Saturday, April 9, 2016

Spirituality is the Weed of the Masses: A Healing Session with Karl Marx

What do marijuana and spirituality have in common?

People self-medicate with both of them to get through life in this messed up capitalist society.

Karl Marx predicted this back in the day.  If we could have a session with him, what would we discuss?

My video and essay below explore these questions.  These are the fruit of several years of reflection and writing.  I hope you enjoy them!

Spirituality is the Weed of the Masses: A Healing Session with Karl Marx 

If you're stressed out and anxious you're not alone.
Poster from the Occupy movement in 2012

Most people are anxious.  And that's because capitalist society is stressful as hell. Many of us are trying to heal from real traumas in our lives, while our society keeps traumatizing us and everyone around us.

Millions of us are self-medicating to deal with this stress.  Some turn to weed.  Some turn to spiritual / religious practices. Some turn to both.

Both are coping mechanisms; both are self-care and good medicine.  Both can also become addictions.

 To heal from our traumas, we need to connect with each other; we need to embody love.  And ultimately, we need to free ourselves from the systems of oppression that keep traumatizing us.  Both weed and spirituality can help us procrastinate and avoid these challenges.  Or they can help us face them gracefully.

To explore these contradictory realities, I'm summoning the ancestral memory of Karl Marx, the 19th century communist philosopher who famously compared religion and drugs ("religion is the opiate of the masses").

Growing up Catholic, I always hated that comparison because I thought he was making fun of religious people like me.  Then I realized that a lot of stoners turn their smoking habits into religious rituals. I've seen people share and pass weed as if they are the holy apostles breaking bread. Maybe Marx wasn't trying to put down religion; maybe instead, he was compassionately perceiving the religious aspects of drug use, and the addictive aspects of religion.

What if he had reversed the metaphor and said that opium is the religion of the masses? For a lot of people today, would that religion be alcoholism?  Or getting stoned? Or watching Netflix?  And why do people do these things in the first place?  Doesn't it come back to the same issue Marx was analyzing: how capitalism makes life feel like it's not worth living, and how we all strive for some sacred substance that can elevate us above all the bullshit, whether it's the Holy Eucharist or some good kush?
If you and your friends could have a session with Karl Marx, what would you talk about? 
I have a feeling that Marx came up with his drug metaphor because he liked to kick it with factory workers.  He learned how they coped with their brutal and alienating jobs, for better and for worse.  He coped with his life as a poor refugee by chain smoking cigarettes and writing obsessively.  Imagine if he could kick it with you and your friends today, after a long week at work or school.  Imagine you're doing whatever you do to relax: singing in a gospel choir, passing a blunt, or meditating out in the woods.   What would your conversations with the old man reveal about religion, drugs, spirituality, anxiety, and capitalism today?

This essay is an exploration of what I would add to such a session,  based on my own experiences, research, and conversations with fellow members of the working classes - and people who skip classes to smoke ;)

Through my entire life I've had close relationships with people who have survived trauma and are coping with it through religion and / or weed. Now I teach in a program for youth who have dropped out of high school, and many of them are highly dependent on weed to cope with their own traumas.

It is a stressful job, and I've had to really hone my practices of embodied spirituality in order to show up well every day.  I've also had to heal from my own traumas, heartbreak, and anxiety, a process I'm still going through.  I've been active in social movements and organizing for over 12 years, trying to team up with folks who want liberation from all the incarceration, police violence, patriarchy, white supremacy, and anti-Black racism my students and loved ones face, some of the very things folks deal with by smoking weed.  This essay is informed by all of these journeys.

Of course my own experience is limited, and I don't have all the answers. If you're also struggling, I'm curious:  if you, me, Marx, and our friends could have a session, what would we say to each other while we chill together? Maybe exploring these questions can help us learn how to heal together, so we can become dangerous to the system that's destroying all of us in different ways.

My writer's block is finally thawing

coming out of hibernation
When I relaunched this blog in the summer of 2014, I planned to update it regularly.  I didn't realize that I wasn't quite ready.

The revolts in Ferguson and Baltimore were like fire on the mountain, signaling seismic changes in society and in all of our lives. My participation in the movement for Black lives upended my life and surfaced some contradictions I needed to work though.  I didn't realize there were deeper layers of trauma I needed to heal from so I could show up with the necessary discernment and clarity.  I found I still had a lot to learn about how to love. 

The past year and a half has been a whirlwind, and I've had to focus rigorously on healing after my long-term partner and I broke up.  I've been practicing somatics, meditation, and healing forms of play, plus a lot of prayer.  In this process, I lost my ability to write and speak publicly.  It almost felt like the Holy Spirit was asking me to play, pray, heal, and love quietly on the sidelines for a while, to practice while other folks took the field.  And in the process of that fertile practice I've had thousands of amazing conversations with kindred spirits. 

And now, after a lot of discernment, it seems time to start doing this publicly again.  So I just gave this blog a little spring cleaning, updating the main pages and the template, and adding a Creative Commons license so that work here can contribute to the growing media commons.  I plan to experiment and play with more genres and mediums, in addition to the poetry and prose I've been working with, and I'm about to publish an essay I've been working on for several years.  

In short: it's springtime, and it's time to come out of hibernation.