Immersion and Comfort

 

I started this on Twitter but have collected it and added to it here. Maybe it’s a little disjointed but perhaps it’s useful to somebody.

It was one of those spontaneous outbursts that prompted further spontaneous outbursts from others. Try that sometimes. Seems to bring a sense of relief to people around. We have become so afraid to speak…too afraid.

3AM religious television in India is a lot more diverse & interesting than the constant Christianity that plays in Canada.

gurus, yogis, imams, priests, monks, babas…also yoga, Krishna dancing, speaking in tongues, animated Hanuman stories… immersion

Odd that an atheist (even a Buddhist one) would feel so comfortable with all that, but there it is. 1 reason it feels so empty here…

…on the verge of running with that here…maybe to the blog so yr timelines aren’t flooded…

One correspondent called the above:

suspension of disbelief

That could well be a part of it.

[As an aside yes I do find society in North America really empty as I mentioned above. It’s like a hard shell with nothing but gears and cogs inside of it…all metallic and full of sharp edges. Isolating and compartmentalizing everything human. Often to the point of being robotic. It’s such an incredible amount of work to reach any sort of real depth. “I don’t want to get involved.” seems to be the order of the day. Anyways…back to topic]

Another wrote:

I don’t find it odd. Joyful religious exuberance is one of the best parts of humanity. I get my hit from the local gospel station! I think there is something we long for in it.

I had to agree:

"Joyful religious exuberance" -a good way to put it. I find that also in Muslim countries with the daily calls to prayer 2

We don’t even get gospel (I also like) here in Canada. It’s all either ranting evangelicals or grumpy Anglican/Lutheran stuff

There really isn’t much religious diversity available publically in Canada, particularly in the media.   [Speaking of which, as I was writing this up somebody left a very long hectoring comment on another post about meditation being the devil’s business and how Buddhists are playing with dangerous forces etc. etc. You know how that drill goes I’m sure. I left it there so I could comment about it there and here.]

Writing about this on Twitter seemed to start something of a flood of favoriting, retweets and responses. Who knew? I’ll just put them here.

Someone posted this video with the comments:

I get my hit from the local gospel station! I think there is something we long for in it. I always have high hopes for feast practice but really want the church scene from Blues Brothers.

 

Me: That was retweeted in case somebody’s in need of some churching (Blues Brothers/James Brown style)

That feels good. Gospel singing big part of my childhood

Me: Oh hallelujah…I seem to be having a middle of the night religious conversion…lol… c’mon I’m messing with y’all a little bit… [a couple of people actually unfollowed—really!—because of this Twitter conversation]

Me:Just because someone (me) doesn’t subscribe to a god figure in any way, shape or form doesn’t mean hating on those who do is necessary. I enjoy the fruits of the world’s religions. Music, art, mythologies & that for some people it helps them be better people & gives them comfort

You can take that to mean the human part of religions, the creative things born out of the inspiration of what may (or may not) be perceived as supernatural for some. Sometimes, even though I may not believe in the underlying premise for making such creations there is a particular feeling that comes when one is surrounded, immersed in that kind of milieu. Part of it is the communal aspect, the sense of belonging it gives people. It’s also a kind of psychological comfort. An opiate to dull the pain. Sometimes that’s necessary.

[Since I brought up the famous phrase, Marx wasn’t criticizing opiates the way we do today BTW. They were the main form of pain relief back then and valued as medicine. His point was that life in oppressive societies and capitalist society in particular with it’s exploitative elements was alienating and painful hence religion served a function there. If those elements were removed people would be relieved of such pain and religion would fade away. Not unlike things said in the Buddhist canon about rafts and the like. Returning from that digression…]

I subsequently wrote:

There is not much of comfort in the world presently. Take it where you can get it.

Then one of the correspondents put this into the mix with comment:

Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome, one day

 

 

[I note I’m not the only one having such thoughts. Harry Bradley wrote Enlightenment, THE Enlightenment, Reason, and the Religion of Being Human… and Oxford professor of Islamic Studies, Tariq Ramadan wrote DANGEROUS EMOTIONS, LIBERATING SPIRITUALITY. Both touch on similar themes]


Thanks to Twitter participants, retweeters and favoriters @JeffryGonzalez , @DeathZen, @Llimoner_ , @kaygeeuk, @BeyondMeds, @jamie_crozier, @Mz_Kiboko, @msSandy_

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When the Voice Shakes–a meditation on courage

 

"Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency."

~ Maya Angelou

We need courage.

Many times in life we are faced with what seem to be insurmountable obstacles, forces of history, of culture, or of such vastness that they seem to be monolithic and immune to reason or even human intercession. We are faced with that which is beyond our control.

We fear that all this will, if not crush us, will, at the very least, disregard our efforts to such an extent that what we do will be all in vain. So we often remain silent and even turn away. We remain fearful within that silence. We cower under the comforter of that silence hoping hurtful things will just pass us by. We are fearful that we are of no use, that there is no way to face against the wind, that we will provoke a negative response, that what we say or do that is not in concord with the prevailing currents will somehow bring ruin upon ourselves and our loved ones, or worse. We fear these hurricanes.

We fear the mistakes we might make, the return of mistakes we have already made, making the wrong choice, making the right choice at the wrong time. We fear disrupting something which, if we only had the courage to face it, we might recognize as already being disrupted .

Courage sounds like an ominous word sometimes. We apologize for a "lack of courage".  Courage is thought of as fearlessness. Once fears are met and overcome they are removed as obstacles in the path we are told.

Let the wilderness serve for your seat and bed!
From fear; and in the fearless, released.
In places where frightening serpents abide,
Lightning clashes and the rain-god thunders,
In the blinding darkness of the deepest night,
There he sits — the monk who’s vanquished his dread.

Let the wilderness serve for your seat and bed!
Go about set free from the ties that bind.
But if, perchance, you don’t find there your bliss,
then Live in a group — but watch over yourself:
Mindful, proceeding for alms from house to house,
Mindful, with guarded faculties — and wise.

~ Andhakavinda Sutta: Let the Wilderness Serve! translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki

The translator Andrew Olendzki writes in a footnote there:

The play on words in the second line is clever, equating freedom from fear with the liberation of nibbana, which is sometimes given the epithet "the fearless." Since fear is always rooted in protection of the ego, working with fear is a useful practice for overcoming the ego’s instinctive defenses. Awakening results in fearlessness because one lets go of the need to protect the limited view of oneself as one gains a much wider perspective.

These are very nice words, very useful words in some respects. If we have the luxury of the time to sit and contemplate them that is.

Unfortunately the moments that courage is called for do not all happen while we are sitting on meditation cushions. Sometimes they happen in our work places, our cars, in hospitals, or in the streets. They happen with other people getting in the way, sometimes with violence close at hand, when we do not have time to recall soothing verses or sit down and think about an appropriate course of action.

We can read those very nice words in one respect as a preparation for further courage, an introduction to practicing courage on a more continuous basis.

Without courage we may believe we will never lose anything, that we will become impervious to anything which can threaten our security. With or without courage we will lose it all, ultimately.

Yes, courage can come at the wrong moment and sometimes it might not come at all. We can even make courageous mistakes. We need the courage to learn from that and we need the courage to be wrong too.

Without courage we will not understand much about this life.

Without courage we remain in stasis, hanging onto whatever we may think of that provides us with a sense of security, however illusory.

Without courage nothing changes.

Without courage we will never extend ourselves to anyone nor be able to accept anyone else.

Without courage we will also never love.

Courage…it’s better than the alternative.

 

"Speak even if your voice shakes."

~Audre Lorde

 



Here’s a song to accompany:

So there’s no simple explanation
for anything important any of us do
and yea the human tragedy
consists in the necessity
of living with the consequences
under pressure, under pressure.

Courage by The Tragically Hip

 

Full lyrics:

Watch the band through a bunch of dancers
Quickly, follow the unknown with something more familiar.
Quickly something familiar
Courage, my word it didn’t come it doesn’t matter
Sleepwalk, so fast asleep in a motel
that has the lay of home and piss on all of your
background and piss on all your surroundings
Courage, my word, it didn’t come, it doesn’t matter
Courage, your word, it didn’t come, it doesn’t matter
Courage, my word, it didn’t come, it doesn’t matter
Courage, it couldn’t come at a worse time
So there’s no simple explanation
for anything important any of us do
and yea the human tragedy
consists in the necessity
of living with the consequences
under pressure, under pressure.
Courage, my word, it didn’t come, it doesn’t matter,
Courage, your word, it didn’t come, it doesn’t matter,
Courage, my word, it didn’t come, it doesn’t matter
Courage, it couldn’t come at a worse time,
It couldn’t come at a worse time,
It couldn’t come at a worse time.
Courage

Great Stuff About the End of the World: 2012 edition

Satirical writer Andy Borowitz [@BorowitzReport] wrote on Twitter:

One upside of a 2012 Mayan apocalypse is no more Republican debates. #2012 #HappyNewYear         Dec 31, 2011

Aside from the end of the fake debates, there’s more good news for 2012’s apocalypse:

No more fake Kardasian weddings.

No more fake orange-glow tans (Boehner, Trump, Snooki).

No more fake Zen masters, fake Tulkus, fake monks, fake yogis, fake gurus.

No more fake politicians selling fake hope.

No more fake reasons for going to war.

No more fake celebrities fake singing fake songs.

No more fake theatrical productions for fake security reasons.

No more fake trials for fake political reasons.

No more fake military faking being cops.

No more fake smiles, fake concern, fake sympathy, fake compassion.

No more fake emails for fake products and fake services and fake offers.

No more fake research on fake patients for fake patents for fake medicines.

No more fake demonstrations of fake outrage funded by fake corporate backers.

No more fake celebrity authors pushing fake autobiographies.

No more fake passports for fake citizens to hide their fake financial transgressions.

No more fake schools selling fake credentials.

No more fake charities.

No more fake TV presenters reading fake news.

No more fake enthusiasm by fake audiences for fake talk shows that are really extended advertisements.

No more fake links on fake websites.

No more fake outrage over fake issues.

No more fake conspiracies to cover fake operations.

No more fake parents pushing fake children in fake gem tiaras down fake runways for fake reality programs.

No more fake accounting by fake fund managers for fake mortgages.

No more fake bargains for fake products.

No more fake food.

No more fake hysteria over fake emergencies.

Too bad it’s just another fake apocalypse.

 

But let’s suppose it isn’t. Let’s suppose we know our deadline. Let’s suppose we have 11 months to make it mean something, to make it all worthwhile. Let’s fake it. For real.

How do you really want it all to end?

Not like this.

Not like this.

Not like this.

Drunk on Words

Was considering the precept regarding intoxication. And the current political climate. And the cultural push to develop a will to power as a desirable thing.

What seems to happen is that many get drunk on the power of words. Words become weapons is an old cliché. That’s about what words can do to whomever they are directed.

What do words do to or for the speaker of them?

Lots of times they are used to help the speaker feel better about themselves. In “talk therapy” for instance one talks about their problems and feelings and at some point may be able to get a grip on untenable situations.

In other instances they can bolster a wavering self-confidence-the old Thomas the train “I think I can” mantra.

They can be points of contact such as when one says “I see where you’re coming from.” or “Please give me more information about that”

They can increase a sense of belonging or attachment such as “I appreciate you all coming to the meeting today”  “Thanks for being there for me”

A sense of autonomy can be defined “I can manage this myself, thanks”

Boundaries can be set up “That’s not my particular style but you go ahead if you want to”

Responsibility is defined by accepting a role in the participation “Yes I did make that comment and even if it’s not well received it’s still mine.”

 

Oddly all of these benefits can be obtained by the negative use of words as well. Lets call that maladaptive. disinhibited or drunken speech.

 

To feel better about myself I can point out “So and so is an idiot [the unspoken part is “compared to me”]”

To gain self-confidence some “positive” reinforcement “I’m better than that [them]” Lots of spiritual folks like this one.

Points of contact generally start with “Let me tell you how it really is…” followed by a lecture that includes lots of other drunken speech. This seems to be favored by evangelists of all types.

And as for increasing senses of belonging or attachment “We’re in this fight together till the bitter end”  and pointing out all the deficiencies of “the other”.

Autonomy becomes “Get out of my face”

Boundaries are defined by “I’d never do something that stupid.”

Responsibility is defined by accepting a role in the participation in a roundabout kind of way “I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t forced me to.”

 

If you know people who drink a lot perhaps the latter group sound familiar. [I have and do know] It can get pretty abusive even though the underlying motivation is the same. I’ve used all of the above at some time or another, so has everyone reading this.

The maladaptive variety tends to come out of a sense of insecurity, irritation or discomfort with whatever is happening at the moment. It also tends to be rather short lived and myopic just as a bout of drunkenness is.

The intoxication with the power of words seems to come about for a variety of reasons [by no means an exhaustive list]:

  • power. When a sense of powerlessness becomes conscious and uncomfortable (relative deprivation is a useful term for that) people feel small and invisible relative to what they see around them. This sense of powerlessness can be real, as in economic disparity or it can be manufactured as in false claims of “tyranny” . The distortions caused by latching on to power concepts are pretty obvious in the world today.
  • security. Security is about protection and safety. We can pile up a lot of ideas about what is and isn’t safe. Most of them are illusory. The few that may be grounded in reality often get inflated and infect other ideas. For example “Don’t walk down X street at night” Reason-it’s a high crime area.  Unless one is fluent in demographics that calls for a full stop. But what happens is additional and often erroneous information is added. “People of a certain type/color/status live there” This gets conflated into the reality of the situation to become “People of a certain type/color/status are all dangerous criminals.”
  • importance. This puts prominence on the speaker’s emotion or objective over the hearer’s reaction.  It means “Anything I want to say is my right. What happens after that is not my concern?” Fairly narcissistic and irresponsible. Happens a lot in political and activist circles. There is a complete lack of connection to a broader audience and empathy for others.
  • individuality. Dramatic demonstrations of difference from the crowd and the wish to be viewed as unique and special relate to the fear of being overlooked, ignored or forgotten, of not having one’s social needs met. When it becomes pathological it is usually anger driven for those reasons.
  • anomie. Anomie means someone feels out of step with their group or society. There are not shared values or purposes and one is left feeling alone and isolated. Because of this disconnection the effect of words may matter less. There is a disinhibitory effect. This is not to be confused with conscious decisions to examine and challenge the status quo based on demonstrable situations of inequality or the like.

All of these relate to the social nature of the ego. The ego is after all a social construction, a useful one to be sure, as we are social animals and need to know how to relate to one another but it is a construction all the same. It psychologically provides a framework for analytical consciousness as well as socially providing a library of socio-cultural experience and information which we reference in order to survive.

If we live in that ego concept and hold to it for the temporary sense of security it can provide then we are far more subject to the vicissitudes of changing environments than if we recognize we are doing that when we are doing that.

There is a representation of a continuum of speech I’ve just invented that goes something like this. Both ends of this would be anti-social speech and the center takes into account the context of the situation as well as the effects upon the receivers of the words.

silence… anti-social

inhibited… greatly fearful of results (anti-self in a way sometimes)

cautious… somewhat fearful

ruled… means following some prescribed formula, as in business meetings

appropriate… somewhat ruled or moderated by circumstances

assertive… open about discomforts

disinhibited… freely speaking but with awareness of situation

aggressive… attempting to dominate the forum regardless of reactions

maladaptive…  anti-social, speech that uses others for personal reasons

drunken or intoxicated…anti-social, strictly about the individual and disregarding both social and appropriate contexts

 

When I say anti-social that is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes aggressive speech is necessary to shake up complacency.  And sometimes silence is advisable to avoid escalation into violent confrontation. When it gets into the maladaptive area though then there is not much utility to it except for power laden expressions and the satisfaction that comes from that. Silence too can be maladaptive if it is used in a passive-aggressive fashion such as by shunning people.

So whether we are talking about Right Speech in the Buddhist sense or rhetoric in the inflamed sense there are a lot of subtle positions which we can adopt that might fit into either of those depending on the context and our awareness of our ego state at the time.