Hi, I’m Sara, and this is Tiny Revolutions, a weekly dispatch of personal writing and links about the art of becoming who you are. Reply anytime, I love to hear from you.
Yesterday at the Angel City Zen Center, I gave a talk about why Buddhists burn incense. The gist is that they started doing it because it offered a humane replacement for animal sacrifice as a ritual way to honor your ancestors.
And they seem to have continued because it helps get you in a headspace to practice meditation. Kind of like Proust’s famous madeleine, if you meditate while burning incense for long enough, eventually the scent of incense triggers a reminder to stay present, and to remember your original nature. To “invite the Buddha in,” as the famous Zen teacher Dainin Katagiri put it. Katagiri also said:
“Make of yourself a light. Rely upon it.”
If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you know that I’m a huge proponent of meditation. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is the way that it helps you become comfortable with all the different parts of yourself — the dark and the light and everything in between. If you sit quietly with your thoughts for any length of time, it all comes up. You can count on it.
This is a radical act in our era, where we have a million and one ways to distract ourselves at any given moment. (To be fair, I’m sure it was a radical act in any era. But it seems especially so now.) It requires the hard work of witnessing things about ourselves that we’d really rather not.
Here’s a passage from another Zen teacher, Gary Shishin Wick:
“Start experiencing your own suffering. You have to look into the dark places of your own personality that you have been carefully avoiding for your entire life. Shine light there. Even the smallest light from the tip of glowing incense will dispel a thousand years of darkness. By starting to shine even a feeble light into those dark places, they will become visible. Once you start this process, the clarity begins to take shape. By bringing your own hurt, blockages, and rigidity to light, they will naturally dissipate on their own.”
I feel like this entire year has been about the process of looking at all of the pain lurking under the surface of the bright-and-shiny American psyche.
Which is painful. Oh. So. Painful. But ultimately it is constructive. As James Baldwin put it, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
I am hopeful because I believe that as difficult as this period is, we are facing hard truths. We are shining a light into our darkness. And that this is a move toward clarity, no matter what happens with this election at this particular moment in time.
So I want to say to you, remember. You are a light. Be a light.
Here are some things that I found worth sharing this week.
The birds are still at it.
A bangin’ sunset I saw last week.
A multimedia “Election Distractor” from the NY Times that includes growing mushrooms, walks through the woods, soothing explanations of celestial phenomena, and a random (but warranted) takedown of Good & Plenty candy, among other things.
“If we accept that there will always be sides, it’s challenging to always be on the side of angels. Distrust essentialism. Remember that supposed rationality is often just rationalization, playing catch-up with subterranean forces we never suspect. Focus on shared goals. Practice perspective taking. Individuate, individuate, individuate. And recall how often, historically, the truly malignant Thems hid themselves while making third parties the fall guy.”
A fascinating read from neuroscientist and behavioral researcher Robert Sapolsky on how we’re hardwired to divide the world into Us vs. Them, and what we can do to be mindful of it without succumbing to hating each other.
Something sweet from the town where I (mostly) grew up, Dunwoody, Georgia. This sign by a local artist has been sitting next to a busy street corner for years to comfort passersby.
Photo from the Spruill Center for the Arts website
“Either be the light or go find some and reflect it.”
A lovely and short blog post from Austin Kleon.
Take care of yourselves — and each other — out there.
p.p.s. Thank you for reading! If this resonated with you, please share it with someone who might like it too.
p.p.p.s. Look at this albino pigeon I spotted on Friday! I’m taking her appearance as a sign that everything will indeed be OK.