The university recently decided to keep John C. Calhoun’s name on one of its residential college buildings. Calhoun, a brilliant, devilish orator, claimed that slavery was “a positive good,” tightening the shackles on millions of children, women, and men.
It is the oddest experience—to be really angry at someone and yet to forgive instantly, to love someone and yet to know that you need to let them go, to be relieved to have your solitude back and yet to mourn the loss of your former lover, to accept that you’re moving on and yet to keep freaking out about his having left you for someone else.
You say to yourself:
No way is she better than me. I mean, his taste has really declined.
And then you admit:
…but maybe she’s better for him than I was.
Which leads to the happy thought:
And maybe there’s someone out there who is way better for me, too.
I have been looking for him for such a long time. This time I’m not settling about anything. I will feel the earth move. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for his love is more delightful than wine. Pleasing is the fragrance of his perfums, his name is like perfume poured out.
I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m so glad and relieved this time to be able to go through this without getting stuck in rigid “he did me wrong” discourse. Also, I’m glad holding myself with compassion and gentleness and love as I face my suffering. This does not mean I place the burden of my suffering at his feet and demand retribution. These are my problems. Look: I choose to respond to this difficulty, this blow to my emotional and financial security with love and grace. I chose grace. Why chose anything else?
Suffering, dukha, is unavoidable. I can’t opt out of the pain but I can choose how I respond to it. I think writing about it, meditating about it, and crying about it is all an excellent form of ritualized mourning, a kind of kaddish that I am working through. I’m trying to keep my eyes open.
I was talking to a friend (a friend? more than a friend? there’s always hope!) tonight about how weird it is to be back in the United States. Everything is more or less the same. The gods dogs are the same, the garden is the same as it always is this time of year, the paintings and rugs and tables and chairs and dishes in my house are the same, the streets are the same, my neighbors are doing the same things, the pile of mail is the same pile of catalogs and come-ons, but I am different. My body and mind have changed. I was only there for two months but it transformed me tangibly in a way that I cannot yet describe. I feel heavier, more rooted to the earth, as though the magnets in my soles had a stronger pull. If I’m liable to floating off at a momentous breath, then I’m as likely to come come crashing back to the ground again, upright and on my feet.
I like being in my house by myself. I love it here. The wisteria and the grape vines are still alive, if parched. The Echinacea is blooming into the heat. The rosemary, symbol of the woman’s reign in the household, had held on, a small, scrubby branch.
Today I reclaimed my yoga/meditation room. I set up an altar with the male and female manifestations of compassionate action—Avalokitseshvara and Green Tara.
For me, Green Tara is the most important deity/symbol in the Buddhist pantheon. “ The Sanskrit root târ-means “to traverse” or “cross over” as in using a bridge to ford a stream.” Green Tara is pictured rising from her Lotus couch, one foot in the world, ready to help, actively involved in the alleviation of misery in the world. Her name means what the modern Greek word metaphor means: a vehicle for carrying over, like a dolly that you use to move furniture from one place to another. Similarly, linguistic metaphors don’t name the things they denote, they only transport meaning and by transporting make those things, those concepts, accessible.
Tara moves from one place to another, transports compassion from its abstract realm to the material realm, putting it into action. A metaphor reaches out, spans a gap and, by connecting things together, makes the immaterial concrete, graspable.
I have been crying.
Crying releases stress and consoles the heart, they say. For sure, you can’t pretend you’re not suffering or that you don’t need to be loved when you’re weeping. But you don’t necessarily feel better afterwards. You feel wrung out, over-infused with intensity, exhausted. It is good if you can keep laughing. I often laugh after or while crying. Joy and sorrow aren’t exactly opposed emotions. When you cry you feel vulnerable, and if you’re at all kind to yourself you will give yourself some slack. Embrace your suffering with all the love that you would bestow on anyone else you love.
Having taken this advice seriously, I can now announce:
Hey! I just realized that I am HOME.
I’m in my house. Today is my father’s birthday. I have a gorgeous, large sepia-toned photograph of him in his prime, when he was still handsome. I’m at home in my father. My father has come to rest at home in me.
I ADORED my father, and also had a lot of trouble getting along with him. Many regrets. Still, I’m hereby honoring, toasting, him, thanking him for all that he gave me, for the skiing lessons, the encouragement, for never saying that I couldn’t do anything I wanted to because I was a girl.
Awesome job, Dad. And I’m not talking about the money, even though you thought that was all anyone cared about. I cared about you.
Switching away to JOY!! I have everything I need right here. My son is spending the night at his girlfriend’s house and
I am alone in my own private space for the first time in 2 months.
The bathroom is clean, the toilet flushes without running all over the floor, the shower runs hot and cold, no one is watching me come and go, and I have air conditioning. I can eat all the salad and fruit I want without getting diarrhea and I am taking food out of my own refrigerator in my kitchen with its ancient linoleum floors. I can dance around naked if I please. It is a delightful freedom. I want to call up my friend J not to gloat but to share with her a delicious independence that she will best understand.
If you cannot find a companion who is better than or like yourself
You should make your way steadily, alone.
In the childish there is no companionship.
From the 5th chapter of the Dhammapada
The Dhammapada, or “Verses on the Way,” is a redaction of the Buddha’s teachings. By “childish” the speaker, allegedly the Buddha, means something more expansive that the behavior and mentality that we expect from children. He means people who, for whatever set of reasons, have not yet grown to maturity in their thought or feelings, who have not yet become “skillful.”
Later on the Dhammapada reads,
If one cannot find a mature friend,
a companion who is wise, living productively,
let him go alone,
like a king abandoning conquered land,
like an Elephant in the forest.
A life of solitude is better–
There is no companionship with a childish person.
Let one go alone and do no damage,
Like an elephant in the forest.
It is better to restrain the mind alone than to be restrained by someone else, better to conquer one’s own passions than to live tamed by someone else. Like an elephant, the wise wayfarer governs her or his own passions, endures the insults and arrows inflicted by others. The wise practitioner does not go mad with rage because she or he keeps watch over thoughts and emotions. She or he finds comfort in friends and in “contentment with whatever is.”
If you are reading Buddhist scriptures you are probably trying to wake up, to see more clearly, to understand the world better than you have so far. You are trying to find your way out of the trance of reactivity, of emotional distress that leads to behaviors you later regret. You know that dukkha, pain, is inevitable. You know that don’t need to make it worse by beating yourself up about it. And yet you do fall back into the trance, all the time, and you do occasionally wake up to yourself beating yourself up. So you keep to the path, watch over your mind, and look for people who are more or as skillful at this practice of discipline.
Have you ever been on a trek or a long hike with a really childish person? Not a really young person. Young people can be very old, very mature, very good company. But I mean someone who is continuously grasping for attention, for reassurance, someone who boasts and struts or whines and manipulates or has to fill every bit of quiet with incessant jabber? After a short while you begin to feel enervated, tired, impatient. You grit your teeth, you endure. You are not looking about you. Your attention becomes very small, very focused on the source of irritation. The Buddha says, “be compassionate to and with this person but do not expect much from them. Walk steadily on.”
These are not the Buddha’s words. I’m paraphrasing the lines above, which differ a lot from the classic masculine stiff-upper-lip mantras that Tupac Shakur parodies in his “Hold On.”
Hold On, Be Strong,
When it’s on, it’s on.
The same speaker who claims that he screwed up by smoking pot but now knows what’s “going on out there” and that “god don’t like ugly,” and that “you got to stand strong,” is getting high at the beginning of the song. Thus everything he says has a double meaning. He plays on the meaning of the word “strong” by identifying it with the aggressively self-defensive stance of the “black male” and the “thug for life.” Tupac is not endorsing this thuggish identity, he’s putting it down. He’s also saying that it’s not enough to “hold on” and “be strong,” to stoically endure without admitting to pain. He’s also not campaigning against weed. He’s observing that we are all vulnerable, we are all suffering, and we might want to think twice about the directive to suck it up and bear it. We might want to show a little compassion to our own suffering, which will help us to acknowledge others’ suffering, and jolt us out of the fatal trance of the ego.
So when it comes round, Tupac’s refrain, “Hold on, Be strong” means exactly the opposite of what the stoned speaker says it means. Tupac challenges the whole “black-man-as victim-of-the white-system” and asserts, “be strong” and “hold on” as a message that is far more complicated that its overt explication. He urges his auditors to have faith in themselves as agents of positive change. The Buddha says, “hang in there, endure your suffering, but do not discount it; acknowledge your reality, your dukkha” Tupac says something similar. Be strong, but not in the rigid, hyper-masculine manner.
To compare dukkha, human suffering, to a simplistic victim/oppressor mode of thought is to get stuck in rigid black/white ways of understanding reality. You can’t simply deny it or refuse to talk about it. And there is no point in going around blaming your ex for having hurt you, attacking defensively, lashing out in retribution. It solves nothing and it’s childish.
No one is coming to save you except yourself. It’s not a matter of belief, of abstract faith, but rather of action, of wise movement, of practice, of allowing Tara/Avalokitesvara to step off the virtual lotus of heavenly bliss into the world of suffering. Step off your high horse of militant self-denial into your suffering heart, and find contentment in the movement, in the metaphor. Acknowledge your pain and be with yourself, alone, like an elephant in the forest. Thus you can
I reproduce this statement from the Sistersong website to affirm my solidarity with Black Women’s Choice
Statement of Solidarity with African American Women
We who trust women stand in solidarity with and support of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW!, SisterLove, Planned Parenthood of Georgia, and Feminist Women’s Health Center to affirm our belief that every woman has the human right to decide if and when she will have a baby, and the right to parent the children she already has with the social supports necessary. In our struggle for reproductive justice, African American women have a unique history that we must remember in order to ensure bodily sovereignty, dignity, and collective uplift of our community. The choices that women of color make are based on their lived experiences in this country and reflect multiple oppressions, including race, class, and gender, and their efforts to resist them. It is unacceptable to speak to the needs of any woman, or her children without taking into consideration the realities that exist in her home and local community.
We affirm that an African American woman’s ability to determine if and when she will have children demands that she control the conditions under which she will give birth and have the power to decide the spacing of her children. These freedoms speak to the power and necessity of the preventive care of women before they become pregnant and the importance of comprehensive sex education for all of our children to understand their human right to sexuality in an empowering and responsible way. It means fully funding public education, protecting the environment in all communities, and eliminating sexual violence for all women.
We affirm that an African American woman’s ability to determine if and when she does not have children must include a full range of options including the right to have an abortion. For women of color the privilege to exercise this right all too often hinges on other factors in her home and community. Abortion must be approached in the context of the individual woman and the circumstances surrounding her, such as poverty, sexual abuse, or the lack of health care. To extract a woman from the context of her life dishonors her lived experiences and the plight of a broader community of people.
We affirm that African American women have the human right to parent the children they already have. To ensure the full enjoyment of this right, they must also have access to the social supports necessary to raise their children in safe environments and healthy communities, without fear of violence from individuals or intervention by the government. A continuum of care is essential to protect the lives of women and children. And we must prioritize the needs of children after birth. This includes funding education, investing in health care reform for all, ensuring food security and prioritizing the unification of our families through the provision of social supports to protect the most vulnerable.
Protecting women and children requires a commitment to these principles. It is a matter of reproductive health, reproductive rights, and ultimately Reproductive Justice.
The mostly male members of the House and Senate managed to bring a little sanity to our insane health care system last night. With nearly all Republicans voting against health–which in my book amounts to the same thing as voting for death– the Democrats took a first and very timid step towards better health care for all Americans last night. But they caved into right-wing demagoguery and big-business interests anyway. When will they learn?
Here’s how this bill, if it is allowed to stand, will reduce the liberty of women in our country:
1. It will severely curtail women’s access to abortion. Employers and employees will now have to write two checks EVERY MONTH, one for health care, and another for an “abortion rider,” if they want to have coverage for abortion.
WHY THIS IS BAD: Before the bill, 85 per cent of insurance companies covered abortion without stigmatizing it. : it imposes new restrictions–burdens and cumbersome procedures–that will effectively limit women’s access to choose, which is exactly what the religious zealots and terrorists wanted all along.
2. It will effectively cement the power of the Hyde amendment, which is not an established part of the law, but rather a measure tacked on to the appropriations bill every year. Why? Because the President agreed to issue an executive order that will lend the weight of his office to the anti-abortion measures included in the bill.
WHY THIS IS BAD: It shows us that the guys in government are willing to trade away women’s rights to get what they want. The end does not justify the means. By strengthening the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion, this order weakens women’s constitutional right to choose to end unwanted or dangerous pregnancies.
3. It will allow insurance companies in the health exchanges to discriminate against women and the elderly, most of whom are women, to charge women and the elderly more for health care –if the pool of people to be covered is greater than 100.
WHY THIS IS BAD: It penalizes women for being female. In the case of elderly women, who are poorer because they’ve been discriminated against in the workplace for their entire lives, it redoubles the penalty against women for being female.
4. It imposes cruel and unreasonable limits on health care coverage for immigrants. Legal residents must wait a for five years to be eligible for Medicaid and other assistance, and undocumented workers cannot even use their own money to purchase health insurance through an exchange!
WHY THIS IS BAD: It’s racist and classist and backwards. We are a nation of immigrants, and every one of us deserves equal access to health care. And by the way–did you know that 25 per cent of all Black people in American immigrated to this country at the end of the 20th century? So this policy is going to hurt, badly, at least 25 per cent of Black women in our country today. That’s shameful!
A good end does not justify bad means. You can’t achieve justice for all by trading away the rights of some.
But WHY AM I STILL PISSED OFF? Because religious extremists and religious terrorists are steadily eroding our basic freedoms!!!
Women have a basic right to bodily integrity and subjectivity. By limiting our rights to the governance of our own bodies, by telling us that women do not have the ability or the freedom to choose what happens to their own bodies–a right they would never dare to take away from men–the lawmakers are attacking women’s fundamental rights to subjectivity, to personhood, to liberty.
I’m mad because these guys don’t care about my freedom, about my liberty–in fact they’ve shown me again and again that they’re perfectly happy to treat me as a less human than men, less entitled to basic freedoms than men.
Not enough Democrats and Pro-choice Republicans seem to be getting this message: Women’s basic liberties are falling under the monster-truck tires of the demagogues and the religious terrorists, who are determined to grind women into the mud.
These people are not just against health care, not just against abortion, they are against WOMEN. (And on Stupak’s resolute disregard for women, especially for Nuns, see Jodi Jacobson).
And yes, some of these extremists and terrorists are women, but that means nothing. Women have historically traded away their liberties in exchange for financial and emotional support from men–Women are not the only group of oppressed persons who believe what their oppressors tell them to believe, and who would rather take the lazy road of slavery than the hard road towards freedom.
Let’s all of us stop going along with the people who hate women. Let’s all of us get on that road to freedom.