To take the sting out of winter, I turn to Sting. It’s kind of homeopathic, an approach to healing that prescribes a remedy to mirror the malady. If you’ve got a sour stomach, then eat something sour, that sort of thing. During the winter season, listening to Sting seems to be some sort of musical homeopathic treatement for the weirdness and wonder of the wide range of the winter mood. Winter is a season of contrasts, when things get dark and contemplative yet at the same time it’s paradoxically festive. One might as easily brood in a corner chair, nursing another glass of cognac, or one might just as easily find that a random group of smiling strangers is standing on the stoop, in the icy cold solely for the purpose of belting out, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
It’s extremely weird, in retrospect, but in my evangelical circles no one ever really talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. Here was one of America’s most profoundly moral truth-tellers, a minister who spoke with authority and rallied the entire black church in the south, a prophetic voice if there ever was one — and he was more or less passed over in my evangelicals circles, or treated by way of a good-natured dismisal, some sort of feel-good tip of the hat to the guy that got America back on track and patched up “the race problem.” But the details of King’s life and struggle and activism and theology? It didn’t happen, not in my circles. This is because for the evangelicals that support Trump, the Gospel is construed solely as an individualistic affair: get things right with God and pick up your Get-Out-of-Hell Free Card.
The North Fork Vipassana Meditation Center is located in the foothills of the Sierras, just south of Yosemite. Not a bad place to do a retreat. I wasn’t, in fact, sitting for this one, though, just serving. 10 straight days in the dish pit, though, was enough to leave me feeling just a bit not my self, which of course is somewhat of the point of the path of the Buddha, the no-self thing, etc. So a service retreat is sort of its own form of growing process. We had some wacky weather: snow, sleet, heavy rains, and even a bit of thunder storm. All that plus a good soaking of sunshine. The place was starting to green up and will soon be popping with spring colors, what with the mix of rain and sunshine.
I grew up Evangelical, in the Nineties. For me this meant being very aware that I was a central player in America’s “culture war,” an epic, ongoing saga, a clash of good and evil, a series of battles against the secular world and the liberals who were actively encouraging sexual liberty, baby killing, the feminizing of men, the gay-ing of American children, and the use of the welfare state to reward sloth and laziness. In a degenerate age, we were on God’s side, doing God’s work. So when it was discovered that Bill Clinton received a blow job (or perhaps more than one) from a busty young intern, we all lined up against him. As an impressionable teenager, I was told that character mattered; it was crucial, I was told, that American leaders be men with integrity — and I was a pretty earnest kid, so I took it all to heart.
I came across this intriguing Sufi story while reading Jenny Diski’s memoir, In Gratitude. Here it is: A Mulla was searching for a lost key under a street light, slowly crawling around. A friend happened by and immediately dropped down on his hands and knees to join the search. “Do you remember where you last saw your key,” the friend asked, after a few minutes. “Of course I do,” replied the Mulla. “Over there,” he said, pointing to a distant, dark side street. “Why are you looking here?” asked the friend, perplexed. “Because there’s so much more light here by the lamp.”
I thought I’d share an excellent interview by the author of my current favorite book, Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. As artificial intelligence becomes more normative, the elimination of low skill labor is in the near future, i.e., machines replacing humans is no longer a question of if but of when. There are many people discussing this and writing books, but few can provide the kind of historical perspective on our species in the way that Yuval Harari does. He also does Vipassana meditation retreats, like the one I just finished. (My retreat was only ten days, his retreats are two months.) If you want a sample of the kinds of things Harari talks about, here’s a great 60 minute interview he did with Ezra Klein: https://art19.com/shows/the-ezra-klein-show/episodes/261857d5-9ee4-43fa-b8a9-afed18e74d4b
There were more farts during group meditations than I can remember from any prior retreat, and from time to time they seemed to form some sort of chain reaction: one person farting, followed by another, then another. A sort of flatulent call-and-response, if you will. Then, on the seventh day, he farted.