Focus

Focus

Several years ago, I had cataract surgery. I had worn glasses for poor vision before the surgery, but it was not until my ability to change visual focus naturally was taken from me by the surgery that I realized the importance of focus, at least visually.  The surgery removed my cataract-clouded natural lenses and replaced them with artificial lenses, giving me clearer vision but restricted to a specific focus, a far vision focus suitable for driving or walking.  To change my focus, I now require glasses geared to the focus I wish to achieve.

As important as focus is visually, it is exponentially more important when it comes to what we pay attention to.  I am not saying when it comes to what we believe, but what we focus on.  We may believe in the existence of extra-terrestrials, but not pay much attention to it, and also not be graced with flying saucer sightings.  Or we may believe that love conquers all but pay attention to the ways people hurt and betray each other, and have a very difficult time finding the love in which we believe.  It is the attention that counts; we attract what we pay attention to, one way or another.

We are currently in a time of chaos and transition.  In time, from this chaos will emerge a new way of being, of organizing, and perhaps even a new kind of human.  At the moment, the possibilities are myriad.  Richard Bach, in his book One, talks about parallel lifetimes, each a reality due to the choices that were made by the individuals (in the book’s case, he and his wife) that led to the different directions each life takes.  We are now in a kind of energy vortex, and the choices we make now will determine the course(s) our lives take.  There are so many possibilities.  Bach’s book, when I first read it, sent me into a kind of mental overload; I simply could not hold in mind simultaneously the many parallel paths he explored, all existing but hidden from each other except as he explored them. Now, I can see clearly paths forward in several (of course, not in all of the possible) different directions.  One direction is favored by the media and will lead to a result we may not have expected.  Others are also valid directions, each with results depending on the premise that underlies that particular path.  It is still overwhelming, and the temptation to follow those paths into the future and become preoccupied by that effort can be a siren call.

This awareness is a good thing, not something to become blind to.  We need the ability to follow into the future the outcomes that our choices of today can produce.  We also need the in-the-moment ability to sense what is going on amidst the chaos.  However, given that what we pay attention to tends to be what we manifest, the focus on what we are doing NOW, juxtaposed to what we have thoughtfully determined we want, is the most important.  We must resist the temptation to submerge ourselves in the “good old times” of the past (or in the traumas and suffering and anger and blaming), or to get lost in the maze of future possibilities and the fear some of them can produce.   We need to keep a focus on the present moment; this present moment is the space we have to create what we want to see.

The question is, what, in this present moment, do we want to see long term???  It is not simply how we must react to a situation to which the media promotes ever more fear, so that we believe that we have no choice but to follow the promoted story and keep our feet on that path, but what exactly do we want as the more beautiful, nurturing life we can envision?  (Although some of us may not want that, preferring a more contentious life that seems to assure more power or a more compliant life that promises more security.)  Rarely has armed opposition or inimical struggle brought about a lasting and fully positive outcome, and rarely has abdication of our individual power done that either.  There is a middle ground.  Yes, we need to learn to live cooperatively with each other, and with a sense of community.  First, however, we must heal ourselves so that we can not only envision a healed existence, but also act in the present moment based on what we envision.  Do we envision a world which is peaceful, which has abandoned the practice of war?   We must first be peaceful ourselves, having ceased to fight.  Do we wish to live in a world surrounded by the generous beauty of the natural world?  We must first become a part of nature, healing her as we heal ourselves.  Do we wish to live in a world of plenty?  First, we must be plenty ourselves, generously sharing with others of the plenty we have.  Do we wish to live in a world in which we are respected and appreciated for our talents?   First, we must learn to respect others, to appreciate their talents, and to retain our sense of awe, of wonder. We must carefully choose our visions.  Should we envision that which destroys or diminishes others or Nature itself, we will ourselves be destroyed and diminished thereby.  We must be careful choosers, and we must then be that vision we welcome into ourselves.  What we are doing in this present moment is our focus.

Our focus can be expressed in our actions, in our thoughts and in our souls. Whichever ways it is expressed, we must first choose to form and maintain the focus.  Before we can form and use focus, we must wake up and take the responsibility of knowing that no one or no thing else will save us, while we do nothing.  It is time to awaken and carefully create our visons, and to grow in strength to use our focus to heal and nurture our surroundings.  It is time to bring responsibility and creativity, life, and loving nurture as a response to apathy and entropy.  It is up to us.  What are we going to do?

 

Peace, Diane

 

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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