally diminished; 2) tapping into a basic identity of helplessness and unworthiness, around which feelings of regret, sorrow, and ultimately penitence would ultimately take shape; 3) leveraging these feelings of penitence into a heartfelt commitment to submitting to a higher power, for the purpose of doing God’s will even at the expense of my own values; 4) moving into a conviction about a necessary action through which i might demonstrate obedience (first and foremost) and secondarily a trust in God’s ability to strengthen me through my suffering. in brief, this was a process of deep identification; i dealt with struggle by affirming, shaping, and directing my ego, ultimately for the purpose of arriving at a conviction—an unshakable and divinely-inspired intention.

my process is much different nowadays. whereas once i sought to eliminate ambiguity through the magnification of ego, now i find myself inevitably entering ambiguous, diffuse mental spaces in which there are no easy answers, much less convictions. instead of initially creating a mental space in which i am attending to the force and will of an external entity, i am now entering a meditative space in which i am simply with myself: an observer of my own chaotic emotions, which have no purpose but to be observed. like a parent to a 2 year-old child, i know that i am not dealing with an equal; i am tolerating the thoughts and emotions of an agenda-driven mind that lacks self-control and meaningful wisdom. this doesn’t mean that i automatically dismiss my feelings and instincts; but neither do i seek to replace them with more valid (or divinely-inspired) feelings and instincts. by pointedly moving away from conceptual identification—as opposed to moving deeper into identification through the ego-affirming process of identifying with the will of a god figure—i ultimately land in a mental space with less feeling and structure. that is not gratifying to the ego, and it does not offer clear direction for action and resolution. what this space of ambiguity does offer me is the ability to hold multiple perspectives, to be emptied of bias, and to regard my challengers or opponents not as people to be forgiven but rather as genuine equals, worthy of my respect.

i recently told a friend of mine that one of the key concepts that differentiates my christian approach to conflict from my less christian approach to conflict is the concept of grace. grace to me is a core tenet of christianity; it implies kindness offered by one who is right to another who is obstinately wrong. the expression of grace always reflects a hierarchy of morality and value. as god deigns to offer grace to human beings, more enlightened human beings offer grace to less enlightened humans through overtures of forgiveness or sacrifice. in my presently evolving form, i reject grace. i reject the idea of kindness that is authentic outside of what is offered through genuine presence with an equal. the very self-concept of unworthiness that is so instrumental to manufacturing feelings of regret and penitence is profoundly alienating to me now. what makes a human unworthy of respect and love? is it not an arbitary belief of what worth is? is it not a specific idea of who is better and lesser, within a moral hierarchy of existence? to me, this is a rejection of anatta (emptiness) and the precipitant of dukka (suffering); it is an untruth that spawns untruths, to the consummate suffering of all human beings bound up in its narrative.

even now, i don’t speak of this with scorn for what i once was and believed. but i speak of it with great wariness of what belief can do to a human being. belief turns individual humans into agents of other beings or communities. belief makes soldiers out of men, makes revolutionaries out of children, makes political agents out of conscious beings. belief rams suffering through the generations, in the form of tribes, nations, and ideologies; it enslaves the minds of people who might otherwise break free of the past and the burden of karma. belief, as opposed to the unfettered experience of what is real, pits human beings against one another in arbitrary contests of logic and passion. it is the reason we experience two americas, even when in fact there is no america at all—only people bound up in the confusing and burdensome work of identifying with something grander than themselves. this work will eat at us and ultimately consume us, because it is endless and utterly exhausting. at the end of it, this work of belief will make us less thoughtful, less human, and less open to what is manifestly true. i want to get free of it. to some extent i have gotten more free of it. and it is clear to me that i am a better person for what i have experienced.

today, i hold myself, dearly and powerfully and as completely as i can. there is a person within me that seeks to be right, to punish his enemies, and to conquer others for a cause. there is some truth in his words, enough to entrap me and to suck others into the suffering of his battle for relevance and immortality. in fact, my ego does not want to die; it wants to live forever, through ideas and identities. i cannot stop him from doing what he must. but i can hold him, the one who so despises what is happening to our country, and i can glimpse for just a moment a truth that my ego cannot discern: that there is no country to redeem, there is no mind to change, and there is no life to save, not here and now. when the day comes for me to express a view in order to lessen another’s suffering, then i will see that opportunity for what it is. until that day, i will continue to hold my ego to the light, until the flame of its suffering goes out and is no more

06.24.22

holding my anger

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:33 pm by Administrator

for me, dukka (suffering) consists in four things: outcome, destination, anticipation, and identification. when i hold onto a specific outcome, when i need things to be a certain way, when i demand that i get my way, this is when i suffer most. and when my unbreakable fixation with an outcome makes it clear where i (and others) must go, then invariably i concoct the idea of a destination—a place or a state of being at which i must arrive. this idea of destination is contrary to truth because this lifetime’s ultimate destination, which is death, invalidates the value and permanence of any other destination that can be conceived. all of this preoccupation of course lays the foundation for a lifetime of waiting and anticipation for things yet unrealized; anticipation is suffering. and beyond all of this, once a life is defined by what it does not have, it has already rooted itself in identification: the identification of belief, of loss, of wanting.

dukka is a buddhist concept, but it is not unique to buddhism. even christianity points to the futility of greed and ambition, given the impermanence of anything we can gain or achieve in this lifetime.

today, i suffer not because of what some men and women decided in a closed room far way from here. i suffer because i am inflicting myself—with the outcome that i believe is right, with a path forward for this society that i cannot compromise on, with a pressing need for action to counter what has occurred, and with a sense of identity that constrains who i am as a conscious being of awareness. i know that i am the cause of my suffering, and as such i cannot pin this on anyone else. the people that i blame for my anger are not even in my life; they are conceptual and they are imagined. one who blames his suffering on someone who is distantly removed if not completely imagined is probably insane. and as eckhart tolle insists, insanity is incredibly prevalent, as we are a society of people who reject conscious awareness.

nevertheless, i am angry, and i have nowhere to hide this anger, and i have no one to inflict it on. unlike the biblical god, i cannot possibly satisfy myself by imposing this anger on my own children, who have nothing to do with this political debate. no, this anger is with me, and it is in me, and in this moment it is who i am. how do i take hold of this anger, so that i can not be the anger, and so that i do not become a vessel of suffering for those in my life whom i can be present with?

i don’t know exactly. but this is not an anger that i can dissuade myself from. the moment i try to present a counterargument to my ego, he retorts with fascinating passion and indomitable reasoning. he looks at the news headline of DHS’s warning about violence from “extremist” factions following the supreme court ruling, and he scoffs at this—because the supreme court ruling can only inspire violence, and not just from extremists. the supreme court ruling ought to provoke violence of all kinds from all individuals of basic conscience and sound mind. it demands verbal violence; confrontation; internal and external jihad; and the ultimate violence of change, consummated in political reform.

but as the moments transpire, i look at him—the ego fashioned from the karma of lives past and from the spirit of the times—and i see in him that confounding mix of all that causes me hope and despair. he’s right. he’s moral. his logical is indisputable. but he is mean, and he cannot be satisfied, and he shows me no compassion. when i hold him, i know that he has inherited the suffering of the world, and all he can do is to give that suffering to others, dressed up in fine words and elaborate ideas. i love him because he is intricate and compelling and full of my humanity. but i despise him too, because he ruins my experience of life, and he adds so little of value to my relationships.

today, i want to acknowledge that the people who disagree with me on the matter of abortion are probably real human beings as well. i do not need to define their worth according to their beliefs, just as i need not define myself according to my view. even in this moment of great rage, and perhaps very much in this moment of overwhelming anger, i want to search myself and find the person in me that remains attentive to what is actually real: my moment at this keyboard, the sensations in my body, the life i am living, the breathing that i do even when i am unaware of it. i want to show compassion to myself and be relieved of this rage, which will never find its true object and will only ever cause suffering to the people that i love.

all of this isn’t to say that my view is wrong or irrelevant. the fact is that so many people in this nation share this passion with me today because there is at least an element of truth in our common grief and despair. no, what i want to tell myself, and what i must tell myself, is that i will only ever know the value of my view if and when i am sitting with someone who needs to hear it. that someone, whether in need or searching for understanding, is not with me right now; so it is all right for me to hold this view, and to let it melt through the fabric of what i am, and to breathe it out, deep and slow—air, ashes, and anguish all

shame

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:17 pm by Administrator

it is official: the U.S. supreme court has become the bully pulpit for the country’s most stupid, ideological, racist, and misogynistic elements. we will never need any more proof of their subversion of common sense and sound legal precedent than the utterly unnecessary and tragically destructive ruling that was made public today.

i don’t want to go into detail on my general apprehensions about the US government’s relentless and long-standing intention to control the lives and decisions of pregnant women in this country; but i will restate one thing. if carrying a pregnancy to term were easy, simple, perfectly safe, and free of any possible downstream negative consequences for the mother, then i’m not sure we would be having this debate. the fact of the matter is that pregnancy is not easy, simple, safe, or free of long-term implications for the health and well-being of the pregnant woman. women still die in childbirth in the united states. and women who survive childbirth still experience an array of possibly devastating consequences, including postpartum depression—which kills. if pregnancy were easy, simple, safe, and free of long-term implications for the person carrying pregnancy, then perhaps then (and only then) could a man step in and realistically say that his opinion might be remotely relevant in a discussion about the legality of abortion. but the fact is that a man cannot understand the weight of pregnancy, can’t share the physical and emotional risks associated with pregnancy, and will never personally experience the physical consequences of childbirth. the opinion of men, when it comes to the legal matter of abortion, is not only irrelevant but also unwelcome.

the majority of american citizens support roe vs. wade, but the support of women on this ruling is even stronger, as one might suspect. it’s disproportionately the men with privilege and religion who are pushing the pro life agenda, as a reflection of their ignorance, lack of empathy, and magical thinking. and it is specifically men who are accustomed to abusing women—such as the established sex offenders on our supreme court—who actually enjoy disenfranchising the female constituents of this country through wanton displays of power like today’s supreme court ruling.

the international outcry against this decision is significant and only building, and it compounds the sense of shame i am experiencing about our country today. it’s not simply a problem of misogyny and injustice, which the human race is well accustomed to. it’s a reversal of progress and a systematization of misogyny and injustice that we are seeing today in this country. it’s a movement against democracy and the rights of women, to the detriment of both men and women presently alive and yet to be born.

shame on you, clarence thomas and brett kavanaugh, among other cruel, abusive, and inescapably corrupt men of this country. your heavy-handed oppression of poor women with limited access to health care will disproportionately affect those who are least empowered and have the most to lose, and your legacy will be their suffering. if ever there were a time to stand up against the establishment and all the evil that it represents, it is now. you have discredited your institution today, and in doing so, you have inflicted a permanent stain on this country and the idea of civil liberty that it once embraced

06.16.22

the ember

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:46 pm by Administrator

ah, but before i venture ahead
into the wood full of shadows
and thorny vines, where my blood
will be drawn in the dark,

sweet for the earth, and for you
can i look back a moment
over my shoulder, straight into
the wind that draws a tear

and remember with fondness
how you once came into my life
fire-flecked and sweeping
down from the mountain

setting everything ablaze,
even the rocks, and didn’t you
reach out to me with an ember
in your hand? i don’t know

how i held it!
i swallowed it because you said
it was love, and i could put it upon
the head of my enemy

and it would be violence,
but it would be love. i think of you
crowned by fire, speaking to me
of love, as something inside

burned at me, hardening me
like a kiln at work on my insides
taking all that was soft
and blackening it to glass

so that one day, i could wander
through our history of pains
and see a reflection as in a mirror,
even before i am fully known.

in truth, where once there was
a maze for wanderings and echoes
of laughter, it is now a quiet
and dark place

and this is why, on the edge
of the forest, i think upon
the ravage of your mercy
and your love.

yea, there are the places
where i can see not two pairs
of footprints but just the one,
and i know, in the manner

that comes only after much longing
that it was then when i stumbled forth,
refused to be carried,
became your forbidden fruit.

06.07.22

his realm

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:55 pm by Administrator

when he was of the age that i am now
my father bought the house that he would
call his castle. to me, it was ordinary,
but i can understand that for him,
in light of all the towns and inns
and apartments and various pains
that he experienced far from home,
this was where he would live out his days,
the master of his realm.

and how dutifully did he tend to it,
the hedges along the property line,
the twin trees that he planted
in the front yard, which were symbolic
to him of the life i would build.
never mind how he embedded nostalgia
into those cool brick walls and that hot
asphalt driveway. as only a man at odds
with the whole world could be, he was home.

when he was in his prime, the rooms
could not contain his passion.
there was much furniture to be had
and then to be replaced. there were things
to be hung, the art of impressionists,
placed to fill space more than to catch
the light and tell a story, softly
and without overture. i lived there
and watched it shift, change.

later, i saw things disappear, wall spaces
reopen to reveal nakedness.
he spent more and more time in just one room
but even then there was no mistaking
about the place where he sat, or the rooms
beyond, or the quiet places where he had once
rummaged and paced and searched in the dark.
his rumination filled the place, like the slight
weight of air upon an open palm.

i too am buying a house now. i would like
to pretend it is just a place where i will live
for a while, but how can i deny it?
i too have designs, have grown weary
of the times. like the king who pitied
a king for his kingdom, i will surely
build it, a castle of my own making,
with symbolic trees, and bricks full of feeling,
and a room all to my own, for the end.

06.03.22

maverick

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:28 pm by Administrator

my son and i caught the latest top gun movie in the theater this past weekend, and i have to say it’s probably the most impressive movie i’ve seen in the last decade. it was a technical masterpiece. the aerial cinematography was positively immersive. and the storyline, while basic, didn’t pose any major distractions. it helped that a couple old friends had roles in the movie: raymond lee (who will star in the quantum leap reboot) and bashir salahuddin (whose career is about to take flight itself).

this was a pensive tom cruise on the screen, this time around. while maverick is still matchless in the skies, there’s little bravado behind his proficiency. he might still be the navy’s best pilot, but he’s also a guy whose life outside the cockpit hasn’t afforded him much joy. there’s a certain grimness to his aerial feats, and there’s also a palpable regret that mutes his charisma. the transformation of maverick—the guy who once rode off on his motorcycle into the sunset, invulnerable and indomitable to the last—is sobering. i don’t think top gun: maverick will quite be the recruiting tool for the air force and navy that the original film proved to be. for the gen y/z crowd, i think the movie provides an uncomfortable picture of what happens to a guy who’s all about just one thing.

in any case, the film reminded me of how inescapable these life stage struggles end up being. it is inevitable that the anxieties of youth will give way to the disillusionment of middle age, and that mix of skepticism and self-scorn will fuel the search for relevance that extends into our later years. i’ve seen it in my patients over my twenty years of logging, measuring, and projecting their life journeys. the hypochondriacal young women; the broken men of middle age; the elderly who now hold onto simple things, true things, because much of what they once believed has proven to be useless to them. the people who seem to survive best are those who commit themselves to both resilience and optimism. sometimes they are religious, but they don’t go too deep into conceptuality (and all the inescapably disappointing contradictions inherent to religion). sometimes they have children, but they don’t try to live through their children. sometimes they have partners or spouses, but it’s not romance that makes it work in the end. it’s respect, mutual dependence, and commitment. i think of one elderly filipino couple that i take care of, in particular. they’ve been through many tough times, and they have never been wealthy, but they have gone through every tribulation together. each one has offered the other optimism and resilience; and thus as a couple, they have experienced wellness and peace of mind.

i look at where i am in life—uncertain of my career, uncertain of whether i am happy, unclear on whether anything i ever believed was ever true—and i can hardly say that i have succeeded at anything. life has constantly chipped away at my self-concept, sometimes destroying aspects of myself that i believed were essential, then leaving me to rediscover myself outside of the shell of a beloved identity. once, i was a child defined by my parents’ aspirations for me. once, i was an elite. once, i was someone with a divine calling and a mission for the world. once, i was a failed husband and a reluctant father. once, i was political. once, i was spiritual. at every stage, i was led to believe that my life was just about one thing. then that thing was taken from me, and i recognized that i was something else entirely. the years have pulled me through so many different perspectives and viewpoints and convictions and beliefs that my identity is like a tattered rag worn down to stains and holes. it still absorbs things, but not as much as it once did. when i use it to rub out the dirt of the world, the dirt gets all over me now. this is how i know that i am already looking for the simple things, the true things. because i cannot rub out what i do not understand anymore. i was never meant to impose my beliefs upon the world. i was meant to escape them, and to discover the one thing that can be mine