On the porch with coffee early this late July morning the valley is still; even the blue jay who comes to instigate an argument in the cedars gives up for lack of opposition and leaves me in silence. The past days have produced a surfeit of input which churns inchoately within.
Now the impulse forms to connect the bits together, to find the common thread and draw it through, to find the plot of the story there and arrange it until it is orderly and coherent, and arrange it in a sequence of words – nothing more, really, than a personalized totem of gathered bits of feather and bone – which make sense to me.
The first piece concerns a poster circulating widely on the internet featuring a quote attributed to the Dalai Lama. That quote has been on my mind of late. It’s a great quote and very wise and true. It says,
“When asked what surprised him about humanity the most, the Dalai Lama replied:
“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
I wanted to learn more about the sentiment expressed and so I sought a further context for it. I thought it would be helpful to find the interview or work in which it first appeared. I discovered another side to this quote, a cautionary tale about the validity of info on the internet which reminds us all that it’s up to each of us to examine and question and verify the validity of “facts” we all too often assume are true but prove to be artful misrepresentations of fact.
The actual author behind the sentiment of this quote is a fellow named Jim Brown. Through an odd chain of events his work took form on the net as represented above. When he found out what had happened he graciously allowed that while not thrilled with the circumstances, “If God can use it, then so be it.” Mr. Brown died in 2002. A reminder to us all that there are anonymous (and magnanimous) sages everywhere. Here is the original work:
I dreamed I had an interview with God.
“So you would like to interview me?” God asked. “If you have the time”, I said … God Smiled.
“My time is eternity, … what questions do you have in mind for me?”
“What surprises you most about humankind?”
“That they get bored with childhood, they rush to grow up and then long to be children again”
“That they lose their health to make money and then lose their money to restore their health.”
“That by thinking anxiously about the future, that they forget the present, such that they live neither in the present or the future.”
“That they live as if they will never die and die as if they had never lived.”
God’s hand took mine and we were silent for a while. And then I asked.
“As a parent, what are some of life’s lessons that you want your children to learn?”
God replied with a smile.
“To learn they cannot make anyone love them, what they can do is let themselves be loved.”
“To learn that it is not good to compare themselves to other.”
“To learn that a rich person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least.”
“To learn that it only takes a few seconds to open profound wounds in persons we love and it takes many years to heal them.”
“To learn to forgive by practicing forgiveness.”
“To learn that there are persons who love them dearly, but simply do not know how to express or show their feelings.”
“To learn that two people can look at the same thing and see it differently.”
‘To learn that it is not always enough that they be forgiven by others, but that they must forgive themselves.”
“And to learn that I am here … ALWAYS.”
James J. Lachard (Jim Brown)
This account can be found at Center for Global Leadership.
The next bit circulating in my mind of late is about karma, and the links of the karmic chain which bind us to samsara, the suffering which the world offers to us. It begins with an extension of something I observed another person do. Later I thought, “Wow. That’s something I’ve never seen before. That person just formed a karmic link, tethering themselves to a source of suffering and setting up the whole karmic cycle of getting back what they’ve chained themselves to over and over again…” The thought cut through all the complexity I associate with karma and attachment and personal perspective and self-fulfilling manifestations of belief which contribute to suffering.
A grandchild, rebuffed in seeking to play with his independent little sister, wails, “You never want to play with me!” And I feel compelled to offer him a way to free him of this superlative prison, to avert him from this hammer-blow at the forge which will help form the karmic link which attaches him to separation and suffering. I say, “Hey, wait a minute. She doesn’t want to play with you now, but she has played with you lots of times, and she’ll play with you lots more times, too, right?” He allows that this is so, but I can see the link has formed. He is separated from her now, and by extension from all, and will suffer for it in the returns from his belief.
It’s simple. What we believe in is what forms our suffering and/or our happiness. Until we cease to believe in the link, we are chained to suffering by it.
Until we exercise a positive denial of its usefulness and reality; until we regret and repent of our attachment to it; until we rely upon the truth of compassion which is within us and which is the essence of our existence; until we engage in virtuous activity which produces true satisfaction and happiness; and until we resolve to be vigilant in our own ways and means for all these things – we will be chained to the sufferings our own mistaken beliefs keep us fastened to, and which are visited upon us over and over again.
Another piece circulating in mind of late concerns the putative quote (above) which has become attributed to the Dalai Lama. It resonates in me as a sad, reflective feeling when I observe the way many people live their lives. When I behold their ways and means, their lives appear to be afflicted with, and dominated by, an empty busyness characterized by pursuit, and struggle.
I think this busyness of pursuit and struggle results from attachments to religion, cultural mores, societal ideology, political affiliation and personal, self-centric desires. These things fill the experience of contemporary humanity with self-perpetuating rings upon rings upon rings of busyness.
The karmic link to busyness is the strongest link of our time. It is composed of a multitude of small attachments formed by the current propagandas of complexly evolved institutions of society, culture and religion. We are taught these attachments in our families and our schools, and they are enforced and perpetuated in our social experience.
I sense the eternal way and focus of humanity has been lost somehow, and replaced with a multitude of ways and perspective points which perpetuate busyness and ignore realization of the spirit within all.
Back at the desk after a short adjournment to the porch to gather my thoughts into hopefully better words. On the porch the jay returned, chiding me for a moment, and then flew away, leaving the valley still again and slowly filling with the morning sun.
The chiding brings forth a reflection of me, of what I am doing, a reminder that it would be best to rest rather than chatter and chide, to let myself fill with peace and warmth and light rather than concern myself with this needle and thread I am playing with, with this stringing together of things better left to be as they are. Yet there is an irritating mote here, something accreting around it, and I will see it through.
I can be wrong, and so I have become vigilant about my perspective and whether or not I am being nearsighted when I look at something. The closer we are to what we see, the less is seen. It’s the old choice: when you look at the whole parade, are you seeing it through a knothole or looking at it over the top of the fence?
A recent study about Americans affiliated with the Tea Party determined that certain parts of their belief system, reflected in their politics as a lack of understanding of the circumstances of persons who were not considered “successful,” was due to a mistaken assumption that all people are afforded the same social and economic and educational opportunities and if a person does not succeed in America it is because they are lazy or inadequate or in some other way undeserving of compassionate regard. This mistaken assumption had at its root a myopic view of others, one which assumed that the experience of the beholder was universal.
An abstract of the study is available at http://asr.sagepub.com/content/79/4/630 and the full article can be found in American Sociological Review, August 2014 vol. 79 no. 4 630-652.
The point being that it is best to take a broad view rather than a narrow one, and that the further we move back from a subject the more we see. It is good to always check our perspective point. If we’re too close we only see our own reflection. Further removed, it is more likely we will see more and so be more informed, less subjective, more objective, and less likely to be mistaken in our thoughts. The world is a small place to a myopic mind. The more we allow ourselves to see, the more we do see, the more the universe becomes a larger, infinitely more wonderful experience for us.
I took an online test for Social Intelligence recently. It’s part of a study being done by “Lab in the Wild,” an adjunct of the Intelligent Interactive Systems Group at Harvard. The test is designed to measure how well a person can read emotions of others just by looking at their eyes.
The test proved to be of use to me in helping identify how perceptive I am in this regard, and by extension gave me a basis of comparison to others about how often the conclusions I take from observed information prove to be valid. The result validated my faith in my own observations as being highly accurate while also informing me that I am not perfect, which was actually a more comfortable outcome for me than if I had scored perfectly. I’m comfortable with my lack of perfection and when it is in evidence I take it as a reminder to be on my toes about the judgments and conclusions I take from my personal perspective. On the other hand, the test also indicated to me that I am better off relying on my own impressions of such things than the perceptions of nearly all other observers.
The point here being that I trust my judgments and have faith in my conclusions, and this faith is not a myopic opinion. I’ve ascertained the validity of other perceptive capabilities I possess in the same way and so also have faith in the empathic and empathetic perceptions I have of the internal environments, psyches and spiritual condition of others.
So. Bona fides established, for what they’re worth – which proves to be very little to the myopic mind (which I can do nothing for) – I may finally be approaching the purpose of all this, which seems to be a statement about the emptiness and busyness present in so many human lives today. I think it needs to be said – and heard, where it can be. The credentials I offer are only given at all because they may, for some, provide enough faith in the speaker to allow them to listen to and consider what is spoken.
I take a break and tell my wife, “Boy, honey I am having a grand old time putting into words all the stuff we’ve been talking about the past week or so!” She knows me, of course, and we both know this words thing is ultimately nothing more than an eccentricity of mine, an amusing compulsion, and we smile about it together often. “And,” I continue, “I will either by God finish it or die in the dumping attempt!”
She laughs out loud – it’s always such a great, understanding, sincere, heartfelt thing when she laughs – and now, here I am again, doing what the jay chided me for.
It’s summertime and Facebook is rife with busyness. Busyness filling emptiness. On these pages there’s a sort of no-calorie, no-sustenance aura fizzing and popping out of the ubiquitous rum punches and umbrellas and exotic locales as the world rushes about occupying itself with busyness, tweeting and instagraming and otherwise archiving evidence of their brief existence in a better life.
It’s all there: the boat, the lake, the fish; the cruise ship photographs signifying something was seen, albeit miles away, and not for long because time at the railing is pressed by the imminent seven course glut and floor show to follow; the mad dashes in local jitneys across ancient landscapes and through cultures with thousand-year histories to make a timely arrival upon tasteful cobble-stoned pavements surrounded by purveyors of gelati and espresso and vendors plying fine mesh money nets to seine the pockets of the surging schools of touristas on their annual migration from where they have come, to back where they have come from – and where they are busy in other emptiness-filling ways, painfully acquiring the dispensations which allow them this mindless journey, which is for most a sacramental obligation for vague reasons, a signatory rite of passage which when stamped and validated becomes a diploma of attainment, a t-shirt proudly displayed, a baseball cap signifying membership in the team which plays this game.
Lenore and I share a joke together about traveling through the world the way most other people do. We say, “We don’t travel.” Because we don’t travel in the world. For over thirty years we’ve taken the road less traveled, the road that travels through life.
While other people embraced priorities of struggle and work and future gain, we followed our inner lights and walked our road together, gaining the worth of each day as it came and not building up the deficit of experience which accumulates when a person sacrifices their life now for the hope of a life they want to engage in later. As Robert Frost observed, it has made all the difference.
As a result of our conscious mutual choice to be here, now, living and loving together in every day, loving each other and living each day as it came the best we could, there’s no need for us to make up any deficit, no need to travel in the world seeking something not yet found.
We’ve traveled. We’ve been there, done that, lived in that place and experienced the things and found the answers together that so many people on this earth delay seeking for so long, and then begin to desperately seek so late in life, and so often can’t find because the habits of the years have built barriers between them and what they seek.
Often we want to say to these people, “Just stop. And look. And listen. It’s right here, where you are, it’s all around you, it’s in you, it’s in the moment you decide to love and share and be with each other.”
A wise word doesn’t travel as far as people think, but here it is. You’ll catch what you chase, and it will catch you. If you chase the future, you’ll always be there and miss what is here right now.