Reprinted with permission from The Symposium.

Meditation is sitting. Breathing. When you meditate, you detach from your thoughts. You don't try to stop them, you don't focus on them. You let them pass. You focus on your breath.

Sometimes, depending upon which specific meditation practice you do, you focus on cultivating gentleness or non-judgment as you breathe. You breathe in the cool, damp, heavy air of judgment and suffering. You breathe out the warm, light air of compassion, kindness, and patience.

Your spiritual life is divided into spiritual practice and post-practice--meditation, and post-meditation. Meditation, and the rest of your life. And gradually you dissolve the barrier between practice and post-practice, so that the qualities defining your spiritual practice--patience, gentleness, non-judgment, egoless-ness--become the qualities defining your day-to-day life. Slowly you move away from "me, me, me!" habits. You learn to put others before yourself. You learn to reserve judgment and offer compassion instead.

At least that is how it is supposed to work.

Sometimes I offer no compassion. Sometimes I am angry; I judge, as I have been unjustly judged, and I hate, as I have been unjustly hated. I fight against this urge. I repeat, "Compassion! Forgiveness! Patience!" in my head like it's a mantra, but it sounds more like a battle-cry.

* * *
My girlfriend and I can't go anywhere without the stares, the heckling, the laughter, the comments just-under-your-breath but just-loud-enough-to-hear, the hate. We got the usual round last weekend, coming out of the movie theater hand-in-hand. I didn't hear all of it, even though I think I was intended to hear. What I caught, beneath the giggles, was "the lesbians in front of us" and "now that I'd like to see." I turned so they could see me. I glared, and the giggling stopped, but I couldn't locate the source of the comment. Rarely can I locate one of the commentators. It's always a giggle, a hushed whisper, a nudge, and a pointed finger, sometimes an unkind word whose author is lost in the crowd, lost in cowardice.

Imagine that. Imagine not being able to walk down the street with your significant other without people stopping to stare and point. We've been followed and honked at in our car, we've been not served at restaurants, we've been publicly harassed and pointedly ignored.

By myself, I am a visibly gay woman, and I pay its day-to-day toll. I don't need my girlfriend to kiss me in public for people to give me the angry looks that I know all too well. My hair is short, and my body is athletic and efficient from five years of karate. I've had little girls at my karate dojo come up to me in the locker room and tell me bluntly that I need to be in the boys' locker room. I am so frequently mistaken for a man at first glance that it hardly gives me pause when people address me as "hey buddy," "yo man," or "excuse me, sir." My girlfriend's mother had only one comment about me: "If you insist upon dating women, why do you have to date women who look like men?"

They say it was a straw that broke the camel's back. I fight a day-to-day battle of straws. I keep breathing.

* * *
When you meditate, it doesn't matter so much how many times you lose the thread of your breath. What matters is that you keep coming back to it. You cannot "fail" at meditation unless you simply give up. You cannot "fail" at living a positive, spiritual life unless you simply give up.

* * *
I have heard that there are two kinds of students of spirituality. The first asks "why" questions: "Why the spiritual path instead of some other?" "Why bother with the spiritual practice?" Whereas the second kind has moved past the "why" and only asks "how:" "How do I practice spirituality?" "How do I live a spiritual life?" Once I was told I am a "how" student, but it's not true; I ask both questions. I ask, why do they snicker all the time? Why is the percentage of hate crimes against gays that are physical and violent, rather than simply verbal, on the rise? Why is the rate of attempted and successful suicides for gay teens so much higher than that of straight teens? Why is it still legal in most states for me to be discriminated against on the basis of my sexual orientation?

I have not learned to move past the "why" questions. But I ask "how" questions too:

How do I forgive?
How do I offer my compassion?
How do I cultivate gentleness, patience?

When I am directly confronted with intolerance and bigotry, what is my duty? What is my duty as a spiritual human being? What is my duty as a member of this society? How should I act in order to be a patriot?