On Activism

In my continued journey of practicing to find ways to use my voice in matters concerning topics I tend to stay quiet on (in part for good reason), I’d like to see where this topic takes me as I write about it out loud.

Recently, I came across a twitter post by Roshi Joan Halifax that said:

I think it’s easy to make the mistake in Buddhism that neutrality is some kind of spiritual goal that we as practitioners have. I know I’ve suffered from this misunderstanding. I’ve also suffered from thinking that I needed to squelch certain types of emotions from arising, such as: anger, sorrow, disappointment, and sexual desire. I am now, thankfully, at a point in my practice that I am able to dismantle some of my misunderstandings about the teachings and actualize more clarity based on my own experiences.

In our current U.S social landscape, with respect to our upcoming presidential election, protest climate, and covid pandemic, my bristling reflexes around activism and activists are front and center for me. NOTE: part of my work to speak up on topics I feel so moved to put voice to centers around my own opinions involving subjects that I feel are either unpopular (to my close sphere of people anyway) or awkwardness-producing. My views on this topic are situated in the unpopular realm of things.

I have a number of friends who would self-identify as being an activist: a social justice activist; an environmental activist; an animal rights activist; a human rights activist; a political activist; some combination of the above or maybe simply an activist with no specific classification.  And while I love my friends dearly, when the word activist or activism comes up or is mentioned, I’ve always taken a few energetic steps back, and depending on the intensity level of activism involved, I might also take a few physical steps back from our friendship as well.

I get caught in those words; entangled in what I take them to mean, which is partly fueled by collective narrative and conservative-based discourse. When I think of an activist, I think of someone who is propelled by blaming and anger, and more specifically as someone who shames others for not thinking/acting the way they do. When I think of an activist, I think of someone who is fueled and propelled against someone(s) verses for something. I think of someone who is fighting verses transforming. I’m not saying it’s right or fair, simply that these are some of what is situated behind my bias towards activists.

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Poetry About Dogs

Calligraphy by my friend Jennifer Baylis; verse by me. The full verse is: There is no such thing as an insignificant moment.

I was hoping it was some kind of coy euphemism, when I rolled up to part three in Mary Oliver’s Devotions, entitled: Dog Songs. Turns out, it was just as I’d feared. This section of the book includes 10 poems about dogs.

Don’t get me wrong. I love dogs. Anyone who knows me well, knows that even if I were bleeding to death on the street, I’d pause my demise to give affection to a passing four-legged friend. I guess what I’m saying, though, is that there’s a difference between loving dogs and reading poems about them. I mean, I love cats, but I draw the line at collecting kitschy cat figurines or hanging up a calendar featuring kittens in baskets. I love Ani Difranco too, but I wouldn’t put her picture on my fridge. You get the idea.

But I find value in asking myself why.

Why do dog poems cause me to bristle? And while I’m at it, what do I have against cat figurines or cat calendars? If I were to walk into a friend’s house and find a picture of Ani D on their fridge, what then?

Judgements creep in and perfume my consciousness with righteousness sometimes, and it’s a scent I do not find pleasant.

Yet, to be without judgements I reckon is impossible.

So, the best I can aspire to is to keep a close and curious watch on myself, and to breathe into the folds of what arises, in the wake of what I see.