How Compassion Fuels the Resistance

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Edu Bayer for The New York Times, August 14 2017

I don’t believe it could possibly be true, what with the Muslim ban, withdrawal from the Paris Accord, Russia, and the daily, inflammatory, bald-faced lies (etc, etc, etc), but Trump’s remarks at yesterday’s press conference have made me feel sicker and more pessimistic about the future than since the beginning of his term. This is the reason for my fear, anger, and tears on election night last year. This moment, right here, caught in the middle of Civil War II and WWIII.

Trump was right in one respect yesterday when he said that there are two sides to a story. There is a story of hatred and bigotry on one side and there is a story of fierce compassion and fighting against injustice on the other. But even those of us on the right side, whose hearts have been broken over and over again, we think: how could we possibly cultivate compassionate when we feel so sad and angry? And should we even?

“So many times people have approached me and said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t know about developing greater love and compassion. Surely that will consign me to only saying ‘yes’/ refusing to take a stand/ letting other people be treated unjustly/ being a wimp.'”

So how do we deal with our outrage? It is indeed natural to be outraged in the face of injustice or cruelty. But when anger becomes a steady presence, it narrows our options, perceptions and possibilities. It burns us up. Unfortunately, many of us are taught to see non-aggression, and the resistance to us-vs.-them thinking, as passivity, weakness, or delusional. In fact, it is an act of courage to step outside our familiar reaction patterns to discover approaches that can shift the dynamic we face.

It’s possible to feel outrage when it arises without it becoming our overriding motivation for seeking change. We can learn the art of fierce compassion — redefining strength, deconstructing isolation and renewing a sense of community, practicing letting go of rigid us-vs.-them thinking — while cultivating power and clarity in response to difficult situations. Love and compassion don’t at all have to make us weak, or lead us to losing discernment and vision. We just have to learn how to find them. And see, in truth, what they bring us.

Sharon Salzberg

If this is strikes a chord, then please read this talk from Sharon and Rev. angel Kyoda williams, A Guide for Spiritual Activists

As for the other side (the side of racist Nazi shitheads, that is), one tenet of the Buddhist teaching on anger is that it is a symptom of weakness and, actually, stupidity (they say “lack of awareness,” but I’m calling a spade a fucking spade).

“If there are sound reasons or bases for the points you demand, then there is no need to use violence. On the other hand, when there is no sound reason that concessions should be made to you but mainly your own desire, then reason cannot work and you have to rely on force. Thus, using force is not a sign of strength but rather a sign of weakness. Even in daily human contact, if we talk seriously, using reasons, there is no need to feel anger. We can argue the points. When we fail to prove with reason, then anger comes. When reason ends, then anger begins. Therefore, anger is a sign of weakness.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I have to believe that compassion is what fuels the resistance. It gives us the strength to defend what is right. It unites us. It inspires us into action and to stand up for each other, for our friends and neighbors, and also for those who seem may different from us on the surface, but who we know have the same desires as we do: to lead lives free from danger, suffering, pain, and struggle.

Curating the Minimalist’s Closet

“Make things as simple as possible but no simpler.”

Albert Einstein.

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The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II by Frank Stella, 1959.

While I don’t consider myself a minimalist in any profound sense of the word, at times I do aspire to certain qualities of the movement. One reason might just be the pure exposure to this lifestyle trend, which nowadays pervades social media, wellness blogs, and the New York Times Best Seller list.

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Twin by Robert Ryman, 1966.

But although minimalism is surely a passing fad for many internet bandwagoners, lesser cynics argue that the growing movement indicates a response to a changing world that is increasingly more excessive, expensive, and precarious to navigate. Literal interpretations that result in neutral palettes and trips to goodwill, while often worthy efforts, only scratch the surface. For those who immerse themselves in this way of life, minimalism represents the manifestation of a broader vision that focuses on allowing material possessions to hold less power over our lives.

“That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with owning material possessions. Today’s problem seems to be the meaning we assign to our stuff: we tend to give too much meaning to our things, often forsaking our health, our relationships, our passions, our personal growth, and our desire to contribute beyond ourselves.

Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

– Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus aka The Minimalists

More than ever, what we choose to buy and own says more about how we live, what we care about, who we are and who we want to become.

One offshoots that I’ve somewhat successfully incorporated into my life is the minimalist closet.

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My capsule wardrobe from Spring 2016.

Advocates of the minimal wardrobes point to many BENEFITS that result from a smaller, more composed collection of clothing:

  • A smaller environmental footprint: Buying new stuff means making new stuff means more miles for transportation and shipping, manufacturing, and overall energy use. By consuming less you make less impact on the earth’s natural resources. Emphasizing quality over quantity helps us avoid fast-fashion pieces that can wear out quickly.
  • A healthier checking account: Because you’ve made such conscious choices concerning how to organize what you wear, you’re less likely to seek therapy through retail and purchase new items impulsively.
  • A better sense of personal style: Limiting your options and eliminating the noise from your closet helps cultivate and embrace what you like to wear and what looks and feels good.
  • More time: Minimalist dressers spend less energy worrying about what to wear and have more time to pursue, discover, and enjoy the things that are important to them.
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Yayoi Kusama.

A minimalist wardrobe can take many forms, and really, there are no hard and fast rules. But a few STRATEGIES have become particularly popular for those who want to mindfully pare down:

  • The “Capsule”: A seasonally curated collection of anywhere between 30-40 items rotated and updated 2 to 4 times per year. For inspiration try: Un-Fancy, Be More With Less
  • The “French Five Piece Wardrobe”: A collection of staples, kept fresh with the addition of 5 new items purchased bi-yearly. The idea here is to punch up a classic look by purchasing seasonal clothes that you love at the best quality you can afford. See it in action at: daarboven, WhoWhatWear
  • The “Uniform”: Iconic, ambitious, confident and bold. Steve Jobs in an Issey Miyake black mock turtleneck. Tom Wolfe’s head-turning white suit. Ironically, a surprising number of top fashion designers and editors, whose businesses depend on evolving trends, rely on wardrobes based in repetition (among these: Vogue’s Grace Coddington and Anna Wintour, Vera Wang, Karl Lagerfeld, and Michael Kors). Call it the epitome of style for those fiercely independent and prone to decision fatigue. And you can, too: Writer Alice Gregory on her turtlenecks and matchstick jeans, Matilda Kahl, Art Director, on how she created an office uniform of white shirts and black pants
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Author Fran Lebowitz’s daily outfit consists of a jacket, men’s shirt with cufflinks, Levi’s jeans, cowboy boots, two gold rings, and tortoiseshell glasses.

Some of us enjoy playing with our style while others find it anxiety-inducing and/or tedious. But for both camps, minimalism can help improve the experience of getting dressed. A super important thing to note from The Blissful Mind:

“Decluttering your home and closet doesn’t make you a minimalist. After all, you could declutter everything only to replace it with new stuff.”

Ultimately, whether diving head first into a lifetime of basic black, or just experimenting with wearing and purchasing fewer items for a season, these exercises should inspire us to do more with what we have and think more carefully about the relationship we have with our material possessions.

 

Is Running a Kind of Meditation? (Part I)

“I’m a lover of reality. When I argue with What Is, I lose, but only 100% of the time.”

Byron Katie.

A good portion of my previous post dealt with my current relationship with running. Although I’m devoting less of my time to this particular hobby lately, I don’t see it as taking a back seat or being put on hold. Rather, running is converging into a bigger picture of health and balance that is more in-the-moment but maybe also more sustainable. This picture has been heavily anchored by mindfulness practices, which are beginning to permeate many areas of my life including running.

Both running and mindfulness meditation could be described as repetitive in nature, solitary in practice, and often challenging to perform and maintain. Running Meditators (and Meditating Runners) acknowledge the overlapping qualities of these activities to amplify the benefits inherent in both. It’s also possible (but not always the case, as you’ll read below) to meditate on the run.

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“While there’s much to gain from performing the physical activity, there’s a lot we’re missing out on when we slip into a semi-conscious state when doing the exercise. It’s pretty normal for the mind to wander when you’re running, regardless of whether the thoughts are related to the running itself, or something quite separate. But the only way to ensure that you’re performing to the very best of your ability, is to leave the thinking behind and allow the body and mind to work together with a combined physical and mental focus.”

Via The Huffington Post / Headspace App

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“Meditating before running could change the brain in ways that are more beneficial for mental health than practicing either of those activities alone…”

A study published in April 2016 found that depressed subjects who practiced meditation followed by a 30 minute run, showed a significant change in brain activity and a 40 percent reduction in symptoms after just 8 weeks.

Via The New York Times

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“Running and meditation are very personal activities. Therefore they are lonely. This loneliness is one of their best qualities because it strengthens our incentive to motivate ourselves.”

“If we do not push ourselves enough, we do not grow, but if we push ourselves too much, we regress. What is enough will change, depending on where we are and what we are doing. In that sense, the present moment is always some kind of beginning.”

From Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham

So we notice that running and meditation have lots of similarities and further, a symbiotic relationship. Meditation can help a runner’s performance, and physical activity can also have substantial benefit for a meditator. BUT – Is running meditation?

On a recent episode of the wonderful podcast “10% Happier with Dan Harris,” Dan and ultra-endurance athlete Rich Roll discuss the difference between seated meditation and sports or other recreation:

Rich: “For many years as an ultra endurance athlete, like, I spent a lot of time in solitude training … and there’s certainly an active meditation component to that … and for many years I sort of said, well, that’s my meditation… but…

‘…There is something to a structured, formalized meditation practice that is qualitatively different from what you’re experiencing when you’re training.”

Dan: “One [of the reasons people give for not meditating] is: “‘Blank‘ is my meditation…. Running is my meditation. Gardening is my meditation. Petting my dog is my meditation.’ .. And my answer to that is: maybe. Depends on how you’re doing it. Like, if you run the way I run, which is that you’re rehearsing all the stuff you’re going to stay to your boss, or you’re listening to a podcast or listening to music, that is not meditation. If you are running and your headphones are out and you’re feeling your footfalls, you’re feeling the wind on your face, you’re feeling the motion of your body, and then every time you get distracted you start again – well then you’re meditating.”

How and why should we meditate while running? In part Part II of this post we’ll explore running meditation in practice and also look at the question “Should I meditate while running?”

 

 

 

In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.

Albert Camus.

Big News! Summer is not yet over! Yet alas it’s true that time has passed and I’ve not been so interested in shouting from the blogtops since Spring. But besides that there is a sliver of August left for camping and running and drinking in the outside evening light.

So. The world relentlessly turns and we move forward, never backwards! In spite of it, allow me to reflect on the previous six months:

Running

Not ideal training, but at least relatively consistent. After setting my half PR at ORF In March, my plan was to shoot for a quick-turnaround near-or-sub 1:50 half followed by a strong fall marathon.

Golden Gate Bridge Warming Hut

if only every run could end with sandwiches at the warming hut.

I won’t bore anybody (most importantly myself) by droning over all the details, but suffice it to say that the execution of this plan has been a whirlwind of lottery denials and waning motivation and false starts. And the humidity, my god the humidity.

But more than that, I’m learning a tough yet valuable lesson about the role of stress in one’s personal life and how this can, actually, have a markedly negative impact on performance. I guess this seems pretty obvious, but I feel like we often look to running as our “therapy” – a deep tissue massage for the psyche to use as directed for problem solving, de-compression, and otherwise general monkey mind relief. In the past few months it’s proved frustratingly opposite for me, culminating in a not quite disastrous but certainly very unpleasant experience at the San Francisco Marathon 2nd half.

It wasn't all bad, thought. Any day that ends with Dungeness Crab is a worthy 24 hours.

It wasn’t all bad, tho. Any day that includes Dungeness Crab is a worthy 24 hours.

As such, I’ve downgraded from an October full to an October half, and steady but not wanting eyes towards CIM in December. Either way, I’m letting go of my previously tight grip on a 2015 marathon finish.

In addition to the half in SF I did Bay to Breakers, a Brazen 10k in Point Pinole, and a 4th of July 5k in Concord. Between now and Detroit (October 18) I may try to fit in a 10k. Maybe DSE Oyster Point, where I ran a surprisingly good time last September at what is still my only 10k road race.

Reading

My biggest success of the year has been reading more. Between kindle, paper, and audible, 2015 has been my most prolific stretch probably since high school. I initially wondered how I’d fit in the time to complete just 1 book a month, but I’ve been able to finish 18 and counting since March. And as such I’m smarter, richer, and more beautiful. The rumors are true, folks. Reading is sexy. And of course I’m tracking it all with a super sophisticated spreadsheet modeled closely after this one from Amanda Nelson at Book Riot. (Don’t ask me about goodreads. I don’t like it. I don’t know why…)

Meditating

After a million years of telling myself to do this, I have finally made major headway towards developing a consistent mindfulness meditation practice. Thanks to Andy Puddicombe and Headspace.

This light, friendly approach alleviates some of my previous anxiety and intimidation around seated meditation. And the structure of the “Foundation” series really makes sense to me and helps reinforce the daily habit.

Anyway, speaking of consistency, we shall see if training recaps resume on this here blog. The fantasy is to really do them in hopes of sparking some next-level shit in the Fall. But priority #1 is to keep it light, and this means refraining from putting undue pressure on myself. Because shit does indeed go down… why pile on more of the weight?

Namaste, bitches!

“Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.”

Thich Nhat Hanh.

After several weeks of mostly consistent running, I’m looking forward to my first big race of the year — the half distance at Sunday’s Oakland Running Festival. As usual, it’s 6 days out and I’m trying to determine the line between stupid and lazy. How to keep one’s head on straight while making space for potential magic? Some days I imagine PR-smashing victories while other times a heaving 2 hour finish sounds massively lucky. Just your ordinary pre-race psycho-jitterbugging.

In the meantime I play and work, I read and eat. With regards to the last two, I’m taking inspiration from Thich Nhat Hanh’s “How to Eat,” purchased from Pilgrim’s Way Book Shop in lovely Carmel-by-the-Sea this weekend.

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— Do you delight in meditations on a string bean?

— Believe a cup of tea contains the universe?

— Invite space for mindfulness when table setting and/or dishwashing?

Well then this one’s for us, ladies and gents.

In fact Sunday loops around Lake Merced followed by a nap and house cleaning listening to audiobooks and preparing a butterflied trout with a roasted crispy-skinned sweet potato and pot de creme for dessert might be just everything…

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Petit Pot made in Oakland, found at Potrero Whole Foods, and consumed by me in my apartment. How adorable and delicious is this packaging?

…Not to mention that one-night-only Carmel vacationette, perfect and sweet as a little jar of chocolate.

Heartbreakingly gorgeous 4 miles this morning! #seenonmyrun

A post shared by Kathryn Bodle (@nochickens) on

Well, I guess it was a good weekend!

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Despite a dull lingering hum from the hammond organ and salty dogs at the Royal Cuckoo, last Saturday morning I emerged from my front door at a quarter-to-eight to take a very dirty dog for a very necessary haircut. A strawberry smoothie, a stroll around Precita Park, a trek up and down the hill to the Noe Valley farmer’s market (bounty: kale, parsley, summer squash, rapini, lavender, sunflowers), and a very strong cup of Philz later (Greater Alarm blend) — I felt it. Summer. Arrived.

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Here are a few to-dos for my summer vacation (note: summer is always a vacation, even if we’re still nine-to-fiving):

Finish FIVE Books Since purchasing an iPad, reading has become a rare event. When I do select from the bookshelf or Kindle, it’s usually nutrition, running, or cooking-related, so I’m focusing on fiction. Novels and short stories kind of exercise the brain creatively in a way that nonfiction doesn’t, as corroborated by this article from the Boston Globe:

“The emerging science of story suggests that fiction is good for more than kicks. By enhancing empathy, fiction reduces social friction. At the same time, story exerts a kind of magnetic force, drawing us together around common values. In other words, most fiction, even the trashy stuff, appears to be in the public interest after all.”

Hoping the “magnetic forces” not only feed my soul but also improve my sleep (by doing away with the evil blue light of the device screen). I’m only almost finished with book #1 (The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham), so I need to get cracking. What can I say? I was derailed by OITNB.

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Write 3x/week “Writing” is a common excerpt from my Gratitude Journal. I’m attempting two blog posts and one free-writing or exercise. Maybe a few creative nonfiction prompts from Poets and Writers?

One getaway / month (June-August) With Tahoe in June, and a planned vacation mid-August, that leaves a July excursion. I’m itching for a campout, but if it must be an overnight at a B&B in Marin, well then, I guess that’s life. 😉

Foam roll & Yoga Forming healthy habits for increased speed sessions and mileage building later this summer/fall by developing a short home yoga practice (once/week in addition to my twice weekly classes), using my “Stick” after every run, and epsom salt bath and foam rolling sessions on Monday nights.

Meditation Just 15 minutes several times a week. Psychology Today discourages meditation before bedtime, which would actually be my preferred window. But after work or running sound nice too. This goal also involves exploring various mindfulness and meditation apps.

Practice happiness Continue writing in my gratitude journal. Take deep breaths. Smile. Don’t hold onto things too tightly. Take myself less seriously. Wake up early and enjoy the quiet times.

Happy Summer 2014!

(Photo by Max Wanger)

“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.”

Allen Ginsberg.

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Negative thoughts approach carefully, though the impact sudden. They descend like a cavernous and starless sky. Behind you, a lovely late afternoon creeps towards a warm early-evening glow, sinking into a luminous and melancholy indigo that fades so, so gently. Once you realize it’s come, you’re not sure how long you’ve been there. Encased in a void. Air escaping from the room. You search even to see your own hands in the dark.

How could you stop the sun from falling? No one can defeat darkness. These nights are inevitable and the chatter is forever. But suffering we know’s a choice. The voices needn’t carry.

I have lately put almost all my energy and attention into physical pursuits, naively expecting these efforts to naturally build a strong mind. Now it’s shocking to discover, possibly, my emotions more fragile than ever. Of course we can achieve some kind of clarity by challenging our bodies, and these things can be applied inward. But just like meditating won’t create muscle, running or lifting or an expertly-executed chaturanga won’t make a peaceful and sturdy mind.

Today I began with gratitude. Focusing on what’s good, each today. Now it’s Wednesday. I ran and walked. I made breakfast. There was no shouting. I made a long to-do list that is much shorter now.

Madness persists. Patience takes practice. Work must be done to understand these fears, not just flailing in the dark to fruitlessly chase them away. The moon is always above us, even if we can’t see it. The light is coming.