When we watch a baby struggling to crawl, stand, or walk, when we see hir face darken as ze cries with frustration, we feel empathy for hir distress. We feel empathy as ze tries and tries and tries, gives up, collapses, and is compelled to try again, and again, and again. We offer encouragement and support, yet also stand back and let things take their course. We are not truly disturbed, for we understand such intense experience of challenge, with all its attendant feelings, is an aspect of normal development.
When we watch a toddler having a temper tantrum, utterly overwhelmed by frustration as ze tests the fast-changing limits of hir ability to create in/as Earth, we feel empathy. In this culture, a toddler’s emotional storm often hits our emotional bodies like a class 3 tornado, threatening to rip up anything that’s not strongly anchored in Earth…
Still, we understand that this intensity is in the nature of development.
The toddler, of course, doesn’t know this. The way the toddler feels, ze is sure that something really terrible is happening. The only way ze comes to know otherwise is through the consistent presence of sufficiently stable adults, adults who can reflect the truth of hir feelings while simultaneously embodying another, more pleasurable experience.
Adolescents, too, are prone to great intensities of feeling and action as they test the fast-changing limits of their ability to create in/as Earth. If a strong toddler’s a class 3 on a bad day, a lot of adolescents are class 5s on a regular basis.
Such is the power of sex!
Everything naturally seems like a life or death matter to an adolescent. Consciously offering adolescents an initiatory process that actually puts them on the edge between life and death is a mercy, for it moves them through this phase quickly and decisively. Uninitiated adolescents can stay there for years (sometimes decades), craving the unequivocal answer their depths know they need.
In the meantime, the adolescent cannot imagine that something like rejection by hir first romantic/sexual love, or failure to achieve a goal ze really, really wanted won’t be devastating forever.
So today we look at the global trauma pandemic that’s wreaked havoc on our personal, familial and community lives, the global trauma pandemic that seems so obviously to imperil not only human life, but most complex life on planet Earth, and freak out. We cannot imagine that the damage we see all around and within us will not kill us, or cripple us so badly we wish someone would put us out of our misery.
We’re terrified! We’re enraged! How could they–those cruel parents, those lame teachers, those nasty corporate rulers, those corrupt politicians, those–Other People–have done this to us?!? Why didn’t someone stop them?!? We’re ashamed: how could we have done this to ourselves, to all our relations?!? We feel impotent: how could we have let them do this to us?!? Why didn’t we stop them?!? We feel despair: how can Life be loving when there is such awful suffering in it? How can I ever create what I dream of creating when Earth life is so relentless?
We’ve felt all these things before, individually and collectively. It doesn’t mean that the situation actually corresponds to the stories we create from the raw, and I do mean raw, material of our current feelings and sensations.
How do we know that the global trauma pandemic is not actually a component of a normal, albeit vast, developmental process?
We can’t possibly answer that question with the mind. The nature of mind is to divide, to fracture, to split. A broken mirror shows a world in pieces; that doesn’t mean the world is other than whole.
The mind, of course, has no problem understanding this. The problem is that the mind’s understanding doesn’t help very much, doesn’t do much for the intensifying feelings of panic and despair, doesn’t do much for the markedly unpleasant sensations of dis-ease afflicting our physical bodies at both the individual and collective level.
As the mind registers its inability to fix the current situation or predict what comes next, it tends to add intensity to the storm already raging in the deeper layers of Self, Lover, World (a bow to Joanna Macy here).
Well, thank goodness, there’s a solution to that, at least, right here, right now. It’s grandmother wisdom, plain and simple: if you don’t know what’s going on, you don’t know what’s going to happen next, and you can’t do a whole hell of a lot to affect the overall outcome, what can you do? You can love the hell out of whomever’s nearby, that’s what. (Sorry, but my grandmother was a grammarian, and she insists: “You may swear, you may use slang, just remember me with your relative pronouns.”)
You can love the other people, starting with yourself. You can love the air you’re still breathing, the clouds in the sky, the ground lying beneath you. You can love the ancestors whose love gave you this moment to love.
So while our current situation is far too complex for even the best mind to handle, our mission–should we choose to accept it–is simple. Love the hell out of whomever’s nearby, now.
I know, I know, this is contrary to all our deepest beliefs, to all our habits of straining and struggling and trying to control life. We’re talking about habits from our deepest ancestral roots, for even the amoeba struggles to control life.
The Discipline of Pleasure is about transforming even those deepest habits.
There’s no end to the work, it’s true. Because, really, look around, people: are we all that good at loving?
O.k., o.k., my grandmother didn’t mean to wound any ego’s tender feelings there (or did she?). Let me try that another way: we have a lot more to learn about how to love. For love is a craft, a living blend of inspiration and practical mastery.
In the last several decades, we’ve witnessed and participated in a massive explosion of inspiration with regard to love. We have, people, really we have! Do I have to spell this one out? I know, I know, I know there are still too many people starving, too many forests being clearcut and jungles being burned, too many species of plant, animal, fish, bird, beauty being rendered extinct. And I feel the hearts of people all over the world responding to these losses…
Feel the hearts of people all over the world experiencing love in new forms. People in countries who have been enemies for generations not just friending each other on Facebook but also sending money to assist in times of need, sometimes actually showing up to help out with the hard physical labor. The rise of concern about and action around the rights of women, queer people, nature. Yes, there’s the inevitable snapback of fundamentalism, violence, repression. Still, I say, something’s got a hold on us, people, and oh, it must be love…
We are a species expanding rapidly in our desire to/for love. What we need now are practical skills that enable us to convert the love we feel in our hearts into transformation of every aspect of Earthy life. Yes, I mean transformation of the physical body, of chemical and emotional poisons, of violence both overt and covert.
That’s a lot of practical skills! And that’s what The Discipline of Pleasure is all about.
The mastery of any Earthy discipline takes time, focus and dedication. So let’s get on with practicing.