Coal Karma

There is a certain degree of karmic fruiting involved in the whole threat of toxic coal ash dumping in this little southern community.

I say this with trepidation and apologies to friends and neighbors involved, as I don’t mean to make light of the threat or the struggle to prevent it, but only to put it in the larger context. And certainly I’m not saying it in the sense that this county, this community, has done something to specifically deserve this fate. (Though our leaders could have been more astute!)

No, the choice of spots to dump on is pretty random in the rolling engine of destruction, the Leviathan that is big-coal/big-utility/big-disposal.

In the bigger picture, however, the cultural context of late-stage capitalism in the U.S., we all have brought this on ourselves, gorging ourselves on the material world without thought of the consequences for the past several centuries. In a capitalist system ruled by profit, if we want cheap energy for the vast array of “labor-saving devices”, entertainment, recreation, travel, business – and all in air-conditioned comfort – then we must burn coal, split atoms, dam rivers, drill and mine. All those things that are insult to the Earth and anathema to life.

Why have we done this?

As Ta-Nehisi Coates explains in his recent work Between the World and Me, [see my post], the same mentality that created and perpetuated the plunder of colonialism, slavery, and racism is behind our current ecological crisis:

Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of human beings but the body of the Earth itself.” [p. 150]

In another post, I noted:

Both [Coates and James Baldwin] maintain that the same forces that have driven black people into slavery have created the degraded forms of life now ruling the ghettos and the suburbs alike, and promise to destroy all that is lovable in human life as well as threaten the very biosphere – at least the parts of it that we depend on. Baldwin sees our only salvation in “transcendence of the realities of color, of nations, and of altars.” [p. 81]

So this threat of toxic destruction looming over small rural communities throughout the southern U.S. could be seen as the ultimate karmic retribution for our sins of racism, consumerism, plunder.

I believe that only as we can rise above these past divisions and join together will we be able to avoid this immediate threat and the long-term threat our way of life poses to life on the planet.

Related posts:

https://shunyatasapprentice.com/2015/09/30/the-fire-next-time/

https://shunyatasapprentice.com/2015/09/18/as-though-she-were-normal/

https://shunyatasapprentice.com/2015/09/29/on-between-the-world-and-me/

That wrecking ball…

“And wouldn’t time seem so kindly,
if every bright-eyed girl could be
more like you, and
shelter me
from that
wreckin’ ball… that wreckin’ ball.”

–Andrew Marlin (Mandolin Orange)

Ah yes, we look for shelter in every corner, every thought as we feel the onrushing of impermanence, shunyata filling every experience. Such a human thing.

But though it seems helpful, shelter in the long run is itself part of the damage we do to ourselves, part of the grasping for the pleasant rather than the difficult, part of what Stephen Batchelor calls “the default habit of seeing the world as being hostile, desirable or boring.”

In his recent book After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age, Batchelor translates tanha, understood in the Dharma as the cause of suffering and usually rendered as ‘craving’ or ‘desire’, as reactivity. Letting go of reactivity – or creating the conditions under which release may happen, which is really all we can do – comes from understanding, he says.

To release oneself from the hold of this behavior [reactivity] requires coming to a mature comprehension of one’s mortality, of how each fragile moment rests on the pumping of a muscle and the drawing of a breath. [p. 78]

Though I’ve only read a bit of this book, which my teacher introduced at a recent retreat, I’m finding it full of profound new insights and very helpful as I continue my lifetime effort to understand the Dharma and live my life in an authentic, integrated way.

Separation…

My friend Gareth has a great post this week that I wanted to share… it’s a sweet and deep look at how we suffer from this oh-so-human condition: separation.

“But the other side of these stories of identity is that they cause separation.”

In his essay “Mind creates the abyss, heart crosses it” Gareth gets at the central issues we face on a daily basis… our tendency to think we can mentally construct happiness for ourselves. But just read what he has to say… it’s good!

Gareth always has something worthwhile to say, and I would recommend regular reading – but this one is particularly poignant, at least to me, so I hope you’ll find it meaningful, and consider signing on for his blog as well…

Mind Creates The Abyss….The Heart Crosses It

Baldwin again…

Am on my third Baldwin novel now… Another Country. So powerful. And so wonderful to read, because he is such a truly great novelist. This is literature, folks.

But it is also social commentary that partakes of the sharpest insight, the most unflinching eye, the truth most clearly spoken. This exchange between Vivaldo, the best friend of jazz musician Rufus, and another friend, an older white woman, is – especially for 1962 – profound:

[Vivaldo] “I know I failed him, but I loved him, too, and nobody there wanted to know that. I kept thinking, They’re colored and I’m white but the same things have happened, really the same things, and how can I make them know that?”

“But they didn’t,” she said, “happen to you because you were white. They just happened. But what happens up here [Harlem] happens because they are colored. And that makes a difference.”

The story reveals much about the social sources of the demons that plague “mixed-race” relationships of all kinds, but it is of such fierce artistry, such depth of understanding, that it reveals much of what is in our hearts that plagues all our relationships. This is Rufus and Vivaldo talking:

[Rufus] “What do you want — when you get together with a girl?”

“What do I want?”

“Yeah, what do you want?”

“Well,” said Vivaldo, fighting panic, trying to smile, “I just want to get laid, man.” But he stared a Rufus, feeling terrible things stir inside him.

“Yeah?” and Rufus looked at him curiously, as though he were thinking, So that’s the way white boys make it. “Is that all?”

“Well,” — he looked down– “I want the chick to love me. I want to make her love me. I want to be loved.”

There was silence. Then Rufus asked, “Has it ever happened?”

“No,” said Vivaldo, thinking of Catholic girls and whores. “I guess not.”

It is violent, dark and sometimes painful to read, for it grabs you by the heart and shakes! But it is a deep and beautiful story of the human condition.

Baldwin is at times prescient, as in these sentences early in the story:

The great buildings, unlit, blunt like the phallus or sharp like the spear, guarded the city which never sleeps. Beneath them Rufus walked, one of the fallen — for the weight of this city was murderous — one of those who had been crushed on the day, which was every day, these towers fell.

I’m only about a third of the way through it, but I will finish soon. I can hardly stop reading.

Giovanni’s Room was also  intense and poignant, the story of a young American in Paris running from his American-ness, his oppressive father, his own nature, his love of boys… hiding in a loveless relationship and destroying everyone around him in the process.

Though fully the realism that Baldwin excels at writing, the Giovanni’s Room also has elements of existentialism, especially in his descriptions of the room itself, of the emotional and physical space it becomes, as well as in descriptions of the city and its people.

I highly recommend reading Baldwin for enjoyment, for broadening one’s vision of American literature, and for his deep insights into humanity and society.

Gate Gate…

Gate Gate, ParaGate, ParasamGate, Bodhi Svaha.

Doing the dharani this morning during my meditation. A nice round of 108 of those does wonders for one’s stress level. Which I was definitely needing this morning.

The chanting and a few capsules of “Calm the Bitch” and I’m feeling much better! Ah, yes, that’s an herbal blend with an inappropriate name, perhaps, but an effective blend and a perfectly descriptive name!

Not sure exactly what’s in it as it’s a personal blend from our friend Hsin-Hsin, a Chinese Medicine practitioner who manages the herbal pharmacy at East-West College of Natural Medicine. One of her students gave it the name after discovering its power to calm anger and relieve stress. Mostly citrus and a little He Huang Pi (Collective Happiness bark), I think.

But, back to the chanting. It’s the dharani from the Heart Sutra, one I’ve been chanting for nearly 30 years now. Its literal meaning, if such can be assigned to a dharani, is something like: “Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond. Enlightenment be praised.” Some English versions include the phrases “gone to the other shore” and “having never left.”

Its real meaning is more in the sound of it than the words, and that sound can be transcendent. Especially if one is immersed in the Heart Sutra itself. But that’s way beyond the scope of this blog entry! Red Pine has a great book on the sutra if you’re interested.

Chanting dharanis or mantras is not something I do much of. It is more like medicine to me than a practice. I use it often when driving to help with the stress of that situation. I don’t think a practice built on daily chanting has the power to bring the kind of liberation, deep and wide liberation, that I see a true meditation practice as capable of bringing. I could be wrong about that, but it seems so to me.

I needed its medicine today, though.

Life has been rather loaded with stress, even anger, lately. I find that dealing with the stress via meditation and herbs is better than living in denial or escape. Much of the social malaise which plagues us nowadays could be laid at the feet of a public who would rather ignore, escape from, or deny social problems.

Much of my stress comes from the deeply sad, wounded nature of the world today. Though I live in this quiet, lovely community, word seeps in of the incomprehensible terror and pain that so many in our world, our sweet and beautiful world, live in. So many of my fellow beings, human and otherwise, find their daily lives surrounded by a hostile world of greed, anger and delusion, a world where these three poisons are taking human form in monstrous ways….

Monstrous ways that seem to threaten the very lives of all of us on so many levels. If it is true, as some propose, that we humans have developed to be the means by which this planet or even the entire cosmos is self-aware, then we are sensitive to all this pain and agony to good purpose. Which is why I think it’s better not to hide from or deny these realities. But it can be unpleasant and stressful, to say the least.

This stress can impact our lives and relationships in many ways. The most difficult thing for me, in trying to live a meditation-based life, is that I find myself in a near-constant state of frustration that cascades into irritation and anger, with an occasional outburst leading to more stress and unpleasant, hurtful feelings for ones I love.

A recent outburst and the fallout from that is a big part of my current need for stress medication! Things are improving greatly today, but the last few days were — well, not so good.

The positive side – the “wisdom side” as the Tibetans say – of this experience has been that it shows me once again how important it is to be consistent and deep and real in my meditation practice. My first Zen teacher always said that his teacher said, “One hour or meditation, one hour of enlightenment.”

Keep sitting.

Or, as that great philosopher Dave Mason said long ago, “Can’t stop worrying about the things we do. Can’t stop loving, without it nothing would seem true.”

 

 

Waking Up to Your Life

Maia Duerr​ and Katya Lesher​ are doing the online program “Waking Up to Your Life” again, starting Sept. 20. I highly recommend this program to anyone who would like to start, improve, or even just understand better a meditation-based life practice.

I’m going for a second round, in fact several of us from the beta version are planning to participate again, so that’s a pretty good indicator of how helpful it was… and how enjoyable really! They’re all really great folks and provide such a supportive atmosphere that most anyone could benefit from this… it’s a perfectly open, inclusive approach that doesn’t require buying in to a specifically Buddhist – or any other – practice.

I think a big part of it is that you begin to relate to the others in the group as friends, and it really becomes a virtual sangha. I’m hoping at some point that some of us get together for an in-person retreat.

It was very helpful to me in getting myself back on track after a year or so of neglecting, or straying from the path of, my practice. As I blogged about earlier (A New Direction), I felt able to commit to a dharma mentoring practice after doing the Waking Up program, and am now as solid in my practice as I have been at any time in the 30 years or so I’ve been trying to do this!

It’s easy to sign up and the fee is entirely reasonable – amazing really, for a three-month program with lots of support materials. Just go to http://maiaduerr.com/waking-up-to-your-life/ to get on the list.

Real practice

I missed two days of sitting last week, and there were good, reasonable excuses for it each time, excuses not worth going into.

Because the real reason I don’t sit, when I don’t, goes deeper than these perfectly reasonable circumstantial issues. The real reason I don’t sit is because sitting can be hard. Not in the physical sense really, or even the boredom of which people sometimes complain.

Sitting can be hard because it reveals truth about me that I don’t always want to see.

——-

That’s why a real meditation practice requires more than a cushion, schedules and good intentions. Real practice requires moral courage and unflinching dedication to knowing those truths about oneself that are unflattering, difficult, even painful.

——-

Of course, that is the point. Unlike “McMindfulness” – as David Loy has called superficial practices – a real life practice is not undertaken to make one more productive at work or reduce anxiety in social situations (which it certainly will do), it is part of the heart’s commitment to living one’s life in an authentic way, aligned with the highest aspirations that we humans can generate: to be compassionate to everyone, to contribute to making life meaningful and happy for all, to being all those things we mean when we say “a good person.”

It’s not an easy commitment to make, and it’s not easy to remember that this is why one practices. That’s why daily vows are a good idea, because they keep that promise fresh in our minds.

And it’s not easy to stick with it day after day, because on the cushion we see clearly all those points of deviation from the path over the past day – and in our life in general. We see clearly all those things we’d rather ignore in our relationships, our work, our living.

So if there’s an excuse not to sit, we take it.

——-

Those days we don’t sit, though, do also show us the value of it, even in ways beyond the increased levels of stress and anxiety we may experience. Because if we get back to the cushion soon enough after the missed session, we may see what it was we were really avoiding.

And that’s real practice.

——

Related Links

My post on McMindfullness.

 

David Loy of BPF on McMindfullness.

 

My post on solutions that work for everyone.

Returning to the Sanity of Our Hunter Gatherer Origins (Pt 1)

Returning to the Sanity of Our Hunter Gatherer Origins (Pt 1).

Humanity has seemingly wandered up a blind canyon.

The process of human evolution, cultural development, and technological advancement seems to have led us to the point where our crowning accomplishment is that we can destroy the earth, and seem hell-bent on doing so. Wars, cruelty, competition and environmental degradation of our own making threaten to destroy human life, if not all life, on the earth.

But what if this whole process has been one of learning the lessons we need to move forward into a more wonderful, beautiful world where the values of compassion and cooperation, sharing and creativity are dominant?

Is it possible to see through the miasma of our current world to a world where humans live together in peace, security, and abundance? The post linked above and parts 2 and 3 of the series present a case for that future, and present at least a glimpse of how it may be possible to get there.

As 2015 begins, it seems we all need to be willing to look at new ideas, new ways of understanding the human condition, and open ourselves to the possibilities that a new vision of human nature – one based on a very old and very successful model of living – can present.

These three essays are an invitation to do that. Do yourself and the future a favor and read them. Give a new way of living a chance in your mind.

As has famously been said, we have only our chains to lose.

Us vs. Them

What are the real threats to the health and safety of our world?

Charles Eisenstein, author of The More Beautiful World… and other perceptive books analyzing the current state of the world from a very enlightened philosophical point of view, has turned his gaze on the media hysteria over Ebola Zaire, or whatever strain of the virus it is that has had the temerity to invade our sacred shores.

Though he does not dismiss the threat, he clearly sees its place on the spectrum. The hysteria over Ebola, he says, is just another instance of looking for things we can control. And he points out the source of the things that pose serious threats to the health and safety of the world as mostly of our own making.

…the real threats to our well-being are by and large of a different nature. They are, in fact, the result of the us-versus-them mentality, and cannot be solved from that mentality. First among these is the ecological crisis, which is showing us undeniability that what we have done to nature, we have done to ourselves.

You can read the entire article on his site, The New and Ancient Story.

Daddy – and back to Georgia

[This is Chap. 16 in the continuing narrative on My Way-finding. Previous chapters are Pages on this site, and links can be found in the menu to the left of the main entry.]

My daddy had a powerful influence on my life.

He was one of those larger-than-life characters who made an indelible impression on everyone, and he shaped me in ways that I’ve only recently begun to understand, though I’ve now outlived him by over a year. He was a tall, handsome man with a personal warmth and a charismatic speaking style that made him the best preacher I ever heard, though he wasn’t a preacher, he was a journalist.

His father and grandfather had both been Baptist preachers, active in the Georgia Baptist Convention and Mercer University, the Baptist college, but Daddy chose a different pulpit: a small-town weekly newspaper. He was a solid Baptist his whole life, and could fill any pulpit with a wonderful sermon, and he raised all of us to be dutiful Baptists as well. I was pretty much into that role until sometime in high school, and college broke me completely out of it (as I’ve related in earlier posts), but that never really came between us at the emotional level.

For much of my young life, I wanted to be him, but Vietnam – and all of the Vietnam era radicalism that I embraced – came between us in a big way. He had been a navigator on B-24’s in World War II, flying out of England in the storied raids on Hitler’s ball-bearing factories, and I became a war resister.

Well – first I joined the Air Force and became a pilot because I knew that would make him happy. But then I encountered the reality of the petty little empire-building escapade that we called, in our ignorance and arrogance, “the Vietnam War.” I went, despite my reticence, because I thought I really didn’t know what was going on there, going on in the world, going on in the exalted realms of the U.S. political system… so I should give up my foolish notions of knowing that it was all wrong and just go, like all the other people I knew who had gone and either died or come back.

And then I got there and found out it was every bit as depraved and stupid and immoral and deceptive and wrong as I had thought… and so after about nine months of it, I bailed. At least I tried to. I told them I wasn’t that into the war and wanted to be out of the Air Force.

They said, well, yes, but… no. You haven’t really done anything bad, you’ve played by the rules, been a good boy, so there’s no reason we should let you out before your commitment is up. So then I said, okay, fine, then I won’t do anything for you anymore. By then of course, I was back in the states and supposed to be an instructor, teaching guys to go there and do what I did for a year and ten days. (I was in country an extra ten days waiting for them to decide what to do with me, since I had an “administrative action pending”.)

It’s a long story, one I’ve related in my War Journal, which is on my website hoyama.org, but the upshot is, I finally got out. In the process of this, of course, my father and I had some serious, divisive, but inconclusive, discussions. He never really understood, though my mother supported me, and even after it was all over – my discharge, the war, the social debate – we never really talked about it at the level that we should have.

And then he died.

On his 66th birthday, really in the prime of his life, while I was living in Oregon, he went into heart bypass surgery and never regained consciousness. We rushed back to Georgia when they decided he needed the surgery, but he was still on the machine when we arrived, and his heart would never resume its work on its own, so he died as I stood in the intensive care ward watching him breathe and listening to the machines beep.

….

I was totally unprepared for the loss, and it flattened me.

I was pretty much lost in grief for some time, but eventually I repressed most of it and went back to my ignorance and denial. But it dug a hole in me that began to fester. All those unsaid things began to eat away my insides, All the regret and guilt of a lifetime eventually ate away my heart and my gut and replaced them with balls of molten metal.

About a year after Daddy’s death, Giana and Luke and I moved back to Georgia to be with my mom. She had been left pretty much alone when Daddy died, and though she was a strong and independent woman in many ways, the solitary life didn’t suit her. She needed family around, so we came.

Moving back to Georgia, I figured any hope of ever finding a Buddhist group to be part of was over. It was Georgia, the heart of Baptist-land. But I brought my Buddha-rupa, my carving, and set up a low-key altar in my house. I continued to think of myself as a Buddhist and read books about Buddhism.

And those balls of hot iron continued to grow inside me. I continued to descend into depression in longer and deeper spirals. I had never figured out that I needed to meditate on a regular basis. It seemed more like an exotic delicacy to be tasted at random, when in fact it’s as necessary as daily bread. So I suffered, and I visited that suffering on all those around me.

….

And then one day, our friend Claire came home from a weekend in Atlanta and told me about this wonderful thing she had found: a Zen center.