Applying Mindfulness to Systemic Challenges

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I just watched the doc film Feminists: What Were They Thinking on Netflix. I felt the film was well-done, educational, eye-opening, and inspiring.

Here’s a quote I wrote down from the film that I think all of us unpaid/low-paid creative/artistic/musical humans, community builders, change agents, and social activists would do well to hear and take to heart (over and over and over again):

“When you are doing something you love, it’s like throwing a rock in the pool because that love is hitting the pool and starts radiating out. And so, when you’re doing something that you love and sharing it with other human beings, you are doing something of benefit.”

– Meredith Monk
(American composer, performer, director, vocalist, filmmaker, and choreographer)

It’s worth mentioning that I watched the film as an intentional act of stepping outside of my comfort zone. When I’m confronted with the word feminist in any context, even if a dear friend of mine calls them self one proudly in a conversation we’re having together, I bristle and energetically and/or physically back away.

I hope this is assumed but just in case it’s not: it’s not that I’m against equal rights for women or feel as though as women we shouldn’t be rallying our voices or stepping into our own power. My issue has to do with the labeling and declaration of being a feminist. And to be clear, this just doesn’t just apply to feminism. I bristle at labels that I judge have an inherent quality of me-against-you mentality built in. If a word used for describing one self or a group of people ends in -ist or -ism there’s a good chance it makes me uncomfortable. I’m not saying this is a good idea or right, I’m simply being honest with where my inner processing is at and the judgements that come up for me.

For example, if I were asked to describe myself using single words, I would never include vegetarian in the mix or even Buddhist. In my view, these words have a high potential to cause separation and propel a certain level of me-against-you self-righteous energy. They are also relatively meaningless categories and distinctions when it comes to conveying who I really am. Labels can be dangerous and degrading. They serve to keep us tucked away in a certain box – and when we use them on our self, we limit our potential and our own power to shine forth our true nature.

I appreciate documentary films that afford me the opportunity to see things differently and gain a new perspective by way of hearing the personal stories of others. This was one such film. And it’s not that I now feel called to label myself a feminist but I do have some fresh grist for the mill, which I appreciate.

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Just Do It/Just Don’t

In my last post, I mentioned having recently gone on a short excursion to Portland with a friend of mine, to visit a mutual friend of ours. For three days and three nights, the three of us did pretty much everything together. It was really lovely.

During our first full day together, we stumbled upon a saying that wound up becoming our trip’s guiding mantra: Just do it…just don’t. It was spurred by a car sporting a Nike Just Do It bumper sticker. We were getting ready to enter a tunnel on our way to visit the coast, when a car hopped in front of us rather abruptly (ya know, the way cars often do) (oh, and we’ve all been that car too – just sayin), with their Just Do It sticker beaming proudly in close view. The dialog in our car then went something like this:

Geese, what is that guy doing?!

He’s “just doing it”, I guess.

(Pause)

Well, I think it should’ve been more like: “just don’t.”

We then proceeded to carry this interplay of Just Do It/Just Don’t into an array of occasions throughout the rest of our trip together. Some times it was jokingly and sometimes it had real meaning, while still in the spirit of lightness and fun. Turns out, there are a plethora of opportunities in which to bust these guiding life statements out.

There’s great wisdom in knowing when – and how – to invoke the dharma of Just Do It/Just Don’t. When we learn how to call on them in a suitable fashion that is appropriate to our own individual situation, with Right Attitude and Right Intention, we can actualize the fruits of the practice of Right Action.

There are times to Just Do It and there are times to Just Don’t. And there are no one-size-fits-all answers as to when to apply which one to which string of moments. This is why we must ongoingly cultivate a strong relationship with our own person. If we’re not able to tune into our own mental, emotional, and spiritual landscapes, we will have no clue as to when to use each part of the mantra, as only we our self can know which instance calls for which part.

If we’re not well-connected with our own person, we also run the risk of going the Just Do It route when really we would’ve been much better off having gone the Just Don’t route, or vice versa. There are plenty of times when we would do well to push ourselves a little bit outside of our comfort zone, too. In general, I think more of us have the tendency to say Just Don’t than Just Do It.

So, feel free to use our trip motto, if you like. And if you do, please let me know how it goes :)

Working With Discomfort

We are in a continual state of meticulously manicuring our comfort zone – and it’s disabling us from being able to grow and flourish.

We want to sit in just the right chair, walk in just the right shoes, eat just the right food, do only what we feel like doing, reach out to our friends and family only when it’s convenient for us to do so, set the thermostat for just the right temperature, and on and on. Living in a perpetual state of micromanaging our surrounding environment to meet our preferences of comfort, stunts our ability to grow and it disables our capacity to cultivate important life skills to the extent that one something big does happen (and it will), we have a near zero ability to handle it well because we’ve not trained ourselves in handling the small things well.

How can we possibly expect that we will be able to handle the loss of a close loved one, the news of a mass-shooting, or be confronted with great matters of trauma or injustice in a way that allows us to experience the gravity of such things without falling apart and breaking down emotionally, if we can’t even stand to have cold feet for 2 minutes or sit in a hard-backed chair for the duration of a meal?

We are shielding ourselves from the small discomforts of life to such a degree that we have no idea how to engage skillfully with ourselves – let alone others. By constantly shielding ourselves, we are dismantling our ability to weather an ever-increasing array of: situations, people, experiences, feelings, world landscapes, and current realities. We are plugging our ears like a 4-year-old and la-la-laing our way into the isolated, separating darkness of fantasy land, where our delusions reign supreme and we are the only one that matters, which is to the great detriment and deterioration of our true self-worth and serves to erode our ability to be a helpful and kind influence on those around us and the world at large.

We need to start small in order to work big. We also need to make an active choice to consciously do this comfort zone expansion work, vs. merely stumbling upon these moments or encountering them based on some kind of happenstance. While moments of discomfort abound, growth based on stepping outside of our comfort zone only takes place when we are an active participant. If we don’t develop an intentional practice around expanding our comfort zone, we won’t reap the benefits of doing so. It won’t just happen on its own accord.

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Comfort Zone

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Our comfort zones are oftentimes quite small – a portable bubble we carry around with us.  So small in fact that we limit ourselves greatly to only what is familiar and comfortable.  In doing so we also limit our capacity for handling difficult emotions, people, and situations so that when something arises of a challenging nature we don’t know how to deal with it in a healthy and productive manner.

It is easy to think that life should be A, B, and C but definitely not D, E, and F.  When we separate our lives into the categories of yes and no we are cultivating and maintaing our small zones of comfort.  For example, joy is in the yes category of life along with friends, good food, love, comfort, and all of our likes and enjoyments.  Suffering is in the no category of life along with awkwardness, discomfort, anger, sorrow, jealousy, loneliness, our dislikes and anything else that is even semi un-pleasant.

We put great limits on ourselves in a multitude of ways.  When we can begin to unite our yes and no categories into one category called life we can start cultivating balance and unification.  Life is A, B and C and it is also D, E, and F.  All of what we put into the no category is also a part of life.  This is an important practice.

When we limit ourselves to only A, B, and C (the yes stuff) our capacity to skillfully encounter the D, E, and F (the no stuff) is significantly reduced.  When we can practice to embrace all of the letters of life our comfort zones expand and we can be more at ease in a variety of places.

We can be creatures of habit to a fault.  Let us step out of our bubble of complacency to see that we are the only condition holding ourselves back from fully engaging with life.  Let’s hitch that comfort zone bubble up to a big ol’ tractor and run it through the beautifully muddy fields of life and see what happens.