(please indulge my self-indulgence)
I always wanted to help save the world. I couldn’t explain why – its source was so deep within me that words, analysis, or interpretations were totally inadequate. Seems I was born with this drive because it manifested as early as first grade when I brought home a boy named Richard who was “different” from all the other kids and anyone else I’d yet known. The “difference” was very subtle but my lost puppy radar was already activated, though unbidden and unconscious.
Then in high school there was Eddie whose face was a bit disfigured from what seemed to be a birth defect. I never actually brought Eddie home (one didn’t bring boys home at my age) but his appreciation of my friendship was so clear that it can still ring the bell of my heart.
Over the years this drive was like a tide with sometimes long intervals between its cycles of ebb, flow, flood. Its manifestations ranged from exploring various figurative art forms, to essay writing, to studying and practicing psychology, to creating a multi-media expressive arts program for teens, to traveling and interviewing young people, to writing illustrated books, and to Buddhist philosophy. Too many things really, too many possibilities. So doubts about how best to fulfill my “mission” would periodically overtake me. Others would advise me to scale down my ambitions, be more realistic, more limited in the scope of my vision, and to be content to help a few or even one or two individuals.
Well, I felt I’d kind of already done that and it simply wasn’t enough. Their advice though (of course) well-meaning, invariably made me burn with frustration. And if one would occasionally venture to suggest this was all a matter of my ego needing to be tamed, I’d practically burst into flames! That they couldn’t fathom this to be anything other than megalomania or narcissism, drove a smoldering stake into my heart. That so many couldn’t share my vision of “big possibilities” made my doubts of success flare anew. That they didn’t understand this was something I couldn’t help myself overcome, (though believe me there were many times I so wanted to) felt like a bucket of ice water being dumped on me. That they might be right about some of it – i.e. the “realistic” bit – was like a thought one might have being stuck at the bottom of a well and running out of air. But being the stubborn s.o.b. that I am, I’d eventually struggle free and find some way to rise to the surface and resume my quest, quite unable to resist its pull (kind of like the bucket at the end of a rope in that well).
So what? Why am I writing about this personal struggle junk and why should you care? Because that was before 9/11, before Syria and Iraq, Abu-Graib, Gitmo, Afganistan, and Darfur, before Dubbya’s unbelievable re-election, Enron, Halliburton, Scooter, the Wall Street and bank crashes, before last TV season’s fare of murder, mayhem, corruption, dissection, absurdly phony and shallow “competitions”, before desperate wives and swapping became unrelenting TV fodder. Suddenly I felt like I was drowning again, but this time in crap; that we were ALL drowning in a million tons of our own crap. It reinforced all my frustration and doubt like earthquake retrofits.
If only more leaders, aspiring leaders, and various current govt representatives could develop a truly new vision for the present and future, like, yes I’ll say it: Mr B Obama. Then maybe they’ll stop wanting to turn the clock back to when “America was Great” or the time and ways of the “Great War” (can you imagine having the gall to characterize any war in that way?) or the “Greatest Generation” (um, excuse me, what are the rest of us, chicken feed?) or the glory days of R Reagan (yeah, like it’s really because he said “tear down that wall” that it happened for petesake).
Maybe then they’ll all stop trying to impose their hypocritical values on all of us. Like the idea that it’s okay to send young, or older, men and women off to be slaughtered in war or die in bomb-laden cars or jet-fuel-laden planes; and okay to have a death penalty or leave people imprisoned indefinitely w/out trial; shoot and kill men because the color of their skin terrifies you; let thousands, no millions, of people starve to death, be bombed, violated, tortured, or die of easily treatable diseases just because they had the misfortune of being born in certain places.
(And let me get this straight: it’s still not okay to let a woman choose not to have a child she can’t afford or can’t take care of properly, or one conceived by rape, but it is okay for others to have fertility TX’s which produce way too many cells to ever be used, and it’s okay to throw them away, but not okay to use them instead to find a way to save other lives or ease suffering? And it’s completely acceptable for people to suffer and die because they have no affordable health insurance?)
And it’s still okay for some people to be rewarded with far too much even if it leads to tremendous loss and suffering for others, and those “others” should be happy with nothing but the hope that crumbs may somehow trickle down? Um, maybe I’m a dope, but seems to me that hasn’t really worked very well – ever!
If I were of the praying persuasion, I’d get down on my knees and pray that the inspiration and promise of Obama’s fresh and positive broad vision, wisdom, determination, and optimism doesn’t get beaten to a pulp by the above fore-mentioned forces of selfishness, myopia, prejudice, and fear of change. That hope keeps my little flame flickering these days……
I ask myself: what is the point of writing these essays? I am, after all, nothing but an ordinary person in the broad scheme of things. What’s the point of sharing my thoughts when even the messages of Gandhi, Mandela, MLK, Mother Theresa, the Buddha haven’t influenced enough people to change the way we act in our world? It’s a mess, let’s face it.
Oh yeah, we revere them, laud and quote them, make movies and write books about them. A few things may have “shifted” a bit because of their profound courage and insights. But fundamentally we’re still a bunch of unruly, selfish, narrow-minded, tunnel-visioned and aggressive fools.
So what on earth could I say/share to make any difference at all? To be honest I began to give up that hope a long time ago, despite several full-hearted attempts to create things inspiring. But a niggling flicker of desire to do so remained lurking in my brain, waiting for certain triggers to fire it up again. It was really very annoying and I’d have been undoubtedly be a lot happier and more peaceful if it had just died out already. My recurring “loss of meaning crisis” would have finally ended and I could have just lived my life like anyone luckily not plagued by such silly and grandiose ideas.
As anyone who knows me can attest, I’m not religious. When I think about the person named Jesus and all the things done in his name, or in the name of any other similar figure from a different realm, all I see is a colossal waste of time and humanity. Even these “all-powerful” guiding figures haven’t made much of a difference when it comes right down to it. And when they have, many times it’s not been for the good. That’s staggering.
So it’s beyond ironic that one of my mind’s hope triggers should come in the form of a movie about religious symbolism: “The daVinci Code”. I’ve seen it several times, and always found it captivating – obviously not because of its religious theme, but the complex symbolism that propels it. Now that’s a realm I’m more familiar with and (somewhat) more comfortable in. It’s actually the domain that seeded my best efforts to arouse awareness in others, inspire us all to be more fully awake, and to see the world more clearly and openly.
Personally I’ve yet to fully master a gorgeously simple and transformative approach to life, and that’s possibly the reason I’ve had such difficulty trying to explain or describe it to others. But even the masters of it – the Buddhists, often go into deep and elaborate descriptions of their philosophy. And quite unfortunately in 2,000 + years of existence it has morphed into what it was never meant to be: a religion! In the process it has accrued a lot of irrelevant rubbish, making it much too challenging to most people’s focus and patience – not to speak of all the wildly mystical fabrications that have arisen around it.
Ah, I see here a potential pitfall: there’s an inherent incompatibility between the world of “symbolic significance” and the world-view of simplicity and clarity. Yet, for me it’s the former that led me to discover the latter. Obviously there’s something about the human mind that’s attracted to conundrums! (It’s here that I suddenly feel I just dove into a deep pool from which there’s little hope of escaping. No doubt this is where the assistance of an all-powerful divinity comes in handy. Alas, I have no such intercessor to call upon – I’m strictly on my own. But you know what? That’s okay.)
On a personal level in trying to create or affirm a strong sense of who we are, we often try to distance ourselves from the confusing or painful elements of our past. Sometimes we reject all of it – even those elements which could positively impact the forging of our “unique” identities. The baby/bathwater syndrome…….
Similarly, on a societal level, in the process of re-creating or affirming a national identity in our modern world, many make the mistake of rejecting their ethnic origins as being tied to the suffering of the past: poverty, oppression, persecution, lack of education, equality, opportunity. Others, in order to feel a heightened sense of importance, legitimacy, power, etc. reject cultures they know little about, or those which are very different from their own. Thus it isn’t hard to imagine that a day will come when all unique cultural elements will be reduced to a few curious artifacts entombed in the glass cases of museums.
In truth, our diverse ethnicities are as deeply entwined as threads in the vast and rich tapestry of our humanity, which is replete with commonalities despite our best efforts to deny them. In truth we all came from the same origins, the same original pair (whether called Adam & Eve or something else). And we all came from the same place, whether we choose to believe it or not: Africa. Our “motherland” which for eons we’ve ironically and tragically ignored, neglected, forgotten, exploited. This is a black thread which is woven throughout our multi-colored human tapestry.
So I wish we could turn the world inside out for a while. You know, everything would be reversed:
– white would be black or brown, yellow, red and vice versa
– the rich would be poor and poor nations wealthy and rich with resources
– persecutors would be persecuted
– hunters would be hunted
– Muslims would be Christians, Hindus would be Muslims, Catholics would be Protestants etc. Better yet, everyone would be Buddhists, because they are (usually) accepting of everyone (except the Rohingyas of Myanmar)
– “conservatives” would be “liberals” (omg)
– slums would be mansions and estates
– deserts would become jungles or oceans
– the thin would be fat
– the hungry would be well-fed and the gluttonous would be starved
What’s the point? Well, if I were an optimist I’d hope people would thus become more compassionate and understanding of each other. They’d realize first-hand what’s going on in other parts of our country and our small world, what it’s like to live like the “others”. Things might change, become more balanced, thoughtful, equal, fair, shared, peaceful.
Another option would be a visit by aliens from another planet. That would be a great unifying distraction from us fighting one another here on earth. No longer would we be focused on our so-called differences – rather we’d join together in solidarity to deal with this new “other”. Ideally they’d be evolved, benevolent, gentle, nonthreatening, so we’d have no excuse to project our antipathy onto them, and maybe we’d learn a helpful thing or two!
Here’s something to ponder:
Are the complications of life, though seemingly real and compelling, actually illusions dancing wildly on the surface of everything – while the truly meaningful, compelling things are to be found in stillness-in the spaces between the hectic activities we call our lives? In these “spaces”, which we’re largely unaware of, might we find actual reality: our own pulse and that of everything around us, including the pulse of the universe, beating together in unison?
Everything on this tiny blue world which we inhabit breathes and beats together, contained in and touched by, the same atmosphere – by air not empty, but which moves in waves and swirls of invisible particles around us like a soup; everything connected also by the earth and water beneath us. There is no part of this world, nothing in it, that’s not touching everything else in this way.
What breaks down our consciousness of this completely enmeshed web of life? For one thing, the habit of believing our own perceptions, values, ethnicities, and ways of life are the only valid ones provides an illusion of containment and “safety”. But this encapsulated vision too often leads us to arrogance; prejudice; struggles for power, property and dominance; and often ultimately to violence- quite the opposite of our supposed goal!
However, if we’d instead fully explore and grasp our fundamental interconnectedness we might find a deeper and truer source of comfort, security, and support. We might find ourselves strengthened and energized in ways we could not have imagined. Perhaps something precious, profound, magical, and even mysterious would quicken our pulse – something that stands out from the foggy blur of our memories and attachments.
Such realizations can be found within the simplicity and space of a single moment where there is paradoxically contained an incredible complexity of detail, a rich depth, and a wealth of experience – a lifetime’s worth compressed into one breath in, one breath out. In that brief span it’s possible to understand everything we need to know for the rest of our lives and for the last moments of it.
Because in the end, what do we truly want? What do we want to understand? What do we want to remember about ourselves, our lives, and our world?
If you stop for just a moment to empty your mind of its preoccupations and you may feel it. Stop enough times and you will feel it. If you make this a practice, you can be released into peace and a profound kind of joy. Pay attention to each precious moment and the clock will seem to stop. Your attachments, aversions, regrets, fears, doubts, and confusions dissolve. And you may feel suspended, held as if in a drop of precious golden amber. Try it, you’ll like it. I know I do, when I remember to do it…………
Many of us are deeply concerned about the perilous state of our world. But most of us feel overwhelmed by the ugly face of it and know not what to do except throw some money at it, when and if we can, to keep it at bay. When we realize how deep and diverse the sources of this ugliness are, we understand this isn’t enough by any means. But when we look to our “leaders” for answers and guidance, they usually fail us and actually add to our problems by utterly ignoring these deeper sources; by taking absolutely the wrong approach to solve them; or by inflaming situations for selfish political purposes.
We’re left bereft, confused, and conflicted, frustrated, guilt-ridden, and deeply saddened – sometimes to the point that we cannot help but look away. It’s just too much for us to bear – how much suffering, misery, poverty, abuse, devastation, and exploitation can we really stand to witness?
There are a few remarkable people who don’t turn away but actually dive right into the midst of turmoil, doing what they can to relieve others’ misery. They do what they can in the moment to relieve the most immediate, the most desperate suffering. But in their hearts they also know this won’t be the end of it – it will happen again, either in this same place, nearby, or on the other side of the world. But this is what they can do, so they do it. And the relief in people’s eyes momentarily lifts and releases the enormous weight which presses on the hearts of all who are present. So it’s infinitely better than nothing!
But what about the rest of us – those who cannot participate directly for various reasons, or those who make donation after donation to cause after cause with the hope that some of it will actually get to those in need? What about those whose own lives are so challenged as to not allow much concern for “strangers” in strange lands?
It’s also the path of least resistance to hear and see the news, feel shocked and appalled, maybe even angry for a few moments or hours and then turn our attention elsewhere. We’re assisted greatly in this by the attention deficit disorder exemplified by our media’s affinity for sound-bites, attention-grabbers, and their dependency on advertising which greases the skids on which we slip away. But in this turning away we run the risk of eventually joining the ranks of those who actually do not care. And as the population of the world grows, so will this number; as this number grows so will exploitation and misery.
Something profound and dramatic must shift in order to prevent further devastation. For we are dangerously deluded if we think all this can go on indefinitely, without catastrophic results. The warning signs abound, taking many forms: those events preceding and following 9/11, global drought, floods, fires, and deforestation leading to and resulting from global warming; global warming caused (in large part) by massive dependence on fossil fuel; fossil fuel sources lying deep under the sands of countries which spawn jihadists who see us alternately exploit, assist, then abandon their often corrupt regimes, based on our need for fuel or “strategic” presence; jihadists who become martyrs – human bombs, who walk, drive, sail, or fly into crowds, buses, ships, markets, churches, clubs, skyscrapers to make a desperate point.
And what is my point? Well, my point is that it’s all interrelated, we’re all interrelated and we must begin to seriously acknowledge how everything and everyone on this planet are inextricably bound together! So what must be done? A re-visioning must occur, a re-framing, a re-forming of the way we all see ourselves, others, the world. And how might this begin to be accomplished? A few ideas:
– To begin with we all need to take a step back, breathe deeply, allow our minds to clear, and give up our obsessions for a minute.
– Then we have to realize that a lot of what we’re doing is wreaking havoc on ourselves and on others; a lot of what we’re doing is unnecessary and counter-productive, if not downright destructive for everyone. What’s done in one place effects something elsewhere, like the vibrations on a spider’s web.
– It would then be good to consider that there may be alternative, non-habitual ways to approach things, and to consider the possibility that taking our personal views, beliefs, and agendas so seriously (and as the only valid ones) may be catastrophic in the end for everyone.
– The next and maybe most important thing to do is be fully present in the moment: allowing sounds, sights, physical sensations, and thoughts to pass through our awareness – not clinging to or judging them, not analyzing or interpreting them but just letting them come and go, come and go. If practicing this once or twice a day doesn’t make us humble and enormously appreciative of everything and everyone, I don’t know what will. We just need to remember to do it despite the endless distractions/preoccupations we get caught up in.
After a while most people engaged this practice also become aware of how rich and amazing every moment is, how full of life, energy and change. And by expanding this awareness to envision and sense the flow of life and energy that exists throughout our world, we can awaken to the wonder that any of this exists and that we are part of it! We’re all perched on this tiny blue, green, brown planet spinning around a tiny sun in the center of one spinning solar system that’s part of one swirling galaxy among millions of galaxies in an incomprehensibly vast universe. What are the chances??
So how does this translate into creating a saner world? Well, in light of rediscovering the mind-boggling nature of our existence, we might not continue to beat up on each other, let people starve and suffer needlessly, kill each other over some disputed speck of land (or religion or whatever), degrade, exploit, or pollute this finely-tuned and balanced environment that’s our only means of support and survival. And if we did continue these reckless behaviors, we’d have to be way more than damn fools. And would deserve to vanish. Yeah, that’s right, I said it – vanish.
I think of this quite often: it’s mind-boggling that we exist at all! Because if we step back and look deeply enough at ourselves and our universe what we see is particles, waves, and patterns of energy, and space – lots of space. We don’t usually apprehend, let alone appreciate this until some science program or book reminds us. We’re each merely a temporary gathering of particles vibrating at certain speeds which gives us (and everything else) seemingly coherent and distinct shapes that appear to be separate from each other. The fact that all these particles, waves, whatever you want to call them, all came from the original material generated during the Big Bang is even more astonishing!
The universe is, always has been, and always will be vastly powerful and uncontrollable. This is all just too unfathomable and we, at root, feel insecure and vulnerable. So I think we lash out at “issues” and “enemies” that are falsely generated by the irritating throb of our ingrown anxieties. Since we humans operate essentially out of a compulsion to, and an illusion that we can, control things, the dichotomy of this reality causes us to act quite stupidly, irrationally, and often cruelly. (As they say, it’s far easier to deal with a “threat” you can see, hear, smell, and feel than something vast, mostly invisible, and almost incomprehensible.)
And so it is that warring factions hold their “particular” (yup, pun intended) lives and views as precious enough to fight for – even to the death, yet seem not to hold them precious enough to realize how insane it is to constantly threaten and squander such a miraculous existence!
I’d like to propose the following as a potential balm for our anxiety:
Perhaps the electromagnetic expansions and contractions of the universe might alternatively be imagined as great in-breaths and out-breaths. Perhaps the whole thing is actually a living, breathing entity – the enormity of which could be what many people call “god”. But rather than being hidden somewhere in an abstract place called “heaven”, rather than the universe having been created by someone at some highly debatable point in time, the entirety of the universe is it. And all our different and competing versions of “god” are actually about the same thing: the unfathomable, wondrous, boundless contents of the expanse we call space: a macrocosm in which everything is connected and pulses together, charged by the great electromagnetic beat of the universe. Its “terrifying” movements, convulsions, fluctuations and other manifestations merely functions of its being alive.
Many ancient cultures conceived of this as a kind of web or net holding everything together. They saw it reflected in the night sky, in the pattern of a spider’s web, a fishing net etc. It was a supportive matrix to which they were tied/attached, or better put, integral to. Sure, life was still very scary at times, but the idea that everything and everyone was in it together somehow made sense, made it bearable, even made it wondrous. But most of us began to forget this a very long time ago and we now approach everything in a fragmented, often anxious, short-sighted way. We no longer feel deeply connected. Not even “the web” or constant cell-phone contact truly alleviate this sense of separation, and personally I think these merely create a surface illusion of connection for most people, while actually profoundly separating them.
So, in a world that frequently feels like it’s falling apart, with its real web fraying and breaking, maybe those ancient ideas deserve some reconsideration?