If you can't say something nice...

The Full Moon presides silently over the night sky, exuding sacred presence wordlessly. She does not have anything to prove. She does not feel the need to be consistent in her argument. She does not cite her sources. She does not follow any policy. She does not rail or rant. She does not try too hard. She does not feel like she needs to be heard. She does not worry what anyone thinks.

The Dark Moon keeps her secrets. She does not whisper. She does not gossip. She will not argue. She does not feel the need to make herself clear. She does not comply. She is not steered by anyone's agenda. She does not fear invisibility. She does not cosign anything. She doesn't volunteer. She owes no one an explanation.

The Moon moves heaven and earth without ever saying a word, simply through the force of her quiet gravity. Her silence is voluminous, rich, thick, and dense. Her power is in her dynamic dance with the sun and the sky, full of smoldering glances and meaningful turnings-away, void of verbosity. Her greatest gift is found in contemplation. She sheds her light without ever speaking of her mysteries.

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things

Thus, constantly free of desire
One observes its wonders
Constantly filled with desire
One observes its manifestations

These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders

Listen more often to things than to beings...

Cultivating Awareness

Last week, I asked you if you were really and truly ready to understand what it means to "be woke." Have you been thinking about it? There is no better time than now to wake up from the dreams of delusion that govern the majority of our day to day lives.

Awareness is not automatic. It is not reflexive. It requires attention and cultivation, and a willingness to engage with discomfort as your brain begins to process what it might mean to accept reality. Otherwise, in the name of "self-care", a very broad term that occasionally thinly veils abject self-centeredness, we might be cultivating avoidance instead of awareness. Psychologists report that avoidance is related to anxiety, and that it is quite common. In finance, aversion to reality among investors is known as the "Ostrich effect." Our daily avoidance often amounts to simply numbing out by playing pretend, eating, drinking, rationalization, addiction to work, and refusal to engage with facts over feelings.

Putting things off, assuaging one's own fears with half-truths and platitudes,spiritual bypassing, and related phenomena might seem easier than making the decision to stay alert, pay attention, watch keenly, speak up, and be present for what is happening. Our world is not really set up to encourage us in our awareness. In the age of the Internet, when attachment, aversion, and indifference are merely a click away, we can follow our whims regardless of where they lead us. Our knee-jerk reactions can swiftly lead us down the path of obsession, down the path or avoidance, down the path of rage, or, with awareness, we can step off the intensity express and start walking down the path to enlightenment. 

Cultivating awareness of how, why, and to what we are reacting and responding in stress situations is one step in cultivating overall awareness. Enlightenment is the individual's capacity for total, limitless awareness, which perceives everything exactly as it is. The ability to see what is, and accept the reality of it, does not mean that we should allow oppression and persecution to stand while we bliss out listening to mantras on our headphones and congratulating ourselves on clear seeing; it means that we know what is happening, we know where we stand, and we know that we are ready to take compassionate action as needed to alleviate suffering.

In a universe made of suffering, where we are each veritably soaking in the suffering of our own lives and others, to truly "be woke" is to refuse to turn away from suffering in any form. It is easy to start cultivating your awareness of suffering among people with whom you agree. It is much harder to cultivate awareness of the suffering of the people with whom you rigorously disagree. Plus, when you work to cultivate that particularly difficult awareness, it is possible that you may engage in spiritual bypassing by removing your focus from the reality of their suffering and instead focusing on your own tepid, temporary version of "love and light." That's not the same thing as incisive awareness of the reality of their situation.

When we cultivate awareness, truly, we begin to see that our opinions aren't actually very reliable. We begin to confront the stories we have been told, and the stories we have been telling ourselves. The fact is, lack of education begets suffering, but education itself can also force you to confront unpleasantries and therefore cause suffering. Poverty begets suffering, but so does wealth in that it ripens one for paranoia and greed over time. Loss begets suffering, but so does an overabundance when one is unprepared for it. Pain and stress cause suffering, but so do ennui and boredom and cynicism.

The key to acknowledging the reality of suffering is to acknowledge that all beings, regardless of their circumstances and privileges, experience suffering and wish for that suffering to end. From this point of acknowledgement, we are free to then address the causes of suffering. We can address the suffering of the oppressed, and we can also address the suffering that caused people to become oppressors. We can address the needs of victims, and we can also address the needs of perpetrators, who may be mentally ill, or might have been victims of abuse themselves. We can address the suffering of the poor who constantly experience fear and pain over their basic survival, and we can also address the suffering of those who, burdened with more than their fair share, have become cold-hearted and callous, effectively limiting their ability to participate in the act of being human.

Not all methods of addressing suffering are gentle, and this is why we must assiduously avoid spiritual bypassing, because the alleviation of suffering is not merely about how we address emotions and feelings, but rather is about how we address the causes of suffering. Seizing power from a dictator will certainly make him and his followers feel unhappy, but it will ultimately alleviate his suffering, and the suffering of many others. Sometimes, compassion is a splash of freezing cold water upon the cosy warmth of privilege.

Your Sacred Wild Self

Do you know who you are apart from the opinions of others? Do you know who you are without the labels you apply to yourself or your process of identity in the public sphere? Do you know who you are without your accomplishments and mistakes? Do you know who you are without your pain?

Right now, before you automatically begin to argue that these things are all ways of knowing yourself, before you begin to defensively reach for security in your list of labels or identity markers, before you react with fear to empty presence, try instead to just play pretend: in your mind's eye, strip off all appearances and become a vast swirling cloud of nothingness. Just try it for one minute, knowing you can always come back.

"I am not my name. I am not my appearance. I am not my preferences. I am not my gender. I am not my religion. I am not my social media persona. I am not my job. I am not my relationships. I am not my problems. I am not my...."

Who or what are you when you are not made of things? Who or what are you when no one is looking? Who or what are you when you are not reporting to anyone, judged by anyone, approved or legitimized by anyone, or compared to anyone?

You are, now and always, nothing more or less than a sacred wild self. You are something beyond language. beyond identity, beyond appearances, beyond pleasure and pain. Your name, your labels, your appearance, and your experiences may serve to describe you, but they are not YOU. 

YOU are a very smart animal that wears clothes and labels, but that also hears the call to return to a less contrived and more natural state in which labels, clothes, words, identities, and ego all disappear, replaced by the naked song of your heart. Your sacred wild self clings to the naked song of your heart, the music that only it can hear, even when every other sense and sensibility seems to drop away in times of grief, pain, death.

Your sacred wild self is inconvenient at board meetings. She is a mess at cocktail parties. She gets in trouble on the Internet for having strong opinions and fighting with people. She does not behave herself in church, or in line at the DMV. Your sacred wild self gets you into some problematic situations and warns you against others (whether you listen or not). Your sacred wild self bows to no one. She is more likely to sniff at the hand of a stranger warily than offer hospitality. So often, because she is not socially acceptable, you ignore her or try to keep her quiet, or put her on a leash, or chain her out in the yard when company comes over.

But your sacred wild self is also the most raw, authentic part of you, who is there for you at some of the most extreme moments of your life. She kicks free from negative situations, she gnaws through societal shackles, she growls at those who would cause you harm or hardship, and she sings you to your death with her wyrd, haunting, discordant song.

For everything else you might wear, do, or say, your sacred wild self is who you are when life strips all of those things away. She deserves your respect. She deserves your caution. And she deserves to be nourished by appropriate activities. She loves to be in nature. She loves good food. She loves sex. She loves sleep. She loves nudity. She loves getting her ears scratched. And when she doesn't get these things, she gets irritable, gruff, and bitey.

When was the last time you nourished your sacred, wild self? If it's been a while, how might you nourish her today?

You Are Not Public Property

First, you are not "property" at all.

Doesn't always feel like it, though, does it? You are a social security number, with legal government surveillance attached to you. You are an online stream of data feeding advertisers, with dollar signs attached to you. You are a parent of a toddler or a teen, with endless questions and needs following you around. You are tethered to a device that squawks every time anyone wants to know anything about you or say anything to you, no matter where you go.

It's no wonder why more and more people want to curl up in a ball and hide from the overwhelming visibility and expectations we encounter every day. For some, this is merely inconvenient. For others, it manifests more seriously, as anxiety, depression, or suicidal tendencies, because the desire to escape from constant demand is so strong it begins to affect the mind, body, and hormonal balance. 

Whether it's the ringing of the phone, flip comments on a thoughtful post, the prying of a casual acquaintance, or a pop-up window demanding your information, there are many seeming obstacles to privacy. The only true privacy one has, sometimes, is found exclusively in the depths of one's own mind.

It's a good thing that, not coincidentally, this is where the real you lives.

You are allowed to retreat. You are allowed to keep your own counsel. You are allowed to have opinions that you choose not to share. You are allowed to disagree and walk away quietly. You are allowed to be secretive about precious things so that they do not become soiled by the grabbing hands and suspicious eyes of the world.

When you cultivate space for privacy, for respite, for solitude, and for quiet, it's as if you have stepped into an inner river. From that wellspring flows so much creativity and happiness that eventually something will bubble up over the banks of your mind and flood its way into the world. When it does, it is a gift you can freely give with an open heart.

Iyanifa Ifalade TaShia Asanti says, "Give from the overflow." When you feel depleted, exposed, baked in the harsh light of the public eye, you have no overflow left, nothing to give. Your wellspring dries up in the heat. Do not be afraid to withdraw from everything from time to time and rejuvenate your your own way, at your own pace, on your your terms. Remind yourself, and everyone else, that you belong to YOU, that you are not public property.

Then watch how quickly you begin to flow again.