That Which is Real

In each of us there is an essence that is real. The rest is just an accumulation of life over time that has been caked on top of the real, what some have called the true self. All betruetowhoyouarereligious traditions have found their own way of saying that life is about returning to that essence that is real. The challenge is that the job in front of us is neither obvious nor easy.

The job becomes even more difficult in times of crisis. We want to jump into action, solve the problem, and get on with life. When the problem is invisible to the naked eye and the solution elusive, we become afraid. When we become afraid, we tend to move toward anger pretty quickly. It’s natural, you might even say it’s an instinctive preparation for a fight – and there can be little doubt that right now the world is in a fight.

One of the problems with fighting is that we tend to put on armor in preparation for that trueselffight. Some of that armor is physical, but a lot of it is psychological. As we gird our loins, literally and metaphorically, we move away from our true selves more and more. When it is done, we may not even recognize ourselves. When this is true, we become a casualty of the fight, no matter who won.

During these times of crisis, it is important to be intentional about remaining connected with our true self. If possible, spend some time each day outside – even if it’s just on your porch. Listen to the wind, feel it on your face, and if you’re lucky enough to live in a place where it’s warm enough take your shoes off and feel the ground under your feet. No matter where you live, you can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and your arms in a comfortable position and take three deep breaths. Repeat as needed. Your true self is what endures. All the rest will pass away.

Three People and a Goat

COVID 19, aka the corona virus, seems to have brought the world to its knees – with some notably stupid exceptions. In the United States, we have seen increasingly restrictive twatbumpmeasures taken by state and local governments as they try to control the spread of a virus that we still aren’t completely sure of its method of transmission. Some of the measures taken seem sensible, others seem profoundly silly if not outright stupid. Among those is the elbow bump, which we are told is preferable to the handshake for limiting transmission of the virus despite the fact that two people need to stand significantly closer – twice as close, in fact – to bump elbows than they do to shake hands. Given that transmissions seems to be droplet transmission, moving in closer to the potential business end of an unexpected sneeze doesn’t seem advisable.

Meanwhile, as government officials are finding new and better ways to look foolish, Americans have been panic buying and hoarding any number of products from toilet 3andagoatpaper to hand sanitizer. Oddly enough for a flu virus, kleenex doesn’t seem to be the object of hoarding, which is only one of any number of things about this virus and our government’s response to it that makes very little sense. Public gatherings were restricted first in a general sort of way, then to groups smaller than fifty, then to groups smaller than ten. Tomorrow I would expect the restriction will be groups no larger than three people and a goat. Meanwhile the twenty-four hour news cycle rolls on, and people are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by seemingly endless and endlessly changing information.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, I have some suggestions. The first would be to limit your news intake to thirty minutes a day. You can break that up however you like, but once origamiyou hit your thirty minutes you are done with any news source until the next day. The second thing is to decide what you can control. You cannot control the spread of the virus, but you can control your own activity and behavior. If you really don’t want to contract the virus, stay in your house and don’t have guests over. Between Amazon, services like Door Dash, and other delivery services, we can now have everything delivered. Choose “no contact” deliveries so you don’t have to expose yourself to the delivery person. The virus can’t get in your house unless it is riding in someone who has it. Finally, distract yourself. Read a book, watch a TV show or a movie on Netflix, go for a walk, bake a cake, take up origami, perfect the paper airplane. This will not last forever, and some perspective mixed with distraction will make the time pass much more comfortably.

You should know…

You should know that you will meet many people who will purport to be your friend for precisely as long as it is to their advantage. The moment you do something they don’t like, they will disappear. They were never a friend. True friendship weathers disagreement.

Let’s Be Honest About Religion

I know this is asking a lot, but I wonder if we might have an honest discussion about religion. This project will require laying aside our sacred cows for just a moment and electing to suspend knee-jerk reactions for a bit. I know those things are difficult for just about everyone, but the potential reward is huge.

infinite godBoth God and the universe are infinite. If you don’t believe in God, consider this discussion to be about the Universe. In truth, the two terms might be understood as interchangeable in many ways. We know that the universe is constantly expanding and traditional understandings of God have included the idea that God is infinite. The problem we run into is that the human mind has a hard time wrapping itself around either concept. We might know to answer “constantly expanding” and “infinite” when asked the right questions, but that is a far different thing than being able to conceptualize either idea. For example, when we consider that one-half of infinity is still infinity our minds really can’t conceive what that looks like even if we can recite the correct answer.

Traditionally, we have chosen a religion to attempt to understand God or find meaning in our lives. The problem is that religions are finite and so represent only one view of God. Religions are also more than a little territorial and almost all of them have asserted that they have the only correct view of God. This may have made some sense when the best humans could do in conceiving of God was to posit a very small God existing in a very small universe with only one inhabited planet. We now know that the universe is ever expanding, and so our little regional God with whom we all have a personal relationship, frequently inviting Jesus over for Cheerios (if I were Jesus, I would think bacon and eggs would be the least you could do) is an artifact from a bygone era sorely in need of updating. In fact, if that’s your view then you, too, may be an artifact from a bygone era sorely in need of updating.

let my people go 10 commandWe need to realize that if we are serious about developing a view of God that resembles the reality of God in any way, confining ourselves to one religious or spiritual perspective just won’t get the job done. I have heard people argue that we need to confine ourselves to one religion because the root meaning of the word religion is “to bind back.” We have been bound back by religion since religion was developed. Maybe what needs to happen is for humankind to develop a spirituality that will set us free! If you like to be bound, I can recommend a good dungeon in your neighborhood, but if you want to draw closer to transcendence you might need to consider ask your religious dominatrix to “let my people go,” Moses!

Imagine you had a doctor who decided the only perspective he was going to adopt is that of colds and flu. No matter what your symptoms were, your doctor would diagnose a cold or the flu and send you on your way. How long would you remain their patient? I hope not long! What if your grocery store decided only to sell canned sardines, pickled eggs, and creamed herring while insisting you shop exclusively at their store. Would you listen to them? Why does religion seem to be one of the few areas of life that couples a limited perspective with a demand of exclusivity and manage to stay in business?

The reason is that institutional religion has excelled in thought and behavior control served with a large dose of guilt. For most of history humanity bought into this distorted vision, but the mass exodus of people from houses of worship of all stripes tells us that sales are sharply down and not likely to recover anytime soon. In response, people trying to make sense of their lives have often randomly tried new perspectives, many of which are heavy on flashing lights but short on substance. If you want to believe that you can attract wealth by thinking the right thoughts, for example, you might want to first ask why everyone following those teachings isn’t a millionaire. You would be better off to reject any spiritual or religious system that is constructed to reward greed.

The truth is that if we want to develop a spiritual perspective that works for us, the important first step is to be determined to explore aspects of whatever systems of belief interest you and not allow anyone to try to restrict your exploration. Unless you are a mushroom, those who would keep you in the dark and feed you manure don’t have your best interest at heart. The next step is to allow yourself to make mistakes, change your mind, and change direction. Exploration of every sort involves all of those things. Perfection isn’t the goal, in fact it probably isn’t even possible. Be gentle with yourself and you will be amazed at what you learn! Be bold, you are in charge of your own spiritual life and need answer to no one.

Ah, No.

I don’t want to alarm you, but Hollywood is divided over the friendship shared by Ellen ellen-bushDeGeneres and George W. Bush. I know, you too might well be as scandalized by this news as anybody else with nothing to worry about. You too might be thinking, “If Ellen is going to hang around the W., she can’t be a lesbian any more! We can’t have Ellen befriending a Bush…or at least not that Bush. We’re simply not going to watch her TV show any more, and we are going to have to find a new token favorite lesbian. We might even Rosie-ODonnell-is-cordial-with-Whoopi-Goldberg-after-mean-remarkhave to go back to Rosie O’Donnell! These are desperate times, indeed.

Here’s the problem: That attitude is everything that is wrong with America today.

Let’s just run down the top several problems:

  1. You don’t get to choose anyone else’s friends, period.
  2. It is good, even a desirable thing, to have friends of different political views.
  3. Some are saying George W. Bush is a war criminal. That’s irrelevant (see #1, above) and also simply not true. It’s your opinion. No court has convicted him, and even if it had, he still gets to have friends.
  4. Nobody has appointed any of us the friendship police.
  5. The LGBT community has been far too oppressed to go about oppressing itself, but as groups begin emerging from under oppression they almost always go about looking for others to oppress. Just stop, now.
  6. In America, we are free to believe what we will and to associate with whom we will. You don’t have to like it, but it is the way things are. You can’t choose freedom when it suits you and try to eliminate it when it makes you uncomfortable.
  7. We are more divided than ever before in our history. This kind of nonsense makes it worse, not better.

In other words, check yourselves and your behavior. You are being a huge collection of asses.

Much ado about nothing

The truth is that the divisions we create between Spiritual and political perspectives are most often a way to pump up our own egos and little more. We imagine there is some qualitative difference between a Buddhist and a Christian and theologians on both sides make a very tidy living perpetuating that misperception, but mystics on both sides agree that our commonalities far outnumber our differences. The same could be easily said of republicans and democrats.

If we look closely we will see that underneath every assertion that I am right and you are wrong lies the unspoken belief that I am better than you. That [erroneous] belief is the product of an insecure mind driven by an out of control ego. In truth we are not better and worse, just diverse, and that is really quite lovely – hardly something we should be trying to eliminate!

Behavior Police

If you are one of those people who patrol the Internet looking for things you don’t agree with in the Hope’s of finding someone doing something you don’t agree with so you can “correct” them, I have a suggestion. Just stop. Find a hobby, grab a good book, learn to knit, or buy some rechargeable batteries for your vibrator. Maybe do all of the above plus a few more. There is nothing about policing the choices other adults make that causes you to grow and become more fulfilled. Instead, those behaviors will isolate you from friends, family, and the people you happen to meet because you will develop a negative perspective that looks for what you believe is wrong with the world. A much healthier choice is to celebrate the things that are right with the world.

Shutting Down Dialogue

The perceived need to shut down dialogue on any topic is always a sign of a weak shut downargument. If I feel like I can make a solid case for my point of view, then I’m not threatened by an honest discussion or a different point of view. On the other hand, if I know my position is on shaky ground, I’ll want to end discussion before it even starts. Watch and you will see I am right.

Ego and the Spiritual Path

We are an extremely competitive society. We can turn anything into a competition – to our detriment, I am afraid. If you can measure it, we can fight over who does it best. If you can quantify it, I guarantee you mine is bigger – unless being smaller is better, but to be honest most males struggle with that concept. You might think that spirituality would be exempt from this nonsense, but you would be mistaken.

kickball betterImagine coming across a group of kids playing kickball and feeling compelled to ask them if any of them are going to play major league baseball or professional soccer. Then imagine none of the kids saying they are going to do either of those things. Would you tell them that they are wasting their time playing kickball and in fact being unfaithful to the higher meaning of playing with their balls? Of course you wouldn’t, but that is precisely what many of those who imagine they are quite far along the spiritual path do to others all the time.

Consider for a moment those who consider themselves contemplatives but then criticize ronald mcdonald meditatingpopularized forms of mindfulness in corporate and other non-Buddhist settings as “McMindfulness” because it doesn’t contain the fullness of the Vipassana Buddhist tradition. How is that any different than calling kickball “McBaseball?” Just as some of those kids playing kickball will go on to play more complicated sports, some of the people whose entry into contemplative practice is a popular mindfulness application will go on to deeper spiritual practice. More importantly, those who don’t go on may still have perfectly wonderful experiences playing kickball or practicing mindfulness as a stress reduction technique. None of us has the right to tell anyone else what’s best for them!

Fundamentalism rears its ugly head in many different settings, even on the kickball diamond. What we can know about those people who are only to eager to insist that others “aren’t doing it right” is that they are plagued by insecurities about their own practice and struggling with some significant control issues – both of which are a lot less attractive than a kickball game.

Control the future?

Tennis player Naomi Osaka currently appears in a television commercial for Citizen watches in which she says, “I can control my future.”

No, Naomi, you can’t. None of us can, an we have a collection of lovely (and sometimes trite) pieces of folk wisdom and spiritual teachings to remind us that we can’t. Even wearing an expensive watch while playing tennis won’t let us control the future. If you really believe you can, I am afraid you have some rude awakenings in your future.

The only thing we can impact is the present moment. Living in the present moment is our best chance of happiness. Living for the future is our best chance of dying having never really loved. Take off the watch.