Later, when I stood in front of an altar waving incense, I would remember standing in front of the bar at Dante’s waving cigarette smoke out of my face, and the exact same feeling of tenderness would wash over me, because the people in both places were so much alike. We were all seeking company, meaning, solace, self-forgetfulness. Whether we found those things or not, it was the seeking that led us to find each other in the cloud even when we had nothing else in common. Sometimes I wondered if it even mattered if our communion cups were filled with consecrated wine or draft beer, as long as we bent over them long enough to recognize each other as kin.
I want very badly to challenge the ease with which we succumb to the false divide of labels, that moment in which our empathy gives out and we refuse to respond openhandedly or even curiously to people with whom we differ. As I see it, to refuse the possibility of finding another person interesting, complex and as complicated as oneself is a form of violence. At bottom, this is a refusal of nuance, and I wish to posit that nuance is sacred. To call it sacred is to value it so much and esteem it so highly that we find it fitting to somehow set it apart as something to which we’re forever committed. Nuance refuses to envision others degradingly, denying them the content of their own experience, and talks us down tenderly from the false ledges we’ve put ourselves on. When we take it on as a sacred obligation, nuance also delivers us out of the deadly habit of cutting people out of our own imaginations. This opens us up to the possibility of at least occasionally finding one another beautiful, the possibility of communion.
― David Dark, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious
It is rather paradoxical for our task-focused self when it isn’t the quality of the practice, but our honest and humble acceptance of the emerging moment, that prepares us for nonjudgemental, agendaless presence with another.
Being kind to ourselves can be helpful as we seek to practice this way of being, because it places us at cross-purposes with our culture, where performance and improvement are so valued and the limits and variability of our humanness are cause for criticism and correction.
Many aspects of our training as well as our everyday experience in this society urge us to take control to achieve a particular result, and this can become so implicitly ingrained that it feels wrong to sink toward our innate humanity.
Again, just listening with kindness to the competing voices inside is good preparation for extending this attentiveness and kindness to all aspects of the person about to come in our door.
― Bonnie Badenoch, The Heart of Trauma: Healing the Embodied Brain in the Context of Relationships
To want to run away is an essence of being human, it transforms any staying through the transfigurations of choice. To think about fleeing from circumstances, from a marriage, a relationship or from a work is part of the conversation itself and helps us understand the true distilled nature of our own reluctance. Strangely, we are perhaps most fully incarnated as humans, when part of us does not want to be here, or doesn’t know how to be here. Presence is only fully understood and realized through fully understanding our reluctance to show up. To understand the part of us that wants nothing to do with the full necessities of work, of relationship, of loss, of doing what is necessary, is to learn humility, to cultivate self-compassion and to sharpen that sense of humor essential to a merciful perspective of both a self and another.
― David Whyte, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words
Where are our heroes? Where are our role models? Why are we leaving youth behind and laughing at the ones who are still there? Why not help each other out instead? With a little grace, with a little compassion. Love for all and everyone around because we’re all stumbling or succeeding back and forth, every day, and I want more community. I want helpers and guidance. Am I helping someone? I don’t know, but since the tender age of eighteen I have written down my stories and experiences of love and loss and youth, just so these stories can exist in the world. For someone out there to find and read and feel a voice in my words saying, “I’ve been there, I’ve done this, you can too: come, follow me.”
― Charlotte Eriksson, Everything Changed When I Forgave Myself: growing up is a wonderful thing to do
February saw the second Synkroniciti event, themed Walk in My Shoes. It was a great time to recharge batteries and share new creations.
We began a wide ranging conversation touching on, among other things, art, family, ghosts, spirituality and work. The expression of selfhood and its impact on relationships was the center of our musings. This eventually lead us to speaking of teenagers and our own teenage years, and we continued with a reading of Sister Godzilla, a chapter from Louise Erdrich’s masterful novel, A Plague of Doves.
Evelina has a new teacher. Sister Mary Anita has a large toothy jaw and Evelina, lost in a daydream in class, makes a drawing of “Sister Godzilla”, not realizing that the Sister is looking over her shoulder. Erdrich’s honesty, matched by her riotous and impish sense of humor, are disarming and inviting as Evelina’s cruelty is changed into empathy. Here is the moment of transformation, which comes after a humorous and yet serious exchange between the two women. The evasive humor drops away, replaced by naked awareness.
“Can I go now?”
“Of course not,” said Mary Anita.
I was confounded. The magical two words, an apology, had dropped from my lips. Yet more was expected. What?
“I want you to understand something,” said the nun. “I’ve told you how I feel. And I expect you will never hurt me again.”
Again the nun waited and waited, until our eyes met. My mouth fell wide. My eyes spilled over again. I knew that the strange feelings that had come upon me and transfixed me were the same feelings that Mary Anita felt. I had never felt another person’s feelings, never in my life.
“I won’t do anything to hurt you,” I babbled in a fit of startled agony. “I’ll kill myself first.”
“I’m sure that will not be necessary,” said Sister Mary Anita.
After the reading, Kelly showed some beautiful prints she had made recently using the soles of old shoes. The prints were inspired by a fascinating pendant made by her son when he was in third grade. You can see that the first one is light and tentative; the second, rather like a flower’s corona, is aggressive and darker; and the third, which may evoke snakes, coffee beans, or strings of beads, is a play between the two. You can’t tell this from the pictures, but the prints also had a lovely texture. We don’t think about the patterns on the bottoms of shoes and the surprising variety and beauty in their design.
I was very excited to present two pairs of my old shoes converted into art objects. One pair of high heels that became uncomfortable over time is now a pair of Party Shoes. I like to think of them as Shoe Drag Queens, beautiful and flashy with glitter, flowers, feathers and ribbon. A pair of boots, lightly worn because the arch was in the wrong place for my foot, became Nesting Shoes, earthy representations of nests with wings. They were so much fun to make that I had to force myself to stop (I have a couple more pairs of old shoes). You can read more about my process and my interpretation here. They are somewhat kitschy and very striking. I would love to make more of these for people…it can be an interesting way of preserving a favorite shoe. I am fairly sure this is the only time I’ve ever felt good about “putting my shoes on the table”.
It was a lovely evening. Yuri came out to claim his position as official Synkroniciti Mas-cat. Those who attended our earlier Open Mics before the second and third floods in our old home will remember that his sister Lisa Sasabuki used to preside in meetings, taking an interest in art and performance. She was one of us, and she was always an encouraging and attentive critic. She passed over the rainbow bridge between the second and third flood. We miss her but still feel her big presence (especially for such a small kitty). Yuri’s specialty is performance art, especially rolling over for tummy rubs. Younger sister Keiko Buki spent the evening in the office closet, reminiscent of Yuri in his younger days.
Our next gathering, which is our first Playdate (these are more active than Soirées) is March 30th and we will be building faerie houses. We made faerie houses in 2016, right before the flood came and washed them away. We are confident and hopeful that things will last longer this time. If you are in the Houston area, please come and be a part of this delightful event. It is my absolute favorite!
Going easy on ourselves also reflects a key cognitive fact: we judge ourselves by our internal motives and everyone else by their external actions. And thus, in considering our own misdeeds, we have more access to mitigating situational information. This is straight out of Us/Them–when Thems do something wrong, it’s because they’re simply rotten; when Us-es do it, it’s because of an extenuating circumstance and “Me” is the most focal Us there is, coming with the most insight into internal state. Thus, on this cognitive level, there is no inconsistency or hypocrisy and we might readily perceive a wrong to be mitigated by internal motives in the case of anyone’s misdeeds. It’s just easier to know those motives when we are the perpetrator.
The adverse consequences of this are wide and deep. Moreover, the pull towards judging yourself less harshly than others easily resists the rationality of deterrence. As Ariely writes in his book, “Overall, cheating is not limited by risk; it is limited by our ability to rationalize the cheating to ourselves”.
―Robert Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst
We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow-beings, not simply with those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realize the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world. We need myths that help us to create a spiritual attitude, to see beyond our immediate requirements, and enable us to experience a transcendent value that challenges our solipsistic selfishness. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a ‘resource.’ This is crucial, because unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that is able to keep abreast of our technological genius, we will not save our planet.
“People speak of the misfortunes of suffering, but if at this moment I were asked: ‘Would you rather be what you were before you were taken prisoner, or go through all this again?’ then for heaven’s sake let me again have captivity and horseflesh! We imagine that when we are thrown out of our usual ruts all is lost, but it is only then that what is new and good begins. While there is life there is happiness.”
But there were some things I believed in. Some things I had faith in. And faith isn’t about perfect attendance to services, or how much money you put on the little plate. It isn’t about going skyclad to the Holy Rites, or meditating each day upon the divine.
Faith is about what you do. It’s about aspiring to be better and nobler and kinder than you are. It’s about making sacrifices for the good of others – even when there’s not going to be anyone telling you what a hero you are.
―Jim Butcher, Changes