I was watching the musician David Crosby interviewed by fellow-musician Wynton Marsalis on public television last night and was much impressed by his humanity and his straightforward wisdom. What to do in the social/political morass in which we find ourselves? Be a stand-up person. Kids, he observed, learn not from what you say but what you do, the choices that you make, the person that you are. They watch you, he insisted. They're always watching you for guidance. Bottom line: be a stand-up person.
Which, after all, is what the Buddha taught and what Buddhism is all about.
I was also reading, yesterday on the elliptical walker at the gym, a fine piece in the current New Yorker about Epictetus, the ancient Stoic philosopher. "The only thing we can totally control," the article's author Elif Batuman wrote, "and therefore the only thing we should ever worry about, is our own judgment about what is good. If we desire money, health, sex, or reputation, we will inevitably be unhappy. If we genuinely wish to avoid poverty, sickness, loneliness, and obscurity, we will live in constant anxiety and frustration."
This, she writes, is what she learned from Epitetus. And what, I ask in turn, could be more Buddhist than that?
There is much that we could fruitlessly worry about for the coming year. We could agonize about national politics, about the international situation, about global warming. But there are things we cannot "totally control." To worry about them is to waste the energy we could better spend on simply being, ourselves, a stand-up person.
Which also means, of course, not failing to stand up and be counted when we see happening what we know in our hearts to be wrong.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!