I didn’t grow up religious, but I’ve recently fallen in love with saying a little prayer before meals.
Not a prayer, really. Some words of gratitude.
For the food itself. For who picked the blueberries in my oatmeal. For who transported them to the grocery store. For the cows that provided the milk for the yogurt. For the humans who made the first yogurt many years ago. For my friend Andrew who taught me to add honey to oatmeal. …
I don’t consider myself a Buddhist. But I often find myself digging stories about Siddhartha Gautama, the ancient spiritual master known as the Buddha.
One lesser-known story is when Siddhartha almost died from starvation. He’d been wandering the jungle practicing intense forms of meditation and austere living. He tortured his body to try to overcome its desires and needs, eventually limiting his daily diet to a few grains of rice.
“When I touched my belly, I would feel my backbone, and when I went to urinate, I would fall over,” he would later say.
Collapsed near a river at the…
I didn’t need a pandemic to show me how bad I want to be part of something larger than myself. To be part of a real community. To be loved. To belong.
I’ve always felt like that. One of my earliest memories is crying over a broken radio my parents had thrown in the trash. Why can’t it stay with us? I wondered.
Sure, like anyone else I’m often drunk on white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist mythology. Imagining that if I work hard enough, one day I’ll feel like I belong. Pretending I don’t need help. …
I keep forgetting that there’s a pandemic. Not that I need to wear a mask and socially distance. That’s in my bones now. But that I’m starving for human contact. That this isn’t normal.
This forgetting often comes in a familiar form: self-criticism.
I beat myself up inside for feeling lonely during the pandemic. I think things like, I should be handling this better. Or, I should be writing the next great American novel. Or, I shouldn’t be on social media so much.
But tens of millions of years of social connection are wired into my nervous system. So much…
I’ve been trying to outrun loneliness for as long as I can remember.
One summer afternoon when I was seven or eight, I called my parents crying. My grandparents had been busy with their middle-age lives. I’d fed their horse apples and fished in a nearby pond until I couldn’t take it anymore. The loneliness vanished as my dad and little sister pulled into the driveway.
In middle school, I’d play video games with my best friend Matt. We’d stay up as late as we could. Because sleep meant disconnection — and loneliness.
Then I found songs. Lonely, nighttime songs…
Living the good life is simple but extremely difficult.
Simple, as in all it takes — beyond food, water, and shelter— is one thing: self-compassion.
Difficult, because so much is stacked against us being nice to ourselves.
What I mean by “the good life” is what the poet Mary Oliver must’ve meant when she asked, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
The adjectives wild and precious about sum it up. The good life is realizing the seriousness of this present moment. How it never, ever will happen again. Yet being okay with…
My favorite King quote is something he wrote about a year before his death:
“The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.”
That’s powerful stuff coming from a figure whose politics have been defanged and whitewashed into a cartoon of “peace” and “equality.”
I also try to remember that when King was assassinated, he was in Memphis, Tennessee, to support striking Black sanitation workers.
But one of my favorite King ideas is a metaphor he borrowed from a socialist Methodist pastor.
Since the white supremacist attack on the Capitol, I’ve been looking for ways to process what happened.
Turns out, what I needed most was poetry. More on that in a second.
The first helpful thing was realizing that what happened was traumatic.
Even though I’m white and experienced it by doomscrolling social media, it triggered my nervous system. Stress hormones flooded my body. My breath shortened. My muscles clenched for protection.
But there was no one to fight or run from. There was nowhere for the stress to go except gnaw at my insides.
One of my favorite stories comes from spiritual teacher David Deida. At a party, he saw his mentor’s wife enjoying a conversation with an attractive man.
“Aren’t you jealous?” he asked his mentor.
“Yes,” his mentor responded. “But the fact that I’m jealous isn’t bothering me.”
In other words, the mentor was aware of how he was relating to his jealousy. Instead of making the emotion a problem, he was allowing it to just be there.
I love that story because I make everything a problem. When I’m sad, part of me says I should be happy. When I’m exhausted…
I recently turned 35 years old, which feels like a big deal.
That’s the same age Siddhartha Guatama — the ancient spiritual master who inspired Buddhism — became enlightened. He was well on his way to starting a worldwide religion that now has over 500 million followers.
I’ve been wearing sweatpants every day since March. Take that, Siddhartha. One day, I might even make it a whole week without forgetting to floss before bed.
But here’s the counterintuitive thing about the Buddha’s life. The takeaway isn’t to strive and fight and claw your way to enlightenment, the good life. It’s…