I’m a writer. It’s what I do. More honestly? It’s what I be. I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember: keeping journals, writing stories, even a novel as an elementary kid (okay, so it was pretty short…).
I’m the kind of writer (person?) who has to write it down to figure out what I even think. And to top it all off, I’m a damn scholar. There. I said it: I research everything. And I know how to. (See previous post.) This is a curse, these days, folks. And I’m quoting a much fancier blogger than I am to bolster my case.
Reading Jessica Livingston’s ‘Sound of Silence‘ struck so many resonant chords it was like she was playing my song. A soundtrack to a current dilemma I’m waffling over. Which is…to FaceBook or not to FaceBook.
Back story: I use my FB as a kind of ersatz progressive news outlet. One entire side of my family is evangelical Christian, in the least progressive of definitions. They are anti-choice, homophobic (in my eyes, at least; they would say they’re ‘pro-Christian marriage’), filled with white privilege (which they would say was ‘anti-special treatment’), and extremely pro-Christian (to the extent of being highly suspicious of other religions). We don’t have ANYTHING in common, politically.
But they’re my family, folks. MY. FAMILY. So I keep trying to point them to unbiased news sources (‘they’re liberal rags’ — the Washington Post?? Reuters??). Look up government docs (‘it’s an Obama conspiracy!’). LInk them to actual video of what was said, or what happened. So they can see with their own eyes.
And it has as much impact as rain in Africa. Their beliefs are grounded partially in religious propoganda from the pulpit (think Franklin Graham, or Pat Robertson), and partially in the visible changing of the colour guard of American culture. Gays! Brown people! Muslims! And while my family will say they harbor no ill will towards ‘them,’ they will also find reason after reason why such groups should be watched/ listed/ disenfranchised.
It’s enough to put you off reunions entirely.
I have worked diligently to learn ‘the other side.’ There are excellent articles available on why so much of economically depressed, blue collar white America voted as it didd this election. Against its own interests, progressives would say. But in line with history & the pulpits of evangelical Christianity.
Did I mention I’m also a Buddhist? And a socially engaged Buddhist, at that…I’ve revisited the 14 precepts of socially engaged Buddhism, as defined by my beloved (never met f2f, but always there as a mentor to me) Thich Nhất Hanh. What I’m struggling with is how NOT to be angry w/ such boneheadedness. How NOT to dislike narrowmindedness, even as I realise (with no small sense of the irony!) that my family thinks I’m the boneheaded one.
This is when I wish I had a teacher present to ask a question of. But in the meantime, I guess I’m going to have to learn, as Sharon Salzberg (another beloved mentor) says her own mentor told her, “The Buddha’s enlightenment solved the Buddha’s problem, now you solve yours.”
I just wish it wasn’t so damn HARD! Any suggestions?
I’m good at believing. The White Queen’s ‘six impossible things before breakfast’ is nothing to me. I believe in world peace. In faeries (really). In other universes. In public education. And a few more things I forget. Daily.
There was, at one time, a national movement, inspired by the sainted Edward Murrow: This I Believe. It asked Americans to submit a short essay on what each one believed. These ranged from a quilt made from old saris, to helping the homeless, to getting together w/ sisters. I absolutely believe that each of these is important.
My father believed in the government. Although a Southern Democrat, he believed strongly in the implicit goodness of the American government. When Nixon was in power, and Watergate was breaking, my father refused to hear anything against the man. I remember a yelling, food-throwing dinner (yup: a regular food fight, at least on my side of the table), w/ Daddy yelling & pounding the table and me hollering back at him. I know I flung my food at him in utter frustration. I don’t think he threw it back. But he certainly was mad enough to, and thumping the table hard enough it might have just flown my way! My mother was crying, my sisters were bawling, even the cook (this was overseas, in a villa on a Thai soi long ago…) was whimpering in fear.
Not me & Daddy. Each of us was certain we were right, and if we just yelled a little louder the other would finally LISTEN. So we kept fighting. Need I say that neither of us was arguing from even a FEW scraps of evidence, but rather from beliefs & individual (in my case limited) experiences? Sometimes the ways I am like my father can we say bull-headed? opinionated? weird sense of humour? unnerve even me. I don’t know how we’d do today, in this contentious political danse macabre. I hope we’d be able to talk more reasonably, citing…well, evidence.
In a related (but not clearly so) incident recently, I was told on a FB thread, by a friend of a family member, that I was not welcome. That I didn’t ‘belong’ in the conversation. I had cited a Snopes link to refute a lie about the upcoming election that my family member & friends were determined to believe. My family member praised the woman who insulted me, and applauded her friend’s patriotism. This, she crowed, was about AMERICA. And Snopes (which always disagrees with untruths) was a leftist conspiracy; didn’t I KNOW that???
So, I must be about something other than truth & America, apparently. And I’m obviously crazy because I don’t ‘believe’ that belief makes something true. It just means you think it’s true — in fact, that’s exactly what belief does mean. But again: believing that aliens are the reason my cat sheds doesn’t mean that’s true. No matter how much I believe it. There’s just noooo evidence. Even if your belief system derives from your spiritual tradition(s): I don’t believe what you believe, most likely. So no, I won’t accept that as ‘evidence.’ Any more than these folks who booted me off their FB belief wall would accept the Bhagavad-Gita, or the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
The same family member who sees me as an interloper armed w/ liberal conspiracies also deleted one of my sister’s posts, for the same reason: it gave solid evidence that a claim being made was, at best, erroneous. I’d call it a malicious lie, but then, I’m not really a particularly good person. Just a hard-headed Buddhist realist.
Both of these incidents remind me that I often offend folks. I’m unabashedly liberal. Beyond liberal, apparently: maybe a flaming crazy progressive. Each separate encounter alerted me that folks often aren’t the least interested in hearing both sides of a story. My son — the one who sent me the difficult essay discussed in a previous post — has reminded me that liberals used to be better than the kind of people who delete posts on their wall that disagreed w/ their own politics. And we didn’t smear folks, either, or accuse them of treachery.
We do, these days. And I’m guilty of it just like the people I decry. But I’m NOT guilty of refusing to look at solid evidence. I’ve changed my opinion(s) on so many things I can’t begin to enumerate them all. Suffice to say that if you can come up w/ strong evidentiary support, I’ll listen. Because like the Venn diagram demonstrates, the intersection of truth & belief is knowledge. Which — for a lifelong learner, a person as nerdy as they come — is better than gold or chocolate. However, tell me it’s your ‘opinion’ & you’re entitled to it, & I’ll discount it. While that’s true — you’re certainly entitled to believe what you want — if you consistently buttress yourself in a safe hidey hole free from troubling contradictions of your careful beliefs, you’re not worth talking with about anything important.
I know this is a character flaw — one I struggle mightily with. And I wish someone could tell me: why I have to work so hard against hate? Because I HATE (list follows):
- intolerance (my own included)
- child abuse
- animal abuse
- greed (especially when it wears the sanctimonious mask of ‘helping others’)
- sanctimoniousness (see above)
- people (and political figures — who don’t seem to always be human) who say they’re being ‘responsible,’ but it always seems to be at the expense of other people, not $$
- placing more importance on profit than people
- mean people
- bad coffee, bad tea
- ugly gardens
And sooo much more! ????
But ironically, I believe in the government, too. Like Daddy did. Also like Daddy, I believe we can help people help themselves — create jobs (remember the WPA?) and folks can pay taxes. But somehow, when I hear people talking, I don’t hear true belief. I hear a chorus of sea gulls in Finding Nemo: mine mine mine mine mine… And that’s not something I ever want to believe in. Any more than I want to delete folks’ posts.
I confess, though: I’ve pruned my social media to reflect less politics & more science. Fewer political action groups and more poetry. My battered heart can’t bear the ugliness that this election has brought roiling up from some dark pit within America. I can’t handle when people I care about — on even the smallest level — refuse to consider verifiable, independent facts. You know: evidence? That stuff that exists outside of you & your belief system(s): science, for instance. It doesn’t matter if you believe you can fly. Jump off the roof, & you’ll fall. It’s called gravity (even if it is only a theory). And gravity (like Zika virus, like whooping cough & total eclipses of the sun) don’t care whether you ‘believe’ in them or not.
So I apologise if I offend people I care about, but I’m learning to be myself. Even at this ripe old age. I’m learning to juggle what I believe with… well, what I believe. Social justice w/ compassion & tolerance, even for those who deny both those things to me & others. Belief with evidence. Truth with… well, truth with truth. Because surely that’s enough.
I’m getting better, though: I’m learning not to throw food. And actually? I think my Dad would be proud of me. I really do.
I read a blog once (from The Dalai Grandma) on ‘the fun-loving Buddha.’ DG muses over the ways people respond when she mentions Buddhism (especially Zen) and ‘fun’ in the same breath. Oxymoronic for most folks, she concludes. Why? Why do people think Buddhism — even more than other religions — is so serious?
To be fair, most religions are seen as ‘serious business.’ Prescriptive, proscriptive. Restrictive…:) But I don’t feel that way about Buddhism. And probably Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Baha’i et al don’t feel that way about their own spiritual paths, either. Most people see their spiritual beliefs, I’d wager, as rewarding, if not ‘fun.’
The difference, at least for me, is that for many Buddhists, Buddhism isn’t really a ‘religion’. There’s no god associated w/ it, unless you create one from history and/or ritual. There’s no real ‘ritual’ or even dogma. Unless, that is, you buy into that package. You can simply follow the Five Precepts — or even the 8 — and be on the path. You may not get there as quickly (there’s a reason the Buddha says you need a supportive community of practice, and practice), but you’ll probably get there eventually. You can be a Buddhist and a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim or a Hindu. That’s not true of most religions’ teachings.
(We’re going to get back to ‘fun,’ I promise.)
A friend of a friend says that all religions are ladders to the same God. For Buddhists, substitute ‘place’ for ‘God.’ That’s always been what I believe. Even as a child, I was pretty rational. Mystic, too, however — I believed that all things made in the image of living things (dolls, teddy bears, stuffed animals) had feelings. You had to treat them kindly, as you had to treat all living things kindly. You couldn’t even kick a tree — it would hurt its feelings. But there was also a kind of child’s logic. I believed in Jesus — after all, wasn’t the Bible like a history book? Wasn’t the family name of Jesus written in the Roman census? — but not, perhaps, God. After all, who could see or really know the author of everything?
But still, I made bargains w/ God, once I began to believe in a divine force (who was always a lot more like the Indian Great Spirit than a Judaeo-Christian father figure). So hey ~ you do this for me and I’ll do this thing I’m pretty sure you want me to do (if you want specific things for specific people, that is). Okay?
Small girl wishes — please don’t let Grandma & Aunt Bonnie die before I get home. Never realising that once I left, I wouldn’t have a real home for many many years… And I don’t remember what I offered up to that small girl’s deity. Slower temper? More obedience? (Neither were or are my strong suits.) It seems to have been a promise I kept — Grandma and Aunt Bonnie were there to welcome me when I returned.
Despite the seriousness of my wishes, I never felt my beliefs precluded ‘fun.’ After all, what about Hotei? The Laughing Buddha who to this day reminds me of my father? And for Christians, what about St. Francis, who loved all the animals? How can you not play w/ a puppy? Or pull a string for a kitten? And what about whirling, dancing, Dervishes? And funny koans and parables? What about religious riddles and everything the world seems to have ordered up to make us laugh? Like flowers and the fat bees that work them. And birds that perform acrobatics in the snowy outside, one red-bellied woodpecker stretching his neck to reach the suet block above him.
At 10, I would climb into the plumeria tree down the street and sit, hidden in the fragrant white and yellow flowers. The ants would march up and down the twisted branches — like another kind of ladder into heaven — harvesting nectar. Content to perch above the world, a book curled in my lap, I was invisible. Rarely did anyone think to look up to find me. Back then, that 10-year-old girl climbed trees 10, 12, 15 feet up. She twisted like a small monkey princess through the iron bars on the 2nd-floor window to sit on the roof below it, looking into the villas below. It was a kind of godly vision — impartial, non-judgmental. A quality I seem to have traded for acrophobia.
It was the best of play ~ creative and absorbing and beyond time. It was pure fun.
And yet it was also a way into believing. Somehow, perched up in the tree, I knew I was part of the ants, the bees, the blue geckos (poisonous, our amah warned us). The bees, apis cerana, would walk with their feathery legs over my arm, while the geckos caught the ants with tongues that flickered like light. I sat with my back against the warm living wood of the tree’s support, cradled and safe. It’s the way I’ve always felt w/ trees: as if they love me back.
Once, years later, my life was falling apart, as lives have a tendency to do periodically. Kind of like when your computer crashes. I felt as if nothing in the world would ever be good again. Each day, as I walked from my small apartment close to Grandma & Aunt Bonnie, I would reach up and touch the branch of a Southern mimosa that hung over the sidewalk, scratching out a life in the dry scrabble earth of an apartment building shoulder. I swear the branches hung down just for me. And long into the late fall — November, I’m sure — there were the soft sweet feathers of its blossoms for me to smile at. It bloomed its heart out for me, knowing how very much I needed it.
Every time I passed beneath her, I told that mimosa thank you. Sometimes, when I needed her love as a talisman, I broke a blossom from her ferny branches, and carried it with me, inhaling the light fragrance. The mimosa didn’t seem to mind. She may have known it made my difficult life a bit more manageable.
I can’t say my life then was ‘fun.’ In fact it was dead awful — my folks were overseas. My boyfriend had left me for a friend. My dog had to be given back to the breeder because he bit people (not me). I was living on $350.00/ monthly, working at the university library. Even way back in the Stone Ages it wasn’t enough. Life was definitely NOT fun.
But the relationship between the mimosa and me….that was wonderful. It wasn’t religious. Or even ‘spiritual’ (the lovely catch-all term that we use when we mean we don’t go to church regularly…) But my love for the mimosa, the plumeria, the ants and bees and lizards and later the biting dog and the unfaithful boyfriend and the three-room apartment that caught fire and infused all my belongings w/ acrid ash and smoke? Those were all wonderful…
If you check out the etymology of ‘fun’, you find some interesting contradictions: it now means a diversion, an amusement. But it used to mean ‘cheat’ or ‘trick’ — from the Middle English fonnen, ‘befool.’ I imagine the shift is because it was fun to be fooled — the old shell game. The magician’s sleight of hand. So of course no one today would see any congruency, any overlap in things spiritual/ religious and things ‘fun.’ And certainly no one wants any whiff of ‘shill game’ about religion :).
And yet… And yet… That isn’t a bad thing. Old religions — the far older religions of Wiccans, pagans, and animists, for instance — hold fools/ tricksters as holy. Coyote is a trickster. So is Br’er Rabbit in the old Uncle Remus stories. And the Fool, in the Tarot Major Arcana, is the journeyman on a trip of discovery.
But here we are again at what I believe. Not perhaps what others believe, but it’s all connected. And it’s only one way (of so many) I know that everything is part of a/the web. The mimosa, an outsider like me. The bees, working to make honey from the plumeria that was my sanctuary. The ants, who fed the small geckos that slid like ribbon through the branches. The sky above, the earth below. And me on the twisted Middle Path between. Usually having a lot of fun.