Loving the world

Well into my second week being mostly off the media grid, I’m feeling a recovery of the feelings of beauty and wonder that constitute love for the world… at least most of the time!

Finding that beauty, wonder and love in all the grit and grime is the real challenge. I am working on building my strength, working on being able to engage fully without losing that sense of the worth intrinsic in life.

The universe gave me a little nudge in that direction a few days ago when I came across this beautiful passage written by a friend, Sonya Huber:

A concrete loading dock doesn’t ask anything of you, doesn’t demand that you agree with its crazy stories or its lies–and that is love, after all. It will wrap you in the baked-cookie smell of rain on warm asphalt, the earth as industrial rows of monocrop corn stretching on either side of the highway. It will give you billboard-sized abstract paintings in layers of faded paint and chipped brick and colors that haven’t been named yet. You can read a philosophy on those surfaces, can vaguely make out the palimpsest of hope in the foreign language of a splash of yellow that somehow survived around those lovely pockmarked metal walls.

Ah yes, finding beauty, love, philosophy, hope even, in industrial concrete! What a gift!

This is practice in its highest form.

The paragraph is from Love and Industry, Sonya’s winning entry in the Terrain.org Non-fiction writing contest from back in 2013, which I had missed, probably because I was going to really need to hear it in August of 2016, and would not likely have gone back to read it had I already done so. The universe is clever like that. At least it comforts me to think so.

However, why ever, it happened, it happened. I read it. And it was very meaningful for me… helpful in those little ways friends and writers have of supporting us through the dark moments when all seems lost. Reminding us that love doesn’t always come with hearts and flowers and pink lace doilies.

It’s a great piece, still so perfect for these times three years later.

I must confess, I had to look up palimpsest – tho I had an inkling of its meaning, the full definition is instructive: “a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.”

It’s a wonderful image. An image true to so much of life, especially in these times. So much of what we have thought for some time to be true and unalterable has been scraped away by the edges of life’s movement, and perhaps it is yet just the flailing about of our crushed longings, but something new is being written on the old forms, something perhaps better and more true.

If we keep our eyes and our hearts open, maybe we’ll survive these latest insanities and move on to create that more beautiful world, one that is easier to love, but in the meantime, we have to keep loving the world as it is.

As Sonya says, “What else is there to love?”

Shame vs. love

“I think we will be much more powerful as activists if we can create conditions for the perpetrators of injustice to feel safe in seeing the truth Rather than taking an attitude of, “You are an ignorant and morally inferior person who needs to be shamed and corrected,” we could take an attitude of, “I know you, like I, are a caring and intelligent person. Here is some information to help you act more deeply on that care.”

–Charles Eisenstein

Charles Eisenstein tells a personal story with some interesting & insightful implications in a recent blog post. He was confronted by the police for taking his kids out onto a frozen river and charged with “disorderly conduct.” He points out the social meaning of this charge as part of the whole process of intimidating us into following social norms, and describes the process of humiliation and shaming that goes on in much of our society’s normative behavior, from child-rearing and schooling to punishment of criminals.

He says this shaming is really counter-productive, because it can drive people to express negative feelings in even more harmful ways as well as force them into defensive ideologies that justify their negative attitudes and behaviors. A much more effective approach is to establish commonality with people and help them to acknowledge their mistakes, as suggested in quote (above) from the article.

This reminds me of the truth embedded in Lojong #12, “Drive all blames into one,” which recommends that one accept the blame for anything that happens, because by accepting the blame on yourself, you open up space for the other persons involved to see and admit to their own culpability in the situation.

Charles says further, “…if we believe in the fundamental dignity of all people – then the problem is not only that we use the tools of shame, humiliation, and punishment for the wrong ends; the means itself is wrong, and it is inseparable from the end of domination and control.”

Discarding shame and punishment in favor of acceptance and true communication is the action of love. It can only come when we discover within ourselves that deep connection with the other that arises with dissolving the boundaries of self.

The Truth according to Bruce

Bruce Springsteen has long been one of my heroes and favorite musicians.

I love his stories, his heart, his social conscience, his identification with real life ordinary people. I love his horn sections, his no-flash style, and his growl. But I never really thought of him as a Zen type or even as weighing in on that side of things. But now I have to go back and re-listen.

His Rolling Stone Magazine interview with John Stewart (the comedian, not the folk singer) is so wonderful and filled with such insight and wisdom that I’m giving a second look to his catalog.

Maybe it’s because of the death of Clarence Clemmons, his long-time friend and sax player extraordinaire. The death of someone close creates introspection and leads to deeper wisdom – if we don’t close off to it.

There’s much of worth in the interview, but this comment seems appropriate to a meditation guide. Bruce is talking about his development as a musician and what things have impacted him, and then this sentence drops in: “Listening, paying attention, being open – that’s supposed to be the natural development of adulthood.” Stewart makes a brief joke, and then Bruce continues: “It’s supposed to be how we broaden and move into adulthood. We’re supposed to be picking up as we go – a larger experience of our world. It’s something I’ve tried to facilitate through what I’ve done – broaden people’s perspective, broaden people’s vision and assist people in seeing through to, for lack of a better word, the inner reality of things.”

This is about as good a definition of what a meditation practice is all about as I can think of.

Several of the American Buddhist teachers I’ve read – Pema Chodron in the Tibetan tradition and Joko Beck in the Zen tradition, for example – talk some about how what meditation practice does for you is helps you to become an adult. Helps you live your life in a mature, accepting, compassionate way.

And of course, it’s all about paying attention, all about experiencing that inner reality, as Bruce says.

An interesting thing about us humans, with our human processing system we call brain or mind, is that the specific conceptual context we are immersed in – surrounded by, believe in – conditions our experience of this inner reality in some way. Or so it seems. It may be that it only conditions what it is that we say about our experience.

It’s not possible in any absolute way to know what another’s experience actually is, so we must rely on what others say about their experiences, inner or otherwise, to know them. But based on what we observe others say, write, and do out of their inner experiences, it seems that those are colored by the context they bring to it. As I’ve suggested before, I tend to think that the actual experience is the same for everyone, or at least that it is possible that the experience is the same.

But it certainly seems to be true that being open to seeing the inner reality as revealed in meditation and other forms of experience affects us humans in very similar ways. And the better, deeper and less contaminated with the things we bring to it that experience is, the more profound its effect on us. Opens us up, broadens our perspective, as Bruce says.

Which is to say, the more it helps us to behave in our difficult life situations in adult ways, unselfish ways, aware ways, ways that are cognizant of our affect on others around us – ways that are the lived out version of love.

Thanks Bruce!