Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dear One Percenter

Dear One-Percenter,

Hello, how are you? I understand you’re doing just fine these days, but hey, what’s new? You seem to consistently do quite well. I want you to know, I’m happy for you. I feel happy when I hear that people are doing well.

I’m writing to you because you belong to a group you may have heard about recently, the top 1%. Hey, don’t turn around and look for someone else; yes, I’m talking to you! Remember, you and your fellow One-Percenters are everywhere. Every town has some of you in it. Every state, every company, every group does. One way or another, you can notice that you are materially better off than 99 of your fellow travelers.

I'm sure you're aware that some of those in the other group, the 99-ers, have been going through tougher times than you recently. Some of them have been out of work, for a little or a long while. Some of them started off behind the eight ball from early on, and have never found a chance to gain ground. Some of them will never have the capabilities and means to provide much for themselves, in terms of care, housing and the day-to-day consumables necessary to keep body and soul together.

I’m writing to you, One-Percenter, to ask if you would consider one of the following opportunities, through which you could help all of us out. My request is simply to ask you if you’d be willing to look around your place, see if there’s anything you’re not using, and chip any of that extra in for the greater good. Think Goodwill on steroids. You know how good it feels to get rid of what you’re not using, right?

The good news, I’m thankful to report, is that we have a couple of ways we all got together and agreed on, to keep everybody okay during tough times like these. We’re just hoping you could hand off your extra to any of these efforts.

The first way we’ve already established I’ll call Agreed Community Support. This one’s where we all pitch in to a big pot, and then take from it when someone’s having trouble maintaining themselves at our agreed humane minimum living standard. Now remember, we all agreed to this concept, and continue to agree to it every time we make that heartfelt handoff we call a “tax.” And yes, I know we tend to squabble over what this agreed minimum is, how much everybody ought to pitch in, what we use it for, and when it’s okay or not okay to ask for help from the pot. Still, we’ve set this up for good reason. Think for a moment. If you suddenly found yourself without means, for some reason, what standard would you hope we could all afford to help you maintain? This has happened to your fellow One-Percenters from time to time, so remember that it could happen to you. Be honest, not too extravagant and also not so miserly as to impoverish yourself, because you of all people will have noticed that all totaled, there’s more than enough to go around.

Now, can you ask yourself, are you sure we’re providing at that level for those who are in need of some help today? And if not, are we really so strapped that we can’t?

There’s been talk that we believe we are too strapped as a group. There’s talk that the One-Percenters bear little responsibility for the condition the 99-ers find themselves in. Really, is that true? Certainly, as a One-Percenters, you’re happy to proportionately partake of the benefits you enjoy when the 99-ers are doing well. Doesn’t it stand to reason for One-Percenters to partake equally in those times of group losses and difficulty? As much as you have benefitted by the work and trade of the 99-ers in your own material success, should you not benefit them back in equal measure when they’re in a tough straight?

Considering all of this, I write to ask you this: what will you do, right now, that will reflect what you believe about this? Is there some extra lying around that you’d like to throw in the pot? Is there some way you could communicate to the people making decisions about what’s going in and out of that pot, letting them know that it turns out you actually have some spare resource you’ve seen your way clear to return to the group?

Let’s move on to the other main way we keep everyone okay. I’ll call this way Optional Community Support. There are a lot of the same considerations between the Agreed and Optional ways. The big difference is that with Optional, you get to make an active choice about putting money into the pot in order to help, and you can channel your help in specific directions that feel most likely to succeed.

I’m hoping you’ll think very broadly about the Optional support avenue. Of course there are many groups that can use a direct transfer of your extras, and will deploy your gift wisely and well. Please hand off whatever you’re not truly using so they can put it to good use. Equally enjoyable, I want to suggest, might be for you to manage your own sharing effort. For instance, if you or an organization you’re associated with have some accumulated extra tucked away, sitting in some safe haven, you have the option to free it up and out to the whole. Or maybe ongoing you or your group are receiving quite a bit more than the agreed humane minimum. Good for you, you probably worked hard for it. Now it might feel good to take part of that, make a case for something you’ve dreamed about, and gather some people to give it a go with you, for pay. I see some of you doing just that, and truly, the people involved look like they’re having a pretty good time. I think that approach sounds lots more lively than staring at your extra as numbers on a page, as though something that flimsy could somehow communicate safety or security, never mind actual happiness. And that’s really the bottom line, isn’t it, living somewhere comfortably above the minimum level and being happy doing what you do? Think of how many more engaged, grateful people you could spend your time with, if you went Optional in this way.

Hey, it’s been great catching up, thanks so much for listening. I hope things continue to go well for you. We all wish you well, dear One-Percenter.

All the best,

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bad Poem

On occasion, I find a poem jumping out of me. Most often, this happens concurrent with meditation, either a sitting or a retreat. I call this my Bad Poetry. This is simply truth in advertising. I've never been trained on this business, so it's best if I'm completely honest about what this is.

Here's a recent poem. Enjoy! --Margaret

Practice noticing

Practice noticing,
Things will change.
Can’t say what,
Unpredictable range.

Noticing breath,
Hard to stay.
Noticing hard,
Back in play.

Noticing body,
What is this?
More I look,
More there is.

Noticing mind,
What a show!
Here, then there,
Where I go!

Noticing good,
Also bad.
Which is which?
All a fad.

Practice noticing,
All things go,
When it’s still,
What’s to know?

only noticing,
get the whole
all in all.
this is all.

That is all.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Tree of Life

"There are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. You must choose which one to follow."

This is just a short post to invite you to a movie that attempts, in a vastly elegant and precise way, to point to that which I stumble around and mostly trip over on this blog. Please see this movie, to  remember that you are always making this choice.

This Friday night, July 15, White Mountain Sangha is encouraging people in the central NH area to attend either the 5:15 or 8:15 showings of The Tree of Life, at Red River Theatres on Main St., Concord. We'll meet between shows in the lobby to smile, shake each other's hand or hug. We may not have much to say. The movie says it all.

Here's the non-review I wrote for the Concord Monitor:

And here's a great link, if you need more incentive:

I love you all.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Mindfulness Police

I teach an eight-week intensive seminar in mindfulness. It's a course that's designed to help people understand mindfulness and to see how cultivating moment-by-moment presence has a fabulous natural side-effect of undoing stressful attitudes and behaviors. People love this course. I hear from people who complete the seminar, reporting that they have received their life back, talking about seeing colors for real now, knowing how life doesn't have to hurt like it has for so long. People find really powerful stuff with mindfulness. It's beautiful.

The name of the course is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. It was formulated about 30 years ago at UMass Medical School-Worcester, by a man named Jon Kabat-Zinn. You might have heard of him. He's since helped to make mindfulness an everyday word through the popularity and power of this course. He's written books, facilitated trainings, really dedicated his life to this way. He's a fabulous, warm-hearted teacher and force for good.

So it pains me greatly when I see people using the words of mindfulness as just another stick in the old carrot-and-stick game of life. The LAST thing we need is another thing to beat ourselves and each other up about.

I'll give you an example, something that happens to me a lot as I'm a mindfulness teacher. I hear people say something like "I wasn't being mindful when I yelled at my kid." Or, "Geez, Margaret, where was your mindfulness when you missed your exit on the highway?"

With mindfulness, we're interested in attending to the direct experience of our lives. This means the whole shebang, the full catastrophe, as J K-Z so aptly labels it. We make it our approach to stay with all the kinds of momentary experiences, to see what they're like, what attitudes they support and what behaviors come out of them. We're interested in seeing all of this, without making any kind of deal about it, good, bad or otherwise. We're just seeing, and that's the whole practice. The rest takes care of itself. There is no project to catalog all the wrong stuff and fix it. We're just fine in all the many ways that we find ourselves in this observation, and as we observe, the attitudes and behaviors that haven't been working for us get better and better, without trying to change anything. This is strangely counterintuitive and also powerfully freeing.

Here's how mindfulness works, moment-by-moment. Let's take the example of missing my turnoff, an event that happened to me just yesterday. I'm driving down the street, my destination clearly in my conscious attention. As I'm driving, I notice the monastery on my left, and begin sweetly reminiscing about a recent monastic retreat I attended. While continuing to attend to the act of driving, I also begin to pay attention to remembering the time away. I'm happily cruising along and remembering when I become aware that I have missed my turn. A flash of embarrassment arises, registering as light nausea, flushed face and tight jaw. I feel all of this as a body-flush. Then I smile at myself. I notice what's going on in my mind: I think that I have plenty of time to turn around and make my meeting on time. I notice that there is no one in the car to judge me. The flash of embarrassment is simply what it is, nothing to do with anyone else or even my opinion about myself. There are some further thoughts of judging my lack of focus, but none of them really take. There's no truth to any of it. I'm simply a lady who drives, enjoys remembering pleasant times, experiences embarrassment when she goes off course, and is often on time and sometimes late for meetings. I'm nothing more or less than who I am right now. Another day I might be a total screw-up. The next I might be a fabulously effective sort. The following I might be in a fog of frustration. It is what it is. And it's a great ride, the show of a lifetime, seeing it all play out just as it does.

In summary, I'm exactly like everybody else.

When I know this, really know this through careful, direct observation, the urge to call myself or anybody else on our performance in the mindfulness competition just doesn't come up. When I screw up, I notice what that's like, without needing to judge myself. Taking a kind, clear eye toward the thing ends up being very helpful toward undoing the old habit of beating myself up. And when I do beat myself up, I see this, too, without judgment. The point is, there always comes a point when I see what's happening clearly. This is the arising of mindfulness. And I've noticed that I have no control over when and whether this happens in a given moment. So all I can do is cultivate moment-to-moment awareness when I remember to, and let the rest go. It's the only sane understanding of how this thing called living a life works.

The mindfulness police, on the other hand, want to assess and grade all of your moments. They've been doing this for quite some time anyway, so now they want to tell you whether you are doing mindfulness "right." You might find for a time that you have a mindfulness policeperson sitting right on your shoulder, whispering your screw-ups in your ear. You know what... you need to fire that guy! She, or he, is not doing you any favors. She's actually an old, tired character you've been listening to for a long time, now dressed up in a new uniform. Don't be fooled!

Worse yet is when that guy starts talking out loud, about other people's mindfulness performance, even. Urgh. And, of course, if you catch yourself doing this, don't make a big deal out of it. Notice your breath, and your body sensations, and the thoughts that have you believing so strongly in your right to judge someone else's performance in their life. How's it all playing out for you, right now? And give yourself an A+ for being awake in the moment. It's called mindfulness. That's it. No problem about going all mindfulness-police on somebody, it just a thing that happens sometimes to you and to me.

Do you know why the "What Would Jesus Do?" rubber bracelets came and went so fast? I'm betting it's because people started asking each other the question, like it was their turn to point out that what somebody else was doing was not okay. And there's where the whole thing falls apart. I'm happy to contemplate an ideal peacemaker like Jesus Christ and emulate those qualities I revere. I think this is a practice that, if we all took it up with the moment-by-moment curiosity and interest of mindfulness, could transform the world. And the minute we start judging each other, and finding fault and blaming and shaming the other guy, hasn't the practice gone out the door? The only time I can find that Jesus directly engaged with people and their individual behaviors is when a person made a direct request of him for guidance. Otherwise, if I remember the deal correctly, it's "Judge not lest ye be judged." Right?!

Maybe you can start to get the feel for this, with that brilliant, concise teaching. What happens when you are in judgment, of yourself or someone else? Doesn't the effect of either scenario still only register as your mind tightening up, your shoulders tensing, your sense of superiority getting encouraged? Judgment ends up being an event inside your own body and mind, doesn't it? At least until you go to give some of it away...

As a last thought, I want to add that mindfulness does not make case for never saying anything. There are going to be plenty of times when you have to bring attention to something harmful or bone-headed or simply confused that's happening. So when this is necessary, here's a question to work with: can you do this without finding wrongness, without making the other the bad guy? What happens when you can? What happens when you can't? What happens when you remember that you are exactly like this person in front of you, having one way or another made all the same kinds of mistakes?

Let me know what you find out. In the meantime, I give you an A+ for life, giving it every moment I can remember to do so. And when I can't remember, that's okay, too. Because I fired that inner mindfulness policewoman. Turns out she just got in the way of actual mindfulness.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The deficit and what you can do about it

How is it possible to cultivate peace and lower the deficit? Here's one of my columns published recently by the Concord Monitor, on this very topic. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sneaking a little yoga into the mainstream!

Here a link to a column I wrote for my local paper, the Concord Monitor. It's about how it helps to build cues into your body, a reminder signal to actually notice what you're experiencing. Kind of an on-the-fly mudra, if you will. Read on: