Michael Brownstein on MEDITATION AS A SUBVERSIVE ACTIVITY (Arthur, 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 15 (March 2005)

Artwork by John Coulthart

What does meditation have to do with activism?
Plenty, says poet Michael Brownstein

I’ve been a Buddhist for many years, and I am also an activist, committed to overturning the profit-driven monoculture which is destroying our health, our Earth, and our soul. How are these two forms of awareness—awareness of what’s taking place in the outside world, and awareness of our internal processes—related? Can each aid the other in creating a sane, sustainable and just world?

Let’s look at activism in terms of the negative emotions generated—indignation and rage, but also frustration, sorrow, resignation. These are negative emotions because of the effect they have on us, the people who experience them. Not on the object of our emotions, whether it be the World Trade Organization, Monsanto, or George Bush. Negative emotions are reactive. Their only impact is on us. What difference does it make to Monsanto that you’re seething with indignation at something it has done or said? What difference does it make to the Pacific Lumber Company when you come upon a clear-cut old-growth forest in California and feel devastated?

Staying present with our emotions—anger, for example—means remaining aware of what we’re experiencing without becoming lost in reactivity. It means liberating the energy generated by anger from the object that calls it forth. In other words, it is a form of meditation. Then, the possibility exists to work with the situation from a place of clarity, rather than be submerged in confusion.

So, the first revolutionary act—or fact—about meditation is that it puts you in touch with what you’re feeling and thinking at this very moment. It puts you in touch with presence. Then you realize that you are the source of your emotions—not Monsanto or McDonald’s. This does not imply that we shouldn’t have these responses, but that we have to use them rather than be used by them. And the only way to do that is to become aware of their nature.

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THE NEAR FUTURE by Michael Brownstein

The Near Future
by Michael Brownstein

(originally published in Arthur No. 30/August 2008)

In 1800 in all the world
there were one billion people
in 1950, two billion
now there’s six billion
ten billion people by the year 2025
exploding, spurting, surging
tidal wave, earthquake, blink of an eye
how many is too many?
what will the word “human” mean
in 2025, not that far away, really
when everybody will be in possession
of one little room the size of their heads
dreaming revelatory dreams
of the world filled with billions of humans
in the year 1800, the year 1950
the years 2025, 2250, 3137, 483632
wherever “now” went
whoever’s “here” now
scratching our heads, trying
to make sense of our success

Because for humans it turns out
winning also means losing
losing folkways, losing space, losing the unknown
whoever’s “alive” now, whatever “dead” means
as you turn to me and insist
“I’ve got a grip on things now”
but actually the grip’s on you
population density altering identity
warping thought patterns, pasteurizing consciousness
turning us inside out and upside down
making us forget that every moment in history
is flush with prehistory, is full of acid flashbacks
of us dropping down out of the trees
sniffing the air, our feet planted on the ground
loving the sights, the sounds of earthly life
then someone builds a fire and we all gather round
looking each other in the eye
embracing every last person in the circle
big smiles on our faces
for a hundred thousand years

But today the tables have turned
critical mass, demographic flash point
what human means suddenly uncertain
irradiated, plastic-saturated, genetically modified
people spilling over the rim
uncountable as microbes
especially when you factor in
our multiple, shifting personalities
our vast entourage of memories and demons
and our self-images ain’t working too good
anymore, even though we’re afraid to drop
the dead hand of ownership—
greedy, competitive, property-worshipping
suspicious, conspiratorial, anti-feminine
feeling up the planet for the hell of it

Private property has got to go
monogamy, the work ethic, clock time
billionaire fortunes, destitution, nationalism
our only option, surrender
surrender to relationships open to the breeze
no more me owning you, you owning me
until we float away from our armored selves
like deep sea divers releasing their harpoons
mental nomads erasing the space
between here and there, between now and then
between you and me
otherwise we’ll keep hardening and shrinking
all ten billion of us, all 30 billion, 50 billion

Because the age of smallness is fast approaching
nothing but a little room inside our heads
with a few houseplants that stand for the jungle
dusty terrariums we’ll think of as the wilderness
while we christen a puddle under the kitchen sink
the Great Salt Lake—
look, see the bonsai trees on the mall?
see the tiny automobiles driving around
down there below the matchstick bridge?
wherever they go, they always arrive
they never get lost, there’s no way to get lost
everyone’s options screwed on tight
people jammed against the walls, dangling from the rafters
lining the hallways of each other’s dreams

But still there’s a voice we can hear
calling to us from deep inside our bones
it says that smallness is not our fate
the next big flash point coming right up
in fact, it’s in the near future
when the density of our existence erupts
bursting open what we see and feel
breakthrough into resonance, just like in prehistory
and the trees on the hillsides watching our game
are beside themselves with joy
they’ve waited for so long, waited for this moment
when marauding humans finally come home
and think the way plants and animals
have always thought, every life form on Earth
forever dissolving the distance
between here and there, between now and then
between you and me

Poet Michael Brownstein is the author of World on Fire. His latest novel, Must Not Sleep, is available as a free audio download at Podiobooks.com.