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Insisting On The Totality, Or: “No One Is The Boss Of Yeast”

July 18, 2012
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When I feel weak, or lost, or unworthy of love, I’ve learned to expand my focus.

This doesn’t mean squashing or shutting up the painful parts. It just means paying close attention to what else is there. That way, the loud, dramatic emotions don’t dominate the scene.  Grief and despair are not my only guests.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi

Today, it was tantrums.

When someone I love told me, to my face, in a backyard garden, surrounded by roses and mint and blueberries and artichokes and rosemary and grape vines, that they don’t love me anymore, tantrums arose.

Oh, tantrums a-ROSE.

At first they rattled me, bat-swooping around my internal kitchen. But I neither repressed nor expressed the thoughts. I watched them.

Don’t believe everything you think.

~ Thomas Kida

And yeah, internal-tantrum-dialogue exists. Tears exist. You know what else exists? roses and mint and blueberries and artichokes and rosemary and grape vines. these are also real.

so are other things i’ve seen lately. beautiful students, parents, and teachers fighting against Oakland school closures; demanding education; rallying after police shut down their free summer school.

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and so is this poem, written by children.

The Ways Of Yeast

No one is the boss of yeast.
It doesn’t listen.
It doesn’t talk.
It smells like warm dusty yellow water.

Abelina, Miles, Reece, Francesca, and Natane

There are also neutral things. The corners of boxes. Unscented air. A teacher advised me to acknowledge those, too.

By insisting on the totality, I re-establish myself in a landscape greater than the strong emotions. Not to make those emotions go away, but to be able to take better care of them. As Larry Yang says, awareness practice and lovingkindness are ultimately the same thing. Neither avoiding nor indulging tantrums (ooh, I don’t even dare to publicly write the thoughts that were bubbling up in my skull!!!), in offering awareness we offer ourselves.

A bat trapped in an unexpected kitchen swoops around in part because it is scared. My tantrums are not unrelated, I think, to the fears that many women of color experience, that we will never truly be worthy of love. And that the people we love, or on whom we rely for love, will hurt us. And somehow it’s our fault. Descendents of African slaves in the US have been fed this message countless times over the centuries. We are unlovable. We are less than human. No matter how hard we try, we will never succeed. (This, I think, keeps many Black people vicariously invested in Obama, despite the routine murders of innocents that he, through his job, carries out.)

But no one is the boss of yeast, and my fears are not the boss of me — no matter how deep they run.

Expanding the focus, I listen closely, and insist on the totality. Feels like more freedom.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. bryan permalink
    July 23, 2012 1:28 pm

    I’ve appreciated this blog for some time. I came for the marxist feminist analysis and stayed for much of the generous reflection on taking better care of oneself and, in turn, others.

    The poems, pictures, and thoughts shared in this are all really beautiful, and coming at just the right time for some friends of mine that are experiencing recent challenges and need for an expanded focus. Thanks always!

  2. July 23, 2012 11:51 pm

    Thank you so much, bryan! I’d be glad if this digital scrapbooking is helpful to your friends. Thanks for sharing on why you came and stuck around. Sometimes the politics and the spiritual / personal care stuff feel so separate for me, and other times I manage to sniff out connections, or possible connections, between them. In the case of this tough conversation in the garden, for instance, the person I was talking with is someone I organize with politically. As I’m sure you know, and might have even experienced, difficult emotions and interpersonal conflict can wreak havoc on political organizations! Even the agents of COINTELPRO leveraged this reality to destabilize relationships in revolutionary groups. So I think (slash hope) that gaining some freedom from the grip of our emotions and cravings can really help out in political groups, where trust and respect are so important and breakups and conflict are pretty much inevitable. Then again, I sometimes wonder if I’m overdoing it on the introspective / inner freedom tip, so it’s always helpful and encouraging to hear that other folks interested in marxist feminism are also exploring these other realms, too, and trying to balance them.

    if you have other resources you’ve found helpful on that balancing front, please send ’em my way! always on the lookout. :)

    Can I ask what’s the nature of the challenges your friends are going through? Or what you’ve found helpful for yourself, in discouraging or trying moments?

    Thanks again; hope this note finds you well. :)

  3. bryan permalink
    July 30, 2012 12:11 pm

    Ugh. Heartbreak among comrades is tough.

    Similarly, the challenges my friends are facing are a messy break-up, lost empathy, and cultivation of a vocabulary that lends more smoke and heat than light toward illuminating the source of their conflict or a safer path leading outward. Sadly, other than listening and reflecting with them, I could certainly use some helpful balancing resources myself. =/

    What I find helpful for myself is making sure to commit some of my attention toward understanding my limits and capacities while trusting that my health and resilience is strengthened in relation with others, through collective advances and brave failure; including people I’ve yet to meet and others I may never know. This is where I think ‘expanded focus’ seems like a helpful way to imagine and summarize that practice. Since I don’t identify with a spiritual practice – though your blog definitely makes a compelling case for its utility – I try to imagine that it’s generally compatible with maintaining a hopeful anarchist/communist orientation while living within brutal systems that heartlessly distribute benefit and burden.

  4. July 31, 2012 7:54 pm

    Aw, that sounds like a rough time, bryan. Wishing ease to you and your comrades. Yep, without just being escapist about it (damn, i don’t want to deal with this hard thing; let me go find other, soothing things), I find that the expanded focus often energizes me to work more passionately on organizing or other things i care about. partly because it breaks some of the fixation on the ordeal, and partly because it helps restore my inspiration and curiosity.

    Sounds like you’re doing some interesting explorations around personal and collective wellness. i’d love to hear about some of these collective advances and brave failures!

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