A long time ago Linus, the Peanuts cartoon character, said “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.” I not only knew what he said, I knew I was Linus and I knew that while said in partial jest, this was really a reflection on a tragic flaw.
I find it easy to accept others in the abstract. I can love them, I can care about their plight, and I can take concrete steps to help them through private donation and support of public measures that level the playing field. But when I encounter these people first hand – any people – the love disappears.
I don’t want to be with them. I don’t relate to the things that excite them. I don’t share their wants. I perceive the world much differently than they do. I frequently – well, almost always – start thinking in terms of adversarial relationships.
This doesn’t mean I have no friends. I have some. But not many.
Some who know me may be surprised to read this. Perhaps I come across differently to some. But maybe that simply means I mask my true feelings – from others and from myself.
Lately I’ve been thinking that adversarial relationship business is at the heart of the problem. Again, it can be subtle. But it has to do with some really concrete things that I know I do and I suspect many others do – such as not listen. Or more likely, half listen. We listen with the ear of an advocate of another point of view. We listen just enough so that we can develop a response to the speaker that asserts our own position.
This should not be the case. We should be seeking reconciliation. Or I should say, I should be seeking reconciliation. I don’t know what the rest of you are doing. I have a hard enough time simply figuring out, in a n honest fashion, what I am doing.
But there is something fundamentally important here in the idea expressed by Linus where we can accept people as an abstract mass and deny individuals who are representative of that mass – and in the concepts of the adversarial approach to relationships which I think permeates our culture today, and the reconciliation approach to relationships – the goal of finding, celebrating, and acting on common ground.
Having written this brief note I found some wonderful related resources, including the following:
The Gospel According to Peanuts is revisited on the death of Charles Schults by a perceptive Unitarian minister in this essay.
Near the end of this sermon on caring, a pastor quotes Linus and says: "Linus’ attitude is not rare. It is the same attitude that leads a person to support causes, but not support the poor person down the block. It is the attitude that leads a person to contribute to needy children but refuse to reach out to a child they know with specific needs."
These things happen when you're not looking, of course, and so they make an interesting test of mindfulness.
In this case the "crash" was the easiest of all to deal with - my computer's hard drive was wiped out. (If I could hear I would have heard this coming, but I don't wear hearing aids while sitting at the computer so I had not noticed that - as the repairman said - it was sounding like a cement mixer. )
All that was lost was my email of the past seven months and anything that I had written during that time, but not published any where. (Yes, I had a back-up hard drive, but the system had a problem, I had disconnected it last September and had not gotten around to fixing it, so I was in violation of my own basic rules of backing up things.)
So what's this have to do with mindfulness? Well, I didn't feel agitated. The loss of information was about yesterday,not today or tomorrow. Yes, that would change today - I would have to work at Bren's machine for a few days. And it would change tomorrow - I will be weeks building new bookmarks, email addresses, filing system, and downloading stuff from web sites I manage. So I immediately saw that as an opportunity for spring cleaning and reoanization.
The good thing is, these weren't conscious decisions. In retrospect I can say that it is entirely irrational to get upset at such events. Being upset serves absolutely no purpose. Just makes me disagreeable to be with - disagreeable to others and to myself. But I never gave it a thought until well after the fact. So while I feel the Iraq war stole some of my mindfulness edge and certainly slowed my progress, this event reassures me that I have learned something this year and I have managed to change my behavior in small, but useful ways through mindfulness.
This also fits in nicely with what I am reading now about non-violent communications where part of the emphasis is on understanding that you control your emotions, not outside events. It's all in how you choose to react.
OK, so it's small stuff. But it's good training ;-)
Hmmm. . . the subscription service has not been working. I have moved the blog to my own server. We'll see how it all works.
.. to forced laughter. Fascinating idea. Fascinating story. Simple, appealing logic.
Here's the key paragraph:
Why would phony laughter work? Because your body doesn't know it's fake, even though your brain might, Professor Schaefer said. "Once the brain signals the body to laugh, the body doesn't care why. It's going to release endorphins, it's going to relieve stress as a natural physiological response to the physical act of laughing."
Thanks Dom. Please note: this story is about an experiment in the United States. It was published in the Washington Post, repeated in an Australian paper, then reached me, by way of an email from my friend Dom who lives in Sydney. There's another message in that sequence some where ;-)
I felt like an idiot doing it. It's 6 am and I didn't want to disturb Bren who's still sleeping. So I went outside to the gazebo where I hoped the surrounding bushes would absorb the noises before I woke up my neighbors.
And I laughed. I laughed out loud. I had a funny image in my head. It helped. But I really didn't think I could force a laugh and sustain it for a full minute. I did. In the end I laughed at myself laughing. I imagined neighbors hearing me and wondering what it was. Wondering if I had finally flipped.
And it felt good. I feel good. This line of research has to be pursued. How do we influence our moods with physical actions? Hey, on one level this is all just common sense, but then, why isn't everyone doing it if it's so common? Hmmm... and does it apply to the item that follows this one? To love we should love. Begin by greeting someone warmly - handshaking, hugging, looking them in the eye and laughing. Even when forced - when artificial, will this release certain chemicals in our bodies that will enhance our moods and make the relationship work better? I'll put it to the test later today when I meet with some people who I don't agree with, nor feel warmly towards.
And I wonder how you make people feel better in a listening project? Is there something in this that can help?
Well, something like that if you understand that by "flesh" I mean my mind ... what bothers me, is that I find it relatively easy to reach the correct decision - the proper frame of mind - mentally. But it takes a mental effort against my spirit - against my first gut reaction - and that seems unnatural. In a word, it seems "wrong."
Why should I have to think to love - to care? Shouldn't that be your natural state? Is this me? Or is this common? Or perhaps this is common, but most of us aren't watching ourselves - watching the way our minds and heart work and thus fail to recognize it? Sometimes I flatter myself and assume that I am not different - I simply know myself better than most.
Take this war, for instance. I am opposed to it. I have put a lot of emotional, mental, and even physical energy into opposing it. (Now that may have been my first mistake. I'll come back to that later.) But what is bothering me this morning is the disappointment I feel instantly as I see that "we" - the United States - is winning.
I should rejoice in what is becoming a quick victory, not because I am a citizen of the United States and this means "we" have beaten "them." Beating someone - winning this war - doesn't give me joy and shouldn't give me joy. No one wins a war. We are all losers. We simply get caught up in the apparent victory. But I should take joy in this quick victory because it will mean the killing will stop - or be greatly reduced. The brutality will stop, or be greatly reduced. The sanctions, that most brutal of weapons with unintended consequences, will stop. People will live better. People will stop killing and being killed.
For all those reasons I should take joy in a quick victory. It will, I firmly believe, mean less pain for the innocent and all are innocent. Well, less immediate pain. I have a theory, of course, that a relatively painless victory will also mean that this administration will be encouraged to do more of the same and at some point this process will become far from painless, not only for the "enemy," but for us. Ah, but having written that I see the fallacy in my thinking, for it is already far from painless for us. We merely think it is painless in the moment.
But to return - the goal should be to stop the brutality. To stop the killing. To begin the healing. The sooner, the better. We have a chance then to control what unfolds next. So there is no justification in my feeling disappointed when I see the US winning quickly and easily.
None. I know that. Mentally I accept that. But spiritually - intuitively - I am disappointed. I can only reason that the disappointment comes from a lack of a sense of justice. I believe we were and are the aggressor and such behavior should not be rewarded. So the victory is unjust.
And what is wrong with this feeling - this reasoning?
What is wrong is that I am judging. What is wrong is I have become a participant in another battle that I now see myself as losing - the battle against the war and more importantly, against those who would wage it.
What is wrong is that I have in my heart and mind established an "us vs. them" situation. What is wrong, is that I have engaged in conflict and once engaged thus,I can only see myself as a winner or a loser. My goal has been to defeat the war and those who would wage it. Victory in the war means those who wage it win - and thus, i lose.
The supreme irony is that I have become what I oppose.
That is a problem. That is why my spirit is out of sync with my flesh - and why immediate goals - defeating those who would wage a war - takes precedence over what should be my true goal, reconciliation with those who would wage war. In reconciliation both I and the others would grow. In reconciliation I plant the seeds for peace, I nurture that of God - that of Good - in everyone, myself included.
Jesus said, "love your enemies," and I use his words to create my own enemies and hate them. My enemies are those who will not hear the words of Jesus. And especially, my enemies are the hypocrites who call themselves Christians, yet ignore his words. The warriors, such as George Bush, who can, in the service of what they feel is just and right, employ violence and ignore the words of Jesus.
Their mistake is mine. My mistake theirs.
I set myself up as judge. I decide who the hypocrite is. And then I condemn him. I use all I can command in terms of my skills and knowledge to fight against this hypocrisy. And in the end, I lose the battle, and am disappointed.
Love your enemies.
That is so hard. I have sensed this problem at many stages of the struggle. I have known that I do not love George Bush. That only in the best of moments can I feel anything approaching love for George Bush - or any who support this war.
I know this is wrong. I know it is wrong on a most practical level because I know that as you fight something, you strengthen it.
So how, against the backdrop of this chaos of war can I find peace? How can I find love? How can I find my heart lifted as the end of the fighting approaches? How can I avoid this sense of injustice and disappointment that wells up inside me?
I know what I feel. I know what I should feel. I need to reconcile this strife within me before I can be peace for anyone else. Jesus, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddha - they are all walking in the same direction. I see their path. It looks like the right path. But I stumble down one of the many other trails into a thicket of hate and disappointment, all in the name of righteousness, and thus make the same mistake as George Bush makes when he thinks he can bring about love through hate, justice through injustice, peace through violence.
Knowing this, doesn't solve my problem. Writing this does help me know it. Perhaps sharing this will help others know it. But I think to find the love I seek to share, I have to apply this - I have to live this. I have to, in the simple words of Thich Nhat Hanh, be peace.
I have been obsessing over the war and doing a poor job of meditating. Over the past several weeks -actually a couple of months - I have felt myself slip slowly back into old habits - non-mindful habits - such as eating in front of the television or while reading. I have meditated, but instead of 35 minutes and sometimes longer, it's been 25 minutes and sometimes shorter. What's more, I've felt little advantage from my meditation because it seems to work less and less. It is not relaxing me the way it did, or giving me those deep insights into reality and now.
I've told myself I have to get back to basics, but the war keeps grabbing my attention. Finally, last night, I worked on a project I had been putting off for some time. It is a volunteer Web job and the person who asked me to do it had irritated me by nagging me about it last week. But last night I sat down and in the course of three or four hours finished a significant portion of the job.
Then I read the email that had irritated me in the first place and it irritated me again. I went off to do something else and I found myself carrying this irritation into the next project. So I picked up "The Power of Now" and read a few sentences. Which ones, I'm not sure. But it all came back to me in a rush.
I wasn't living "now." I was living back in the past. I was reliving the irritation of that email over and over again. And more importantly, I realized that this was what I was doing with the war. I would read something - or write something - that bothered me deeply. Then I would carry it with me in whatever I did. So every once in a while I would try to swear off war news. I would say I am not going to watch any news on TV for 24 hours. Nor would I read the news on the Web. It's silly, after all. I don't need hourly updates. That's obsession. But I couldn't do it. Which is final proof that of an addiction. I want to stop and I can't.
Because the war is important? Yes? But the real problem was simple. I was carrying it with me in my head and reliving it no matter what else i was doing. I had lost my ability to live in the now.
What's more, I was fighting this obsession and devising schemes to fight it and in so doing, I was giving it strength. Instead of simply recognizing my thoughts and letting them slip away as i return to the present.
I realized all this because I saw it happening with a much smaller, far less important thing - this other Web project and email that had irritated me. I immediately put that project aside. That is, I told myself it was done and dropped it from my thinking. And important part of the project was done. I'll work on the other part some other time. I wasn't going to act on the email, so it too was done. There was no reason to think of either and there was every reason to live in the now. To understand at that moment that I was tired and should go to bed and enjoy the experience of doing so without any other thoughts.
So now I hope I can do this with the war. I hope I can read the war news, write about the war news and while I do so, give it my full attention. But then I simply have to get up and walk away from it. No more replays in my head. Stop letting my chattering mind interfere with my living in the now. It's not a matter of meditation. It's a matter of doing everything with a concentration = both mental and physical - on what I am doing at the moment.
I have to remember that meditation is only practice - that the goal in a sense is always to meditate. That is, you practice by sitting still for 30 minutes or so - but the objective is to bring that control into everything else you do all day.
Let's see if I can do it. Right now I am going to proof this and post it. Then I am going to exercise. At a later point this morning I will spend an hour or so with the war. I will give it my full attention. Then I will put it down and move on to something else.
I'll let you - and me - know if I am successful or not.
(I posted this in Peace Passion, but feel it belongs here as well.)
I am continually haunted by the title of Chris Hedges' book: "War is a Force that Give us Meaning"
My first interpretation was the more-or-less obvious one of the war lover - the person who's trapped in a mundane life and suddenly finds himself - or herself - on the battlefield in a kill or be killed situation. Sort of brings you down to basics. All other problems seem trivial and can be ignored. Life in the here and now, or not at all.
But maybe it refers to all of us confronted by war? As this war approached it became more and more the focus of my life and I certainly have been living with a new intensity because of it. It is not an intensity I like, but it is one that forces me to consider and reconsider my fundamental beliefs about life and death and . . . well, life and death. Not to mention good and evil and all the shades in between.
And for those who remain relatively oblivious of it all - perhaps it is a test for them as well. In their ignorance - chosen or otherwise - they are simply avoiding the essentials of life and will pay the price when they eventually come face-to-face with them as we all inevitably do some day.
So do we need this war - we who see ourselves as peace loving?
I don't know. Do we need hate to define love? Death to define life? Laughter to appreciate tears? War to know peace? Does knowledge exist only in contrast with ignorance? For me there's a compelling logic there that says "yes, we need pain to appreciate pleasure." I need doubts to have faith. None of these opposites can exist alone - can define themselves. Thy are defined by one another.
I long ago gave up trying to imagine heaven. You know, the cartoon version where you wear white robes, float from cloud to cloud, and your soul soars on perpetual harp music. Boring.
I suspect - I fear - we can only appreciate heaven once we have tasted hell. And perhaps we can only appreciate it if the threat of hell is in the air. And not to push a cliché too far, but war is hell.
And perhaps, as Chris Hedges says, in the end it is a force that gives us all meaning - just because it is so repugnant.
But that repugnance is so strong I can only entertain this perspective for a moment before I'm repulsed by it. Maybe Daniel Quinn is right. Maybe the old Eden myth is right. Remember, we were thrown out of the Garden because we gained the knowledge of good and evil - knowledge of - that used to puzzle me, but in this context makes sense. Maybe the Eden myth really does refer to the time when we stopped being hunters and gatherers and took to farming. Farming! It seems so harmless, but in "Ishmael" he certainly builds a case for it having been where we made the wrong turn.
And once out of the Garden, once having tasted of this fruit, there is simply no way to unknow. Good and evil - we need it. War may well be a force that gives us meaning, or at least it does in our travels east of Eden. And is it just a coincidence that this war - the place where people of all ages, sexes, and beliefs are dying today and calling out in the most horrible agony - is not this indeed, east of Eden? Cain and Abel. Bush and bin Laden. And as a dramatic backdrop, the birth place of civilization - and now we are about to enter Baghdad whose original name was Madinat as-Salam, City of Peace. God must love irony.
(I wrote this March 29 intending it for this space, then published it in PeacePassion instead. On reflection, I think it belongs here as well.)
As I walked out to get my paper this morning I noticed the red wagon in the front yard filled with sticks and the black tar of the driveway was broken now by a hopscotch game and drawings done in colored chalk. Mattie had been here yesterday and these reminders were much better news than the paper could possibly give me.
The fun thing about the wagon was after dragging her around the yard a few times in it, I got the brilliant idea to make a game of picking up the sticks the winter storms had scattered on the lawn. (Thank you Tom Sawyer!) Early on she came to me with a stick too big for the wagon, so I casually broke it over my knee. That was it. Nothing thereafter went into the wagon, no mater how small, that Mattie didn't first break over her tiny knee! She got real adept at it, but I smiled and sometimes laughed out loud every time I saw her do this.
The wagon incident had followed about half an hour of flying a paper and stick airplane I had made this winter. I would wind it up, she would carefully launch it - she's a real quick study - and then she would run after it, laughter trailing behind her in a sparking stream of pure joy. She would retrieve it, bring it back to me, and flop down beside me in the grass as i wound it again. She explored the dead grass around her, twirling it into a little birds nest, then adding part of a walnut seed and explaining that was her "egg." The depth of pleasure in having a child flop down beside you on the grass and giggle is hard to explain - maybe someday I'll find the right words.
The hopscotch? When Bren came home she and Mattie played, as girls do, in the driveway. Boy, when you're in your sixties you really do appreciate the rejuvenating effect of kids.
My world is good. Now I guess I'll have to read the paper and be reminded that my tax dollars are making the world miserable right now for many, many children and grandparents, half a planet away.