Commusings: Everything in Moderation by Jeff Krasno

Dec 31, 2021

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Dear Commune Community,

Metta is a type of Buddhist meditation, and in Pali, metta translates to lovingkindness. It is highly associated with compassion (karuna), the act of bringing kindness to the presence of suffering in a manner that actively seeks to alleviate that suffering.

This lovingkindness can be directed toward a friend, a family member, yourself or even someone with whom you don’t agree. The practice is mantra based. You cultivate gratitude and love through silently reciting and repeating phrases.

For example, you may hold someone in your heart and whisper, “May you be safe, peaceful and free of suffering.”

There are myriad benefits associated with metta meditation including a decrease in stress and an increase in self-compassion and feelings of connection. One can even experience a reduction in physical pain. 

As we move into another solar orbit, I send each and everyone one of you love. May you be safe, peaceful and free of suffering. 

As a community, may we find a moment of grace to offer each other metta. 

Send me a missive at [email protected] or follow my daily exhortations on IG @jeffkrasno.

In love, include me,
Jeff

• • •

Everything in Moderation

I have been with Schuyler for thirty-four years. And she’s been with me for thirty-two. This thread-bare joke has been a dinner party staple for decades.

There is a kernel of truth to the old yarn. I considered us an item a good long while before Schuyler did, and we dated for two years prior to indulging in any pleasures of the flesh. We visited each other’s families for holidays. We smooched a bit. We even shared a bed. But there were no visas issued to travel south of the border.

Chivalry wasn’t quite dead yet in the late ’80s and Schuyler was hell-bent (or, in this case, heaven-bent) on retaining her chastity until completing twenty solar orbits. With Job-like fealty and only minor extra-curricular dalliances, I suffered through my late teens with the bluest of balls.

I began to refer to Schuyler’s private area as the Kingdom of God, not just for its sacredness, but because there was more chance of a camel passing through the eye of a needle, than a rich man entering therein (Matthew 19-24). 

More than once I questioned why a self-identified Libertine had fallen for such a Puritan. But, of course, you never fall on purpose. I endured this imposed monasticism stoically. On occasion, I donned my Boston College sweatshirt (colored saffron & maroon) and prostrated before her like a sannyasin. But, otherwise, I practiced forbearance. And, in the end, like Job, I had the three loveliest daughters in all the land.

Ascetism has played a central role in myriad religious and philosophical traditions.

In the pursuit of redemption or salvation, the practitioners of this grim philosophy abandon sensuality and lead an abstentious lifestyle. They posit that the sublimation of earth-bound pleasures begets a more spiritually enlightened life.

In a manner, the ascetics yearn to cheat death. The body - or anything that can be perceived with our five senses - is trapped in a world of location and form, destined for decay. Canoodling with the soul, however, promises something eternal. 

Pragmatics argue that the default condition of humanity is suffering. Subsequently, the endurance of self-imposed torment inures one to a life of woe. There is some sense to this idea and it has been shown that short-term exposure to low doses of voluntary suffering confers beneficial psychological and physiological results. I will write about “eustress” in a future article. However, voluntary stress should not be confused with chronic suffering or self-immolation.

After years of austerity that often included eating a mere single grain of rice per day, an emaciated Siddhartha Gautama eschewed abstemiousness for a middle way between asceticism and hedonism.

The virtues of temperance and self-control are the pious evangelical cousins of moderation (as if its mother married a dubious tattooed urbanite). Moderation can, on the surface, appear limp and conciliatory, like a lettuce wrap. However, as I survey the current social landscape, I believe the middle may be the most radical place to be. It requires significant self-awareness, the humility to be wrong, and an understanding that the truth is generally multi-layered and nuanced – if a little less exciting than the overheated extremes.

Personally, I see moderation as the bringing together of counterparts. This understanding is more in line with Eastern religions that consider the universe as an organism emerging out of opposites symbolized by the image of the yin yang. Taoism and Buddhism, for example, don’t give credence to the idea of the world as a construct – bolted together by a cosmic carpenter. Instead, there is a universal logos, a foundational intelligence of existence, that can be understood as an evolutionary process of moderation.

This logos is embedded in nature, which seeks coherence out of the coincidence of opposites that innately occur. The feminine and masculine intertwine to create new life. Positive and negative charges dance in repulsion and attraction to produce electricity. Atoms, a fundamental structure of the universe, are balanced by positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. Photosynthetic life (plants) create oxygen and glucose out of carbon dioxide and water. And non-photosynthetic life (you and me) use oxygen and break down glucose to create carbon dioxide and water. The tiger kills the gazelle. The faster gazelles pass down their genes. The tiger kills less gazelles until she gets faster, too. Everywhere you look in natural systems, hidden in plain sight, is an élan towards coherence.

 A personal moderation practice may be seen in a similar light. Like the Stoics, we can act in accordance with nature and mimic its ability to bring opposing forces into balance.

I suggest (4) basic principles of moderation:

  • Avoid excesses and extremes
  • Remain centered and balanced
  • Foster cohesion and cooperation
  • Find a middle path between hedonic desire and austerity 

You can apply these principles to personal consumption habits relating to food, alcohol, sugar, social media and consumerism.

You can also overlay these principles atop opinion. For example, you can rigorously examine your own viewpoints and identify areas where they have, perhaps imperceptibly, become extreme. Potent feelings are at times justified. But are those passions anchored in the true nature of an event or are they outgrowths of your biased judgment of it?

In this time of extreme political rancor and binary opposition, the only way out of fanaticism is for each of us to make a herculean effort toward finding common ground.

The Stoics embraced four primary and interconnected virtues:

Moderation: the bringing together of opposites

Courage: vulnerability and self-sacrifice for the greater good

Justice: the application and promotion of fairness

Wisdom: the ability to act leveraging knowledge, experience and understanding

Humanity’s greatest projects have been predicated on our unique ability to cooperate flexibly at scale. When we have the courage to compromise, we unify moderation with justice. The merger of these three virtues begets wisdom.

Newton’s Third Law of Motion posits: To every action there is always an opposed and equal reaction.

We must be careful not to make false equivalencies here but, if we’re brutally honest, we need to ask: 

Did the misguided calls to “abolish the police” propel the false bogeyman of critical race theory?

Did the feebly-researched demonization of Kyle Rittenhouse by one side drive the absurd exaltation of him by the other?

Is dystopic Trumpism a reaction to neoliberal globalism?

Is excessive COVID fear-peddling and COVID denialism different sides of the same coin?

It’s hard to temper our tempers because, if we did, then we would have to accept that the best parts of the arguments made by those who are pro-choice and those who are pro-life are both morally unassailable. Instead, we pull on opposite ends of a fraying epistemological shoelace, fattening the edges while oblivious to the precarity of the thinning strand in the middle that safeguards the integrity of the whole.

But if we commit to moderation, the bringing together of extremes, then perhaps we can address the ground conditions of our societal ills, water the roots and not the leaves. The task at hand is to focus on processes which, even if imperfect, inch us down the arc of the moral universe.

No one wants a 17-year old out on the street at night with an AR-15. And, short of utopia, no one should want a world without a well-trained non-discriminatory police force. No one wants 650,000 annual abortions. No one wants a society where 3 people own more collective wealth than the bottom 50%. No one wants a world with billions of people, cows, chickens, pigs and no other animals. No one wants a grocery store stocked with sugar, corn, wheat, soy, rice and no other vegetables. 

We don’t want a flat world with peaks at the edges. We want a bell curve. We want a big middle class, a bustling main street, a local newspaper, a small jazz club, a neighborhood farmers market, abundant bio-diversity, a congress of cooperation and a multiplicity of colors, creeds and ideas. 

When we are true to our nature, we want coherence. We want beauty.

We want the orange alpenglow of day’s tryst with night. We want the sun’s brilliance striking a pregnant moon, casting a middle path across the ocean’s rippled swell.

Now that I have few friends left (or right), most nights I sit down for a sensible salad and a half-glass of cabernet. I must finish eating by 7 so I can start my fasting clock and digest for a full three hours prior to bedtime. I want to hit my natural melatonin window and leave time for a restrained, if improbable, shag with my prudish love (of 34! years). Otherwise, I will miss out on the autophagy of deep sleep. Such is a moderate life.

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