weekly blurch

Conundrums & Intercessors

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.)

What’s up with Personal & Cultural Identity?

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
– etc.

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!

The State of the World

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.

Electromagnetic god?

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?