I was 22, and in my boyfriend’s rusted Ford Bronco, a true mechanic’s special that veered sharply to the left every time you hit the brakes because he’d only bothered to replace one set of rotors.
We were in a small town on the 101 in California. As we drove up the coast from the desert, every night we’d make a bed of blankets in a field somewhere. My boyfriend had converted the Bronco to run on used veggie oil with a collection of equally rusted parts, and while the warmth of sleeping inside the rig was a comfort on rainy or chilly nights, when the skies were clear we preferred the ground to the stench of old grease. On the nights we slept inside the truck, I woke up feeling coated in a layer of oil.
I’d just met back up with him after a 10-day meditation retreat in the redwoods. It wasn’t my first time meditating for 14 hours a day, 10 days straight, so this time I wasn’t as surprised when my mind raced and my knees turned to hot bricks. This time, I knew to stay with it, and that on the other side of all this pain was an ease and bliss so exquisite, it would feel like every cell of my body was made of light.
Only this time, because I was expecting something transcendental, it didn’t happen. I felt a little better on the 10th day than I had on the first, but my knees stayed sore and my mind stayed troubled, weighed down as it was with the feeling that at 22, I’d somehow wasted my life, here in a relationship that I stayed in because habits are hard to break and even uncomfortable companionship felt more appealing than heading out on my own.
It was good to be back after the 10 days away. Not good enough to make me forget that I didn’t really want to be there, but good enough that I was able to ignore it.
That night, he was with some friends and I’d gone back to the truck to meditate, breathing in the air thick with oil, the cracked windshield catching the moonlight in jagged streaks.
And suddenly, there it was. That transcendental bliss I’d been chasing. My body became light, every cell buzzed, I was here and I was everywhere, I was past/present/future, all at once.
I began to feel the space between my cells, the way each cell pulses away and towards each other. It hummed and buzzed, repeated a trillion times over. My body was pulled towards itself and pushed away from itself in equal measure, and it was unlike any sensation I’d ever experienced before, not even with the help of all manner of psychedelics. Here I was, in a busted, dirty truck on the side of the highway, feeling the paradoxical truth of all the different multiverses.
It became uncomfortable. It wasn’t the transcendental bliss I’d been craving. It was the raw pushpull of life and living. It wasn’t pleasant or easy, but because I’d felt it, life was irrevocably different.
I stayed in that ill-fitting relationship with that boyfriend a little while longer, until life quite literally reached out and smacked me about it, twice. But that’s a story for another time.
Some years later, I was sitting with my mediation teacher in a clean and beautiful studio, the sunlight like honey on the hardwood floors. And my teacher said, “If it isn’t a paradox, it probably isn’t true.”
And my body remembered: this was what I’d felt that night in that dirty truck. Life is nothing but layered paradoxes. And a spiritual practice — any spiritual practice — should be aiming towards being able to hold greater and greater paradoxes without feeling pushed apart at the seams. All the other benefits — the better sleep, and the greater patience, and in the case of body-based practices, all the glow and youth and ease that’s promised, are lovely side effects. But that isn’t the goal.
The aim of any practice is to hold the immense truth of the world, which is to say, to hold its immense paradox.
Any words I share this week in particular are going to fall flat. What words are there to meet the weeping of so many families? We are witnessing, in real time, the genocide of the Palestinian people, and we are still reeling from the terrorist attacks in Israel. And at its core, the issue is astoundingly simple: children should not be bombed, hospitals should not be bombed, and the rules of war are always vicious.
Within those simple truths, we find the paradoxes: because of the violent histories of the world, especially the interplay between the Middle East and the West, peace will be difficult. We should still demand it. People have been taught to rabidly hate for generations, and the propaganda machines are only stronger, with AI increasingly difficult to perceive. We can still find strength in our ability to love each other, and the possibility of change.
Grief collapses time, and we are being asked to grieve in action, to expand time enough to respond rather than react. This is a paradox. It seems impossible. But here we are, in impossible times.
Most of us hold no real power here. We aren’t the leaders of nations and armies. And yet: there is power here that transcends the limited power of warmongers. When we act in ways that align with love, there is power here. It’s a paradox, which means it must be true.
Here are some actions that we can take:
Jewish Voice for Peace www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org is organizing a public cry for a ceasefire in Palestine, in Washington DC on October 18. If you can get to DC, the open cry is to please come. If you can’t get there, perhaps consider donating — I won’t be able to go, but I looked up the cost of a bus ticket from my city to DC, rounded up, and donated that.
There is a bill, called the “Ceasefire Now Resolution,” signed by Reps. Cori Bush (D-MO), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Andre Carson (D-IN), Summer Lee (D-PA), Delia C. Ramirez (D-IL), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL), Jonathan Jackson (D-IL), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), asking for a ceasefire and immediate de-escalation in Israel and occupied Palestine. Please call your representatives urging them to support this bill.
The conversations around this topic are sure to be fraught. I have already been called a Nazi propagandist, amongst other slurs, for speaking of my belief in the need for a ceasefire. The paradox here is that peace will not be attained if we are unwilling to cause some good trouble, to quote the late, great John Lewis. Have the hard conversations. Use the too-small words.
I will tell you that as a person with Jewish heritage it is the most simple thing in the world to stand with Palestine, and I write this on land that other ancestors of mine stole from other Indigenous people. Nothing is simple in a world so threaded through with violence, and words are too small for something so immense. And the paradox is: anything imagined and formed by humans can be resisted. Ursula K LeGuin told us this, when she said “we live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable — but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.”
So, words are small, and the actions of any individual will always feel microscopic compared to the actions of global superpowers, with their bombs and indiscriminate cruelty. And: if we have breath, we have a responsibility to speak.
Free Palestine. Land Back. An end to apartheid everywhere.