My spiritual practice leans naturally towards the devotional and always has. Long ago, a part of me used to feel some shame in that, thinking somehow being devotional was an inferior, un-evolved, childish way to practice connecting with the Divine. After all, I learned from some influential quarters, total detachment is the way to go; embrace the void, sunyata, nothingness, whatever you want to call it. This to me, is its own form or way of devotion, albeit one that I don’t directly gravitate to as a starting point. I think I arrive differently to this deep understanding of detachment yet living from a place of universal love. Whatever works for each of us, it doesn’t matter. Live and let live, spiritually and otherwise. Blessed Be. Namaste. L’chaim.
Last Monday morning, I drove down to Boston to report for federal jury duty (which I eventually managed to get out of in an honest way). Arriving early, I walked around outside and took photos with my phone, including a few pictures of the imposing yet interesting brick edifice of the federal courthouse.
Anyway, after waiting for over an hour with at least a hundred other people to go into a courtroom and be selected or weeded out for a jury, I joined my small assigned group of fifteen or so. We walked together across the pristine, high-ceilinged hall, enormous windows to our left that looked out into grass-covered grounds and a sun-dappled ocean. With a combination of enthusiasm and gentle sarcasm, I said to my fellow prospective jurors, who ranged in age from early 20s to about mid 60s, “Wow! It’s a field trip!” A few people, including a young woman next to me, smiled and tittered. Everyone else remained stone-faced.
We proceeded to the elevator, like cooperative children on a school outing (or sheep in a pasture), and went up to the next floor where the courtroom was. While we waited some more, immediately outside of the courtroom, I said some other flip remark, again eliciting a few smiles and a brief laugh. Everyone stood silently, in their own world, so it seemed.
Like each person there for jury duty, I too had been uprooted from my daily life, in my case, a job I’m devoted to and a nice rhythm of living within a community long-searched for. Hence, like everyone else, I was not exactly happy to be there. Sadly, humor and a willingness to make the best of the situation via exercising just a bit of camaraderie felt lacking in the group. Everyone was dour-faced, and all of this outside the actual courtroom. I felt both glad to pierce the hard silence with some levity yet mildly disappointed and alone. Alone among many, so familiar, both for me and everyone there. Perhaps folks felt lost and awkward without their cell phones in hand. By the front entrance, we’d had to turn them over to security for safe-keeping.
Jury duty is a most serious matter and the Boston federal courthouse underscores this point everywhere you look. Quotes about justice, engraved along the walls, glared at me from room to hallway. I get it, and I have served on two juries over the past several years. But, I was damned if humor and the striving for human connection, no matter how brief among total strangers– my fellow human beings– were going to be shut down in me, especially when the moment called for these very attributes to come forth and lend some balance and perspective to it all.
Road rage in Massachusetts is out of control, as I imagine it is in a lot of other states throughout the U.S. Earlier, I was driving down a main thoroughfare when a burly white guy from off a side street pushed his car into oncoming traffic, in front of me, to my left. I shook my head at him as I drove on by. Shortly, he sped up from behind, turned into a store parking lot (to my right) and barreled along there while making it a point to flip me the bird– instead of watch where he was going.
Toxic masculinity is a real thing, be it on the road or anywhere else. This problematic phenomenon admittedly irritates me when I’m faced with it head on. It’s all such an obnoxious exhibition of childish entitlement, lack of empathy, and poor sense of boundaries. Very un-evolved. Breathe and enter a peaceful place, I try to remind myself, time and again. This behavior from some men is troublesome and, ultimately, rather sad. Toxic masculine men deeply challenge my human compassion capacity. Therein lays the reason why they continue to be teachers of sorts for me. Live and learn, then wake up another day to keep living and learning, while also taking no shit.
I find all these images/memes on social media of people flipping the bird at the camera both sad, tiresome, and aggravating. Many people have gone way too far with blindly advocating defiance for the sake of defiance, in a mindless knee jerk way, gesturing “f— you” to the world simply because they can, and glamorizing it as somehow great to do (all the while helping to maintain divisiveness, exactly what the world needs far less of right now). And this in reaction to so much ugliness and pain going around with our fellow human beings and the rest of life on earth. It’s like the ultimate giving in to cynicism and selfishness: “Screw everyone else, I’m just going to look out for me.” And just beneath the surface of this: “I give up.” This is just what Trump/Drumpf and his followers are doing. Others are getting sucked into being like them with this kind of “f— you” mentality. Very sad, and frustrating, this pointless, toxic, non-introspecting negativity.
Now, I’m very much all for not being a blind follower, but there are so many more colorful, positive, gutsy ways to not follow rather than via a tired old, unoriginal, alienating, toxic “f— you” gesture. Such bubble gum rebellion. Paradoxically, that’s just another flip-side of following, re: Drumpf and his supporters with their bird flipping to so much of the world and what they don’t understand, fear, or already feel alienated from through experiencing disenfranchisement, etc. They say “f— you” one way or another to so much, emotionally shitting on the rest of us. This is something easy for any of us to fall into doing. I myself have to be mindful and step away from the temptation to do it too. But, it’s part of me being an adult with a functioning brain to first breathe and think before impulsively, unoriginally acting out, just because I can.
Let’s please not fan the flames with more of this cynical pushing away. Not reposting memes of people flipping the bird is one of countless ways to consider avoiding such feeding into this mindlessly looping, over-negativity vortex. We’re all stronger, more compassionate, and ultimately better than that– not to mention able to be more imaginative and creative, if we but just stop a moment or two and engage our brains and hearts more. Food for thought.
Humbleness has rarely been far from how I feel and live. It was brief times away from humbleness here and there that soon resulted in me falling on my face, swiftly bringing me back to this initial state of being.
Confidence, on the other hand, felt ever-elusive for so much of my life. Now, I find myself thinking and acting more confidently, while out of a sense of humbleness. Among other things, staying humble keeps me open to learning and knowing more clearly what to actually feel confident about.
It is painful for me to witness how difficult it is for some to simply be humble, which, to be clear, does not mean groveling and/or being smaller/less than others.
When I was 5 1/2 years old, I began over a year of travel with my parents that took me overseas to England and Europe, then back across the Atlantic down to Central America and up through Mexico, all before arriving back home, Northern CA. We moved around a lot, living for a while in ethnically diverse Berkeley of the 1970s. (Telegraph Avenue was hopping then with merchants selling their colorful wares.) We visited at least a few Native American Indian reservations. There were some other journeys too and peoples I met along the way.
I know that my openness to meeting and learning from others who are far different than myself stems in significant part from the various cultures and ways of life I was exposed to over extended periods of time at such a young age. In a sense, my own backyard was expanded early on to encompass whole other countries and peoples. And while I am often a homebody these days, feeling tired at times from a hard week’s work, in my heart I remain ever-open to meeting and welcoming an array of people into my life.
I walk this graceful and sometimes clumsy line of doing my best to take up my rightful physical (and otherwise) space in the world without over-stepping into others’ space. I’m very aware of my privilege as a white, professional male and how I’ve overly taken up a lot of space, some of which here and there was not rightfully mine to take. Then, there’s the actual space that I and my needs naturally fill up, which is ultimately non-negotiable. Between this delineation has been a confusing, gray seeming area for me, which, thankfully, has become less and less so over the years. I think this is a challenge many of us– if not all– humans learn to navigate better as we grow.
Hear hear to all the disenfranchised people taking up more of their rightful space!