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Conversations With 5 Year Olds

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Snippets from Avi and Noah, referred to here as “FYO” (five year old):

* * *

FYO: “Hey, you see this television? It used to be in here.” (FYO points to a cardboard box. I notice that the box, synchronistically, says “Black Crystal” in its product description.)

Me: “This is pretty cool. You see this says “Crystal”. That’s my name. And it says “Black Crystal”, which is even more awesome, because I’m Black. I am a Black Crystal!”

FYO: (pause) “Actually . . . I think you’re brown?” He raises his eyebrow and shrugs.

Me: “Yes, this is true–”

FYO: “But, there are people who are actually black.” I furrow my brow, wondering what he means by that, but I let it slide.

Me: “What about you?” I take his tiny hand. “I can’t tell what color you are. Maybe peach?”

FYO: “Actually, I’m Jewish.”

Me: “Jewish isn’t a color.”

FYO: “I know.”

* * *

FYO: “Show me your breasts!”

Me: “No.”

(a few minutes later)

FYO: “Your breath smells really bad!”

Me: “I know. I have dragon breath.”

* * *

Me: “This is magic.” (referring to my iPad)

FYO: “You are magic!”

* * *

Me: Throw me a cracker.

(FYO throws cracker. Cracker falls on the ground.)

FYO: “Maybe that wasn’t a good idea.”

* * *

FYO: “I don’t want people to see me like this!!” (said to his mother at the beach when she pulled off his pants so he could change into his swim trunks)

* * *

Me: “Look at the ducks. Aren’t they cute? The ducks are like your brothers. Be nice to them. Love them.”

FYO: “Yeah they are cute, but I don’t have that many brothers.”

Life Musings

Maybe Babies

Over the past week, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Avi and Noah, the precocious, highly intelligent, charming, bilingual (soon tri-lingual) and generally adorable sons of my friend Miriam. I am so impressed with Miriam’s indefatigable, disciplined, joyous, organized, practical and upbeat approach to parenting. When I’m not horrified by in awe of the constant attention, care, thoughtfulness, wisdom, energy, playfulness and outpouring of love required to parent 5 year old twin boys, she almost makes me want to be a mother. Almost. (Though, “friend-of-other-people-with-kids” might work out just fine for me, too . . .)

Miriam

Hanging out with Miriam and her sons was an unexpected addition to my New England roadtrip. I’d met her a few times over the years because of my friendship with her parents, but we had never had an in-depth conversation. This time, she happened to be at her parents’ home the day I arrived in Massachusetts, and for reasons unknown, we suddenly clicked. We found out that we both had been making music using Garageband and shared interests in foreign languages as well as some similar health challenges and strategies for healing. We stayed up into the wee hours of the morning discussing all manner of minutiae. We took a long walk on a nature trail where she pointed out the various plants and flowers that were edible. I found myself eating clovers (and loving it) and nibbling on tiny pink raspberries like a bird. I’d never done anything quite like this before, but thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

Miriam’s kids are pretty incredible. They flow effortlessly in and out of Spanish and English and have such alert minds that they also attentively watch movies in other languages that they don’t understand. For years, when I would see them in passing, I never heard Avi and Noah speak English (their mother and their grandparents address them almost exclusively in Spanish). Their mastery of Spanish is all the more impressive given that they have no Hispanic ethnic background in their family. It’s also really lovely that they can speak Spanish because they live in an extremely diverse neighborhood where over 50% of the children are Hispanic.

Noah and Avi were shy when I showed up in their grandparents’ kitchen a few days ago. I’m sure they noticed that I didn’t respond to whatever they were saying in Spanish and wondered what was wrong with me. When their mother explained that I speak English, they instantly “got it” even if they remained a bit suspicious of me. They would continue their on-going Spanish conversations with each other and their family, but they would generously slip into English when they wanted to tell me something. Their mother, who speaks at least four languages, would also sweetly translate bits of Spanish into French for me.

After the boys established that I was a nice person and cool enough to be included in their 5 year old inner circle, they started to really show off their various skills, inventive ideas, pranks and funny observations. I noticed some slight differences in personality between the two. They are both full of energy, playful, bright, creative and full of love. Noah seems a bit more pensive and analytical. He likes to build things (this morning he showed me a device he made to hunt for dinosaurs) and he often begins his English sentences with “Well, *actually* . . .” Noah is also very good at teaching things yet also humble about what he does not know (something all of us in academia should learn from). When I asked him to teach me something in Hebrew, he showed me how to write his name. Yet when I asked if he could read from the Hebrew dinosaur book he brought me, he immediately said “I don’t know how”, matter of factly, without an ounce of self consciousness. I loved it.

Avi seems to be more active, perhaps a bit more emotional and demanding than Noah. Avi knows what he wants and asks for it. He is very attentive and let’s nothing get past him. When I pointed to a picture and said the word for “truck” in Spanish, he shook his head and said – in English – with thinly veiled pity, “No, that’s a car.” Avi also very clearly loves me, which is remarkable given that he attacked my leg viciously with a fly swatter when we first met. I kind of knew there must be some affection underneath his playful predator-mode (a kind of behavior I instantly recognized from the crazy, yet well-meaning “attacks” my cat Zora sometimes directs my way). After I picked him up, turned him upside down and spun him around a few times, his little heart melted and he decided to be my friend.

Hanging out with kids is very novel for me. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed their company during this trip. We went swimming at sunset at a gorgeous lake and ruthlessly disturbed a family of ducks. I became a human launching pad for the boys, throwing them several feet into the air and catching them in the water. I taught them a few words in French. We made art on my iPad. (When Noah first touched the purple oil drawing tool on the screen, he checked his finger to see if the paint had gotten on it.) Avi bit my leg, then hugged it like a tree trunk and counted my toes. Noah showed me their “secret hiding place” next to the television (some kind of structure made of chair, a basket and a yoga ball). I watched with interest and mild concern as Noah vigorously attacked his brother with a fly swatter (apparently with Avi’s consent). At one point, Avi asked his brother “Can I do it now?! Can I do it now!?” – meaning “Will you please grant me permission to beat you down?” Noah agreed, which led to Avi hitting him twice as hard as Noah hit him. Before I could intervene, Noah ran off to his mother, crying. I’m sure he was a bit hurt but he was also embarrassed.

I went over to Noah and picked him up, which only made him cry harder. “No!” he whimpered, pitifully. I panicked for a moment, then I squinched his face (yes I know squinched is not a word, but somehow it naturally emerges from interacting with a child) and said “Hey! Wanna see something?” He got quiet for a moment, tears still streaming down his face. Somehow, I accessed a long dormant memory of a game my mom would play with me. Magically, my hand transformed into a creepy crawly creature which makes funny noises and tries to pinch your nose. Noah loved it, burst into laughter and smiled brighter than the sun. Then Avi came running, begging me to pinch his nose with the hand monster.

I am an only child and grew up far away from my cousins, so babysitting was something I did quite rarely. It has only been in the last year or so that I noticed myself appreciating children. Last Christmas, I spent the day volunteering at a soup kitchen run by my friend Betty. One of the homeless women brought her newborn son – an extraordinarily beautiful lump of golden perfection whose singular presence filled me with love. As I’ve gone back to the soup kitchen almost every month since December, I’ve seen this little lump get bigger and even more beautiful. Last month, my soup kitchen duties included holding him so his mother could eat and enjoy her meal. I noticed, with pleasure, how natural and lovely it was to cradle him on my shoulder. In the past, holding babies was always so awkward for me. But, for whatever reasons, something clicked this time and I knew what to do without anyone telling me. The Golden One was also obviously very comfortable – no crying or complaining as he gazed lovingly into my eyes. I was so enchanted that I didn’t even care when he threw up all over me. Three times.

Holding this little person, I wanted very much to communicate a few things to him and I somehow had the conviction that he could understand. So, I told the Golden One that he was a manifestation of God, that he was really smart and beautiful and that all good things were possible. He just started at me, blinking and smiling, which I took as 100% confirmation that he “got it”.

I do not know if a “mothering instinct” is presenting itself, but the idea of reproducing is becoming slightly more attractive. In the past, I thought of having children as something I might do one day after finishing graduate school and probably after getting tenure. I had fantasized about motherhood – especially when I was in love – but could not, for various reasons, seriously imagine myself having kids with any of my ex partners. For a while, I thought of reproduction as something people do for egoic reasons (i.e. “I want a little version of myself” or “I want to make a little person with this individual I love because my ego feels the need to extend itself and its attachments”). In this jaded, naive state of mind, I found myself mocking parenthood.

As I began to move beyond my attachment to not wanting attachments, I opened up to the miracle of Life as it emerges in the present moment. I saw that feelings (i.e. wanting or not wanting kids) can and often do change. I also saw very clearly that I, personally, could want to have children with the right man. I began to get a better idea of the kind of character, wisdom, personality, thoughtfulness, capacity for love and emotional maturity that would make a man an attractive partner and father in my eyes.

I still feel that parenting is something that I can take or leave — it is not Something I Must Do to Make My Life Complete. If I don’t have kids, at least I can delight in the presence of Other People’s Kids (and then go home to the freedom of my childless life). But as time goes by, I’m beginning to feel that children are probably in my future. Let us hope that an excellent partner, nanny, proximate grandparents willing to babysit, a child-friendly lifestyle and bottomless wells of patience are all in my future, too.

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Race & Ethnicity, Spiritual Musings

On Stillness & Stereotypes

One of the advantages of living in awareness of the present moment is that you begin to consciously experience what it means to live beyond stereotypes

I recall hearing Eckhart Tolle talk about this aspect of stillness in one of his videos on EckhartTolleTV.com  The basic idea, as he explained it, is that being aware of other people as living beings requires attuning to their energy in the present moment.  It is in this way that we can connect with each other more fully rather than relying on expectations, prejudices and stereotypes derived from our conditioning and socialization.

In my research, I spend a lot of time thinking about the consequences of ethnic and racial stereotypes on inter-group relations.  Much of my work concerns the way minorities interpret and respond to everyday racism and discrimination.  In my own life, I have also been surprised and disturbed by how difficult it can be to not be influenced by the lingering (negative and positive) preconceived ideas we have about each other.  Usually these expectations are formed on the basis of appearance.  I know all of this intellectually – and yet – even as a scholar concerned with race and antiracism, even as a person of color, even as someone who asserts solidarity with the LGBT community, even as a woman, even as a “spiritual enthusiast” with a universalist/nondual perspective — even I have had to confront the persistent and pernicious effects of stereotypes on my perception of others.

If I have found it difficult to “live beyond” stereotypes, then how much more difficult must it be for people who share no particular affinity for universalism, who are not directly concerned with discrimination or who have not had the good fortune of having friends and loved ones in diverse communities and cultures?

One of the most profound changes I’ve experienced as I’ve prioritized my spiritual life has been truly connecting with other people – not on the basis of my assumptions about them or my past experiences – but rather on the basis of the energy that arises in the immediacy of our interaction.  As I began to put some of Tolle’s teachings into action, I noticed a remarkable flowering of my social life.  I now find it so easy and natural to engage with others when I’m anchored in stillness.  Instead of seeing folks through the lens of my expectations, they appear to me as they really are: awe-inspiring, beautiful manifestations of the Divine.

Now, when I encounter anyone – I find myself more automatically and easily feeling their aliveness.  When and if stereotypes emerge in my mind, I notice them and use that awareness to draw me back into Presence.  In the immediacy of the present moment, stereotypes and expectations simply burn away . . . how could they persist in the light of the “now”?  As I more naturally connect with and sense others, I increasingly have breathtakingly beautiful experiences, exchanges and encounters with such a wide variety of human beings . . . all of which has made my life even more rich, inspiring and exciting than it already was.

Stereotypes deaden our relationships.  They prevent us from seeing and connecting with what is real and essential about all of us.   For me, it is not enough to simply acknowledge, intellectually, that prejudice and discrimination are “bad”.   You can’t overcome the influence of conditioning and socialization through “good will” alone.  What is really required is a conscious realization of who we really are – beyond identity, beyond the ego, and certainly beyond stereotypes.  In the context of this understanding and inner knowing, connecting with others becomes natural and easy..not the result of effort.  It’s the same process by which virtuous and “right” action naturally flows from “right” perception.  When  you know who you really are and you know who God really is, you don’t try to act like a good person, but goodness can simply flow through you like light shining through a transparent vessel.  This is, of course, so much easier when we get our egos and past conditioning out of the way . . . in fact, getting over ourselves and living more fully in the present moment are both prerequisites for deeply experiencing love, peace and joy in our relationships with others.  It’s in this way that we come to truly see that there are never really any “others” out there. There is only the Self, the oneness of God . . . and we are all made of, by and in It.

Food

Lazy Gourmet: Spicy Spinach Ravioli

Fresh ravioli with prosciutto, spinach & gorgonzola in a light butter sauce

Cooking time: 20 minutes

1. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil

2. Add fresh ravioli and bring to boil again until done

3. Drizzle EVOO in a saucepan with minced garlic

4. Drop two handfuls of fresh baby spinach into saucepan, along with two pinches of salt. Cook until wilted (about 2 minutes) and remove from heat

5. Drain ravioli. Add pasta to a saucepan (cooking on low heat) with spinach, two tablespoons of butter, 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.  Sprinkle with gorgonzola, prosciutto, pepper and spices to taste

6. Devour.

Spiritual Musings, Video

A Love Story

Every day . . . every single day . . . something happens in my life that shines light on some area in need of greater “realization of Self”.  One of the “gifts” of awareness of one’s inner world is greater sensitivity to any and all unpleasant sensations.  It is always sometimes very uncomfortable to deeply engage these moments of tension, pain or stress, but looking unpleasantness in the eye is really the gift that keeps on giving.  Because life is so full of suffering, we are never at a loss for opportunities to learn, stretch and grow in the throes of unpleasant feelings and situations.  Somehow, if we’re lucky, we come to experience grace in the midst of suffering as we allow Life to show us how to more fully and deeply rise in consciousness of who we really are.

One of the frustrating and frankly embarrassing side effects of this “path” as I’m experiencing it is the inconsistency of the realization.  While I have been living with a much higher “baseline” of peace, tranquility, joy, love and compassion, there are not-infrequent-occasions on which I still react/think/feel out of ego and the small “self”.  On a certain level, I understand that being too invested in maintaining an ongoing experience of inner peace is just another game the ego plays . . . and yet . . . I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the embarrassment I sometimes feel about the limitations of my own ability to remain consciously aware of Presence.  Yes, another ego game, and yet a peculiar one.

It can be a little disconcerting to have your friends and family use your own “wisdom” against you, so to speak,in an effort to show the error of your ways.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve had someone tell me something along the lines of “Weren’t you just talking about unconditional love?  What did you say about the ego?  Didn’t you have a realization about inner peace a few minutes ago?  Remember when you said . . . “

How sad is it to feel the impulse of selfless compassion in one moment, only to cede to the lure of egoic self interest in the next?  How often have my friends and loved ones marveled with a mix of lurid fascination and pity as I regale them with tales of my enthusiastic spiritual practice only to later reveal the latest emotional melodrama from my love life or the hair-pulling-stress of my work?

And yet . . . how can it be otherwise?  How many of us are fully realized?  Who experiences total tranquility and perfect equanimity?  I know of no one who has become immune to the dance of the ego and its tote bag of suffering.  If there is any immunity, perhaps it is as Mooji and Eckhart Tolle teach of it: simply cultivating awareness of the dance, without attachment to or interest in its footsteps . . . like watching clouds build and dissipate on the canvas of the skies.

All of this to say: today I fucked up, knew I fucked up while I was fucking up, felt the ego’s call to identify with the fucked-up-ness, felt like crap for being so imperfect, then glimpsed the extraordinary, unchanging and unchangeable perfection within which all else arises — including ordinary, flawed ‘me’ .

I was led to the following teaching, entitled “A Love Story”, as I ruminated on these unpleasant feelings.

In this video, Mooji carries on an exchange with a man in satsang who feels that he has trouble “connecting with” God.  He laments that: “I sometimes have the feeling that I am not in the right place or I don’t do the right decision.”

Some of my favorite bits from Mooji’s response:

“I don’t feel that God wants you to make right decisions . . . but more just [wants you] to be yourself.  And at least, to see, there’s a saying, no?  To err is to be human, or something like, the very nature of human ways is to make error.  But also to be somewhat humble in our self, to see that we’re not so great.  There is something in that.  And something relaxes and opens up and makes possible an opportunity to see beneath the surface of our conditioning. And what you will discover will not frighten you. it will always make you realize that you’re much more a love story than you think.”

“God is not playing with you.  God is playing as you.”

“Whatever caused you to be here is also taking care of you.”

“I don’t see anything in you less than what I’ve found in my own Self.  And it’s not an achievement . . . it cannot be achieved.  It can only reveal Itself, which is what it’s doing.  And if we don’t cling to our attachments and dreams and fears and all these projections, you’ll come much more quickly into that seeing, because nothing is being withheld from you, you see?  So whatever it is your heart longs to connect with or to make known or to be refreshed in, my feeling is, let’s find out what can possibly be in the way of that.”

“Even if you say you lost contact with the I Am, that cannot be true!  The very I is the I Am in whose presence the sense of losing contact is felt and maybe momentarily believed in. You are the I Am, the very fact of your existence, the very fact of your perceiving is evidence that everything is issuing out of that I Am. It is the very seed of perceiving – that pulsation, that vibration of I Am . .  . Maybe what you are saying is momentarily there is some distraction to some other things. But you’re going to come to see that even the feeling of distraction can only occur in consciousness and that consciousness is the I Am and you are that consciousness.”

Beauty, Race & Ethnicity

Photographic Evidence that Kerry Washington & Scarlett Johansson Are Interracial Twins

I am fascinated with the idea that we all have “twins” in ethnoracial groups other than our own.  Of course, ultimately I do not buy into the idea that we are all really members of “different” categories, but practically speaking, many folks still do identify quite strongly with ethnic, racial and even simply phenotypic differences.

In any case, I often see people from different ethnic backgrounds who look exactly alike.  Indeed, if I had my druthers, there would be a huge internet database of “racial twins” showing everyday people who look exactly alike except for their skin tone or hair texture.  Scarlett Johansson and Kerry Washington are two of my favorite celebrity examples.  I think both women are breathtakingly gorgeous, but what I find even more stunning than their individual assets and fabulous sense of style is the fact that they look so much alike.

No matter how they wear their hair, style their clothes or do their makeup, they look like cafe latte and whipped cream versions of each other.

Their eyes, nose and lips are ridiculously similar.  They even hold their posture in a similar fashion.

Ultimately, what I love about the notion of “interracial twins” (let us try very earnestly to keep our minds out of the gutter for a few seconds . . . ) is the idea that we are all fundamentally the same – yes, even those of us who look nothing alike.