6 things men can do to be better human beings on public transit

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sara ahmed quote

  • Sriram Ananth (sriram.writing@gmail.com)

I am such a goddamn dick of a man-child.

Really.

I take up way too much space as a dude and I’m a loud, obnoxious asshole. It eats away at my soul. I dehumanize myself by being that way and I hurt others, especially women and trans folk, including those whom I love dearly.

Thankfully I have some amazing warrior-goddesses in my life – starting with a partner whom I truly believe to be the pinnacle of humanity – all of whom graciously and patiently guide me to greater humanization and being less of an asshole, even though it is none of their responsibility. To say I am blessed is the greatest understatement in the world.

So this article is quite personal.

(Hell, which one isn’t?)

Now, I travel a lot on public transit. I regularly hear and read about the daily horror stories that women and trans people have to deal with while on public transit with the unending supply of entitled, oafish men. It lit the spark for this piece. It’s written especially for men (i.e. cis-gendered men, i.e. those referred to as “men” across the vast majority of the world’s population, i.e. the overwhelming majority of asshole evil-doers on earth.)

So if you’re a woman or trans person reading this, consider forwarding this to some dudes you think would benefit from it. I don’t get enough hate mail to satiate my monstrous ego, so feel free to help out.

But really, all this focuses on is how men can be better human beings on public transit and life in general.

So, lets start with the first lesson.

(1) When sitting or standing, ensure that you occupy as little space as possible: Here’s a little practice exercise for all men to try out.

Take a chair.

Now sit on it.

So far so good?

Excellent.

Now bring your feet closer together, as close as you can, no more than a few centimeters apart.

(You’re doing great bro, keep going.)

Now that your feet are close together, bring your knees closer, approximately the same distance apart as your feet are.

Amazing.

(You’re almost there, just keep at it son. Take a beer break if you need to.)

Ok, now let’s work on your hands.

Tuck your elbows against the sides of your torso and hips.

Now place your palms on your knees.

Voila! Perfect seated position that takes up as little space as possible.

Try the same exercise standing and then again standing while holding onto something. Just remember that the best way to take up as little space as possible is ensuring that opposing limbs are brought close together and with reverence to the women and trans folk around you.

Practice makes perfect, so practice, practice practice.

Way to go man-child! What say we work on your facial expression and eye line now?

Onward, kind sir, to lesson 2.

(2) Look away or look down and make efforts to show you are not a threat by practicing your “pleasant face” (don’t be overtly friendly by default): Looking away or looking down indicates that you’re not really interested in interaction, and ipso facto not interested in being a threat to anyone. It is an easy way to ensure that your fellow women and trans travellers feel safe and comfortable to travel. (You know, one of those gosh darned “human rights” that the bleeding hearts are always going on about).

This may seem unfriendly, but I beg to differ. I am of the opinion that, due to global gender-oppression, it’s really important for men to refrain from being overtly friendly, because it can often make women and trans folk feel extremely unsafe. Practice the simple art of speaking only when you are spoken to, ensuring that you are polite and thoughtful. Only engage to the limit that makes the other person comfortable, and then go back to looking away or looking down.

But remember to also practice your “pleasant face” for this. All men are capable of pleasant faces. It’s less to do with your countenance and more to do with your attitude really. Below is shown a simple exercise for you to try out.

Stand in front of the mirror and think of something that makes you smile. Then practice making that smile slight, i.e. not super obvious but still noticeable. The Mona Lisa is a great template to practice with for that perfect slight smile. Don’t smile too wide (that could get creepy). Once you’ve got that down pat, remove traces of a scowl or furrowed eyebrows as much as possible. Then look at your eyes. Try to get a sense of calm and peace of mind to get those eyes into a lovely peaceful gaze that shows the same level of threat as The Buddha (the real one, not the pot-bellied garbage hawked to eager white folk who recently returned from a trip finding themselves.)

And there you have it, an easy practice exercise for developing your “pleasant face.” When in doubt, think of someone you really care about, and the pleasantness will show on your face with greater ease.

Practice makes perfect, so practice, practice, practice.

Way to go man-child! What say we work on tone of voice and way of communicating, talking, and laughing now?

Go forth, intrepid gentleman, to lesson 3.

(3) Don’t be a loud, obnoxious asshole (especially when children, seniors, and other more vulnerable populations are around): Now dude, before you get all whiny, please note that no one’s telling you not to enjoy yourself. Joy and laughter are gorgeous things. Just don’t take up so much space that it’s just you and your equally loud, obnoxious friends doing it. And remember that there is way less social and cultural space for women and trans folk to speak loudly, enjoy themselves, or laugh with abandon.

(Why, only recently, we had the lovely Napa Valley Wine Train episode where a group of Black women were essentially told by authorities that Laughing While Black And Female is a strict no-no from sea to shining sea.)

It is our goddamn responsibility as men to ensure that we are taking up as little space as possible to create more space for women and trans folk to be able to express joy and emotion.

(For our own sake bud. For our own sake.)

All you need to practice in not being a loud, obnoxious asshole, especially with more vulnerable populations around who might be justifiably nervous around this kind of behavior.

Again, very simple to implement.

When in doubt as to whether you are being loud, quieten the fuck up.

When in doubt as to whether you are being obnoxious, quieten the fuck up.

In fact, in general, unless necessary, just quieten the fuck up.

If you actually need a goddamn reason to do that, try to imagine someone you care about who might be more vulnerable and who might feel threatened by such behavior. Try to behave in a way that would make that person proud to share your love.

If you catch yourself being loud and obnoxious, be open about your contrition, apologize even (don’t worry, no one really gives a shit about your posturing, only about what kind of a person you are).

And then, oh yes, quieten the fuck up.

Practice makes perfect, so practice, practice, practice.

Way to go man-child! What say we work on general demeanor and way of being now?

Stride forward, caring human being that you are, to lesson 4.

(4) Don’t ogle, stare or pass lewd comments. (Also, don’t wear sunglasses in closed spaces unless medically necessary): Do I have to actually write about how you might successfully implement this point? Really?

Fuck me. Alright, here goes.

Ogling and staring makes people feel extremely uncomfortable and unsafe. Women and trans folk, as well as many people of color, immigrants, homeless folk and others face this all the time. It’s a violation of space, it’s a violation of a person’s fundamental human right to feeling safe, and it’s just a really, really dickish thing to do.

Same goes for passing lewd or offensive comments. Again, when in doubt, just shut the fuck up. You’re not doing yourself or anyone else any good by being this way. You hurt others and you dehumanize yourself, damaging your soul in the process, eventually becoming a pathetic shell of a human being hanging around other assholes merely because it’s only assholes who will hang out with you.

(And then you die, and the great goddess Kali feeds you to her tiger companion, as she does with all assholes on earth, but that’s another trip…)

A small, but important, side-point to the ogling issue – unless medically necessary (and we know what those sunglasses tend to look like, so don’t try fooling people) please try and refrain from wearing sunglasses in closed spaces. The reason is that many men use sunglasses to cravenly cover up the fact that they are, in fact, ogling at someone.

Now, we can’t really do much about it outdoors (though if it’s night time, the unsafe creepiness factor goes up by about a million). So just try not wearing them inside. If you absolutely must wear sunglasses inside, stare the fuck out the window or away from people whom you know might feel uncomfortable with your line of eyesight. Or just engage in conversation with your companion if you have one travelling with you.

An added issue is that even if you’re not actually doing any nasty ogling, but just zoning out or something, many folks will still get uncomfortable because your man-child peepers are hidden behind tint.

(Yes, dear ol’ backward-hat-wearing, beer-brat-inhaling, pal of mine – sexism is an extremely intricate and leviathan social structure. And it’s our responsibility to ensure we’re not reproducing that shit as much as possible.

For ourselves bud.

For ourselves.)

Practice makes perfect, so practice, practice, practice.

Way to go man-child! What say we work on social skills and trying to be a more caring, egalitarian human being?

Gleefully hop-step-and-jump, oh polite and kindhearted beast, to lesson 5.

(5) Always stand the fuck up politely and give your seat to seniors, pregnant women, folks with accessibility issues, and other more vulnerable populations: This is a simple one that doesn’t really need much detailed instructions to implement. Just do it without questioning it or being a dick about it. For starters, not only is it (again) the fundamental human right of vulnerable populations who need seating more acutely than others, but it also marks you out as a decent human being, and therefore also someone who is unlikely to be a threat to anyone.

Practice makes perfect, so practice, practice, practice.

Way to go man-child! And as we wrap up this session, what say we now work on the kind of mindset that would make men better human beings on public transit?

Carry on, with a heart that brimeth over with love for humanity and the world, to lesson 5.

(6) It’s totally fine to be a nice person, but not a creepy person who doesn’t respect personal space: Be a nice person.

Really.

It’s awesome if you’re a nice dude. So do practice the fine art of being a nice person, a goodhearted person, a person who cares about people, and is keen on ensuring their health and safety to the greatest degree possible.

But also remember that it’s not anything more than should be expected from you.

(Truth be told, I’m stroking that ego so you’ll stay with me here. It’s ok, I don’t mind, I know how pathetically fragile a man-child’s sense of self is.)

Thus, just as it’s important to be a nice person, it’s equally important to not be a creepy person. Often what is “nice” behavior according to you could come off as very creepy and unsafe to someone else. The best mindset that you might occupy is one of empathy and honest-to-goodness care.

Practice makes perfect, so practice, practice, practice.

Congratulations man-child! You did it! You made it all the way through to the 6th lesson.

Oh, I am so proud of you. I wish there was a certificate I could print out or perhaps an embossed, laminated membership card into the illustrious Platinum Club Of Marginally Less Dickish Men.

Here’s a thought – why don’t you make one for yourself and carry it around with you on public transit? Check it out whenever you find yourself regressing on some of this stuff. It’ll do you wonders.

But wait…

There’s more!

Since you successfully completed the course, we have a bonus lesson…

(6a) Bonus lesson for boneheaded jocks – coming from one who is currently undergoing an intense, 12-step, Boneheaded Jock Rehabilitation program called Assholes Anonymous (we meet secretly at tailgating parties): Listen bud, it’s fine to love sports, get fit, build muscles etc. especially if you’re doing it as part of a transformation to becoming a better person.

Just don’t be a dick about it.

In fact, this entire article can be summarized with one very succinct sentiment that all men on public transit, indeed all men, all the time, would do well to implement in their daily lives. It also happens to be a great sentiment to taking that first step in purging all that misogynistic gunk that clogs their soul:

Don’t be a dick.

With that rare brevity on my part, I’ll sign off.

Bye for now, man-child.

Now go practice, practice, practice until all this becomes instinct.

(And if you expect to be applauded for this shit, consider stabbing yourself in the eye with that spork you just used to eat your Hungry Man microwave dinner.)

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Healing from an America obsessed with Donald Trump

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michelle alexander quote

  • Sriram Ananth (sriram.writing@gmail.com)

Try as one might, it is next to impossible to ignore the US presidential primaries. It’s the shit show that keeps on giving. Most of us seem to be laughing in order to distract ourselves from our fears of a rather petrifying future. In a GOP primary that has taken on new levels of misogyny, racism, and xenophobia, the rhetoric is nothing short of chilling and batshit insane at the same time.

But despite the horrifying guano being showered on us all, candidates like Trump are not what disturb me the most. It’s easy to get disturbed by a sorry excuse for a human being like Donald Trump. It’s easy to get disturbed by a sorry excuse for humanity like the Republican Party (not to mention the equally pathetic Democrats, who seem to be nothing more than a whinier, less entertaining, version of their right-wing cousins).

In fact getting disturbed and grossed out by Trump currently happens to be the most entertaining thing in the mainstream media for pundits across the board, both liberal and conservative. (Indeed, the name “pundit” – derived from the ancient priestly class of the abhorrent caste system in India – seems really apt considering the mainstream media is a rather accurate representation of America’s very own racialized caste system.)

What is truly frightening is that Trump is only saying what a really large section of the American population wants to hear – a much larger section than a lot of naive, fresh-faced liberals would like to believe or acknowledge. Trump is not speaking to some extreme fringe, though he is very much appealing to it (as a rather nice article in The New Yorker pointed out). Trump is very much a populist, which means he is popular, which means he cannot be popular without large sections of America salivating over his odiousness. The extreme fringe is actually all around us, and Trump is speaking their language.

So make no mistake – Trump is America, even if he fails to get the nomination. For there is little chance of Trump getting the GOP ticket, despite all the craziness of the last many weeks. No doubt, greater miracles have happened, but it’s still highly unlikely.

However, even if he eventually crashes out, the people who salivate over him aren’t going anywhere. Sure, they’ll thumb their noses and vote for Bush or Christie or Cruz or Rubio or whichever wannabe-murderer-in-chief gets the ticket (all of whom have made equally horrendous statements by the way, while floundering to stay in the limelight hogged by The Man With The Do). But the disgruntled masses of America’s broad right are getting angrier and angrier at a rapidly browning and diversifying country. And while I’m of the firm belief that these chauvinists are certainly not in the majority (though only just so), I am one of those people who considers them extremely dangerous simply because of their large and increasing numbers. Yes, increasing. In no small part due to the mindless whipping up of bigoted anger and fear that demonizes racial equality, migrant justice, and gender liberation (in a country that has more wealth than any other, mind you). The worst part is that this trend doesn’t look like ebbing any time soon

And there are plenty of reasons for it.

In general, privileged communities don’t share well, and right now a lot of marginalized people in America – women, racial minorities, immigrants, queer and trans folk – are fighting hard for their inalienable rights as full human beings, despite state and corporate efforts to suppress them.

So there’s a long struggle ahead, and a lot more chauvinism and violence to come from the more privileged sections of American society as historically oppressed and marginalized communities keep fighting that good fight for justice and true equality.

But my lovelies – we’re going to have to heal from all that hatred and abuse as we do so, no?

Those of us who believe in the liberation of humanity and the earth over the close-minded insularity of nationalism, patriarchy, and religion have to ensure we privilege healing as we enter some dark decades to come.

So, let’s get started – below are a few thoughts on how we might do so, using the current presidential primaries as a case study. First of all:

  • Don’t buy into the mass bullshit (aka the mainstream media): The mainstream media truly is a whole load of mass bullshit for the vast majority of the population. It has to be when all the media houses are controlled by a handful of rich, powerful, white men. Sure, they have their Benetton-ad-type, sufficiently diverse (and conventionally good looking) talking heads, but make no mistake: the mainstream media in America, including the so-called “liberal” channels, are catering to the existing power-ridden status quo. Ditch that shit, or if you do end up being a news junkie like I am, figure out how to consume that crap with a critical eye that can catch the bullshit and read between the lines. It is this same mainstream media that gets sickeningly titillated by human filth like Trump and the rest of the gang. You will be a whole lot better treating the filth and the voyeuristic talking heads with the disdain they deserve. Simultaneously…
  • Remember, there be many who hate, but there also be many who love (and they be a whole lot more): Those who hate will ultimately never outnumber and never defeat those who love. I don’t say this out of any sappy sentimentality. Really (despite the sap I have liberally doused some of my other articles with). On the contrary, it’s cold, hard logic that guides this particular thought. It’s really simple. To truly survive and thrive as a species, which equally means living in communion with the earth and non-human souls, our only shot is to trust in love in its broadest and most universalizing sense. We either live together or we die alone. Most of us know this. It’s hardwired into our DNA. It’s how we survived as a species many millenia back. We survived with love, community care, and solidarity, not hateful insularity. And those of us who believe in love and community ultimately far outnumber those who don’t. Don’t buy into the bullshit that power, authority, and domination ensure survival. They only ensure power, authority, and domination – and only for a temporary amount of time; a few centuries at best. Eventually the shiny, wealthy societies of the Western world are going to crumble into the dust and at that time, the choice will become much clearer for those who feel it is their right to consume and appropriate at the cost of the majority of the world (and then get angry when marginalized communities fight for greater equality and refuse to accept the scraps that fall from the tables of the privileged few). Don’t wait for the state and corporate elites to get their act together. They’re never going to get there. Also don’t wait for the hate-mongering assholes who support them. It’ll be too late if we wait for them. So it’s best to start without them and hope they join us eventually. Which is why it’s crucial to…
  • Seek community with others who are also fighting the good fight (and focus on caring for each other): This is so crucial, so very crucial. My friends, there be dark times ahead and it doesn’t matter who wins this election. America, and the West in general, is hurtling towards some major clashes with the more marginalized populations (inside and outside national borders) fighting for their rights as full human beings. And as we fight this good fight, we must remember that we need each other now more than ever. Let’s seek each other out and actually start caring for each other. I had written about this in a previous article that examined healing while fighting the good fight to be free. There are a lot of people in various struggles for freedom, both in their personal lives and in larger mass movements. And we ignore each other’s pain and suffering at our own peril. Indeed, I am of the opinion that it’s even more important that we actually care for each other and build solidarity with each other rather than just focus on public campaigns or activism. I’ve been in so many organizing meetings where people who fight for all these great causes of justice and liberation don’t give a shit about their own comrades sitting across the table from them or standing next to them at a picket line. (Men tend to do this far more often and regularly than women and trans folk, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone). It’s depressing to see, and I think most so-called progressives have it ass-backwards. Let’s fight for each other first before we fight the power. When we fight with love and solidarity, power doesn’t stand a fucking chance in hell. Therefore it naturally stands to reason that you should…
  • Never, ever place any leader, authority figure, or politician on a pedestal (even if they are of a similar political hue): Please don’t do this. And if you have been doing this, stop right now. I know how easy it can be to get sucked into thinking about the next great hope. But there’s no such thing. It’s all bells and whistles. The rates of black people being incarcerated or immigrants being deported has remained depressingly static under Obama, if not higher. The Obama regime deported more immigrants than Bush, while incarcerated as many if not more black men and women. It doesn’t surprise me in the least. When you place any leader, authority figure, or politician on a pedestal, all you do is two things – (1) inadvertently dehumanize yourself as somehow less worthy than some talking-points politician who is nothing more than a puppet of predatory capital and (2) eventually feel rather stupid as the reality of the bullshit settles in. Why bother? Fight the good fight alongside your loved ones, your friends, your comrades. They are the people who matter. They are the next great hope; and not some power-hungry authority figure who truly doesn’t give a mangy rat’s ass about you. In that spirit, please also…
  • Remember that the most liberating changes in society happen organically through people like you and me: This is the other side of the coin to refraining from deifying political leaders. Truly liberatory change has only ever happened through “ordinary” faceless people. The civil rights movement came before MLK or Malcolm X, stayed long after they were assassinated, morphing into different forms, and was the real reason for the victories. No doubt MLK and X were exceptional human beings and awe-inspiring martyrs for the cause, but they would have been nothing more than unknown ministers with exceptional oratorical skills had it not been for the unknown masses braving bullets and bombs for their collective freedom. Black liberation struggles have existed ever since the earliest times of slavery. We tend to think of great changes in society as emerging from one leader or one moment. In reality those are, for the most part, iconic cultural moments that inspire but do little else. Because real, grassroots change for the better evolves and emerges over time through masses of faceless people like you and me doing our little bits in struggle and solidarity with others like you and me. So, in that spirit, let me conclude by saying that…
  • Most important of all – never let the forces of oppression defeat you: The Trumps of the world and their murderous minions can never defeat us if we refuse to accept their authority and power in our hearts and souls. Please note that I’m not suggesting that this will prevent us from getting hurt, violated, even killed by the forces of oppression. What I am suggesting that is that we will not allow ourselves to be dehumanized by those attempting to dehumanize us if we simply refuse to be defeated by them no matter what they throw at us. Really, just try it out. Look deep within you and tell yourself that you will not be defeated by the forces of oppression. Do it as many times as you need in order to believe it. Once you believe, and I mean truly believe, that the forces of oppression might tear your body, heart and mind apart, but can never defeat you, it becomes a very powerful tool to fight that good fight while importantly healing in the process.

Fight for love, fight for liberation, and laugh like you know it.

Them bigoted jokers got nothing on you my friend.

Make note of these 6 types of condescending co-workers and reject their snot by laughing at them behind their backs

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going to clown college

As this Anti Oppressive Healing series has evolved over the last few weeks, it has been an absolute blessing to be noshed on by the ever-benevolent writing bug. From a goal of two posts a month when this series first started in March 2015, and the hope of getting to three posts a month in about six months of posting; I am now very fortuitous to be averaging a post a week for the last five weeks and I hope to keep up with this new pace of writing and publishing. It’s been such a lovely learning experience and it helps me remain committed to improving by doing. After many years of having a bloated, taking-my-writing-way-too-seriously ego getting thankfully deflated, I feel grateful to be in this liberated head space. It helps me clear away the haze and do my level best to keep producing work that tries to remove the “wannabe” in my self-imposed identity of a “wannabe healer, writer, and mama elephant.”

Long may this writing bug sink its emboldening fangs into my hitherto oafish brain so it may shake those verbiage-plodding neurons free from their privileged priapean perturbation.

(May it also always make me re-read jargony crap constructed utilizing nothing but an online thesaurus and a prayer.)

Now, I do believe the reason I am in this liberated head space is partly because of blogging.

Blogging, with it’s potential for free expression, limitless creative possibilities, and liberated thought- not to mention unfettered consumption and distribution – is tailor made for a wannabe healer-writer (healter? heriter? hwriter with a silent h?) trying to get some much needed improvement for his craft, as well as write and publish as much as he can without worrying about getting paid for it.

I feel compelled to mention that I am of the inviolable belief that all artistes need to get paid for their work, and I will always fight for everyone to get a fair wage for their creative/artistic work, but I’m privileged to have a life where I can exercise the option of writing and publishing for free consumption/distribution, without worrying about making a living from it because it’s what I need right now to get better. So I just plan on attempting a steady assembly line of posts for anyone out there who’s interested, and for as long as I can. As of now they will all come under the umbrella series, and focus, of Anti Oppressive Healing, but I’m sure that will evolve too.

Ok then. Enough navel-gazing and product-peddling. If you’ve stuck it out thus far with this post, please know that I appreciate you bearing with me as I gazed unabashedly into my unflattering and very-much-not-follicly-challenged belly button while sheepishly pointing you in the vague direction of other posts I have on this blog (sidebar to your left, b t dubs).

On that rather pleasant note…

This post continues in the Healing from Work vein of articles within the series. Only this time it’s trying to reject the hurtful actions of condescending co-workers utilizing that defiant cynical side of ours.

Now, obviously it’s based on condescending co-workers I have interacted with in previous workplaces or continue to interact with in my current workplace. But for obvious reasons I will not give away names or markers of any sort, suffice to say these generic types of condescending co-workers will be recognized by many of you.

And how best to deal with such cosmic ass-warts?

I believe the best way is to mentally reject them. I don’t mean cease interaction, for that might not be a luxury all of us have. What I do mean is that we reject the condescension of these co-workers in our hearts and minds, and commit to not being defeated by it. I’ve already written about investing as little of our souls as we can when selling our labor to capitalism for our sustenance, so I won’t repeat those points.

With this post, all we’re doing is coming up with a list of identifiers that mark out condescending co-workers who need to be rejected in our heads so we can then heal by laughing about them behind their backs.

Before we do that though, our generic colleagues are going to need generic names (and this article needs, you know, a thing). You need these names and many, many more you should strive to come up with on your own. They are your tools of resiliency to deal with those officious office  mates of yours. So let’s discuss a couple of options to get the juices flowing.

Perhaps Sanctimonious Sam? Could that be one of them?

Or if that’s a bit too meh, maybe Sydney Self-Righteousness? It certainly has a certain oomph to that surname.

But if that’s too many syllables for you, you really can’t go wrong with the delicate flow of Peyton Pomposity though now can you?

(See, I gotta be honest, all I did right now was a google search for synonyms of the word ‘sanctimonious’ and vaguely gender-neutral christian names on the net and strung a few of those bad boys with the same starting letters together. I’m going to follow that as an m.o. for this article fyi. I’m also going to take the opportunity, in this particular parenthetical segue, to finally admit that I am a pathetic con job of a writer. Hell, the only reason I even come out of this hack artiste closet is so I can then seek lazy refuge in meta humor as opposed to actually trying to be a better writer. Whatever. It’s therapeutic. Plus, when hipsters do it, no one complains, and most of those assholes have trust funds, so bite me.)

Ok, that was cleansing – and probably disturbing. I’m not sure. Lets just quickly move on to the six common types of condescending co-workers before I go postal with a BB gun in a Kensington Market coffee shop.

For instance…

  • You know that Goody-two-shoes Gabriel, the sniveling little suck-up, who never fails to note down all the times you went on vacation or took time off? Ol’ Gugga will never fail to bring it up in the snarkiest way possible when you return to work, which is the real kicker. (“Oh, hi there! Haven’t seen you in a looong time. Wish I could take time off like that too. Forgot you even worked here for a while. Lucky for you your supervisor’s office is all the way on the other side of the building, am I right? By the way, how did it go last week, you know, with the birth of your first child and all?”)
  • Ahem, simultaneously we don’t want to forget how Bobby Bootlicker – that giant pile of priggish pus who never fails to highlight their work, occasionally repeating a project or two from a couple of different angles, almost always at all-staff meetings and only when the bosses are present. Usually this is done by raising a hand during Q&A, and providing a surreptitious, albeit astoundingly detailed, reconstruction of all the work Bobo did as a lead up to asking a question. They will then conveniently forego asking a question but they will crack a dainty little joke about being a hopeless workaholic. (You can then feel the earth’s axial tilt shift ever so faintly as every eyeball in the room rolls upward in remarkable, albeit exasperated, unison. The goddesses in the sky look down in sympathy as a collective sigh of indignation then descends upon the meeting when Bobo flashes that impossible smile – impossible because it’s being performed by lips vacuum-sealed on the ass of a program director.)
  • But heavens forbid we forget that slimeball, Pharisaical Fadnavis. The duplicitous drool of that duplicitous drooler can be smelt a mile away. P-Fad will always be a picture of politeness with you. Always “on” 24/7, this source of angst will display a propriety that would make Martha Stewart’s heart glow like black granite in the prairie sunshine. P-Fad bustles with a bumblebee earnestness and buzzes, martyr-like, about how helpful they are to everyone around them, though the jury is still out on who exactly “everyone” is. Like Bobo though, rest assured the tone gets positively joanofarcian in those preciously public all-staff meetings with all the bosses present.
  • Ok, enough of that, because now it’s time get really filthy, like bottom of the barrel type stuff, when we recount that slice of smarm, Wheedling Waleed Bin Talal? (More like Wheedling Wally B Buttwipe, am I right?) Now there’s a walking ball of brown-nosing bullshit. Seriously, how can so much of that brown gold be slung with the bosses with nary a stain nor stench? Wally B knows how, let me tell you. Those laboriously shined shoes and immaculately creased trousers will not allow it any other way.
  • Wally B induces the nausea, but can I have a “fuck me, not this asshole again” for Unctuous Ulysses? That Jesus-Loves Me-bracelet-wearing, beatific jive joker – always fresh faced, well hydrated, and with a gleaming smile. Unfortunately for the rest of us this smile emanates from the face of a person who’s ego isn’t healthy enough to attempt moderation when applying that tempting teeth-whitener the previous night. He doesn’t talk about his pompous piety. This literal leap of faith doesn’t need to. It blooms from his being, radiating outward, washing over us like the healing aromas emanating from a landfill. He jades and jehovizes those of us going to hell, making our souls impatient to get there just a little bit sooner so we don’t have to smell his eau de parfum.
  • And finally, can we ever conceive of a list of condescending co-workers without referencing the one we all love to hate the most, your favorite office pest, Vainglorious Venkatanarasimharaju? This is the one who thinks that the office would fall apart without him, yet even a friendly query on what exactly he does in order to keep this office so brilliantly functioning will be met with the kind of exasperation that you do not want to be facing from The V2 Rocket. Nothing more needs to be said about this puddle of piss – primarily because I’m running out of steam thinking about these people and doing google searches for adjectives describing their sorry asses so I can hack out this post.

I think it’s best now for all of us for me to sign off with this very simple mantra…

Remember to never allow the insecurity and inadequacies of your condescending co-workers defeat you.

Your best bet would be to look at your work life via the lens of an over-the-hill but well-adjusted Looney Toons character who doesn’t take their work too seriously and possesses enough cynical zeal to treat some of your more cloying colleagues with the intentionally cartoonish disdain they deserve.

Now, seriously, don’t forget to clock the fuck out before 5pm and go have fun with your loved ones.

And do give a big smile to Paulus Publius Pecksniffian Poopy Pants on your way out.

An ode to a good dump and a grouchy fuck of a grandfather

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prime minister digestion

The last article I wrote on suicide gutted me a bit, so I’m going to be talking about bowel movements for this one, while invoking the late wisdom of a strange, grumpy old man.

I don’t know why really. I think it’s because writing this article made me laugh while invoking a giant middle finger to pain and trauma. Read on if you’d like. It’s a short piece anyway.

When I was about eight or nine years old, my late grandfather on my mother’s side drew a diagram for me and my older brother, a diagram I will describe shortly. First let me briefly describe this man as I remember him.

Thatha died when I was about ten or eleven after his heart gave out, so I do remember him being my first experience with death, and crying when I saw his body, not because I particularly gave a crap that he was gone but merely because I had never seen a dead body in real life. He was a very harsh, abusive disciplinarian to his children, and felt that the most strict and economically productive societies like Japan were the epitome of humanity. He wished to be born in a country like Japan for his next life, so he could work hard and spend his life in strict discipline (no kidding) without having to deal with the chaos and corruption of a messy place like Bangalore.

Weird little fucker he was.

I wasn’t particularly close to the man, nor did I like him very much. From a very young age, I’ve never particularly enjoyed the company of men who thought of themselves as stern family patriarchs or portrayed that kind of behavior, especially in strict or angry ways. They’re often a stressful pain to be around, and it’s only when they change their ways and become gentler, more loving men can I bond with them. Unfortunately with Thatha, he kicked the bucket before that could happen. So I only remember him as a bit of a dick, not a particularly cruel or evil one, just a strict jerk with a quick temper.

However, he did have a deliciously wicked sense of humor and he taught me one, just one, invaluable thing before he died; a life lesson I have never forgotten and one that I am realizing has been a key feature to whatever health and fitness I might possess or have the potential to possess:

Daily, healthy bowel movements.

I kid you not.

And he did all this via a diagram and a very brief lecture.

The diagram he drew and the lecture that preceded was in response to my elder brother not taking a shit this one special morning. I feel compelled to emphasize this god-honest truth – one weekend morning my brother happened to not feel like taking a shit as soon as he woke up, and because he happened to wile away a lazy hour or two of his (weekend) morning without hitting the throne right away, it merited a lecture from my grandfather. The morning had not ended mind you, so there was every chance that my brother would have indeed taken a shit that day before the sun hit the tall sky, even without the lecture that was to follow.

But Thatha believed a household needed to be run like a Toyota factory striving for a level of efficiency that would make the founder emit a gratifying, albeit adequately humble, sigh from the grave.

You see – if you haven’t been able to gather this already from my glib and absolutely unabashed usage of the word “shit” and my regular veering off in the direction of bowel movements (see previous titles on this blog for further, surreptitiously self-aggrandizing, reference) – I come from a family that takes a strange pride in having excellent digestive systems.

Yes.

I did just say that.

I’m going to repeat it for good effect.

I come from a family that takes a strange pride in having excellent digestive systems – and I’m going to keep talking about it, thank you very much, dignity and family pride very much intact.

I grew up in a great family in Bangalore, barring a couple of jerks, which is par for the course with humanity I think and not something to really complain about. No jokes, great family, especially my parents and joint family kin in Bangalore (and now Toronto as well). Very lucky block I am indeed.

Now, I’m not suggesting for a second that they were awesome because they all had great digestive systems – aided by a fibre heavy diet of course. I am however saying that a good shit first thing in the morning can give you that oh so perky start to the day – something I realize all members of my family get. So, at the very least, their good digestive systems make them, uh, less shitty.

(Sorry for that bad pun right there btw. While digestion was one our strong suits, risque humor was not. We were, for all our public talk of bowel movements, an astoundingly prudish lot. Quite bovine in nature actually. Thatha even had the whole cud chewing thing going.)

Ok, back to our story.

Now, in order to lecture my brother (and me too apparently because I was putzing around the garden looking at earthworms), Thatha semi-cogently sputtered about the value of good digestion – occasionally taking a delightfully appetizing break to gurgle and spit brown tobacco juice with jet-stream like precision onto the plants of our grandparent’s front yard, a stray droplet or two landing ever so lovingly on our cringing faces.

To emphasize his point, he drew the following diagram:

First, in profile, he drew the outline of a human being. Or at least a globular, vaguely human form.

Within that outline of a human being he drew an outline of the digestive system from mouth to asshole, with a stomach in between.

Then, within the outline of that digestive system, in the little protrusion representing the stomach, he drew a turd.

As he amused himself to the increasing disgust of his only daughter’s children, he then proceeded to provide his idea of a succinct, medically sound, rationally grounded lecture on daily healthy living. It took all of ten seconds before my brother walked away gagging.

The shiny pearls of wisdom he so graciously provided us can best be paraphrased thus:

We eat.

Then our body converts what we eat to shit.

We need to remove that shit every morning.

Because if we don’t, for the rest of the day, whenever we open our mouths our breath is going to smell like shit…

the same shit that is still in our stomach because we failed to remove it that morning…

because shitting in the morning is something that all good, disciplined human beings (ahem, such as your grandfather) do.

So go take a shit right now.

QED.

He then, as my brother started to gag, proceeded to literally draw the smells of the turd travelling through the digestive system, emanating out of the mouth. By the time he was finished with this final illustrative flourish, there was just the two of us (me a tad surprised that I was still kinda peckish for the scrambled eggs my mum was making for me that morning).

Now, I leave it to you to judge the value of such organic inter-generational advice. I know for sure that I’m likely to adopt a slightly different approach to telling any young ‘uns about the importance of good digestion.

But believe you me – ever since that lecture, over a quarter century ago, I have never gone a day in my life without at least one healthy bowel movement.

You may cringe. You know, tmi or whatever…

But nothing perks you up like a good dump.

And that’s the real value of that lesson. It actually converts the lesson into a truism I admittedly had to glean for myself after talking to people a tad more even-minded than my grandfather (rest his tobacco-chewing, very regular, soul).

But I think what Thatha tried to tell us in his crude and amusingly memorable way was this:

The seemingly inconsequential (and often more unpalatable) daily activities of life constitute the bedrock of health and healing – and we ignore them at our own peril.

Thatha, you grouchy fuck – take a bow in that old Toyota factory in your paradise that you are a loyal comprador, middle-manager of – because whenever I take a dump, I think of you and I’m strangely grateful you drew me that nasty diagram.

(Now, that’s a weird family to get your genes from.)

A liberatory (but deeply unsure) exploration of suicide.

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when great trees fall - maya angelou

After a couple of relatively lighter articles, I am attempting (or rather inelegantly fumbling with) an exploration of suicide from as liberatory and anti-oppressive a standpoint as possible.

This is going to be tough, because suicide is an exceptionally difficult and traumatic subject to muddle through. And muddle through we must because truly there is no other way to explore the subject of suicide other than get messy. We must cast away judgment and realize that we all can be in each other’s shoes if we had lived other’s lives.

And I think the way forward to establish a liberatory framework for engaging with suicide is to first establish a liberatory framework for engaging with death. For suicide, in it’s finality, is another way of reaching death. The way itself is what is always so contentious to discuss, with self-righteous assholes across political and social classes holding sway merely because they happen to be the loudest.

(It’s easy to be loud when all you have to do is say the same talking points over and over again, rather than be open-minded and evolving…a loudmouth like me knows this from personal experience).

Indeed, while there is a lot I am unsure of as I attempt this liberatory exploration of suicide, there is one thing I am absolutely convinced of when it comes to death itself…

We get a more honest understanding of ourselves and our lives when we have a more liberated understanding of death.

For sure, death is pain, suffering, grief, and immeasurable loss; but death is also many other things (beyond the obvious of being a gratuitous tool and threat of the powers-that-be and evil-doers across the globe).

Death for instance can take on an extremely liberatory hue when seen from the context of martyrdom such as dying for one’s loved ones or dying while fighting against oppression. This doesn’t mean that the pain or suffering that such death is certainly going to cause is to be minimized or neglected in any way whatsoever. All it means is that pain, suffering, liberation, and martyrdom co-exist as equally valid ways of engaging with and understanding death.

And there are many other ways too.

For instance, many societies and communities across the globe have understandings and narratives around death that revolve around considering death as a point of passage from one realm or life into the next. Death seen in this case is a kind of membrane between worlds, nothing more than a portal from which the spirit or soul or whatever cannot come back – or can, depending on where you stand with these beliefs.

Delving into a subject of which I have an astoundingly shallow understanding of, but a boundless interest in – quantum physics – the moment we start moving beyond three dimensions, the notion of time becomes exponentially more complex. Linear time, unidirectional time etc. get thrown out of the window. Seen from this standpoint, death is nothing more than a specific moment in time. It just so happens that time is linear and unidirectional for us, being in boring ol’ three dimensions and all, and thus there is a certain nonreturnable finality about death that makes it so intense for us.

Point being that there are innumerable ways of looking at, understanding, and coming to terms with death. Many of these are quite mentally and spiritually liberating.

The same, I daresay, can be said about suicide.

And that, my friends and fellow souls, is the framework with which this exploration of suicide will be done.

Now, whenever I’m kinda hazy about subjects (which happens to me way more often than I’d admit), I try and break things down into easily graspable parts that at the very least clear away some of the haze. Quite akin to the control exercise I wrote about a few articles back.

(This wannabe writer will peddle his craft dammit.)

So, let’s do the same with suicide and maybe first list out what suicide is and isn’t, with a reasonable amount of free thought and grounding in anti-oppressive values. I daresay the vast majority of readers will agree with what I’ve listed below in terms of what suicide is and isn’t. And if you don’t, that’s cool too, cos I’m sure we can find other things to bond over.

Let’s start with what suicide is.

Suicide is painful, traumatic, the result of myriad forms of oppression, exacerbated by marginalization, and is a complex, difficult subject to engage with.

I’ll give you an intense second or two to chew on that, before we move on to what suicide isn’t.

Suicide isn’t nice, pleasant, delinked from the rest of the world, easy to understand, or to be taken lightly.

And that’s about it as far as I can tell. Give or take a few similar sensibilities, I’m unable to state with absolute certainty about what suicide is or isn’t apart from those shown above. And believe me, I’ve tried.

Oh for sure, suicide can be a lot of things (which you will shortly find out, is exactly the point), but they are not absolutes like the notion of suicide being painful or traumatic, which one can state with absolute certainty.

Each of the various things that suicide can be, evoking astounding sentiments and polemics, could have reams and reams written about it. Such as whether suicide can be brave, or cowardly, or liberatory, or oppressive, or desperate, or a cry for help, or any of the other countless things that suicide can be. But none of those things could or should ever be applied as all-encompassing rules to engage with and understand the vast complexity that is suicide.

For instance, let’s start with a negative understanding of suicide wherein suicide is considered cowardly. Are there times when suicide can be considered cowardly? Sure there are. Many men who kill their wives and/or children, often kill themselves after doing so. Most of us, given that little snippet of information, would consider that a very cowardly and shameful act, not to mention heinously misogynistic.

Ok, what if the entire house in which the family lived in was surrounded by a bloodthirsty mob who literally wanted nothing but to torture and butcher everyone in it – the entire family, adults, children, everyone? What does such a murder-suicide situation look like to us then? If, say, the man did the same act, I’m sure there’d be various levels of indignant sympathy, but possibly also various levels sympathetic critique around the patriarchy involved, with him likely just deciding for the entire family.

Let me throw another piece of information onto this narrative. What if the entire family decided as one, at that moment, that the only way to liberate themselves from the heinous cruelty awaiting them with the mob outside was to all take their own lives, and then proceeded to do so? What does this collective suicide feel like to us now?

Feels a lot different, no?

I give you this triple-layered example because I have worked, in the past, in some capacity or the other, with people having had loved ones die in each of the three manners above. I won’t go into details, suffice to say that as I racked my head to write this article, those three completely unrelated experiences, each happening years apart and on different continents, kept flashing in my head as a whole entity despite the fact that I had and continue to have extremely different emotional reactions to each. It provided a lucid thought and truism to work with, which is that…

Suicide exists on an extremely diverse spectrum.

That spectrum can be applied to any number of the myriad, countless things that suicide can be. Suicide exists on a spectrum of cowardice as the multi-layered example above showed, thereby also existing on a spectrum of breathtaking courage and freedom. Similarly, suicide exists on a spectrum of desperation, dehumanization, defiance and a myriad other things. From the standpoint of spiritual, mental and physical processes – suicide exists on a spectrum from thoughts and inner forces to actual planning, physical attempts, and possibly even a full-fledged carrying out of the act itself.

And as sure as the sun rises in the east we, all of us, can and will find ourselves at different points on this diverse, multi-layered spectrum of suicide at different points in our life, faced with the experiences of the world we live in.

(Take a second and chew on that for a moment.)

I would like to conclude with a small life-hack I’ve been working on to help me find dim light in any haze I find myself in, such as the multi-layered, complex, spectrum-navigating haze that is this exploration of suicide. The life-hack can be summarized thus…

When in doubt, turn to love.

So I asked myself – how can love provide me with a little light in order to continue this liberatory and unsure exploration of suicide? And the universe around me answered thus…

Often love is so near, yet so far – and that’s still a good thing.

I then went, yo, universe…what the fuck with all this platitude crap? Then the universe gave me a right royal spanking and told me to shut the fuck up and stick with the process, and here’s where it led me…

Very true, often love is so near, yet so far. It’s a sentiment we all have experienced. And it’s always is a painful thing to live through. One way of viewing such a situation would be to focus on the fact it’s so far, which is why it can be so painful.

But another way of viewing such a situation is to know that love is so near too. And with that comes all kinds of possibilities for liberation, healing, and happiness.

So, in conclusion, while I continue to have a very unsure understanding of suicide, I do believe it can be viewed utilizing a similar mode of thought that turning to love provided me, except to use that mode of thinking with life.

Perhaps a liberatory way of understanding suicide, among countless others liberatory ways, is thus…

Sometimes life is no near, yet so far – and that’s still a good thing.

We can focus on the fact that it’s so far, and do what we need to do to heal from that pain. Simultaneously we must also focus on the fact that life is so near too. And with that comes all kinds of possibilities for love, liberation, and healing.

Now, that’s a beautiful thing.

So know this my friend – wherever we may find ourselves at this very moment on this diverse spectrum of suicide, our souls can always hang out and share a few laughs or tears.

Because – as the immortal Maya Angelou reminds us – we existed.

Healing from Work

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Id rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck

This is anti-oppressive exploration on how to deal with the myriad mental health issues from selling our labor in a capitalist system, while protecting our soul and ensuring that we privilege loved ones, health, community care, and freedom.

Now that I got that out of my system, let’s talk a bit about healing from work. Almost all of us have to work in some way or the other for some form of sustenance. This is regardless of whether or not we have an actual wage job or not. Any physical, mental, or spiritual effort exerted to sustain ourselves and our loved ones (including non-human loved ones) is what I define as work. It’s rarely fun, and often precarious, exploitative, even downright lethal across various parts of the world. Some are luckier than others; but for the most part this is because it’s less shitty and not because it’s more delightful.

Work, as we all know, is work.

And we all need to heal from it.

Below are six pointers I have found useful and have suggested to many of my clients during therapy as a way of dealing with issues of alienation, frustration, tedium  and more from work; work they do in order to sustain themselves and their loved ones; work they do for food, clothing, shelter, and safety; work that they often have no choice but to take on in order to wage those valiant struggles for community survival.

(Don’t worry, these points will be kept as non-controversial as possible. Not that I would shirk from rousing the occasional rabble, it’s just that I I still have a job that I love and need for the foreseeable future. Whenever my wage career is over, we shall have the more agitational version of this article. Onward comrades.)

Work smart, not hard (it’s way easier once you master a few easy life hacks): This takes a little practice and requires some application of thought, but once you get into the groove of things, it will become second nature. First, figure out the most crucial and vital work deliverables, i.e. those objectives or whatever else you might call them that are key to ensuring a steady wage and as secure a job as possible. Then, work out ways to ensure those deliverables are, well, delivered while traversing the path of least resistance and least effort. In a nutshell, you are seeking to do the most amount of work for the least amount of time and effort and no more.

We think we are efficient in our Western society. We’re not. We’re just a wealthy society.

I sometimes compare the way things are done in India vs. the US and Canada. It’s interesting how systems can influence societies. Because of the corruption and chaos of the system, many people in India have no choice but to work smart as opposed to hard, because life is already much harder there (they don’t need to burden themselves with workaholism, an absolutely baffling affliction), they often have to use quick thinking and sharp brains to take the path of least resistance for maximum output – whether it’s an overworked school teacher or a farmer sweating it out for 10 hours a day in the hot sun. If they don’t work smart, they’d collapse from sheer exhaustion.

It’s the exact opposite in the colonial countries of the Western world, where because the system is so much better than a country like India, I have often found tasks normally requiring 15-20 minutes, taking a few meetings and endless discussions to complete, merely because people have more time in this part of the world doing mundane, useless work to pretend like the system is efficient and hard-working.

Don’t fall for that trap. Use it to your advantage. Work smart, not hard. Finish those quick tasks quickly (but don’t let on that you’re doing them quickly), thereby giving yourself more time for life, and let the rest of them fall prey to the self-exploitation capitalism wants from all of us. The best frame of mind to get yourself into would be to…

Ditch perfectionism; don’t sweat the small stuff (just do what needs to be done): This is crucial. Perfectionism is this unholy virus in capitalist and colonial society that can take on all kinds of forms. A couple of insidious examples include sexist body image norms and oppressive ideas of beauty. Perfectionism is also the tool by which capitalism gets us to do far more than we need to, making us believe that we have to be perfect in our jobs, which takes away from the one thing that pretty much all of us who have to work would secretly admit to – if given a choice, we wouldn’t work but use our time to sustain ourselves in ways that make us and our loved ones happy.

Since many of us don’t have the choice, or might still be in the process of figuring out other ways to sustain ourselves and our loved ones, let’s not drive ourselves up the wall with stress and anxiety by falling prey to this virus of perfectionism.

And don’t sweat the small stuff. Really. Just worry about the key, big-ticket items that ensure your wages remain steady and your job is relatively safe, and blot out the rest.

But what about, you know, all these people we have to deal with, I hear you ask. Well, here’s a thought…

Don’t compete, or be hostile, or engage in one-upmanship with fellow workers (and don’t be a brown-noser or management snitch, unless you or your family’s welfare is at risk): This just makes your work life more pleasant. You don’t have to be friends with your fellow workers, nor do you even have to particularly like all or any of them. But one thing to avoid at all costs is competition, hostility, and one-upmanship with fellow workers. Just do what you need to do and move on with your life.

And for the love of all that is good and pure, unless you or your family’s welfare is at risk (in which case, I well understand that all bets are off), please don’t be a management snitch or brown-noser. Don’t be a scab either, as far as you can help it. Doing shit like this should be avoided. On the contrary…

Be supportive, honest and develop healthy friendships if possible (avoid the shittier people, and only confront when faced with no other possibility): The moment you mark yourself out as someone who is a supportive and honest person, you automatically get marked out as someone whom others might find it difficult to compete with, be hostile to, or engage in one-upmanship with. Remember to not be a please-everyone faker or an argumentative jerk, just supportive and honest.

Also, among the lot that consist of your fellow workers, you might find one or two people whom you can be more open with, develop healthy friendships with, and generally be a source of support for each other. Engage in conversations with them and develop bonds that might, again, make your work environment a touch more pleasant. A friend is always good to have anywhere.

But while all the above points relate to your work itself, in reality the best way to heal from work is outside of work. It’s vitally important to…

Remember that love, liberation, and health are far more important than your job or career (this is such a truism it almost feels insulting to write some points about it): When we have this very simple notion that our loved ones, our family and community, our freedom, our sense of liberation and independence, our ways of healing, and our health are far, far more important than our jobs or careers, happiness and resiliency become the new baseline.

We need jobs, or careers, or whatever other nice label we put on the process of selling our labor to the system, only in order to sustain ourselves. But it’s no substitute for the real deal in life which is love, liberation, and health. Remember this point, and I can assure you that the stresses at work will be less stressful, the anxieties you deal with possibly in engaging with other people will also reduce. Why? Because the job or the career is nothing more than a mode of sustenance so that we can do what we were truly meant to do as human beings which is…

Focus on building a loving, liberated, and healthy community/family (if there is one point you might take from this article, it would be this one): I’m not kidding. If you’re not already engaging in this in some way or the other, you really need to start right away. Focus on building and developing a loving, liberated, and health community or family. If you already have a community of loved ones or a family you feel a part of, then start finding ways to spread the love, fight for each other in one another’s daily struggles, and develop healthy, healing practices. It really is that simple.

The above pointers (along with other healing and liberatory practices) are meant to be an anti-oppressive path towards some peace of mind and a little less frustration when having to sell our labor within a cold, profit-driven economic system that breeds alienation by design. It’s far more important to be successful in love, liberation, health, and caring for the people around us than it is to be successful in a career or job. Such “success” at the cost of the above beautiful life forces is not success at all. Do what you need to do in order to heal from work by figuring out ways to implement the above points in your life. As always, use what works for you, modify as you deem fit, and stash away the rest.

Now clock the fuck out before 5pm and go have fun with someone who loves you.

A soulful, sensory-based mindfulness exercise to have fun with (and develop the senses)

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thich nhat hanh mindfulness quote

One of the reasons I love public transportation over cars (apart from reasons that would make you hate me), is that someone else goes through the headache of driving, back seat driving, navigation, dealing with traffic and imbibing road rage. All I need to do is zone out to some reading, writing, or random daydreaming. Especially in the Western world where for the most part public transit is of a high quality, this is a rather enjoyable aspect to public transit. And yes, I know there are many complaints about Toronto’s TTC all the time, or whatever public transit systems exist in their respective cities across the West. But compared to, say, my childhood town of Bangalore (a small South Indian fishing village comprising about 8 million people), an equivalent metropolis in the West like Toronto has a public transit system that is miles ahead. The argument in favor of more cars is kinda flimsy, imho.

(There you go – now you hate me, don’t you? Whatever. Moving on…)

Often, instead of reading, writing, or daydreaming while I take my daily bus ride to work, I experiment with brief mindfulness exercises, i.e. being consciously and intentionally focused on the present and the self.

This particular mindfulness exercise is something I’ve done on occasion in various ways, and it’s almost always interesting and fun. The more one does it, the easier it gets and the sharper your senses become. It can be done pretty much anywhere, with most daily activities that don’t require huge amounts of concentration to pursue safely (sitting on a bus, walking on a street, lounging at a dog park, wiping dog crap off your ass, whatever works for you…)

Also it can be done for any length of time, which makes it less of a production and easier to do quickly.

Usually I do it for no more than a minute or two at a time. My brain is wired like that of a jack russell terrier on speed, so just the fact that I’m attempting this shit is quite something for me. On occasion I’ve done it for upwards of 10-15 minutes in different situations. Like bus rides where you can zone out for a while as you pass, say, a tastefully rust-laden neighborhood of post-urban industrial blight just out of view from the shiny ‘burbs in the sky blue yonder.

Ok, let’s get cracking with the exercise (we can discuss some of the cruder manifestations of structural economic inequalities at a later time.)

Now, I have often found the best mindfulness exercises incorporate the daily lives and struggles we face in a liberating way, equipping us to face them with greater resiliency rather than shutting them off. In that vein, there are three important elements to bear in mind, i.e. to be mindful of, for the purposes of this exercise, but also for life in general. They are:

  1. Sensation: I.e. getting a truly in-depth understanding and awareness of our senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, and any others, such as a spiritual sense or a 6th sense. This awareness happens way less often than we might think. Using the senses instinctively without thinking, which we do all the time, is very different than using the senses while being mindful of them.
  2. Soulfulness: Being aware of yourself, your body, mind, heart, and spirit, in connection with the living beings around you. Practicing an awareness of ourselves in balance and harmony with other human and non-human beings can go a long way in dealing with stress, anxiety, fear, anger, hurt, past traumas and other sources of pain that tend to usually involve other people in some way or the other. It’s important to refrain from judgment, but pay attention to thoughts, feelings, and emotions (healthy and unhealthy) from the standpoint of getting greater insight into why they’re there, what they mean to you, and how to engage with them in a healing way.
  3. Peace of mind that provides a sense of calm: This is what you are aiming to slowly build with this exercise, among many others, in the long term. The only thing you need to remember and keep telling yourself through the exercise is that it’s always better to remain calm rather than stressed or agitated in order to be the best you can be in any situation, and that ultimately peace of mind is derived when you truly commit to love, freedom, and happiness – for yourself and others in equal proportion (see the article previous to this one for more information on loving in liberated ways).

That’s all you need to know for this exercise. It looks like just three points, but if needed please do read those three points again just to make sure you have a sense of how to apply them in a way that works for you. No need to worry about specific steps. Those are given below. Just spend a minute thinking about each of the above trinity of points, what they mean to you, what you make of them, and what you might do with them. There’s no hard and fast rule here. The idea is to practice thinking about yourself from from a sensory, soulful, and peaceful mental framework.

Remember that this is not meditation. You don’t need to find some calm place by a babbling brook with a doe-eyed fawn for company to do this. In fact, this exercise is unlikely to work unless you’re actually doing some mundane daily activity such as walking, travelling to work, housework, shopping etc.

All somewhat ok so far? Even a hesitant nod will do for us to move on to actually doing the exercise. Cool. Below are listed the simple steps to conduct this exercise. Read through all the steps at least once fully before doing it because you’ll notice that you can’t take a break in the exercise to read about your next step:

Step 1 – Zone out. Yeah, that’s about the most medically competent and uncomplicated way to put it. Step 1 is basically “zoning out” but to do so by focusing on something that can be done without having to apply too much high thought to it (so really it’s “zoning in” if you think about it). On a bus ride, normally I find the best way to do it is to stare at a point in the distance out the window (not at someone, please don’t be creepy). When walking, one way to zone out is to focus solely on safety, i.e. avoiding obstacles, crossing streets safely etc. rather than paying attention to details, such as what different people or shops look like. Similarly for other daily activities, like cooking or shopping, focus on something that will get you into that stable, zoned-out state of mind.

Step 2 – Pick a sense. Any of them. At first you’ll be focused on one of the big ones like sight or hearing, but do try others as well as you do this exercise on subsequent occasions.

Step 3 – Focus only on that sense and start picking out different sensations from only that sense. First focus on the big sensations. If sight, then the big sights around you. If hearing, then the loudest noises and sounds. If smell, then the rankest and most aromatic smells. If touch, then what your hands and feet are touching or feeling. If taste, then the most obvious taste in your mouth. If spiritual, then the major spiritual sensations you feel.

Step 4 – Now try to pick out the details and “break apart” those major sensations. Look for differences and variations and try to get a sense of the different “parts” to that whole sensation. For instance, if you’re seeing clouds (great for zoning out) note all the different parts of that cloud, their shapes, sizes, colors etc. If you’re hearing construction, try to make out different sounds that make up the generic noise of construction. Same with any other sense. Smelling garbage? What are the different smells making it up? Getting a butt itch from that streetcar seat? Which region of your butt itches the most and how bad is the need to scratch it despite the people around you?

Step 5 – Now, focus even more and try to pick out minuscule details using that sense, details that you would only be able to pick out by being mindful. Try to work around that major sensation your working with. The tiny dust particle on the window that you spot as you shift focus slightly from the cloud. The barely audible chirp of a bird that you can make out despite the din of construction. The fainter the sensation and the more difficult it is to pinpoint, the better. Essentially you are “discovering” new sensations merely by being mindful of your senses. Focus on ones that you know no one else might be able to spot because you’re the only one trying. Smile when you find them – you’ve just given your senses a workout. This step and the previous one is where your senses improve over time as you practice this kind of mindfulness.

Step 6 – Get back to a non-zoned-out state and take a few solid breaths. Count them and focus on the air coming into your system as you inhale, and out of your system as you exhale. Focus on the organs and body parts involved – lungs, chest, stomach etc. Then relax and observe life around you. Try not to judge, instead merely observe. Make note of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions as you make these observations. Ask yourself how/what/where/when/why questions to get greater insight into those thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Do it for all the senses. Some activities are better for different senses. Walking and sitting on a bus are great for sight and hearing. Grocery shopping and cooking are great for smell and touch. Being around nature and loved ones is great for the spiritual senses. Try the exercise at different times. You’ll be surprised at how sharp your senses become and how deep your spirit is.

Repeat as needed. Modify as you deem fit. Most importantly, always strive to heal with love, freedom, and happiness.