#16: In a Time of Power, Poison, Pain and Joy

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Art helps us discover perspectives we would otherwise never explore, and people of character are those who can examine and inhabit perspectives other than their own, like graceful swimmers at ease in a river with many bends. 

At year's end, here are the works of art and human thought that helped me make the most important redesigns to my own character. 


1. The Best Character Building Song of 2017: "DNA" 

I'll let a music critic for Pitchfork do the heavy lifting for me since I agree with him wholeheartedly:

On “DNA.,” Kendrick Lamar dances breathlessly on the head of a pin, unwinding a single idea about origins, nature, nurture, and destiny. “I got power, poison, pain, and joy inside my DNA," he declares in the first verse. This animating thought—that we carry the seeds of our greatness and our undoing inside us at all times, that we are forever just one breath from our most exalted and debased behavior—runs like a vein of gold beneath Lamar’s catalog, and he’s never before drilled into it with the fierceness and precision of “DNA.” Over its escalating and spiritually replenishing three minutes, he doubles down and subdivides this notion so many times, from so many angles, that there is almost no interpretive work left for his listeners. He’s lived the life, done the work—“Born inside the beast/My expertise checked out in second grade”—and we simply receive his story.

In this way, Kendrick is maybe our closest modern analog to Chuck D—like Chuck, Kendrick doesn’t beg you to see the world through his eyes, or ask that you enter into his mind. He proclaims. But where Chuck’s messages and voice were crisp and clear, Kendrick’s isn’t here to offer you slogans. He’s hoping that his all-devouring intelligence, his actorly control of inflection, and his sheer technician’s ability to dart around, inhabit, or smother the beat will help him devour the world, in all of its impossible contradictions. You can almost feel his imagination thrashing itself apart: “I know murder, conviction, burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption/Scholars fathers dead with kids/And I wish I was fed forgiveness.” What is there to do with this tidal wave of information except to simply stand in front of it, letting it envelop you? –Jayson Greene

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Watch the utterly captivating music video here. 

2. Top 3 Character Cultivating Books

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My pencil ran out of lead after underlining every single line. Asking the question "How should I live?" helps us on the path of actually living deliberately, like Thoreau. Asking what enlightenment is as a basic form of meditation helps to activate our lives and get transformative practice underway. From Wright's perspective, there is no more important question to ask than this one, and I agree. In the parlance of our times, you can't get woke if you have zero idea of what being woke even means. And if you think you know, odds are high you've settled on a definition that could use a little improvement. Important: This book is for everyone who wants to live their one life with the most clear-sighted vitality and vibrant purpose, and is not merely for buddhist practitioners. You can buy the book here

2017 was also the year in which Robert Wright wrote Why Buddhism is True, ––if you can't get enough Wrights in your life, watch Robert Wright interview Dale Wright here


Faithful readers of CxD––Bless your full-blooded beating, crooked hearts!–– have been hearing about this book for two months ever since it was the first selection of CxD's Beer & Book club. I was motivated to read it after losing sleep because of even more mass shootings in the USA, and I was struggling mightily and pathetically to understand why what seemed to me obvious solutions were being so quickly dismissed  by others. And why some people vote for political candidates that I wouldn't even allow to sit at my dinner table, let alone govern the country. I also knew that "being right" doesn't matter and I won't truly change anyone's mind no matter how right I might be. It's only in a deep and caring relationship that people allow themselves to become vulnerable enough to listen to a different perspective from the one they grew up with. And this book provides a way of understanding "the other side" that makes sense, so that our  capacity to sit and listen improves and our instinct to argue and convince becomes softer. Once that happens, change is possible. The book does have its short-comings regarding moral relativism, but that's a problem for another day. For now, the more people that read this book, the more meaningful conversations we can have. Our lives depend on it. 

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I finished my first year of Hakomi training this year and I can't think of a more powerful tool for understanding your innards––why you see the world the way you do––and helping others understand and heal themselves than Hakomi, which means "How do you stand in relation to the many realms." This form of training is called "applied Buddhism" for good reason, and these two books above are truly excellent manuals on the Hakomi path. While most schooling inspires grimaces and a clenching of the butt cheeks to make it through, I look forward to Hakomi training every single time it rolls around on the calendar. If you're curious about how the combination of loving kindness, experimentation, and creativity go together to heal the world, I recommend reading the purple book first or sending me an email with your questions. 

3. Top Three Movies as Life Enlargements


“I’m not a politician or a policymaker, I’m a filmmaker and storyteller. My goal is simply to put a human face on these hidden populations that often aren’t humanized, so that people feel inspired to make a better world. Sometimes shining a light on an issue is the first step toward...change."

-Sean Baker, Director

Here's an interview with Sean Baker about the film.

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What is this film not? A metaphor taken to its visceral extreme? A plea to stop fucking up the planet? A visual version of the Pain of being an Artist? Whatever you do, wear a helmet. 

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Drawing from over 100 hours of never-before-seen footage that has been tucked away in the National Geographic archives for over 50 years, award-winning director Brett Morgen tells the story of JANE, a woman whose chimpanzee research challenged the male-dominated scientific consensus of her time and revolutionized our understanding of the natural world. Set to a rich orchestral score from legendary composer Philip Glass, the film offers an unprecedented, intimate portrait of Jane Goodall - a trailblazer who defied the odds to become one of the world's most admired conservationists.

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If you ant to understand the Chimp part of your brain, look no further. 

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4. Bonus Wisdom Podcast: In last week's issue #15, Ta-Nehisi Coates inspired a lot of inquiries. In this podcast episode with Ta-Nehisi, The Ringer’s Bill Simmons discusses the importance of reading (6:00), LeBron managing his celebrity status (18:00), the decision to challenge President Obama (28:00), the role of athlete involvement in political protest (34:00), the Colin Kaepernick situation (48:00), the OJ doc (1:01:00), and the best season of The Wire (1:08:00). This is an amazing conversation for those who want more from one of our most important writers. 


Listen Here: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Storytelling, Challenging Obama, and the Kaepernick Situation

Interested in even more perspectives about fighting for equality and whether "fighting for peace" is a good idea? Read this: W.E.B. Du Bois vs. Booker T. Washington; Dr. King vs Malcom X; Ta-Nehisi Coates vs. Cornel West

Happy Holidays Friends! 

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Do people still give a shit about character? Please forward this newsletter to anyone who wants to be less of a dick to others, to the animals, to the planet or to themselves.