New blog post. Some thoughts about the end Book 2 of Korra. Even though we identify as human beings, we have the potential to tap into something beyond our human forms.
A big, tough samurai once went to see a little monk.
He barked, in a voice accustomed to instant obedience.
“Teach me about heaven and hell!”
The monk looked up at the mighty warrior and replied with utter disdain,
“Teach you about heaven and hell? I couldn’t teach you about anything. You’re dumb. You’re dirty. You’re a disgrace, an embarrassment to the samurai class. Get out of my sight. I can’t stand you.”
The samurai got furious. He shook, red in the face, speechless with rage. He pulled out his sword, and prepared to slay the monk.
Looking straight into the samurai’s eyes, the monk said softly,
The samurai froze, realizing the compassion of the monk who had risked his life to show him hell! He put down his sword and fell to his knees, filled with gratitude.
The monk said softly,
“And that’s heaven.”
Excerpted from Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
A good lesson to stew on for a little while.
Achilles killed Hector and then dragged his body around the walls of Troy because he was a dick. Now let’s see how this applies to the bombings in Boston…
When i see the way people have reacted to the events in Boston, i can’t help but be reminded of an angry, starved mongrel. The news coverage has been ridiculous (and not in a funny way) and our vision is cripplingly parochial; bloodthirsty spectators are glued to corporate news networks and are too busy demanding bits of flesh to even consider spending less time demanding revenge and more time asking, “Why?”
I am in no way trying to make less of what happened at the Boston Marathon; i truly sympathize with all of the victims. However, we fail to remember that this was not 9/11. This was not the 7/7 London bombings, nor was it the 11-M bombings in Madrid. Yet we continue to act otherwise. Now, we have the younger bomber in custody and people continue to froth at the mouth. I see how we act and i am both worried and ashamed.
Okay. Back to Homer.
Hector went to battle because it was his duty, not because he sought glory or honor or revenge. When he killed Patroclus on the battlefield, he left the body alone. Why? Because he wasn’t a dick. When Achilles went out for revenge, he killed Hector and then desecrated his body while all of Troy looked on. Why? Because he was a dick.
In regards to the young man who is now in custody, would it not be better for us to act as Hector would and not Achilles? Let’s do what needs to be done - investigate and arrive at a verdict - and turn our energy towards healing and helping the victims of the attack. In other words, don’t be a dick.
Disclaimer: I know i’ve used the Hector/Achilles line before. I get the feeling that i will have to use it again in the future, and that makes me sad.
—No More Taking Sides with Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad
In light of the horrific stories coming out of Gaza and Israel, I’d encourage all of us to listen to this interview we did with two remarkable human beings: Robi Damelin, who lost her son David to a Palestinian sniper, and Ali Abu Awwad, who lost his older brother Yousef to an Israeli soldier.Instead of clinging to traditional ideologies and turning their pain into more violence, they’ve decided to understand the other side — Israeli and Palestinian — by sharing their pain and their humanity. They tell of a gathering network of survivors who share their grief, their stories of loved ones, and their ideas for lasting peace. They don’t want to be right; they want to be honest. No more taking sides.
This is one of the most powerful things i’ve listened to in quite some time. I can’t think of any better way to point out the necessity for a dialogue of empathy.
The Arab Spring has come and gone and despite the sharp erosion of stability in the region, several states hope to emerge victorious from the rubble. They continue to strive on towards that ultimate goal that first ignited the roaring wave of revolutions and conflict: democracy and equality. Initially, people in western democracies felt excitement. They lived vicariously through the Tunisian protestors, the courageous Egyptians who stood unflinching before the police, and the Yemenis who went out in protest day after day until their ruler abdicated his seat. Today, however, those same westerners have traded in their excitement for apprehension.
Westerners felt delight at hearing that countries such as Tunisia and Egypt were holding fair and open elections. Yet their tune changed dramatically when news began to spread of religiously-based political parties that took the lead in pre-election polls. Instead of delight, westerners began to feel trepidation.
In the days before last year’s elections in Tunisia, for instance, Al Jazeera reported that Ennahdah (The Rennaisance) was leading opinion polls. Despite stressing their support for full democracy and pluralism, westerners are wary of this party. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has stolen the spotlight. Just a few days ago, Time published an article that exemplifies western sentiment towards the Muslim Brotherhood and non-secular Middle Eastern politics in general. Regardless of what these parties stand for, it seems as though the biggest problem westerners have with these parties is that they are openly Islamist.
Now i should clarify two points here. First of all, i’m not addressing the aforementioned parties’ platforms. The issue here isn’t whether or not i agree with any of their policies; rather, my focus is on why the west seems to distrust them and, more importantly, whether or not westerners are right to be suspicious.
Second, when i say that these parties are Islamist, i am saying that they freely admit to being based at least in part- if not wholly- on Islamic ideals. This is not to be confused with the idea of political Islam, which carries the connotation of radicalism and the establishment of Sharia law.
It is, of course, interesting to note that the most vocal westerners- especially in the U.S.- who oppose these Islamist parties are often vehement supporters of parties based on Christian beliefs and values. But that’s not the important thing here. What’s important is that when discussing the issue of politics in the Middle East, religion takes center stage.
Westerners are all too aware of the presence of religion in Middle Eastern politics and this awareness leads many to roll their eyes and ask, “Is democracy even possible in the Middle East?” And i have an answer for those individuals.
As simple as my answer is, the question is actually a difficult one to address. And it all comes down to culture.
In the west, democracy is seen as inherently secular. This is because the first modern democracy in the west was founded in the U.S. at a time when cultural and religious pluralism was perhaps the greatest and most mind-blowing characteristic of the young nation. Secularism became a necessity. Although a majority of Americans were Christian, they came from a number of different sects, which means that establishing a fundamentalist Christian government was simply out of the question.
Additionally, there is the issue of Christianity and politics. Christianity is rather distinct from the other Abrahamic traditions because unlike Judaism and Islam, Christianity does not lay down the framework for social and state structure. It has long been used as a political tool (and vice-versa), but at its roots, Christianity does not define political roles or other power structures.
The result of all of this is a definition that makes democracy as we know it incompatible with Middle Eastern culture. However, this definition does not need to be so solid. Democracy is an adaptive concept and there’s no reason its plasticity should fail in the Middle East.
In Islamic culture, faith and legislature go hand-in-hand. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Fundamentalist Sharia law is indicative of extremism, but that’s not what many prominent Islamist parties (such as the aforementioned Ennahdah) are proposing. Rather, they simply use basic Islamic ideals and values to guide their platforms. And believe it or not, that may actually be a good thing in the long run. Allowing true Islamist parties may very well be the one thing in Middle Eastern culture that could ensure progress and equality in the region.
For instance, one common concern regarding Islamist parties is fear that religious minorities might get the short end of the stick. But that fear would be unfounded (or at least minimized) should a truly Islamist party be elected to office. Why? Because Islam is actually compatible with religious pluralism. The Qur’an states:
“Surely the believers and the Jews, Christians, and Sabians whoever believes in God and the Last Day, and whoever does right, shall have his reward with his Lord and will neither have fear nor regret.” (Q. 2:63)
With regards to cultural diversity, the Qur’an states:
“O humankind, We have created you, male and female and made you nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.” (Q. 49:13)
Worried about women’s rights? The Qur’an states:
“O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness. On the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them it may be that you dislike a thing through which God brings about a great deal of good.” (Q. 4:19)
Concerned that they might choose to launch a jihad?
“And fight in the way of God with those who fight you, but aggress not: God loves not the aggressors.” (Q. 2:190)
“If your enemy inclines towards peace, then you too should seek peace and put your trust in God.” (Q. 8:61)
“Had Allah wished, He would have made them dominate you, and so if they leave you alone and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah allows you no way against them.” (Q. 4:90)
Long story short, Islamic democracy might sound like an oxymoron to western ears, but it may very well be the best tool for turning dreams of equality into a reality. Will Islamic democracy last? I can’t say. But at the very least, it can lay the foundations upon which states may build societies of tolerance and equality.
True equality isn’t something that can happen overnight. It’s something that takes generations to accomplish. Just look at how long it’s taken the U.S. to get where it is today. Roaring into another country and demanding that they establish a secular democracy isn’t going to work and it may actually lead to just the opposite. So perhaps the best thing for us to do is simply back off and see whether or not Islamic democracy can work.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Raise your hand if you haven’t heard that question before. I’m willing to bet that there aren’t going to be very many hands in the air. We’re asked that question countless times throughout our lives and there are so many different answers. Even in elementary school, people threw that question at you expecting a response even if the response wasn’t taken seriously. Why?
Think back to when you were a kid. As kids, we spent a great deal of time thinking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Parents encourage this, of course. They want their kids to go to the right schools and make the right choices so they can grow up to be successful. In high school, the question is asked more seriously. By the time we turn eighteen- the age at which many magical things happen that, apparently, mean you are now a mature, responsible, and self-sufficient human being- we’re expected to begin blazing out our career path.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Oddly enough, bounty hunter doesn’t seem to be as
popular a choice among kids as it one might expect…
But these are just occupations. Jobs. They’re what you do, not who you are. We’re not being asked to think about what kind of person we want to become, but rather what we want to do to pay our bills. Why? The two are not one in the same and our professional occupation does not define who we are.
Is what we do really more important than who we are?
We really should be asking, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”
The thought came to mind while i was re-evaluating my decision to go to grad school and become a professor. A while back, i thought, “I want to be a professor.” After that, i started to ask myself, “And then what?” If you’ve read some of my older posts, you’ll know i decided, “I want to share knowledge. I want to start a completely free and open university on the grassroots level.”
But institutions such as the Khan Academy are really picking up pace. Major universities have launched free online courses. Unaccredited institutions have started cropping up offering much the same thing. The work, it seems, has already been done for me. And as wonderful as that is, as much excitement as this gives me, it also reintroduces that question: “And then what?”
The look of having no idea…
And i realize all of this planning i’ve done over the past several years- all of this time spent thinking about going to grad school- has been spent thinking about what i want to be when i grow up. I’ve been going about this in the wrong way. I need to spend more time thinking about who i want to become and how to get there and far less time on what i want to be.
I admit there is an element of fear behind this thought. What if i don’t get accepted into a good grad program? What if i totally suck at it? What if i hate it? These past years of suffering through a job that makes me unhappy and which i find morally objectionable will have been a waste of sorts. My sacrificial hypocrisy would have been for nothing but a paycheck and the fulfillment of an obligation to which i voluntarily subscribed.
But the truth of it all remains despite the foundations upon which the truth rests. Let’s say that three years from now, i begin a graduate program at a top-notch university. Several years later, i walk across a stage to accept my Ph.D.. Shortly thereafter, i begin work as a professor.
And then what?
Globetrotting, punching Nazis, and grave robbing. Obviously.
I’ll have new goals by then, of course, and that’s all fine and well. But then i’m just chasing after things that define what i am and not who i am.
It’s time to focus on who i want to be when i grow up. And i’m a little afraid of that answer. I think that- deep down- i already know the answer. I’ve already dreamt of it. In a way, i’ve already begun to acknowledge it, even if only just. But the problem is that in voicing it i give it power. And what if in doing so, the path opened by that answer takes me away from what i want to be when i grow up?
I’ve made so many life-changing decisions based entirely on what i want to be that following a path which may take me away from that goal would mean throwing away all of the decisions i’ve made since getting my B.A. in 2007.
There’s something about all of this that’s tainted by fear and pride. That’s terrifying and shameful because i know that what i want to be is not necessarily who i want to be.
And i know the right thing to do is to pursue who i want to be.
Who do you want to be when you grow up?
Sorry, looks like that title has already been taken…
[Also posted at the original Holistic Glasses.]
“How do you love the ugly boy?”
I was out of town last weekend. I drove a few hours away to visit a close friend and she insisted that we go to a nearby Zen center. To be fair, she suggested more than insisted, but i’m fairly certain she was determined to get me there, come hell or high water. Zen isn’t really my preferred flavor of Buddhism, but we went anyway and i’m truly happy we did. There were a few things that didn’t quite float my boat, but with all said and done, it was a great experience. Even a week later, it remains fresh in my mind.
One thing that really stands out in my memory is when one of the more experienced folks sat before everyone and asked us to think on the nature of true love and how it is distinguished from everyday love. I even remember the tone and cadence of her voice when she asked the same questions that her teacher once asked of her:
“How do you love the ugly boy? How do you love the unruly student? The angry neighbor?”
Loving your family, your spouse, and your friends is an example of everyday love. Love that goes beyond that- an unconditional sort of love for all beings- is true love. But to take things one step further:
“How do you get to true love?”
That was particularly interesting to me because only moments before, i’d been meditating on the connections shared by all living things and how compassion- the root of true love- is something we can experience not just with people, but with the rest of the natural world as well. After her questions, i immediately linked true love to compassion. But then my mind went a bit further and i began to think about the role of empathy in being able to practice true compassion.
The day before our visit to the Zen center, my friend and i went hiking in a nearby state park. It was nothing majestic- nothing at all like the iconic national parks that draw thousands and millions of visitors each year. But that didn’t matter. It was still a place where one could escape- temporarily, at least- from the exploitative touches of mankind. As much as i appreciate human civilization and cultures, i never feel more comfortable or peaceful than when i’m outside and surrounded by the natural world. There’s something almost magical about it.
As strange and crazy as this might sound, believe me when i say that the energy of life is in everything. Animals have more obvious energies because they are the most noticeably animated, but this isn’t limited to animals by any means. It’s there in trees and even rocks. It’s carried along by wind and water and direct touch. Trees are sometimes slumbering and heavy, and sometimes they’re just waking and full of such brightness that it’s contagious. Rocks are dormant and powerful. All things are vibrating with energy. This energy can be felt and tasted. Texture and sound and taste make it tangible and so very, very real.
And so when we were hiking along and i found a particularly interesting tree, i didn’t stop to think before running my fingers along its bark and wrapping my arms around its trunk.
The energy i’ve described creates an undeniable connection between the individual and everything around them. This connection makes it possible to experience and practice compassion not just with humans and animals, but to every other natural thing in this world. In the practice of tonglen, the individual imagines breathing in the sufferings of others and exhaling happiness. This meditative practice is one that i believe can be translated into something actionable in everyday life. It’s a physical reflex. It becomes part of the practice of compassion.
Compassion is a very important part of my life. Through compassion, i have come to realize many things about myself, others, and the world around me. And through compassion, i continue to encounter new realizations and growth.
But it is not enough to simply know what compassion is. We must know how it comes about, where it is rooted. From where does compassion flow?
For me, compassion presents the same problem i encounter with large words. I often don’t ask myself to define large words because i’ve read and heard them in context, and i simply know what they mean and how to use them. So when someone asks me to define them, i find it difficult to give a simple, dictionary-type definition. I can only define them through context. By taste, concepts, feelings, textures, colors, and sounds. Senses and abstracts.
Compassion is much the same way. I feel as though i’ve long understood the concept, but i didn’t reach that point by reading its definitions and origins. However, i continue to think more on the matter and now i see.
The root of compassion is empathy, and it is through understanding where compassion comes from that we might find ourselves in a better position to practice it to greater effect and- through example- better share that understanding with others.
The difficulty with empathy is that although we all have the capacity for it, most of us aren’t as open to it as we could be. Everyone experiences empathy to different degrees without even realizing it. If we can come to realize empathy, its role, and our own levels of openness, we can then let the gates open even wider and become even more empathic. Empathy is a two-way experience and in opening those gates, we open ourselves to the world.
Empathy allows us to take in the suffering of others and give compassion in return.
And now we come to the point where the root of compassion is made clear. Its strength comes from the power of empathy.
If we wish to better practice true love, we must know compassion. And to know compassion, we must know empathy. And to know empathy, we must open ourselves to the energy around us. Not just the energy of other individuals and animals, but that of all living things and the earth upon which we tread.
So now i ask you: “How do you love the ugly boy?”
Note: This post can also be found at the Blogger version of Holistic Glasses.
Here’s yet another post from the Blogger version of Holistic Glasses:
I’ve long been an advocate for minimalism and cautious consumption, and as i’ve mentioned before, i’ve spent the last few years of my life in a gradual shift. Just over three years ago, i decided i would start to “trim the fat.” It wasn’t a sudden, radical shift. I simply vowed to make it a habit to put more thought into whether or not i needed something before buying it, and to not hesitate to donate or sell something that sat unused for four to six months. It’s made a huge difference.
I still have plenty of junk (much of it family “gifts” that i can’t get rid of without inciting a great deal of unwanted fury) and i continue to slowly trim away at my belongings. Despite that, the fact is if i had to leave in a hurry (i.e. flee from a sudden breakdown of social order, alien invasion, or natural disaster), i could carry with me everything i needed and i wouldn’t shed a tear over anything i’d left behind.
Now i’m moving on to the next (and seemingly inevitable) phase: tiny living.
I already share a house with four other adults and a child. My bedroom is a converted attic (admittedly spacious despite not being able to stand up completely in a few spots). Everything else- kitchen, bathroom, living room, laundry facilities, utilities, and so on- are all shared with others.
I know this isn’t going to last and that’s why i’ve been looking into the possibility of building my own home. It would have an upper limit of about 500 square feet and i’d consider building it on a trailer bed so i could move it anytime i wanted (which is perfect since i seem to have a disease that makes me painfully uncomfortable with living in the same place for more than a few years). Of course, this would likely be anywhere from five to ten years from now, so i’m not going to set anything in stone. It’s just something i’ve put a lot of thought into.
It would be easy enough to do. Additionally, it would be entirely possible to build it mostly or entirely out of recycled materials. It’s not terribly hard to find reusable lumber, for instance. Lighting wouldn’t be much of an issue since i could install skylights and it would only take a couple of lamps to light such a small space when i couldn’t rely on natural light. And speaking of using lamps- since my habits are pretty low-energy to begin with (no TV, sound system, etc.), i’d be able to get most- if not all- of my power from solar panels.
I know that tiny homes have started to become more and more popular over the past couple of years. Much of it is spurred on by economic pressure, though there are still plenty of folks who see it as a way of minimizing their ecological impact. Either way, there are plenty of places to find inspiration and the Tumbleweed designs are a good place to start if you’ve got any budding interest to feed.
Here are a couple of the mobile house plans they have that’ve caught my eye:
Those three are good starting points for the sort of thing i’d like to build, but they’re not exactly what i’m looking for. For instance, i’d definitely make sure i can fit in one of those tiny washer/dryer combos so i don’t have to worry about laundry. I’d also have to consider the cost of the truck i’d have to use to move them. But there are pros and cons to everything, so i’ll just have to weigh my options.
There are also a ton of free plans online, though i think it goes without saying that anyone using them should make sure they’ve done their research first.
I know that some people might ask why i don’t just move into a small camper or RV. For one, these small houses have more of a home feel that i like. Second, and perhaps most importantly, i’d be building it myself and i could customize it to fit me.
Anyway, that’s enough for now. But you can be sure this is an idea i’m spending quite a bit of time on.