Am I Creating Chaos or Community?

by Denise Bike 0 Comments

Back in spring, 2009, I did my first weekend retreat. It was with Gina Sharpe, a wonderful teacher whose home sangha is in New York City. One of the ideas she left me with was the practice of examining an action according to whether it would create chaos or community. Before I speak, will what I say, when I say it, how I say it bring us closer to together or split us further apart? Before I act, will what I do, how I do it, when I do it connect or divide? Am I choosing to operate from my ego or from my essence? Because I do have a choice. Always. It’s a powerful practice in its simplicity—it not only illuminates our space to choose based on projected outcome, but it offers the opportunity to examine the intentions we habitually base our choices on.

Gina’s teaching was six years ago. It popped into my mind last night while watching the debate. Does this statement create community or chaos? I grew increasingly disheartened as I digested the extent to which divisiveness was chosen. It may be argued that the speakers were using it to build their group of “good guys.” I began to question the meaning of community. Does community leave anyone out? Can a true community exclude (at best) and target (at worst) people deemed to not merit membership? Isn’t that chaos masquerading as community? Barry Levin reported on Rachel Maddow last night that the FBI average reported hate crimes were 13 per month for the past five years. This number is up to 33 in recent months. Examining the outcome—a recent increase in violent and terrorizing acts aimed at those who don’t belong—appears to evidence the chaos of cultivating such a ‘community.’

If we wish to choose community over chaos, Gina Sharpe’s elegant model shows us how to examine our choices before making them. By anticipating the outcome, we can choose a different action. By making conscious our unexamined motivations, we free ourselves from them in the future.

Perhaps most poignantly, as I continue this practice, I can recognize more and more what is behind my egoic, chaos-creating intentions and discover all the ways that I am just like those fellow humans on stage last night. Further expanding my view of community.

One Day I Stopped Killing Ants

by Denise Bike 0 Comments
One Day I Stopped Killing Ants

This fall, shortly after I began meditating for one hour each morning and again each night, I stopped wanting to kill things.

That doesn’t sound right.

To clarify, I did not walk the earth for the 47.75 years prior wanting to kill things. A deep blood lust barely contained under the surface. No. What happened was (officer), after I began meditating for two of each day’s waking hours, roughly 1/8th of my conscious day, I became more, well, conscious of what I was doing. One thing I became aware of was how often I killed things. Bugs. I started noticing that without thinking, I would always kill a bug when I saw one near me. This began to seem odd. How was it that my reflexive response to something so small comparatively and so harmless was to end its life? Without thinking. That’s odd, right? When you stop and think about it.

Having stopped to think about it, I decided to stop doing it. At first this proved easier to say than it was to do. In the early days of my commitment, I’d catch myself just after smooshing the ant that was crawling on my computer. Why do ants like my laptop keyboard, I’d wonder, then Doh! I’d realize I’d just killed an ant. Rats! Okay, just recommit, I’d think, and catch yourself next time.

Soon I’d notice when my hand was just about to make contact, and I’d stop it. After a while, I’d catch my arm midair and drop it back to my side. Then I’d recognize the thought about to move the arm into action. Finally, I’d stopped killing things altogether; the insectocide was over. It was miraculous.

Except it wasn’t a miracle, really—this is exactly how mindfulness works. We practice regularly, slowing ourselves down, which empties out the day’s refuse, and when enough refuse has been emptied, old built up gunk can move out, and when enough old built up gunk has moved out, we can pay attention to what we’re doing, and when we pay attention to what we’re doing, we find that there’s space to make choices about our actions, and when we recognize that we have a choice, we decide to do things like stop killing other living beings.

This is how mindfulness works. Sometimes slowly—over a lifetime for some things. Other times in seismic, revelatory aha moments. More often it’s somewhere in between.

This is how mindfulness works.

A Message from the Biology Department Microwave

by Denise Bike 0 Comments

Every Friday afternoon, I meet up with friends from my previous job. We write together. Today, while waiting for the group to convene, I found a microwave in the break room down the hall and warmed up my belated lunch. (We meet at 1; I usually eat beforehand.) It was one of those large, old, clunky microwaves from the 90s. The decrepit kind that usually finds its way into the back alleys of academia.

As I waited, I read some emails. BEEP. I dutifully responded to the sound, walking over to the microwave door and opening it. On the side panel, a little message had replaced the expired minutes in the display. It said, “ENJOY.

What a great idea, I thought smiling. I hadn’t intentionally grabbed my plastic-encased lunch out of the microwave with that explicit intention. But now that you mention it, enjoying my lunch seems like a perfectly good idea. Thank you, microwave. I will now enjoy my lunch. And I did.

The invitation remained with me in the three hours since. When I left the university and merged into traffic, I thought, Why not enjoy this? This was where I was: in my car, in traffic that wasn’t moving very far very fast. It was not in my control to change the traffic into an event more inherently enjoyable. But, what was stopping me from being the source that the enjoyment emanated from? Nothing. I decided to enjoy my time in traffic. And I did.

I went on to enjoy the time I spent driving in circles trying to find a little shop in Hampden. Then, having found the shop, I chose to enjoy the time I spent driving in circles around it trying to find parking. Then, the decision to drive home past three schools consecutively that were all letting out. Enjoy, the microwave entreated, enjoy.

We Can Change for the Better

by Denise Bike 0 Comments
We Can Change for the Better

Back in the 1970s, we used to throw trash out the window of our cars. I’ll say that again. After we ate a cheeseburger (from Duchess) and fries (from McDonald’s across the street), for example, we would ball up the packaging in the bag, roll down the window, and throw the trash out of it. This used to happen. It was difficult at the time to conceive of this no longer being a part of the culture because most of us did not realize that it was. It was just something that happened. Until some great public service campaigns and advocacy efforts pointed out this was a disgusting, thoughtless, dangerous way to treat the world we share. Then we changed. We changed so much that it’s unfathomable that we used to throw garbage out the window of our cars. We really did.

In the 1980s, people laughed at the idea that anyone would collect their metal cans and glass bottles, clean them out, and put them in a special bin to be taken out on trash day. It was unfathomable, “What a waste of time! Who’s going to do that?” In fact, the early programs succeeded by placing a 5-cent charge on all canned and bottled items to incentivize their return to the store, cleaned once emptied, in exchange for the deposit. Those who chose to, returned their recyclables and got back their money. Those who didn’t gave others an opportunity to get the money. Now, we all do it for free as a matter of course. It was not widespread in the 1980s social culture to believe that people would adopt such a new mindset. Again, we changed.

I’ve been thinking about the gun latitude we’ve grown used to and the ways we take gun violence for granted. We are approaching a sense of normalcy around daily gun violence being the way things are now, which is transforming into an assumption that this is the way things have always been. Leading to the unconscious conclusion that this is the way things have to be. Over time, we’ve grown to believe that altering a time-honored practice is an affront simply because it would alter a time-honored practice. Rational gun control laws violate this heuristic.

But history shows that we can make changes in the conventions we’ve unconsciously adopted. We can adopt new ways. And things can become better for everyone. And within a decade or so we don’t even remember how unfathomable things used to be. Did I mention that we used to throw our garbage out the car window?

Everything We Do Counts

by Denise Bike 2 Comments
Everything We Do Counts

Every week, I get an email containing a quote from one of Pema Chodron’s books. It’s called “Heart Advice.” The last part of this week’s quote said,

“Never underestimate the power of compassionately recognizing what’s going on.”

In the full quote, Pema reminds us that being aware in small moments, in small ways, counts. I love hearing this. It’s so easy for the mind to rush to judgment about all the ways—large and small—that I’m not meeting my ideal image of self. As meditator. Why was my mind so distracted for most of this morning’s meditation? As friend. Did I make clear how proud I am of the big steps my friend’s taking in her life? As therapist. Is there more I can be doing for my clients? As human. How can I live in such a world and be so ineffectual at helping improve it during this crucial time in our history?

The mind thinks. The mind judges. That’s its job. My job is to discern what content I choose to use and how I choose to use it.

  • As meditator. Yes, my mind was distracted. And, I still meditated for an hour. I show up at the cushion every morning. This counts.
  • As friend. My worry about expressing my feelings with this friend shows how much I care for her. We’ve known each other a long time. Even if I did not fully communicate to her today, she knows I am her cheerleader. This counts.
  • As therapist. I can always be doing more to serve. And I do enough. I am thoughtful and caring. I express this directly and indirectly in the work I do. This counts.
  • As human. I am one person. I am doing my internal work (meditation, contemplative practice, etc.). I am bringing that work out into the world in the way I treat others, in the opinions I share, in the ways I welcome others’ opinions. This counts.

As someone dedicated to personal growth and development, I’m wont to translate the mind’s opinion into fact. Then I am further inclined to translate its critique into criticism. Pema’s quote for the week ended with an important reminder. The things I am already doing are enough. If I choose to do more and different things in the future, those opportunities will be there. When I do them, they, too, will be enough. Everything we do counts.