Sunday, November 27, 2016

Mindful of what?

"Please don't let your suffering make you an idiot." So the moderator of the small sitting group I join monthly advised us to regard this month's reactions to the election and its many discontents. He originally felt this in a harsher way, as in: "Why do you let your suffering make you an idiot?" But on reflection, always advisable, he revised his reaction. I think this is wise advice for us right now.

In an essay I failed to find online after reading the print version in the paper (increasingly the case) in last week's NYT Sunday Review, the writer counseled a balance between the two responses she saw to the results of the popular vote vs. the Electoral College. Some panicked. (I count my wife and it seems all of her friends among them.) Some took a deep breath. (Me, but it nearly nobody else at least on my FB feed, the echo chamber I reside. Work-talk on this topic, at my conservative-tilting institution where many vets of all backgrounds tend to tilt that way, perhaps counter our stereotype that the "non-white" immigrants and their offspring do lean in towards Her and her Beltway ilk. Vets or not, many whom I teach suspect Dems and their patronizing air.) 

Ruth Whippman, in a NYT entry today, suggests not to be in the moment, for once, as one panacea. Mindfulness gets preached as the cure-all by those able, as I see it, to take therapy at Esalen taught by fellow therapists. Most of us find our time and money constrained for such offerings. I confess my own bafflement after having received a catalogue of courses at that Big Sur bastion of the counterculture, intended for my tattooed and lithe neighbor, nearly half my age. It read like a parody.

Anyway, Whippman notes that this touted mindfulness "is a philosophy likely to be more rewarding for those whose lives contain more privileged moments than grinding, humiliating or exhausting ones. Those for whom a given moment is more likely to be 'sun-dappled yoga pose' than 'hour 11 manning the deep-fat fryer.' My first job, for $2.35 an hour in cash, was the latter, and I recall the smell of the batter and the burns from the grease when I bicycled home from Pioneer Chicken nightly.

There's a quick backlash in the New York Times type of media against any sympathy for "my" white working class, or as in the students I teach, the 30% of Latinos or Asians who nationally voted for Him. Yes, part of the left's rage directed at those who chose Him over Her may be fueled, as my wife and all of her friends insist, by bigotry. But it's driven too by fear of impermanence, to use the Buddhist critique. When a piddling contract gig gets counted by the White House among the touted total, it does not equate with the blue-collar employment formerly secured by my family's own experience, with benefits, decent if not great wages, and maybe even a pension. Instead, we're told to rent our spare rooms, drive for Uber, deliver for Smartcart, and for whatever medical care we need, to scrounge for scraps from an increasingly fraught Obamacare exchange with high premiums and low options. Immigration is urged as the remedy for an aging population, as if housing, traffic, hospitals and schools will all bounce back and respond to demographic and class-based pressures handsomely.

I differ as I did at the Thanksgiving table. My friends and family insisted that this is "not the time" for any challenge to Her Party, and that as before, "we" had to join Her and her colleagues in opposing Him. I think of Fidel Castro's savvy manipulation. When speaking, he pretended to affirm direct democracy. But he knew what he wanted to push over on the pueblo before he took the stand for a few hours of propaganda. He, however, acted as if he bowed to the will of the people, who by the end of his harangues, pressed on their Beloved Leader the very actions he himself had vowed to implement. Increasingly, my mistrust in leaders and parties and representatives grows. The system itself has been exposed as rotten, yet again, all around me, my friends and family press for only Her.

So, I join some who veer between retreating from the petulant fray and immersing myself in the fret. The distance afforded by reminders of the long haul, the danger of putting all of our trust or fury in those appointed not by us but by the deep state or shadow government, and the need for self-control rather than lashing out and spewing hurt is essential. Add to that a sober acceptance, as my friend from Derry and his Liverpool Irish Labour-socialist partner reminded us at Thanksgiving, of loss.

We Americans are not as used to defeat as our restive Irish/British counterparts. Inward criticism may not rest well with the many who seethe. But marches and demands even before the "leader" enters office appear to press prematurely the expectations of those on the defeated side. The 47% were mocked in the previous campaign, and now the 53% are. A few of us, additionally, who refused to vote for either "major candidate" (as always) are also indicted as irresponsible for our lack of pragmatism over principle. Unhappy as I am with our political capitulation and its concomitant economic cronyism, I do regard my right to "mind" my conscience, which as before is at peace, at least, amidst the frantic coverage of manufactured consent, group-think, and the quarrels it sparks.

Now, I know that meditation may feel a cop-out, when there's so much to do. When has there not been? Christ's rejoinder to Martha as she hurried about to serve him while he chatted with her sister Mary, sounds unfair to me. Few can afford the luxury of the contemplative pursuit as opposed to the active demands life commands. Yet, without time out, we wither, and we like the fig tree may die out.

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