Planning on and for chaos
"Since pain will come to us anyway, why not figure out how to deal with it?"
This week I’ve been working on a series of posts I’m calling “meditation against meditation.”
The first free post, out next Tuesday, explores my resistance to and need for meditation—or what I like to call active contemplation. It features personal narrative about my lifelong trouble with nightmares while building a philosophical argument for “meditation against meditation” from some of my favorite writers (Mary Rose O’Reilly, Lesley Wheeler, Olga Tokarczuk, Simone Weil, etc). It’s also, in part, a poetic-polemic investigation of the “big feelings,” as all the parenting influencers these days like to call emotions that we mostly experience as fucking terrible, namely anger and fear, that make meditation both hard and worthwhile. Basically, I want to talk about holy rage, please!
The second post, which I’ll publish for paid subscribers on Thursday, will be more technical, offering a view into the specifics of the active contemplation practice I’ve cultivated for myself over the last seven months. It will also give you clear, concise advice on how to use the tarot, astrology, and what the late astrologer Edwin Steinbrecher called “the inner guide” to support a meditation ritual that can happen amidst the noise, chaos, and banality of daily life.
There’s no weird Calm voice here, no California or Swedish Instagram yogi telling you how precious you are (though, in truth, I do like the Chani app guided meditations in the rare moments of my life that actually seem to match up with the feeling of having a pretty lady wax poetic to me about the golden ball of light above my head. Learning I wouldn’t have to do chemo after the hell of an unexpected cancer diagnosis was one such moment). In this series, there’s more of a focus on becoming your own guide by privileging silent, active, and creative conversations with yourself at specific moments within each day. The goal, then, becomes to use these “meditations against meditation” to explore the sacred space that is the felt experience of your life—without, as Mary Rose O’Reilly says, “getting too precious about it.”
I’m writing about all of this now, because part of the felt experience of my life recently has been one of anxiety over this newsletter—I write about suffering, a lot, and my work with the occult, the esoteric, the astrological is less about transcendence and more about planning on and for chaos. This whole project is founded upon the notion that the pursuit of hope without first, and continually, engaging with doom is not only myopic, it’s also, paradoxically, what further entrenches doom. And yet I know, too, that I can forget about the doing, about the question my students always have when I offer up this paradox to them at the beginning of my classes: OK, but what do we do about it? We’re engaged, we’ve got death in the room, what now?
These are different from but related to the question that O’Reilly poses at the end of her book The Garden Night: Burnout & Breakdown in the Teaching Life: “"Since pain will come to us anyway, why not figure out how to deal with it?" Figuring out how to parse through all the bullshit advice about meditation as a tool for making an individual more autonomous, more successful, and more wealthy is one of the ways I’ve been learning to deal. Attending to my inner life not as a method of self-improvement but instead as a bludgeon to self-serving (and self-destroying) amnesia is part of my commitment to living toward hope amidst a world in and of pain.
So, next week: some stuff to do, some light to shed! In the meantime, a few things:
1) Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Lesley Wheeler’s Poetry’s Possible Worlds. It’s about poetry, sure, but it’s also about rebelling against fathers, relearning criticism, and reading as an analogue activity that virtually transports a person into possible futures they might have never imagined otherwise.
2) A shout-out to the inimitable Alicia Kennedy for her recent newsletter answering questions about newsletters. I have learned some things to try myself! And also, as with all things Alicia Kennedy, a business Q&A also turned into/turned on insightful considerations of writing, living, and attention. I’d like to leave you with her thoughts on “being in the world” below, specific to writers but applicable to anyone trying to cultivate attention, presence, inspiration from and through the mundane:
“I think the most important thing is not to think about writing as something you do in front of the computer, but a way of being in the world. Stay engaged and you’ll have things to write about, whenever it is you do get to sit down, and don’t be embarrassed to take notes or speak notes into your phone when inspiration strikes. A writer has to learn how to tell people to shut up sometimes, politely. People who love you will deal.”
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