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Disaster? I’ve Got a Recipe for That

June 27, 2013

Before I get started I want to say the following: Paula Deen is a racist and her use of the N word is completely  5119252678_e9fc06403b_ninexcusable. If you use that word, you are a racist. Period, end of story. To be sure, there are varying degrees of racism, but none of them are acceptable.

I’ve never been a fan of Paula’s, for no reason other than the fact that I am a vegan and a northeast liberal and find her recipes and her southern “charm” completely useless and uncharming.  I am a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain (who refers to my ilk [vegans] as “hezbollah-like”) and because of his ongoing and vocal dislike of her, much of what I know of Paula Deen has come from his Twitter feed.

So, I’m not a fan of the woman and I really have no interest in the success or failure of her career. What I am fascinated by is the reactions of her sponsors, her network, her fans, and her detractors to she herself admitting to having used the N word in the past. In her very awkward and tearful apologies she has basically claimed that this was an error on her part and in no way indicative of simmering racism. I don’t buy the “I made a mistake” argument when it involves racism; either you are and do and say racist things or you are not and do not say or do racist things.

The fact that, in interviews, she is being asked if she is a racist is absurd to me. She is, but perhaps not by the standards by which many Americans judge racism. I know plenty of people who would also not claim to be racist but who make insipid remarks that prove otherwise. Casual racism in America is everywhere and wholly accepted, while blatant racism is overwhelmingly punished and condemned. Trouble is, the casual insidious racism that exists in all of our institutions is far more harmful than the minority of people who are still openly racist. Being openly racist is troubling. Being a closet racist – and even worse a denier of it – is troubling, confusing, and difficult to deal with.

The truly sad thing is that when Paula Deen claims to not be racist despite her deplorable use of the N word, she undoubtedly believes she is telling the truth. She thinks that as long as she is hiring black people, not lynching them, and is fine with them owning land and voting, that she is not racist. Of course, being in compliance with the basic laws of the land and doing the absolute required minimum does not a non-racist make, and yet many Americans who claim to have nothing against black people or other minorities believe that they have a leg to stand on because they don’t engage in the types of behaviors that were acceptable before the Civil Rights movement.

The other question in all of this is whether or not Paula should have lost her show and her endorsement deals. If I believed for even a second that the Food Network dropped her because they were horrified by her behavior and did not want to provide her a platform to make herself even more wealthy and perhaps to espouse her racist views, I would fully support their decision. Sadly, I do not believe that. I think they dropped her because they feared the backlash of advertisers and viewers if they didn’t. And could it truly and honestly be news to them that she is a racist? I have a hard time believing that after 13 years of working with this woman, they had never seen any other indications of her moral character. Also, she’s a woman from the South of a certain age. Let’s face it: loads of southerners her age are racists. Many are not, but many are.

Maybe, since she did apologize and claimed it was a mistake, the best thing to do would have been to treat her like a person with an illness. What if she was an alcoholic who fell off the wagon? They would have likely insisted that she go to rehab and then fully supported her recovery. What if Paula, instead of being exiled and allowed to now carry on her racism in private, would have had to get educated? How about some therapy? And maybe being on TV through all of this, knowing that people were scrutinizing her every word, would give her the impetus she needs to really look deep within and confront the racism that is so deeply embedded in her being that she can’t even see it.

The fact is, racism is a sickness. It is an illness that is passed on generation through generation and it needs to be stopped. It will never be stopped if it is allowed to continue to lurk in the shadows of people’s minds and hearts, only revealing itself in unguarded moments. If you believe that people are “less than” because of the color of their skin or the country of their origin,  or if you think that using the N word doesn’t make you a racist, you are sick and you do need help. And if you are a wealthy white woman with a sudden influx of time, I suggest you go get it.

On Fathers

June 18, 2013

Anybody super irritated with the propagation of the stereotype of the bumbling incompetent father, say “I”. RIAN_archive_684534_Photo_work_from_series_of_photographs_“Fathers_and_Children”_by_B._Krishtul

I!

This past Sunday morning, Father’s Day, while my son and I made breakfast and a dazzling homemade card for his father, I found myself thinking about and appreciating all the ways in which my partner is a present and devoted parent to our son.  And then I started wondering if I’d ever seen any representation of fathers like him in popular media or even in a TV commercial. I haven’t. On the contrary, I see lots and lots of commercials, television shows, movies, etc. that continue to portray fathers as well-meaning but hopeless buffoons when it comes to parenting.

If we were to believe the stereotypes we would accept that father’s cannot change diapers, get groceries, cook, clean, or fold laundry properly. And this is just the mundane stuff that, literally, a paid laborer could do. Which leaves out all the stuff that you cannot pay someone to do for your children; the real parenting stuff. Despite the fact that men everywhere are proving them wrong, why do stereotypes of men being incapable of nurturing and loving as well as mothers continue to thrive?

I recently read a blog post at Smithsonian.com about how fathers can recognize their babies’ cries just as well as mothers can if they have invested a similar amount of time caring for their child. That’s a big  IF because society is not set up in any way, shape or form for fathers to be able to do that.

The New York Times just published an interesting piece, The Unspoken Stigma of Workplace Flexibility, in which it discusses the fact that while many companies do have policies on the books for new parents to take advantage of, in terms of flexible work schedules and parental leave, it is understood that to take advantage of these policies is to accept the fact that you are likely to be seen as a less valuable  and dedicated player in your company. This is true for both men and women, but may be even more acute for men, since they are traditionally valued for working hard and providing for their families.

Don’t even get me started on how “working hard and providing for your family” should include things that nobody pays you for. Childrearing is hard work. Being present and available to your children is hard work. Providing a safe and peaceful environment for them to thrive, no matter how much money you make, is effing hard work. The NYTimes article rightly points out that if we want the work/life balance choices to be better for women, we have to make them so for men. It is an unfortunate function of the patriarchy that women only get what men get after they get it. As long as we allow the marginalization of men in parenting, we continue to feed the beast that makes it virtually impossible for women to have both satisfying parenting and working lives.

There’s one commercial in particular that really gets my goad. The one for Tide where the couple is sitting there folding their triplets’ laundry together talking about how buying the pricier detergent actually saves them money because it cleans better. The mother is refolding everything the father folds and in the end she just kind of grabs a shirt from him, as if even allowing him to continue to fold is a waste of time.

For me, this commercial perfectly encapsulates a huge problem. Okay, several problems. What is the value of perfectly folded laundry? I’ll tell you: there is none. If your laundry is folded well or folded poorly, it will still be clean and your clothes will still cover your body and provide you protection from the elements. You may have a few more wrinkles, but who cares? Yet, there are plenty of mothers who think it is important to fold laundry well. But why do they think that? Is it because they feel so marginalized and powerless in a society that doesn’t value mothering that they put immense pressure on themselves to do these things so well that somebody might find them valuable? Is a good mother one whose children have perfectly folded clothes and fewer wrinkles? Or is a good mother one who spends more time with her kids and less time worrying about perfectly folded clothes?

We could ask these questions about perfectly clean floors and tidy homes and beautifully presented meals. Women, either through internal or external pressure, feel the need to live up to IMPOSSIBLE standards of perfection and then we all get a good laugh about making fun of dads who just can’t seem to do it the way mom does. When really we should be asking ourselves, why is anybody in this family worrying about or interested in doing anything perfectly?

I must admit that I am the queen of “good enough”. Nobody could ever say of me that I allowed the “perfect to be the enemy of the good”. Just ask my darling husband. That said, I think I have a valid point here. Dad’s get shit on for not being “as good as mom” at any number of things that mom shouldn’t  really be focusing on doing with such precision.  I have often wondered if women, knowingly or not, as a reaction to being put into a box for so long and feeling so under-appreciated and stifled by the expectations heaped upon them, take a certain type of insidious enjoyment in making fathers feel like they are incapable of nurturing their children in the same way. It’s as if they’re saying “this is my box, you put me in here and now you have to let me rule the box”.

If we -society, employers, partners – give fathers the permission to be tender and nurturing with their children, they will be. They do not need to learn it, they only need to unlearn all the messages they’ve been receiving since birth; that to be masculine means to earn money, act tough, and accept that your wife will always be better at you with the children. How well a person does at parenting has less to do with gender and more to do with their experiences with their families of origin and the work they’ve done on themselves as grown-ups. Also their interest and commitment to being a parent. There’s that.

One of my favorite things in the whole world is to watch my husband and son play together. Their bond is secure and getting stronger every day, same as mine with our son. He’s not a perfect father, but I’m not a perfect mother. And it is this lesson – imperfections are not failures – that is among the highest on my list of priorities to teach our son. My hope is that when he grows up he can see the choices we made as parents to ensure that we both had as much time as possible with him in these early years, and feel something akin to appreciation. We both have made sacrifices to make parenting our priority and we have both reaped the benefits of an intimate and special bond with our son. He may not have a single picture of himself in tidy, unwrinkled clothes, and the background may always be a bit messy, but he is loved fiercely by two adults who are allowed to make mistakes and who are every day trying to shed society’s expectations and just focus on doing their best.

So, a belated Happy Father’s Day to all. Society may think you’re dumb, but I don’t (and I’m not alone).

On Inadequacy

May 30, 2013

Not a single day has passed since I became a mother that I have not, in one way or another, felt completely inadequate. Something about taking on the wonderful blessing and responsibility of parenting a child has highlighted for me all the ways in which I fall short on a daily basis. Not just as a mother but as a partner, a friend, a neighbor, a writer, a teacher…  images

I wouldn’t say that I was unaware of my inadequacies before I had a child, only that having a child really makes them very obvious and unavoidable. There is this sense that the stakes have never been higher – and they haven’t – so I better not fuck it up. I’m no longer a kid; I’m someone’s mother. I am the standard by which the whole world will be judged until my kid reaches the age where he realizes I’m actually just another person doing my best and that most, if not all, of what I’ve taught him can be taken or left as he sees fit. Some days, I long for him to reach that age, even as I fear his assessment of me as Mother.

Most days, though, I struggle to, if not embrace, at least sit with these feelings and make sure that I never veer into the territory of false humility. We all know the folks who put on a good show of being humble in hopes of camouflaging what are actually excuses for not trying. The trick with motherhood is to strike that delicate balance between not being too hard on yourself while being fully committed to improvement.

One of my greatest strengths as a human is that I know that I am just that:  human. I am not a unique and beautiful snowflake and as such my experiences on planet earth cannot be mine alone. Thinking that you are the only one who has ever felt or experienced something is very isolating and entirely unhelpful. Perhaps due to my tendency to share my feelings and deepest thoughts with friends and strangers alike, I’ve been made aware over and over again how completely un-unique my experiences are as a mother.

Those of us who are committed to seeing what is rather than what we would like to see will readily admit that motherhood, while exhilarating and miraculous and rewarding, is not unlike getting punched in the face over and over and over and over again. It’s painful and shocking and requires the ability to quickly get back on your feet and brace yourself for the next round.

Some days I pop right back up. Other days, I’m lying there on the mat, hearing the count in my head, face to face with all the other mothers who, like me, are bloodied and bruised and exhausted and digging deep to find the strength to stand back up. And then we do. We stand up, we smile, we breathe, and we tell ourselves it’s all worth it. We’re not perfect, but we’re adequate, and we refuse to let the  ‘perfect be the enemy of the good’.

Because it is all worth it, right? Riiiiiiiiiight???

The Power of I Don’t Know

May 1, 2013

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/29/the-power-of-i-dont-know/?hp

I Love Therefore I Am

April 26, 2013

Loving must be as normal to us as living and breathing, day after day until our death.

-Mother Teresa

Choosing to love, day in and day out, is hard. If it weren’t, Mother Teresa’s above quote wouldn’t be so profound. As a yogi, this quote makes me ponder Publication1-page-0the connection between love and breathing. Breathing is something we do to stay alive each and every day and though we can do it mindlessly, the act of paying attention to the breath in our yoga practice transforms it into not only a means of survival but a tool for thriving.

So too with how we love. We need a minimum amount of love to survive, but giving and receiving love that is mindful and also given and received without a second thought makes us thrive.

The kinds of love that is emphasized in our society – romantic and familial – is relatively easy to do without thinking about it. Though being in relationship is always challenging, we generally find it doesn’t require much effort to love our spouses and children and extended family. But how are we loving them?

I think sometimes we confuse “loving” with “not actively hating” or perhaps “tolerating” or “providing for”. But, it is an all-encompassing love of  ourselves and others, the very love that Mother Teresa so beautifully embodied throughout her life, that must be learned (or rather, re-learned, as I believe we possess this ability at birth).

The very heart of this love is profound and radical acceptance of what is. Loving with no conditions attached, no ifs or whens. We learn to do this by simply doing it, day after day, until we die. Choosing to accept, to forgive, to embrace, and to give without expectation of receiving anything in return. The more we do it, the easier it will become.

Like breathing, first we do it without thinking, then we focus our attention on how we’re doing it thus transforming the act entirely, and then we continue in this way until the habit is formed and we no longer need to think about it. It is when we reach this place that we can become a source of healing in this world.

Seeing the World in a Moment

April 12, 2013

 

It is very important to see your life not only from the narrow view of your egoistic telescope but also from the broad view of the universal telescope called egolessness. This is why we have to practice. Right in the middle of the stream of time, we have to open our eyes there and see the total picture of time. Through spiritual practice we can go beyond our egoistic point of view. We can touch the core of time, see the whole world in a moment, and understand time in deep relationship with all beings.

– Dainin Katagiri, “Time Revisited”

How_Soon_Is_Now___by_BlackJack0919

My concept of time changed drastically after my son was born. Suddenly my eventual death seemed so near I could taste it, and while I have no fear of death in and of itself, I have a great fear of leaving my son before he is grown. I just need to live until he doesn’t need me anymore. Then I can go. This is my nightly prayer.

Time seems to move so slowly when you are young. Then you get older and it begins to feel like that cylindrical carnival ride that starts to spin faster and faster and faster until the floor drops away and you are pinned to the walls of the cylinder simply by centrifugal force.

When I had my son, I already had an established spiritual practice, so I can only guess how this shift in perspective would have felt to me pre-practice, but I imagine it would sound an awful lot like the oft-heard refrains of “oh, they grow so fast” and “life is short” and “there is never enough time”.

Sometimes when I’m in a mindless rut and not living in the moment, I feel these phrases leaping into my throat. When that happens I am reminded that Time and it’s passing is only of concern to us when we are not alive in the moment; when we are seeing past, present, and future as distinct rather than same. Time, like everything else, simply is and it is all happening now.

 

Engaged Enlightenment

March 27, 2013

Years ago when I was traveling in India, I was able to finally put a name to something that always made me uneasy as I observed the various examples of 3362044364_ac9da597d9_m contemplative and monastic life. Why did this level of spiritual existence have to happen separate from the world? Why were people with spiritual discipline and enlightenment locked away in monasteries and dwelling in caves? The amount of beauty and suffering that exists side by side in India makes it an environment highly conducive to realizations. Surrounded by that crush of humanity I had to wonder, what is the purpose of seeking spiritual enlightenment if not to be of service to the world?

The election of a new pope has me thinking about this again, not because I think any big change is underway in the Catholic Church, but because there has been a lot of talk about the changes that people think need to happen, including the admission of women to the clergy and allowing clergy to marry. (not to mention the much broader social issues like the church’s stance on birth control and marriage equality, to name a few)

To me, the prohibition of priests to marry and the vows of celibacy often taken by monastics, while perhaps good for some, deprive these devotees of one of the keys to growth – relationship. So much, if not all, of our growth as humans happens in relation to others. Being in committed romantic relationships, having and raising children, learning to integrate into the extended family of another – all of these provide so much potential for emotional and spiritual learning.  I also have to wonder about the effects of denying parts of ourselves in the name of God or service. How can we model unconditional love and acceptance if we are denying our own very basic human needs and desires?

The following quote is from Robert Thurman’s “The Politics of Enlightenment”

“It is a misunderstanding to think that enlightenment is some sort of final escape from life and that the doctrine of the unsatisfactory nature of samsara obviates any need for involvement with other beings or social responsibility. Because nirvana is selfless, there is no self that enjoys a state of being beyond the world. Wisdom and compassion are ultimately inseparable, wisdom being the complete knowledge of ultimate selflessness and compassion being the selfless commitment to the happiness of others”

I really love how he so perfectly encapsulates the reality that the goal of spiritual enlightenment is not to exist beyond the world, but to be of service to the world.  If one is not selflessly committed to the happiness of others, one is not truly enlightened.

This is not to say that people who choose not to marry or have children cannot reach enlightenment or that they are not selflessly committed to the happiness of others.  Nor am I saying that romantic relationships are the only ones in which we grow and the only means by which we can serve others.  All relationships provide opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, others, and the world. What I am saying is that  marriage and family provide ample opportunity to practice selfless service, compassion, empathy, kindness, and equanimity. As such these life choices should not automatically preclude a contemplative life.  It’s true that marriage and children require immense energy that cannot be directly devoted to study and prayer, but any mother will tell you that the moments she spends with her little one asleep against her bosom are some of the most Divine she will ever experience. Many married people will tell you that their earthly model for unconditional love is their spouse, who loves and accepts all of their flaws and errors.

These thoughts are not original to me. Greater mind and deeper intellects have been pondering these very things and there is a new monastic movement happening. People who feel called to a contemplative life are eschewing the age-old ideals of celibacy and separateness and instead choosing to live fully engaged lives full of purpose, meaning, and the day-to-day challenges that most people face. There are also many examples of contemplatives and monastics who have kept traditional vows while completely immersing themselves in service. Mother Theresa, Thomas Merton, Father Greg Boyle to name a very few.

The key is not whether or not our spiritual leaders are married, but how engaged they are with humanity. There was a great deal of what I will politely call “fuss” in the media about the fact that Pope Francis washed the feet of AIDS patients. While I am well aware of the significance of this act of humility, shouldn’t we instead have been asking why it is so noteworthy that a cardinal would do such a thing? Shouldn’t all cardinals be imitating Christ in this way? Shouldn’t such humble acts of service be, yes acknowledged and appreciated, but also expected?

Isolation in a monastery, a convent, a cave, or the Vatican can no longer be the answer to the spiritual needs of the world. Like the age-old question of a tree falling in a forest with no one near to hear it, if a person reaches enlightenment with no one to serve, even if it really happened, does it matter?