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Facing the Beast: What I'm Doing About 'Active Clubs'

It has to start with me. Painful as that might be.

In this Aug. 12, 2017 file photo, white nationalist demonstrators clash with counter demonstrators at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va.  Steve Helber / AP
Image by Steve Helber / AP

PART 1: Comfort vs. Awakening

Everywhere in the world — but let’s just take our country, for instance — there is cause for grave concern. We’re bombarded every day by record-breaking heat waves, flash floods, and tornadoes (in places where they don’t usually show up), twisting people’s entire lives off their foundations and leaving them in pieces on the ground, miles away.

It’s a time that’s hard to process. Whatever your go-to soothers are, they’re being called on 24/7. Netflix binges, overwork, knitting, booze, crossword puzzles, weed, you name it. Anything to help us look away from the world right now.

Meditation can be a habit, too, but it’s not necessarily a “soother” habit, if we’re doing it for real. When we’re meditating for real, we face the world as it is. Even scarier, we face ourselves as we are.

This is hard. And it’s the last thing we want to do at a time like this. But it’s the most important thing we can do, especially at a time like this.

My most fervent aspiration is to be a vessel for comfort to all living beings. But more importantly, I want to be part of the path to awakening for all of us. Comfort and awakening don’t always play nice.

My comfort message would be this:

Whatever’s bothering you right now? It’s not the end of the world. It’s not. It’s just something that a) you think is happening, and b) you think shouldn’t be happening.

There it is. All your suffering in one shot.

But you are a teeny, tiny human who’s been thrown into the SuperNinja-Vitamix of Life, with minimal (and mostly suspect) training. You’re scrambling to stay alive — not only physically for food and shelter, but emotionally for love and affirmation, and of course, ego-wise, you’re fighting hard to maintain yourself as an entity, distinguishable from others, and probably because you’re better. And you’re trying to all this while paying the light bill and getting the dishes done.

This is not only hard, it’s impossible. And you’re doing it anyway. Give yourself a hug. Or, if you’re not ‘that guy,’ sit down. Stop for a minute. Make eye contact with your inner self.

You’re doing the best you can, and it’s fine. Really. I mean it.

My awakening message would be this:

This thing that’s bothering you so much right now? It’s your best friend.

Does being told, “It will pass” help? This thing will pass in one way or another, but it’ll keep coming around until you are able to sit still, look it in the eyes, and welcome it in. See, this thing that’s bothering you — it’s shown up in your life because it was already part of your consciousness. And once you understand that and make a relationship with it, it will bother you less. Maybe a lot less.

PART 2: Awakening and ‘Active Clubs’

If you’re thinking ‘what on earth is she talking about?’ I’m going to walk my talk here, so we can unpack together what I mean by this.

Here’s what’s bothering me right now: The growing presence of ‘active clubs’ in our country. If you don’t know what an active club is, this NPR article published on July 19th will help you understand it. As the writer, Odette Yousef explains, an ‘active club’ is a “strand of the white nationalist movement that has … recently taken their message of hate into more public view. These decentralized cells emphasize mixed martial arts training to ready their members for violence against their perceived enemies.”

What stopped me in my tracks was the sudden realization that my wife and I are the perceived enemies of this increasingly organized, violent hate group. I always knew there were many who think that same-sex love is wrong — but to know that there are people training to ready for violence against us? This seems inconceivable to me, but as you’ll read in the article, these clubs are popping up all over the United States.

So, how does this issue become my best friend?

At the most basic level, the issue is my entry point into dissolving the us/them illusion. We’re all the same, at heart. Yeah, whatever, yada yada. But how am I the same as one of these guys?

Aside from the obvious — we’re all human, and we bleed when we’re cut — there is something deeper that connects us. What I have in common with those guys is, we all want what we want, we all know we’re right, and we’ve all had it with the way things have been going.

Can I sit with how this feels? The ‘knowing what’s right’? Where does that live in my body? It grips my jaw in a vice, and courses down through my arms to where I find myself almost making a fist. Really? On my meditation cushion? Really.

My job is to notice how I feel in this moment, as I invite this bothersome issue onto my altar. Then I can explore how it feels to soften. If my jaw is rock hard, and my teeth are grinding, can I stay with that and get curious? What happens when I soften?

Holy moly. My whole throat opens up. There’s something weird and loving that travels all the way into my shoulder blades. Somehow I’m sitting up straighter so that there’s a clearer pathway between the crown of my head and my pelvic bowl.

All of that came was only the beginning of what I discovered, when feeling into the first thought that I hold in common with ‘those guys,’ “I’m right.” There’s so much more. And you might say, “Good for you, sitting on your cushion. What about the people tied to fences and murdered, or bullied until they jump off a bridge?”

Of course, real world action is called for. But there is a vast difference between action that comes from a place of “You’re hateful idiots, and you have to be taught how wrong you are” and the action that comes from honest to God compassion.

But that compassion can’t be fake or forced. It can’t be “idiot compassion,” a term Trungpa Rinpoche coined back in the 70s and 80s, to describe our tendency to help others in unhelpful ways — enabling them to perpetuate their neurosis, often at the expense of others, and their own well-being.

It has to be real. There is a prayer I learned years ago that is one of the most effective, transformative prayers I know. It helps me develop and cultivate real compassion.

PART 3: ‘Active Clubs’ and the Compassion Prayer

The Setting I picture the guys in active clubs popping up all over the United States. I pick one of them, the scariest of them in his fully tatted body, covered in black leather and armed with AK-47s.

Then, I imagine myself standing next to him, because we are both going to be the recipients of this prayer. I stand however close seems appropriate for this moment. And I say to both images, him and me,

May you be safe from inner and outer harm. I know about the damage that inner harm has done to me. If he needs to obliterate another whole ‘group’ of people, he is suffering also from inner harm. We are both trying to control things to avoid being hurt. We are both afraid. We’ve both been harmed. As I say the words of the prayer, I imagine how we might respond if the prayer came true, and we both felt safe. May you be safe from inner and outer harm.

May you be free from guilt, shame, and hatred. I see him and me. I’ve got mother-guilt, daughter-guilt, shame up the yazoo, and I can feel some of my hatred still for this man and his active group. I pray for freedom from all of it.

Everyone carries some portion of these poisons. Then, how was he treated as a child? How did he get this way — from the newborn baby that he started out as? As I speak the words, I make them true — for me and for him. I pretend, I watch it unfold as if in a movie. I watch some of my defenses, some of his, melt away, as I say to us both, May you be free from guilt, shame, and hatred.

May you enjoy physical and mental well-being. Wow, may everyone enjoy physical and mental well-being. Because, if someone is enjoying physical and mental well-being, they are not organizing for violence of any kind. So I see him healthy, grounded and strong, and I feel my own energy force increasing, my own power and solidity, and I say to us both, May you enjoy physical and mental well-being.”

May you live with the ease of an open heart. I look over at him. We make eye contact. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. At this point, I try to imagine myself authentically living with the ease of an open heart. I begin to see, or at least imagine, how many obstacles to the open heart he must have had to endure — and, where his heart might already be wide open. (Does he love his little chihuahua? His buddies? A woman? Or, God forbid, a man?). And from my trying, more open heart, I wish for us both: May you live with the ease of an open heart.”

And may you awaken to your true nature, which is an inexhaustible source of love, compassion, and wisdom. That is the crux of Buddhist thinking. That our true nature is there, has always been, and will always be there. It may be hidden by all the wild illusions, but it is never disempowered by them. Only temporarily hidden from view.

I devote myself to opening my eyes, to awakening, to seeing more clearly.

The minute we activate our desire to affirm our true nature for ourselves and for all living beings (the inexhaustible source of love, compassion and wisdom), there is something in the universe that responds in real time. I believe this with my whole heart.

I leave you with this. Look in the mirror and say, May you be safe from inner and outer harm. May you be free from guilt, shame and hatred. May you enjoy physical and mental well-being. May you live with the ease of an open heart. And may you awaken to your true nature, which is an inexhaustible source of love, compassion, and wisdom.


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