Mindful in a New Administration

I have been struggling, like so many others, with the changes in the Administration of this country. I have listened and read and watched and felt and thought until the tears stream down my face. Finally, yesterday, I decided to write a response. Here’s what came out: 

Angry rich man impoverishing my country,
Diminishing the things I value,
Raping the planet, denying the change,
Stripping the endowed,
Demeaning the love you cannot attract,
Twisted in hate and fear and rage,
Puckered and discolored,
Bitter and sour as a kumquat,
Greedy as a black hole,
Blaming, shaming,
Raving, enslaving,
Cursing and worsening –
Can compassion arise in my soul
for you?
Or will I begin to identify with my own anger, my own fear,
seek my own protection,
build a wall around my heart
and regress to reptilian reflexes?
You are a bell of mindfulness.
I might thank you one day.

My partner, Steve, suggested that I take this exercise in identifying the emotions I feel when I read the news and form a gatha. I had to look that up; I discovered that it is a kind of prayer or vow that can bring a simple task, like brushing your teeth, into mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hahn provides this example: “Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth, I vow to speak purely and lovingly. When my mouth is fragrant with right speech, a flower blooms in the garden of my heart.” Steve then remembered reading The Fifth Precept which talks about consumption in the context of the Eightfold Path of right views, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration.  I found this statement of it:

“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.”

The gatha I developed for myself to say when I turn on my computer goes like this: “I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing mindful consumption of media and news.” I don’t have a television, but if I did, I’d turn to this reminder before I used it.

The point is that the news and social media can play a major role in our cultural awareness.  I want to keep that role in a reasonable perspective as much as I can, and I want to keep this Administration in a reasonable perspective. I’m not sure exactly what that is. It’s too early to tell how much it will affect my decisions and actions in a concrete way. What it has done is connect me with the emotions and choices of people I care about; whether or not I share those feelings and decisions, I am hearing a lot about them. This Administration does give us the opportunity to examine our values and explore how to take action in response. I want to engage in mature and positive activities as much as possible such as dialogue, education, and community-building. I see blogging as one way to do this, although it is “virtual” and not “actual”. One thing I am doing in the “actual” world is starting rehearsal with a “communiversity” chorus in my new home town. I start tomorrow night, after a meeting at the Town Hall.
Thank you for being my online community. I appreciate your visits!
Namaste, and Peace!
– scillagrace

A humble smile

Armageddon and the Art of French Cooking

This article is featured in the December issue of The BeZine

“Truth is ugly. We possess art lest we perish of the truth.” – Nietzsche

Civilization kills. We are living in apocalyptic times. The Anthropocene is here; humans are dominating and destroying the Earth. Like all civilizations in history, though, ours will fall back into the dust, and Earth will absorb it in some fashion. I get angry with humans because of this. Our arrogance and hubris and stupidity is truly abhorrent. I would wash my hands from all association with my species if I could, but for two things: music and food. I am willing to forgive everything for Puccini and Marcona almonds sauteed in butter and thyme.

Thanksgiving sideboard

Perhaps it is nothing but hedonism to feel that my pleasure in a fine meal at La Reve on Tuesday might bring me back from the brink of utter despair. The “Holiday Train” event in the village late that afternoon had created horrific traffic congestion with black-clad pedestrians pushing strollers into the dark streets while some pop Christmas frenzy blared over a loudspeaker. I felt truly Scroogeish; humans are complete humbug. But then the ambiance of a Parisian bistro — chattering guests and tremulous accordion melodies — and the buttery oak in the Chardonnay spread its warmth over that cold, post-Truth fear surrounding my heart. I asked Irene, our Asian-American server, about how the chef prepared the pumpkin soup. We talked about how roasting brings out the deeper flavors of vegetables and stock bones and what items on the menu were gluten-free. By the time I had savored my way through triple-cream brie, salmon, lamb and chocolate caramel, I was ready to admit atonement of the human race was possible.

The next day, however, my thoughts turned dark again. How could I justify the expense of that meal, even though almost half of the cost to me was covered by a gift certificate? How had the animals invested in that meal been treated? How far had the ingredients traveled on fossil fuels to get to my plate? My awareness of suffering may have been dulled for a time, but it was not erased. I may have been treated quite well, but was I healed?

Healing. In Western culture, it’s about fixing pathology. In Eastern culture, it’s about making whole. Awareness is about opening up to understand the whole, the complete Oneness of the Universe. “Life is suffering” is the first noble Truth in Buddhism. Suffering is in the Oneness. Arising from the awareness of suffering are two responses (at least): Fear and Compassion.

victory

I experience my fear for the human race and my compassion for it as well, blended contrapuntally. To recognize that only as thoughts criss-crossing my brain might drive me mad. To see that reflected in a complex pairing of wine and cheese or in the first act duet of Mimi and Rudolfo in La Boheme saves me from perishing from the ugly truth. I will never comprehend the Truth, although I live it every day. Making, enjoying, or experiencing Art is as close as I may ever come to holding the Whole in my heart. I believe that those who practice Meditation seek to do the same, while sparing the harm caused in producing Art.

May we all find a way to happiness, a way not to perish from the Truth, a way to be at peace with the Whole.

arte

Text and photographs © Priscilla Galasso, 2016. All rights reserved.

Present Moment, Beautiful Moment

January 7 – past and present

1984 – It’s my wedding day.  The weather is chilly and foggy in Northern California.  I am too excited to sleep late.  I have a date with my fiance for a morning meeting.  He comes to pick me up at my parents’ house.  My grandmother is aghast that we are seeing each other before arriving at the church; it’s just not done.  But we know what we want.  We want to focus on each other, on the meaning the day has for us personally before being caught up in the ritual.  We park the car under some oak trees in the foothills.  We decide it’s too damp and cold to walk, so we sit in the car and talk.  We are calm and happy.  He drops me off at the house.  The next time I see Jim, he is standing at the altar, grinning.  I take his hand.  I notice it’s cold and clammy, so unlike the warm bear paw I expect.  I smile at him.  He’s caught up in excitement.  The wedding mass is a long event.  We emerge from the church and see sunlight for the first time that day.  It doesn’t last long.  The reception in the Parish Hall is intimate and bustling.  It’s dark when we leave.  I get home and change.  My mother takes care of the dress.  The station wagon is packed with my belongings, gifts, and leftover bottles of champagne.  We drive south to Pebble Beach.  I’m hungry.  I hope the restaurant at the inn is still open by the time we get there.  We find we are able to get sandwiches at the bar.  We retire to our room.  I feel so incredibly grown up; in one day, I’ve suddenly matured.  I’m married.  I’m 21 years old.

scan0027January 7 – this morning

The sun comes in the southeast window, and I begin to stir.  As my mind brightens, I remember the day.  Steve is sleeping beside me.  I pull out the battered photo album from the box in the corner and settle back on the bed.  Was it really cloudy that day?  I flip through the pages in front of me, my mind turning over more leaves than my fingers.  My phone beeps.  My daughter is texting me to let me know she’s thinking of me today.   Her baby face smiles at me from a photograph.  She will be turning 30 in a few weeks.  Steve begins to stir.  I look at his face as his eyes open.  “What are you doing here?” he asks.  That’s a good question!  “It’s a long story,” I laugh.  But that doesn’t really answer the question.  I am living.  I am aware now of the present moment.  As I look around, I see the beauty of this day, this year.  The air is cold and dry.  The trees outside are bare, the branches dusted with snow.  I look down at my left hand.  It is lined by swollen veins and wrinkles.  There’s a brown spot just there.  I have a ring on my index finger with a blue topaz heart set in it.  No other rings.  My fingers press Steve’s arm.  “I am waking up.  And you?”  “I am Steve-ing.” 

present moment

© 2015, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved