Sunday, April 24, 2016

Vanishing Inwards: Exploring Not-Existence by Ria Shah


Typically in the mornings, as the beep of the microwave rings loud and black tea steams from my mug, I ponder over what I call not-existence. One might ask: Why revolve around the lack of existence instead of the current state of being inside it? In response, I strive to convey the satisfaction and gratification that I weave into the background of every situation I encounter, simply through feeling the reality of not-existence, the purposeful dwelling on the lack of being. A self, stripped of all decorations, is what we are left to tangibly poke and prod at. “Not-existence” is not an original concept of mine; it has thrived in the context of an identity that grew powerful from embracing its whole self and promoting others to do so.

When in The Book Alan Watts explains the taboo behind knowing who you are in the form of a book he wishes to hand down to his own children. “What, then, would be The Book which fathers might slip to their sons and mothers to their daughters without ever admitting it openly?” He begins his argument by indulging in awe: “Wonder, and its expression in poetry and the arts, are among the most important things which seem to distinguish men from other animals and intelligent and sensitive people from morons” (1). Yet in society, the arts are disregarded as the “less” successful, the “less” professional and mostly as the “less” meaningful. This is a pure example of the micro-layers we contain in ourselves—the surface being a mirror of what we want people to see while the truth remains hidden in a dark dungeon, never to see daylight—but it plays out on a larger scale called human civilization. We push our brothers, sisters, daughters and sons to suit their interests to a particular, already-created subject, when the real issue is whether or not society even has the capability, or “subjects” as we have labeled them, to withstand the potential every new human possesses. By explaining the importance of wonder, Watts pushes his readers to examine their own sense of wonder, secretly pushing them into a state of not-existence. The introspective nature of peeling back our layers of conformity is in essence what happens in the first few seconds of wondering about one’s true self. Yet Watts does not stop here—explaining the infinite characteristics of a single person’s life is the key to where not-existence truly manifests. Watts states, “This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not 'come into' this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree” (8).

Upon realizing that not only are we creatures born to wonder and constantly ask “Why?” but that we are also trapped in a single and unified flow of energy, one is compelled to isolate her self. Not-existence starts with cutting out all of the extremities surrounding our deep-most desires, feelings, beliefs and thought-processes—everything we are before we follow society’s rules and, as they say, “be polite.” It then directs the thinker to break the mold even further by contrasting a life without these core principles that we call the “self” among the tangible existence of the current life. This is a task hard to do without stepping outside the “life” and looking down as a bird would over a forest. For example, imagine that one feels one is, at the core, passionate about music but pursuing an education in business to appease the qualms associated with the “Arts.” This being would then go onto realize their true self by focusing on what life would consist of if their principle of “passion for music” was suddenly ripped from existence as a potential pass-time activity—how would you respond? This pattern of contrasting the in-existence of reality with our current state, where we push ourselves into that locked dark dungeon, is what creates an important responsibility, and most importantly, an awareness to follow our inner-most self. Through reading Watts I have found my method of not-existence most clearly explained: creating souls able to walk our planet in their own two shoes, not the ones society tries to force on our souls (pun intended).
Though Watts uses a book containing taboo information as a vehicle in which to deliver such thoughts to his reader, not-existence similarly lies at the base of Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard’s enforcement of the power and necessity of altruism. His concept of altruism is best explained in his TED Talk, “The Habits of Happiness.” He has advocated human’s need to simply be a more altruistic society—before we grow too economically greedy and power corrupts even the most sensibly run governments.When a self practices meditating on the lack of having certain parts of themselves—even as far as material objects go (for example, being a part of a loving family)—that self inevitably plunges into protecting the deepest and most true pieces of their identity. My own self—which not-existence has helped to find yet still lies under piles of conformed statements and beliefs stolen from popular thought—has internalized new concepts that stem directly from the awareness that not-existence provides. Vedic secrets and the ancient South Asian Upanishad's underlying revelation about the duality of the self are a few of the many ancestral teachings I have been curious to look into, furthering my pursuit of not-existence and its effects. My actions can no more be impulsive; thought and “the self” are two variables placed into every calculation of whether or not to act or be still.

As a writer, I am in a constant drought of inspiration. The thirst is excruciatingly painful—not until I come across the right source of wonder am I able to fluidly write. If I do not actively hunt for the emotions and thoughts that constrict the back of my throat and swell my eye beds, then I am usually left staring blankly at an empty word document for hours, if not days. Yet the “not-existence formed self” is the one who comes out to bat when writing occurs for me in this way. If I am impulsively writing—that is, when my intentions lay somewhere other than exfoliating the raw nature of my beliefs, aspirations, thoughts and desires—then it no longer becomes my own writing but instead one tarnished by society’s residue.
It is not until we feel what existence would be like without our self, or even parts of our self, that we can truly understand the gift we are as human souls. Not-existence is no feat or secret ingredient to help one achieve massive wealth. It is rather a stumbled-upon term for characterizing the way in which my own identity cleanses itself. As the Bhagavad Gita puts it, "All things are unmanifested in their beginning, manifested in their medium stage and unmanifested in their end. What is there in this to grieve over?" Reverberations of this idea are already shaking the world; no one recipe exists to rip off that part of you that’s not actually you… but I sure do hope we can find it sooner than later.

Works Cited
Watts, Alan. “Chapter 1: Inside Information.” The Book on the Taboo of Knowing Who You Are. 1-2. Print.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Big Little: A Turkish Muslim Writer Reflects on Malcolm X by Aliosman Kazdal


Constantly, the contemporary tend to compare themselves to what was, but rarely take time to see what still is and what always will be. The now will always have its differences with the old. What matters is understanding that people are people, and people have always been people for as long as people have been around. Generations are defined; baby boomers are compared to millennials, but only the differences are highlighted. Growing up, I have always liked a particular quote by Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” To me, and many, this quote connects the generations. When I look at New York City, I think how wild it is that none of the original settlers of the island are alive today. It almost feels borrowed. Civilization itself can only exist if we pass on what we have made to those who follow. This is all merely the preface to the idea that not only do I live in the world created for me by the past, but I am no different than those people despite how different our worlds are. As Malcolm put it, we can both get angry, we can both sense injustice, and we can even follow the same faith (X).

Malik Shabazz, a/k/a/ Malcolm X, was born Malcolm Little on the 19th of May in 1925. Little grew to be one of the most influential African-American orators in history. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X was a human rights activist, and just like MLK, Malcolm was shot in cold blood. My father was two years old when Malcolm X died in Harlem's Audobon Ballroom in 1965. The world I live in today is very different from the one Malcolm knew, but upon reading about his "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech, I began to relate to him. I had never learned about Malcolm X in school because all of the attention, when talking about the civil rights movement, was aimed towards King. This is understandable to a certain extent, for when I first learned about the black struggle for equality in America, I was in elementary school. No doubt it was easier for my teachers to praise an activist who was the bigger man against the bully rather than the man who put the bully’s teeth to the curb. Malcolm X wanted what King wanted, but in a much more intense as well as rational way. Malcolm wanted to bring Jim Crow before the United Nations; hence, he denounced the concept of civil disobedience, which he saw as begging the oppressor to be fair. Rather, Malcolm demanded justice. He was verbally articulate and aggressive towards white people and refused to believe it possible for people of all races to ever come together in a humane way. He joined the Nation of Islam, a religious movement founded in Detroit, Michigan. I was confused when reading about this point in his life, because he claimed to be a Muslim, but he was not talking like the Muslims I had grown up around. He called Islam the black man’s religion and saw Christianity as the white man's imposition upon black mankind. He used to preach that the white man was created by an evil scientist named Yakub. Upon reading this, I quickly dismissed the idea that this man could ever be a real Muslim, but the story was not over (Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam)---not by a long shot.

Part of being a Muslim is following five tenants, one of which is to take a haj, or a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The Malcolm I mentioned before had not yet taken the haj. That did not occur until 1964. Like for so many Muslims, the haj is a life-changing experience, and Malcolm was no exception. Soon after, he began to speak like what I would call a real Muslim. At Mecca he saw the very thing he never thought possible: people of different races and skin tones and eye colors all praying together as Muslims.

I wanted to read more about Malcolm. Although I could not have guessed that I would have anything in common with him, I went through the same experience that he did. When I first read about him, I could not think it possible for this man to be a real Muslim in much the same way that he did not think it possible for the races to live together in peace. The moment he realized that it was possible---that proved me wrong also for I had the same experience, although on a significantly smaller scale. Little got bigger, and I also got bigger. This is what Newton means when he says that he looks from the shoulders of giants. Malcolm's experience made its way into my life, so in theory this experience that I am having can find its way to someone else’s life. If we keep sitting on the shoulders of giants who are also sitting on the shoulders of giants, one day mankind will be looking down from the stars.

We have always been people, but what changed us was ourselves throughout history. The job of the leading generation is to leave the world a better place than the one that we found. In the same fashion that we were brought up by those before us, we have to life those who are to come after. The New York City that was given to us will be theirs, and that is what humanity is. Malcolm gave me that experience.


Works Cited

"Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam." Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

      Malcolm X and Alex Haley. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine, 1992. Print.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Is Feminism the New F Word? From Resistant to Responsive by Lola Solis

“That’s not lady like,” my grandma scolded me as I sat without crossing my legs at seven years old.

“Do you expect boys to respect you dressed like that?” my fifth grade teacher asked regarding my outfit of skirt and knee high socks.

“You’re showing too much skin,” my dad stated when at sixteen I wore a demure blouse to a birthday dinner. 

“You’re just asking for it with that dress,” I overheard a group of men saying as I walked into the bar on my eighteenth birthday.


These comments repeat themselves in my head like a broken record. As a young girl, I grew up hearing these statements so often it that became imprinted into my mind. Living in Allen, Texas, was like living in an inescapable bubble where my actions hardly ever went unnoticed, especially if they strayed from typical Texas conservatism. I remember walking into my high school office during my senior year to check in and receiving looks of absolute disgust at my brand new Rosie the Riveter tattoo from the Caucasian secretaries at the front desk. They looked at me like I was some animal, and I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at their dismay. Purposefully, I lifted up my dress past mid thigh so they could get a complete look at it. Horror struck their faces as I danced away. I made sure they knew I was proud to be a feminist. In spite of Rosie the Riveter being the heroic image of the 40’s that allowed women to work, the secretaries remain politicized by their own sex and unable to realize the historical importance of her being the transformational image of American iconography.


Some women can escape social conformity and become conscious of the incredibly sexist, patriarchal society we live in. Others are trapped and are incapable of realizing their true identity because they are the product of someone else’s identity formation. I fortunately have been able to remove myself from the worldwide view of women that objectifies and degrades us. Through years of breaking barriers that prevented me from formulating my own thoughts, identity, and beliefs, I’m able now to shape my own experience and to empower women as they have empowered me. Why is it that some women are able to see their political potential and others only see envy?


Ever since Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique used the identifiers feminist, feminism and feminists, these words have gained negative connotations. When I began to voice my opinions and argue back to conservative views that inherently put down women, I and many others who wished to combat the patriarchy obtained a sort of nickname; we were called the FemiNazis. I didn’t get tough by allowing a petty nickname to stop me from fighting for women, but the fact that people are comparing us to murderers who assisted in a genocide against Jews is unfathomable. Why are people so afraid of equality? Is this because we only earn roughly 75 cents to a dollar for doing the same job that a man does? Why so mute if not to suggest that silence equals acquiescence? Are they so reluctant to not see their enlightened self interest ought to have them representing equal pay as workers? I am haunted day and night by the resistance to delivering equal status for all. While women have been objectified for centuries, and men have always been the ones to issue power, I can somewhat understand the resistance to changing what some people may call normality. Just because it is tradition doesn’t make it just. For example, slavery was an American (peculiar) institution until 1865. I do not seek to diminish the road to freedom that African Americans were on, but sometimes I wonder about the American grain. Do we want women as property or do we want women as persons? I am sick and exhausted of this war against women and I will not stop until it is over.  Breaking social and economic gender barriers is not a job that can be accomplished overnight, nor can it be done alone.


I never really understood the power of voicing my opinions and standing up for my beliefs until this past year when old friends from high school contacted me to let me know how much I inspired them. One student wrote: “I respect you embracing how you are different from others from how you dress to your interests…I love that you are firm on your beliefs. I love how you strive really hard for the social equality of women as well as overall feminism. I love that you are trying so hard to make social change and make you voice be heard” (Small, par. 2).


Although one often hears about activists like Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and their leadership in civil rights, one never really believes that one has the power of doing the same. This is the mindset that is hindering society from moving towards gender equality. As smart and capable as I know I am to lead a movement, I need help from fellow individuals who experience the same passion and drive for justice as me. In “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King states, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed” (Par. 11). By demanding that we break gender norms and fight back anti-feminist comments, we are following King’s nonviolent path to social change. What we need to bring to light is how absurd it is to be so terrified of our sex. Does a women scare us so much, that we feel as though we must do everything in our power to keep us from becoming equal to us? Like King asks his readers to imagine what we are supposed to tell our colored children about Jim Crow, I wonder what do American mothers tell their daughters. As Gloria Anzaldua puts it, do they tell them to tame their wild tongues? The tongue is to feminism as the non violent sit-in is to the Civil Right’s movement. 


Many men and women have claimed that my wild tongue is intimidating and “unattractive,” but underneath what they are saying is the acknowledgement that I can be articulate. I am strong, independent, and verbal about issues affecting women and I will never give in to intimidation by men and counterproductive strategies by women. If we want to destroy the walls that separate us, then we must stand strong and continue to bring to light the issues that have been pushed aside and ignored by politicians for decades. 

“We know how to survive. When other races have given up their tongue, we’ve kept ours. We know what it is to live under the hammer blow of the dominant norteamericano culture. But more than we count the blows, we count the days the weeks the years the centuries the eons until the white laws and commerce and customs will rot in the deserts they’ve created, lie bleached…Chicanos will walk by the crumbling ashes as we go about our business. Stubborn, preserving, impenetrable as stone, yet possessing a malleability that renders us unbreakable. We…will remain” (Anzaldua pg. 85)



Despite the various negative connotations of the word feminist, I will never stop identifying as one. Although it takes many hits, feminism is actually an indication of progress. In Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, she states, “In national surveys 75 to 95 percent of women credit the feminist campaign with improving their lives, and a similar proportion say that the women's movement should keep pushing for change” (Faludi Par. 23). If women are benefiting from the feminist movement, why stop?


Works Cited
Anzaldua, Gloria. “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 
Web. 28 March 2016.
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]." Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]. Web. 28
March 2016.
Small, Jennifer. Text message to author. 8 November 2016.