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

____________________________________________________________

Dreaming Our New Reality

The old man sat quietly alert on the rock outcropping near the top of the hill.  The dry air, warmed by the late morning sunshine, stirred lazily around him, ruffling his white hair, and caressing his closed eyes.  Behind him, at the foot of the hill, the tribe patiently continued daily tasks as if nothing were going on.  They were awaiting the old man’s return.  Before him spread the expanse of grassland.  In the distance, a herd of bison nibbled on the sere grass, vainly searching for a few green blades.  None of this caught the attention of the old man.  His focus was inward, away from the arid, heat-permeated landscape surrounding him.  The old man was sensing rain.  Within his trance, he could see the dark clouds approach, feel the damp breeze on his skin, notice the slight drop in temperature, smell the droplets of a deluge, hear distant rumbling thunder.  The rains were coming.  He KNEW that, knowing in a way that belied the logic of drought surrounding him, of grass waiting like tinder to catch the first spark.  The old man had been there since dawn, going ever deeper into his trance, sensing ever more strongly the coming of rain.

Towards sunset, the grazing bison looked up.  The breeze had stilled for the moment; dark clouds began to form on the horizon.   The bison stopped grazing.  They began to circle, calves in the middle for shelter.  The old man paid no attention. The dark clouds grew, and the wind began to pick up.  Lightning split the sky, and thunder rumbled over the bison.  Clouds obscured the setting sun as the storm increased its force, soaking the dried grass and the parched earth.  The bison lifted their heads in welcome to the rain.  Now the wind blew strong over the old man, who was still sitting quietly.  A clap of thunder woke him from his trance.  A deluge from the sky washed over him as he stood up and began the walk to the encampment.  Dancing children approached him, frolicking in the rain.  The old man entered among the people.   “It rained,” he said.

The old man had been dreaming rain.  He was the tribal shaman, trained from adolescence in the ability to enter the invisible realms the aborigines call “dreamtime”.  From those spaces he would heal, divine, and call to the tribe what was needed.  Rain was needed at the moment.  He was an expert in these skills.  

These skills are not, however, potentially limited to shamans.  Each of us possesses the possibility of using our focus, our imaginations, our understanding and creative inner gifts to do, individually or collectively, what the shaman had done.  We can create ceremony, sing what we wish to create, draw it, sculpt it, write it, or sit in focused meditation.  We can even simply speak the truth we wish to see.   We do not need to be trained shamans operating alone.  Collectively, our smaller individual acts coalesce into a larger effect.

There are certainly many intertwined issues that face us in this moment.  An election is over, but we cannot all sit back and relax and assume that the “old normal” will now return.  The “old normal” is gone; what will ensue from the current chaos will be the result of what we collectively dream.  We have work to do.  What do we wish to see?  For example, most of us wish to be free of the coronavirus.  Do we wish to see everyone mandated in masks?  Do we wish to see everyone required to receive experimental vaccines and tracked to make sure we do?  Do we believe that governing from the top to “take care” of everyone, controlling them even as they are relieved of responsibility for addressing things themselves, will be desirable? 

One priority is the well-being of our planet.  The coronavirus is one virus. Even if it is manmade, as some say, more are in waiting from nature if we do not address the healing of the earth.  It is interconnected.  I believe we wish to see ourselves, generally, healthy, free to interact with each other, living in cooperation with nature on a healed earth, inhabiting a healed social order in which we can care for and trust one another.  I believe we would like an economic order in which everyone can provide for him/herself and his/her family with the work of hands, heart, or mind.  If these things are what we wish, we need to envision these things instead of trying to figure out what we need to require others to do and how we will make them do it.  We need to cooperatively envision the result, not the means.

There is temptation to turn passive, believing that there is nothing we or anyone can do to affect the present or the outcome of things.  Such a stance leads to being taken over as a source of energy for ways which are not ours.  There is also temptation to believe that raising anger and marching in the streets, perhaps rioting, will change things in the direction we wish them to go.  The fact is that if the negative challenges are met directly, head on, the result will be more of the same, perhaps dressed in different clothes.  We must use the indirect way, the way of the old man who “saw” the rain and then it came.  Each of us has a piece of the future to imagine. Each of us has a creative way of expressing that (and yes, even cleaning a house can be a creative expression, when it is done with the loving consciousness we envision).   What is your thought?  How do you wish the world to be?  How can you dream that and express your dream?  It takes us all.

We live in a world bounded by time.  Humans have created this concept and been caught in its web.   Time cannot run backwards.  We cannot return to the time before COVID-19, or the time before 9/11, or the time our grandmothers tell stories about.  We must live in and act in the present, with all its problems that surround us, and also with all the beauty that still exists if we pause and relax long enough to notice it.  What our future will be depends on how we orient ourselves now.

May we awaken to the creative power we all embody, and to the focused, reverent application of that ability.  May we all dream a world which includes a healed Earth restored to its beauty and harmony, and a social structure which recognizes the full humanity of all of us and supports just, compassionate, and reverent ways of interacting.  We are the shamans.   It is time we worked. 

Peace, Diane

What Next?

I remember quite clearly the day I learned suddenly of the destruction taking place on 9/11.   I was teaching my preschool class, completely unaware of events, when a mother came in to sign out her child.    “We are under attack,” she said.  “They’re bombing the Pentagon.”  At first, I found it hard to believe what she was saying.   The day seemed perfectly normal to me.  Then, more parents came in to take their children home, and the director of the school confirmed the reports from what she had heard on the radio.      To say that the information was a shock is an understatement.  Who could be attacking America, and further, doing it successfully?  Neither I nor anyone else knew what would come next.

Something was lost that day – even more than the vast loss of life that caused immense suffering to so many people.  America lost her feeling of innocence, of being invulnerable to being hurt.  We were now as able as anyone else to undergo trauma.  We were no longer “on top”, unassailable, deferred to.   The loss angered most people.   It also changed our society forever.  The effects of those changes are now a part of our lives.

A score of years later, we are currently amidst another crisis, one of a different nature, but equal intensity.   From this crisis, too, many lives are being lost, and the nature of our nation is again changing.  The media are full of fear messages and instructions about how to cope.  People are asked to distance themselves physically from each other (especially no gatherings), and are, for the most part, cooperating with that.  Those of us who are not technologically savvy are either being left out or undergoing a steep learning curve.   Elders are being left to die alone, without loved ones in attendance.  People are losing jobs and income, and real solutions to that still have to emerge.  Other serious issues, such as climate change and elections, are on the back burner.  The increase in national debt to finance the very basic promised government help will create added stress on an already globally weakened dollar.  Everything seems to be falling apart, and no one seems to be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

All of which leave me wondering.  To what advantage to whom if anyone is an absence of people gathering together and of most interactions being done online?  Perhaps someone knows that answer.  What will happen to the poor and the disadvantaged?   How will our economy and business activity evolve, assuming they recover?  What will be the changes to our governing structure?  

The silver lining is that if we are aware and active, we have the chance to shape from chaos the organization that will emerge.  We have choices.  Certainly, we can sit back and wait, counting on others to take care of us and make our lives something we are happy to be experiencing.  We can also sit back and wait on the flip side of that, assuming that nothing needs be done because what is happening is needed; the loss of population and the collapse of institutions are good signs and whatever happens need not concern us now.  We can also start to envision what we would like to emerge, and to comprehend the steps we would need to take to get from here to there.  The one thing we cannot do, unless we wish to engage in a fairy tale, is to presume that after a few months everything will resume as it had been, and nothing much will change.

Perhaps we will continue to live as a people mostly living and working online.  That would be a change appreciated by some, while others will grieve the loss of being able to shop in a store instead of shopping online.  Perhaps the weak response of the Federal government, which has led to piecemeal approaches by each state as states attempt to take control of coronavirus action within their boundaries, will result in a confederation of states, rather than a central government – much as the structure of the UN.  Perhaps the rebound from social isolation will be that people meet and talk in person more than we did before.   Perhaps a heyday of machine mediated living will emerge, and we will be welcomed by self-driving cars, robot companions and helpers, and enhanced AI – we would need to do little or nothing.  Perhaps new ways of doing business and meeting our needs will emerge as the dollar continues to weaken to the point of collapse (there have already been predictions of that, before the coronavirus).   We do not exactly know what will emerge, but whatever emerges will be what we wish and design, or what someone else wishes and designs, according to the extent of our involvement or inactivity.

I have received over my email several theories and predictions about the economy and about what we should do as a result.  One group is convinced that the currency of the future will be digital, and that the wise thing to do is to learn about and invest in currencies such as Bitcoin.  Other people are more traditional; their take is that he or she who has the most gold will control the future, and that gold will again be the medium of exchange, at least until a seriously gold-backed new currency can evolve.  Not many are of my leaning, that what is most valuable is arable land and as many cooperating people as needed to tend it sustainably.  Food and shelter are basic needs.   One cannot eat gold, or Bitcoin either, for that matter.    (I am ignoring the theory of chaos populated by armed bandits that pits us against each other, individually and in groups.)  If I can, I will acquire such land, individually or in a group, however I can.    That is a large goal.   A smaller aim, one which most of us can do, is to learn how to garden, to grow our own food, and to learn the use of herbal medicines.  Some are also able to learn to lead in organizing our neighborhoods into cooperating groups.  It used to be that way – my mother told tales of growing up in such a neighborhood.  What we have forgotten, we can remember, and bring forth anew in a shape to fit our times.

It is admirable that people are responding positively to the current enforced distancing by singing from balconies, smiling and greeting each other from a distance, posting pictures in windows, and checking digitally more often on friends and family.    It is good to continually hear from the media (among more dire predictions) that we will all come through this.  These are blessings to be absorbed now, comforts that enable us to handle the sudden changes and the contra-intuitive way of being, apart from each other.  They are superb in the short term, but not enough to carry us through the long term.  We also need to  begin now to ponder the changes, the questions the changes engender, the direction in which current patterns are leading us (for example, I hear little about ameliorating climate change, which is also upon us), the directions in which we would like to go to achieve goals which we want, and the steps we need to take to get there.  We need to start talking about those things.  We need to be aware, and to take responsibility for creating that which emerges from this chaos.  We can no longer afford to be a nation of children, looking to others to solve the problems and take care of us.  In that way, we lose our power and our humanity.

Amid all that swirls around us, let us take the time and devote the energy to thinking about the questions which have arisen and to discuss them with others – both those who agree and who disagree.   Let us envision a future we want and ponder how to make the transition from here, now and in the near future, to that desired outcome.  Let us take the responsibility to create our systems, our futures, our lives.    It is certainly possible to do that.

Peace, Diane

We Really Do Matter

” I have marched, petitioned, written letters to the editor, made phone calls and donated, but despite all I can do, nothing seems to have changed.   I feel I cannot make a difference.”  The words refer to the current crisis of climate change, uttered during a conversation about that topic.  The words are poignant, but the speaker is not the only one who feels that way.  At some time or another, each of us experiences frustration at not being able to inspire the changes we want to see, and many also experience a strong desire to give up and stop working.  Paradoxically, while we experience that desire, we also know that actually doing that will not bring lasting happiness.

I, too, experience such discouragement.  At times, it seems that no matter what words I use, they will simply echo back from the void of inertia, slip into the antithesis of what I am trying to challenge, and perish unread and unconsidered.  At such times, it is hard to continue.  Yet, giving up would simply create more hopelessness, and negate the essence of who I am, re-incorporating it into a standard status-quo.  No wealth or luxury (or the “righteousness” of its opposite) can soothe the injection of pain resulting from giving up.

I would that it were easier for us to continue.  I would that we were not surrounded by the integrated tangle we have made for ourselves by assuming that we can create better than the wisdom of nature, or the tenets of Wisdom.  However, wishing does not make it so.  We are indeed all linked, whether in chaos or creation, or both at the same time.  This connection, while it may seem at times to present an insurmountable obstacle, is in fact an innate strength upon which we all may draw as we continue living and doing our parts to nurture each other and our planet.  Understanding this can lift us up; acting on the understanding can help us perceive often imperceptibly slow forward movement.

We need community; we need others with whom to work, strive and share.  We need those whose efforts commingle with ours to heal ourselves and our planet.  We need to act on the knowledge that we are all linked, and that each of us does make a difference to the nature and quality of the whole.  Our connection is creative – even if we are joined in creating destruction – and allowing ourselves to be separated each from the other, perceiving the separation rather than the link, inhibits our creative manifestation.   Many ways exist to connect.  Some are those of technology (not the same as physical proximity, but yes, a kind of connection), discussion groups, action/service groups, economic cooperatives, extended family, neighborhoods and co-housing, monastic groups, intentional communities, to name a few.  These groups, each in its own way, support their members (and sometimes others, too) and devote their pooled energy into influencing the creation of the as-yet-unformed that is to come.

Another obstacle many of us experience is the perceived lack of time.  Often our experience is that when all the work done to support ourselves is finished, there remains the maintenance work at home to sustain us, and some time spent to connect with family and friends.  That done, perhaps we can eke out a little time to read, exercise or learn and grow in one way or another.   When all that is accomplished, there remains little time to sleep, even if we have been operating with the stress of full speed ahead.  Community is helpful in this way as well.  Work shared (remunerative or for maintenance) means less time each individual needs to spend on tasks.  Shared effort means support for each other.  Shared knowledge means learning and growing in the course of being.  Time saved means less time spent rushing and more time available for sleep and healing, and more time in which to pursue those efforts about which one is passionate.

“It is all so complex,” one might protest.  “We are becoming more fully aware of the consequences of climate change, yet it seems that averting the full effects of climate change cannot be addressed without also engaging the issues with which it is linked.”  It is as if the totality of mistakes made in human society are the drivers of the changes on the planet as a whole.  Yes, fossil fuels are certainly a large part.  But what about people trapped residing in marginalized areas or substandard housing, an agricultural system seemingly bent on destroying the life of the soil as it goes about chemically killing everything it cannot sell, factory farms selling meat from abused animals while polluting ecosystems, a political and economic system structured to exclude or minimize minorities, escalating wars, and technology fever, which separates us from the earth and gives us the illusion that it will protect us from change?  These are a few of today’s issues; they are related to climate change.  Cause for hopelessness?   Not when we realize that each little bit helps; when enough drops have fallen into the bucket, the bucket will overflow.

Let us hold on to hope, learn to feel the interconnectedness of all things, gather into community, and be aware that we do, indeed, matter.  Anything, small or large, that we do counts.  Let us “hold the vision and keep the faith” and continue to contribute from the time we manage to devote and the talents we have been given.  In this way, we continue to grow, helping the earth and others in the process.

Peace, Diane