It’s shaping up to be another day of food and friend fotos, and I’m beginning to feel self-conscious.
So trivial! not militant! argh.
Fortunately, the wonders of digital archiving help refresh me on why I started this particular blog in the first place, nearly four years ago. A quick digital rifling through the earliest files, and I come across this:
You may have noticed that Kloncke contains lots of pictures. Pictures of mundane things, like the apartment. And Brassica oleracea. There’s not a lot of information, or opinion, or blueprints for fomenting feminist revolution. No hard reportage. Walking away from the world of political New Media, with its fast-paced news addictions and adrenaline rushes, is not easy on the ego, I can tell you that much. In comparison to what I used to write about, the things I now post seem frivolous and bourgie. Sharing them requires a good amount of pride swallowing: it was much easier, honestly, to write about, say, connections among environmental nativism, sexism, and anti-immigration. But my dear friend Ellen, in an email yesterday, beautifully expressed a purpose of the site that I hadn’t quite articulated to myself:
I was just reading through your blog and thinking about how healing ourselves necessarily involves elemental things like food (one of my too-many jobs right now is all about food policy, actually, and I love how it’s gently pushed me toward feeding myself better) and family and good lighting (good work w/ your place!!) and practical skills and walking/biking along riverbanks.
Ellen is right: healing is largely about getting down to basics. Which brings us back to the question of reality (what could be more basic?) and how on earth a cybernetic hallucination could bring us closer to it.
Reality isn’t a place so much as a relationship, or an attitude that each one of us can take toward what’s around us. In my experience, it’s a mixture of calm and curiosity, a kind of lilting interest. It welcomes and enjoys pleasure, but doesn’t obsess over it. It recognizes and honors pain, but doesn’t demonize it. This orientation reflects reality not because it’s one-dimensionally true, but because it allows us to see what’s really going on.
Now, what’s really going on includes, as we know:
- things more important than photos of what yours truly is having for breakfast
Again, this blog isn’t about acting on these Big Things. Nope. But it is about small-r reality: trying to pay attention. Joyful attention. To the things that happen offline. And as a warm, friendly space dedicated to embracing ordinary wonders, I hope it can help restore us for whatever struggles we undertake.
A list. A hallucinatory diary of genuine gratitude. A different spin on the reality-based community.
Four years later, I’ve come so far, to the exact same spot.
Things more important than what I’m having for breakfast.
Well, that’s why they call it practice, I s’pose.
Revolutionary or not, “embracing ordinary wonders” is precisely what I’ve been feeling disconnected from, these past few months. And as we know, contentment is only partly about how many Wanted Things happen to us. It’s also (or even mostly) about how much gratitude and equanimity we generate. (Hence book titles like Sylvia Boorstein’s Happiness Is An Inside Job.)
Objectively, GREAT THINGS HAVE BEEN HAPPENING TO AND AROUND ME!
Hardworking organizers and wonderful people swim in the seas I swim in!
I get to go to eviction defense actions and they are interesting and successful!
(See how I snuck a militant direct action in there? Pride: sometimes you get the better of me.)
But I seem to be living as a hungry ghost. No matter how much beauty surrounds me, it’s not enough. I am not enough.
Speaking of both (a) hungry ghosts and (b) great things happening to and around me, just this Wednesday night I had the chance to see a talk by the incredible Dr. Gabor Maté, author of, among other books, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction.
His lecture blew my mind on a few levels (maybe a whole nother post on that, sometime). But one of points he made that hit home hardest for me was the observation that political engagement, or activism, can actually serve as a kind of addiction: insofar as we use it to try to fill a personal sense of lack. He gets at a similar idea in this interview about the Hungry Ghosts book:
Question: The title of your book has its origins in the Buddhist Wheel of Life. In the Hungry Ghost Realm, people feel empty and seek solace from the outside, from sources that can never nourish. In what ways is our culture trapped in this realm? What can society learn from drug addicts who take the feelings of lack that everyone has, to the extreme?
Gabor Maté: Much of our culture and our economy are based on exploiting people’s sense of emptiness and inadequacy, of not being enough as we are. We have the belief that if we do this or acquire that, if we achieve this or attain that, we’ll be satisfied. This sense of lack and this belief feed many addictive behaviors, from shopping to eating to workaholism. In many respects we behave in a driven fashion that differs only in degree from the desperation of the drug addict.
I don’t have the presence of mind to write too much on this tonight, but I want to reflect on this observation from my own life:
When I feel no pressure to be or do any particular thing, creative growth and learning flow freely, but much of my activity tends to be apolitical. Eventually, the urge for political engagement either suddenly arises, or creeps back in like a tide.
Once I get invested in the idea of being a student of political organizing, or being a revolutionary, that free-flowing sense of self-sufficiency dies away, and I find myself wanting/needing to improve and measure up, more and more. Never enough.
Obviously, the desire to improve is not a bad thing — and I know what the healthy, natural, yet vigorous version feels like. It’s just that I don’t know what it feels like in the political realm.
And THAT probably has more to do with me, and my own issues, than ‘the political realm’ itself.
And with that, I wish you a good, good night.
Thanks for the great post. I enjoy getting to know you a smidge.
“one of points he made that hit home hardest for me was the observation that political engagement, or activism, can actually serve as a kind of addiction: insofar as we use it to try to fill a personal sense of lack.” This guy is totally right on. I will have to find his book.
Have been really struggling with this very point in recent months. The past year has been so full of activism and service, and I’ve often felt blessed to be engaged in such ways, seeing some positive impacts, relationships develop, communities slowly being rebuilt, injustices faced, etc. And yet, my own determination, sense of responsibility, and loyalty has gone too far. I’m seeing how there’s a subtle sense of lack hanging around some of my actions. The phrase “You’re not much of an activist, are you?” has come up in various forms again and again, whenever I failed to show up for some event, or wasn’t willing to add yet another responsibility on to my plate. Over the past month, I hit the wall and started pulling way back. To what? I’m not sure. I need to give more time to meditation and Zen study practice. But also there’s this “not enough” that needs to be faced head on. So that when I am engaged in justice and environmental work, it can be more liberated, less cumbered by the energy suck of trying to prove “my worth.”
Have you found many others in activist circles willing to admit some of this stuff, or interested in exploring it more in depth? I’ve been running into a few more around the Twin Cities here – including a few folks in our Village group – but it still seems difficult to move into this territory. Accusations of not being “in solidarity,” for example, seem so common still – a self-reinforcing loop keeping activists going until they burn to a crisp.
Nice to meet you! I don’t know what it is, maybe its the feeling of being drawn/dragged to follow the bodhisattva path, but the need to do the right thing never seems to let up. Maybe it is an addiction trying to fill a hole in me, but my gut feeling tells me it’s not about me, the individual, and my gut feeling seems to be the only thing I have. I’m glad I found your blog (via your comment on Nathan’s). I’ll be back. :)
Good to meet you, too, David!
I am feeling that more these days. :) Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in it! Looking forward to ‘talking’ and building more over the interwebs. :)
Roger you are too kind! Always so supportive. Thank you for being a friend on the path.
As it happens, in the past week I feel like there have been some openings and breakthroughs with people in my circles who I’ve been knowing for a minute, but with whom the time now seems ripe to talk and share about some of these things. I feel lucky to be staying in one place long enough to see relationships with people change and evolve. Keeps me hopeful, excited, and grateful.
much love to you all!