Friday, November 8, 2013

This is Why We Practice: 5 things I learned when my house burned down

There will come a day, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day that you will have to stand in your sweaty running shorts watching helplessly as your house burns down. Thick black smoke billows to the sky, taking along with it the material trappings of your life. Your fancy Garmin watch beeps to remind you that you are no longer running, as you were just moments before. Just moments before, when you were enjoying the sunny September morning, filled with excitement and anticipation for your first day of yoga teacher training, thinking about what your were going to have for lunch, and then you turn the corner. You think, hmmm, that’s strange, why is there a dark cloud up ahead? As you get closer little bits of understanding fill in your consciousness, that’s not a cloud, that’s smoke. Wait, that smoke’s coming from my house. And then, it registers, Holy shit! My house is on fire!

There’s not a lot else that passes through your mind after that. You just kind of stand there, one hand propping up your elbow as the other hand covers your mouth and the side of your face. In yoga, we often talk about the “true Self” versus the material self. The true Self being Atman, your true nature, the god within you, and the small self all that other stuff you wear for the world as your identity. I’m a woman, a husband, a CEO, a fill in the blank. The Bhagavad-Gita, the classic text of yoga practice and Hindu tradition, is often described as an allegory of life, a life in which a very real internal battle is waged between these two selves, the lower self versus the higher Self. Perhaps your battlefield won’t involve watching your house burn down in your running shorts, but it will most certainly involve some life altering, earth shaking experiences.

In my moment of trauma I very clearly recognized my material self and my true self splitting in two. In our culture we sometimes refer to this as an “out of body” experience, but I think it’s much deeper than that. I could very clearly distinguish my two natures, the smaller worldly self versus the big guy, the divine Self. As these two identities pulled apart, each felt a very different reaction to the chaotic scene before me. My little self totally panicked, of course, as it so often does, immediately worrying about all my fancy pants and high tech kitchen appliances. But its whiny noise was totally drowned out by my divine nature. I’m happy to report my higher Self arrived in that moment and totally crushed it. As flames and smoke quickly destroyed all the things I purchased with money over the course of my entire earthly existence, my small self retreated like the coward that it is. I stood there in stillness with the fire trucks and the hoses and people running back and forth and other people asking if I was ok, and I was, I was actually ok. I was quite literally overcome by an unmistakable sense of peace. Doctors might call this “shock,” instead, I think it’s better to call it surrender. Surrender to this moment. Be present for your own undoing. Soak it in because really, how often do you get to watch as your house burns down? Om Namah Sivaya, indeed. That guy does not mess around.

Of course, after the smoke cleared, my little self arrived once again, drowning out the calm of my divine nature. My peace was replaced with a reminder of how inconvenient it is to have to inventory all your possessions, not to mention the supreme hassle of replacing all your shit. But I have to say, god, or however you want to refer to it in your belief system, stayed with me for quite a while that day and in the days that followed. With me while walking through the house with the firefighters, granting serenity when taking in the apocalyptic scene that had once been my living room. And then arriving in other forms, strangers, friends, family, co-workers. It’s been a month since my house burned down and now reflecting on the whole experience, I can’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude, gratitude for my practice, for my people, and for my crazy, brilliant, undeniably awesome life.

Here it is, five things I learned when my house burned down:
1) Prayer works.
Recently I had the great privilege to be a part of a Bhagavad-Gita discussion with Ravi Nathwani. He advised that prayer matters. If you feel you can’t change the world with your action, pray on it. I personally struggle with disbelief in the power of prayer. I mean, isn’t prayer just wishful thinking? It might make you feel better but does it actually make its way to the receiver? Does it actually do anything? Yes! Turns out that when a lot of people are praying for you, you can actually feel it. Seriously. I can’t really explain it in words, other than to say; it fills you with peace and strength, a kind of cosmic energy transfer. Call it prayer, loving kindness meditation, positive thinking, affirmations, good vibes, whatever, but I’m telling ya, it’s real. The energy embedded in the sincerity of your prayer, the love that fills your positive intention, it’s powerful stuff.

2) You have everything you need already, but a good bed makes you a better person.
Money can’t buy happiness, but let’s be real, it sure does help. Yes, spiritually speaking, I am whole no matter where I am or who I’m with or what I have, but I’m no monk. I like stuff. Caffeine, chocolate, booze, overly priced yoga clothes, scarves, the list goes on. I like having a computer and a fancy blender that pulverizes raw almonds in my morning smoothie. And I LOVE my bed. My husband and I purchased our bomb-tastic California King bed but six months to the day before it was destroyed in our recent fire and, aside from a sweet outfit at Target and some toiletries, it was the fist thing we repurchased after the event.

It makes us better people. I am more calm and kind and peaceful because I sleep in a mac-daddy bed. I know this is counter to all that I was saying before about the higher self and all that, but I just want to make it clear that we didn’t walk away from our material lives to live in a cave somewhere. We just re-bought a lot of the stuff that we regularly use. And while technically, we don’t need these things, it’s pretty tough to go from having a lot to having nothing and feeling comfortable. I am not about to sleep on the floor or wear someone else’s hand me downs for the long haul. So, it does feel like we need these things.

Fortunately, we have resources. We have a savings account and generous people in our lives that have sent us checks and gift cards and boxes of really nice clothes. Losing so much at one time allows you to evaluate your wealth, financial wealth, health wealth, and most of all your community wealth, the people in your life who show up for you. It’s a great gift. We are very lucky. Not to make light of our experience, but in just a few short days we had more stuff in our house than probably 80% of the world population. And now a month later, we have way more than two people really need, the only clue to our recent loss in the emptiness of our wall space. Which is kind of fun because now we have room to put up new art.
3) Human nature is compassion.
There’s been a long drawn out debate in the history of civilization concerning the make-up of human nature. Are we survivalist animals? Will we destroy someone else for our own gain? Or are we something else entirely? Hume called it, “fellow-feeling,” empathy for others. I know that we do some pretty terrible stuff to each other for our own personal gain, but I’ve always believed that there was something more compelling about the human story. That in fact, all the ruinous, destructive behavior has been learned in our culture and at the core of our being, our most basic instinct is love. There’s the argument for the other way around, of course, that we are savages who have learned how to love, but I think we are all just lovers who’ve learned how to be afraid. We’ve learned how to fight.

It’s like this, when buildings blow up and bombs go off, it’s not as if people stand around contemplating whether or not they should run into burning buildings, that’s their first reaction. We run into danger to save the life of another, that’s our story. And when we hear of someone’s suffering, we are compelled to act. The greatest gift of your house burning down is recognizing that people arrive to you with their best self, their true nature. Their instinct is to reach out to you. I know this because it wasn’t just my close friends who sent cards or clothes or whatever, but people I had never even met. People who I didn’t have a close relationship with who, as far as material possessions go, have way less than I do giving me a gently worn sweatshirt or coffee mug. Compassion is not something we learn in our culture, it’s what we are. It is pretty overwhelming to be on the receiving end of that kind of lesson. It is a lesson far more precious than any cashmere sweater.

Seriously, it’s like $20 a month. If you don’t have it, get it…now. Stop reading this article right now and get some personal property insurance. Trust me!

5) This is why we practice.
All the pranayama and the savasana and the arm balances, it’s all just preparing you for this. We practice for the day our house burns down.  We practice because deep down we know that our house is already burning down anyway. We know that life is impermanence. Change is inevitable. One day your physical body will die. We practice to surrender to this truth. Fire or no fire, my favorite pair of sweats would not be around in five years no matter how hard I clung to them.

While it’s jarring and pretty emotional to watch it all go up at once, it’s also kind of wild, inspiring, liberating. I have had my moments of tears and feeling totally ungrounded, but within all the mess of that, I know who I am without all my stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I really like all my stuff, but everyday I show up on my mat and I practice being empty. Yoga practice provides a space to get familiar with the Self. The same Self that occupies the space between galaxies, that bridges political and religions divides, that spans through time. The Self that knows no boundaries. The Self that is whole in nothingness. All the sun salutations and meditation, it’s all just preparing you for this moment. On that day when our house is burning down, when we are called on to surrender, we don’t cling. We let go.

I want to send out a special shout out to some particular folks who model grace, compassion, and love to me in this lifetime. Of course our parents, close friends and family, and community at Walker Creek Ranch. Particularly want to send out a deep ripple of gratitude to my yoga community for participating in this practice with me and encouraging me on the journey. All my dear friends at Inner Evolution Yoga, your love is heart expanding, thank you for your friendship, especially the most lovely and super gorgeous, Sandrine Petit, Leanna Hamilton, and Amy Guthrie. To the founder of Teeki yoga clothing, Lindsay Hemrick, for outfitting me in STYLE. I loved teeki hotpants before not just because they’re cute but also conscious and compassionate clothing. I’m officially a convert. To the yogis at The Mindful Body that I never met but donated to me with open hearts. A special thanks to my teachers, Caroline Kelley and Maile Sivert for just enormous support and sheer awesomeness of presence and love and all the ladies in my TTC whose spirits I could feel sending me love before I even met them. To my yoga family at Yoga Toes in Point Reyes, we are blessed to have this space to practice together, it’s magical; Amanda Giacomini, Peggy Orr and Jim Desser, MC Yogi, Rachel Meyer, Debbie Daly, Maile Sivert deserves double thanks. To my hubby, “always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.” I’m blessed to be on this journey with you. And finally to Morgan Wade, a dear friend with whom I am now bound to for life. The words "soul mate" should be reserved for moments like those and people like you.

Morgan Wade Photography

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Autumn: the Beauty of Surrender

As it so happens, it’s a beautiful Sunday morning and here I am thinking about death. More specifically the art of dying. Art of dying, you ask? Yes, art of dying. Nature knows that dying is an art form. How else do you explain Autumn? You New Englanders especially know what I’m talking about.

I LOVE the Fall. Football season starts again. I get to bring out my sweaters and be revived by the crisp fall breezes. Desserts are pumpkin and cinnamon flavor. Those are just several reasons why I like the Fall.  But why do I love Fall so much? All the seasons have their charm, but Autumn is the only season that celebrates the beauty of dying. Its nature’s way of reassuring us that death is nothing to fear. Spring gets all the credit for being the season of rebirth. Being born is easy, surrender is the hard part. That’s why I love Autumn! Autumn is an opportunity to cultivate peace. Autumn is surrender. Autumn is a letting go, a shedding of layers. The Fall doesn’t linger in vanity. It gets rid of the things it doesn’t need. It makes itself bare, totally naked. This vulnerability actually provides the substance it needs to make it through the harshest season. The howling winds, the frost, the freezing, the heavy burden of winter’s snow, the Fall prepares for the darkness that lies ahead. Autumn looks death straight in the eye and surrenders. Autumn knows that true strength lies in letting go. If you listen to the gentle, cool breeze of Fall, you’ll hear it whisper to you, “Let go, let go, let go.”  The colors of Fall are Nature’s bold expression. Have no fear; there is beauty in the dying.

There is a brilliant piece of writing I have read every Fall since it was published in the Boston Globe in the Fall of 2003. I transcribed it in its entirety below, my emphasis added. Enjoy!

The trees tell you
James Carroll; Boston Globe, Sept. 30, 2003

 The trees tell you what you need to know. It is not the color that draws your gaze, the burnished gold, the red-the leaves in all their glory. What snags your eyes, rather, is the sure sign of what that glory costs.
            From the spectacular transformations of microscopic chemical reactions within each autumn leaf to the stunning vistas of the distant hills that autumn leaves create, you know very well that this annual high point enshrines the instant of decline. Not for nothing do they call it fall. Autumn points beyond itself to a season of introspection. Nature makes the un-souled world so beautiful just now to conscript the notice of the soul. For once, you are quiet, as your eyes call upon your ears. Looking becomes a way of listening for what the trees are saying. You hear more than the wind. And you see more than is before your eyes.
            When you were young, no one bothered to explain how experience accumulates into knowledge. You could not imagine then how the razor edge of seasonal mortality softens. So you took in each year’s poignant turn as if for the first time-and the last. Autumn was an intimation of all that would never come to be. For one so young, you had no right to the air of gravity you wore like a dandy’s cloak. Now the memories of autumn blur together-the long-gone aroma of burning leaves; the brisk dash-halt-turn of your tight-end buttonhook; the first bite of apple; the sweet bitterness of cider; the chill weather from the north, always a surprise; not to mention how baseball can come to seem all-important. Young Werther melancholy as the season’s note gave way, when you grew older, to a steadying acceptance. The sadness in time remained, perhaps, but coexisted with calm gratitude. The actuality of what had been began to weigh more than the lightness of dreams. Gravity reversed itself.
            Last week a dear friend of yours died, which no doubt set you to this brooding. The news took your breath away, and you thought for a moment it was gone forever-with him. He was the funniest person you ever knew, but where was laughter now? When you found your breath once more, however, you knew that you would laugh again. Sure enough, at the thought of his last wisecrack, you did.
            Your friend has crossed over into who knows what? At the very least, into the living memory of the legion who loved him, including you. Memory, therefore, begins to seem the very center of hope, consciousness itself. This is why infancy lasts long enough for memory to establish itself, and why senility, with luck, is short enough to bid memory farewell. To be a human being is to remember. Memory is how loss is borne, if not recovered from; how confusion gives way to wisdom; how the past reveals itself as relative, leaving the future as the only absolute. Transcendent memory, in which death is never final, is known to some as afterlife.
            Which brings me back to autumn. How many leaves must fall from the trees for you to get the message? Human life is a snap of the fingers, a flash of green-into-gold, a handful of rotations of the earth, even fewer revolutions around the sun. And that’s it. But human life is equally the refusal to be reduced to the mere cycle of nature. As the leaves return to humus, human beings insist on something more. The ancient intuition is that autumnal longing does not go unrequited. The grateful acceptance to which life has brought you involves an accumulation of losses which still do not defeat that longing. Over time-through time-desire itself, more than accomplishment, has come to define your hope. That you still feel the poignancy of leaves falling marks you as a creature of the eternal return, imprisoned by the year’s cycle. But that your feeling is itself infinitely oceanic marks you also as one who fully expects the things that has never happened yet. What you long for is the fifth season.
            A life of many autumns has made you a connoisseur of time. As much as that heightens your respect for the lessons of what went before and your tilt toward what is coming, it makes you rather desperate to grasp the here and now.
            The present, if you live it, is the absolute and the afterlife both. The fifth season is come. Thus, the recent loss of one person you loved-his final gift-makes you love those who remain to you all the more. Nostalgia and longing are nothing compared to wonder and gratitude before what-and who-there is. And that includes, yes, the turning leaves. The trees tell you what you need to know.


The Self cannot be pierced by weapons or burned by fire; water cannot wet it, nor can the wind dry it. The Self cannot be pierced or burned, made wet or dry. It is everlasting and infinite, standing on the motionless foundations of eternity. The Self is unmanifested, beyond all thought, beyond all change. Knowing this, you should not grieve. (Bhagavad Gita Ch.2:23-25)

One summer day, while hiking through the woods, I stumbled upon a field. I kicked off my shoes to glide through the open space, the green grass slide in between the toes of my naked feet. The sun kissed my shoulders and the tops of my cheeks. I smiled gratefully in its direction, giving thanks for the pleasure of its warm glow.

Suddenly the wind swept in and with it a swarm of locusts. They ripped and tore my sun kissed flesh. Piece by piece they took my body until their was nothing left of the whole. The pieces scattered by the wind while animals buried my bones under the roots of nearby trees.

Yet I was not gone. I stayed above the field, hovering over for how much time I cannot say. I watched on as autumn appeared. The leaves dancing off the trees as the field turned to brown. Winter came with its beautiful silence and the field turned white. The sweet smell of spring came and the field turned purple. Wild flowers shooting up to reveal their dormant glory. Then back again to summer, the sun shining down on the same green field where my body was taken.

I watched a deer wander into the field. The wind swept in and the locusts were back. Just as my body had been scattered about the field so it was with the deer. I watched on again as the field turned, brown to white to purple to green.

Once again in summertime the locusts came and took a lion. And just as it happened with me and the deer, the lion was scattered about the field. And the field changed. Brown, white, purple, green.

I noticed of course, the cycle. The field was changing in every second but only to wrap back around itself, to return to the green of summer. My body was taken by the field. I was in the field and the field was in me. There was no part of us that was separate. We existed together. One for the other, as with the deer and the lion.

And while my body was gone, flesh and bones becoming soil, I was not gone. Life then it seems is not a line, but a circle, wrapping back around itself. Moving from one form to another, never ceasing.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Response

I had an article published last week, which was pretty exciting for me. I thought just my husband and my parents would read it, but it turns out a lot of other people read it too. That was both a humbling and cool experience for me. The overwhelmingly positive response I received from folks has definitely motivated me to continue putting stuff out there.

I'm also realizing that all the material on this blog is like crazy serious. I'm actually not a very serious person. I just happen to love offloading all my opinions in crazy long stream of consciousness blog posts. Apparently... I'm currently inspired to rant a little less and maybe write something you know, funny. Life observations that aren't so "judgey." Practice and don't preach! That's my motto after all. But don't worry, if you're into the preachy stuff, that will continue to be a mainstay. After all, I was raised Baptist.  It's hard for me not to be all preachy and judgey.

Anyway, the article in Elephant Journal is a shortened version of my most recent blog post, I'm racist and so are you. You can follow the link to read it on their website. I've had a few people comment to me that it's impossible to not notice race. Notice was just the best word I could come up with for the subtle emotional shift that happens when most people encounter someone of another race. My husband Patrick put it this way, until noticing race is the same as noticing hair color or eye color, then we're all racists. It's all this underlying BS that has built up between our different skin colors over the past 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 years that we're slowly eroding in modern times. We are getting better! But we're just not there yet. White people get all kinds of squeamish when you call them racists. Which was kind of the point of the article. I'm happy to report that people dug in and felt a little space to talk about it, and THAT'S AWESOME!

To those people that say, it's impossible to not notice race, I want to say, "Yeah, ok. Sure, maybe you're right." But you know, for a pretty long bit of time people thought it was impossible that the world was round. I'm also pretty sure if you asked a black man in 1900 if this country would ever elect a black president, he would have told you it was impossible. Impossible is a state of mind. As we set seemingly impossible goals for ourselves we grow into stronger, more compassionate beings. Whether you're trying to run a marathon or train your mind to overcome the stereotypes of racial differences, impossible is nothing.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

I am a racist and so are you.

My life is not controversial. Growing up my family life was stable and of sufficient means. I got to go to camp, and Disneyworld, and eat ice cream cones. I went to a somewhat prestigious university and like most privileged youngsters, totally did not appreciate the academic resources until well after I graduated. I did take advantage of the social benefits of going to school in Boston. I saw a lot of music, met some interesting people, was in walking distance to the Museum of Fine Arts, and often read Plato and other philosophy assignments at the city’s beautiful public library. I experimented with drugs, but never got caught or hooked. In fact, the one time I had a run in with the law in my college years, it was to be arrested for an1800’s city law known as “Keeper of a Disorderly House.” It was thrown out through the work of an amazing public defender, who laudably promoted my penchant for public service and semi-decent grades. In fact, I wasn’t even present at the trial! I was on a 3-month road trip with my best friend, hopping from national park to national monument and living off peanut butter sandwiches. (Jelly was just too expensive.) In my 20’s I moved to California where I got to live and work outside…you know…in nature. I meet amazing people, I traveled to Asia, I backpacked through Alaska, and I rounded it all out with a stint living in the wackiest country on the planet…China. I spent a year and some change in graduate school, studying things like global economics and international law. I got married. I have a truly amazing husband who knows how to cook and fold laundry. We argue occasionally, but in general, we really like each other, which is convenient. While it has been a challenge getting pregnant on this first go-round, I fully expect to have 2.5 children by the time I’m 40.

I am a middle class, white woman. I listen to NPR. I drink coconut water and eat organic food. I do yoga everyday.  Did I mention I’m white? I live a privileged white person’s life. I have never felt the sting of discrimination, other than being the first or second girl picked at team sports in gym class. I’ve stepped outside the box of white culture. I lived in a Chinese town where I was the only foreigner. I volunteered in an after-school program where I was the only white person. I’ve tried to challenge my boundaries. I try with all my spiritual might to be present in my day to day and confront stereotypes that pop-up head on. I like to think I am a good listener and a keen social observer. But my lot in life is that of a privileged, American, white woman.

Which brings me to the topic of race. Yes, a white, daughter of upper-middle class parents, raised in the suburbs of America, who at the time of this writing is wearing $80 yoga tights, I want to talk about race. It seems there are many under qualified people out there talking about race, anyway. While I’m no Cornell West, I have been to a Talib Kweli show, watched The Chapelle Show, and I was an excellent teaching assistant for an undergraduate sociology course on Race and Racism. I think that puts me ahead of the curve. Plus, I am a white person who has some Black friends. No Mexican, Puerto Rican, Peruvian, or Dominican friends, but Black ones. I can only assume the various Spanish-speaking populations of our nation are pissed at being haphazardly thrown into the large stew of “Latino” classification, or since I’m a feminist, “Latina.” I guess that it’s just so much easier when we assume each one’s culture is exactly the same. How else can we keep them straight? Or maybe they don’t care at all, because they can’t speak English and have no idea we, white people, are constantly talking shit about them. Or worse, deciding “what to do with them” vis-à-vis immigration.

Since I’m talking about race, I can only really talk about Black people. So, Asian friends, sorry, you’ll remain excellent mathematicians and poor drivers for the time being. Oh and Native American descendents, we’ve completely forgotten you even exist. Maybe it’s not completely fair to the other minorities, but I still fundamentally believe that black people get to be the backbone of the race conversation so long as America exists as a nation. Least we forget, their ancestors were fucking slaves and for quite a long period of our history Blacks were legally counted as 2/3 of a person. That’s some real shit. No matter how much time passes, slavery happened

OK, here it is folks. Here’s where I bring in the controversy. Since no one else seems to be willing to do it, let me take a bold step where no socially liberal minded, white person has gone before to tell you that, I, Melissa Ann Fitzgerald McLaughlin, am a racist. That’s right, you read that correctly. I am a racist. I will qualify this statement to say that I got mad love for my Black brothers and sisters, but I’m a racist and so are you. It’s not that I believe in the superiority of any race or that I’m a crazy bigot preaching white power or some other nonsense. But I, like all unenlightened human beings, notice race. If I meet you for the first time and you are not white, it would be the first thing my brain would process about you. As my memory of you is being formed, you’re going in as Black, Asian, Middle Eastern, whatever category is appropriate. I do not do this when I meet white people. When I get off the freeway in Oakland after going the wrong way on the 580, I lock the doors of my car, and I have automatic locking doors. If my car is in drive my doors are locked, and I STILL check to make sure my doors are locked. If 3 or 4 young black men in oversized pants were approaching me, at high-noon on a crowded street, I would notice that. I wouldn’t necessarily be afraid of them or call the cops or assume they were thugs, but I would be aware of them.

I am racist, not because of hatred in my heart, but because of the limitations of my mind. I am not color blind. I see race, and I categorize people based on that race. I voted for Barack Obama to become the first black president of United States, but way back when he gave his famous speech at the Democratic National Convention, you know what the very first thing that went through my mind, “Wow, that Black Senator from Illinois sure can give a speech.” That’s some racist shit. And guess what, you’re probably racist too. Whether you’re a Black person with preconceived notions of Mexican immigrants taking your jobs, or a Chinese person harboring some resentment for your Japanese neighbor, you’re a racist too. White people, of course, are the biggest racists of all. That’s just how it goes.

There have only been a handful of people to have ever lived on this planet that could say, in all honestly, that they were not racist. I’m talking Jesus Christ and Buddha territory here, people. Which is why I get so frustrated when a “hot button” race story happens. It’s so interesting to see white news reporters, activists, writers, average citizens bolting to different sides of racial issues faster than they can pick out a movie from the RedBox in front of CVS. It’s as if by virtue of their solidarity with their African American counterpart they prove themselves to not be racist. They shout, “People in Florida are racist!” “The L.A.P.D. is racist,” underscoring their own open-mindedness and lack of racism. Not us up here in the liberal utopia of Marin County, California, we’re not racist. We’re just as mad as Black people about the Trayvon Martin verdict. Well, I would be willing to wager the price of George Lucas’ ranch that if Treyvon Martin was walking around in a Mill Valley, CA neighborhood, where are the homes were worth upwards of $800,000, some white person would notice that. Since we have fewer guns in Marin, Treyvon probably would have escaped with his life, but I’m pretty sure there would be some level of suspicion, even if just a second look. That second look, that’s racist!

The thing that is so frustrating about these issues is that we all react so quickly we lose the opportunity to examine our own stereotypes of race. We lose the opportunity to confront that tightness in our chest when we realize we’ve walked into a “bad neighborhood.” We deny attention to our own relationship to race, in order to prove that we are not racist. This is what liberal white people do, and most of today’s conservatives for that matter; they deny their own racism. “I’m so open-minded and cool, I don’t even notice race.” BULLSHIT! White people of America! Get a grip! You are not Trayvon Martin! You can be upset about what happened in Florida to this young man who lost his life way too soon. But seriously, you are not Trayvon Martin, you are George Zimmerman.

To be fair, in my view, being a bigot and being a racist are two totally different things. Being a racist means being aware of race. It means taking stock of what you’ve seen on the news or maybe even some past experiences you’ve had and bracing yourself around someone you think is a threat because of how they look. As a living breathing human being you have all sorts of personally, socially and culturally constructed stereotypes floating around in your mind that pop up when you see some black dudes standing in front of a corner store. Maybe you walk faster past someone who looks like they might sell drugs or you hit them up for weed, depending on what kind of person you are.

I’m here to tell you, it’s ok. If we ever want to live in this “post-racial” society everyone’s been talking about since we elected our first black president, we have to stand out on our edge and confront the racist that lives in our own mind. Even the minor thoughts of racism, do not deny them. It’s the root of our emotion, the stereotypes about race that need to change, not just the actions that result from them.

One of my favorite Buddhist teachers Pema Chodron gave an interview once about meditating in front of prisons. It was a gathering of Buddhist monks in meditation of loving compassion for the inmates of that prison. An onlooker commented that it was a waste of time. Shouldn’t they be sending out their energy to more deserving humans? Aren’t there more pressing world issues? Those people committed crimes, they deserved to be where they are, kids dying of cancer deserve loving-kindness meditation. Pema Chodron responded, “We’re all just one thought away from being in there too. Granted it’s a pretty big thought, but it’s just one thought.” The point being that, while we may not approach a young Black kid in our neighborhood and shot him dead, if we feel any sense of suspicion, if we momentarily hold our breath, any quickening of our pace, we are just one thought/one action away from being George Zimmerman.

It is our thoughts that we need to examine. It is our stereotypes and the emotions they bring up. Fear, anger, thoughts of ones own superiority over another, whether they be black kids in hoodies, meth heads with missing teeth, smelly homeless people, Mexican migrant workers. Can you really say you’ve never looked down on another human being? Can you walk through Watts on a dark night with no fear in your heart? Then congratulations, you’re enlightened. But for all the rest of us, we require practice.

A yoga teacher of mine, MC Yogi, talks a lot about sunlight and love. He often says, “The sun does not discriminate; it shines equally on all beings. Let’s try to be more like the sun.” If we could shine our love like sunlight, equally to everyone we meet; imagine what kind of world we would create. But a love like that takes work. As Aristotle wrote you have to cultivate habits of goodness.  Giving love is not about being over the moon blissed out all the time, or hugging every black child you come across, or going out of your way to walk through Oakland in the middle of the night with bags of candy. It’s about confronting the emotions that bubble up to the surface right in that moment when they come up. When a homeless person asks you for money, how do you react? Do you quicken your step and look in the other direction? Do you feel angry or put upon? Do you feel pity? Can you meet those emotions right then and there? Push past the awkwardness or anxiety, and try with all your might to radiate love outward. Give him change, don’t give him change, just be right there, not struggling to get away both from the person before you and the emotion within you. Can you meet your prejudice with acknowledgement? Can you sit in your discomfort? Be real with yourself, so you can be real with others.

The Beatles, Dionne Warwick, and MC Yogi are all right. What the world needs now, is love sweet love. But it’s not a cheesy, campy kind of love; it’s the real deal. It’s recognizing that all our differences are illusory. The thugs, the pimps, the physicists, and the president, we are all the same. Sure, we’ve made some different choices, but god does not discriminate, he/she/it lives in all beings and shines down equally upon us. Within each of us there is a big, earth shattering kind of love just waiting to break out. This is the love we need to tear down racism.

Chinese Banquet
I have been blessed to be invited into many different types of communities and commune with characters of different races and cultures. I have seen that kind of big love first hand. There’s my man Ali, from Iraq, owner of the Linden Corner Store in Allston, MA. I used to go in late night on the weekends to take a break from socializing with my fellow drunken college students. He used to give me single cigarettes that I’d smoke behind the checkout counter with him (which was illegal in the state of Massachusetts.) He asked me about school. He asked me about my family. He bought my broken TV when I moved out of my house after graduation. He also had the most graphic porn collection back there and a brother who was missing several fingers on his left hand that I always suspected had been cut off by Saddam Hussein but was too afraid to ask. Or my good friend Chantal who invited me to a BBQ with her family and friends in South Central to drink punch and dance the Electric Slide with her little sisters. One evening when we were together at a stop light on MLK Blvd. in S.C.L.A., we saw two large black men galloping bareback on horses down the center lane of the road. You never do know what you’re going to see in South Central. There are the “trouble maker” scholarship kids that came up to outdoor science school from the rougher parts of San Bernardino County. The kids who had never been to the beach, even though they live in Southern California, just an hour’s drive away. The kids I would take on trail who I would ask to sit silently by a running stream for one minute with their eyes closed. The ones who told me that the sounds were so peaceful compared to the sounds in their neighborhood, the sounds of car horns, fighting, and gunshots. Or my Chinese students in Hunan Province, China who would sing to me when I came into class or tell me “I love you everyday.” My Chinese grandmother who used to give me fruit or told me I would get sick and smack my legs for wearing shorts when it was 85 degrees out with 120% humidity. I think most of all about Andre, the man who managed the afterschool program in Dorchester where I volunteered in college. Andre, the size of a professional football player, has an intimidating physical presence. I think of how if I saw him on the street, I might look away or walk faster or assume him to be something that he’s not. I think about the reality of his life and the service he provides to his community. The fact that he meets criminals and gang members with a helping hand and high expectations of what they can achieve. I literally get chocked up when I think about these people. It is from their friendship and their love that my world has opened. They have been my teachers. Now when I see some terrible crime on the 6:00 news, I don’t think the world is full criminals and thugs. I think about that young black kid that didn’t have anyone to drive him to the beach.

I did have someone to drive me to the beach and as a result I have a surplus of love to give away. I’ve got a lot to spare. It is with that love that I work on my own racism. It is in the spirit of that love that I encourage you to examine your own. To work on my racism, I know I have to acknowledge it. It lives in the darkest corner of my mind, the part of me that I'd rather not reveal to others. I know, however, that I cannot be present with others if I deny that part of myself. I have got to bring my own racism out of the depths and up to the surface. Be real with yourself so you can be real with others. I am a racist, but I choose to fight it rather than pretend it doesn’t exist. I am a racist, but I choose to wage the war for love in my own mind. This is really, really hard stuff, but it’s where progress happens. It’s where the work is done. I cannot speak for everyone on how to fix the racial divide, but what I can try to do for myself is practice being present and loving in my interactions with others. To meet pain with love. To meet anger with love. To meet fear with love. To meet stereotypes, and racism, and misunderstanding and cultural differences, to meet it all with love. It is not an easy journey. Not for me anyway because I am a judgmental asshole, but it’s the work. And if a cynical, East Coast, New York Times reading snob like me can try it, surely you can too?

And as it is appropriate of all white people writing about race, I'll leave you with some words from Martin Luther King Jr.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.
I refuse to accept the idea that the "is-ness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "ought-ness" that forever confronts him.
I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear annihilation.
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.
I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.
I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.
I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.
I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up.
I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed and nonviolent redemptive goodwill proclaimed the rule of the land. And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.

I still believe that we shall overcome. 
-From Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, 1964

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Who inspires you?

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasis in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places-and there are so many-where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, it itself a marvelous victory. –Howard Zinn

I recently started reading, Then They Came for Me by Maziar Bahari. This is actually the book that Jon Stewart is making a movie about, so you may have heard of it. In the first few chapters I kept thinking to myself that these are the types of stories we should be passing on, telling out friends about, discussing at the workplace water coolers. I know there’s a lot of drama on The Bachelor and everyone is super curious what Kim Kardshian’s baby will look like, but instead of giving these stories so much attention, let’s focus some extra google searches to something productive, positive, potentially world changing. In this post, I would also like to forgive Jon Stewart for abandoning us this summer because Bahari’s story deserves more airtime.

Here’s a list of some documentaries, memoirs, stories I think are worth sharing, stories that reveal the capacity of human actions to reshape the world. Often we romanticize people who’ve passed, your Gandhi, MLK Jr., and we assume that no one is carrying that torch, the torch of peaceful protest. As I mentioned in my last post, there are people all around the world who are fighting for environmental justice, social equality, and political freedom in the face of some pretty daunting obstacles. As I’ve mentioned before, what we give energy to multiples. Let’s honor those, who without extraordinary power, have acted courageously to better their communities. The people on my list are already pretty famous. They have been recognized for their activism, namely many of them have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but I feel that our Western society spends much more time admiring the frivolous or incessantly debating our political differences, rather than being inspired by stories of the audacious and truly brave. These people should be household names.

What does progress look like to you? What stories do you think deserve a little more attention? How do these stories serve us? Maybe you’re not willing to risk political imprisonment. I get it. That’s ok. What can you do? Can you be inspired to strive to act for progress even in some small way? Can you be more conscious of the root of your actions? How do these actions serve you and how do they serve your neighbors?

Personally, I feel that stories like these remind me that even small positive actions are meaningful. If African women can work to forgive their rapists, surely I can let go of some wrong in my past, some burden I’ve been carrying. If Chinese dissidents risk persecution for demonstration, surely I can start a letter writing campaign to my Congressperson.

Add to this list! Tell me about stories, books, movies that highlight people with courage, tenacity, just straight up ballsy-ness. Tell me about people you think are totally badass, putting out positive messages and trying to change the world even though it seems impossible. It’s about what we value. Looking at pictures of celebrities in bikinis does pass the time, but how does it serve you? Let’s spread around some global good news, ya’ll.

Letters from Burma
 1)   Aung San Suu Kyi and the makers of the documentary Burma VJ (2008)

"It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it."
 From speech, Freedom from Fear, 1990
She may be the world's best known political prisoner, having spent roughly 15 years under house arrest in Burma. During this time, however, she gained notoriety globally through her writing and inspired hope in the hearts of her country men and women living in political oppression.

Burma VJ

Image Source
“There are no outdoor sports as graceful as throwing stones at a dictatorship.”
Image Source

Famous for co-designing the Bird’s Nest for the Olympic games, Wei Wei has used his notoriety to draw attention to party corruption in China. 
This documentary is also really entertaining.

3) Liu Xiaobo

This guy’s name is censored in China, you can’t even look him up on Wikipedia without an internet proxy around the Great Chinese Firewall. He has served four prison terms for various crimes such as “disturbing the social order,” and spreading messages to subvert the country and authority, these terms have been from 1989-1991, 1995-1996, 1996-1999, 2009-2020. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for co-writing Charter ’08:
Image Source

 “After experiencing a prolonged period of human rights disasters and a tortuous struggle and resistance, the awakening Chinese citizens are increasingly and more clearly recognizing that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal common values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, a republic, and constitutionalism constitute the basic structural framework of modern governance. A "modernization" bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives humans of their rights, corrodes human nature, and destroys human dignity. Where will China head in the 21st century? Continue a "modernization" under this kind of authoritarian rule? Or recognize universal values, assimilate into the mainstream civilization, and build a democratic political system? This is a major decision that cannot be avoided.”

4) Leymah Gbowee, Pray the Devil Back to Hell documentary and personal memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers, How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War
“You can tell people of the need to struggle, but when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench the fire.” 

Book website
This is what women working together looks like. So, so powerful and inspiring. 
5) The Island President with Mohammed Nasshed
“I do not even like the term negotiate. There is nothing to negotiate with the environment.”

All I really know about Mohammed Nasshed is what I’ve seen in The Island President and his speech in Copenhagen at the UN Climate Summit. There are year old stories in the NYTimes of him resigning from office and back and forth claims that he abused power and that he was forced to resign under gunpoint. He has since been arrested, detained, questioned, and put on trial. The Diplomat, Asia Pacific blog has a good summary. 

6) Mala Yousufazi, 8th grader and Pakistan’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner.
I seriously hope you’ve already read a lot about this girl because she blows me away. Death threats from the Taliban be damned, this girl’s on a mission. There are frequent stories of her continuing activism for female education, like this story from yesterday, June 18th.
“I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I am afraid of no one.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"I Don't Let Doomsday Bother Me, Do You Let it Bother You?"

I have a confession to make. I am a current events junkie. I read the New York Times. I listen to NPR. I watch NBC Nightly News. I have a not so secret crush on NBC foreign correspondent Richard Engel. That guy is a bad ass mofo. As you might guess, said obsession means that I have strong political beliefs. You know, opinions about all these current events. At times my frustration with the ineptitude of political leaders, generalized greed of corporations, and apathy of the common man leads me to raise my voice. This happens frequently when I’m discussing politics, religion, and the environment even with my husband, who for the most part agrees with much of my worldview. It especially happens when discussing current events with my father, who fundamentally disagrees with all  of my worldview and while disagreeing raises his voice several octaves in fiery indignation, leading me to raise my voice and on and on. (Perhaps this is the root, no?) Fortunately, our sparing these days is good hearted, and we share a common core belief that people in this country would be best served by regular exercise and decreased soda consumption. The point of all this is to say, I get fired up on all these news events that could best be described as fleeting stories. At times, my passion even leads to me interrupt or cut off others, just to spit out some reaction to their shortsighted viewpoint. This is a horrible thing that nobody likes, including myself. It’s a douche bag move, really. I work on it.

It might be more appropriate to refer to myself as a current events junkie in recovery. You see, I started college two weeks before 9/11. The Bush years, Iraq, the market crash to follow shortly after. I went to a large, private liberal arts institution in the city of Boston. I started smoking cigarettes one evening my sophomore year while writing a philosophy paper and continued socially just to have a gesticulation tool, something to really drive home my rich, white girl point of view. I did make two great choices in college though that kept me from being a total asshole. The first was to volunteer in an afterschool program in the rougher part of Dorchester, MA. If you want to see little kids go to blows over an Uno game, I recommend volunteering at an afterschool program in Dorchester, MA. I continued working with “under privileged” (I put quotations on this because I hate that description) kids in Jamaica Plain. This experience was good for me on several levels. First of all, I was acutely able to recognize that I would most likely never have to suffer through anything more than pretty shallow problems. These kids had one computer for their entire school, while my parents were paying exorbitant amounts of money to send me to Boston University, where I occasionally skipped class and drank a hell of a lot of booze. It also taught me that educated people love to go on and on about solving problems that they don’t really know anything about. Many of us are disconnected from the street level. There are a million examples of this, some well meaning government agency, corporation, or non-profit comes in and says, “Ok, we figured it out, we’ve got the solution to poverty in your neighborhood. We’re going to give everyone a sewing machine.” or “We’re going to build ‘X’ (incredibly expensive center) to create jobs.” While the neighborhood is shouting, “Yo, you trippin’! It’s 2005, and we’ve only got one computer in our elementary school. We don’t need an airline hanger.” Ultimately, the lesson was white people are full of shit. I am full of shit. I have no idea what it’s like to be from Dorchester, MA. I do know that, racism is very, very real, and if you want to help people make their lives better, you have to actually respect them. Get off that fucking white horse, you look like an idiot.

The second great choice I made was to be a philosophy major. While, this degree will never, ever, ever get me a job, it did teach me not to be an asshole. When people ask me about my college major, they usually reply, “Oh (long pause) so you’re a philosopher…” or “What was that like, the philosophy studying?” I usually say that yes, I am a philosopher, but unfortunately that is no longer a profession. However, I cannot recommend the study of philosophy enough. Of course, this could probably be done with a library card and educated book club discussions, but since I have a piece of paper certifying my study, let me go on to explain the benefits a little more. As you probably know, philosophy is the study of everything…and confusing enough, also the study of nothing. Existence, non-existence, politics, human relationships, values, language, religion, science, crossing the street, it is the make-up of our shared concepts, attitudes, and so on. It involves a lot of reading because the thing about philosophy is that there are a lot of different ones, all those damned philosophies. That’s really the best part about the whole thing. If you really immerse yourself in deep study of overlapping philosophies, you’re bound to tie yourself in knots.

Nick Byrd
I often describe my college education like this. When you start off as a philosophy major, you get dropped into the middle of a large four sided brick walled room, no windows, no doors, no light coming in. You have no idea that brick walls surround you. If you have good professors guiding you, they will most likely strip you of any 19 year old idiot notions you have about life, only to allow yourself to build up a much broader perspective. So yes, in this brick room you're also naked. You may first jump into Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, all those rational kind of guys. Hey, we can make society work! Isn’t that great? And you wonder on in one direction in your brick room. Then you start studying Nietzsche and boom, you smack yourself head first against a brick wall. Ouch! Who put that wall there? That hurt! I’m going to turn around in the opposite direction! And on you go reading your existentialists or go on some metaphysical binge, until BOOM! You smash your face against another brick wall, and oh man that one really hurt! I thought I was walking in a safe direction. That’s going to leave a mark! You turn the other direction and another, until eventually you give up and sit down in the middle of the room. That’s when all the brick walls just fall over and you realize the walls were never there. They were merely a construction of your mind. That’s what it is to major in philosophy. Everyone is right, and no one is right.

This lesson was really driven home for me when I moved in with my parents for a few months after my college road trip and before my move out to California. My parents live in Texas, just outside of Houston. Houston is headquarters of every evil empire your liberal mind can fathom. At the time, I was working in a coffee shop. I volunteered for the early morning shift. It was then that I came face to face with “evil.” The CFO’s, and Vice presidents of your Chevron and your Halliburton need their early morning caffeine fix too. It’s funny; coming face to face with evil was a lot like volunteering in Dorchester and coming face to face with poverty. It’s not really what you expect it to be. When you put a face on “evil,” it turns out to look a like your best friend or your cousin. Corporate greed had kids and a mortgage and a penchant for Vanilla Lattes. Holy shit, you can actually talk to Republicans! Republicans are people too, and not all their ideas for society are terrible. The thing about all this is that our frustrations about our society are more similar than we think. And when you talk to someone who disagrees with you, you often get the opportunity to refine your solutions. Your ideas become better!

But back to my media obsession. Yes, I am a media consumer. Sometimes I get caught up in all those story lines, and I start pointing fingers. Only now, I always remember to reserve a finger for myself, usually the middle one. The problem of over consumption of headlines is that it leaves us feeling like we’re at war with each other, and worst of all, that we alone are right. And because of the proliferation of media, technology, etc. we don’t actually have to share coffee or ideas with people who disagree with us. Also, the media does not exactly represent the big picture. Everything that happens is the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the world. The volume is always at 11. Now I am very concerned about how we treat our environment, but I’m not preparing for the end of the world just yet. I’m also not buying all these good vs. evil labels; it’s far simpler and far more complex than that. Here's what I put forward:
 1) Shouting makes you look like an asshole.
 2) Everyone and no one is right.
3) In your righteous indignation, how closely do you resemble that thing you’re fighting against?

Which brings me to the title of this blog, “I don’t let doomsday bother me, do you let it bother you?” This is a line from a great song, Doomsday by Elvis Perkins in Dearland. You must scoop up this song if you don’t have it; it involves an amazing horn accompaniment. Grab a little perspective here, people. Things could be better, but we don’t need to count on doomsday. Get real. I’m writing this blog to you on a MacBook with my iPhone just off to my right, and I am drinking a delicious spinach, apple, blackberry, mango, protein smoothie. The sun is out, the birds are chirping in through the windows. Yeah, we got problems, but we got first world problems. Things are falling apart, but really not quite as bad as we might make it out to be. Sure, the NSA is reading my e-mail, but didn’t I just post a photo of myself making out with a midget on my Facebook wall? Am I so concerned about privacy? Oh and hello, where were you in 2001 when the Patriot Act was signed? Yes, the U.S. economy has gone to shit, but they're building a new Target here in Petaluma. People are still buying shit. My most favorite thing is whenever gas prices go up like 15-20 cents a gallon and their interviewing some person on the news about how they are going to have to ride their bike, drive less, or car pool. This is a good thing! Stories on gas pricing in general are a good reminder of how ridiculous and reactionary our media cycle is…one week it will be “AH! Gas prices are so high it’s putting a strain on the global economy” and the next month, “AH! Gas prices are so low, it’s putting a strain on the global economy.” This is not to make light of anyone’s suffering, but let’s just keep a little perspective. Hey you, in your $100 designer jeans, you are not a victim. Let’s tone down the righteous indignation. Fear less. Be cool. 

I’m not saying give up and just ignore all these challenges. I am advocating a little less doomsday and a lot more love. I do fundamentally believe that energy matters. It’s a hippie dippy concept we talk a lot about in yoga and other Eastern philosophies. So, you’re pissed off that the Middle East is all kinds of fucked up. Or you’re just so mad that people eat McDonalds. What can you do about that?

Here’s the real key, practice and don’t preach. There’s a great book out there called Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming. The author Paul Hawken makes the point that there are millions, not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of people around the world doing amazing things for our planet and its species all around the world. What we give energy to multiplies. If we believe with such conviction that the government or corporation or whatever ‘X’ entity has the power to change the world, we haven’t really been paying attention. It’s always been people, working passionately and persistently, those without extraordinary power, that light up the world. We know this. This is the history of the world. So you wish society was more patient? The next time you’re in line at Starbucks, don’t be rude to your barista when you finally get your cup of coffee. You wish society was more tolerant? Make eye contact with every homeless person you see. You know somebody who really got this, Gandhi. If you want to change the world, change yourself. The problem is that we don’t see all these little things as making much of a difference, so we don’t work on them. Well, maybe it won’t make a difference, but does it really hurt to try?

Back to this idea, what we give energy to multiplies. I have a theory that our society gives the most attention to the loudest, the most violent, the most extreme, these are the kinds of people that get a majority of television air time. When there is some mass shooting, we talk endlessly about the shooter, the killer. What kind of crazy is he? What were his parents like? Where did he go to school? What did he write in his journal? Were there warning signs? Turn that shit off. I’m not advocating no longer following the news, but keep somewhere in the back of your mind that none of it matters. Can you retain a little emotional distance? Can you read between the storylines? When you constantly prepare for the worst case scenario, you actually live it, in your mind, all the time. Who wants to spend all their energy preparing for the worst thing that might happen to them? Let it be a surprise, and give space for goodness to flourish. Things are not quite as horrible as they seem, and we don’t really know what we’re talking about. Everyone and no one is right. I mean, we’re all going to die from a string of natural disasters created by global warming, obviously. But it’s not so bad, really. Don’t spend all your time worrying about doomsday. Give some energy to the birds chirping outside your window. Or better yet, go outside and start chirping right along with them.