Excuses

I have had the joy and privilege of teaching children from preschool
through middle school level.  Often, they have taught me as much as I
have taught them.  And, whereas lesson content is certainly important,
some of the biggest learning is about life itself and interaction with
others.  An example is how willingly preschoolers absorb the simply
paraphrased Golden Rule. 

Another phenomenon is that when children become of
an age to undertake homework, a new issue rears its head – the
EXCUSE.  Some children love doing homework, and the idea of the excuse
does not engage their attention much.  Others, for a number of reasons,
definitely do not want to do it, often spending more effort on evading
the requirement than they would on actually fulfilling it.  There are
many excuses for the undone work, a classic (and not often offered) excuse being,”The dog ate my homework.”  And, of course, there are sometimes quite valid
reasons mingled in with the excuses. 

The thing about an excuse is that it does not acknowledge that the
homework was not done; instead, it offers apparent and sometimes quite
creative reasons why the student should be given credit without doing the
homework.  It does not honestly acknowledge that the homework was not
done and that therefore there is not credit for doing the homework.
(Exceptions/late acceptances may certainly be given for valid reasons
that are honest barriers to getting the work which was intended to be
accomplished done.)  The excuse is an attempt to avoid the work and also
the consequence for not doing the work.

We have a similar situation in our adult world today.  We all – or at
least most of us – want a world which is fairer, less violent, more
respectful and caring, and more attentive to the needs of our planet and
its denizens.  Most of us – but not all – seem to think that it is the
job of the government to create and provide this.   The truth is that we
are avoiding responsibility.  No government by itself can possibly create
a system which is at the same time fairer, less violent, more respectful
and caring, and more attentive to the needs of the planet on which we
live.  By its nature, the power of government will first be used to
secure the power of that government, and after that, whatever causes the
government feels it wants to undertake.  True change does not come from
the top down; mutual benefit does not come from the top down.   It comes
from the bottom up.  Those of us who are expecting the government –
either heavy handed or with a light touch – to secure and provide for us
those conditions we need for optimal living, without our doing anything
much except to obey and condemn those who disagree, are operating under
the same illusion as the student who thinks he or she should get credit
for undone work if he or she can offer a creative excuse.  We cannot gain
from giving away our power and doing nothing.

Change which comes from the bottom up involves each of those whom that
change will touch.  Not many of us live all by ourselves in a cave in the
mountains.  We will all be touched by changes and doing the work of
those changes involves us all.  We can elect the leaders we want, but
with election does not come the ability to shoulder the responsibility of
each member of the community.  Those who drop their responsibility have
not given it to an authority, although they may have given their decision
making power away. The responsibility remains, even if ignored.  We can
be certain that if we give our power away and ignore our responsibility,
we will get changes which are not to our liking.  Politically, true
democracy rests on an informed and participating public – not just a
leader/leaders and followers who echo what they say.

In order to achieve the goal of a widely participating public, it is
necessary to begin listening to each other as opposed to debating,
condemning or overpowering each other.  There is what I (and some others)
call the “Law of Paradox”, which states, paraphrased, that if one holds
in mind two diametrically opposing concepts long enough, one will
eventually arrive at the center between them, which is where the truth is
most likely to lie.  If one engages in (or writes) a discussion, as
opposed to a debate or a persuasive presentation of one side only, one
understands and considers BOTH sides.  Usually, one’s conclusion falls
somewhere between the two (or more) sides.  However, even if the
conclusion reached is strongly on one side of the spectrum, it is ALWAYS
influenced by the opposing perspective.   The process is not competitive.
 What is sought is truth, not simply the power to “win”, to silence that
which disagrees with one’s own particular viewpoint.  Rarely, if ever, is
this done by big government.  It is, however, exemplified in the
consensus decision making process used by many intentional communities.

People, we each have the responsibility to think, to envision, to
discuss, to listen and to COOPERATIVELY create the system and
environment in which we wish to live, from the grassroots up. (That does not mean giving in, it simply means not insisting on all one’s own way being the only right way,
and it means treating the other with loving kindness.) Those of us
who neglect to do that are abandoning both themselves and their fellow
beings.  The more who give away their power by abandoning it, the less
habitable our world will be.   We are currently on the cusp of change; it
is time to wake up.  There are limitless excuses for being lazy, for
neglecting to do the work required of us.  The excuses will not give us
credit for having done the work.  No work means no credit, and results we do
not wish to see, about which we may find out too late.

Let us wake up and stop using excuses to try to get what we want.  Let us
realize what is being required of us, to cooperatively and respectfully
engage in discussion of how to firmly but peacefully make the changes
needed to usher us into a new way of being, known for a long time to
those willing to listen.  Our humanity and the existence of the planet
and all its denizens, including us, depends on that. 

Peace, Diane

Time to Act

2021 has arrived!   Holidays and celebrations are over.  It’s time to resume working!  The important work, however, has changed with the year. This time, our work is not simply to do a job to earn money. It is the work of healing our planet, restoring respectful and nurturing connections among our human species and between humans and the denizens with whom we share our planet and developing a social order supportive of these goals.  It is becoming a renewed kind of people, each of us the kind of people with whom we would like to live. It is the work in which each of us has a part, and which without each part, the chances of manifesting lessen.  This is the most important work we have ever had.  It is time to get started.  Time is running out.

There is so much to accomplish – work which takes physical activity, mental effort, emotional processing, spiritual energy. It is easy to hide one’s head in the sand, and pretend that all is well, and our government will do what is best for us and achieve the goal.   Opting out in such a way is abandoning the task and increasing the chances that we will all face either destruction, or an outcome we do not wish, possibly even one which negates our humanity. Why?  First, the work to be done cannot be accomplished from a top-down stance.  Big anything will not be able to get it done.  Big politics, big government, big technology, big business, big media, and the like will never, ever create a healed Earth or a healed web of life.  The “bigs” create what supports the “bigs”; Big Brother may take care of us, but will also tell us how to be, what to do, how to live, what to think.   That is the first reason.

In addition – perhaps this should be first, as it underlies the former – we are each responsible for who we are, how we grow, what we do and how we live.  For this, we do not answer to Big Brother or any “big”.  We answer to life itself, and to the results we produce for ourselves.  If one is religious, we answer to God.  Because we are responsible, we also have the power, individually and especially collectively, to affect our goals.  In microcosm, if we are adult, we can no longer blame our parents for our ills, because we possess within ourselves the power to right them, if we wish to exercise that power.    On a larger scale, we cannot blame the government, the opposite political party, religious organizations, people we think are maliciously trying to control us, people who we perceive as enemies, careless other people, being too young or too old, or anything else for what we dislike.  Each time we do that, we are giving away a bit of our power to create harmoniously, to make things right.

We need to heal our Earth, reforest, and renew her.  To that end, we also need to, among other things, adjust our economies, our lifestyles and consumption of resources.  We need to balance our consumption with our production and our capacity to renew that from which we take.   We need to create a social order that assigns equal humanity to each human being on the planet.  Note, that does not mean “same”.  Each of us is unique.  It means that we extend equal value, consideration, and use of resources to each human being, whether they are like us or not. We need to think about giving “rights” to others, not about how to get them. We need to wean ourselves from killing, especially knee-jerk killing, and replace that with respect and love.  We need to learn to listen to each other.  We need to learn to govern ourselves effectively, without relying on any of the “bigs” to tell us what to do.  We need to learn to grow food and medicines respectfully, in ways which replenish the Earth which nurtures us.  We need to eliminate war.  We need to learn to grow ourselves so that our actions, visions, and responses are rooted in the loving essence from which we all come.  We need to learn to express that essence and recognize the oneness between not only us humans but also each expression of life.

That is only the beginning, and already the task is huge.  It will take all of us to accomplish, but it is absolutely possible, despite the pull from entropy.  We can use our inner vision to project – what would the world look like if we achieve our goal?  What would it be like, if it survives at all, if we do not?  Here are two easily-read resources to check out: Brave New World combined with Brave New World Revisited, both by Aldous Huxley, and the entire Celestine Prophecy series, by James Redfield.  There are others, but those are good starts. 

Each of us has his or her own unique talent, his or her own thing that he or she loves or does well.  Large or small does not matter.  Current standards of pay do not matter.  Leading, supporting, or working independently does not matter.   Excuses to not act do not actually excuse; they only indicate an unwillingness to participate.  Even the bedridden can participate; the power of prayer and vision holding is great.  The power of extending love is infinite.  

Are you one who cares for the land, who grows food and medicines?  Are you one who can use tools and build?  Do you do best at designing structures?  Can you understand and translate the processes of nature into harmonious human activity?  Are you a cook, a teacher, a nurturer?  Are you a visual artist, a musician, a storyteller? Are you a philosopher, a priest, one who can perceive the surrounding world most of us find invisible?  Are you a healer? Are you an activist?   Find your talent and commit to the task.  In such a way, 2021 can be the year in which we respond to the challenge to grow, heal, and become.

Remember that top down does not work; top down most often gets in the way.  Big anything does not have the power to do anything for us.   Each of us is responsible for the outcome; each of us has the power to affect it. 
We can choose to give up our power, and declare ourselves helpless, or victims that need rescuing.  That sinks us deeper into the quicksand.  Each of us needs to listen to the other, and each of us needs to work.  Let us be the people who rise to the challenge.  Let us choose life.     Happy New Year!

Peace, Diane

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Difficult Discerning

With so much chaos surrounding us, with so much conflicting information circulating in the Internet, and so much use of doublespeak and manipulation in persuasive media communication, it can be difficult to discern just where truth lies.  The temptation is to magnify the story that calls to us, and to demonize those who are called by an opposing story.  An oft-repeated Zen story about a farmer and his fortunes points out the difficulty in deciding if an event is good or bad.  Because the terms “good” and “bad” are related to the perspective from which things are viewed, and because none of us has the wide overview that embraces all time, those of us who think we know may have widely differing viewpoints, some, or none of which may be “real”.   Here is the story, as taken from the Internet.

There once was an old Zen farmer. Every day, the farmer used his horse to help work his fields and keep his farm healthy.

But one day, the horse ran away. All the villagers came by and said, “We’re so sorry to hear this. This is such bad luck.” 

But the farmer responded, “Bad luck. Good luck. Who knows?”

The villagers were confused but decided to ignore him. A few weeks went by and then one afternoon, while the farmer was working outside, he looked up and saw his horse running toward him. But the horse was not alone. The horse was returning to him with a whole herd of horses. So now the farmer had 10 horses to help work his fields.

All the villagers came by to congratulate the farmer and said, “Wow! This is such good luck!”

But the farmer responded, “Good luck. Bad luck. Who knows?

A few weeks later, the farmer’s son came over to visit and help his father work on the farm. While trying to tame one of the horses, the farmer’s son fell and broke his leg. 

The villagers came by to commiserate and said, “How awful. This is such bad luck.” 

Just as he did the first time, the farmer responded, “Bad luck. Good luck. Who knows?” 

A month later, the farmer’s son was still recovering. He wasn’t able to walk or do any manual labor to help his father around the farm. 

A regiment of the army came marching through town conscripting every able-bodied young man to join them. When the regiment came to the farmer’s house and saw the young boy’s broken leg, they marched past and left him where he lay.

Of course, all the villagers came by and said, “Amazing! This is such good luck. You’re so fortunate.”

And you know the farmer’s response by now…

“Good luck. Bad luck. Who knows?”

We often try to control the events of our lives by deciding what outcome would be good and what would be bad, and then working very hard to achieve one and avoid the other.

When things go according to our plans, we’re overjoyed. But when things don’t turn out as we’d hoped, we’re deflated. We might even lash out at others who we think are responsible for creating the ‘bad’ outcome. 

It’s as if we’ve drawn these two rigid columns of Good and Bad in our minds, and we’re constantly chasing more checkmarks in the Good column and none in the Bad. 

But as the story of the Zen farmer shows us, we don’t always know whether an event will ultimately prove to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. 

So much of life can’t be neatly categorized as Good or Bad. 

Something that seems like good news in the present moment might turn out to bring inconveniences or even heartbreak in the future. And something that appears to be a bad thing in the present moment might become very useful on another occasion.

Think about where this is true in your own life…

Maybe there was something you were very upset about when it occurred (like a breakup or job loss), but in time, it turned out to be an important catalyst for growth, new relationships and fulfilling experiences. 

Or maybe there was a time when something happened that seemed like wonderful news (like making a new friend, or the political candidate you voted for being elected) but over time, you realized that supposed ‘good’ thing wound up making your life far more unpleasant.

What would it be like to go through life like the farmer? 

Taking the perspective of “Good luck. Bad luck. Who knows?” allows for a deep sense of equanimity – in the meditative traditions, this is considered to be one of the highest forms of happiness we can experience, because we’re not constantly fighting our moments. 

Equanimity means we look at life with calmness and an even temper, even in difficult situations.

This doesn’t mean we become numb to the real difficulties in our personal or collective lives. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we rationalize and passively accept injustice in the hopes that one day it’ll lead to a good outcome.

But when we learn to stop grasping at life’s moments to coerce them into becoming only exactly what we want, we experience a greater fluidity and ease, which supports whatever action we choose to take. 

This week set the intention that you will take the perspective of the farmer as much as possible. If a challenging event occurs and you find yourself gripping in frustration, take a few deep breaths and repeat to yourself “Bad luck. Good luck. Who knows?”.

And similarly, if something exciting happens and you find yourself wanting to cling to that feeling, almost as if you’re scared of losing the good experience, repeat to yourself, “Good luck. Bad luck. Who knows?”. Notice what happens.

https://blog.mindfulness.com/meditation/are-these-bad-times-or-good-times-the-story-of-the-zen-farmer

I think the point of the story is not admitting that one’s own view is “wrong” or that any particular view, official or alternative, is the absolute “right” one.  As humans, we are given the capacity of choice, which comes with a responsibility to thoughtfully use that choice.  The point of the story is to not simplify perceptions and solutions into absolute categories called “good” and “bad” and to not assume that we know or can control the grand plan of creation. 

For example, there are three broad theories (of which I am aware) about the current chaos.  One is that if we all simply continue to wear masks a little longer and all get vaccinated, we will emerge into an age of prosperity and freedom in which there will be no more of the restrictions currently imposed – almost, but not quite, a return to an undefined “normal”.  Another is that we are headed by design into an era of complete collapse and emerging totalitarianism, for which we need to be alert and prepared.  A third is that we are in a stage of evolution which will not only result in a different social order (one which protects the earth) but in an entirely different kind of human.   Is only one of these “right”?  Even if one of these is the most probable, does that make the others “bad”, something to be condemned and perhaps even fought about?  What will such struggle achieve? Is it possible that each perspective contains a bit of truth?

Each of us, steered by our own set of experiences and our own reflections on these experiences, must do the best we can to discern meaning and direction in the currents and eddies that surround us.  Most of us apply, consciously or unconsciously, criteria in making those assessments.  For example, some may choose a path of least resistance.  Others choose to oppose or struggle.  Some choose to build examples.  One of my criteria is that we are each responsible for our own perceptions, actions, and well-being.  That does not imply blame for being “wrong”, or that we can never learn from someone else. It does not imply wholesale rejection of the guidelines we have been given from our various traditions, or values that have survived the test of time.  It is simply that it is counterproductive to give over our power to choose to governments, employers, spiritual leaders, heads of clan, or anyone else who is sure of the “right way” and demands we all follow along upon the path prescribed by them.  Perhaps the path leads where we would like to go; perhaps it does not.  We may never know if it is “right path/wrong path”, “bad luck/good luck”.  We can only deal with our choices here and now, and make sure those choices are in line with the best of our understanding.  We must stay ready to learn and grow.  We must know and envision what we are trying to create and align our choices with our vision.

The story of the Zen farmer is also in line with that to which many of the great religions and philosophies of the world adhere:  Judge Not.  In other words, discern as you must, but do not use discernment to call what is perceived as “good” or “bad” and set these against each other.  For example, joy is often perceived as “good” and grief as “bad”.  Yet each brings its own rewards, and the parameters of one actually facilitate the parameters of the other.  Without the polarities, we would know equanimity, but neither joy nor sorrow. Let us take our energy away from making judgments and instead strive to perceive ever more deeply and to respond with love towards each other, no matter the differences of opinion.  Wherever we perceive love (not talking about romance), that is the direction in which the polarities will weaken, and the chaos will dissipate.

The solstice is shortly upon us, when the seasons change and in the north the days begin to lengthen.  Let us welcome the solstice by suspending judgment in favor of respect and love.

Peace, Diane

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From Gratitude to Joy

“It is easy to be grateful for what you have in abundance and for what you like,” continued the lecturer.  “It is harder to be grateful for what is not yet perceived as having arrived or for what we may not find pleasant.”  I was watching a virtual presentation on the topic of the joy of gratitude.  That sentence remained forefront in my mind.   Most of us find it relatively easy to, if not feeling deep gratitude, at least say “thank you” for what we consider to be a benefit.  Giving thanks for what we perceive we do not actually possess, what has not yet manifested in material form, or for a difficult situation or event is more likely to be relegated to the category of complaint.

Most of us are seeking happiness, which happiness we believe will appear if we have a particular thing or if this, that, or the other situation occurs.  Sadly, the specific condition usually remains a will-o-the-wisp, or, once arrived, is swiftly followed by another condition to be met. The truth is that gratitude does not follow simply as a result of receiving what we think we want, or of our fleeting joy at getting our way; gratitude is actually the precursor of happiness.  Whether we are grateful for receiving what we want, or whether we are grateful for receiving what we do not find enjoyable or for what we are still anticipating, the happiness will not be there until the gratitude has arrived.  It is said that the happiest among us are the most grateful.

If we find ourselves not as facile as we wish at achieving a state of gratitude, despite frequent affirmations to that effect, perhaps it is because we are approaching the situation backwards.  Waiting on the manifestation of a particular condition for gratitude to appear brings us just that – more waiting, rather than the appearance of either the condition or the feeling of being grateful.  Perhaps if we were to develop the practice of being grateful for what we don’t seem to have or for what we don’t want or find appealing, we might find happiness even though our particular conditions do not appear.   Still more, our very embrace of gratitude for itself just might facilitate the manifestation of what we thought would never appear.

When the husband of one of my friends lost his job, it was to him as if his very identity had been snatched from him.  Fear and anger dominated his days – fear that he would not be able to provide for himself and family, fear that he would cease to exist as a valuable person, anger that he might need to be provided for by others.  Slowly, he began to open to the hidden benefits of being unemployed.  He began to appreciate the added time with his family, especially his children.  He began to enjoy being able to go for a walk in the wooded areas near his home.  He read more.  The disadvantages did not go away and were still difficult.  Yet, they were eased by his appreciation of what he had begun to enjoy.  The appreciation turned to gratitude, and he began to give thanks that his former job had disappeared, and for the benefits that loss had brought him.  Surprise – within a month of his embrace of gratitude for his difficult situation, he received a job offer that he had not expected.  

Even harder is the concept of being grateful for what has not been achieved or for what is not yet manifest.  The vision of what needs to be done, of what “has” to happen, or of what needs to come is massively powerful, and the nagging question remains of why the vision has been given if the opportunity has not accompanied it.  Inspirational speakers on gratitude, such as, for example, the late Wayne Dyer, explain how the position of believing that one already has that which one wishes, envisioning it and being grateful for it, brings that very vision into manifestation – if not exactly, then very closely.  The wisdom of the gratitude coming first is clear; when we complain about what we do not have we are actually in the process of affirming that lack.  Our words have power.  If we can see, hear, and feel that which we wish, and be grateful for it, we are emitting a positive creative energy, which can draw to us that which we wish.  (How quickly is not promised; patience is a virtue, too.)  At the very least, we can focus more attention on being grateful for what we have in front of us, instead of complaining about what is not before us.

Gratitude is a powerful change agent.  There is an even better reason, though, for practicing the feeling of gratitude.  Gratitude presupposes a feeling of satisfaction.  When one feels satisfied, there is no perception of lack.  One is satisfied with the conditions that are and with the physical good one has.  That does not mean that there are not goals for later, or that the present moment is static and that what is present in the moment is all there will ever be.  It simply means that satisfaction is now, and that with satisfaction comes content or joy and an openness or non-resistance to what is.   Gratitude practiced simply for itself, without the expectation that a desired change will indeed follow, is the underpinning of being happy.  It is a connection to the creative essence from which we all emerge and to which we all return.  It returns us to what we are, unsullied by the stories and desires we weave around us.  Gratitude is a form of love.

During these times when we are surrounded by so much that we feel we do not want, by difficulties that sometimes seem too much to bear, by fears of loss, lack and deprivation, let us find the things for which we can be grateful.   Let us practice gratitude for those, and through practice, gratitude for what is and for life in general.    Let us practice becoming genuinely happy.  

Peace, Diane