Jay Michaelson
Constriction, p. 4

I don't know about that. I don't think we need that pathologization of the oppressor. Even for people who don't have an unusual amount of self-loathing, boundaries around the self arise all the time. Hope Reeves doesn't necessarily hate herself, I don't think. I think she, like most people, has constructed an idea of herself that works, and is too afraid of its extinction to allow anything to disturb it. But until the Hope Reeveses of the world allow themselves to be affected by the aura reading - at least for a little while, before rushing off to the mall - we won't get anywhere. Forget stopping the war against our enemies; we won't stop hating each other. In order to really put up with difference, there has to be genuine openness - not to be convinced by aura readings, which for all I know may be bunk - but to the possibilities of changing the self that exist in every moment, even in the midst of what we might ordinarily prefer to ignore.

3.    Miracles in Crystal

There is a miracle at the core of constriction: that when it is dropped, all the peacefulness that we are striving for - just appears. Right action requires cultivation, and a remembering that I certainly do not yet possess. But the core of goodness - it just is. When I stop thinking and allow myself to be with whatever is when I'm just here, there is no cause for violence. What a miracle - that the natural state of the human being is not to hurt other human beings.

The procedure is very simple to describe: simply let what matters go, and remember where you are: in the presence of Being. Set down these important, self-defining attachments - even matters of ultimate concern, like halacha. Stop thinking, breathe, and remember.

Simple in principle, but very difficult in practice. Even remembering to remember is very hard. Who is able to remember the miraculousness of breath when some asshole is flaming you on an email list? Sometimes I think that enlightenment is less about the attainment of a truth than about the remembering of it. I can be in a state of wonderful equanimity, smiling at the vanity of human striving, yet mindful of the pain it causes, aware of details I ordinarily am too blind to notice. And yet, I quickly cloud over this clarity with stories. Reasons why such-and-such is wrong, and why it matters that they are wrong, and why it matters that I express how wrong they are. I send a hostile email. Thoughts of violence enter my mind. My jaw clenches. Like Hope Reeves, running to the mall, I run to the comforts of angry rhetoric against my backward enemies. I become furious at these half-wits who cause suffering, at their cruelty. I forget what I know. I become part of the problem.

Now, political opinions do not disappear with contemplation, and true openness is not a policy prescription. On the contrary, to achieve it requires the letting go of all ideologies, and a release into pure presence. And yet, it is worth noticing that no contemplatives are conservative. Is this because they take an oath of liberalism together with their vow of silence? No. It is because the aims of conservative politics -- enhancing the self, aggrandizing the self, maximizing the self's pleasure and utility - are hindrances along the contemplative path. You just can't get to emptiness if you are invested in maintaining and comforting the ego. Kindness, on the other hand, flows naturally. Giving opens the channels of the heart, makes it easier to let go. And it is the unforced result of quiet. It's part of the same miracle: if we shut up long enough to listen deeply to whatever is happening right now, we suddenly become very gentle, good people. It really is quite amazing - do you see the miracle? That if we just get ourselves quiet, goodness appears?

The problem is not that we have ideas. The problem is that we take them personally. A debate is not about a word of liturgy; the cops are not about maintaining order in the city. It's about me and my sense of rightness, my sense of place in the world. We mix ideas up with the ego, and the ego wants. It wants to impress, to be large, to be loved, to be right. It is the worst possible thing to mix up with a debate about ideas, which ought to be about non-egoic topics like correctness, prudence, compassion, security, etc.

So it's all the same constriction, and all the same release. Whether it's the Jews, Hope Reeves, or the cops, a closed, hard picture of the self leads to closed, hard behavior. The brutal cops of February 15 had whole discourses of toughness, manliness, and violence that justified their behavior. They weren't animals, and weren't psychotics. They were people engaged in the process of self-definition - a process that in this instance came at the expense of the innocent people who were injured and traumatized. Of course, the protesters' self-definitions were challenged even more radically than the cops'; you might think of yourself as a peaceful person, but it's hard to remain peaceful when someone is beating your friend with a club. As usual, the forces of constriction have the bigger guns.

On the retreat I went on in January, one of my co-retreatants had a large crystal geode that she would sometimes hold during meditation. She left it lying around one time, and out of curiosity I picked it up. I had chuckled a little, inwardly, when I had first seen the thing, crystals being an egregious New Age cliche. But one of my teachers had recently told me that my rational doubts about the New Age - in particular, about the existence of energy channels within the body - were, in a word, "bullshit." So I was gently trying to notice how I judged crazy ideas. I tried to hold the rock with an open mind.

The crystal was a lot heavier than I expected. I found it to be very centering, holding something so old and so beautiful, something that had retained its form for millennia, while I was working with much 'effortless effort' to be still. I held the heavy rock and thought, this rock doesn't give half a damn whether it's a cliché. All the constriction, all the ideas, all the mockery (and self-criticism because of the mockery) - drop it. It's a rock. Get over it.

And then the rock was a miracle.

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March 2003

Readings and Misreadings
Zeek live, March 20 at Makor

surrender monkeys
Michael Shurkin

the reason for
Hal Sirowitz

Jay Michaelson

war and not-peace
Dan Friedman

Only Shelter
Bryn Canner

Abraham Mezrich

josh goes to prague
Josh Ring

David Stromberg

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