As artist and critic, I find compelling a radical aesthetic that seeks to uncover and restore links between art and revolutionary politics, particularly black liberation struggle, while offering an expansive critical foundation for aesthetic evaluation. Concern for the contemporary plight of black people necessitates that I interrogate my work to see if it functions as a force that promotes the development of critical consciousness and resistance movement.
If we must live with jails and prisons, which in my view is debatable, then the author suggests we use affective architecture to increase perceptions of justice, fairness, and positivity in criminal justice buildings.
The fragmentation of the U.S. criminal justice system — a sprawling, decentralized bureaucracy with thousands of jurisdictions and powerholders — has long served to hide the full cost of mass incarceration. Comprehensive data on those the U.S. deprives of their freedom is virtually impossible to obtain in a timely fashion, if at all. The coronavirus crisis has laid bare this systemic failure more than ever. The country’s more than 3,000 jails, in particular, function like fiefdoms. While state corrections departments oversee prisons, and the Bureau of Prisons runs federal facilities, jails operate under the authority of thousands of local officials. Only a handful of states collect data from their jails.
This article was published in Delayed Gratification before the COVID crisis was a pandemic. The subject is Ebola and vaccination development. Reading this in light of COVID is very interesting and may point to some future directions. “In November 2019 a highly effective vaccine against Ebola was cleared for use by the European Commission. But as Harriet Salem found out on the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, huge obstacles remain on the path to beating this horrifying disease.”
This essay will explore the way in which the populist right has utilized the realms of popular culture and the media in its struggle for hegemony.1 Along these lines, I will focus on Donald Trump’s former reality show, The Apprentice, drawing attention to the show’s prefiguration of precisely the right-wing class politics that was in many ways constitutive of Trump’s election as president – and which is still one of the key features of Trumpism today. In the course of the essay, I will also analyze certain facets of the online culture wars (cf. Nagle 2017), particularly examining right-wing efforts to pit feminists and working-class men against each other.
During the pandemic crisis, state surveillance measures violated citizens’ privacy rights to track the virus spread. Little civic protest resulted—“safety first”? Indeed, many measures were implemented during the crisis without ever having been discussed in advance of the event of a crisis, which may raise ethical considerations, as individual consent to surveillance may change while experiencing fear.
Why immigrant advocates should move from reform of prisons to abolition. And, In Migrating to Prison, Cesar Cuauhtémoc García Hernández puts both the financial and political motives for the explosive rise of immigration imprisonment into broader context. Migrating to Prison makes the persuasive case that the astronomical boom in imprisonment of immigrants stems from exactly the same root causes, both financial and political, as the dramatic escalation in mass incarceration. The case for abolition of prisons in general and immigrant prisons in particular rests on the same grounds.
Fear is a biological and survival necessity. The cascade of neurochemical reactions lets us know, at lightning speed, that something is not right. Nature designed fear with speediness in mind. To understand how we embed the biological message that fear is to be feared and that fear is supposed to be scary, it’s important to understand how early life experiences, usually traumatic ones, trap fear.
The current pandemic and economic crisis reveals in new ways just how cruel the private housing market can be. In April, one third of all renters could not pay rent—and 20 million more people have filed for unemployment since then. Research by the Eviction Lab shows how damaging eviction has always been to families and communities – evictions during COVID-19 might effectively amount to a death sentence for some people.
If you just need something beautiful and kind, then enjoy this performance by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Be sure to turn on subtitles/captions so you get the translation from Japanese.
This is a talk I offered on May 11, 2020 to the Be Here Now sangha in Montana. An audio version is available at the bottom of the post.
Before we begin, I want to acknowledge and embrace the many generations of Vietnamese who carried Buddhism to us through our Teacher, Thay, and helped build the sangha in new lands. Their history and practice are present with us today.
We see and hold too the Indigenous and First Nation peoples who lived on the lands before us, who cared for it as we do, and lived their lives in community. Here in the Ojai Valley these are the Chumash People. Think now and name the people in your location.
Today we also honor our sangha diversity, whether that be gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin, age, physical or mental abilities, sexual orientation, gender identity or political affiliation.
My name is Kenley Neufeld. My dharma name is True Recollection of Joy. I have been practicing with the Plum Village community just over 20-years.
My family heritage the past 500-years is rooted in the German-speaking Anabaptist tradition that began in modern-day Netherlands then migrated to Poland, Ukraine, and finally to Canada and the United States. This rich tradition has informed my values and beliefs. And also some historical trauma.
A Possible Path
In the Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing, also known as the Anapanasati Sutta, the Buddha shows us how to transform our fear, despair, anger, and craving. Breathing is a means of awakening and maintaining full attention in order to look carefully, long, and deeply, to see the nature of things, and arrive at liberation. It is an invitation for to us breathe and to enjoy our breath.
This simple practice can be very profound to the degree that it can transform our outlook on the world.
The Sutra contains sixteen exercises with each group of four focusing on a different aspect of ourselves – form, feelings, mental formations, and perceptions. Each of these four groups also align with the Four Establishments of Mindfulness (also known as the Satipatthana Sutta).
We can apply these teachings in our daily lives. Whether living as a householder, retired from the work environment, or independently caring for yourself. This teaching on breathing can be applied in order to discover joy and happiness. There is no need to be a Buddhist to apply one of the deepest mindfulness teachings passed through the ages.
Further, the exercises can be done in any order. They are all wonderful. That said, the earlier ones related more to stopping and the later ones on looking deeply. But these too are interconnected.
There are many reasons to practice these teachings. They can help us work with our habit energies. They can help us move from forgetfulness to being fully present. They can provide freedom from fear, anxiety, frustration, and even despair. They can help us Practice through Darkness.
A Breaking Point
In June 2018, I suffered from a mental breakdown. I had been working 55-hours a week as Dean at a community college. The campus was experiencing a great deal of turmoil and difficulty with the overwhelming majority of the campus leadership new to their role. I was one of a handful of “long-termers” with only 4-years in my dean position. I had been through four supervisors in those short years.
Further, I was spending 10-15 hours a week taking care of my dharma community. Not to mention commuting 2-hours a day and trying to be a father and partner. I strove for perfection and arose each morning at 3:45am to allow space for meditation and exercise. But ultimately it became too much for me and I broke.
Something had to give. I requested a sabbatical from sangha activity and commenced to share weekly with a spiritual friend in the practice.
When we are living in moments of fear or anxiety, it is not always so easy to cultivate our mindfulness practice. And when we are in despair, the challenge becomes even greater. But it’s not impossible.
This is where these sutras come in handy. They are a guide. A foundation. Life is both painful and miraculous. And conscious breathing is our foundation and can bring joy – helping to set aside our difficulties. Or least not to be so burdened by them.
Practicing Through Darkness
Let’s look more closely at the sutras. From the Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing:
Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath.
Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath. Breathing out a short breath, I know I am breathing out a short breath.
Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body.
Breathing in, I am calm my whole body. Breathing out, I am calm my whole body.
These are the first four exercises. They are matched with First Establishment of Mindfulness. Which states, “A practitioner remains established in the observation of the body in the body, diligent, with clear understanding, mindful, having abandoned every craving in this life.”
It’s a lot of words. And seems to have a form. But don’t get too caught by the structure and format. In times of darkness, we may only be able to do this for a moment. But each time we do, we can touch peace. Just for that moment.
During that summer of 2018 and into the fall, I was only able to do this part of the time. A few moments here. A few moments there. Sometimes all I could say is, “there is a body here.” And take a look at my body. My hands, my fingers, my legs, my feet. I could touch my face and know there is a face. And see that I have a body.
We can call this following the breath in daily life and awareness of the body. All meditation practice begins with the body. In doing so, we can touch our physical manifestation. We can touch our trauma. We can touch our ancestors. We can touch our breath.
The first thing we do when sitting on the meditation cushion is to adjust our body. Slowly and gently positioning our legs, our feet, our hands, our back. We can do this as we follow our breathing and settle the body.
The rest of 2018 brought a lot of tears. I would cry with my spiritual friend. I would cry in my car as I drove home from work. I would cry as I would lie down to sleep. My feelings were overwhelming me. Loss. Despair. Hopelessness. Fear. Anxiety.
Not so different from what many may be feeling today during this COVID crisis. Not so different from what many people in this country experience in their daily lives. The spiritual friendship I had was important. Critical even. A dharma friend who would listen with compassion and kindness. And to help me to practice the First Foundation of Mindfulness.
The Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing continues,
5. Breathing in, I feel joyful. Breathing out, I feel joyful.
6. Breathing in, I feel happy. Breathing out, I feel happy.
7. Breathing in, I am aware of my mental formations. Breathing out, I am aware of my mental formations.
8. Breathing in, I calm my mental formations. Breathing out, I calm my mental formations.
These four exercises align with the Second Establishment of Mindfulness. Which says, “She remains established in the observation of the feelings in the feelings, diligent, with clear understanding, mindful, having abandoned every craving and every distaste for this life.”
In full disclosure, I was not able to practice the fourth and fifth exercise very well. I could say them intellectually, but I wasn’t able to allow them to penetrate deeply. But just the effort of saying them probably touched something inside.
And I know that joy and happiness are the medicine to give us strength to cure our deepest, most fundamental causes of our sickness.
To be able to ask, what are my conditions for happiness? To name them by writing them down or saying them aloud. These would often come forth in my conversations with my friend. And to be able to see the connection between suffering and happiness.
What are mental formations? In the Buddhist tradition, there are 51 mental formations. They range from feelings and perceptions to mindfulness, insight and concentration. Some other wholesome mental formations are diligence, non-harming, faith, joy, and humility. On the unwholesome side we may see hatred, ignorance, arrogance, doubt, anger, resentment, selfishness, and jealousy. And the ones I was struggling with: fear, anxiety, and despair.
Using the seventh and eighth exercises, we can become aware of our mental formations and learn to calm those mental formations. We can begin with naming, just like we did with the body. There is fear here. Or, mindfulness is present.
We can practice this exercise with mere recognition. No judgment on whether it’s a wholesome, unwholesome, or indeterminate. The mental formation is simply the mental formation.
I invite you to explore these two sutras and begin to apply them in your daily life. They are foundational teachings regardless of where you are in your practice. They can be used in times of joy and happiness. And in times of sorrow and suffering. Our practice is to be aware of our feeling that is present right now. Is the feeling pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, or mixed? We can ask where our feelings arise from?
It is also important to practice non-duality – an unpleasant feeling is not the enemy – we draw awareness to it. We approach our awareness with compassion and nonviolence; with our hearts filled with love.
The Story Continues
Now to finish my story. Surprisingly, it got worse before it got better. I had been experiencing major depression and anxiety coupled with an obsessive-compulsive personality. This led in turn to a second major mental breakdown in January 2019 that forced me to seek professional help and long-term care. I didn’t work for most of 2019 and toward the end of the year I resigned my position as Dean.
When a person spends an entire year caring for only oneself, the landscape becomes populated with virtually all the 51 mental formations. Through this time, the main practice has been following my breath in daily life and awareness of body. Two practices directly from the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. Just learning to be okay with what is. Much easier said than done.
With this new year (2020), I am doing much better. I have returned to work doing something less responsible. I have begun to pick-up pieces of my sangha activities. And doing so with mindfulness and attention. Along with setting careful boundaries.
And then COVID hit. But that is a story for the future.
“In popular entertainment, journalism, and documentaries, images of “life behind bars” fascinate, horrify, and titillate. They also offer a familiarity with prison as a cornerstone institution of modern life, but one that the majority of people never enter. The nonincarcerated public comes to recognize prison and the people in prison almost exclusively through a set of rehearsed images created by the state and by nonincarcerated image-makers—images like arrest photos, mug shots, the minimal furnishings of the prison cell, fortress-like walls, barbed wire, bars, metal doors, and the executioner’s chair.”
“Although ‘datafication’ – the rendering of social and natural worlds in machine-readable digital format – has most clearly manifested in the commercial domain, such as in online commerce (e.g. Amazon), social media (Facebook, Twitter), and online advertising (Google), it has quickly spread outwards to encompass a much wider range of services and sectors. These include, controversially, the use of facial recognition and predictive analytics in policing, algorithmic forms of welfare allocation, automated medical diagnosis, and – the subject of this special issue – the datafication of education.”
“If this time is showing us anything, it’s this: we are able to transform society on a global scale in order to protect ourselves from danger. Now is the time to solve not just one crisis, but two at the same time.”
“In claiming religious freedom as a justification to act contrary to public health advice, some conservative Christian leaders in the United States are choosing to risk American lives so that their congregations can attend to their spiritual needs. Though most Christian communities have suspended traditional worship in adherence of social distancing guidelines, David C. McDuffie sees the defiant behaviour of the minority as rooted in a common supernatural understanding of Christian duty.”
“Slaveholders disavowed a state that secured any form of communal freedom—the freedom of the community from slavery, from disenfranchisement, from exploitation, from poverty, from all the demeaning and silencing and killing. The freedom from. The freedom from harm. Which is to say, in coronavirus terms, the freedom from infection.”
“The existence of this unholy alliance poses the fundamental question of: “Why end hunger when anti-hunger work is so profitable to all parties?” Through supporting anti-hunger organizations, corporations reduce their labor costs, garbage disposal fees, and tax bills while building their reputations as socially responsible firms.”
“It might be clear to readers here that human health depends on healthy ecosystems. But this is rarely considered in policy decisions on projects that affect natural ecosystems – such as land clearing, major energy or transport infrastructure projects and industrial-scale farming.”
BONUS – Videos
Life-Making, Capitalism and the Pandemic: Feminist Ideas about Women’s Work with Susan Ferguson and Tithi Bhattacharya
Martin Luther King, Jr. on Income Inequality and Redistribution of Wealth + James Baldwin
This week I was tested for COVID-19 because I had a few of the symptoms associated with the virus. It took 3-days to get the results and I’m happy to share it came back negative. Therefore, the first two articles are about COVID.
Most of us have received vaccinations at some point in our lives. If we’ve traveled, you may have taken additional vaccinations. No vaccine has been created in less than four years (mumps in 1963-1967). The long read on the front page of today’s New York Times offers insight into the complexity of vaccines. Profits and Pride at Stake, Race to Vaccine Intensifies.
The next article takes a unique deeper look at COVID-19 as it relates to quantum phenomena. The article offers two contrasting future scenarios – Surveillance capitalism and Ecological and social emancipation. We look at the spiritual sphere, social sphere, and political sphere. Searching for the Anti-Virus | Covid-19 as Quantum Phenomenon.
I’ve long known the Amish shun traditional health insurance. And because some Mennonites (my background) also shun insurance, I was very interested in reading this article. If you are remotely curious how The Amish handle healthcare, then this article is for you. One can see the benefits of community-based care that other communities could likewise benefit from. The Amish Health Care System.
This next one is a history essay. As an undergrad, I received my degree in History and typically enjoy reading these types of essays. It is also important for anyone working in social justice as we look at the deportation of native peoples on Turtle Island. It also carries present-day implications, especially in light of the Navajo Nation being among the highest infection rates in North America. Indian Removal.
My last piece is a few years old (2015) and primarily for library nerds. It’s short too! “Databases embody the exclusionary nature of academic discourse. Students are on the outside, in search boxes, using natural language that the database most likely won’t understand. On the inside of the databases are millions of articles written by experts.” Covers gatekeeping, socioeconomic status, and justice within the realm of academic discourse. Smashing the Gates of Academic Discourse.