Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

The Internet Never Forgets… a Lesson Impulsive Pre-Teens Need to Learn Along with Right Speech

December 28, 2020 Comments off

The NYTimes featured an article this morning by Dan Levin that describes the consequences a Mimi Groves, a white female student in Northern Virginia, faced for an impulsive 3 second posting of a racial slur on social media when she was a Freshman in high school. To make a very long story short, Ms. Groves posted a snapchat video in 2016 after passing her driver’s test. Here’s a description:

Ms. Groves… said, “I can drive,” followed by the slur, to a friend on Snapchat in 2016, when she was a freshman and had just gotten her learner’s permit. It later circulated among some students at Heritage High School, which she and (her black classmate Jimmy) Galligan attended.

The post did not cause much a stir at the time… and Mr. Galligan never saw it at the time. But when he DID see it four years later as both he and Ms. Groves were graduating from high school, he felt it was a good example of the kind of racism he had to endure during his four years at Heritage High.

Throughout her high school years Ms. Groves pursued her passions a cheerleader and won a full paid scholarship to the University of Tennessee, whose college cheerleading program is one of the best in the nation. When Ms. Groves weighed in on the killing of George Floyd with a public Instagram post that urged people to “protest, donate, sign a petition, rally, do something” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ms. Groves was stunned to read post later that afternoon from a total stranger questioning her sincerity given her use of “the N-word” in the past. It quickly became clear how the stranger learned of this:

Mr. Galligan, who had waited until Ms. Groves had chosen a college, had publicly posted the video that afternoon. Within hours, it had been shared to Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter, where furious calls mounted for the University of Tennessee to revoke its admission offer.

Ultimately, as Mr. Levin matter-of-factly reports, the University of Tennessee DID revoke its admission offer and instead of attending UT on a full paid scholarship Ms. Groves was attending a nearby community college. And Mr. Galligan?

For his role, Mr. Galligan said he had no regrets. “If I never posted that video, nothing would have ever happened,” he said. And because the internet never forgets, the clip will always be available to watch.

“I’m going to remind myself, you started something,” he said with satisfaction. “You taught someone a lesson.”

In the end, the story has no clear winners but does have a clear message for adolescents: the internet never forgets and words you post cannot be undone by actions you take or apologies you make years later.

As one who worked in the public spotlight for decades, I can recall times when I made statements that “went viral” in pre-internet days and can recall instances where words I said or wrote were taken out of context in an effort to indicate I was either a hypocrite or inconsistent in the way I treated students. Over the course of my career and as a result of hundreds of blog posts I’ve written over nine years, there is an extensive written record of my thoughts and ideas, some of which have changed over time. But I am VERY fortunate that there is no written record of comments I made impulsively to friends, crude and vulgar jokes I laughed at and may have repeated, or the comments I made behind someone’s back. I daresay that anyone who has lived as long as I have would concur with that statement and, like me, is happy there was no way those things could be captured in writing and repeated.

There is a concept in Buddhism called “Right Speech” that urges those practicing the discipline of the Noble Eightfold Path that Wikipedia synthesizes as follows:

Right Speech: no lying, no rude speech, no telling one person what another says about him to cause discord or harm their relationship.

As a former high school disciplinarian in the pre-internet Dark Ages (1974-1980), I can recall many disputes that occurred between students, between students and teachers, between teachers and administrators, between parents and school staff that resulted from the failure to adhere to this principle. In addition to making students aware that the internet never forgets, it would be equally important to make them aware of the concept of Right Speech and call it to their attention whenever they engage in lies, half-truths, rude speech, or any intentional or unintentional instances where their speech creates discord. In a perfect world, disciplinary action would not be necessary… the awareness that their actions resulted in harm would be sufficient punishment in itself and the growth that comes from self-awareness would be a sufficient reward.

1843 Essay Arguing the Against the Value of Mindfulness in a Pandemic Misses on Several Levels

December 4, 2020 Comments off

As one who has practiced mindfulness mediation for 15+ years, the title of Catherine Nixey’s 1843 essay, “Mindfulness is Useless in a Pandemic“, got my attention. After reading her essay, it is evident that her understanding of mindfulness is shaky and her perspective is, consequently, skewed.

In two paragraphs near the middle of the piece, Ms. Nixey acknowledges her lack of clarity about mindfulness:

It isn’t always clear quite what mindfulness is. Despite its promise of mental clarity, its own origins are decidedly foggy. It seems to be a translation of a Buddhist term, sati, which itself is tricky to define – its meaning lies somewhere between memory and consciousness. The English version is neither a very good translation nor a particularly helpful word. The longer you think about it, the stranger the word “mindful” seems: that puzzling “-ful” feels odd when talking about emptying your thoughts. (And is its opposite “mindlessness”?)

If the definition of mindfulness is elusive, the practice is even more so. Its aim is to empty your mind by using your mind; to liberate it by restraining it. It is a puzzling and paradoxical thing, the mental equivalent of climbing up a ladder and removing it at the same time.

While I am not a Dharma teacher, as an avid student of Thich Nhat Hanh I will offer some clarity for Ms. Nixey. First: YES! The Mindlessness IS the opposite of Mindfulness.

The meditative teachings of the east focus on breathing because it is the ultimate example of mindlessness. We seldom think about our breathing. It is a part of our autonomic system that we take for granted yet we cannot live without. When I began to observe breathing while meditating, I began to notice that it varied depending on my state of mind and my physical state. Before I practiced meditation it was obvious that I breathed harder when I ran  or performed physical labor.  It was a revelation when I discovered that my breathing patterns changed when I was sitting still and thinking about the prompts of the meditation leader, more of a revelation when I discovered that my breathing patterns changed when I was sitting still and thinking about whatever came into my mind. But the practical revelation came when I discovered I could use my breathing to control my thinking. When I was confronted with a crisis at work or in a family situation and my mind was racing I could calm it by calming my breath which I now noticed was taken out of its normal, measured pattern because of my overactive mind.

As I read about Buddhism and other eastern traditions, practiced yoga, and attended meetings and retreats with other practitioners, I came to appreciate how much time I spent being mindless and how frequently that mindlessness led to problems. I daresay that every reader of this post has experienced driving from work and arriving home with no clear memory of the trip…. or been traveling with a companion who observes something that does not dent our consciousness. Since practicing mindfulness I find myself observing the many times I do repetitive tasks without paying attention to them— mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, making coffee, walking to the end of the driveway to get the mail.

Ms. Nixey is also right in her observation that mindfulness is a puzzling and paradoxical thing, the mental equivalent of climbing up a ladder and removing it at the same time. But  the value of mindfulness is that it helps us navigate the puzzling and paradoxical world we live in by becoming aware of the most damaging autonomic system of our bodies: our minds. After I began to appreciate how my breathing was linked to my thinking, I began to appreciate how my THINKING was linked to the information I took in and how I processed that information. I was using my thinking to climb up a ladder and simultaneously witnessing how that ladder might be leaning against the wrong building or that some of the rungs of that ladder were missing. I found myself appreciating the bumper sticker that reads: “Don’t Believe Everything You Think”.

After completing the essay, I came to the conclusion that Ms. Nixey’s thinking about the value of mindfulness is skewed by her belief that everyone shares her lifestyle and thinks the way she does. There are millions of Americans who don’t go out for meals at the restaurants she describes or travel the way she does…. and those millions do not feel a loss of yearning— they never HAD that level of yearning for future trips or dinners on the town. Their future was clouded by overdue rent checks, empty cupboards, and anger about the past and their prospects for the future.

Ms. Nixey’s concluding paragraphs actually work against her premise that mindfulness is of no value in a pandemic:

Philosophers and Silicon Valley mindfulness gurus are advocates for the present partly because they tend to have rather a nice one (Seneca was one of the richest men in Rome and regularly threw dinner parties for 1,000 guests). For most people, daily life is more dreary. Would it be so very bad to be absent when stacking the dishwasher, to imagine yourself swimming in the sea off Croatia instead?

When the present is crushing – when lives and economies are being ruined – our imagination offers us a welcome escape. The mind, as Milton put it, is its own place: it can make a hell of heaven, or a heaven of hell. Perhaps we should let it.

As one who loves to plan trips and does the dishes, I find that during the pandemic I’ve had to put my “planning mind” on hold and appreciate the joys of getting every dish wiped clean and placed carefully in the dishwasher or drying rack. I find myself despairing when I think about the late winter camping trips I have on hold to the Southwest and a reprise of our trip from Jasper to Glacier knowing that neither may come to pass. But I can make myself feel a sense of satisfaction for a job well done every time I wash the dishes.

Ms. Nixey’s quote from Milton is spot on… and it echoes a line from one the practice songs from Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s primary monastery in France:

“The realm of the mind is mine, I can choose. I can choose where I want to be. 

Both heaven and hell I know equally well; the choice is up to me”.

Mindfulness will help us choose our perspective: do we want to make ourselves suffer or do we want to accept the world as it is? During the pandemic, the ability to make that choice is more valuable than ever.

Betsy DeVos and the President Support First Amendment Rights to Take a Knee to Pray… But Taking a Knee to Protest?

January 19, 2020 Comments off

USA Today recently published an op ed piece by Betsy DeVos advocating the need to protect the First Amendment rights of children to pray in school. I will leave it to the ACLU and other legal minds more up to date on court cases than I am to refute point for point all the misinformation incorporated in her reasoning, but there are two points that jumped out immediately from reading the piece. First was this, from a list of injustices perpetrated on those seeking to pray in public schools:

In Washington state, longtime high school football coach Joe Kennedy would wait until everyone had cleared the gridiron, take a knee and silently thank God for the opportunity to compete. Coach Kennedy prayed after every game — win or lose — until the school district threw a flag on the praying. Coach Kennedy was suspended and then effectively terminated.

I wish that Ms. DeVos love of the first amendment transferred to those student athletes who knelt symbolically to protest the treatment their forebears’ received as slaves and the continuing discrimination they are receiving when confronted by police.

She also offered these examples of issues the new “guidance” from USDOE will address:

Our new guidance explains that the law requires states to report which of their schools failed to certify that they do not have any policy that denies anyone the right to pray. Students may, for instance, read the Bible during homeroom. They may give thanks to God before lunch or a snack. They can pray a decade or two of the rosary at recess. They can be excused from class to fulfill prayer obligations, such as during Ramadan. Students may organize faith-based clubs as they see fit. Students may invite a local rabbi to preach at an assembly.Teachers can pray in the lounge during a break. And students most certainly may express their faith in homework or other assignments free from discrimination based on religion.

I am confident that schools will also allow Muslims to wear the garb they wish and that Festivus, the High Holy Days of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and the annual atheist days will be recognized.. or at the very least representatives from these groups will be allowed to “preach at an assembly” if invited by students.

From all evidence, in “clarifying” the rights of children to pray in school Betsy DeVos is acting on her religious convictions. Her boss President Trump, on the other hand, is clearly acting on his political convictions as they exist at this point in time, convictions that might change should evangelicals decide he is no longer the candidate they wish to support in the future. in the meantime, students across the country are pawns in religious and political conflicts.

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