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Category Archives: pacifism

Fear, anxiety, emotional pain all happen in my stomach. I put my hand there when I meditate, a way to be tender with my most tender part. Sometimes I ask him to put his hand on it when it hurts: the heat is soothing. But after a trying couple months, he’s talking to my stomach, telling it to stop with the anxiety.

I yank his hand off my stomach. Hey! I say. Don’t talk to my tummy that way! You have to be nice! We play at this a little, but I think it gets across after a few minutes. I try to explain, a little, what I’ve learned over all this time: that my tummy, my tender spots, don’t go away if you tell them to. I should know–I tried to tell them what to do and not do for so long. None of that works. They don’t respond well to roughness, or force. The only thing that works is being gentle, I tell him.

He tells me later that I am too anxious. And of course, in the obvious senses this is true: I’ve had diagnosable anxiety disorders my entire life. At times, I’m anxious to degrees that make speech and action incredibly difficult. Sometimes my anxiety gets so intense I can barely think. Or I can think only in obsessive loops. My anxieties are sometimes disproportionate to the situation at hand. Anxiety gets in the way of my concentration and pleasure on a daily basis. I would like to experience less anxiety.

And at the same time: they are not too much. They aren’t crazy, and they aren’t out of nowhere. They are exactly proportionate to my life experiences. To various injuries. They are parts of me that are trying to take care of me by putting me on alert, by keeping me looking around the corner, by making me prepare for the worst case scenario. They’re not going anywhere til they know I’m good and safe, and I won’t fault those parts of me for doing the best they can to take care of me. And I won’t let anyone–no matter how good their intentions–tell me I am too much, again. 

I am not too anything, I tell him, playfully defiant, and also very serious. I am just pic. Take me as I am, or get outta town.

I’ll take you as you are, he says.

This is a lot of it: becoming self-referenced. Strand by bloody strand, Audre said.

Self-referenced enough to wake up, and reread my new poem, and say: I love it. Not ask someone else, Do you think it’s any good? Whatever that means, anyway. But just to say: I love it. Asking the question is in that realm of being good enough or not. Is in the realm of ego. I love it is affection for self.

But… How?

Feel the feelings. Grieve. Anger.

Okay. What else?

Maybe also this: not expecting it to go away. The grief. The anger. Learning to live with them like chronic pains that kick up now and then. Learning to live with them as I have with anxiety: just do what I need to, anyway. Or as Noah Levine put it: “Let go of what you can, and let the rest of it be.”

But it takes a lot of work. I’m exhausted. I want to get all the way through to the other side, to acceptance.

Trying to Pray

This time, I have left my body behind me, crying
In its dark thorns.
There are good things in the world.
It is dusk.
It is the good darkness
Of women’s hands that touch loaves.
The spirit of a tree begins to move.
I touch leaves.
I close my eyes, and think of water.

- James Wright



Rumi said it before Ben Lee:

Gamble everything for love
if you are a true human being.
If not, leave this gathering.
Half-heartedness doesn’t reach into majesty.

You set out to find God, but then you keep
stopping for long periods at mean-spirited roadhouses.
Don’t wait any longer.  Dive in the ocean, leave and let the
sea be you.  Silent, absent, walking an empty road, all praise.

Adam Zagajewski, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh:

Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

And, most simply, Miranda July, in the “The Shared Patio”:

It’s okay to be unsure. But praise, praise, praise.

Another old post on anger. This doesn’t reflect my current views, but I’m posting it because an important part of this blog, for me, is having a record of my thoughts over time.


From Audre Lorde in “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism”:

“My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, learning to use it before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of anger will teach you nothing, also.”

In the shower, remembering the violence that had happened between us–just once, and never since–anger came up in me, suddenly. Finally. It has an energy to it that feels like power. It is a power that seeks domination and vengeance. In its grip, your understanding is  hard and unpliable, an earth unwilling to be tilled, hard clay that will spit back out at you any seeds you try to plant in it. Empathy becomes very, very difficult. This makes a certain evolutionary, defensive sense: the greater your empathy, the less your ability to inflict violence (physical, emotional, or otherwise).

Audre’s right:  fear of anger will teach me nothing. I looked at it, and it was strange to see my breath so riddled with malice. I had the thought of getting back at him in a specific, petty way, that would not actually have affected him, but would have been symbolic to me. Satisfying, or rather, so it appeared at that moment. My guess is that the satisfaction that comes from acting on the malice of anger is like the mirage of an oasis. I brought my hands to my face, remembering Thich Nhat Hanh’s  poem, “For Warmth”:

I hold my face between my hands
no   I am not crying
I hold my face between my hands
to keep my loneliness warm
two hands protecting
two hands nourishing
two hands to prevent
my soul from leaving me
in anger

I know I cannot act out of the motivation to harm, even though that action would not have actually hurt or harmed the object of my anger. The problem is that it would feed the anger. I am not interesting in harming myself like that. I am, finally, not interested in harming myself at all, or in being harmed by anyone else.


Part of the danger of anger lies in the feeling of power. I can see how he uses it to propel himself. Why that worked, in a certain sense of the word, why he is hooked on it. But I wonder, last night, was it really power coming from the anger? Or was it, perhaps, that only once I felt enough power arise in me did anger make itself known–in other words, did it simply wait until I was ready to bear it without letting it do harm?

Ed Brown talks about anger as energy. “That’s your ferocity”, he says. “How else are you going to stand up for yourself?”

I know another way. It may take longer to get there, but it is possible to stand up for yourself with no anger, out of care. Wisdom and compassion, when you feed them so they grow strong and flexible in you, will compel you to act out of care for. You can start to care about yourself and whoever you’re interacting with too much to let them harm you, or themselves in doing so. It comes back to the nonzero principle: you are not doing someone a favor when you let them harm you. “Let”, of course, is not always an accurate term.

In some ways, anger is like any other suffering. Eli Weisel says:

“Suffering confers neither rights nor priviliges or rights. It all depends on how you use it. If you use it to increase the anguish of yourself or others, you are degrading, even betraying it… God help us to bear our suffering well.”


I’ve been thinking about how to explain what I meant about my impression that you were taking your mind “personally”, and what an alternative to that might be. Whenever I’m offering something that borders on advice, I feel the need to preface it by acknowledging that I am, of course, a work in progress, and not an expert on anything besides how to drown my emotions by binge eating, so I certainly make no claims to authority. All I can talk about is what I found to be true for me, and what I found to be helpful for me, and then put it out there, and maybe something I say might be helpful to you. There’s very little dialogue in our culture about inner work. I mean, there are lots of hero stories about people changing, but the nitty-gritty of how you do that is something that’s always been mysterious to me, so I try to talk with people about it as much as I can so I can get more tools for my tool bag.

So, there was this way that I used to interact with myself, which I’m thinking of when I talk about taking my mind personally, where my mind traps and emotional liabilities and certain dysfunctional personal and relational habits, were something that I saw as my personal flaws, and I had a lot of shame around them, and used to try to order and will myself out of them. It was narcissistic in a certain way, the idea that my flaws were so unique and terrible. A negative narcissism. Probably the started to shift post-O. I knew there was something really wrong with the way I conceived of relationships and psychology––all the pain in my life around him and my own mistakes told me that loud and clear––and I was desperate to understand what had happened between me and him, and more generally how these things should work. So I started listening to all these Zen talks. And some of them I didn’t like and dismissed, but some of  them really clicked. I say that because it’s important for me to specify that it wasn’t that there was a hole in my life and for some reason I grabbed Zen and shoved it into that space. It was something that I’d been into a little before that, and there were a lot of teachers who didn’t make sense to me, and a few who often did. And the ones who did were really wise. And I mean that in a really specific way. I’m thinking of this counselor that I had in the day hospital program that I did as a teenager, and I remember her talking about emotional mind and rational mind, and wise mind being where they overlap. Gil Fronsdal is my favorite; most of what he says both makes complete sense rationally, and also clicks for me in terms of my intuition and experience. I was listening to talks something like five or six hours a day for months; it was a really intensive relearning process for me, and there were a lot of things that happened in that time. Anyway, to focus again, one of the perspectives that I started to get in that time was that it wasn’t so much my mind as the mind. By this I mean, and you can probably hear in the way I talk about things, but it’s less, wow, my mind is  fucked up, and more, wow, human minds are fucked up. of course, people have their own dysfunctional or painful patterns, but I tend to see it now as, there are certain patterns that are common in human behavior, and for whatever reasons, some of us have some, and others have others. And they’re not our fault; they’re just our responsibility. Literally, it’s our job to respond to the patterns in ourselves that are dysfunctional and try to find healthier ways of relating, but there’s nothing personal about having some faulty wiring. It’s just how being human works. This was a really big thing for me––understanding that making mistakes and being flawed is just part of being human, rather than some horrible thing I was doing. And getting out from under that shame freed up a lot of energy to then actually work on the patterns, and be more honest with myself and others about them.

Another important understanding along these lines was that some of the dysfunctional things in my personality or patterns are there for good reason. Some of them are things that were functional at one point in time, and have simply outgrown their usefulness. a lot of them are things that started in childhood, in response to a really  messed up family situation, and helped me survive it. Yes, at a cost, but nonetheless, they helped me cope with something impossible. And now I’m an adult, and I get to choose who to have relationships with and live with, and so I can choose things far healthier, and people far kinder, than the ones I had no choice about being related to, and this means that I don’t need the same tendencies that I needed then to survive. L, you and I have talked about how we’ve seen this play out in our families––in response to my needs being ignored, I saw my needs and myself as shameful and undeserving. Of course that was painful and caused great suffering, but it also helped me survive being a child. It helped me from collapsing into feeling totally powerless, and thus, totally hopeless. I thought, if I could just be better, maybe I could get what I needed. Of course I was wrong, of course all kids deserve to have their basic needs met, of course I am basically good, but that belief kept me from drowning in despair. And, as an example, understanding that some of those destructive patterns were protective at one time, has help me interact with myself much more kindly around them. They stop feeling like something my brain is doing to attack me, and instead I can say to myself, this pattern was here for a purpose, and thank myself for having the cleverness to create it at the time when it was needed, and then also remind myself that I don’t need it anymore, and set the intention to let it go, and listen to my other motivations, and act out of them.

This also gets back to the thing about things being about human experience, rather than my personal experience, in certain ways. My oldest sister reacted to that same family situation in a really different way. Where I shrunk (literally), she got loud and demanding and manipulative to try to meet her needs. It just occurs to me, too, that where I lost weight and got really thin, she got really heavy––I wonder if that was, for her, part of the manifestation of that same thing. Anyway, I’m talking about this because it’s an example of different ways that humans tend to react in a certain kind of stressful situation. I’ve met other people that reacted like me, and others that reacted like my sister, and so I just see our different ways as two of the common ways that the human mind reacts that kind of stress, rather than two uniquely messed up individuals.

More to say about judgment in general…  On my To Write list.

Oh, one last thing I wanted to say. About responsibility––I’ve had a very strong habit of thinking about myself and my life in terms of what I should do. To me, “should” means morally, and in an anxious, alone way, “good”. In other words, the questions for me for most of my life have been about what’s morally good, and what would make me, finally, good, deserving of happiness or love. And I saw my flaws as my fault, so obviously from there, I had to fix them. I should do this and that to correct them. Another concept in Western Buddhist psychology (though not unique to that thought system), is the concept of stewardship of oneself. We don’t get to choose all the things about ourselves, we can’t always make ourselves one thing or the other, all we can do is our best to take care of ourselves, by being good to ourselves, and by being good to others. With this idea, the dysfunctional habits that I felt I should fix because they were so bad and shameful, become the dysfunctional habits that I want to heal because I care about myself. And I’ve got a be the one to do it not because it’s my mistake in the first place, as I used to think, but because I’m the only one who can. If I need to pee, no one else can do that for me, no matter how much they might want to help, or I might want help. It was very useful to me to think of working with my mind in this way. My responsibility because no one else has the power to respond to it in the way that I do, because it’s my own mind. So it becomes sort of a simple logical thing, rather than moralistic. Does that make sense?

I think about it most of all when I move, or take a new job–will I be able to get the time off if someone needs me? Would I fly out for weekends here and there, or take a leave of absence? Will I be able to attend to the rest of my life, or will everything else get lost?

It challenges my ego. That is to say, my idea of whom I am: someone who doesn’t run. Someone who can be with someone in pain. But I’m also not sure where the line is between brave and reckless. Why don’t I have the urge to turn on my heel and run in the face of what will surely lead to loss? “You are standing in front of a land mine,” Hollie says. “Back away slowly.”

But my internal voice says: everything ends up lost. So why avoid anything because of the timescale? It’s not that I’m courting pain, and certainly not chaos. It’s that I want to give and receive love more than anything, and running out of fear of vulnerability is contrary to that. And is, in that way, contrary to my nature. To invert Neruda: no quiero nada con la muerte/ la vida es solo lo que se hace. And that means being willing to live the whole catastrophe. Or, as Pab once put it, the important question isn’t how much pain, but what for.

Jack has been on my mind lately:

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

From Boston & San Diego, a draft from October 2011:

Try softer.

It is fatal to love a god who doesn’t love you.  (Alice Walker)

My silences have not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.  (Audre Lorde)

Don’t take your mind so personally.

Don’t know.



Turn towards what is difficult

You don’t tell the Atlantic Ocean to behave. (Eve Ensler)

“Pretty” is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked, “female”. ( Original post here.)

And, my favorite, from Dogan: In everything, awakening beckons.


From Ashana’s recent post, “The Right to History“:

Has anyone ever told you that you have a right to know what happened to you? You have a right to know how you felt about it? You have a right to know who you were then, who you have been either because of what happened or in spite of it, and who you are now? I thought not. No one has ever told me that either. But you do. Just as you have a right to know where you come from, what the values of your home culture are, and to have a gender identity all your own, you have a right to know what it was like to be hurt. You have a right to understand the exact nature of your suffering and to construct your own meaning of it. image courtesy of The Curious Quilter

This got me thinking about how different people handle memory, former lives, trauma. I’ve always been towards integration, and this was such a source of conflict between O and I.  I still use the green ceramic bowl from the apartment I shared with Vani and Annie. I still have that purple shirt of Leah’s, though somewhere along the way I lost Nick’s wicker chair.  And there is Daphne’s white undershirt, the orange scarf Nick gave me for an anniversary, the glass carving of an iris from Keith, Jose’s worn, sleepy V-necks.  I have Ian’s Mike Doughty CD, and the belt I stole from John. The plastic cup Matt took from the Ratty is still on my shelf here in Berkeley. O, who had tried to so many unsuccessful times to surgically remove, repress, deny, forget his trauma, thought that I was shackling myself with my past, chaining its weight to my own ankles by keeping items and sometimes relationships. But what I’m going for is integration. I see it  like making a quilt. Trying to take every scrap of material I have, the beautiful and the ugly, and sew it together into something continuous.  I think of trauma as that which rends my narrative. I can only fix the tear by figuring out how to sew it up, not by cutting it out.


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