Authentic living in the 21st Century

What is it about human beings?

Beautiful, sensitive, so creative but so destructive…

Our biosphere, that fragile envelope of conditions favorable to life, seems in dire straits. In addition, the economic and social conditions of life foisted on the poor of the world by the rich seem to be growing steadily, alarmingly, worse. Fascism is on the rise, though mostly unrecognized, and the political environment almost everywhere is as threatening and depressing as the physical and social ones.

Yet there are an incredible number of beautiful, creative visions of life blossoming all around, alternative experiments that demonstrate how beautifully we humans are able to live on the planet. Even as the political and corporate structures – really one entity now – grow more authoritarian and life-denying, more and more people wake up to the potential for living in ways that are freeing to people and friendly to the natural systems that sustain us.

What are we to do? How are we to live authentic lives in the midst of the insanity of apparently imminent collapse?

For many years, I have grappled with the contradictions that seem inherent in modern life. My time in the war on Southeast Asia, as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force stationed in DaNang (Viet Nam) and Nakon Phanom (Thailand), which was at once the most horrible and the most wonderful experience of my young life, catapulted me beyond most of the concerns that probably would have dominated my life otherwise, and left me forever unable to accept simple answers, simple solutions, to these contradictions.

Even though at times I have tried to settle into some solid, clearly defined system that laid out the answers, I’ve never been able to stay with those answers. As I begin to move into the autumn years of my life, I want even more to reach some clear understandings, at least for myself, about the priorities of this life. Partly this is a practical need, as I seek to direct the last decades of my life in directions that will make some positive contributions to the world my children and grandchildren will inherit. Partly it is just the need for closure, for some sense of a philosophical story that is satisfactory and complete.

In the next few entries, I am hoping to at least outline something of where I am now in this process.

As this blog has partially described, I have followed the spiritual path of Buddhism for most of my life since the Air Force years, partly because I encountered it in Southeast Asia and partly because it seemed to be a way of thought that meshed with my own deepest intuitions of truth, and I seemed to need something to fill the void in my life after I abandoned my Christian upbringing. My experiences with meditation and the Buddhist teachings over the past 30+ years have profoundly influenced me, and no doubt are the primary filter that I bring to this quest to understand the reality of modern life.

But as I enter into this analysis of the course of our times and try to arrive at some clear distillation of how things seem to me, I am intentionally trying to step outside of those teachings, that perspective, as much as possible.

So, as we welcome this new year full of promise, this year we call 2014, I begin this new phase in my apprenticeship to the idea of emptiness.

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