Books, Tarot

The Heart of the Cards

Currently reading: When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Life Matters Memoire by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele.

A few weeks ago, I decided to buy the Rider-Waithe Tarot deck. My interest in studying the craft stems from a few things. First, there is the Persona video game series, a franchise I enjoyed playing as a kid, which features the Major Arcana as a being/monster categorization system. Second, I had a reading done by a friend before which piqued my interest in understanding the cards. These experiences led me to buy my own deck and Tarot for Beginners by Barbara Moore.

I decided to do my first reading a few days ago. For my first reading, I decided to go easy with the One-Card method. For my first question I chose to ask, will I do well in grad school? In less than two weeks I will be working towards my master’s in Library and Information Science. This will serve as an opportunity to embark on my journey towards a career related to my passion: books. Since it’s been eight years since I have been in school, there is a tinge of excitement as well as nervousness. With these emotions coursing through me, I decided to try my Tarot deck with this question.

That day I drew the Magician Card. The Magician points a wand towards the sky. According to Moore’s description of the card, the wand symbolizes one’s will. With the free hand, the Magician points to the ground. He is channeling the power of the universe in order to effect change in the physical plane. The chalice, sword, and pentacle symbolize material resources needed to translate one’s will into a reality (Moore, 40). Now that I have assembled the images of the card, the next step in the reading becomes assembling all of these symbols into what it all means in relation to grad school.

The primary role of the Magician is utilizing knowledge and resources to effect change. The card is telling me I have the knowledge and the resources to make my dreams possible. It is up to me to channel the energy and utilize the resources to make my dreams into a reality.

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Books, Buddhism

Deep Breath

Currently reading: Dune by Frank Herbert.

These past few days have been a test of patience, patience that I momentarily lost. I am planning to pursue my Master’s in Library & Information Sciences. My union is giving me the runaround with my financial aid. Without this financial aid, I may not be able to go back to school. I do not have 2 G’s in my bank account. Despite this setback, I am finding solace in the novel Dune by Frank Herbert, specifically the training of the enigmatic Bene Gesserit.

The Bene Gesserit are a sisterhood that trains mind and body. Due to their training, they are able to detect falsehoods and even control people through the use of their voice. The training of the Bene Gesserit resonates with me because a lot of their training involves breathing exercises. In Buddhism, meditation involves stopping what you are doing and focussing on your breathing as well. Lady Jessica received this training and passed this on to her son Paul, our protagonist. We see this training in the first chapter when Paul engages in the “mind-body lessons his mother taught him,” which consisted of “three quick breaths” and reminding himself that “all things/cells/beings are impermanent.” (5) Whenever difficulties come their way, they rely on their breathing to master themselves and overcome obstacles. The most poignant example of this training in practice is the desert storm scene.

When the Harkonnens seek to eliminate Lady Jessica and Paul, the chase leads them to a desert storm. Paul’s plan involves steering the ship into the storm in such a way that they ride on top of it to elude pursuit. When they ride into the storm and lose control of the ship, they returned to their training to introduce calm. They also invoked a litany about fear: “I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past me I will turn to see fear’s path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” Life is unpredictable. It will throw you curve balls. You will not always have control in the same way that Paul has no control of the ship in the storm. The good news is it will come and it will go. And you will still be here.

I need to remember my own training like Paul and Lady Jessica remember theirs in times of trouble. I cannot allow bureaucratic bullshit and inept imbeciles to take me out of my element. This setback I am dealing with is my desert storm. Everything seems to be going wrong, but I am not going to panic. I need to follow Paul’s example. When captured by the Harkonnens, for example, he goes back to his Bene Gesserit training regimen to keep himself “poised, ready to expand any opportunity.” (209) By staying calm, Paul was able to seize the opportunity and escape from the Harkonnens. If I panic, I will be blind to my options. With that in mind, I will be like Paul and seek refuge in my breathing and see what options manifest.

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Books

When Perception is Deception

Currently reading: Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur with Forewords by Angela Davis and Lennox S. Hinds.

We are an image-driven society. Day after day we are bombarded by smartphone notifications, memes, advertisements, etc.  These images are used to manipulate the masses toward compulsively checking social media pages, buying products, consuming food and beverages, molding our reactions to current events, and other subtle forms of manipulation. When it comes to race, image is utilized to steer the masses against minorities. We see this in the way the image of the savage is used against Black people. This kind of image manipulation is prevalent today when the Trump administration uses the Latino gangbanger stereotype to stoke anti-immigration sentiment. These images share the common element of being rooted in ignorance. 

The image of the savage was utilized by the United States to justify enslaving Black people. In Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” Zora Neale Hurston interviewed Cudjo Lewis, the last survivor of the Middle Passage. Cudjo’s account details the various false stereotypes white people held about Africans. In the case of the savage stereotype, one of the characteristics is nakedness. 

The sweeping generalization of African nakedness does not match the reality Lewis knows. He explains, “We come in de ‘Merica soil naked and de people say we naked savage. Dey say we doan wear no clothes. Dey doan know de Many-costs (Kroo boys) snatch our clothes ‘way from us.” (55). This description unravels the image of the savage for the nonsense that it is when analyzed against the facts. Africans had clothing until they were stripped away by the slavers and their coconspirators. Nakedness is not the only characteristic that the image of the savage tries to push. Another false idea is the notion that Africans were cannibals. 

When discussing how his children were treated, Cudjo describes how they were teased and called cannibals: “All de time de chillun growin’ de American folks they picks at dem and tell de Afficky people dey kill folks and eatee de meat. Dey callee my chillun ig’nant savage and make out dey kin to monkey.” (73) This image proves absurd because Cudjo and his family are far from partakers in human flesh. He had a garden he tended to and grew food which he shared with his family and continued to share with Hurston when she visited him. Cudjo is living proof that the savage stereotype is just that: a stereotype. It is rooted in ignorance and paranoia. This dehumanization of Africans by representing them as cannibals served the purpose of turning white people against Black people in order to justify enslaving and brutalizing them.  

The use of false image to create a false perception persists to this day in the United States. Even in the 21st century, our government creates a boogieman in order to instill fear and turn the country against certain groups of people. We see this use of image manipulation in the Trump administration and how they create a false perception with regard to migrant families. 

President Donald Trump relies on the image of the Latino gangbanger to stoke the flames of anti-immigration within the United States. When discussing the issue of border security, Trump conjures up MS-13, a gang originating within Los Angeles whose members are mostly of Central American origin. Trump claims that we need to protect our borders from the gang. By constantly mentioning MS-13 in connection to illegal immigration, and conveniently omitting the families that are seeking asylum in the United States from countries racked by violence, Trump creates this false perception that most of our illegal immigrants are gangbangers. Trump takes the anti-immigration rhetoric further by dehumanizing them: “These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.” [1] This dehumanization sets the foundation for legitimizing his harsh zero tolerance policy which consisted of separating families and placing illegal immigrants in camps (see also: internment camps). Centuries since the Middle Passage, our country still tries to create a boogieman to instill fear and turn the population against minorities.  Before, it was Black people. Now we are experiencing this fear mongering with the specter of MS-13. 

Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies concluded MS-13 does not pose a significant threat to the United States. When discussing the threat level of the gang, Tom Manger, the police chief in Montgomery county, explains, “MS-13 is certainly a threat, just not the one the president is making it out to be.” [2] This is coming from a police chief working in an area “where the gang has one of its largest concentrations”. [3] The purpose of inflating the threat is to create a false threat for the country to turn against and legitimize our severe anti-immigration policy. The aftermath of the zero tolerance policy unraveled the MS-13 threat for the bullshit that it was. The recent migrant family separation crisis demonstrates that the people coming in are people just like us, not ruthless gang members intent on harming us. 

In order to combat these false images, we need to embrace the practice of Right Thinking. When confronted with an image put forward by the media, ask yourself: “Are you sure?” Is this image rooted in reality? Or is it rooted in ignorance and paranoia? If we do not engage in this practice, we risk being taken for a ride by politicians bent on deception in order to achieve insidious ends. 

Sources:

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/17/us/trump-animals-ms-13-gangs.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/01/us/politics/ms13-gang-threat-trump-policy.html

[3] ibid.

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Books

This Is America: One Nation “Under God”

Currently reading: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind.

I recently finished Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. In this work, Fanon examines the psychological effects of racism and colonialism on the Black psyche and traces their roots through observation of our media and psychoanalysis. My takeaway from Fanon is that racism continues to be a cancer that the United States refuses to treat. We see its ugly manifestations in our current immigration policy and even the way we treat successful people of color like Serena Williams.

Fanon argues that, “All forms of exploitation are alike. They all seek to justify their existence by citing some biblical decree.” (69) The notion of biblical justification has precedence in our past as well as our present. Nazi Germany, South Africa during apartheid, and the United States back then and now have the following in common: they all utilized the Bible to justify their systems of subjugation. The United States cherry-picked Bible verses to justify enslaving Black people. Nazi Germany and South Africa during apartheid both quoted Romans 13. The first verse reads, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” In other words, do not question or challenge authority. When you pick a fight with authority, you pick a fight with God Himself. You know who else quoted this verse to justify atrocities? Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

When announcing the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy, Jeff Sessions evoked Romans 13: “Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” [1] Sessions is using this verse to legitimize separating families and putting them in facilities (see also: internment camps). Immigrant families are being exploited for political gain because Trump’s base is anti-immigration. The zero tolerance policy is a racist policy because these families are not white. I don’t see Trump promoting stereotypes when mentioning European immigrants. Immigrants are not the only group subject to prejudice and racism. We can see mistreatment on the basis of color in the recent case of Serena Williams with the Anti-Doping Agency.

Serena Williams is a seven-time tennis champion. She has also been tested for performance-enhancing drugs “five times this year by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.” [2] This is more than double her fellow women players. Why is that? We can find our answer in the way our society’s collective unconscious[3] views Black people as criminals. In the case of Serena Williams, this is criminality in the world of professional sports. Fanon encapsulates our country’s collective unconscious when he says, “Sin is black as virtue is white.” (118) This mental association of Black with wrongdoing is why people of color are disproportionately stopped by police, arrested and locked away by police, and shot by police. This prejudice of the Black person as criminal is also why Serena Williams is being disproportionately tested. Some may argue not everything is about race, but ask yourself this: Why only Serena Williams? What is even more damning is that the USADA has found no suspicion of doping on Serena’s part. This goes beyond viewing her as capable of cheating because of her being Black; now this looks like simple harassment because she is black. The fact that Serena has been the victim of racist and sexists remarks by members of the tennis world only bolsters the view that Serena is being disproportionately scrutinized because she is Black and a woman. The situation of Serena Williams teaches us that a Black woman can be accomplished and successful through hard work and still be subject to harassment because of the color of her skin.

After cataloging the various forms of our country’s racism, what is the solution? The Four Noble Truths contain an important step our country needs to take. In order to transform suffering into joy, the first step is acknowledgment of suffering’s existence. Before our country can take the necessary steps to heal, the injury needs to be identified, but the denial is strong. People of color are consistently told to get over it. Racism is in the past. Color doesn’t exist. Really? The children of immigrant families and successful people of color who are treated like criminals share the following in common: they are not white. But remember, folks: color doesn’t exist.

[1] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/06/16/jeff-sessions-bible-romans-13-trump-immigration-policy/707749002/

[2] https://www.npr.org/2018/07/03/625746829/deadspin-serena-williams-is-one-of-the-most-drug-tested-tennis-players

[3] And by collective unconscious, I refer to Fanon’s redefinition which argues the collective unconscious is the “repository of prejudices, myths, and collective attitudes of a particular group.” (165)

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Books

Octavia’s Talents: A Parable for Modern Times

Currently reading: Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler.

The Parable of the Talents is the second part of Octavia Butler’s Parable series. The story takes place in a United States ravaged by climate change, a widening wage gap, and drug abuse. Butler paints a world that is futuristic yet so familiar to us in the present, making it a must-read especially for current times. For starters, the president in the Parable of the Talents, Andrew Steele Jarret, is Donald Trump with a different name because of the rhetoric he employs and his inability to hold his followers accountable for the wrongdoings they commit. Also, the administration in the novel has no respect for the law in the same way that our president’s administration has no respect for the law.

Let’s begin with Andrew Steel Jarret. The novel introduces the character when he is running for president. Jarret says the following during his campaign: “Join us! Our doors are open to every nationality, every race! Leave your sinful past behind, and become one of us. Help us make America great again.” (20) Sound familiar? What makes this line disturbing in 2018 is the fact that this novel was published in 1998, yet Butler’s world is disturbingly familiar. Butler was ahead of her time for creating the “Make America great” line that serves as the slogan of our president (unfortunately) Donald Trump. Jarret is not only similar to Trump because of those words. Like Trump, Jarret does not hold his supporters accountable when they engage in wrongdoing.

Jarret’s supporters engage in heinous acts in the name of Christianity. Before Jarret wins the election, they began to “form mobs and burn people at the stake for being witches.” Instead of telling his people to stop, Jarret decides to use “such mild language that his people are free to hear what they want to hear.” (19) This inability to hold followers accountable bears a striking resemblance to Donald Trump’s inaction during the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. When a bunch of white supremacists decided to stage a racist rally, an action that resulted in one death by a vehicle-ramming attack and over thirty injuries, instead of coming out definitively against ignorance and racism, Trump argued there was violence on “both sides”. Like Jarret, Trump cannot hold his supporters to the mark and allows them to run amok, yet another testament to Octavia Butler’s accurate vision of the direction our country is heading. Another area where Jarret and Trump turn a blind eye is to the law.

Under the Jarret administration, slavery makes a comeback. His supporters, calling themselves the Crusaders, start to enslave the poor population. Despite the Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting slavery, no effort is made on the part of the Jarret administration to put a stop to this heinous institution. This disregard for our laws bears a striking resemblance to something recent our president said. Yesterday, our president said in a tweet, “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.” This move would violate Due Process, a right that is guaranteed not only to US citizens but to those who may have entered the country illegally. This similarity proves chilling because, like Jarret, Trump completely disregards what the law says. Atrocities begin when we flout laws designed to protect the people. Jarret serves as a warning of where this disregard can lead us if we as a people allow it to happen.

I am halfway through the novel. I do not know if things will get better in Butler’s vision of the United States, but I am not optimistic. This novel is not a light read, but it is a must-read for the times that we are living in. The similarities are startling and serve as a reminder of the direction we may be heading in if we do not exercise caution.

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Buddhism

“There Is a Fire in Me, a Fire That Burns…”

“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I want to cultivate the practice of Right Speech. In Buddhism, Right Speech is defined as speech crafted to uplift people. Right Speech is grounded in truth. Right Speech aims to alleviate the suffering of others. The two obstacles in my path toward Right Speech are my temper and my tendency to be opinionated to the point of being inconsiderate.

I am a true Aries. Being a fire sign, Aries are renowned for their fiery temper. If you want to see me pissed off, take my kindness for weakness. When I feel slighted or taken for a fool, my temper flares up. Depending on the severity of the insult, I may intersperse my speech with expletives. Before the flare-up occurs, I need to remember to embrace my anger and nurture it to maintain my calm. My anger will always be there, but it does not need to control me and devour everything in its path. I plan to employ meditation and breathing exercises to water the seeds of compassion and understanding. Besides my anger, I also need to moderate my tongue.

I can be very opinionated when conversing with people. When expressing my thoughts, sometimes I lose sight of the person I am talking to. It is important to know your audience. My downfall is sometimes I become engrossed when I dissect an issue. The gears start turning in my head and refuses to stop until I analyze a topic from multiple angles. It isn’t wrong to analyze an issue, but it is important to remember your audience and consider how that person will feel at the end of the conversation. I am not advocating not expressing yourself; I am advocating sensitivity. Your opinion should not result in another person’s suffering. I have contributed to people’s suffering inadvertently, and words cannot express my remorse. If I could redo certain conversations I had with the people I hurt, I would do so in a heartbeat.

In order to succeed in cultivating Right Speech, the first step is to confront my anger. The fire will always reside in my chest, and I have learned to accept that. The key is to accept it, embrace it, and practice mindfulness through yoga and meditation in order to manage my anger. The next step is to tailor my words to my audience. I want to uplift and contribute to the happiness of the people around me, not add to anyone’s suffering. There will always be a fire in me. That doesn’t mean that the people I care about need to get burned by it.

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Buddhism

Woodstock

To celebrate the end of my twenties, I spent the past weekend in Woodstock, NY. Besides being the site of the legendary music festival of the 60’s, Woodstock has a lot going on for people seeking a bite to eat or a little bit of culture such as a trip to an art gallery or a poetry reading. I particularly enjoyed the closeness of the town’s major businesses as well as the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Tibetan Monastery, or KTD for short.

The first thing that stuck out to me about Woodstock is how a lot of its major businesses lie in proximity to each other. The town has bookshops, vegan / vegetarian friendly restaurants, art galleries, museums, monuments, a yoga studio, etc. There is not a lack of something to do, and the fact that they are within walking distance means not having to take a cab, public transportation, or any other roundabout way to get around. I spent the first day getting the lay of the land and popping into the occasional business. I felt so relaxed because I did not have to deal with waiting for a train, the train stopping en route because of train traffic ahead, being squished against random people on a crowded train, etc. Everything was easygoing. The only time I had to use a cab was to visit one of the main stars of the vacation: the KTD monastery.

Situated in the Catskill Mountains, this Tibetan monastery has a natural and calming vibe about it. The moment you enter the building, a sense of peace envelopes you. You’re surrounded by nature instead of people in a rush, traffic, noise, etc. I had the pleasure of listening to one of the prayer services led by the Gyalwang Karmapa, the leader of the Karma Kagyu, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Though I did not understand his words, his prayer recitation washed over me like a wave, introducing a calm that I don’t get to experience in the city renowned for not sleeping. After the prayer, the monastery hosted a delicious meal for the monks and the laypeople. It was delightful to sit back and enjoy a quiet meal, surrounded by nature and smiling faces. The overall experience in the monastery was transformative despite the language barrier. I definitely want to come back in the future for one of their retreats.

I could not ask for a better way to conclude my twenties. I felt at home in a town where I could go to a restaurant without worrying about whether or not I could find something I can eat. I had the pleasure of visiting a Buddhist temple and experiencing a traditional prayer ceremony. Woodstock is definitely a town I would visit again.

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