Sunday, May 17, 2015

About Kindness and Questions

Anyone I've had conversations with over the past few months knows that there is a particular question I've been playing with, wrestling with, turning over and over again, and I think I've come around to what, for me, is the answer. The question is, how do you hold an open heart when you're confronted by wrongness, by hurtfulness, either in a person or situation? I've been offered dozens of bits of wisdom that, for me, weren't quite right. Most recently I asked someone and they initially asked "how does it feel? What would you be willing to do not to have that feeling?". But my answer was, that's the problem - sitting in judgment feels good to me. Feeling right feels good to me. And they said, "ask, what would love do?", and I just about flat out said no. That isn't my answer. And then something clicked.

That isn't my answer, at least not in the way I use the word love. That isn't something I can choose or insist on or demand from myself. And judgment isn't bad, although it can be distorted. There is a kind of smug, condescending, "I'm better than that" judgment, but there's also "whew, a mistake I'm not making!" judgment, and then there's just recognizing-a-wrongness judgment. There's nothing to fix there, with making judgments. You couldn't survive for a day out in the wilderness by refusing to make judgments about what's right and wrong. You might make mistakes, in concrete things and in conceptual things, but if you're using your intelligence and your intentions are benevolent, a lot of times wrongness is very clear.

And love - you don't have to love where you don't. I can't will my heart open, but here's what I can do:  I can behave with kindness. Kindness toward people, no matter how much wrongness they might be stuck in. Kindness in the worst of situations. Kindness toward objects, toward the physical world, toward ideas and wayward emotions. I can choose kindness. I can choose what I see as a corollary to kindness, tenderness. To caress, to be care-full, to be gentle. 

The Dalai Lama famously says "kindness is my religion", but I didn't really get that. I mean, he's all enlightened and holy and a super nice guy, and of course he would be kind, right? But that's not the point. The point is that kindness is a choice. I can't choose to be enlightened, I can't choose to feel love if I don't, but kindness is a choice. Choose kindness. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Unsolicited Travel Advice

This is for my niece-of-someone-else, almost-former housemate/protracted guest, will-eventually-just-be-a-regular-friend, almost twenty year old person. Everyone should have one.

I know you want to travel. I have a suggestion. It gives you a year to prepare yourself, which you'll want. When you're 21, start taking long weekends where you buy a plane ticket, rent a car or get on a train, and watch every episode of Anthony Bourdain's The Layover ahead of time. Give yourself longer than 48 hours for each visit - he mostly already knows every city, and that man can pack away the food. But eat your way through New York City, LA, Singapore - make a list from each episode, research the cool food blogs, get a map and go with a plan. Part of the plan should allow for throwing the plan out if circumstances and opportunities intervene. Either travel alone (not as scary as you think), or take your most adventurous, badly behaved friend. Take photos with a phone, but don't stand out as a tourist.

A few other things: don't eat at the hipster places, unless you're in Portland, where that's actually the native cuisine. Don't go to gluten-free special needs places - just hold the bread and gravy and noodles (except for rice ones) and eat like a local. Drink more than you normally would, but not so much that you wake up feeling like crap. Find out where the good coffee is, and the used bookstores. Keep a journal - the old fashioned paper kind, with shit spilled on the pages, in a ratty notebook, not a too-precious beautiful thing. (Actually, I think that last bit is essential to life. It should fit in your bag, which ought to be a cross body shoulder bag that's just function. Buy it with the notebook in hand, so it can try on the bag.) Make it big enough to accommodate a book, too.

And that's it. How to travel the world in little chunks, relatively cheaply (compared to other methods) and collect experiences. Try it out.

Or you could travel the way I have, by moving, which is a whole other thing. Long weekends are less traumatic I think.