Tag Archives: being a human

The long journey out of the self…

Today David over at The Endless Further has a wonderful post up about the magic found in poetry, please check it out if you have the chance.

image of Roethke sourced from jungcurrents.com

It got me thinking about one of my favorite poets, Theodore Roethke, whom I haven’t dealt much with in years. Roethke is from my hometown of Saginaw, MI, and there are places he mentions in his poetry that were literally my old stomping grounds:

Out Hemlock Way there is a stream
That some have called Swan Creek;
The turtles have bloodsucker sores,
And mossy filthy feet;
The bottoms of migrating ducks
Come off it much less neat.

I used to dig in Swan Creek for golf balls to sell to golfers at the nearby hole-in-the-wall course. My father went through the ice of the creek as a youth while snowmobiling. It is a beautiful yet unassuming body of water. It really is just a creek. Creek creeks creek.

Upon digging around for some of my favorite works of his, I ran across the following two gems, and couldn’t help but be struck by the similarity to some of the old Chinese Ch’an masters works. The first poem is titled Journey into the Interior

In the long journey out of the self,
There are many detours, washed-out interrupted raw places
Where the shale slides dangerously
And the back wheels hang almost over the edge
At the sudden veering, the moment of turning.
Better to hug close, wary of rubble and falling stones.
The arroyo cracking the road, the wind-bitten buttes, the canyons,
Creeks swollen in midsummer from the flash-flood roaring into the narrow valley.
Reeds beaten flat by wind and rain,
Grey from the long winter, burnt at the base in late summer.
— Or the path narrowing,
Winding upward toward the stream with its sharp stones,
The upland of alder and birchtrees,
Through the swamp alive with quicksand,
The way blocked at last by a fallen fir-tree,
The thickets darkening,
The ravines ugly.
The first thing that jumps out is right there in the first line, “journey out of the self”. The rest of the poem goes on to describe the traps and hazards our phenomenal mind throws at us in our attempt to escape its binding reach.
 
Another that I stumbled upon was In a Dark Time:
 
In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood–
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.
What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks–is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is–
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark,dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

To me, this is all about finding the true self, making sense of the observer watching the observer phenomenon, feeling trapped that there is no hope, no way of getting to the Source.

Roethke suffered from depression not long into his life, fueled by the tragic deaths of his uncle and father that both occurred when he was 15. This colored many of his later works, though it is for his lighter, “greenhouse” poems that he is more well-known. These poems revolve around his direct experience and contact with nature and the beauty he found growing up around his uncle’s greenhouse in Saginaw (only a couple of miles from my childhood home). At the young age of 55, Roethke died of a heart attack in a swimming pool on Bainbridge Island, here in Washington. According to wiki the pool has since been covered and a Zen rock garden has apparently been placed on top. His remains are a stone’s throw from many of my great-grandparents and their siblings.

I’m not claiming that Roethke was Zen, or a Buddhist or anything of the sort. If anything he seemed to be a sort of pantheist or transcendentalist or something of that sort. But the problems that he digs at are universal, and strike at the heart of Zen. His desire to find pure Mind and make sense of it all mirrors the path of the 10 Ox Herding images well.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the magic that Roethke helped bring to the world. Cheers.

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Filed under Buddhism, Other

There were 19 victims in Arizona

 

I really don’t have much time to post lately, and I have thoughts of closing the blog down for good as I really don’t see myself being able to make time to commit to posting. More on that some other time perhaps.

I wanted to post today just a thought or two on the Arizona shooting that took place on Saturday. I’m sure by now you’ve heard the whole story, so I’ll spare going into any details here.

My only thoughts are this: 19 people’s lives were directly and permanently altered on Saturday. The shooter brought lots of ammo with him. While his main target certainly seemed to be Congresswoman Giffords, there were 19 others that were shot, 6 of which died.

Federal judge John Roll, 63, left behind 3 sons, a wife, and 5 grandchildren.

30-year-old Gabe Zimmerman, a Gifford’s staffer who was engaged and had a wedding date set for 2012.

Phyllis Schneck, 79 leaves behind 3 children, 7 grandchildren, and 1 great-grandchild.

Dorwan Stoddard 76 – this is from Huff Post: “When the shooting started Saturday, he dove to the ground, covering his wife Mavy, who was shot in the leg three times. The couple had been grade school sweethearts growing up in Tucson. After their respective spouses died, they independently moved back to retire, became reacquainted and fell in love all over again. Mavy Stoddard talked to her husband, who was shot in the head, for 10 minutes while he breathed heavily. Then he stopped breathing. He had two sons from his first marriage, and Mavy has three daughters.

Dorothy Morris, 76 whose husband was shot in the rampage, but is in the hospital also left behind a few daughters (I’ve seen 2 and 3, so don’t know for sure).

And then, what to me is the most tragic result of this mad man’s terror, Christina Taylor Green, only 9 years old. Apparently she had just been elected to Student Council and had an interest in politics, which is why she was at that Safeway to meet Congresswoman Giffords. She apparently wanted to have a career where she would be of service to others (I think I wanted to be a pilot at that age….). She enjoyed athletics. She leaves behind an 11-year-old brother. She leaves behind parents, and grandparents.

It isn’t too hard to read about the people the elderly victims leave behind. It’s generally expected that parents and grandparents outlive their offspring. It is tragic and sad, yes. And I certainly don’t want to value one life above another here.

But she was only 9 years old.

She was only 9 years old.

I understand the outrage pouring out over this incident. I just don’t understand how the conversation was so quickly turned into a left vs. right ideological battle. Within hours of the massacre people were trying to figure out who was to blame. We heard from pundits about other pundits and about that half-term quitter governor from Alaska, but we didn’t hear about Christina, and her story (other than the little I’ve shared here). We didn’t hear about her aunts and uncles and friends from school and 9 year old team mates that now have to deal with the fact that their loved one isn’t coming back.

It isn’t that I don’t agree with some of the political statements being made out there. Some of them, I do. And I do so adamantly. But their bodies weren’t even cold and all we could hear about was some redneck’s map and what Rush Limbaugh had to say and what books were on the shooter’s MySpace book list.

I remember when Kayla Rolland was shot. It was in my community. My mother worked with a close friend of the family (or Aunt of Kayla’s or something….) and I remember it vividly. Shock. Terror. Unimaginable sadness. A 6-year-old shot another 6-year-old. And I remember that very day, people carrying signs in favor of the 2nd amendment on some busy cross streets in my hometown of Saginaw, MI. Yes, we have freedom of speech in this country. I respect that. But just because you have the right to do/say something, doesn’t always mean it’s the right thing to do.

I also remember my teachers waiting a week or so before we started talking about the greater themes that revolved around the shooting like gun rights, poverty, drugs, homelessness and other broader social issues that contributed to the tragedy.

Already the 6 victims that were killed and the others that were wounded are being forgot. They’re being pushed down in the headlines in favor of partisan rhetoric, blame games, conversations on society’s role in all this and yadda yadda yadda. It’s not that I don’t think some of those points are important or valid. I do. My fear is that this intense personal tragedy will just get churned into fodder for the left vs. right meme machine. In 5 years most of us will probably remember that Congresswoman Giffords was shot, and that there were others shot that day too (I bet we’ll forget how many). Some of us will remember Christina, but I bet it will be the minority. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself if you knew who Kayla Rolland was reading that first sentence, without having to click on the link. It was one of the most tragic killings this country has ever seen, and I don’t know that anyone outside of Flint (and Mid-Michigan) still thinks about it.

Can we try holding off on the politicizing for just a few days? Maybe direct our efforts toward compassion for the victims and their families, even for just a few days? Is the “noble discussion” about whose fault it is and what role everyone plays in it that urgent that it can’t wait a few days? Maybe if we shine the spotlight on the victims for a bit longer, we won’t forget quite so soon this time.

I’ll leave it to others to cry outrage!

Right now, all I can come up with is tragedy!

  

Cheers.

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Filed under Parenting, Political

Affirm life; do not kill

— On the grounds of a Buddhist temple, dozens of white plastic bags lay in carefully arranged rows. Each sack was knotted at the top and contained the remains of a fetus.

Thai authorities found about 2,000 remains in the temple’s mortuary, where they had been hidden for a year — apparently to conceal illegal abortions.

…Abortion is illegal in Thailand except under three conditions — if a woman is raped, if the pregnancy affects her health or if the fetus is abnormal.

…Suchart Poomee, 38, one of the undertakers being questioned, confessed Tuesday he had been hired by illegal abortion clinics to destroy the fetuses, police said. He said he had been collecting the fetuses since November 2009. It was not clear why they had not yet been cremated.

The above is from the following article, please take a short minute to read it.

I’ve been thinking about posting on the issue of abortion for a while now, and this article presented a good context for it. At first I was shocked and saddened by what happened, mostly it was just at the magnitude of that many dead fetuses. For me this article brings to light issues that fall outside of the black/white pro-choice/pro-life debate we usually hear about. I don’t know if there is a unifying theme to my thoughts here, so I think I’ll just go for it, and ask for your forgiveness regarding the scattered nature of this post..

First thing I think about is the entire premise of pro-life/choice. Seeing death of this magnitude definitely makes me question my long-held stance of being pro-choice. It’s hard for me to argue for someone else’s right to do something like that.

I find I sometimes have to remove the human element away from the situation in order to argue in favor of being pro-choice. I wonder if it is possible to feel empathetic toward all those involved in the process, and what that looks like.

I don’t want to force a woman to have a baby if she doesn’t want to, regardless the reason. And I sure as shit don’t want to see a return to back-alley abortions.

I wonder if it is more disheartening because of the magnitude of seeing thousands of fetuses all there, all at once. It’s in my face and not in the back of a clinic with no windows. I wonder what else I take for granted simply because it happens behind a door in a place I’ve never been.

I wonder what those at the temple have to go through when dealing with the aftermath of these illegal abortions.

I don’t like the term pro-life. It isn’t accurate. Many of the same people who call themselves “pro-life” are also “pro-war” and “pro-death penalty”. Clearly all life is not precious to them. Why the distinction?

The doctrine of dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda) comes to mind when I try to think of this topic. Sometimes I think that I’d be okay with abortion if it was done in the 1st trimester if by choice (later for medical reasons). But then I start to wonder where it is that life begins. Is it when the brain has activity? The heart beats? When the sperm fertilizes the egg? When I try to think of this in terms of dependant origination I can’t pinpoint the moment where life begins. I keep going back to the sperm, and egg. The egg that was present when my daughter was fertilized in my wife’s womb actually grew in her mother’s womb, where an egg that was fertilized had been since she had been in her mother’s womb and back and back to all the ancestors of our collective past. All of this is precious.

I think that abstinence only sex-ed doesn’t work. Not at all. Clearly this is evidence of that. Humans want sex. Teenagers want it even more. (and yes, I did just draw a distinction between humans and horny teenagers)

Birth control is there to help prevent people from having an unwanted/unplanned pregnancy, but it’s only 98-99% effective. I have 2 children that can attest to the other 1-2%. Our planet can’t continue to grow at the rate we’re breeding and people shouldn’t have to be brought in this world to parents that want nothing to do with them when there are other options available. Sometimes biology happens. Sometimes you make the best of it, and alter your life and raise two beautiful children. Sometimes it isn’t possible to bring a child into the world and offer her what she needs.

  

Is killing sperm the same as killing an embryo the same as having an abortion at 4 months? If yes: Really? If no: how come?

When does a fetus become a baby?

Legislating morality in the way it seems to happen in Thailand (as well as in many other places) leads to situations like this. Illegal abortions. People put in awkward and potentially dangerous positions.

We legislate morality all the time. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Who’s morality is better? There will never be a system that gets it right 100% of the time.

I believe that non-theraputic male circumcision is wrong. How do I justify that stance with being pro-choice?

I think there are too many filters to view this through, which is why we’ll never resolve this issue. Ever. It is legal, political, moral, and personal. All or none at once. The fetus has a right to attempt to become a person. The woman has a right to not be a mother. The doctor has a right not to perform the procedure. The courts have a right to say who is right and who is wrong.

How do we affirm life and support everyone involved? How do we apply the Bodhisattva vow when it comes to abortion?

The article says that the fetuses were placed in the bags by workers when they were found. Were they just out in the open before this? The image of thousands of fetuses just lying around a morgue is horrifying to me. I haven’t been able to shake it.

For the first time in my life I am able to understand those that picket outside of an abortion clinic. Most definitely there are those that are there for religious and political reasons, but I know that some of them just care. Deeply. And I identify with that.

I understand the desperation a soon-to-be parent can feel. I will never be able to feel that through the filter of motherhood, but as a parent I can say that those shoes are familiar ones. I feel for those that feel the need to end a pregnancy early. But I will never have a woman’s perspective on this.

I feel for those that miscarry. I feel for those that lose a child, no matter what age.

I think I am glad that women have the option, but I wish that it was an option rarely exercised.

I have no easy answers. The gray is too strong on this one.

Edit: I originally had a picture of my 2 children included, but after reading this over a few times felt that wasn’t a good choice for a photo. Not sure why. So I replaced it.

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Filed under Buddhism, Parenting

On and off the shelf

It’s about 1am on Thursday night, and we’ve just got our 1 month old daughter, Zoa, to sleep. It’s been and on-and-off (mostly on) struggle to get her down at night. And then my son Corbin wakes up. I go in, try to comfort him, but nothing works. I’m not able to get him back to sleep until nearly 5am, and then have to wake up at 6:45 to head to work.

In this 4 hour period I go from rage to depression to fear to calm to half-asleep to happy. No where do I find my Buddhism. Why? Because it is in its usual resting place, the shelf.

The Literal Shelf:

I haven’t meditated since before my daughter was born, which was a month ago. My son has been sleeping less at night, sometimes waking up for 4-5 hours, sometimes 30 minutes at a time 3-4 times a night. Or sometimes he sleeps right through. My daughter hasn’t been going to sleep well either. I used to do my meditation routine at night, right after everyone was in bed. Meditate, or sleep… meditate, or sleep…. not really a hard choice on my part now. Setting up the altar and meditating in the morning isn’t really an option, as I wake up with my son (anywhere from 4:30am-7am) and there is no chance in hell I can sit staring at the floor with him running around loose.

So right now, my Buddhism sits on the shelf, in the form of a book usually. I’ve decided that for now, study shall suffice, at least until we can get some kind of regular night-time and sleep routine going. I realize that meditation is only a tiny part of Buddhist and Zen practice, I do. I realize that really living the path means bringing the teachings with you into the mud of life. But I’m having enough difficulty just remembering to take out the damn trash, let alone to do it “mindfully”. I have no teacher, no formal sangha. My knowledge is a lacking, and my insights are few and rare. Right now study isn’t just a way to practice while being convienent, but is a necessary and important part of my practice for today and tomorrow. I simply wish I had the time, capacity, and patience to bring “it” off the shelf more often. Which brings me to-

The Figurative Shelf:

I notice more and more that the times when I’m “being a Buddhist”, come short and fast, and they are gone. I can remember to breathe from the hara, but then it’s gone as soon as my breath leaves. And when I remember again a few minutes later, I kick myself when I look at all the crap I filled my head up with in between.

But much of my life is no different from this. Those feelings I had late the other night, they came and went faster than I would have admitted at the time. I’m finding most of my life resides on the shelf. Little stories I have of “me” to be taken down and checked out when convenient. Some of them barely get out of their usual space before they come right back, while others are near impossible to put back once taken.

 

Anger in its many forms is one of these. Stress, rage, loneliness, burden. This story I call “Only my self and the fire” is an old and familiar one. One too familiar, and not old enough. I know how harmful it can be, yet its pages suck me in and keep me there longer than I’d like. But eventually a chapter or two in, and I realize how many times I have read this one, and how it always ends the same. As time passes I’m finding that it goes back on the shelf a little easier each time, and that it takes me a page or two less each time to get it there. Progress.

There is another, one titled “Riding on Cloud 9 in Fantasy Land”. This story sits on my shelf more often than not, but when I pick it up, I am transported. Taken away to a place where nothing can harm me. No bill collectors are allowed here and everyone has a perfect credit score. People don’t fight. Kids sleep through the night. Cats scoop their own litter box. Cars repair themselves for free. Everything works out in the end here. This book isn’t just hard to put back on the shelf, it’s impossible. The only way to get it back on the shelf is if another one of my stories knocks it out of my hand. I don’t like it when that happens. I really enjoy that story.

And this goes on and on and on. These novels and short stories that I’ve created for me and about me, are constantly going from hand to shelf, hand to shelf. The speed at which must be quite dizzying to onlookers, as I know it wears me out. And to top it off, there are times at which the books and stories I’m grabbing seem to have no real rhyme or reason, other than to grab them and hold on.

I’ve done this for years and my shelf is in disarray. Unfortunately, I’ve been viewing Buddhism and spirituality as just another story, to take on and off the shelf. If I had the presence of mind, I’d open up the pages, and realize that they aren’t things to be taken off the shelf and put back on at a whim. No, these are much more powerful. They are a Dewey Decimal system to keep these books organized. Help me clean them up and put them where they go. Separate the fiction from non-fiction. Buddhism and spirituality are there for when it’s time to let some of these books go, and reduce some of my inventory.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to do this type research needed into these very special ‘books’. They are there at home now, sitting on that damned shelf. Too often I leave them on that shelf, ignored until they are to be picked up when convienent.

In a flurry, on and off they go.

But they are an empty shelf!

Just hear without the noise.

Unite heart and mind.

Cheers.

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Filed under Buddhism, Personal

We're all one, man!

An interesting discussion (here and here) has been happening around the interwebs around Stephen Prothero’s book: God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter. I haven’t read the book, but I understand that his basic argument is refuting the idea that ‘religions are all basically the same’ statement. And personally, I have to agree with that. I’m not going to attempt to defend his position here (because I haven’t read the book!), but rather talk about the “all religions are the same/we’re all on the same path to God” lines that get thrown around quite often.

I don’t understand how people can claim that all religions are really just the same thing. Each one seems to address a different problem and propose its own unique solution to said problem. In Buddhism, we find that life is unsatisfactory, and to alleviate the suffering that accompanies this, we need to follow the 8-fold path to awakening (that was the 25 word idiot version of the 4 noble truths). In Christianity, Sin is man’s greatest enemy, and the only way to be rid of that sin is salvation through Jesus Christ. In Islam, it is pride that gets in our way, so submission to God is the way to rid ourselves of that pride. In Scientology, there are space demons that take over our bodies, and the only way to get rid of them is to give Tom Cruise all of your money. The list goes on and on; these are all very different ways of seeing the world and making sense of our place in it.

Now some would argue that focusing on these ideas, and each religion’s respective dogmas and scriptures is a superficial way of approaching the experience of religion. Some argue that when looked at from a mystic’s perspective, you can throw out all of the definitions traditionally used and reach a higher definition that would transcend all the dogma, ritual, and beliefs people traditionally associate with their respective religion. But I have to wonder, at that point, why even say that you are practicing said religion (and aren’t you really just practicing New Age…ism at that point)? When you start to talk about Jesus not being the son of God that performed miracles, rose from the dead who said that anyone that wants into heaven has to come through him; what is it about your practice that you would consider Christian? Why even use that word? It is similar to when a New Ager or Pantheist would call everything “God”. Sure, monotheists don’t have a copyright on the word, but I have to wonder if what you are describing is so radically different from any interpretation or definition held by 99.99% of people who use it; why use it at all? Why put your belief under that same tent? A part of me wonders if this happens when people are afraid to completely let go of the religion they grew up with? And so holding on to a part of that past self/culture makes the new set of beliefs…safer?

Personally, I find it a little insulting when people say that we’re all practicing the same religion, or that all paths lead to God. Sorry, I gave up on God well over a decade ago. I took up the Buddhist path because it ends in liberation, not because I believe I’ll end up in a literal heaven with God for eternity. I also think it’s a little disrespectful to not recognize that there is a difference in what we are practicing and trying to achieve, and to then attempt to re-define my beliefs to more closely align with yours.

Okay, so there are differences, so what about our similarities? Isn’t there one central theme that runs at the heart of every religion? Nah. I don’t think so. While all religions have the capacity for such things as charity and compassion and respect, those aren’t the tenets or beliefs that they are centered around. Ask %99 of Christians what their religion is about, and I’m guessing you’re going to hear something like “believing in Jesus Christ”, “faith in God” or something along those lines. And while the man preached about compassion and charity at length, the religion itself isn’t centered around it. It accompanies it. I’d even say that compassion isn’t at the heart of Buddhism, but is rather an effect (vipaka) that one cultivates when practicing the dharma. Would many Muslims say that compassion is the heart of their religion? Taoists? I doubt that’s what you’ll hear. And remember, we’re talking about religions here. Not your individual experience which may or may not parallel someone else’s.

But, knowing that each religion has the capacity for these things does give us the hope that we can all connect with each other on such manners. Religion is largely a response to living life as a human, all of us trying to figure out our place in the cosmos and answer the questions that we have about our shared human condition. The religious are all connected in the sense that we are all searching for something (be it God or enlightenment or Elohim) and whether we are searching for that something inside or outside of ourselves, we should be able to respect whatever means we employ to find that divine something (as long as it doesn’t involve blowing your self up or burning “witches” etc…).

So why prattle on about the differences in the world’s religions when so much strife has been created because people can’t seem to get over them? I think it’s important to understand the differences because largely, we don’t respect them. A part of the fighting that occurs between the world’s religions stems from a basic lack of respect (and this lack stems from a whole slew of things) of each other’s beliefs and practices. If we can begin to accept the differences we all have, we can then place them where they belong and figure out how to best deal with each other in the most compassionate way. But I truly believe that as long as we keep talking about how we’re really all the same, or glossing over the sacred practices many of us hold dear, we aren’t going to be able to reconcile with each other in a meaningful way. Yes, most religions share some basic concepts (which are mostly secular anyway) and we should work together to strengthen those when need-be. But it’s hard to reach out to someone who isn’t even going to respect that you are on your own path, and that it’s okay that we don’t have everything in common. I believe it is extremely important that we develop compassion toward one another, and part of that compassion is respecting one another’s beliefs as being of the utmost importance to that person.

What do you think?

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Filed under Buddhism

Hero for the day……

A friend forwarded me this article from the Seattle Times about a little boy who’s wish came true.

Watching her son run across the plaza in front of the Space Needle, mom Judy Martin said Erik goes to school when he’s able, but is often too tired. “He hasn’t had this much energy in a long time,” she said. “They called it the power of the wish, and they’re right.”

Like any good superhero, Electron Boy kept his innermost thoughts to himself. But he did have one important thing to say:

“This is the best day of my life.”

If this many people can come together for one day, for one boy, for one wish, then surely there is hope in this world.

Cheers.

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Super-powering your way to Nirvana

Recently at work we had a “get to know you” type conference call. I’m the only person in my position at my center, and our company’s centers are spread throughout the country. So other than the occasional email or IM, we rarely get to connect with each other. We had to list a bunch of random personal information (favorite food, most played song on iPod, what you wanted to be when you grew up etc…) but there was one question in particular that stuck out to me, based on the responses.

The question was, “if you could have any super power, what would it be?” The top 3 answers by far were : the ability to stop time, invisibility, and teleportation. As far as I know, I’m the only Buddhist out of the group. But these answers all have a very Buddhist theme don’t they? Seems everyone is trying to escape samsara! People would rather be anywhere than right here, right now. Rather than deal with a difficult situation, it’s easier to flee or become invisible. I suppose that this isn’t too surprising though really. But it just shows that each of us is trying to deal with the suffering we face everyday. Some choose to engage it, some try to end it, and some try to run away from it. No matter our traditions our religious affiliations, we certainly all seem to share this common element.

My answer? I want the ability that whenever I need to purchase something, the exact amount of $$ would be in my wallet. Not filthy rich, just enough so that I wouldn’t have to worry about money ever again. C.R.E.A.M. bitches!!!!!!!!!!!

Cheers…..

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"We aren't feeling enough as a culture right now"

Just happend upon this video that is well worth watching. TED has some great talks and videos, but this one just stood out for some reason and really resonated with me. I hope you enjoy.

Cheers.

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Filed under Buddhism

No Direction Home…….

The other day, Nathan had a post over on Dangerous Harvests about “what “right action” is when it comes to interacting with people begging on the streets”. I started a reply there, and realized that my story would serve better as a post than as a comment.

I spent quite a few months homeless in Seattle when I first arrived on the West Coast about 7 years ago. The reasons for this were many, but I’ll just say that it was my choice, and that I wasn’t running from the law. It was a truly eye-opening experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in Seattle, and what to do when I got there. I tried finding jobs, and even tried joining the military (they wouldn’t take me – ADHD) but when my money ran out, I was left to figure shit out for myself. It was a tough experience. Luckily, I was in Seattle, where there is a good system in place for helping out those less fortunate.

I had no idea what to expect from the other homeless on the streets and in the homeless “system”. Would they be welcoming? Stab me in the back the first chance they got?

Their reasons for being there were about as varied as you could imagine. Of those that I met and was around, I’d guess that around 60% or so suffered from some form of mental illness, some more pronounced than others. For some, they arrived on the streets this way. For others, the streets simply magnified what was already there. There were those that simply fell on hard times, and a few people I met were part of the dotcom boom/crash that were trying their best to make it back into the workforce and afford a place to live. Some were criminals on the run, a few had warrants for petty crimes and had gone into hiding, and a few were here illegally. Many that I met were on some form of assistance, whether it was food stamps or Social Security.

In Seattle, it was possible to eat 3-5 times a day for free, find a place to take a real shower, do your laundry, and find a place to sleep during the night (usually in a church). The only people who went hungry were the ones that were banned from certain hand-out areas because they had been violent there, or those whose mental illness was so bad that they couldn’t function well enough to find assistance. And there were plenty of both. The violent ones were generally suffering from some mental illness, and of course not being allowed to get food at a soup-kitchen or church only made things worse for them.

At the shelter that I stayed at, everyone was pretty healthy mentally, and generally got along really well. Some of us hung out during daylight hours, and helped each other out. But the one thing that no one prepares you for is the boredom. It is excruciating. Imaging having nothing to do all day, every day, and not being able to look forward to anything, ever. Wake up, clean shelter. Take bus downtown. Do laundry, take shower, find food. Wander aimlessly for 4 hours. Find food. Wander aimlessly for another 2-4 hours. Get on bus, head to shelter, sleep. Try not to pay attention to those around you going about their lives, buying clothes, seeing movies, spending holidays with family. Repeat for the rest of your life. Repeat in your mind for the rest of your life.

Is it any wonder people turn to drugs and alcohol? For those that go down that path, it breaks up the monotonous nothingness of your existence. It is something to do. It is something to feel other than depression. Even though I really shouldn’t have been spending money on smokes, I did. They were terrible, 2$ a pack smokes from a res somewhere, and they got me through the day.

I never went down the drug path. My goal was to start a new life in a new place, without destroying myself in the process (though I dare say quite a bit of my “self” was destroyed…..). So regaining a meaningful life became my only thought. I had to find a job. I needed to find transitional housing so that I had a stable place to sleep and bathe and do my laundry so that I could show up to my job and not be a…… bum. When I asked my shelter-buddies about starting on this path, they all knew exactly how to help. But my question was then, “why aren’t you doing this?”

For some reason, many of them simply didn’t want that life. Maybe it had to do with the relative comfort in which many of them lived. As I said before, most had some type of income (SS), everyone had access to a shower, laundry, and at least 3 meals a day. Living that life, one could easily get by without much effort. It wasn’t the best life, but there was no boss to listen to. No responsibility. No struggle.

Some simply didn’t want to be a part of the society that had turned it’s back on them. Which was understandable given many of their stories. And for some, I just couldn’t understand. They had all the makings of someone with a successful station in life and for whatever reason they just didn’t try. Maybe life had beaten them down so low that they became satisfied with the homeless lifestyle. I still have no answers for many of the questions that confronted me during that time.

So back to Nathan’s question. What is “right action” when dealing with these people? First, see them as people. Some of them have chosen their position and others have had it thrust upon them. Regardless of circumstance, they are human beings just as you are. No better, no worse. They reflect the same potential we all have. They are experiencing the human condition in a radically different way than we are. Not completely a part of our society, though not completely apart from it either. Should you offer them food? Money if they ask? A cigarette if you have one? It’s really up to you. No dollar-in-the-guitar-box is going to put them over the edge for that down-payment on a condo. No one meal will stave off the hunger forever. One cigarette will burn away and the craving will return ever so shortly. These things are all band-aids for a more serious condition, though none of them do much harm. If your wish is to practice generosity, then practice generosity. You can’t save them all, and you should never feel like your efforts are going unnoticed or aren’t making a difference. Be generous when you can, but don’t feel obligated to hand out your change to everyone that asks it of you.

Besides the epic emptiness of life that comes with being homeless, there is one more crippling ailment. It is the isolation. You can’t help but feel like the stereotypical Dicken’s street urchin outside of a bakery window salivating over the freshly made cherry pie on the counter. Only the whole world is that bakery. Society as we know it is that pie, and it would bring such joyous comfort if it was even just a taste. When you walk down the street, you know you are not a part of their society. That bakery window is always there in front of you. When you get on the bus, it is there. When you come out of the bathroom at the library, it is there. It’s the look in their eye. Or rather, it’s the non-look in their eye. I can’t forget that. Ever. The fact that someone would cast me away simply because of the contents of my wallet was the most dehumanizing thing I have ever experienced. With the simplest of looks, I was negated. I didn’t exist to them.

So what is “right action” when dealing with those who call the street their home? Look them in the eye. Acknowledge their presence. Acknowledge that they too, are humans. Acknowledge that they deserve a “good afternoon” just as much as anyone else. Not only do they deserve it, they are probably in need of it more than anyone. A simple human connection goes a long way.

Cheers.

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And more snow related suffering…….

“In some areas homes have been without power since last November, facing record snowfalls and the collapsing infrastructure of America’s Midwestern water and power lines and disaster response systems.

“Power outages began with a storm in December knocking down around 5,000 power poles, and has been accelerated by an ice storm Jan. 22 knocking down another 3,000 power lines on the reservation.

“Frustration at the insufficient response of the Red Cross and governor’s office is mounting,” she added. “All of this while people sit without power, water and face food shortage.”

There is more snow-related devastation to report on, this time right here in the mid-west. Yet almost no one has heard about it. I can see why there was so little press about the dzud in Mongolia, but this is happening right here in our own backyard. I don’t want to pull the race card, but being a card-carrying member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, I fell like I have to call a spade a spade.

The news here in America is tiered according to race. When white children disappear, it makes the cover of Newsweek. When black children die in inner-cities, it barely makes the 6 o’clock news. And when thousands of Native Americans are left without power (heat), food and water, no one speaks at all. Scott Peterson got how much news coverage? How many unsolved murders were there that year?

Yes, I’m white. But that doesn’t mean that I want my news and information white-washed for me. Native Americans have suffered more than any other racial/ethnic group in the history of this continent, and they continue to be marginalized. I’m not one of those people who gets pissed off because there’s an NHL team in Chicago called “The Blackhawks”. But was does irk me is how my ancestor’s entire history, culture, and contribution to the world we live in today has been white-washed and almost completely written out of the history books. I’m also not one of those people who is going to get pissed off because you supported people in Haiti when they were in need. Compassion is compassion, and turning charity into a polarizing, fodder-for-more-partisianship mechanism is reckless and misguided. I’m all for helping out our fellow humans when we are in need, regarless of geography. But I will ask that you at least acknowledge the need right here in our own backyard.

Our culture is dying, our languages are fading away, our history has been all but lost to the great textbook publishers in Texas. Please don’t let our people suffer the same fate. You can donate to the local Red Cross here.

Cheers.

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Please Help Haiti

International Response Fund

If you are able to give anything at all, please do.

Elephant Journal also has a great list of links, as does John at Zen Dirt as well as Nick at ItsJustLight that all point in the direction of aid and relief for those that are suffering so much now.

Do what you can, even if all you can do is spread the word to help.

Cheers.

Update: The Tzu Chi Foundation is there in Haiti now. I didn’t know this type of Buddhist organization existed. They could use our help!

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Connected to Nothing. On the Human Condition: Part 3

Remember getting a letter in the mail? An actual, honest-to-god hand written letter? I can remember getting letters from my cousins who lived in Virginia (I was a youth in Michigan at the time). It was this really exciting feeling, like Christmas was delivered to my mailbox. I’d open the letter, and pour over every word and sentence three or four times, just to make sure I wouldn’t forget anything. And I’d have that same feeling when writing back to my cousin about whatever it was that I felt he needed to know. Strangely, I don’t feel quite the same way when I open my email.

 For human interaction, it’s all about communication. Something like 80% or more of our method of communication is non-verbal. A subtle raise of the eyebrow, a shift in one’s step, a blushed cheek. We pick up on these things consciously as well as unconsciously. It’s the twinkle in a loved one’s eye when you’ve knocked them head over heels. It’s what makes our human interactions so…. human.

 We use thousands of words a day to express how we feel, let others know what we’re thinking, ask directions, get help, create emotional bonds. Words move us, hurt us, connect us, uplift us and confuse us.

 Social interaction is hard wired into our beings. We are social mammals, and that is something we simply can’t escape. What Darwinian purpose does it serve? Is it to provide family structures in which to procreate and raise healthy, intelligent youth? Is it to protect the pack? Simple betterment of society? Maybe it’s sole purpose is to remind us that we are human, that we are all humans bouncing around this blue ball in the solar system.

 For our most hardened, violent criminals, what do we do with them? We lock them away from society. That is their punishment. It’s not so much that they are in jail, as much as it is that they don’t get to belong to society anymore. And for the worst of the worst? Solitary confinement. That’s the ultimate punishment. To be locked away even from the makeshift Lord of the Flies society of prison. No one to talk to for days, weeks, months at a time. This is by far the worst punishment one could endure in a civil society. Personally, I find it to be much, much worse than capital punishment. Death is no punishment. There is nothing in death.

  So okay, we know that to remain connected to humanity, we use language and communication and all other kinds of interaction. It’s vitally important to establishing and maintaining any sort of society, even in the animal kingdoms. Yadda yadda yadda…..where am I going with all of this?

 Well, I’m certainly not alone in saying that we’ve become disconnected as a society. I’m not the first, and I’m not the last. But it’s not just that we’re becoming disconnected as a society. We’re becoming disconnected from humanity, and what it means to be a human.

 You can see this standing in line at Starbucks, the way people don’t want to look at each other, the way they all see each other as competition for who gets their coffee first. You can see it in futbol matches, when friendly competition turns into a soccer hooligan Guinness/rage-fueled street riot. You can see it at the recent town hall meetings with demonstrators drawing comparisons between Obama and Hitler. It’s become less about being a part of society connected to other people, and more about “I’ll do what I want because I feel like it”.

 But no where is the disconnect more apparent than right here on the interwebs. We create avatars and handles and nicknames for ourselves in an attempt to hide behind anonymity. We’d rather be catlover67453 than Deb or John. It’s much easier to disregard civility when you’re no longer you, and you aren’t communicating with an actual human. We use vulgarity, “SHOUT” at each other, demean others, and generally act like a pack of starving wolves.

 I try not to use extreme examples, as I think they tend to do more harm than good, and lead to people focusing on an abstract example rather than the point at hand. But in this case, I’ll break my code. When slavery was everyday practice here in America, it was easily justified because Blacks were viewed as less than human. Hitler and the Nazis convinced scores of people that the Jews and Gypsies and Homosexuals and all those killed during the Holocaust were somehow less than human. We’ve started to do it now to the illegal immigrants coming from Latin America. It’s an extremely hard thing for a normal, well adjusted person to go off and kill a fellow human being. It goes against our nature. But when made to believe that the person we’re killing is somehow not human, or less than human, it’s suddenly not so difficult.

 Obviously, no one is killing each other over the Internet. But the dehumanization is there. When we’re talking to other words on a page with a funny icon of a monkey smelling his poo, it’s easy to tell that icon to go fuck itself. It’s easy to tell it that it’s whole belief system is stupid and childish. It’s easy to it that it’s lifestyle is an abomination. There’s no reason to be civil with a web page.

There’s a reason people don’t talk like this in the grocery store. Part of it is out of respect for others. Some are more shy in public. But mostly it’s due to the connection. When we’re all in a grocery store, even if we’re not talking to each other, we can feel that connection to each other. It’s a part of us. You can’t deny it. You might judge the person next to you at the meat counter, but you still feel that connection to them. You wouldn’t call them an asshole if they happened to make a comment on the health care system that you didn’t agree with. But it’s so easy to when it’s done in an Internet forum or on a comment section on a blog post. And it’s because of the disconnect.

 So why is that we treat others with such disrespect once we’ve disconnected? I mean, I get why we treat each other so well when we do feel that interconnectedness. But why act so irrational otherwise? Maybe it’s because that when we disconnect from society, what we’re really doing is detaching ourselves from our own humanity. And when that humanity is lost, our animal nature is all that is left. Or maybe it’s an empty version of ourselves. Maybe it’s holdover primal hunter mentality from our early selves. No round edges, no soft gentle embraces, no loving kindness. Something else takes over, and tells us that it’s okay to treat others like garbage, like prey, like something that isn’t human.

 Don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet. I blog, I use Facebook, Failblog, Netflix, and all kinds of other wonderful (and time wasting) web pages. I’ve learned so much using it. There are millions and millions of resources here to utilize. Information is being shared in a way never before seen. It’s creating a global community. But we have to ask ourselves what type of community we want to create. Is it going to be one in which we continue to devalue each other and each other’s thoughts/feelings? Will it be one in which we continue to hide behind anonymity, lashing out at anyone with an opinion different than our own? Will it be one in which we continue to disconnect from our humanity? Or will we foster an environment that embraces and makes an effort to connect humans in a more positive way? I certainly hope the latter. It’s really up to us, right now. I challenge anyone with an anonymous handle out there to start using their real name. Put up a picture of yourself. Start addressing people by name. Start connecting to the other people out there, rather than the other avatars.

So back to my first point, about the handwritten letter. Why was it that the letter was something to cherish, something so special while my email isn’t? I think part of it was the effort that went into writing the letter. And someone wrote the letter to me, a human. My cousin knew that I would open the letter by hand, sit there and read it line for line. I suppose it’s one of those things I can’t quite put my finger on, but you know what I mean. There’s something special about good old fashion human interaction. Cheers.

 Oh, and because I love solutions to problems, here’s something from Cracked.com

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An invalid response to life and death. On The Human Condition: part 2

This is part 2 of a series, and I think it would be best to read the first post first, or else you might have no idea what I’m talking about. Also, sorry if this one jumps around a bit.

 Religion. There, I said it. You better man your battle stations, put your earplugs in, your blinders on, and close your mind at once; because I just mentioned religion on the interwebs. Of course if you read the first post, you’d know that I’m going to be exploring religion from the human perspective, not a Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, Pagan, Pantheist, Wiccan, Hindu or any other perspective.

So, from the human standpoint, why religion? Why did we begin turning to religion in the first place? Some will tell you that it was a way to assign meaning to the seasons, lightning, floods, earthquakes, the moon; to explain all of the natural phenomenon that early man took notice of. I don’t believe this to be valid. As I see it, religion was based out of a response to living as a human. To life and death on this planet. This is where the seed of religion was planted and cultivated. 

So what? Big deal, right? No, not so much. If religion is based out of a response to living life as a human, and experiencing death as a human, we must evaluate our present belief systems on that criteria first and foremost. In essence, is your religion (or lack thereof) a valid response to living life as a human? Does it fit with everything we now know about life on this planet?

 A little background on me. Once upon a time, I was a Lutheran. Good church, nice people, wonderful pastor. A very laid back congregation. None of the fire and brimstone fear mongering. I went to Sunday Bible School and such as a youth. I even sang in the youth choir. I went through all the motions, did my best to believe. But even from a young age I remember something nagging at me about it all. For a brief time, I went to a Baptist church because my ex-stepmother pretty much forced us to. This was the fire and brimstone, brainwash ’em when they’re young brand of Christianity. I hated it. I also hated how they made me feel as an outsider. Thankfully, that didn’t last too long. We went back to my former church, and things were better. Mind you, we only went maybe twice a month or so. Religion wasn’t a huge thing in my family. 

Well, somewhere around 13-16 or so (can’t remember, too many raging hormones) I really started to take a look at the whole God thing. It started making less and less sense to me. In fact, it started to become quite ridiculous. The creation story, the flood story, angels, devils, the plagues. I looked at the myths of ancient Greece and Egypt, looked at the Bible, and then it hit me. I had been punk’d. It was all a sham. It was a bunch of silly nonsense that people spoon fed me and forced me to believe in. So, I stopped going. I suppose this was my atheist/agnostic period.

 Later, I fell in love with a beautiful and wonderful debil worshipping (at least that’s what the fundies would say) pagan/Buddhist spiritual woman and it really all started to go down hill 😉 yadda yadda yadda fast forward to today. Today, I consider myself a non-traditional pantheist and umm… dare I actually say it…. a Buddhist. I suppose that’s something I’ll have to get used to. Weird.

 So back to the response. Why do I feel that Christianity is no longer a valid response to life as a human? Well, part of it has to do with Science. Science provides conclusions based on evidence. Science is not static. It admits when it is wrong, and changes in conclusions happen when new evidence is presented. Science has explained our evolution into homo sapiens. Science has explained what makes the stars glow, the planets go ’round, the birds sing and the floods rise. The more we learn about this emergent universe, the fewer places there are for God to hide. When we start to realize this, we can begin to realize that it isn’t any god that controls our lives and deaths, and in fact we have been in control the whole time. And if we are in control of our lives and our deaths, what use do we have for God? 

If we seek God out of comfort, what does that say about our relationship with each other? Have we become that distant, that separated from our human nature that we can’t find comfort in each other? Again, God is not needed, nor warranted in this situation. We should be looking toward each other for comfort, for help. We should find solace in our interconnectedness, but we have forgotten that we are connected at all. We should be able to ask our neighbor to borrow a wrench, but we don’t. And when we are asked by that neighbor for a favor, we tend not to trust him. The reasons for this are mainly fear based, and I feel that’s another post altogether.

 There is of course, death and the great unknown. We all like to believe that we live on after death. But that’s all that it is, a belief. A wish in the wind. Because everything we know about organic matter says that we cease to be when brain function stops. Now, I’d like to believe that some part of me lives on after this point, that what I am right now is just a brief splash in the eternal river that is me, that there is no end to the flow, and that I’ll continue on in another direction. But who knows? And what good does it do to speculate? Again, does it matter to how you live your life right now? 

So we construct a God that gives us a concrete choice of heaven or hell. Believe or don’t believe. Weird. So, in order to get an eternal afterlife of bliss, all I have to do is have blind faith in something? Sweet! Sign me up! ….. Actually, I gave up fairy tales a long time ago. The truth is there is no heaven or hell. Heaven and hell are merely a reward and punishment system set up to further a belief system that is no longer valid in this emergent universe. My only guess as to why it keeps on perpetuating itself in the face of a mountain of evidence that contradicts it’s history and origins and existence is that comfort example I talked about earlier. 

It’s comforting to know that those around you believe the same as you. People of like mind tend to flock together. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with with this. Some people like mint chocolate chip ice cream, and some don’t. No biggie. But what’s different about a flock of Christians is that when confronted with the fact that their God is no where to be found in this Universe, they have their group and their group mentality to support them. No one wants to be wrong. The ego can’t handle being wrong. The ego has set up a specific reality for you, and anything that shakes that reality off it’s hinges could mean the death of the ego. So it finds solace in being surrounded by those that believe as you do. Call it mob syndrome, mass hysteria or whatever. When there is a mob of people together, they (in their minds) can do no wrong. And if the mob is right, the ego can be stroked into complicity.

 There is also that whole “fear of the unknown” thing as well. Though I think that ties in more nicely with the inability of most to admit that they are wrong, or that they don’t know. Curiosity didn’t just kill the cat. Curiosity unchecked has killed plenty of humans as well. We have this need, this hunger to know everything. We are terrible at keeping secrets, and even worse at letting others keep theirs. We must know everything, and we must know it now! I’m not sure why it is that we can’t leave things as simply “I don’t know”. As far as the origins of the Universe are concerned, I’m happy saying “I don’t know”. As far as what happens in the afterlife, I’m also happy saying “I don’t know”. Because in the end, all of that has nothing to do with what happens in the now.

  If you were given absolute proof that Thor or Allah or Zeus or any of the other 2500+ gods out there existed, how would it change your life? How would your day change? Would you order a different $5 foot long for lunch today? Would you love your spouse more or less? Would you quit your job? Would it change how you suffer?

 Of course not. It really wouldn’t change much of anything. It would have little to no impact on day to day life, and have very little impact on this moment. And that is all we have. And that is why I feel that monotheistic religions (especially Christianity- from my experience) are no longer valid responses to life as a human here on this beautiful planet Earth.

 So why do I feel that Buddhism is a valid response? That can be found in the major doctrine of Buddhism; The Four Noble Truths. They are –and this is paraphrased, probably badly– 

1. That as a result of being born, you will encounter suffering.

2. Suffering is caused by our craving/attachments, delusion, and greed.

3. That there is a way to end suffering by ending our attachments, delusion and greed.

4. The way to end suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path (which I’ve already covered)

 There are plenty of translations on the 4 Noble Truths, so I tried to keep them as general as possible. If I really screwed them up, let me know. But don’t nitpick.

 So that’s all I have to say on this for now. Sorry it’s been so long since my last post, but I really wanted to give this one a little time. I hope that when you read this, you’ll re-evaluate your belief system, and really try and discover whether or not it is a valid response to life as a human. Until then, cheers. 

*As always, I fully admit I could be wrong about any of this. The Buddha also advised against divisive speech. I realize this, and if this does cause any suffering, I apologize. I’m not calling your world view invalid. Just that for me, I believe that this particular world view is no longer valid when we take into account present knowledge.

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I, Me, and Mine. On The Human Condition: Part 1

Long post alert!!

 

Over there on my profile, you’ll see that “I’m currently exploring life from the human perspective.” You’ll notice that I didn’t say Buddhist, Father, Caucasian, Home Brewer, Brother, Worker Bee or any other label that could be applied to me. That was on purpose. I feel that viewing life through the Human filter is tough enough before adding all of those additional filters, and I want to now examine some things as part of the Human Condition series. I also want to look at the implications and consequences of being born as a human.

 Why is it important to view life as a human first? Well, that’s the one thing we all have in common. We are all one particular species on this planet. Through evolution we have come to be a dominant surface-dwelling mammal. We are tool-users. We have fragile bodies. We use written and oral language as well as body language to communicate with one another. I could go on and on here, but the one thing to really keep in mind is our status as social mammals.

 We’ve always been social creatures. Even in our rough hunter-gatherer days we roamed in communal social structures. We hunted as a pack, ate as a pack, moved as a pack. We looked out for each other, for there was strength in numbers. No one man could take down a Mammoth by himself. He needed the help of others. Women shared in the responsibility of raising the youth. All of this mutual responsibility benefited the entire community and not just the individual, though the impact on the individual is quite obvious. When everyone did their part, things ran smoothly. People ate, were able to defend themselves, and were able to look after others (as well as be looked after themselves).

This worked well for awhile. But then we got tired of the nomadic life and decided to start farming instead. Why chase the food when you can just grow it? Now a few people could work at planting and maintaining the crops. A few could hunt for meat and fish. A few could look after the children. And then there were the specialists. With the ability to live where you worked/ate/hunted, a few specialists in every community were able to start advancing society. Fletchers, metal smiths, carvers, pottery makers and all other sorts of tools and inventions started springing up. And not just your basic arrow or spear. Now we could actually take the time and make it right, and not have them break all the damn time. This made for extremely efficient hunting, which lessened the burden of this task considerably. Farming tools were also springing up, making that process faster and more efficient. And all these tools were used to benefit the community. I’ll make you those arrows, because I know you’ll use them to bring us all back some boar meat. See how that works?

Everyone felt an underlying responsibility to everyone else. This was true communism in action. Ahh!!! He said the “C” word!!! Yes, I did. But I’m talking about communism here, not a Marxist-Lenin state, nor a totalitarian regime. Communism is as simple as I explained above. It’s when people all come together and do their part for the greater good. It’s part of that social mammal wiring we have. It’s natural to care about your fellow man, and be willing to do what it takes to help him out. 

So what the fuck happened? Where did that sense of responsibility to your fellow man wander off to? I have to think that maybe it all started back when we began using an arbitrary currency in place of real goods. For some reason we started to value our personal possessions above the well being of our fellow man. We’d rather have more gold than make sure our neighbors all had a decent dinner that night. This is when the whole “I, me and mine” mentality started taking over. People started fearing the consequences of not having enough currency or possessions, so they felt that they must hold on to them at whatever the cost, and endeavor to gain as much as possible no matter the consequences. This is when “Personal Liberty” started to take a turn for the worse.

 Let’s flash forward to today. We no longer view life through the human filter. We view it through the American, Atheist, White, Male, Pro-Gun, Libertarian filter. Or the Canadian, Asian, Bi-lingual, Buddhist, Conservative, Pro-Life filter. That’s a lot of filters. How does one sort through all of those and still stay connected to the fact that above all they are human? Answer: they don’t. The human experience is no longer of value. It is the libertarian approach of “I, me and mine” that has separated us from that interconnectedness that we used to feed off of. We used to feel a responsibility to take care of our fellow man. Now it is only about personal wealth and individual liberties. There are still plenty of Americans that would not pay a little more in taxes to ensure their fellow human beings were able to be cared for. I find this to be appalling. 

I know that the Buddha said that suffering comes from our attachments to that which is impermanent. I totally agree. But I think there is something else transpiring as well. Our society is out of line with what it should be. Our society used to be a communal one. Our society is now full of people only looking out for themselves, creating huge amounts of disparity. The poor are getting poorer. Our education system is no longer doing an adequate job of educating our youth. We have a health care system that puts health care behind making a profit. It used to be that all of the specialists worked together for the common good. Arrows were made better so that all would be able to eat. Now people make guns and arrows to make a profit. Food is raised for a profit. The monetary system has replaced the human system.

  I believe it is vital that we re-establish our connection to our human nature. The gap between rich and poor will only continue to increase while our current system is in place. The suffering increased throughout the world will only increase as long as we stay disconnected from each other in a society of consumers. We protest outside of abortion clinics about how precious human life is, but those same protesters do nothing for their neighbors, or those that are living in the world and suffering from the disconnect. Are the homeless not worth their efforts? What of the BILLION+ people in the world without access to clean water? Are their lives not precious?

 I believe that the words of the Buddha are able to help everyone, and are vital to not only our happiness, but also to our survival as a species. But I believe that with the current state of our monetary based “I, me, mine” approach to life, it will take more than that to bring harmony into the world. I believe that we need to stop filtering our view of the world through such petty lenses. I believe that a major key to our happiness is to start by coming from the standpoint of a human, and work from there. Cheers.

 

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