$2.49 a Gallon!

mitt-pumping-his-own-gasSo declared the man on the other side of the gas pump last night. The amount represented at least a twenty cent increase from the day before. It was late, and although I am usually more diplomatic than this I responded, “Assassination is expensive!” He looked rather shocked, and I surmised that we didn’t share the same political perspective – or the same perspective on reality. I wished him well and put my hose away.

One of the key principles of Buddhism is known as dependent co-arising. It’s the idea that everything that happens is caused by a number of other factors. On a simple level, when you plant seeds in the ground in the spring they will need good soil, rain, and sunshine in the right amounts for the seed to grow. If you reverse the process, you can surmise that if you water good soil and the sun shines on it, if there is anything in the soil waiting to grow, it will. This is the origin of the weeds that cause people like me to stop gardening!

Whether we are national leaders or just trying to manage our lives, we need to recognize dog crappingthat everything we do has a kind of ripple effect and generates consequences. Let your dog crap on the neighbors lawn and the odds are you won’t have a friendly relationship with that neighbor. Parking your car in front of your neighbor’s garage will have the same effect. Grab women by their genitals and you might end up being President of the United States. These things don’t always make a whole lot of sense, but we do know without a doubt that since none of us lives in a vacuum, actions do have consequences – intended and otherwise.

Before we act, and before we support potential actions of our leaders, we should consider the realities of dependent co-arising. Oh, and gas at that same station today is $2.35, reminding us of another truth of Buddhism – Impermanence.

Doing the Same Thing…

There is a very human tendency to, when we find one approach to a problem doesn’t work, do the same thing over and over and hope for a different result. That’s known as insanity, and we seem to excel at it. We might change our approach ever so slightly, but in truth we don’t change it substantially. Then we sit around, throw our hands up in disgust, and wonder why we can’t seem to change anything. We might even feel sorry for ourselves. I believe a great deal of this repeated pattern exists because it’s easier to repeatedly try the same approach than to come up with a new approach and implement it. I don’t believe that we are consciously aware that is what we are doing, but we do it nonetheless.

sewing frustrationImagine that you were trying to sew something with a sewing machine but didn’t have any thread. Imagine that a few years ago you had thread and everything worked out just fine, but now you are out of thread and nothing you “sew” seems to hold together. You read an article a few weeks ago that said you don’t really need thread, so you keep on trying but nothing changes. Would you run out to the store and get some thread, or just keep poking tiny holes in fabric? Many of us would end up with very artistic renderings of Swiss cheese made of fabric.

In the early part of the last century, despite the fact that there was plenty of land, we tended to build homes right next to one another. Then, after the second World War, we decided we liked yards around our homes and so small, postage stamp lots became the nosy neighborsnorm. Kids played in the yard and we still had regular contact with our neighbors. We put up three foot picket fences to keep the kids and pets in the yard, but we still socialized over and around the fences. Then bigger lots became a status symbol, as did homes with attached garages. Privacy fences went up, because we were sure our neighbors had nothing better to do than monitor our behavior. Soon it was possible to avoid our neighbors completely by coming and going through our attached garages, retrieving our mail from the car, and wearing huge hearing protection headsets on our riding mowers or hiring a landscaping service. We retreated behind those privacy fences, not recognizing that we had become imprisoned in a fort of our own construction.

friends we don't need noWe sacrificed community on the altar of privacy, not realizing that all people need community. The Church started to shrink, as did service and fraternal organizations. We disassembled community piece by piece. We didn’t know the neighbors, we didn’t like or couldn’t trust our coworkers, and we didn’t get out enough to meet people we wanted to associate with away from the context in which we met them. We sat in our castles behind our moats and were lonely but didn’t understand why. We might talk with the other parents at our kids’ soccer game, but that was more to pass the time than to build relationship. The more we retreated the unhappier we were and so we retreated even more.

Most if not all problems have multiple causes, but I would like to suggest a remedy to the isolation we all seem to feel. Say “hi” to the neighbors. Walk to your mailbox to retrieve the mail and greet everyone you see. When you do to the grocery store, greet people that you recognize, even if you don’t know them well. Practice being social again, and encourage your family to do the same. Stop isolating. You will be amazed at the difference it makes! Oh, and yes, you do need stinking friends! Well, at least friends who smell nice!

 

Did You Ever Wonder?

Did you ever wonder why some religious folks just can’t seem to take a step away from some of the most repugnant beliefs of their otherwise quite lovely and compassionate faith? Mind you, I don’t have an answer to my own question, I was hoping you might.

rage

Recently I was listening to an audio book by a lovely man of great charity and compassion who has done incredible good for disadvantaged people. Everything about the program to which I was listening was beautiful and moving – and then he said it. My personal deal breaker is when someone writes or says some version of “thank goodness God tortured God’s only son because God was surprised and pissed off that the very people God created aren’t perfect, and because God isn’t very creative or very bright couldn’t see any way out of this massive angry outburst (like, maybe, forgiveness) and so tortured that same son to death to slake his rage-filled fit and to show us what love is.” Sure enough, in the audio program I had been enjoying the deal breaker eventually arose and I had to shut it off.

Ideas like this one don’t even make any sense, and the fact that I could explain to you how such ideas arise, why they become popular, and why people are afraid to let them go doesn’t change the fact that I am mystified how any reasonably intelligent person would insist on hanging on to them. Much like hitting your own knee with a hammer and then deciding to stop, letting these beliefs go brings tremendous relief. It would seem that people get more pleasure out of hanging on to a misguided notion of “how things have always been” than they do from having their beliefs make sense – which makes no sense at all!

Are there similar things that leave you mystified?

Who are “They,” Anyway?

I am sure you know. We all encounter them in our chosen fields. They are the experts, the ones who supposedly are in the know and who may, if we are extremely lucky, deign to share their vast knowledge with we commoners.

They have a lot to say about you. They say you have a fractured attention span, that you prefer a short, Twitter-ish message length, and that you won’t take the time to read anything more than a few paragraphs long because you are unwilling and unable to do so. They tell me that means I should write in snippets so that you won’t pass me by and every day so you won’t forget me. I should be the written equivalent of a gnat, buzzing at your ear regularly but not long enough to get slapped.

I reject those interpretations of the people that read my work as insulting and unworthy of either of us. If I am wrong, if some of my readers are so impaired from participation in our fragmented culture, there are plenty of options out there for you. On the other hand, if what you are interested in is a relatively intelligent, relatively insightful exploration and conversation around what’s going on in our world then we are both in luck, because that’s what I feel led to write.

Moving forward, starting on Monday, I will be posting one to two times a week on topics that I think are important. There will be observations of popular culture, spirituality, religion, and contemporary life. I will do my best not to write eight hundred page essays, but I will also try not to give a topic short shrift. I invite you to join the discussion by commenting, and I will do my best to respond to all of your comments. Together, we can build something worth reading. I hope you will join me!

Becoming Comfortable with Change

My wife laughed when she saw the title of this post. She knows that my number one pet peeve is when a store rearranges its shelves. I’ve reflected on this, and determined that there are two reasons it irritates me. The first is that it takes me longer to find what I came to buy. I don’t want to wander around your store endlessly searching for things that, just one day earlier, I could find in my sleep. That’s the second reason I despise store resets – I know they are manipulating me, hoping that in wandering around searching for the things I want I will find other things that I will buy. What they don’t know is that on principle I never buy any extra items after they shuffle things around. Take that, you retail bastards!

We all resist change to one degree or another. It upsets our routines, or our understanding of our world, or our sense of safety, and so we push back. Consider the Buddhist teaching that says everything changes all the time. Some of those changes are so insignificant we don’t even notice them. Consider that dust settles constantly in whatever room you are sitting in reading this post, and you aren’t even aware of it. Other change we welcome. If you are sick right now, you would welcome the change of recovery. None of us get too upset that new mail comes to our mailbox regularly, unless it contains a jury duty notification. Then there are the bigger changes that we despise. Someone close to us loses a job, or is getting divorced, or receives a bad diagnosis at the doctor. Our world is turned upside down, and we cry out against change. How could this be? How could this happen to him/her/us/me?

It helps to work with change before a big change comes along and knocks us onto our heels. We can take a few moments at the end of our day to reflect on what changed today. Did we fill up our gas tank? Stop at the store? Get a day older? If every night we make a list of five to ten things that changed today, we will gradually come to see that change is constant. Of course, when we receive devastating news we will still be upset – but we won’t be asking ourselves “how could this happen?” We will understand that everything changes all the time, and that knowledge will free us energetically to respond to the demands of our new situation.