“I never meant to be cruel. Have you ever been cruel?” ~ Fugazi
Earlier this year I was honored to interview punk icon Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat/Fugazi fame. Ian is also co-founder of one of the most famous indie labels ever, Dischord Records, as well as played in other influential bands including The Teen Idols, Embrace and The Evans.
That’s a very humble introduction for someone of Ian MacKaye’s stature but for the purpose of this article, it will have to do.
As I sat down to contemplate what I would ask Ian in our interview, I put on Fugazi’s Repeater album to set the mood. Almost instantly, it took me back to the early-mid nineties and the clubs I would frequent as a young teenager.
I have so many great memories from those days; simple things, like the excitement of finally finding that record or CD I’d been searching months through various distro’s for—or skateboarding outside of the club before the show. Trying to have philosophical discussions about veganism and straight edge but really sounding like a complete idiot, or jumping on stage and screaming into the microphone that one line of a song that touched me a little deeper than the rest.
Maybe I’m over romanticizing all of this, maybe not.
Those were however, very special times for me, so in the spirit of nostalgia, I decided that instead of posing all of the questions for Ian myself, I’d ask some old school punk/hardcore friends what they’d like to ask him instead. There were a number of awesome questions but the one I’d like to explore for the purpose of this article was contributed by Nate Newton of the iconic hardcore band Converge.
Nate’s question was simply: “Do you still get on your skateboard and how has skateboarding influenced your life/ impacted your relationship with punk?”
Now, those of you who know anything about Ian MacKaye know he is very detailed when he speaks, which often leads to short stories rather than simple answers. That being said, I’m only using a portion of his answer that directly relates to this article below. (If you’d like to read the interview in its entirety, you may do so here.)
“My relationship with skateboarding in the seventies, when I first started, was a way to develop the ability to redefine the world around me, so skateboarding became a discipline and everything in the world changed in terms of how it applies to a skateboard. For instance, the other day I went outside and somebody had dumped a bunch of water in the alley and it had frozen, so I had the thought, even though I don’t really ride much anymore, but I automatically thought of skateboarding and that’s just how my brain works.
Weather has a different relationship if you’re a skateboarder—sidewalks, swimming pools, curbs, banks. I was walking in the Washington D.C. subway system and the walls have a smooth curled transition and there’s a railing there and I thought about if I was to ride up that transition what the compression would be to get to the vertical flat. So in other words, I think that skateboarding taught me how to look at the world in a different way and to relate things in terms of how I was going to approach them.”
~ Ian MacKaye
Skateboarding has been a passion of mine since the early 80’s, making it easy for me to relate to Ian’s explanation of how it changes your world view. While visiting NYC recently, I thought about Ian’s statement, as I rode a very congested subway. Instead of using skateboarding as a reference point however, I used spirituality.
Spirituality has definitely redefined the world and my view of it. Just as Ian (and I) see things like sidewalks, swimming pools, curbs, banks in relation to skateboarding, I also see similar everyday things—and people—in relation to spirituality.
And, just as Ian contemplated the curled transition and railing in the D.C. subway in relation to skateboarding, I contemplated my interconnectedness to all the beings while traveling the subways of New York City.
That can be trickier than it sounds though.
There were, of course, the easy people to relate too, the children smiling haphazardly about whatever simple wonders caught their attention at that particular moment or the younger punk and hip hop crowd (real hip hop heads, not radio pop music that is passed off as hip hop…yeah, I said it).
But what about the angry man in his fifties wearing a suit and swearing under his breath at “the stupid son of a bitch” who accidentally bumped into him—or the men and women dressed to the nines, who were obviously headed to the club—or even the homeless person half asleep and tucked away in the corner?
Here is where the classroom metaphor really comes into play.
While on the subway, I begin catching myself judging people completely based on their outward appearance—not thinking that I’m better or worse than any of them—but by reducing them to a label based on appearance. It doesn’t matter if it’s the ones I feel I can relate to or not; I’m still separating them, all of them, by seeing them as other than myself. Of course, at face value we all have a body, name, personality, all that fun egoic stuff.
We all have it and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that; it’s our inherent nature as humans to fall victim to it.
The obstacle to overcome for me, however, is to come from a place of inclusion, based on the love that connects us all as much as possible, rather than to come from a place of exclusion, based on outward, material judgments of separation.
So how in the hell does one attempt to pull that off!?
The two elements which have worked exceedingly well for me are awareness and compassion.
We begin by bringing conscious awareness to our thoughts throughout the day, by whatever means work for us.
Maybe we’re in a situation at work or home where we can have a quiet mindfulness bell go off every fifteen or thirty minutes…or even hourly (you can find a free download of mindfulness bells from various websites via Google search).
If that doesn’t work, you can always go old school and place little reminder sticky notes around your house or work area, in your pocket or wherever will remind you to check in and visit any separation thoughts based on judgments you may have recently had.
This may seem overwhelming at first but even if you start by becoming aware of just one instance throughout your day, you’re already making progress. The more you do this, the easier it becomes and you won’t need the little reminders anymore. It’s seriously like riding a bike and though it may not be as fun as that, over time, it will absolutely bring you to a place of greater peace throughout your day.
The compassion element is for both yourself and others.
Be compassionate towards yourself when you realize you are coming from a place of judgment. It is very easy to begin mentally condemning ourselves for having these thoughts, especially since we’re supposed to be “spiritual people,” but the fact is, we’re practicing, we’re working from where we are now, towards cultivating greater awareness and that’s what truly matters.
So, again, be compassionate towards yourself—we have a lot of deep-rooted conditioning that has been instilled in us since birth, which typically won’t disappear overnight, so be patient.
Compassion towards others, in general, is important because we never truly know what another person is going through. That stranger sitting across from us, our co-workers, the cashier at your local store, all of whom may have a miserable demeanor, may have just lost their job or been dumped or maybe received some very disheartening news about a family member.
We never really know what another’s internal struggles and battles consist of—but by working towards compassion for all beings, we’re lessening the suffering of humanity as a whole, ourselves included. I’m not saying let someone walk all over you or be a complete asshole towards you, but as much as possible, do your best to rise above and offer compassion rather than reaction.
“The tongue, like a sharp knife, kills without drawing blood.” ~ Buddha
Again, I encourage you to use whatever method facilitates a greater awareness of your judging and condemning mind—tt’s honestly a win-win.
Through having more compassion for others by recognizing our deeper interconnectedness, you’re automatically having compassion for yourself, because after all, there really is only one of “us” anyways.
May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness, yourself included.
Editor: Bryonie Wise
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