When things go wrong in my world, my Irish temper flares. After decades of practice in the tradition I currently call my path, the repercussions are only ripples instead of tsunamis, but they are effects and are therefore karmic in nature even if much less so than in the past. For those who find karma a difficult concept, I offer a simplistic, but useful for me, working definition of “causes have effects.” This may be a philosophical statement as used here, but I believe it is also reflected in one of the Laws of Thermodynamics.I have not yet reached the stage of passivity, which is the other extreme of aggression and it is not where I want to be anyway. This is another beautiful example of the middle way. It embraces the concept of wrath used as an appropriate skillful means in dealing with arisings in life. Wrath to me is like purified anger, stripped of personalities and politics. It is the root, the very core, the clear vision of the point being realized from which the appropriate response (if any) evolves and is made manifest in action applied with wisdom. This requires a great deal of processing, but it does not necessarily imply being a doormat or a smoldering time bomb. It is the practice of seeing something arise, recognizing it has touched my sensory apparatus, becoming familiar with it by experiencing it and then arriving at realization of its true essence. At this point the need, or lack thereof becomes evident. I no longer feel the need to be a “yes” factory to avoid differences of opinion. Expression of opinion does not necessarily require a combative engagement. It is my responsibility as I see it, to voice what I feel is important to be aired. I do not intend my opinions to be regarded as laws or truth, simply the best perceptions I can offer of how the arising appears to me and what I believe is an appropriate response. Sometimes the response is forthright and clearly a statement of fact as I perceive it. sometimes it is an alternative, one of many I expect to be discussed before consensus is reached. I do not believe in the tyranny of either the minority (as evidenced in the filibustering of the right-wing extremists in Congress forcing super majorities on every issue brought to the floor) or the majority, which denies the worth of the minority opinions. I believe in cooperation, concession and compromise, for the good of all. Power brokers or elitists may view themselves as having superior knowledge or capacities, but I have not found this to be a direct correlation in my life experience. I have yet to meet an infallible human being, and I include the person who stares back at me from my mirror. Infallible would be boring actually. As they used to say of Mussolini. If you want the trains to run on time, install a fascist to make it happen. It may be the most efficient governmental form, but it is certainly subject to abuses of such proportion they dwarf the positive aspects that might be derived from it. This is why Buddha’s teaching of the middle way is so brilliant. It has an infinite number of lanes. One is free to move to the right or the left of the relative center, but the ditches on either side represent the dangers of excess. There is room for all. The question in my mind is why do some insist that one lane and one lane only is the way itself?
This week I have had another reinforcement of my view that belonging to groups is inherently a bad idea for me. No matter how I try I seem to be unable to embrace membership in a group without acquiring expectations that everyone is there with the same goals. In my simplistic view, groups come together because of some common element. It is my misfortune to believe that successful groups work together for a common good – hence the term community. Unfortunately no group with whom I have been associated over six decades has met those ideals. I admit the fault lies with me and with my having expectations to begin with, so I have resolved to work with the groups I support but not be of the group. This may sound a bit isolationist or in some eyes elitist, but it is the only way I can maintain my enthusiasm for the project and not get mired in the morass of counting paperclips in the accounting office of the Titanic. The groups I have joined over six decades have all had one thing in common at some point in their rise and fall, a mentality at the top of “my way or the highway,” so I find groups by their very nature to be divisive. I find they do much more harm than good. No group of people I have ever known could survive over the long-term regardless of the worthiness of the aspirations. It is the nuts and bolts that brings the fall every time.
Being somewhat compulsively orderly and uninspired by power over others, I prefer to be given a task with the authority to carry it through. Being given the task of herding cats, is impossible and I would not take it on, but even herding cattle, the cowboy must be allowed to do his job, which is his specialty. If I am in the main house writing the history of the West, I am too far removed from the bunk house to take an active hand in the actual administration of the cattle on the range. That is why I hire a Foreman AND give the authority to use his judgment and my resources, which I have allotted to that purpose. Groups do not work this way. Someone is always second guessing decisions even if you can find someone to make one. When there is no delineated carefully defined and accepted chain of command, there is chaos and disruption. The manager who gives authority then takes offense at not being consulted on the color of frosting on the cake at the annual picnic, needs to get a grip.
Believe it or not, I am trying to make a point here. Groups create divisions in the larger community. It creates a natural hierarchy, which is to be expected. It is only when exclusivity and power is taken too personally that troubles begin. If you hire someone to do a job, let them do it and give them time to do it before cutting them loose. If nobody dies in the process, if there has been no fraud perpetrated, if there is no illegal activity that might reflect badly on the group, there is nothing that cannot be remedied. Discovering that decisions have been made that you were not informed about is not cause for termination. Expectations that an Administrator will make your coffee and do your bidding, is unrealistic and demeaning to both parties. In corporate venues there are carefully defined territories, protected by vicious guardians formerly known as Executive Secretaries. In a social group this should not be necessary, but is all too often a functioning aspect of the structure. My resolve to join no more groups, ever, is a good one for me. I will not impose expectations on others and I will not be appalled by the mean-spirited nature of some who would have you believe they know better. In this day and age all to much of what I read seems to reflect the growing chasm between us all. Maybe, like the galaxies in the universe, the space between each of us is expanding
Perhaps you would like to join in occasionally in the practice of being aware in the present moment.
Take a few moments to
1. just sit
2. just breath
3. just be
Having begun a project, it is difficult to realize that your aspirations outstrip your capacities and inclinations at present. This is the same no matter what project is under discussion. At the start of any endeavor, there will be a learning curve. Sometimes, if you live long enough, this actually comes as a surprise occasionally. Having spent 60 years learning how to learn and accomplishing it with increasingly greater ease, there is an occasional newness that defies the old patterns. I have had two such events over the last years, one more spiritual, one technological. The technological is newest and is by far the most difficult because it must be learned and remembered. The spiritual was more unlearning or letting go and experiencing the freedom and what things looked like from that perspective, no rules to learn, just learning how to let go and be present rather than day dreaming my way through life thinking how I thought it should be instead of how it is. The technological is its diametric opposite where my view of the way things are needs programming and multiple languages to support its continued functioning. I have a broad view of how I want things to be, so maybe it is not so different after all, but instead of letting go, simplifying and just experiencing, I feel like I am constantly pounding square pegs into round holes trying to construct rather than dismantle. Will I ever learn enough to feel comfortable just doing something and watching it process? I am amazed at the facility with which programmers look at a page of code and immediately see the difficulty. But I am not so baffled by the process in the non-techno realm, so I guess we each have our strengths. I intend to persevere in both learning curves, but I fear the programming side will remain more of a mystery to me than the ineffable. Truth is often stranger than fiction.
Knowing my limitations is not a defeatist attitude, it is simply reality. Being aware of what is is my constant goal, so that fits right in. No goals, no expectations, just living, doing the best I can and relaxing in that centered feeling without regret or remorse. Not a bad aspiration for a life well lived !
The thing I see most in the news and in the relationships acted out in public is anger that has already progressed beyond being a natural emotion, to hatred which is anger moving toward action. Anger can help me see the problem if I stop to look at what it is I am angry about. In many cases, my initial identification of the problem is not even close to the real source. Getting to the root of it all takes longer, but it gives me a much better opportunity to face the real root cause and deal with it. If, on the other hand, I am a vengeful, loose cannon, I could as we have seen in recent days shoot first and ask questions later. This is NOT the way to live. Hatred and fear feed on each other and grow stronger and stronger. The way to stop the destructive growth is to cut off the fuel supply to the fire itself. That is where people must face their own problems instead of playing the blame game. Blaming someone or something else is not an answer, it is an excuse. It may even be a legitimate reason or cause. If it is, that is a starting point, but not the solution. Pulling at all of the tentacles of hatred and unravelling the mess until the heart of the anger is revealed takes different amounts of work depending on how deeply engrained the hatred has become. It is a process I think is critical to each individual’s survival and their own well being beyond just survival. Hatred consumes a lot of fuel and demands a great deal of energy to keep it hot and fired up. This is a role played by the hate radio and political name calling and shameless duplicity. Lies are easier to find than truth these days, but maybe it has always been that way. I believe, personally, I should start this movement to living well by attempting to do so myself. Unless actually engaged as a storyteller for the entertainment of an audience, I am going to do my best to tell without embellishment. Truth is often stranger than fiction, so the truth should be enough. I do not consider this a mandate to go forth and be brutally honest about every single thought that passes through my monkey mind. There are always things that do not need to be said at all. My grandmother, and I’m sure perhaps your own used to say “If you cannot say something nice, do not say anything at all.” I would replace nice with helpful just to allow it to come into the workplace where nice is seen as weakness and dealt with accordingly. Helpful includes saying the difficult things when necessary because they are helpful and true. This mandate I can incorporate with “do no harm knowingly” and still live a productive, yes, and even competitive life. If I remember that competition implies winners and losers,( even though I would prefer cooperation, but that seems to be completely out of fashion,) I will settle for competition that recognizes up front that no one wins every time and that is OK.
It is time to put aside childish things (it is after April Fool’s Day) and work on making my life a good one, one day at a time.
Almost every political movement ends up with a rallying cry that echoes through the ages and defines their moment in the spotlight. god, guns and greed seems to be such a cry for the religious right in the 2012 USA. As unbelievable as this trio of seemingly unlikely bedfellows, that my friends is politics, the maker of strange bedfellows. The role of a deity has often been used to gather people together under the banner of supposed righteousness. I often wonder if there were a real deity, what would it think of the use of its authority by those who manipulate the believers unrighteous purposes. I do sometimes think that the leaders of the religious masses know there is no deity and can therefore do as they like in terms of instilling fear in those they have convinced to believe in such a fantasy. Fear is a great motivator. I wonder if this is because the self-preservation aspect of the biological nature of man, the animal, still trumps any compassionate socialization evolution that has occurred. I have no evidence to support this, but the whole idea of a society run by fear, funded by greed and enforced by guns is a lousy way to live. If there ever were a deity, it would have abandoned the planet long ago as a lost cause, unless the sadistic streak was the stronger motivator. As I look at the evidence of the climate change that is mounting, and has been deemed irreversible by some in the scientific community, perhaps the abandonment is occurring as we live and breathe. I have to admit, I prefer to live without deities in my cosmology. They are pretty much irrelevant to me personally. If they help, truly help people to cope with their lives, then by all means I would support their choice for themselves.
The difficulty, as I see it, in this current age is that the coping strategies available to those who are in need of assistance are being eliminated by the self-righteous. The deity only helps those who first help themselves so they don’t need any help. Something is wrong with this picture, as far as I can see. Those who are in need of a helping hand, or an ear to listen, or a shoulder to lean on for a bit while they face a challenge are not weak, they are not possessed by an equally fictitious satanic force. They are sick, injured, hurting, grieving or just plain lost in confusion. Where do these people turn? certainly not to the Christian right whose motto of god, guns and greed holds little or no comfort for the distressed. What coping skills e in these home school extreme right-wing homes? All too often it is the rule of the jealous deity, the greed of get what you can and the explosive finality of the gun.
Reason, empathy, caring for others are seen as socialist ideals. The man Jesus would have been confused and dismayed by such thinking and acting. He was a social worker of the most unconditionally wise and caring model. One might well ask where has he gone? More importantly, when did the rule of fear replace the civilization of community?
I don’t know how many of you are professional teachers or just teachers because of common humanity, which leads to elder helping younger learn, but we all teach in our own way. The most amazing thing is that ,by helping someone else see what I think I know, I end up learning more than I teach. It is a clarification of my own thoughts that organizes and presents ideas in a sequence that I hope will be helpful in answering the question posed to me that does it for me.
Just recently I experienced one of those moments when my sense of common ground was challenged quite subtly. I was reading an article for a friend to see if there were any editorial mistakes. What I found was more revealing of my preconceptions than of spelling or typographical slips. We had not been friends for eons, but I sensed a commonality right from the start. In reality the foundation of our belief systems were not even in the same area code, but that was not what surprised me. The words we used were often the same, but the underlying construct made their meanings totally different. Fortunately we both realized at the same tim e that if we were to work together to produce a cohesive article, we would have to understand each other better, not just the words, but the intent or expectation that would result. We needed to share were we were coming from to get where we wanted to go. It was a matter of reframing my view to incorporate those elements that I could and be honest to my own way of being and discuss those I found unhelpful to me personally or more broadly those that did not mesh with our common goal as I perceived it to be. I had to realize that what was so clear to me might never have occurred to someone with a completely different background. That was great. We worked together to a common goal addressing our differences to reach that common ground. It is rarely just the differences of viewpoint that create serious problems, it is the attachment or aversion to what these viewpoints mean to the self concept beyond their “absolute value” that creates the difficulty.
Starting from the real point of the question and working from there allows the different understandings to be heard, discussed and brought together in a solution that works to the greatest benefit. Very few things are perfect in this world of yours or mine. If we find more of the yours and mine being ours in the long run here on this tiny planet, we see the totally familiar in a brand new light through someone else’s eyes in working together solving problems rather than creating them.