I keep thinking about boundaries both because of what’s happening in my personal life and also in the world.

This week a woman told me I need better boundaries. Even thinking about her comment I notice anger rising up in me because I want to say, “Screw you lady! You have NO IDEA how much work I’ve done around boundaries!” which is true. I’ve come a long way. It’s not that I was ever a doormat, but it’s fair to say I wasn’t far removed from one. I often said “yes” when I wanted to say “no” because it was easier to acquiesce to someone else than stand up for myself. It was easier to sacrifice my needs and wants to keep the peace.

However, there comes a point where if your mouth doesn’t say no, your body will. Maybe you’ll get sick and that will give you an excuse to skip the party you originally said you’d attend. Or you could develop a more serious health condition. That’s the whole premise of the book When the Body Says No by Dr. Gabor Maté. He makes the case that stress and emotions play a role in diseases such as arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and multiple sclerosis. I certainly found his premise to be true with me. Because I overextended myself, my body eventually said, “Nope. Can’t do it anymore!” These days I’m more cautious with how I spend my energy.

Am I still learning about boundaries? Yes. Do I still regularly give more of myself than is wise for my body? Yes. But that’s OK because boundaries happen in degrees. They are learned and practiced – they’re not a switch that get turned on or off. They’re more like a faucet that can run at full power or at a trickle.

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Boundaries can run at a trickle or full blast. Photo by Mukesh Sharma on Unsplash

That reminder about boundaries operating in degrees seems relevant right now as the U.S. celebrates Labor Day. The holiday came about because in the late 1800s, the average person worked 12-hour days, seven days a week. Not only adults, but children as young as 5 worked in mills, factories, and mines. On top of that, working conditions were not safe, there was insufficient access to fresh air, and limited sanitary facilities and breaks. People started protesting and were killed by the police during those protests, but eventually the unions were successful and working conditions changed.

We have a lot to be grateful for this Labor Day, and at the same time, there’s still room for improvement. For instance, last year the news reported Amazon workers were peeing in bottles because they were scared to take bathroom breaks. And they’re not the only one: Tyson Foods workers admitted to being denied bathroom breaks or mocked for even asking, according to an Oxfam report. The result? Many Tyson workers wore adult diapers to work.

I don’t mention these two examples purely to horrify you but rather to ask how much do you value your own life and the lives of others? Enough to change your shopping habits? I have. For the past few years, I’ve boycotted Amazon – not perfectly because there are some things only Amazon sells, but where possible I spend my money elsewhere. And look, I know they’re super convenient, but every little bit helps – canceling a Prime membership, looking further afield for purchases – it all adds up. What would our world look like if collectively we said, “No, it’s not OK to treat people like robots, to risk their lives, and deny them dignity”? If history is any indication, not only can it be done, but it also makes life better for everyone, as evidenced by those of us in the U.S. celebrating a three-day weekend.

I dream of a world where we set and maintain boundaries. A world where we understand the importance of saying no. A world where we realize boundary setting happens in degrees. A world where we celebrate what we’ve accomplished and recognize we also may have more room to grow.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

Lately I’ve been thinking about fairness, or rather its opposite. How it’s not fair that people we love die. Or that fascist leaders are calling the shots. Or that the world literally and figuratively burns so a few companies can increase their profits. It’s not fair.

If you’re anything like me, in response to, “It’s not fair,” someone invariably says, “Life isn’t fair,” as if that makes the situation better. The inherent message behind “life isn’t fair” is “deal with it.” But what if I don’t want to deal with it? What if I don’t want to toughen up and accept the unfairness of it all? What if I’d rather curl into a ball and whimper like a wounded animal? Can I do that instead?

This year has been absolutely gut-wrenching for numerous reasons. NUMEROUS. I’m over this year. I want something new, and yet wanting isn’t enough. As they say, faith without works is dead. I’ve also heard that pain is the price of admission into a new life. Ouch. Say it ain’t so, but it is.

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Our tickets are metaphorical. Photo by Mak on Unsplash

When I think about creating something new – art, a business, a life even – there’s often an element of pain, or at least hardship. Rarely is the creation process smooth sailing from start to finish. There are usually obstacles to overcome, hurdles to clear. Maybe this period we’re in, maybe this year, is the admission price we’re paying for a new way of life.

It seems to me humanity is being forced to change on numerous fronts. It’s become clear we cannot maintain the status quo because doing so equals death and destruction. Change isn’t easy, and frankly sometimes it sucks, but I have to believe everything we’re enduring is leading to something better. It’s the only way I can keep going, to continue putting one foot in front of the other. I’m also choosing to believe my spiritual teacher who said, “[A] bright future awaits you. Your future is glorious, your future is luminous, your future is effulgent.”

He describes himself as an incorrigible optimist and also said, “Human civilization now faces the final moment of a critical juncture. The dawn of a glorious new era is on the one side, and the worn-out skeleton of the past on the other. Humanity has to adopt either one or the other. You are the spiritual soldiers; you are the worshippers of life divine. Hence, I call upon you to adorn this crimson dawn deluged with glorious light. Victory is surely yours.”

We’re not on the other side of the fight yet. The world remains unfair, but slowly, in certain places, we’re moving in that direction. For instance, in Portland companies must pay a 10% tax surcharge if their CEO earns 100 to 250 times more than the median-paid worker. That number jumps to 25% if the CEO makes 250 times more than the median-paid worker. The law only applies to Portland, but other places like San Francisco are considering similar laws. Laws like these are a start and show me if we keep striving for a fairer society eventually it will happen.

I dream of a world that’s fair and just. A world that considers what’s in the best interest for the planet as a whole. A world where we realize the impact of our actions and adjust accordingly. A world where we understand sometimes pain is the price of admission into a new life.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

I can’t speak for everywhere, but life in the Bay Area is pretty apocalyptic right now. On top of the pandemic, we also have a heatwave, rolling power outages, and 367 wildfires. Things are pretty bleak. However, instead of feeling constantly scared and depressed, I notice my mood vacillates. On Saturday, air quality improved to moderate as opposed to unhealthy. I opened my windows for the first time in days and let a cool breeze circulate inside my apartment. The inside temperature dropped from 86 degrees to a more manageable 78.

One of the things that prompted the most anxiety is wondering what I would do in the event of an evacuation. I don’t have a car. Would I have to hitch a ride with one of my neighbors? And where would I go? If I have to evacuate, all my local friends will likely have to evacuate as well. In that case, where would I stay? I mentioned all this to a friend of mine and he promised if we have to evacuate, he will drive over and pick me up. Hearing that, I felt better.

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What does this picture have to do with anything? Nothing. It’s pretty. Photo by daniel plan on Unsplash

I mention all this because seeing my mood oscillate reminds me not only are emotions like that, but also life in general. Change can happen rapidly. A day can make a huge difference. Even in regards to these wildfires, a storm is headed our way, and if it’s a wet one instead of a dry one, the fires will diminish. I’ve been singing a rain song my spiritual teacher provided multiple times a day to encourage rain, but only time will tell if it helped.

However, even if it doesn’t rain soon, it will rain eventually. And the firefighters will eventually extinguish the blazes. My hope of course is sooner rather than later but regardless, a lot can happen in a day, in an hour, in an instant. Nothing remains static.

According to my spiritual philosophy, the Sanskrit word for the universe is jagat, and jagat comes from the root verb meaning “to move.” My spiritual teacher says, “Here in the universe, nothing is stationary, nothing is fixed. Everything moves; that’s why this universe is called jagat. Movement is its dharma; movement is its innate characteristic.”

Nothing is permanent. Nothing lasts forever. And between one day and the next, a lot can happen for better or for worse. When I’m having a down day, when I smell smoke drifting in from outside, when I wipe a layer of ash off my mailbox, I have to remind myself not only that this, too, shall pass, but also that life can improve at any moment. Sometimes hope is the only thing that can keep us going. It’s my wish that we all find some hope to hold onto while we traverse the catastrophes we’re enduring.

I dream of a world where we realize a lot can happen in an instant, an hour, a day. A world where we remember the universe is always moving and nothing lasts forever. A world where we hold on to hope for a better future because we remember what a difference a day can make.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

On Sunday, a rare thunderstorm ripped through the Bay Area sparking wildfires because we’re also in the middle of a heatwave. On the one hand, it surprised me because, again, it’s rare to see rain in August, and on the other hand it pissed me off.

I’m angry because to me this is just another indication of climate change. Some people might say, “The weather is a mystery. We’ll never know why anything happens,” but in my opinion that’s naïve at best and malicious at worst. Everything we do has an effect. It’s a law of nature that for every action there’s a reaction. Why do human beings think they’re immune when it comes to planet Earth? That our actions don’t have consequences?

I watched an inspiring documentary on Hulu, The Biggest Little Farm, that shows how one thing is connected to another. I won’t give away any details because I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but here’s an example unrelated to the movie. The deer population in the U.S. is skyrocketing because human beings overhunted their natural predators: wolves, mountain lions, bears, etc. You know what happens when there are too many deer? Traffic accidents for one, an increase in Lyme disease for another, although there are other factors at play with Lyme disease as well.

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Looks so cute! But also must be kept in check. Photo by Delphine SCHIEB on Unsplash

When I see people denying climate change, I’m enraged because it’s like they would rather bury their heads in the sand than take any sort of responsibility for what’s happening in the world. It’s easier, and frankly lazier, to come up with conspiracy theories than work to make any sort of real change.

Also, we as a society in the U.S. anyway seem hellbent on maintaining the status quo rather than curbing the behavior of those responsible for climate change. I say “those responsible for climate change” because did you know 100 companies are to blame for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions? Only 100 companies! Yet researchers at Harvard and Yale are talking about spraying chemicals into the atmosphere to dim the sun because that seems more feasible than telling 100 companies to change their ways.

I realize scientists aren’t policymakers – they’re researchers, so of course they’ll research ways to combat climate change, but still. I find it ludicrous that we’re discussing something so outrageous as DIMMING THE SUN rather than forcing those 100 companies to curtail their greenhouse gas emissions. Not because we’re appealing to the goodness of their hearts, but because we have regulations with teeth.

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Let’s leave this alone, shall we? Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

What this all comes back to for me is a perspective and philosophy espoused by my spiritual teacher, which is taking into consideration the welfare of all living beings – not just human beings. He said, “We have recklessly destroyed large areas of forests without caring to think that thereby we are destroying the balance among the human, plant, and animal worlds. And we never realized – and still do not – that this wanton destruction of the animal and plant worlds will be of no benefit to human beings. Rather it will be a great loss for human society, because each and every living entity, whether plant or animal, has two types of value: one, its utility value, and the other, its existential value.”

I could write a whole other blog about existential value, but for now, I want to point out again that we are all interconnected, we are interdependent. What happens in the plant and animal worlds affects human beings and vice versa. And when we operate with that idea in mind, the entire world is better for it.

I dream of a world where we remember all of our actions have consequences. A world where we think of not only ourselves, but all living beings. A world where we do our best to act as caretakers for our planet because we understand every living being has value, even if we don’t know what it is.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

This weekend as I ran various errands, it occurred to me how normal it feels to wear a mask and stand six feet away from everyone. If someone closes the distance between us, I take a step back, almost automatically. I’m reminded how we human beings can become accustomed to almost anything. That’s not always to our benefit of course – there are some things that are harmful and it behooves us not to become accustomed to them, but nonetheless, adaptability and resilience are our strengths.

We see this in nature as well, which I find inspiring. Most of you probably already know this because murder hornets first hit the U.S. news cycle in May, but if a murder hornet scout enters a hive of Japanese honey bees, they will swarm the scout and begin vibrating their wings. The vibrating ball of bees generates enough heat and buildup of carbon dioxide inside the ball that it cooks and suffocates the hornet, according to a study. I know that’s kind of gross, and why am I even mentioning it? Because nature adapts, it fights against threats. And so do humans.

We adapt and fight against threats by changing our behaviors – like wearing masks around each other – but also this is what our bodies are made to do. Immune systems, for the most part, fight off pathogens. I know not everyone has a body that works that way, which is what it means to be immunocompromised, but generally speaking, our bodies respond to threats like viruses and bacteria and mount a defensive response.

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Not *quite* a murder hornet, but it’s a hornet. Photo by Duncan Sanchez on Unsplash

I notice in myself one part of me is terrified of getting COVID-19 because I assume it will be terrible and maybe I’ll kill someone because I’ve spread it to them, and then another part reminds me that may not happen. It could, that’s why I’m being cautious, but the vast majority of people who contract COVID-19 recover. WebMD says the recovery rate is anywhere between 97% and 99.5%. Our bodies for the most part know how to fight this virus. Not without consequences of course because some people have lung damage or brain damage as a result of the virus, according to the BBC. But still, mostly we’ve got this.

Do I think we should throw caution to the wind and return to the way things were pre-pandemic? No, because even if the death rate is 1%, when you take into account the size of the population, that can still be a lot of deaths. The United States is a perfect example of that. My spiritual teacher says, “Those who are reluctant to adapt themselves to the changed circumstances are doomed to destruction.” Yep. Pretty much. We can’t pretend our circumstances have remained the same, and at the same time, we must also recognize that we can, have, and will adapt.

My spiritual teacher also says, “You should always remember that you are in a world of passing shows, moving panorama. No picture, no position, no stance shall remain as they are just at present. That is, everything will change, everything is to undergo changes, and you should be ready to adapt yourself, to adjust yourself with those changed phases.”

My experience from this weekend shows me that we as a society, for the most part, are ready to adapt to changed phases. We adjust our actions and reactions because we as a species seek to survive. If we don’t adapt, we die, like the European honey bees who have no defense against murder hornets. I, for one, am willing to change and I hope you are too.

I dream of a world where we understand we have to adapt to circumstances in order to survive. A world where we realize nothing stays the same and we must constantly adjust accordingly. A world where we trust in our nature to fight against threats and realize adapting is what we do.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

Take a Break

When I thought about what to write today, the answer that came to me was, “Take a break.” I think it’s both a missive and a message, meaning, I need to take a break, but also other people need to take one too. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for myself, I notice right now with so many things happening in the world, so many issues vying for my attention, it feels irresponsible to take a break. That instead I must be firing on all cylinders all day every day. I think it’s in part because there’s that pressure in the external world, but also in part because it’s how I’m made.

I am a fire sign. Not just astrologically (I’m a Sagittarius), but also my ayurvedic dosha is pitta. I want to do all the time. Resting is the complete antithesis of my natural tendencies but it has become clear to me resting is of the utmost importance.

Back in 2013, I was reading Christine Arylo’s Madly in Love with ME and she advised every morning putting your hand on your heart and asking, “What do I need today?” or “What do I need to receive today?” Today anyway, the answer is “take a break.” She also advises conducting an energy check-in to gauge how full your energy tank is. My energy level today is a 10. Christine says don’t give of yourself unless your energy tank is at 75-100.

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One of these sounds great right now. Photo by Urip Dunker on Unsplash

I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but there’s still a part of me that pushes myself to do everything, anything. As soon as my energy tank gets even a little full, I empty it completely. That’s not something I want for myself. I want to be full of energy. I want to break free of all the mental prisons I’ve constructed for myself. I want liberation from the darkness and I want my magnificence to shine brightly.

I’m reminded of the butterfly here and how I, too, want to flit from place to place, soar high in the sky, and dance with other butterflies. However, in order to become a butterfly, I need to cocoon sometimes because unlike the butterfly, transformation is not a one-time thing for me. I feel like I’m constantly transforming, which would make sense given all the fire energy in my being because if you watch a fire, it’s constantly changing. And fires if they’re not tended to also reach a point where they burn out.

I need to shore up my energy, allow myself time to rest, to say no to things that drain me. I need to focus on myself so that I can become a butterfly. So I can help other people. So I can be of service. So I can live the bright and exciting life I’ve always dreamed of.  It’s incredibly difficult for me to cocoon, to withdraw my energy from the world, to concentrate on me and only me. It feels wrong and selfish and uncomfortable. If I don’t do this, however, I’m going to remain a caterpillar and I don’t want to do that.

I’m writing this blogpost because I’m sure there are other people out there like me who are running themselves ragged, especially right now when the tools that used to be available to us are either nonexistent or severely limited. Regardless of what’s happening in the world, we deserve to rest because we are not machines (and even machines aren’t running all the time). We deserve to receive as much as we give. We deserve to take time out. Sometimes we need to cocoon so we can serve the world in an even bigger way.

I dream of a world where we all take a break when we need it. A world where we balance giving and receiving. A world where we love ourselves so much, we treat ourselves with care. A world where we know in order to turn into a butterfly we have to go into a cocoon.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

Stored Trauma

I didn’t think I was going to write about this today but the topic has been at the forefront of my mind so here we are. Perhaps a little naïvely, I thought after my sleep got sorted the rest of my health would fall into place like dominoes lining up with one another. While it’s true being able to sleep well has made a huge difference in how I feel every day and how much energy I have, it hasn’t affected what’s going on with my digestion.

I notice even saying that my stomach tightens a little. I have some shame about my health conditions like they’re my fault, that I’m to blame. I define shame as the feeling on a fundamental level that there’s something wrong with me, whereas guilt is the feeling I did something wrong. That means when it comes to my health, a part of me thinks I’m messed up, there’s nothing I can do about it, and it’s all my fault.

When I mentioned this to my therapist he said, “Wait, so you don’t think that anyone who experienced your particular life circumstances and conditions would have the same problems?” Hearing that kicked some things loose and reminded me the body responds to stimuli. And furthermore that the trauma I’ve experienced in my life is always running in the background because it’s stored in the central nervous system. We used to think trauma was stored in the brain as a memory, but the latest research shows trauma is stored in the body. You might have heard of the book The Body Keeps the Score, which is all about this.

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The body is not a machine as much as we like to pretend otherwise. Photo by Daria Litvinova on Unsplash

When it comes to my own trauma, I want to minimize it or brush it aside because it’s not as bad as someone else’s. I’m very aware of my own privilege and that means I compare myself to others and know my life could be vastly more difficult. Because I don’t have XYZ trauma, it means I operate as if the trauma I did experience doesn’t matter. Ouch. I am crying as I express that. The reality is, trauma is trauma. Pushing it away or minimizing it doesn’t solve anything.

I’ve cried off and on this past weekend as I’ve gotten in touch with how much the events of my life have affected me, and specifically my physical health. I’ve spent so much time in survival mode, putting one foot in front of the other, that I haven’t absorbed the impact of trauma specifically on my body. It happened in the past so it doesn’t matter, right? Wrong. Because trauma is alive in the body. It’s alive in my body. It’s manifesting itself in my digestive system which is in charge of what? Processing. I haven’t fully processed all the traumatic events in my life so it makes sense the part of my body that’s in charge of processing would also be affected.

In his book The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk said, “As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself…The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know. That takes an enormous amount of courage.”

What I’m knowing right now, what I’m sharing right now, is the trauma I’ve experienced has affected me. It’s left a mark on my body. No amount of comparing myself to other people, to minimizing what I’ve gone through, or brushing it aside will change my past. Just as it was naïve to think getting good sleep would solve all my problems, it’s also naïve to think enduring traumatic events would leave me unscathed not only psychologically but also physically. As Dr. van der Kolk and many others have said, awareness is the first step in moving toward a solution. This is me, deepening my awareness.

I dream of a world where we remember the body and mind are linked. A world where we understand trauma lives in the body and it’s important to take that into account where our health is concerned. A world where we treat not only other people with love and care, but also ourselves.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

Broken Bootstraps

The other week I saw a comment on a friend’s Facebook post that said certain people in the U.S. have a victim mentality and there are plenty of opportunities and resources to get ahead if they wanted. The comment has stuck with me like a burr in wool. I went to reply to the post and of course now I can’t find it so instead I’m writing a blogpost about it.

There’s a difference between a victim mentality and actually being a victim. For instance, in Pennsylvania, two separate studies found holding poverty as a constant, the Whiter the school district, the higher the funding. On average, the Whitest districts received thousands of dollars more than their fair share for each student, while the least White districts received thousands less for each student. Is that a “victim mentality” or actually being a victim?

In another example, four mothers are suing Jackson, Mississippi, because the school their kids attended lacked textbooks, basic supplies, experienced teachers, tutoring programs, after-school literary programs, and even toilet paper! Would you tell those children they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps and work even harder? Or maybe you’d advise a different approach and say those parents should have transferred their kids to another school, to do whatever it takes to give their kids a good education. A better question I think is why should the parents have to transfer their kids? What ever happened to the promise made to us by the state to provide a uniform system of free public schools?

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This picture makes sense if you think about the title of this post. Photo by Oziel Gómez on Unsplash

At this point some people may start talking about Darwin and survival of the fittest. How we’re playing out something inherent to human beings and our evolution. “Survival of the fittest” is an outdated idea that’s used to support callousness. The reality is we don’t live in a society where survival of the fittest operates. We have healthcare, we put curb cuts onto sidewalks to allow for wheelchair users and strollers, we have unemployment assistance. For the roughly 30 million Americans who are unemployed are we saying too bad, so sad but figure it out on your own? No. Because human beings are more compassionate than they are callous. We are more cooperative than competitive.

In fact, in 1965 when six Tongan boys were shipwrecked for 15 months they didn’t reenact Lord of the Flies – they worked together to help each other survive. That’s what human beings do. My spiritual teacher takes it a step further and says it’s our responsibility to take care of one another.

“You should always be vigilant that not a single individual of our collective body is in the least neglected or ignored,” he said. “Let not a single boy or girl feel within them that no one is concerned about them – let not a single person be allowed to think, ‘No one cares whether I have taken food or not.’ You must pay special heed to this. Particularly those of you who are in responsible positions of leadership should remember that … [Y]ou should always be concerned with others necessities, not your own. You should always think more about your duties and responsibilities than about your rights.”

Those are some strong words. I think there’s a balance because living in the society that we do, not everyone has this service mindset so it is important that I think of my own necessities otherwise I could go hungry. However, can you imagine what life would be like if we lived this way? If we felt responsible for other people in a non-codependent way? Sounds idyllic to me and exactly the sort of world I want to live in.

I dream of a world where we are concerned with others, not only ourselves. A world where every person feels cared for. A world where we feel responsible for each other. A world where every person is allowed to thrive because the collective supports them in doing so.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

I’ve written before about how Donald Trump represents our collective shadow in terms of racism and xenophobia, but he also represents the shadow side of the internet. His latest move withdrawing from the World Health Organization (WHO) is like unfriending someone on Facebook because you don’t like what they’re saying.

First off, I want to say I think the “unfriend,” “block,” and “mute” features on social media are important and necessary because no one should be subjected to abuse, but also there can be an element of using those features to create confirmation bias or insularity. These days you don’t have to listen to anyone who disagrees with you. You can ignore what other people say with relative ease. I notice this in my own life – whenever I post about Black Lives Matter on my professional Instagram account, I lose followers. That’s OK, I’ll keep posting about it, but it speaks to the shadow side of the internet.

We get to intentionally create our reality, our communities, and connect with like-minded individuals, which is great! But it can also lead to a disconnect from reality. If I only surround myself with people who think the Earth is flat, of course that will be what I believe. The statistics vary, but anywhere from 2% to more than 20% of people believe the Earth is flat! Even if it’s 2%, that’s a huge swathe of people. The notion continues to gain momentum because it has support from numerous Facebook groups and Youtube channels. The way we human beings determine what’s real is by consensus, by checking in with others. “Did you see that UFO zipping across the sky? No? Well I must have imagined it then.”

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Is she actually floating?!? Photo by Ashley Bean on Unsplash

Because of the internet, we can find people who support our version of reality and that’s what Donald Trump does. How ironic that a “reality” TV star has no sense of consensus reality. He’s so used to creating the truth and now he gets to broadcast his reality to the world. He speaks to the seductive idea that the truth can be whatever you want it to be. It can feel empowering to say, “My truth is my truth” and ignore what other people say, especially if a person has experience with not being heard or believed. However, I’m going to quote Stephen Dinan, CEO and founder of The Shift Network, an alternative media company. He writes:

“The good aspect of claiming our own internal truth and authority – which human potential teachings typically promote – turns ugly and becomes a descent into ignorance when people stop respecting the hard-earned disciplines behind so many mainstream endeavors from science to journalism to medicine. Once we stop respecting expertise and the disciplines that inform that expertise, we put ourselves on a path to ignorance.

Precisely. When we tune out all other voices, we become ignorant. It’s what Donald Trump is advocating by withdrawing from the WHO. It’s what he’s advocating when he says people should stop getting tested for COVID-19. Because if you stop getting tested that means you don’t actually have the virus, right? Well, no. It just means that you can pretend everything is fine and delude yourself.

I can tie this in to my spiritual practice because on the one hand, my spiritual teacher advocates for self-realization, for developing intuition and connection to spirit so the internal reality is important. But on the other hand, he also urges us to have discernment, to use our brains when we’re in the world and reject what is irrational. In fact, he says, “Even if a young boy says something logical, it should be accepted. And if the Supreme Creator Brahma says something illogical, it should be rejected as rubbish.”

I dream of a world where we use our brains. A world where we understand our own version of reality is not the only version. A world where we realize it’s important to look at multiple perspectives and take into account what other people are saying. A world where we accept what is logical and reject what is not.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom because of the July 4th holiday. I’ve been wondering, what does it mean to be free in today’s world when many people are not allowed to live their lives? When they are shot for running down a street? When they are killed in their beds? I’m referencing publicized murders of Black people in the United States of course, but I could also start listing crimes against indigenous people, people of color, those in the LGBTQIA community, Jews, Muslims, and many others. But what’s interesting about this time we’re living in is there’s an added layer about freedom for all of us.

I’m sure you’ve noticed we’re still experiencing a pandemic and many people, regardless of how they identify, are quarantining. A large swathe of us are unable to live our lives the way we used to before COVID-19 struck. Many of us are exclusively working from home. We can’t get our hair cut or work out at the gym. We can’t celebrate together in large groups. We can’t even hug our friends. So again, I ask, what does it mean to be free? I keep thinking about an expression I’ve heard: prison is a state of mind. Surely that’s not true, is it?

I’d like to reference writer Rayya Elias who was incarcerated at Riker’s Island for drug dealing and possession. After she was clean and sober, she wrote a memoir, Harley Loco, and she was invited to speak at the opening ceremony of the prison’s library. Various people filled the audience, including current prison inmates. Elias spoke to the incarcerated women directly and told them this is not who you are, a prisoner in a jumpsuit, and this is not where you live, Riker’s Island.

Pointing to her heart she said, “This is who you are.” Pointing to her head she said, “And this is where you live.” She reminded them that would always be true – they would always be the people they are in their hearts and they would always live inside their minds. Her statements have stuck with me because she’s right, we do live in our minds and so perhaps that’s where freedom lies as well. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying we should sit back and do nothing about all the injustice going on in the world because we all just live in our heads. What I’m advocating is a three-pronged approach: free our bodies, free our minds, and free our spirits.

A way that I know of to free the mind is to practice meditation. Doing so can free the mind so that a person feels content even while physically imprisoned. That’s not conjecture, by the way. My spiritual teacher modeled that for me. He was jailed and fasted on two cups of liquid for more than five years, but he was still as content as could be. He was an extraordinary human being but he was still a human being. That means he has demonstrated for all of us what is possible. He has shown us that no matter where we are, no matter our circumstances, we can still feel free.

My teacher said practicing santośa, or contentment, will cultivate that feeling. When discussing the intuitional practice of meditation, he said santośa is contentment with receiving things we did not ask for, which to me sounds like freedom.

I dream of a world where we work to free ourselves in body, mind, and spirit. A world where we work to improve the lives of ourselves and others. A world where we remember we live inside our heads. A world where we understand what freedom really means.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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