Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Well, what's next?

Can we afford four more years of Bush?

Most Americans can't even though it looks like most of those who voted did support him. Many of the worst things the Democrats have pointed out will come to pass. Bank on it.

But I'm not going to engage in the sort of histrionics that righties and lefties are engaging in for a variety of reasons:

1. I am personally well positioned for another 4 years of what's gone on before. If my worst predictions for America in the years ahead come true, I, personally, and my family will do extremely well. That is because I try to position my life to take advantage of circumstances.

2. There is clearly a disease affecting the American body politic, and it will take some time for it to run its course. Somebody's got to be ready to pick up the pieces when this disease gets to its critical point. It may be that when the social issues run their course, as they inevitably do (think Prohibition) that people will finally see the connection between their lives and who they choose to tweak the levers of power.

3. People who set up things like Air America, Media Matters, etc. are not going to go away. New paradigms for progress will be created as Bush continues on his way. We can be fairly certain that Bush and his allies will not learn from their mistakes- victory is a lousy teacher.

4. As I write this, it still seems that some states with enough EV's are still too close to call. You never know.

5. Ultimately there are things that are more important than George W. Bush and the Congress. People have thrived under equally if not more brutal regimes, and not simply materially. I think that it is important to go beyond what Nicholas Kristof says in today's Times:

To appeal to middle America, Democratic leaders don't need to carry guns to church services and shoot grizzlies on the way. But a starting point would be to shed their inhibitions about talking about faith, and to work more with religious groups.

Better yet, it's essential for Democrats and progressives to be really better at providing what is needed to those who need- even now. I am reminded of something Thomas Merton wrote about Communists: If Christians had the attitude toward the poor that Communists have, Communism wouldn't be an issue. So it is with fundamentalist Christians: If progressives want to regain the heartland, they actually have to help that heartland in their immediate needs. It will take far more than the newly emerging media campaign (though that's needed, and there are fits and starts in the direction of tangible help from groups like ACORN) but it will take time, and work.

6. At any rate, it's important to understand the nature of pain, and why there's no percentage about whining about it that much. Bonnie Myotai Treace has a good viewpoint on this:

...I was in the midst of a book by a Harvard medical researcher, which summarizes much of what’s current in brain-body work. He’s studying how the mental state affects the physical, and vice versa, and I was using his findings to help visualize how dopamine is released from the brain’s frontal cortex — and how the goal- and reward-seeking circuits and neurotransmitters function.

But what really drove the book, and touched me, was the researcher’s personal experience. He had injured his back very severely about 20 years earlier and been told that, basically, this was it. It wasn’t going to get better, although it might get worse. Finally he consulted with a physician who spoke bluntly — and oddly. As they looked at pictures showing where the scar tissue was pressing directly on his patient’s nerves, the doctor said, “You’re feeding the volcano god of pain.”

The researcher said, “What?” The doctor explained, “Every time the volcano god of pain appears, you appease it by saying, ‘I won’t walk a mile if I can just have relief from the pain.’ And so you offer it your ability to walk for a mile. But the volcano god of pain is insatiable. You make that offering and it needs more, and so you say to it, ‘I won’t lift my young child in my arms if you’ll just not make me have the pain.’ And for a moment, it’s a happy world, but then the god needs more. You’ll go on continuing to offer more and more of your life to this volcano god.”

So, what’s the plan? Within a skillful, careful, therapeutic setting, what the researcher was asked to do was recognize that the messages of pain that he was receiving were largely — not wholly, but largely — habituated. There was a distance he could go to recondition his muscles, to gain back function, but it would be very, very difficult and very, very subtle — and very, very demanding. To begin with, he’d have to change his fundamental relationship to this “volcano god of pain.” And as he did that, he also began to find his real work: studying the nature of pain itself, and the ways in which patients and physicians might deepen the experience of exploring it together...

My sense is that most people are silently convinced that there is no relationship available with these gods of pain and fear and anger except appeasement. The gods are insatiable, and we’re somehow content with an underlying despair. Aggressive people feed their gods with compulsive activity — fixing themselves, fixing things — the “make-over” shows are endless and heart-breaking. More passive people feed the gods small compromises of character, becoming progressively less generous in any real way. But in our culture, to my eye, there seem to be very few who are genuinely realizing a freedom that’s not dependent on feeling good. We really need to take this up together, and deeply...

The presence of hope has the disadvantage of potentially displacing focus from the present onto an imagined future. If we live in hope, we could be living a dream: we can’t hang onto that. But hanging onto hopelessness isn’t clarity, either. Science has tracked how the absence of hope that pain will be relieved diminishes the brain’s capacity to release endorphins, which in turn worsens the experience of the pain. As you get more messages of pain, the sense of hope decreases, and the pain increases in response. So it just becomes an endless loop.

How to break that loop, then, becomes the really interesting koan — the place of leaning in, of really seeing. When the state of mind and body called for is neither hope nor hopelessness, what is it? I wonder, in a sense, if this isn’t where all practice leans in. Aren’t we just describing Bodhi mind, the mind of awakening — of breaking free of the loop when, essentially, the loop is exactly what we are?

So things are going to be OK. Painful no doubt, but OK.

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