The Problem of Suffering

I’ve been concerned about suffering since I was eight, and I went to a friend’s Baptist church with her. They had fun games about remembering things from the Bible, and—always the showoff when it came to learning—I enjoyed those games. But though I had a good time, I declined to go with her again. And soon, I declined to go to the Sunday school classes at our own Episcopal church. When my mother asked me why, I said, “I don’t know about a God who is supposed to be all-powerful but still lets animals and little kids get hurt.” I was lucky: my mother let me out of the classes, only if I sat quietly in church during the grown-up part of the service, next to her.

I never did know about that God. I loved the language of the King James Bible, and many of the verses, particularly the Psalms. I liked singing hymns, especially at Christmas. But I could not find faith, when logic would not reconcile the things this religion told me. The closest I came was when I taught a survey literature course in Southern Illinois and the Old Testament was part of the curriculum. I had to teach the Book of Job.

The suffering of Job

One aspect of Job is the awful bet that begins the book, where God brags about Job’s extreme faith and goodness, and Satan says (and feel free to imagine this in a needling, snide voice), “Yeah, that’s only because you’ve given him all good things.” God then says, “Oh yeah? Well, do whatever you want to him. He’ll still be a good guy.” And that’s how Job’s suffering begins. Because of this bet—precisely because he remains good, you might say—he loses everything, including, eventually, his friends, his reputation, and his health. And reading it is truly horrifying, particularly if you think about people you know who are good, kind, generous, and thoughtful, and how those people have suffered and are suffering. The book seems to make my childhood point for me: it shows an all-powerful, all-knowing God who not only allows suffering, but seems to incite it. And all during his suffering, Job’s “friends” come and tell him to stop complaining; they won’t listen to his understandable anger and confusion over this unfairness. Poor Job! Poor us, humans left in the hands of a cruel and capricious god.

For some people, the answer comes directly from God, close to the end of the book of Job, when God gets tired of Job’s complaining and (perhaps to prevent him from doing what God told Satan he would never do, and cursing God’s name), God comes down to give him a direct talking-to. What does God say? Basically that Job wasn’t there when God created everything, set up the world and chilled out with monsters and angels—that God’s understanding is so complex, subtle, and deep that there is no way Job could understand all of God’s ways. It’s just not possible. It would be like trying to explain economic theory to your dog.

Ok. Ok. So if you can block out your prior literary knowledge here—that Job’s suffering is the result of a bet between God and Satan—that actually makes sense. The likelihood that a being powerful enough to create the world would be beyond our understanding is pretty high. In the context of suffering, it is the only thing that makes sense; certainly we can look around us and see numerous people whose goodness should make them prime candidates for receiving good, and numerous people whose evil should make them prime candidates for receiving evil, and observe that this is not what happens.

Buddhism’s take on suffering

What I like about the basic idea of Buddhism is that there’s no pretense that good behavior will get you good things in life. The Buddha just says, “Yeah, human existence cannot be separated from suffering. Life is suffering. So I’m going to give you some tools for making that suffering less.”

All right. Yes, I said all right. Because this no bullshit approach sounds absolutely true to me. I’m a very sensitive person who has suffered from depression since my teens. I not only sob when I witness suffering, like a squirrel hit by a car, but also when I hear about suffering. And then I spiral down into the dark, wondering what the point of all this is, feeling my insignificance in the universe, deciding that I actually cannot stand the suffering, and the unfairness. If I put the additional pressure on myself of believing that, if I were only better in some (or numerous) ways, I wouldn’t suffer, then I can’t move. The weight is too much. Suffering is down to me? It’s my fault? I can’t live with that.

What I can live with is a world largely indifferent to my suffering and the suffering of others. A universe with its own systems, and a body and brain set up to be particularly attentive to the passing of time. Hey, we evolved to be like this—ruminating on the past, to see what we learned, and worrying about the future, so we know what to avoid. This all happened so we could stay alive.

But now, we suffer when we spend all our time in the past or the future. A bill from the doctor’s office doesn’t hurt us in the present; it is our regrets about the past (Should I have not gone to the doctor? Not spent that money in that way last month?) and our fears about the future (If I pay the bill now, will I have enough for rent?) that make us suffer.

Life’s going to suck sometimes

Which is where meditation comes in. I want to be clear: meditation doesn’t take away the bill. I don’t subscribe to the “meditate and you’ll draw good things to you, including money and success” set of beliefs. Basic Buddhist ideas work best for me: life is going to suck sometimes, and you’re going to suffer. Most of that stuff will be out of your control. So what can you do? Try to modify your reactions to what happens. 

So when you get that doctor’s bill, you’re going to have a reaction. That’s a feeling, and you can’t control it. It’ll be a sinking feeling, or a feeling of sadness or even anger. Notice the feeling, have the feeling, but separate the feeling from all the thoughts that will come afterwards. Meditation helps you do this, and it helps you practice nonjudging. Because if you refuse to judge yourself, then the thought, “I shouldn’t have spent that money last month” can be just a thought, noticed and watched as it floats past on your river of thoughts. You can, in fact, significantly lessen your own suffering by not judging yourself based on that thought. Instead of chasing after that thought, telling yourself, “I should have known; I should have saved,” you remember that you not only couldn’t know about the future doctor visit, you couldn’t control yourself getting sick. Translation: this is not your fault. This is just one of those sucky things that happens because the universe sometimes gives you sucky things.

Freeing yourself from the blame and self-judgment amounts to a real lightening of the load of your own suffering. It’s like magic! Only it isn’t magic. Human nature, capitalist culture, modern technology, and more make it particularly difficult to separate yourself from judgment and from the illusion of control. It’s hard to give yourself even a few moments of quiet time to think, to remind yourself to notice your thoughts and feelings without judging them, or yourself for having them. That’s why people have meditation practices, because a practice is something you try to do on a regular basis. It helps us actually take the steps that will make us better at doing something we know we want to get good at.

Perhaps the Buddhist approach to suffering is, in fact, a bit like that answer towards the end of Job, where God says that we simply cannot understand God’s ways. In both cases, we must accept our limitations—we are not all-knowing nor all-powerful—and devise ways to meet the uncertain with equanimity. People with religious faith and those who don’t claim a particular faith can all benefit from a new way of seeing, and responding to, suffering.

Depression and suffering

And for those of us who struggle with depression, it is even more essential to come to different terms with suffering. Without some handle on it, the specter of ending our suffering in a permanent way rises regularly, even daily. But we can endure, I believe. I have endured, and you will, as well. Your suffering is not your own fault. Remember that, however you can. And try to practice meditation, if only for the hope of a few moments relief. It has worked for me. It is not a cure, but it is a tool I would not have survived this long without. Both this perspective on suffering and the practice of meditation have also—you can trust me on this, because I absolutely admit to the inevitability of the dark times and the sucky events you cannot control—brought me times of joy. I promise you, joy is possible, even given the inevitability of suffering. You can feel the whole range of human emotions, including joy. That’s where I hope to take you, in my writings: on this slow, fitful journey with me, where we recognize, together, that our lives have worth.

Writers and Meditation

I gave this talk as part of a panel with Casey Clague at the Gulf Coast Association of Creative Writing Teachers conference a couple of weeks ago, so forgive the speech-like feel. (And if you’re anywhere near Fairhope, Alabama, and a writer, consider coming to that conference next year—I’ve taken over as president, and it’s always a great time of community and connection. Not just for teachers, and not just for literary writers or writers within academia.) 

—Katie

I wanted to start my little talk with a joke, something to loosen people up and connect us to the here-and-now, something that might establish me as at least good-natured, a little bit clever, knowledgeable about the strategies of successful panels and conferences (as I should be at this point, having done this kind of thing for 25 years). I even thought about opening with my opening at the Other Words conference, my other favorite Southern writing conference, where all I had to say was, “I’m not funny. I’m from the Midwest,” and the audience burst into laughter.

But. That conference was back in early November. That conference was before the election. We are living in a different world now, and I am even less funny now than I was then. I am, in fact, stricken. I try to write, to think, about anything other than the suffering that will be a consequence of the current administration—that is already happening—and, mostly, I can’t.

Except for meditation. I can think and write about meditation, because I first came to it due to suffering, and it is one of the few things that helps me deal with suffering, mine or others’.

So one of the things I’m writing about meditation is a short book, tentatively entitled, There’s No Wrong Way: 44 Meditations, in which I list a variety of ways you might meditate. Some are standard parts of Buddhist or mindfulness meditation practices, and some are a little weird, like stoplight meditation, cursing meditation, fabric store meditation, and time travel meditation.

I bring this up for two reasons.

  • As both writers and readers, you know that how someone explains something is often as important—or more important—than what they are saying. Which means that some books and speakers on the topic of meditation and mindfulness will turn you off. Tone, word choice, metaphor, and all the other tools we work with daily will affect you. (Personally, the words of Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, don’t work for me. Her tone reads to me like “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” when I need something more like “everything’s going to be ok,” or really, “everything’s going to be as it is, and you freaking out about it won’t make it better, so give yourself a break and chill out.”) There are tons of books and videos on meditation—in fact, I thought about calling my book Who needs another book on meditation?—so if one doesn’t resonate for you, try another one. Meditation itself may still work for you—I believe it works for nearly all of us—but you need to find the right perspective and wording.
  • If you think you’ve tried meditating and you can’t do it, I’m here to say that I don’t believe you. Because if you’re a writer, you’ve meditated. What do you think that “zone” is, that “flow,” where you’re writing the first draft and your hands can’t move quickly enough to get down your thoughts? Where do you think your crazy ideas come from, when your characters say things you didn’t plan for them to say or your poem loops back around to that image from the first stanza and you suddenly have an ending? I would argue that this state—which we all know is not all there is to writing—at the very least has a lot in common with meditation. It is a state of concentration without striving, a state of openness and receptivity that nevertheless excludes our usual worries about the future or regrets about the past. Success and failure are not part of it; when you’re in that state, you simply are.

Now, do you get to that state of being every time you sit down to write? No, of course not. Similarly, you don’t get to that state of being every time you sit down to meditate. But the more you practice meditation, the more likely you are to enter that state. I suspect there are writers here who would attest to a similar effect when writing, who know that it is the sitting down regularly that makes it possible for that “zone” to occur.

So, in this ultra-busy world, I can hear some of you thinking, if the writing “zone” is so much like meditation, why would you want to do both? Don’t they accomplish the same thing?

Ah…no. For us, writing is inevitably, inextricably tied to both the past and the future. It is connected to judgment at its very core: our writing is judged by teachers, mentors, and editors, as well as by our own inner critics. The zone may be free of all that, but as soon as we leave it, we’re back to the world in which we are writers, people whose careers depend on being published, people who want to be read. We suffer from our rejections, fall into self-doubt, spend months hoping for good news and dread having to publicize ourselves when the time comes. Yes, the writing zone is a beautiful state to be in, and it’s a vital mental practice, and it’s a high; but we’re always going to come back to the other parts of writing, the revision and submission, publication and reviews.

Meditation is not connected to all that. There’s no editorial board for meditation. No one will tell you whether you’re worthy as a meditator or not. Your income doesn’t depend on it, nor your public reputation. When you’re done meditating, you don’t then have to pick apart the results of that half hour, applying your overlay of craft knowledge to the raw materials of the imagination. The point of meditation is not to produce anything. For the time you’re meditating, you are out of the loop of work and judgment. In fact, two basic ideas of meditation are nonstriving and nonjudging.
But it is still a mental practice. Studies abound on the specific effects of meditation. Meditation improves creativity, flexible thinking, concentration, and decision-making. It improves resilience and lowers stress, which is measurable in lowered blood pressure and heart rates. Meditation will feed your writing, making it easier for you to access the writing zone, manage your time so you can write, and bounce back from the inevitable negative events of life so you can spend more time being productive and less time down the YouTube rabbit hole. Maybe you’ll find the courage to get really weird in your writing, break some rules, experiment. Practicing the shutting down of those inevitable inner voices of judgment and discouragement may make innovation more possible. Not to mention the ability to access quiet, stillness, and concentration in a world of constant, instant connection, stimulation, and information overload.

One last thing: when I was younger, I worried that if I ever found a way to silence my inner demons, heal lifelong emotional wounds, that I’d lose the urge to write. I worried that I’d lose the inner itch, that urge to create, to try to understand the world through words. Meditation may seem like that kind of bandage, soothing your inner turmoil and simultaneously smothering the crazy, effed-up part of you that needs to write. Of course I can’t promise you won’t become a bodhisattva, an enlightened one, and levitate into the next world—but I suspect that, like the rest of us, you’ve got plenty of crazy for this lifetime. After all, you’re a writer.

Meditation Monday: Interview with Taryn Prescott – The Gloria Sirens

My former student and beautiful writer, Taryn, on meditation in her life. Enjoy! –Katie   When and why did you start meditating? – I didn’t start meditating earnestly until I was p…

Source: Meditation Monday: Interview with Taryn Prescott – The Gloria Sirens

Meditation Monday: Interview with Elizabeth Kadetsky

Another in our Meditation Monday series! Writers, you might be particularly interested in this. I’m especially glad to have so many people willing to talk about their meditation practices, in part because I think it’s so important for folks to recognize how varied they are.

–Katie

 

When and why did you start meditating?

It came about as a part of my yoga practice. It kind of happened on its own, or thanks to my pranayama teachers.

 

How did you learn about meditation? (From a group, book, video, other practitioner?)

From various classes in Buddhist meditation, both before and during and after I’d already learned pranayama. I believe that my first meditation class was in NYC when I was about 12 or 13. It’s always been a sort of part of the air I breathe given my upbringing.

 

What type of meditation works best for you? 

Observing my thoughts and gently nudging them, I suppose that’s somewhat vipassana influenced. Sometimes it helps me to do guided meditations. I was using the headspace app until quite recently when it came to feel obvious or redundant or just distracting.

 

Is your meditation connected to a spiritual, religious, or philosophic tradition?

Buddhism but also yoga practice.

 

What would you say to someone who expresses interest in meditation, but claims to be “unable” to do it?

There’s no such thing as “successful” meditation. It’s about the process not the goal. Trying is the same as doing.

 

What does your meditation practice do for you? That is, what are some of the specific benefits or consequences you experience, long or short-term?

It enriches my creative process in terms of conditioning my mind to be more pliable and responsive to stray ideas and also confident in chasing weird ideas. It lessens the self-shut-down criticism that can make the creative process stagnate. It helps me deal with conflict and anger. Long term I’d say it’s kind of self fulfilling. It’s always there for me as I’ve conditioned my mind to know how to do this kind of “exercise.”

 

Elizabeth Kadetsky is author of a memoir, First There Is a Mountain (Little, Brown), a story collection, The Poison that Purifies You (C&R Press), and a novella, On the Island at the Center of the Center of the World (Nouvella). Her short fiction and personal essays have been published widely–recently in Glimmer Train, Antioch Review, and New England Review. She is assistant professor of fiction and nonfiction at Penn State, and her words can be found at elizabethkadetsky.com.

Meditation Monday: Interview with Therese Tappouni – The Gloria Sirens

  Welcome to the 2nd in a series of interviews with people who meditate! I hope you’ll find something here that resonates or even encourages you to give meditation a try. –Katie &n…

Source: Meditation Monday: Interview with Therese Tappouni – The Gloria Sirens

Meditation Monday: Interview with Casey Clague – The Gloria Sirens

 Hello and welcome to the first Meditation Monday! I asked some of my friends and acquaintances to answer a few questions about meditation, and the answers were smart and funny, surprising and varie…

Source: Meditation Monday: Interview with Casey Clague – The Gloria Sirens

Meditation for Skeptics – The Gloria Sirens

A standard message for motivational speakers and writers of self-help books is to promise that, if you do what the book suggests, you will have success. Often there’s an element of magic to how tha…

Source: Meditation for Skeptics – The Gloria Sirens

After the Election: Create to Cope

(this post originally appeared on The Gloria Sirens)

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

—Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

In the wake of the 2016 U.S. election—I was going to write “the election,” which has come to be capitalized in my circles, The Election like The Great Depression or The Moon, but then I remembered that people from other countries and, if I’m lucky, other times will read this post—I, like many of my friends, have struggled with my own depression and anxiety. It does not help that I already struggle with those issues, but I know several people who do not have a history with depression yet are having powerful emotional responses to The Election. The U.S. is likely to be led by a person who condoned hatred and violence during his campaign, whose misogyny and bigotry of all varieties is, unfortunately, being confirmed by his choices for political appointees, and who is against a free and truthful press.

I am not normally a particularly political person. Even now, I don’t remember the names of people the president elect has appointed. But I have read books. A lot of books. I took classes on the Holocaust in college. I taught The Handmaid’s Tale. I have always read science fiction, which is often a thinly veiled commentary on contemporary events, as authors spin out what futures might occur if humanity continues in this way. I have some sense of history, and a great imagination. So I cannot help the fear that envelops me when I think about where things in this country could go from here.

piranhas-123287_1280

And I can’t stop thinking about where things could go from here. My social media feeds are filled with political articles, analysis, and calls-to-action. I don’t watch television, but every online news source features Trump’s newest ridiculous or dangerous act. Public spaces like restaurants, bars, and airports are filled with tvs tuned to news (or “news”). The poet Matthew Zapruder talks about this in his excellent article “Poetry and Poets in a Time of Crisis”:

“…there is a point where it becomes too much, a kind of roar of opinions and fears that does not truly stir us to action or make us more aware. There is a danger to unfettered catastrophizing, which will sap our energy and distract and drain us. On social media and elsewhere, our attention has been monetized, not figuratively but literally, to a personally and societally harmful degree. We are fully in danger of succumbing to the rope-a-dope of the outrage machine. If we aren’t careful, we’ll punch ourselves out by Inauguration.”

The question then becomes, How should we cope?

Zapruder argues for poetry, and I confess that, as a poet, that is precisely where I have gone. Having let my own poetry languish for months, I am recently back to writing poems and revising my old poetry manuscript. I find I need poetry, the way it embraces paradox and contradiction, the way its metaphors encompass my rage and fear and sorrow and make something out of them. Some of the poems I’m writing are “political” in topic, and some aren’t. (Although, as the poet Carl Philips asks, “Can we only be political when we are speaking to specific issues of identity, exclusion, injustice?” In other words: who defines what is a “political” poem and what isn’t?) No doubt, as usual, some of my new poems will end up feeling good enough to submit to magazines, and some won’t. I’m finding that what I need is the act of creation, the turning of my thoughts and feelings and experiences into something. Without this act of creation, I am merely enduring.

Paraphrasing Wallace Stevens, Zapruder also claims that poetry is the way to “preserve within ourselves the necessary space of imagination, possibility, humanity, love, a space that can help us live our lives.” And some of you will know the words of Stevens’ foil, William Carlos Williams, who wrote, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”

flower-807796_1920

In that same poem, Williams wrote, “I was cheered / when I came first to know / that there were flowers also / in hell.” Flowers, poetry—these are metaphors, I believe, for what is beautiful, mysterious, created but also somehow a reflection of the human condition, the search for meaning. These are metaphors for all types of art. Others can debate what art is and isn’t, what is the best kind of art, and all the rest of the spectrum of scholarly inquiry and discussion.

What I believe: when you create, you are resisting.Whether it’s music or dance, fiction or poetry or creative nonfiction or plays, paintings or sculpture or film or any number of other art forms, creation is resistance. Creation resists oppression and suppression. Creation resists apathy and nihilism. Creation resists tyrants and control. Because creation is unpredictable. It surprises even the one creating. It makes us smarter. It makes room for a bigger life, an interior life more complex and subtle than the noise of standard media allows. Creation snatches us out of the fast-moving current of mundane daily tasks and deposits us on the riverbank for a time, so we can really look around us, so we can breathe.

So if you have an urge, even a small one, to create—do it now. It doesn’t have to be for public consumption. Make that perfect holiday decoration. Choreograph dance moves with your friends to your favorite song. Sing your own song while you’re folding laundry. And, if you do create for public consumption, don’t listen to the inner voice telling you that now isn’t the right time for such selfish or frivolous pursuits. Now is exactly the time.

 

Cat-Assisted Meditation

Meditation teachers will tell you to find a room and shut your animals out before you sit down to meditate. Too much distraction, they say. You should concentrate on yourself, they say.

I often wonder if those teachers have any pets. Because if you shut a dog out of a room, that’s the only room they want to be in. They scratch at the door, whine, and bark. There’s absolutely no way to meditate with that noise, even if you were so heartless as to keep that door closed when your beloved canine just wants to be with youfile_000-5

But I’ve had dogs for my entire life. I know what to do when I sit down on my cushion and my little brown-eyed, waggy-tailed wonder comes over for a pat: I pat them, of course. And then I say, “Settle down. Settle down, now.” That’s one of the few commands my little spaniel actually obeys. It helps that she’s a grown up dog and I’ve had her for 9 years.

Cats, on the other hand, do not respond to commands. I’ve lived with this one for a year, and though she’s shy, she’s determined when she wants what my British husband calls “a fuss.” She meows and rubs against my knee, my foot. She flops down on her back and rolls on the carpet, wanting her neck scratched—though not her stomach, not for more than 3 scratches before she gives me a gentle bite to let me know to redirect my attention.

file_000-2

This is my meditation time. I need this meditation to get my head straight, to push loss and worry to the background and exist, for this time, in the present. The present is beautiful and comfortable, with the sun coming through the bedroom window and the lingering smell of my husband’s deodorant and, of course, my two beloved pets adding their contentment to the energy of the room.

I sit cross-legged on my cushion, which a friend gave to me and is just the right height. The dog lies down behind me with a sigh. The cat pushes against my hands, so I fuss her for a minute. I can afford a little time before meditating, and studies show that touching a pet animal lowers blood pressure and contributes in other significant ways to a feeling of calm.

Then I deliberately put my hands on my knees, and close my eyes. I take a deep breath in, centering my attention on the breath, the feel of it going in my throat and expanding my lungs. (Most practitioners feel it going in through the nostrils, but I haven’t been able to breathe regularly through my nose since the 4th grade because of allergies.) I exhale slowly, and—

file_000-3

there’s the cat again. She rubs against my knee and flops down across my bare foot, tickling it. I open my eyes. She’s staring up at me, little white paws drawn up under her chin, in a classic “Aren’t I cute?” pose. I scratch under her chin and on the back of her neck, which is hard to reach but actually where she wants me to scratch. She purrs loudly and squirms around on the floor. My back complains at curling forward, so I straighten up, tucking my chin, lengthening my spine, and close my eyes.

I focus on my breath. In, out. I notice the cat walking away. Good. My mind starts to do that meditation dance, thinking of what I have to do after this (write, get my hair cut, walk the dog, plan the trip out of town next month, figure out a new life plan…) and then, when I notice myself thinking, I gently bring my mind back to focus on my breath. In, out. In, out. And then the dance starts again, replaying a memory jarred loose by my dream last night about clovers, so vivid I get caught up in it until I notice I’m caught in the memory and—

file_000

paws on my knee and very loud purring. I open my eyes to a curious, innocent little cat face wondering why I am not fussing her. Why else would I be sitting on the floor?

There’s nothing for it. Today, the cat is part of the meditation. The dance, usually between my thinking mind (“monkey mind” in Buddhist terms) and my observing mind, is, today, between the “fussing the cat” mind and my observing mind. It’s…different from my usual meditation. But maybe it can work. There’s not one single way to meditate. You can’t do it wrong. And the cat gets a lot out of it.

How Can We Get There?

I recently got back from vacation (see my last post!) and one of my friends, as friends will, asked how I was readjusting to being home. I said, “On vacation, every day was about planning how much fun to pack into the day. I wish every day was about that still.” shield-870246_1920

My friend said, “So how does every day become about how much fun you can pack in? How can we get there?”

Whoa.

It’s easy to blow off a question like that, to joke permanent vacation or win the lotteryor heavy drug use. It’s easy to give up, to accept the “real world” in which vacation is supposed to be different from regular life—the dessert, as it were, to regular life’s green beans and white meat.

But what if we actually think about the question?

So how does every day become about how much fun you can pack in? How can we get there?

. . .

 

I just spent two hours writing possible ways to “get there,” and then cut it all. Because it all sounds like shallow, vapid advice. I don’t want to be that annoying person trying to cheer you on with a bullhorn and cheap plastic pompoms while you slog through your wild, boring, challenging, excruciating, muscle-straining, eyeball-searing, hilarious, paradoxical days. Life is complex, my friends. I don’t have all the answers. Most days I don’t feel like I have any answers. Most days I don’t think there are any answers.

sacher-cake-1194524_1920But I believe, passionately, in asking the questions. I believe in all the uncomfortable pushing and pulling and cutting and sewing involved in making a life. I believe in rejecting the status quo, pushing institutions towards change, and continuing to dream even when it feels like a bully has his boot on your neck and is trying to make you say, “Yes, I accept that this is just the way the world is.” I believe in eating the damn piece of chocolate cake and eating it slowly, savoring every bite. I believe in students majoring in creative writing, literature, music, art, and philosophy. I believe some of my days in the real world of work and home and bills and humidhot Memphis can be like vacation, if I remember to try to have fun, and tell myself it’s ok to want to have fun.

How can we get there? I don’t know. For me, maybe it starts with taking the dog to a nice park for a walk. Or a quiet 30 minutes of meditation. Maybe tomorrow I’ll start a “diary of fun,” a record and a plan. Maybe I’ll set a timer on my phone to go off every 15 minutes, each time displaying the very Buddhist message, “You’re already there.”