Extreme Unplugging: Why I Go Dark

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. —Blaise Pascal

I started to write this post during meditation. I know, I know…that’s not what you’re supposed to do when sitting. But as anyone who has meditated has discovered—thinking happens.

I was a few days into a monthlong retreat at the Zen Monastery Peace Center, and I was happy. Not the kind of happy you feel when you’ve won the lottery, but happy like when you’re a kid on summer vacation.

This, I realize, is not the reaction most people would have when staring down 30 days of silence with no phone, computer, family, friends, or even eye contact. But I love being on retreat, and people often ask me what it’s like, so it occurred to me to try to articulate why I like to go dark and unplug in such spectacular fashion.

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Forgiving Is a Process

I love learning about words—their meanings, where they come from, how we use them. But sometimes I wonder if I missed a pivotal week in school where the vocabulary list included words like love, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

I’d heard these words held aloft as aspirational signposts since my first Sunday school teacher explained the Golden Rule. I’d even, on more than one occasion, had the experience being described by each of these words.

But the concepts themselves remained abstract and intangible to me most of the time. I knew they were real, but often it felt like I sometimes feel when passing through business class on the way back to coach. Someone else got to sit in love and compassion while I grudgingly wedged myself into acceptance and tolerance, wondering how exactly one gets access to those roomier seats.

Because these words are, well, words… I had assumed they had clear definitions. And if something could be defined, then it could be gift wrapped with a bow and neatly filed on my shelves of understanding, ready to be taken out when needed.

However, when I found myself in need of compassion, I’d take the box off the shelf and it would be empty. I’d think to myself that I know kindness would be useful in this situation, but I seem to be fresh out and don’t know where to get more.

I felt locked within an intellectual fortress, forbidden entry into the garden of good feelings and betrayed by my reliance on reasoning.

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A Moment of Silence With 400,000 People

“Silence is a source of great strength.”  —Lao Tzu

I wouldn’t have thought you could get 400,000 people excitedly waiting to begin the largest climate march in history to stop, become still and silent, and raise their hands in solidarity. But it happened—and it was powerful.

As we lined the western edge of Central Park with a cushion of quiet, we had a moment to access that place beyond words, to get in touch with the bigger picture, to tap into the mystery that transcends but includes us all.

After filling up on the love, peace, joy, connection, or whatever each of us found in that moment of reflection, we brought forth that energy in a roll of sound that moved through the crowd like a wave in perpetual crest.

It was a roar of hope and frustration, of joy and anger, of optimism and sadness. It was a roar of love—the sound of a mother bear protecting her cubs and a parent whispering, “I love you” to their sleeping baby.

It was the sound of the Earth itself, saying, “I will not be denied.”

Eat With Your Hands

227050_1987359533718_4482011_n“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
—Plato

Playfulness is one of the things that seem to disappear from life as we grow up. We get pressured to be serious, deliberate, and mature. We tweak and trim our behavior until it fits what we think it means to act like a grown up. We never feel like one, though, and we look around and wonder how everyone else is so grown-up and if we’ll ever feel that way, while they secretly wonder the same thing.

WikiHow, in an article called How to Know When You Are Grown Up (I am not kidding), claims the hallmarks of reaching this mythical grown-up land include seriousness, thinking about the future, focusing on career, keeping the house tidier, using “sir” or “madam” instead of “dude” when addressing someone, and having to wear glasses to read. Oh, and no more “aimless meandering.”

Seriously?

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