Thursday, July 11, 2019

THE 7-YEAR-OLD SELF

What arose in the discussion that followed our small community group meditation yesterday evening was the subject of the multiple selves we fabricate (and that others fabricate for us) as our lives progress; and the need to be able to identify those selves for the fabrications that they are if we wish to leave them behind when they are no longer relevant or useful.

And in my morning meditation my mind settled on the seven-year-old self--the number is arbitrary, I mean just that tenacious little child--and how destructive he or she can be. I imagine that it's a rare human being who survives childhood without wounds, and every child learns to handle them in the best way possible. Most children, no matter how vulnerable, have great power and skill in navigating the vicissitudes of their lives. It's the survival instinct.

Those skills, even no longer needed--whether self-defensiveness and withdrawal, or their opposite, aggressiveness, vindictiveness and rage--often persist into our adult lives, controlling our behavior in ways that cause undue suffering to ourselves and those around us. All the more important, then, to be able to recognize those old selves as nothing more than mental constructs... and let them go.

It's a process that needs to be done with respect, and love, and gratitude, for these selves have often served us well in the time that they were needed. Any attempt to fight them off can be a losing battle. It is their nature to be tenacious and to exercise their power. When I spot my seven-year-old self at work in my life today, I try to simply thank him for his efforts to protect me and melt his resolve with loving kindness. And let him go.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

BUDDHIST HATRED

It is deeply distressing to read about Buddhist racial and religious hatred in this article in the New York Times today. It is certainly alien to everything I have learned about the Buddha and his teachings, and particularly distressing to find it rampant in parts of the world that practice in the Theravada tradition that I find most appealing. The message that Buddhism must be saved at all costs, and in any manner--including militarism and violence--from a centuries-old attack from Islam, is apparently being broadcast by even respected elder leaders of the faith. Buddhism is not spared, alas, from the fundamentalist extremism that perverts almost every other religious faith today, including Christianity, Islam and Judaism. As the world becomes less able to accommodate its most troublesome species, even the best in us seems in danger of being sacrificed to our more barbaric and tribalist instincts of self-preservation and survival.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

PATRIOTISM

I wrote down the following thoughts last week, on the Fourth of July. I did not post the piece because I thought there was an outside chance that they could get a wider readership on the op-ed pages of the New York Times--a newspaper that will not publish anything that has appeared elsewhere, whether online or in print. Now that the required three days have elapsed with no response from the Times, I post the thoughts here instead...


I woke this morning with a strange and unfamiliar feeling, something almost like... patriotism!

It's the Fourth of July. I have been an American for nearly fifty years (I became a citizen in 1972) and have always felt, if anything, still more English than American. Patriotism is something I have never trusted, sometimes even despised. Having been born between those two great wars and lived through the second of them, I suppose I must have felt it as a child; but growing up, learning about the spirit of nationalism that led to those wars and, particularly I think, being moved by the WWI poems by the likes of Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen, I came to realize how destructive an emotion it could be. And not even a genuine emotion, really, more a misguided state of mind.

I held on to that skepticism for many years--and through many (smaller, still more futile) wars. The pledge of allegiance, hand over heart, and the worship of the flag have always seemed absurd to me, frankly a little bit repulsive. I have never learned the words to the American national anthem, and have forgotten those to God Save the Queen.

And then, this morning, on the Fourth of July, I woke with this surprising realization that I actually love this country. Reflecting on that new and rather uncomfortable sensation, I think I understand why it might have come upon me. It has to do with vulnerability. We are in real and imminent danger of losing what it was this country stood for until now. I begin to realize that what America was about, for me, was the conviction that, given tenacity, dedication and a sense of common purpose, tomorrow would always be better than today.

It's hard, if not impossible to love a person who is brash, loud, and unquestioningly self-confident. Who does not somehow need the love you have to offer. It's vulnerability that makes a person lovable, that leaves room for your love to make a difference. And America today is showing her vulnerability more than ever in the past. Her values are in tatters. She is emotionally torn apart, at odds with herself, a mess. For years now she has been subjected to rape and plunder by the rich and powerful. She is in danger of losing that proud, can-do attitude for which she has always, in the past, been known. She risks sacrificing her fierce spirit of independence to the whims of tyranny.

Which is all perhaps why I woke this morning feeling more American than I have ever done. Could this be... patriotism?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

JUDGMENT

I have been thinking a good bit in recent days about judgment. Some readers may have noticed that I post some ideas quite regularly on Facebook, and that some of these ideas reflect my take on the current political situation--I think of it as a predicament--we face in the United States. Those who read these entries may have noticed that I have my share of critics--they are welcome!--and that the grounds on which they most frequently call me to account is... judgment.

I'm aware of the potential fallacies involved in making judgments. I was privileged to be involved for many years in the work of an excellent organization of men in which I learned how easily I slip into judgment and then mistake my judgment for the truth. Too often, far from being the truth, that judgment is nothing more than the projection of an unpalatable truth about myself: to take the simplest of examples, if I call someone a rotten writer, it behooves me to address my fear of being myself a rotten writer.

It's important, then, to use judgment wisely and with circumspection. I prefer the word discernment, which suggests a conscious effort to judge skillfully rather than spontaneously and mindlessly. But I am reluctant to accept the notion that judgment is always projection and has no place in reasonable discussion. If I say, then, for example, that the man who occupies our Oval Office (notice the implied judgment there!) is cruel, ignorant of history and precedent, incompetent and rash, I suppose that there is some shadow part of me that is cruel, ignorant, incompetent and rash. Okay, I own it. But to acknowledge this is not to invalidate my judgment, which is based on facts and information gathered from a number of sources, on the man's actual words and actions in the world.

I see judgment then, or discernment if you like, as a valuable, even indispensable tool in my ethical perception. Rather than "good" or "evil" I prefer to think of skillful or unskillful actions, actions that result in benefit or harm to myself or others, and I believe it important to call out those that are unskillful, that bring nothing but more suffering into a world that already has too much of it. It may be a "judgment" to call the Tr*mp administrations treatment of asylum-seekers cruel and inhuman, but there is ample evidence of the suffering that results.

I will need to make a judgment, too, when it comes to the election. I will need to judge between candidates in the primary, and between the parties' nominees in November, 2020.  And that's more than mere judgment, that's an awesome responsibility.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

HOW DO WE SPEAK OF TRUMP?

I'm aware, of course, of the principle of Right Speech and I think I understand its purpose. But how do we speak about a man who occupies so powerful a position and directly influences the lives of millions--not only of Americans but of people throughout the world--who is so manifestly, gratuitously cruel and lacking in compassion?

Should we simply avoid speaking of him? Is is not in itself a violation of Right Speech to avoid denouncing wrong where we see it? Is my silence in view of, say, the detention and mistreatment of children, not a tacit approval of such behavior?

Day by day, almost hour by hour, this president's speech and actions are living testament to the fact that he is deserving of the condemnation of all those who respect the rights and the humanity of others. I find that I cannot stand idly by and watch wordlessly as he tramples mindlessly, like a crazed elephant, on every value I hold dear.

I can send him metta. I can wish him the kind of happiness that, were he to find it, would change him--and the world. I can intuit that his actions arise from a kind of karmic misery that infects his life, and feel compassion for one who suffers so profoundly that he is driven to inflict punishment on those less powerful than himself. To do otherwise is to allow myself to be similarly infected. But I cannot remain silent.