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Posts tagged ‘hope’

Humans Anonymous

Human beings are prone to addiction.

I don’t care who you are, or how much balance/temperance/ restraint with which you live your life. I KNOW you have a penchant for some thing or another. A go-to habit or vice that you know is, to some degree, unhealthy.

It could be as insignificant as nail-biting. It might be as serious as alcoholism or anorexia. But I know you have at least one.

Because we are needy creatures. All of us. Whether we are married or single, old or young, black or white, gay or straight, employed or not, we almost all have days when we feel something is missing; when we are longing for some unidentifiable “more.”

As a Christian, I thought that something was God. That we were made with a “God-shaped hole” in our hearts that could only be filled by a personal relationship with him through Jesus. Of course, I was always baffled as to why that empty feeling persisted even in the midst of my most fervent phases of Christianity.

I did have moments of freedom and peace. Moments when everything was so clear and light. I knew what really mattered in my life. I knew who I was and what I wanted. I was filled with love for the world and grace and forgiveness for its brokenness. I lost all sense of self-consciousness.

And those moments, as a Christian, did often follow times of extended prayer (in the form of journaling) or worship (in the form of singing praise songs), or an inspiring sermon.

They also happened after long hikes out in the mountains, long drives in the car with a good CD, intimate conversations with a close friend.

Before I stepped off the ledge and finally let go of my faith, I wondered if those moments of clarity and insight and absolute magnanimity and peace I had had would disappear.

They didn’t.

Funny thing – they actually happened MORE frequently immediately following my de-conversion. And they happen now about as often as they used to. Maybe even slightly more. And that makes sense.

Because I’ve learned by experience that those moments were not brought on by some sort of increased mystical connection with God. They were produced by mental space and focus and a regaining of perspective.

When I have my “zen” moments now, when all seems right inside my heart and mind and in the world, it is after a good long journaling session, or a quiet day of gardening and organizing, or a heart-to-heart with a kindred spirit, or an amazing concert, or a powerful true story, or a bike ride out on one of Puget Sound’s beautiful islands.

These types of activities accomplish the same thing in my mind/heart/spirit that prayer-journaling and worship and Bible reading and sermons accomplished before:

They get me out of the crazy-busy world, out of my crazy-busy life logistics, and out of my crazy-busy head.

They quiet all the mental noise and help me realize that everything I have, I need; that everything I am is alright; that I need not live in fear of pain or loss or sickness or even death, because those things are inevitable. Worrying about them only increases their chances of occurrence, and when they do come, they can be dealt with then – one day at a time, with patience and mindfulness and compassion and love.

I do think we humans have a sort of “hole” inside of ourselves. Not a God-shaped one, necessarily, but a sort of empty-ness. I think at its root it is really the unfortunate tendency resulting from natural selection to want as much as we can get our hands on; to want the best for ourselves; to never be satisfied with what we have. And while this character trait has clearly been effective in helping our ancestors survive to pass along their genes, it also has resulted in a lot of inner turmoil.

And I think in order to deal with that inner turmoil – so we don’t get home from a stressful, painful day of life and eat an entire bag of chocolate chip cookies (my particular addiction of choice), or fry our brains on Seinfeld re-runs, or drink ourselves into oblivion, or cut ourselves, or force ourselves to run 10 miles on five carrot sticks, or finally end it all by jumping off a bridge – we have to raise our level of consciousness.

We have to realize this self-defeating character flaw we all have and rise above it. We have to let go of our selfishness and self-awareness and insatiable need for more. We have to step away into the quiet and take a good look around and see reality.

We have to tell ourselves, “Enough!” I have enough. Enough food. Enough clothing. Enough toys. Enough time. And I am enough. Pretty enough, smart enough, good enough, accomplished enough.

And then embrace life. Drink deeply of it. Of the beauty and wonder of the natural world, the awesomeness of the universe, the glory of humanity’s capacity for understanding, communication, exploration, discovery, creativity and survival. Of our own infinitely unique personalities and bodies and abilities and joys.

Hi. My name is Erin and I am a recovering human. It has been eleven days since my last cookie binge. I know there is a good possibility it will happen again. But by the grace of my mind and reason, I am living one day at a time to the best of my ability, letting go of my selfishness and desperate pursuit of More, reminding myself that there is Enough.

If you are on a similar journey, my heart goes out to you. Welcome to Humans Anonymous.

Why This Atheist Still Gets Up In The Morning

monks

Sometimes, even on sunny Saturday mornings, I have moments when I feel like quitting.

Which is ridiculous considering how easy my life is compared with most. I have a clean, warm home; a closet full of clothes; plenty of food to eat; a job and health care and friends and family to love; and on top of all that, nobody shooting at me. That is a lot.

But still, even when life is easy, life is hard. It is hard in other ways, inside.

You see the never-ending conflict and hurts and injustices between people. You carry the guilt of collective practices that are damaging the earth. You experience and/or anticipate the inevitable pain and frustration and limitations of aging. And, in very lucid moments, you realize the immanence of your own death and the deaths of those you love.

And you just can’t help thinking…what’s the point?

When I had these days as a Christian (and I had plenty of them), I would collapse into a heap and throw myself onto the mental safety net of God’s omnipotence. I didn’t know how he was gonna do it, but I had complete faith that, somehow, someday, he would make everything right.

There is a quote by Julian of Norwich in her work, Showing of Love, referencing the ultimate end, that says, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

I came across it in my universalist days (which turned out to be, for me, the gateway to atheism), and it brought me a lot of peace, believing that no matter how much I screwed up my own life or humanity screwed itself, God would fix it. He would make everything okay.

I would remind myself of that, and stand up, put my head down, and just keep going, and hoping.

I think the emotional need to have this fail-proof back-up plan of The-Salvation-Of-Everything is a huge part of why so many people are compelled to believe in some sort of god concept.

We don’t want to be ultimately responsible for ourselves. We want that cosmic mommy/daddy out there who will pick us up, dust us off, pay the bill, change the tire, and reassure us that everything is under control; that we are safe.

If you were lucky enough to have an earthly parent or two who did those things for you, you know as I do what a gift that is. It makes the transition into adulthood much less painful.

But it is still painful.

At some point, we all have to grow up. And growing up means learning to be your own parent: your own fixer and protector, your own last resort, your own safe place. It means being responsible for your own life.

And if you, like me, happen to not believe in a personal god with a will and the unlimited power to manipulate this reality, it also means being responsible for ALL of existence – this miraculous, inexplicable, self-existing, crazy, beautiful phenomenon that we are privileged by our consciousness to witness. It is a precious and fragile thing, life. And if there is no god, it is up to us to preserve it.

That is when things get really weighty. When you realize that.

Now, when I have those what-is-the-point days, I can’t just throw up my hands and trust that “All shall be well.”

But I can still hope. And I can act.

I read a story recently (a true one) in a book by Joanna Macy, about some Buddhist monks in Tibet who were exiled from their country by the Chinese and only decades later were allowed to return. They, their homes, monasteries, and communities had suffered terribly during the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the fifties, and seven years after returning, they were still rebuilding the center of culture and education their land had once been.

The political atmosphere, however, remained volatile. No one could predict what might happen in a year, or ten years.

The following passage from the story explains a revelation the author had while she and her husband were there in Tibet, observing the monks’ efforts, and wondering about their will to continue in the face of unlikely odds. It was revelatory for me, as well.

As we stood on the outer wall, I watched Bon-pa Tulku smile calmly as my husband queried him about Chinese policies and the prospects of another period of repression. I saw that such calculations were conjectural to him, as were any guarantees of success. Who knows? And since you cannot know, you simply proceed. You do what you have to do. You put one stone on top of another and another on top of that. If the stones are knocked down, you begin again, because if you don’t, nothing will get built. You persist. Through the vagaries of government policies you persist, because in the long run it is persistence that shapes the future.

When I have my giving-up days, now, I still do the same thing I did as a Christian: I stand back up and keep going.

It could be that in spite of my efforts, our efforts, the world may not improve much. And I’m pretty sure it’s never going to be perfect. So I’m left to choose between two evils:

I can plop my butt down and live out my days in selfish hedonism, starved for meaning and fulfillment, depressed that life isn’t the way I want it to be.

Or, I can pull myself up by the bootstraps, head back out into the fray every day, do the little bit I can in my little corner of the world, and hope for the best.

Both options are hard, and either way, life is going to suck a lot of the time.

It makes more sense to me to do the hard, sucky thing that MIGHT produce some good – some positive change that could benefit our children and grandchildren and maybe even alter the course of evolution and consciousness – than to do the hard, sucky thing that is guaranteed to find us a hundred years from now squatting in the same dark hole, or worse.

And I see enough good, enough beauty, enough creativity and awesomeness and love in humanity to make all the frustration and set-backs and agony of the journey worth it, to make life worth preserving.

I hope you do too.

Because it is not “persistence” as a vague notion that shapes the future, but persistence lived out by individual, real people – like Bon-pa Tulku, like you, like me – who together form communities and societies and countries and the human race.

If humanity is going to persist, you and I must first.

Life is a battle…

…even in suburbia, USA.

Every day there is a war going on inside the minds and hearts of all of us – a war between hope and despair, faith and cynicism, love and fear.

Will we believe that the world can be better? That we can be better? That we can be the best version of ourselves instead of the worst?

For me, the tide can turn very quickly, even before I’ve realized it’s happening.

Funny. It turns out that I always seem to be exactly what I expect myself to be. If I’ve gotten an impression of myself lately that makes me believe I’m an incompetent, indecisive, flakey failure, that’s exactly what I am. I bail on plans I’ve made and procrastinate and let life just kind of run me over.

When something happens that makes me realize I am actually an extremely able, strong, resourceful and contributing entity in the world, all of a sudden, I am.

I think we don’t emphasize enough the victories and the things that are right in our lives, on neither an individual nor societal level. We angst about the things that are wrong in ourselves and the world, and set out to change them. And then when they are changed, we instantly take them for granted and and go find a new negative thing to focus on.

I do understand that it is good to be continually improving, but I think that while continuing to improve, we need to be simultaneously spending a lot more time appreciating all the things that are right…and letting ourselves be happy about them.

I know I do at least.

And I think we need to tell each other a lot more often how much we love each other, and how much we value the strengths we see in each other, and remind ourselves of all the potential we possess to be and do great and good things.

Because we become what we picture ourselves to be – as individuals and communities and countries – whether we want to or not.

And talking about our visions of the good and beautiful things we could be and do – sharing them with other people – brings them to life…makes them real and possible…breaks down the walls of cynicism and impossibility and helps Hope win the war, one battle, one day, at a time.

A Little Wrong + A Lot Right = Pretty Darn Good

Life is good. I just have to say that.

I came home from work tonight, after another crazy week of school, absolutely exhausted. I wanted to go out dancing, or even just to a movie this week, but I was too tired. And I couldn’t forget about all the stuff I have to get done tomorrow and Sunday.

I ate dinner at home alone on my couch, thinking in the process about how lame it was, and how I, as a single, 20-something who loves people and activity and fun and new experiences, should be out HAVING them on a Friday night, rather than eating a cottage cheese-based psuedo-dinner on my couch and going to bed at 9:00.

I started to get really sad and grumpy and bummed out.

And then I picked up the book I just checked out from the library, The World As I See It, which is a collection of some of Albert Einstein’s writings, and before I had even opened it, pulled my head out of the tiny little hole of my own life and remembered the rest of the world.

And it made me remember how totally awesome my life is. How much I HAVE. Food and home, family, friends…so much freedom…to be and think and say and do anything my heart and mind and experiences move me to.

And I remembered that life is not about DOING a certain set of activities or checking off a list of accomplishments that are frequent among people in my particular current age bracket. Life is about BEING. Regardless of age, race, gender, occupation, socioeconomic status, or anything else.

It is about being the human being you know you can and should be. It is about living and experiencing and taking it all in one day at a time and relishing the good and beauty, and learning from the pain. And it is about loving. Not just other people, but also yourself (which can sometimes be the hardest part).

Shakespeare once said, “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

You can take that statement to mean a lot of different things, but one that makes a lot of sense to me is that our perception of things, how we interpret them and what meaning we attach to them, almost totally determines how we feel about them.

When I sit around thinking that my life is unsatisfactory or incomplete because I don’t have/do _______, ________, or ________ …it is! And it makes me grumpy.

When I remember that I am staying home on Friday night in my cozy, comfy apartment full of food and clothes and more, bought with the money from a good job, in order to get a good night’s sleep so that I can think and work and play and socialize and learn and live life to the fullest tomorrow, my life seems so great.

And it is.

Why is it that we human beings so often focus on the one or two little things that might possibly be wrong, when there are SO many things that are right?

I am tired of doing that. Need to flip my thinking around somehow, permanently. Do you think it’s possible?

Invictus

Last night I watched Invictus, the recent movie about Nelson Mandela and his enlistment of the South African Rugby team to help lead the country into reconciliation after the apartheid. It was really good. My favorite movies these days (and books too), seem to be ones about real people, especially those who have persevered through hardship and changed the world. It is impossible not to be inspired by them.

Mandela spent 30 years in a cell the size of a large walk-in closet. I didn’t get the details on how, exactly, he was treated while there, but, well…it was prison. And he was separated from his wife and children for the entirety. He missed millions – billions – of the precious moments that make life, life. He wasn’t even let out to attend his own son’s funeral. How bitter that experience would make most people. How did he survive that with not only his sanity and gumption intact, but with the magnanimity that allowed him to forgive and love and to work tirelessly on behalf of the country that had abused him? How? What was IN him? Where did that hope and grace and energy come from?

My Christian friends would probably say it came from his Methodist faith (or from the spirit of Jesus, whom he knew in the context of Methodism), but the thing is that Mandela’s story is not unique. There have been people all throughout history who have persevered in the same way, who followed other religions, or very different versions of Christianity, or no real religion at all. While it may be that his religion provided a framework of values for him to hold onto, I don’t think it facilitated any sort of mystical connection with a supernatural being that gave him some sort of added spiritual power. His choice to hold on to hope and choose to love and forgive was most likely just that – a choice. I doubt he felt anything supernatural at all while locked in that prison cell (then again, extended isolation has been known to breed such things as visions and revelations, both bad AND good). But my own experiences cause me to conclude that it was “life wisdom” – a thing that, by my definition, comes partly from a good education, partly from innate intelligence and a constitution prone to philosophical thoughtfulness, partly from the ability to step into another’s shoes, and ultimately from having positive, loving relationships with other human beings at some point in life. This is just my hypothesis, of course, but I am in good company.As the Dalai Lama once said,

“I have a certain amount of appreciation for others. It didn’t come from Buddhism. It came from my mother.”

Anyway, I want to print the poem by William Ernest Henley that, according to the movie, was a sort of rallying cry for him during his time in prison, and for which the movie is named. It is full of truth – truth that I need to be reminded of right now, particularly, but could benefit from on almost any day of the year.

INVICTUS

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Amen to that, I say!