The Disease of Delegitimization

My response too.

The Disease of Delegitimization
Extremism in the imagined defense of democracy is no virtue.
By Damir Marusic

~~~~~

If we are going to use the metaphor of Disease, about the body politic. Then let’s go all the way.

Does the Covid–19 virus have agency? Can the alcoholic overcome drinking by will alone? Will wearing a T-shirt that says “Fuck Cancer”, cure the cancer patient?

Over and over humans make the category error, this problem is somebody’s fault. We give agency to events, beliefs, and random occurrences. This is universal, a feature, not a bug of human culture. Of course the far left demonizes Trumpisam, of course the far right decries fake news. We be the humans.

What is at stake here and now is not overcoming our cognitive biases of ascribing agency. But the very real lack of admitting we have a problem. So many of the problems we face today, are what Tim Morton calls “Hyper Objects”. These “are massively distributed in time and space to the extent that their totality cannot be realized in any particular local manifestation”. Thus not solvable by any historical political mechanism.

Yes the body politic is sick, suffering, and perhaps splintering. Yet we are not at the end of history, we are at the birth of some new form of governing. Yet unknown. Not some utopian socialist collective, nor an authoritarian dictatorship. A messy, painful, birth of acceptance, and hard work.

The Howling Existential Smoothie

The Howling Existential Smoothie.

Sitting at home doomscrolling the news of pandemics, lockdowns, babies in cages, black folk shot in the back for no reason, and the slow but inevitable destruction of the habitable planet. Watching 30% of the nation cheer this destruction on. One can scream, cry, and yell until you just can’t do that anymore. Or, you can bake bread, sew masks, watch everything on Netflix, and pretend to get on with it. Becoming ever more creative about the things you can put in a blender and make a smoothie with.

Yet, yet, here is the rub. It’s still there. That feeling. The small quiet hum of a feeling that no matter what you do, and somedays you do a lot, it is never going to make a difference. You feel doomed. Caught in a trap, unable to move. While that hum of dread eats away at your brain. So you redouble your efforts, try on a new skill that might lead to change. Make new contacts. Build new cohorts organized around justice and mutual aid.

This lifts your sprits, allows for more life in your life. Grants you a temporary reprieve from the existential hum. Things are looking a bit better, till you accidentally catch the news, and find that 17 new fucked up things just happened. “Shit”, you say to the mirror, “is this a cycle, repeating over and over”? One week filled with hope and struggle, and the next back into the howling existential dread.

You ask the elderly neighbor woman about this, and she just chuckles while hanging her laundry on the line. “Honey, don’t you pay no mind to all that.” and then just reaches for more wet clothes. So you try again to just get on with it. Ignoring the fact that your brain is rotting, that you feel stupider everyday. Lying awake at night thinking of tumors, and disability.

~~~~~~~

In the early days of smoothie making you started with fresh fruit and a bit of ice cream. Experimenting you moved onto vegetables and exotic juices. Hunting down recipes online, and talking to health freaks. Many of these concoctions were hideous, and undrinkable. Some felt nourishing and tasted pretty good.
This simple task, of throwing random foods into a machine that smashes, and then liquefies, was so satisfying, with its noise, and motion. You came to look forward to these acts of both reductionism and nutrition.

Will it blend? Of course. Came the answer. This was not baking the perfect sourdough bread. This was not even an attempt to improve your health, this was operating a machine whose only job was to inflict massive punishment to affect a phase change. Solid to liquid. Whole to flowing. While walking the floor of the supermarket, your thought is, what can I jam into the blender with this, that would in its destruction be satisfying.

~~~~~~

Until recently you had been too busy with life, to think much about how you went about copping with your emotions. They were just there, adding richness, and flavor to your life. Like the musical score to a movie. But now they had become a hindrance. These emotional binges, like sitting on a wrecking ball, a wildly swinging pendulum between numbing terror, and the gratitude of helping in some small way another human. There seemed no way to stop this, to just rest.
That is what you crave, rest. To turn down the volume from 11 to about 3.

So you take an internet break, for 2 weeks, no television, no web browsing, no news anywhere. You just stop and get off the train. At first this makes sense, and after the nervousness of feeling left out fades. It is a relief. Then one day while reading that novel you always meant to read. It hits you. The howling existential hum is back. It never left, and because you aren’t masking it with news, it is louder and more terrorizing.

~~~~~~

In advanced smoothie making, although anything will blend, it is the only the precise mixture of ingredients, that make a really good smoothie. One that is both drinkable, and nutritious. That the most enjoyable smoothie is greater than the sum of its parts. A great smoothie is an emergent property. One with a quality that is hard to predict, just from its constituent parts.

~~~~~~

In your desperation, you read up on happiness, and find a whole lot of jargon, and bullshit. You have all the ingredients for happiness. Yet it is not blending together. Most days you are able to function, go about the shopping, cleaning, cooking, and doing the good work you expect of yourself. The background hum is always there, yet now you know it won’t kill you. This is an important first step to understand that the howling existential dread, is survivable.

In talking to close friends, you find that you are not alone in this hyper emotional state. Many are feeling overwhelmed, and ashamed to admit that they are also consumed and at the edge of control. Most are into the blaming phase of grief, “It is the media, and social networks.” Or “It is the vast inequality.” Even “Gaia is sick, and trying to exterminate humans.” None of these excuses rings true to you. So you seek an answer in other directions.

~~~~~~

You are now receiving praise for you smoothies. You have settled into a workman like routine. Limiting the recipes to a dozen or so sure hits. Somedays tweaking the flavors slightly, but staying on a balance between sweetness and bitterness. As this routine deepens, you are surprised to find brief moments, as you hold down the #4 button of the blender, completely unaffected by the mental hum of dread. If you notice, yes, it is still there, but seamanly at a large distance. There’s no epiphany in this. This is just you making smoothies.

~~~~~~

Over the months you have been struggling with this. All the mood swings. All the self examination. The search for a fix. The suffering of the suffering. The blame, and the demand for a rational explanation. All of this. The howling existential dread has not gone away. But an odd thing has happened, you longer fear it, no longer suffer it. It is still very unpleasant. It can almost close down your heart, but not quite. You do not run from it, nor embrace it, wallowing.

By inviting the hum inside to have tea. It becomes less and less. It is not exactly a friend but it is not an enemy either. You have stoped trying to defeat it.
You have noticed that like smoothies, this hum can have different flavors, sometimes sharp and nasty, other times dull and boring. You would not have known this if you had continued to push it away.

~~~~~~

You’re now renowned for your smoothies, Friends and family ask each visit for one. You are glad to provide. Happy in smashing up stuff with your finger pressed hard on the #4 button of the blender. The rough noise clears your head. That moment when you serve others, and their faces light up.

“We Be The Humans”

The law of polarity

The law of Polarity:

The Law of polarity is to understand that every problem, regardless of the complexity has a solution within itself.

From the “Heart Sutra”

“Here, Shariputra, form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form, the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness.”

First, “Emptiness” and “Form” in the Buddhist context are quite different than in most other contexts.

Emptiness: is the quality of insubstantiality, impermanence, indistinctness, discontinuity, and ambiguity.

Form: is the quality of solidity, permanence, separateness, continuity, and definition.

Habitually, we adhere to form and reject emptiness. We experience the world as having better and worse components. We attempt to collect and consume that which we see as better, and to rid ourselves of that which we take to be worse. We try to manipulate and stabilize our situations using conceptual trial-and-error understandings of cause and effect. This life strategy intermittently fails due to erratic intrusions of emptiness. Things we thought were objectively desirable prove ambiguous in their desirability. They mutate in terms of what they mean to us. Undesirable situations and phenomena cannot be entirely eliminated, because they are not separate from us.

Often our actions do not have the effects we expect. Just as we think we have everything under control, on the verge of achieving lasting happiness, some unexpected problem arises and wrecks our plans. We experience emptiness as confusion, ambivalence, ambiguity, chaos, termination, insecurity, disarray, loss, disintegration, inexplicable anxiety, loss of direction, and apparent misfortune.

We only fear emptiness because we imagine a characteristic form will be lost, we fear forever. We cling to form as security because form temporarily allows us to pretend that it is not also empty. Dissatisfaction is created by continual bids to secure forms, which subsequently prove to be empty of security. Dissatisfaction is also created by continual bids to dissolve insecurities which subsequently prove indissoluble. It is not possible to find anything other than this. Emptiness and form always define each other, as each other.

Form can be understood as ‘existence’ and emptiness as ‘non-existence’. Emptiness however, is not merely ‘nothing’. Emptiness need not be experienced negatively. Emptiness is the arena in which everything occurs. It is the creative space in which form comes into being. Form can only exist because of emptiness; which is why emptiness is often referred to as ‘the great mother’ or ‘the womb of potentiality’.

Some words which value emptiness positively are: freedom, spontaneity, opportunity, relaxation, serendipity, inspiration, potential, humor, creativity, relief, wonderment, vastness. We must enjoy emptiness if we are to enjoy form. A gracious relationship with form is impossible unless we relate courageously with emptiness – because emptiness and form are non-dual. They are aspects of each other.

Our spiritual practice consists simply of learning to dance with the emptiness and form of phenomena. It introduces the one taste of emptiness and form. We develop the ability to actively savor apparently polarized tension, rather than experiencing it in a victim role. This apparently polarized tension, after all, is merely created through ongoing attempts to attach to form whilst rejecting emptiness.

We need to observe the way in which we attempt to solidify emptiness. In so doing, we crush our freedom through attempting to impose form on situations where reality is in creative flux. Alternatively, in the disconcerting gaps between contrasting segments of life, we might sense a dimension of being that is independent of circumstances.

It is interesting, on finding this space, to allow events to remain undefined a little longer than usual. Settling into uncertainty and feeling its texture, life can disclose itself as emptiness and form: beads on the thread of experience. We can simply flow with the multiplicity of definitions manifested by reality. We can swim in swirling torrents of form and relax in still pools of emptiness.

This requires that we allow polarities to coexist. We can deliberately entertain experiential and existential paradoxes. We can embrace our impulsiveness and caution, credulity and skepticism, craziness and absolute sanity. Unless we are prepared to feel the texture of these erratically alternating possibilities, the feeling of being remains incomprehensible. If we delightedly embrace the possibility of expanding into the fierce totality of each moment, as it arrives, we can know what it is to be alive.

TAKING REFUGE

TAKING REFUGE

So empty of what?

Learning to put on a monks robe in the heat of northern Thailand. Being the butt of all the jokes, and at least a foot taller than all the other young novices. Eating fire, sitting till my knees broke. Waking at dawn. Wanting it so bad. I thought this was cool.

The sitting was the best part, we were equals when our butts were planted on the cushions. Working around the temple, sweeping, cleaning, these boys knew a lot more about me than I knew about them. Their laughter came easy, born mimics. Teasing me at every moment. The big American. Inventing things for me to get down from the top shelf, in the kitchen, giggling and shamelessly pointing. Until I came undone, laughing at myself covered in rice flour.

Each of these young men had grown up knowing real evil, real hunger, real families. They were expected to spend a year or two here, learning the ropes, paying their respects, gaining some ground. Asking the Buddha for the winning lottery number. After a while even that made sense.

I was here too, asking, taking refuge. Trying to find a Dharma. Becoming looser with myself. Unwinding all that knowledge pumped into me in college. What I wanted was answers. What I was getting was a lot stranger – the right questions. All these guys liked to make lists. The four noble truths, the three gifts, the five mental conditions. the eightfold path, the seven hindrances. I soon saw that I could spend a lifetime here and never get to the end of my breath. But slowly the universe was clearing up. I felt this was closer to reality than anything I’d seen before. The more I looked at it, the simpler it became, like a smile. Wherever I traveled, people would respond to a simple smile. So I was asked to sit, to just sit down with my smile. To practice, hour upon hour, bringing my attention back and placing it on my own suffering. To smile at suffering. This was the starting point.

When the monsoon came I thought I’d be prepared, but it rained so hard it hurt. All you could do was squat in the mud under the bamboo overhang and wait. This was a land of mud or dust, nothing in between. The pounding rain was like a bell, it broke through to a place inside me I had never seen. It drove me to listen to my own heart. To open up. To know for the first time that I was ok, not broken. That each drop of water was connected to every other drop. That surrender is an act of coming to be empty of anything to let go of.

Emptiness was not the null set I had learned about in physics, nor was it the singularity of a timeless void. Emptiness was empty only of separate thingness, of separate self. Empty was full of everything.

The rain was one solid force, made up of an infinity of interconnected parts. I saw in my tea, all the world, all the rain, all the people picking tea leaves. I smiled at them.

Now I was waiting for my ticket, in the tourist section of Bangkok. Sitting in western clothes, at an outdoor restaurant. Over two years in the monastery, and I felt like I had just arrived on an interstellar flight. Take a bit of Mexico city, a bit of Los Angeles, plop it all down on a flood plane some of which is below sea level. Erase all traces of civil engineering. Add a million more people than the place could possible hold. Age for three thousand years, and you have some idea what downtown Bangkok smells like.

I did not really know why I was leaving. Here I had found a trace of what I was looking for. Here I felt more alive, more awake than ever before. I had been told by the eldest monk, the head guy, that my karma was back in the states. That I was done here, and needed to go and mold the ideas and concepts I had learned here into an American vocabulary. A western culture experience.

What he really said was, “You go now. You think too American. You need sit more. You go bring sound of bell, to west.”

(This was written in ’76, just a few weeks after returning to the states.)

Corlin

Thoughts

Thoughts:

As one gets older, one has a larger historical frame, and thus can notice subtle changes. I have noticed a marked increase in what I call “Informative Transgressions”. In my casual conversations with people I don’t really know, but interact with often. The tone, and the content of stories, has remarkably changed.

The grocery clerk; who’s son recently died of a heroin overdose.
The barber; who lost all his money to a bad real estate scam.
The law enforcement officer; placed in an unsolvable moral dilemma, between loyalty to his fellow officers, and doing what is right.

On and on.

Social norms around casual speech have gotten much more transgressive,
less restrictive. What I hear today, in passing conversations would never have happened 20 years ago. It is not that people are more open, more trusting, far from it. People today are more afraid, more closed down, than ever. But the speech, the stories they feel compelled to tell in a moment of interaction, are filled with confessional tragedy, outright horror, or shock.

Is this the sign of a society collapsing, a shared reaction to a life increasingly untenable. Or is this just a learned pattern of speech stemming from modern media, and online sensationalism. I don’t know.

In the five minutes I stand in line, I hear stories told that used to be whispered in quiet rooms, among close family members. Now openly spoken to strangers.
I listen, and hear an urgency, almost a demand, that I understand and agree that their life has become “news worthy”, ordinary but extreme. The off-hand references to death, bankruptcy, poverty, rape, and despair. Seem shocking when told in isolation, but when it is an everyday occurrence, trivial.

Personal pain, and suffering, has always been with us. It is the mode of confessing such that has changed. I now live in a society hammered by life, inequality, and blame. We each have a need to say, “Me, look at me, this happened to me.” and I am compelled to talk about it.

What can I do, but listen, respond with compassion, and move on.

What is mindful resistance ?

What is mindful resistance ?

After reading Penny Red’s great post Life-Hacks of the Poor and Aimless
I have some words.

First. Yes I consider myself a radical, a anarcho-socialist, and a buddhist. I am also an old white guy, who has played the game on the easy setting my whole life. Not that it felt easy to me, but that daily life, school, work, love, social interactions, all came with the privilege of being a white male. This is why I pay close attention to the voices of women, people of color, the homeless, the poor. It is their voices and experiences that inform this post.

“The state wants you to be overwhelmed. They want you exhausted.”

The state will give you spectacle after spectacle to keep you confused and helpless. They will tell you it is your fault. They will charge you for the technological gadgets that keep you quiescent, and running away from human mutual aid. They will pit men against women, blacks against hispanics, poor against rich, straight against queer. To segregate you into smaller and smaller affinity groups, thus easier for them to manipulate and disavow.

“Would you hit your left hand with a hammer, to make your right hand feel better! Just as your left hand is connected to your right hand, so all of us are deeply connected.”

The first days of a better nation are here. Love is not a noun, it is a verb, action moves the world. Yes we must act. We must speak out. We must not turn away into nihilism, and or some self-help parody of caring for ourselves. Yet, how do we do this?

For me, it is the practice of western Buddhism. Not in any religious sense, but in the day to day practice of clearly looking at what is going on. Clearly seeing and feeling what I can do next that will help. I keep coming back to mutual aid, the idea that we are all in this together. That we must not buy into the cycle of self-hate, and distrust of others. This takes work. It is so easy to be distracted, to check twitter one more time. To follow our addictions into self-loathing.

Yes just sitting down, doing nothing for a while. Paying close attention to how my mind works. Noticing my mind’s capacity to delude itself. Taking a breath. Letting it go. On and on. This has been for years my self-care, and yes it has helped. To not react to the latest outrage, but to be aware of it, seeing its cause and effect. Then taking action to support those who will fight against it. It is what I call mindful resistance. Here is one insight that might seem strange, “Hope can be a hinderance.”

“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact your work will be apparently worthless and achieve no result at all, if not perhaps at times bring about its opposite. As you get used to this, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness and the truth of the work itself.” ~ Thomas Merton

Yet actions do make a difference. I am the guy you see at protests that brings spray bottles of liquid antacid and water. I am the guy who makes sure that there is day care at the organizing meeting. I am the guy handing out water and protein bars on the march. I am the guy who lets other voices do the talking. These actions spring directly from my experiences of sitting still and just being a human. To take the small actions that make a difference. Without the hope that any of these will hasten the fall of late capitalism.

Mindful resistance, is to act knowing that anger is a great motivating feeling, but that it burns bright, and burns out. That “for the benefit of all”, is not just a slogan, but a stance in the world. A central place from which to feel and act. To be resilient and supple in the face of tyranny and fear, is hard work. It requires a motive beyond anger and hate. It can be achieved. For me, the work of sitting, breathing, and looking deeply into what makes me human, is vital to the struggle ahead.

“Do not worry if the Right Action is not yet clear to you. Wait in the unknowing with mindfulness and a clear heart. Soon the right time will come and you will know to stand up. I will meet you there.”

Corlin

The Tree Story

The tree story

So this was in 1982 or 83, and I was newly married, with two small children. Living a bit out of the way in central California. I had kicked heroin in ’81 but was still drinking heavy. My wife asked me to quit and told me to go to AA. … So I thought I would give it a try, anyway I did sober up, and then life got crazy.

My wife started a residency at the state hospital, and was on call 60 hours a week. I had these two babies. I was just barely holding things together, and then I took an AA sponsor that wanted me to do all this extra shit. My life started to crumble apart. Now this sponsor was an old junkie, he had done years of hard time, and was one of the wisest, gentlest old men you could ever meet.

One day, one of the kids had a cold, and I was in a panic. Running around trying to do my best as a dad, and beating myself up for not being perfect. My wife was working and would not return for 48 hours. I became pretty frantic.

Then this old pickup pulled up in the front yard, and my sponsor got out and said he hadn’t seen me for a day or two. I snapped at him, and he got back into the truck and left. Only to return about 30 minutes later. In the back of the truck was a shovel and a 4 foot pine tree. He said he would take care of the kids, but I needed to dig a hole 4 feet by 4 feet, and 4 feet deep. I got mad. But he insisted. So I dug the hole over in the side yard. The physical labor did wonders for my head. Calmed me down, and gave me something to focus on.

Then with the hole ready he came out with the kids, and we all planted the damn pine tree. It actually looked good. The kids were playing with the water hose, and happy. My sponsor had a grin on his face. I was no longer at my wits end, things were ok.

Then my sponsor got very serious. He said “I want you to forget all the other shit I told you to do. You now have only one job.” I felt relief and curiosity. He told me, “I want you to come out here every morning before the kids wake up, and water this tree.” “I want you to kneel down and look at it very closely every day.” “Notice everything about it”

He turned and looked me straight in the eye, and said. “The thing is, people grow only slightly faster than trees.” “Your going to be ok.”

My Best Friend

My Best Friend

She is the old women that lives at edge of the village. She lives alone yet is never lonely. She is great and close friends with cats, dogs, birds, and all manor of woodland creatures. Young children are afraid of her. Teenagers mock her. Adults shun her. She is the crone, the hag, the harpy.

She is my best friend. To those she likes, she is quick with a touch, and a smile. She cooks the most wonderful stews, thick with meat, and full of unusual vegetables. She knows all my stories, and I hers. We can sit all day on her porch in silence, or stay up all night telling all sorts of tall tales. She can be bitter, but has no shame. She wears both a workman’s rough clothes, and the finest silk dresses with a quiet flair. She drinks coffee black, but tea with milk and sugar.

She has had many names. None of which I will tell you. I confess to not wanting to share her. But she has no time for owners, or rent seekers. She is often fierce to those who harm. Tender to the unfortunate. She reads old books veraciously, yet holds her opinions loosely. Her eyes are the color of wood smoke, and crinkly around the edges. She laughs out loud when nobody’s near.

She takes her time doing. Seldom undoing. Sleeps when she damn feels like it, but is usually awake before me, stoking the fire, or baking scones filled with wild blackberries. These she cherishes and would eat every day. I have seen her dance as if she is the only one in the world to do so. She will politely accept help only if to refuse would create discord.

I know when it is time to leave. We never say goodbyes. I don’t come visit unless invited, and she rarely travels. We both know this is a magical pairing, a fragile living thing, and don’t speak directly about it. We just let it flow on.

The Crisis Center is on Fire.

a story by corlin.

“So what seems to be the problem.”

I am shut down by these words for they are so mundane so unexpectedly cliche that I can’t think. They are at the same moment, condescending and baneful, as if all I had to do was identify, to some certain precision, a symptom, a malady, and thus we could then begin, which also meant we would eventually conclude.

“I refuse to define myself symptomatically. If you want to help, how about we throw away the diagnostics, and get down to why my life sucks, and what can I reasonable expect you to do about it. I am not going to waste my time fitting my life into your concepts, nor subjecting myself to the judgments of some small collegiate mind.”

He is hesitant only a second, as he readjusts his estimate about my educational background. Moving some prop papers around his desk giving himself another few seconds to reestablish his cool. I am thinking that if this guy says something like “Tell me about yourself?” I am going to slowly get up and walk out of this office and just give up on the whole idea of ever asking for help again. Shit they will give anyone a license to work with drunks these days.

“Well I don’t have a clue why you are here, so yes let’s throw away all the diagnostics and figure out a way to make your life suck less. We could just go have a coffee and talk about why it is impossible to describe the inside of ones own head. Or how we can, as it has been said turn the therapist’s office into a “cell of revolution.”

Bang. He gets it in one. He says all this while pushing all the papers on his desk aside and looking at me making real eye contact. For a brief moment I can believe this guy cares, then I slip back into rich denial and warm cynicism. There is no way this young straight white suburban golf playing kid is ever going to grok some old hip iconoclastic Buddhist ex-dope-fiend, who wants nothing other than to be left alone. Yet who seems at the moment to be homeless and very hungry, and have a bit of trouble taking care of himself. The quote from James Hillman is almost enough for me to smile, but it took me three hours to walk here, and I am tired, and perhaps he is better at reading me than I am allowing. So I just nod coolly, and say.

“Well, the whole thing is just not working any more, I mean the story I tell myself about who I am and how I decide what to to next. None of it is clean anymore, nothing burns, I have abandoned passion for mediocrity. I am totally fucked. The world is totally fucked, and I am too tired to take up the fight anymore. The thing is we lost. The movie is over, and the good guys lost. Shit, damn right I feel pissed off, look around, when I guy like me can’t find a decent new novel to read, and the rest of the world has a cell phone glued to their head, or is fighting over a bit of useless sand, humanity has slowly been disemboweled by the corporate state, and …..”

I mumble on for another few minutes, then lean back into the sticky vinyl chair and just stair off into a space just left of this guy’s head. I am not going to go through the list again. Nobody can do anything about it anyway. I need to focus here. I need food and shelter. I am disgusted at myself for having to ask for food, or a couch to sleep on, or the fact that getting help from the state that I abhor, is so confusing that it drives me to panic. I used to be able to talk my way out of, or into anything. Now I fold up like an old man, at the slightest sign of any effort needed on my part, and damn this guy hasn’t turned off yet. His is just sitting there. He actually looks comfortable.

“OK, so I have to fill out this form here, so as to account for my time, but we don’t have to do that now.”

He hasn’t lost eye contact. Leaning slowly toward his desk, moving his hand vaguely over the papers now in a heap at his side.

“So you are pissed off and isolated. So what. You came here. What do you need? I get paid whether you talk or not. You got 40 more minutes of my undivided attention. Use it.” He is smiling just a bit, to take the edge off what might have seemed like a command.

Now usually at this point I tell stories, In 59 years of mindless self indulgence, I’ve got a bag full of great stories. They pass the time, liven me up in the telling. But I am so hungry, and this cheap chair is making my hemorrhoids ache. I am thinking that maybe he is not lying, that compassion is not a foreign word to him. Maybe he will just help without all the bullshit. Maybe this time. So I take the big risk. Getting my voice as calm and as flat as I can. I say.

“I am homeless, hungry, tired, and old. I abandoned my cat, Dexter Gordon, who is the only living thing I enjoyed being around. I need help. I panic when faced with the slightest bureaucracy, and I can’t take care of myself. I want whatever the fucking state will give me. But am unable to ask.”

I try and mask it, but saying this hurts and I crumple lower into myself. This breaks the longest human eye contact I have had in weeks.

Blissful silence. I am examining my shoes waiting. I feel like the young Duke in the novel Dune, being tested for his humanity, to flinch is to die, only a human can endure horrific pain and not react. I disassociate from the fear. I pay very close attention to my shoes.

Waiting is something I am very good at, years and years of waiting. Not doing. Just waiting. It is common among junkies, and Buddhist monks, and oddly for the same reasons. The longer he holds the silence, the better. As my heart rate slowly returns to normal, I bring my head up, and look over the top of the desk. He hasn’t moved. He is still and calm, and way to young to have figured this out on his own. He is not smiling, nor faking any other emotional response. His hands are loosely resting on the desk palms open about 8 inches apart and I focus on them. Now a good five minutes pass. Not so much time for me, but almost unbearable for most 30 year olds. I slowly take an audible breath, and suddenly want to smoke a cigarette.

“So do you get this?” I say, again trying for no affect. Flat.

“Yes, I think I do.” His voice is even and with a hint of relief that I spoke first absolving him of proving his inexperience at waiting.

“Can you help? I mean actually do something, besides all this sitting and telling stories to each other.”

Damn. My voice breaks for this last line. I was going to try and regain eye contact but now with a small shudder I realize I have given away to much, my voice has been driven by real hunger and loneliness and has reveled my desperation. This is the worst possible way to hustle, every instinct I have tells me that this much honesty and vulnerability is doomed. Even young women see right through this. Now I am truly fucked. My head refuses to move any further. I sink to the bottom.

There is a long pause.

“I think we can do some things right now, today…..”

He is struggling not to lose his cool detachment. Something not so small has shifted in him. I can hear in his voice both his youth, and a bit of ignominious anger that an older man is sitting across from him who has been completely ground down by life.

“I can call,…. or,… well we can just go and, ….. lets see if we can get some…..”

He is clearly at a loss now. He has remembered some bit of his past or some disquieting dream. A large crack has appeared in the mantel of his grounding beliefs.

“I am sure we can find….. ”
He is asking for eye contact. He is asking me to help him.

“Well maybe I…. could….”

I bring my head up and back, sitting a bit straighter in the chair and incite with a glance just above his head. “ Yes ….?” and with that our eyes regain contact. More silence begins. This is not the waiting silence of shame or disillusionment but more the silence of two old buddies sitting in a bar, or in a fishing boat. Not so much silence as nothing needful to say. We just relax into it. He is really not as young as I thought, and there is some rough history in the few lines on his face. This is not a contest. We are just looking, nothing personal.

“Yes …?” I prompt again, this time moving my hands for the first time, bringing them up onto the armrests, where he can see them. I try to say this one word upbeat, as if to answer some trivial question about the rain.

He shifts in his seat and with a visible little spasm has now found whatever it was he lost. He slowly starts to move his hands, as if feeling the texture of the wood desk for the first time. His eyes widen.

“OK, food, and shelter, and a library card, and maybe a bus-pass, and health insurance, and….”

He is moving again, his eyes break away from mine as he looks for a piece of paper and a pen.

“…and some clothing, and … no the shelter is no good, housing and…. no, first food, Are you hungry now? He has shifted into second gear and is on his way.

I am nodding and watching him move. I can see him clearly now. He has a working class side, a get-things-done side, he didn’t show before. We are creating a revolutionary cell. He is no longer helping me. We are just two guys fixing something that is broke, handing wrenches to each other. “Yes” I say again, “Food first.” and begin to come to life some myself.

“Ya know I’m hungry too”. He is doing some damage to a yellow legal pad, with a pen like a cutting torch. “How about lunch?” He is writing furiously now, making a plan, drawing a blueprint for my escape from mediocrity. He looks up for my assent, and then makes a jab at the phone. We have hit third gear. “Mary, I’m going to take an early lunch.” he throws into the speaker phone. “In fact I am taking the rest of the day off, and going to lunch!” He grins at me while saying this last and then stabs the phone off.

At this point I am along for the ride, I follow his cue, If there is a meal and even the possibility of hot running water in the future I am game for anything. I’ve got to be careful here. If I show too much neediness now this might all fall apart. What I’ve got to show is a willingness to be worked on, a friendly comrade in a plot to apply whatever energy he is now spewing like hot sparks from a grinding wheel.

He looks hard at me. I say “ya, let’s go” He looks again, as if for the first time. It is a look not born of role, or judgment, but of a shared task. It is a look I haven’t seen in 30 years. A determined, what side are you on, look. Whole decades of research go on between us, and I look right back. He rises out of his chair, and starts to do about fifteen things at once. I have brought nothing with me so I act my age and slowly get up and mosey toward the door, This gives him enough time to grab all the ingredients of our escape. Cell phone, coat, legal pad, and what few papers that would ever prove I was there. He is making quick and decisive moves, still throwing off hot orange sparks and we meet at the door. For just a second he looks over my shoulder at his office, igniting.

“ You know I could get into a lot of ….”

“Ya I know all about it.” I interrupt, “Why don’t we just ….”

“Ya, why don’t we just do this, He says. ”I really am hungry now”

He speaks this, in a sing song kind of way, as if it was something he has said every day for years. He rips open the door. Completely committed now.

We slow down only as we pass the front desk where Mary sits, the keeper of appointments, the soft spoken caregiver, who’s life work is the nurturing of all the lost souls that keep this center at the front lines of psychiatric patch-up work. We walk right past her without a glance or nod, but I do look down and shuffle a bit, just out of habit. The front room is a black hole of need, a thick marshy place of survival skills and the overly medicated. But we have the momentum to carry us through. He does not stop, despite his name being called behind him. Adding a touch of my spirit for all of this I step ahead and open the clinic doors, hitting them both with my palms banging them outward.

We grab asphalt and I need a smoke bad, as I fumble to light up, He slows down and then stops suddenly and says.

“My name is Paul.”

“Corlin” I say blowing smoke away from his face.

Old comrades now, we don’t even need to shake hands.

Sometime into my second big greasy hamburger, eating in silence across from Paul. I hear the sirens, and watch the engines race past.

Well it is that time of the year. Again.

As some of you know I am a recovering addict. I have a major milestone coming up next Sunday, (20 years clean and sober). It has been my habit to write something down around this time of year. So this year I am going to share it here.

This is a part of a note I wrote just the other day, to a new women in recovery. She was struggling, and we spoke after the meeting.

Corlin here:

Thank you for the compliment at the end of the meeting. I often feel like an idiot after I share, because I can’t edit out the stupid bits. So it is nice knowing someone listens.

I thought I share a bit more about Vows and morals.

Some years ago when I was working through the steps for the first time, I came up against a dilemma. …. “except when to do so would injure them or others.”…. I had a huge amends to make and could not figure out a way to do so that passed this moral test. This was then followed by a deep inquire into just what the fuck were my personal morals anyway. Did I have any? Where they codified ? Did my parents instill them? Where they divine, or human? My sponsor was not much help, as he was sure of his, (they were mythic, divine and un-questionable). Mine were at the time vague feelings and intuitions, and more important they were situational, they changed. The ideas were more Good Ethical Behavior, and less committed aspirations.

I wanted the Human instruction manual …. I wanted clear, precise direction. … What I got was millions of words of philosophy. Nobody agreed. I muddled through. Not secure that what I was doing was right, or just. I came up with a solution to the amends problem. It cost me a lot, lasted years, and released me from my burden. Step nine is in fact a blessing. …. Years go by. From time to time I revisit the quest. Can I find at set of moral declarations, (or write my own), that fill up the gap. Rules of action that guide me in day to day human interactions. I was predisposed to throw out all the “should’s” and “thou shall nots” As they smacked of shame and negativity. I wanted something I could practice and get better at. Sometime positive and aspirational.

Then one day I found these:

(I could talk about them at great length, But I will let them speak for themselves.)

((notice: each starts with awareness. Each has the verb “committed”, “practice” and “determined”))

(((These now, and for some time been my moral code.)))

First Practice

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.

Second Practice

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and minerals. I will practice generosity by sharing my time, my energy and my material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

Third Practice

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect all people from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

Fourth Practice

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others. I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering. I am committed to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that cause the family or the community to break. I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

Fifth Practice

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicants or to ingest foods or information that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my parents, my children, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practicing mindful consumption. I understand that mindfulness is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

peace.