Alain de Benoist
Fragile in essence, as an unbaked pot,
Like something they borrowed, or a city founded on sand,
They last a short while only. Lalitavistara (via moreofamore)
if normality causes suffering, and if we want to reduce suffering, then we must actively change normality. how do we do this?
It Would Be A Pity To Waste A Good Crisis
Zen teacher John Tarrant offers seven guidelines for taking advantage of life’s crises & surprises
Zen Student: “When times of great difficulty visit us, how should we greet them?”
The new world looks surprisingly like the old one, except that it’s different. Two years ago housing prices fell off a cliff and mortgages went underwater. Today, the hardware store is still quiet and the busy suburban hairdresser is empty on a Friday. Phobia about spending makes other people phobic too — a great university declares a hiring freeze, and a clinic is threatened with shutting down because it can’t afford to replace a receptionist who earns $9.00/hr. The construction sites have filled with water and the bulldozers are silent.
We are now in the new world. In the new world, winter is still cold, summer is still warm, bread, cheese, pickled onions and a glass of Ale is still a ploughman’s lunch, the sky still has windows of translucent distance at sunset after rain, and a wet dog still smells like a wet dog. Perhaps it’s fine in the new world. Perhaps we don’t have to waste this crisis in wailing and gnashing our teeth.
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before,” said White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
Not wasting the crisis might mean finding happiness without having to change outer circumstances. If we are at risk of being blown up, well, today is a good day to be happy. If we are poor, the same. If we now have to drive little cars like they do in Sydney or Paris, well, what’s wrong with that?
The beginning of being fine is noticing how things really are, and in my case this comes from having a practice, from meditating, from noticing life without blame or outrage, or fear, and if there is blame outrage or fear, noticing that without blame, outrage, or fear. With such noticing, compassion enters.
1, Life is Uncertain, Surprises are Likely
Consciousness works by making maps, and there is always a gap between our maps and the territory of our lives. A surprise is a landscape feature that was not on my map. I have an idea I am one kind of person, with, say, a bank account. But it turns out I am another kind of person, without a bank account. Surprises are common and an indication you are alive. I grew up with people who remembered the First World War; it started in August 1914, and everyone thought it would be over by Christmas. Instead, it lead to a century of wars. Wars do that. At the time, that was a surprise. After the war there was the influenza epidemic- another surprise that took millions of lives. There have been positive surprises too. Vaccines were invented, banishing polio, saving my life, and antibiotics, also saving my life.
Our representations are fragile and based on poor data. The mind assigns value to events, saying, “This is good,” and “This is bad,” but the values we give things are usually just arm-waving and scrambling about. The world is truly unpredictable in its consequences and our reactions to events are also unpredictable, even if we have a deep meditation practice.
We can make an ally of surprise, Meditation methods are not intended to make the world more predictable, but they provide a space in which we can have our reactions without fighting with ourselves. And in the end, meditation resets the maps and opinions to zero. It overcomes the problem of James Joyce’s Mr. Duffy who “lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances”.
Meditation is one thing we know that does work. When we meditate there is nothing else in the world, and whatever we have is enough.
2. If You Are Alive, That’s Good; Lower the Bar
In any predicament you can notice that you are alive. considering the vastness of the universe, this is an unlikely event and you can rejoice and take delight in this occurrence. Happiness is not really related to having a bank account; if it were, most of the world would be doomed to being unhappy. I have a friend who, for reasons mostly unrelated to foresight, drew her money out before the financial crash. I also have a friend who saw it coming and made money from it. I have another friend whose investment advisor put all his money in Bernard Madoff’s ponzi scheme and presumably lost it. I asked this last friend what the symptoms of money loss were, and he left a voicemail: “Well, I have a previously unsuspected interest in cooking and in fixing up the kitchen. And sometimes I wake in the middle of the night and my left leg is twitching. That’s about it.” When you really look at what your situation is, it is not what you might have thought. My friend who lost his money is not visibly more unhappy than the other friends.
The hard bits of life might not be the ones you are dreading. The good bits might be the ones that are always available.— a slant of light through the garden in the rain, running inside to get dry, cooking for friends, the sound of a bird in the early morning when you can’t get back to sleep, the act of impulsively giving something away when you have almost nothing. When you are present in your own life, it extends infinitely in every direction.
3. In A Dark Place, You Still Have What Really Counts
The beauty and nobility of your life may be more visible to you if a dark contrast is available. A woman who was meditating with the Koan at the start of this piece— the little conversation about hard times and Welcome— was in an unusual situation. Her father was prosecuted for the murder of her mother, a death that happened decades ago and for which no resolution has been found. No one close to the situation believes her father did this. But someone with a grudge, and hearsay evidence, and a relative with dementia, and an eager prosecutor…If it’s a cliche that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, it becomes personal when you’re related to the ham sandwich.
The woman with the meditation practice notice something unexpected though, she is happy, she’s not outraged, and although people expect and even want her to be angry with the prosecutor, that is not what she feels. She gave counsel to her father, and sympathy, and money for defense lawyers, but she didn’t have to give her own emotional well-being. The intensity of the difficulty actually drove her to deeper practice and the world suddenly became very beautiful, not at an unspecified future date, when the situation would be resolved, but now, when nothing is resolved, or fair, or sensible— now when it’s now! Even the prosecutor’s face glowed with light. “No one told me it would be like this.” she said. Awakening might happen at any time, perhaps especially when we are convinced that something else is going on. That’s a positive surprise, a benign catastrophe.