Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Why bother about Germans invading the country?

Invade it yourself by Underground and Motor-Bus."
-London Underground ad, Easter 1915

I took my Bodhisattva Vow this last Thursday. When I walked out of the ceremony, my godmother, who had attended along with Dylan and my godmother's sister, Therese (who is in fact a Russian Orthodox nun) said "you look blissed out!". It was true. I felt so clear. When the teacher, Acharya Richard John, said "Welcome to a life of inconvenience," I just smiled. I felt I could handle anything. Then, four hours later (there was another ceremony for Refuge vows, then a reception and the drive back to birdfarm's lovingly donated city next refuge) I was really in the thick of it. Hungry, exhausted, worn out emotionally from a therapy session I still hadn't fully processed over 24 hours prior, Dylan was giving kind and gentle suggestions on how I could better help myself, and by proxy, him, as my pain was triggering suffering I was puking all over him. He was tremendously patient, but also exhausted himself. Emotional pain is hard to see, but the next day, when I had some physical pain, we were both able to see a little more clearly that I respond to pain by suffering. This sounds like a simple thing (we all experience pain, but suffering isn't necessary, and is a frequent response to pain) but I hadn't ever seen it quite as lucidly, personally, before. I also hadn't seen how inexorably linked my own self, my "other" (the part of me that prefers to be disjointed and suffering) and others (in this case, Dylan) really and truly are, which is key in the Bodhisattva vow, in fact. So it wasn't pretty, but my first post-vow lesson was strong and clear.

This idea that when I am in pain I immediately immerse myself in suffering is really amazing to me. It's not so much a surprise - I was in a lot of (gut) pain for many years before we diagnosed allergies and I stopped eating things that hurt me. But last night, again with the guts out of whack, birdfarm was amazed to hear how I had suffered like this for years and she had never known. When suffering muddies the water, it's hard to discern what is pain, and when suffering is muddying the waters, meta-suffering isn't far behind. Once I got home last night and laid on my belly with a hot water bottle and relaxed all my tense and overreacting muscles, the pain, too lessened, not weighed down by my suffering and worry. As soon as I experience pain, I head into a shock zone where the suffering piles on and I can't feel anything, even though it all hurts so much more than (now I see) just sitting with the pain, simply. I am amazed because it is simple, but so not easy at all to do. I am enthused though to know this more personally now - this is a teaching I have heard for years but I wasn't able to really work with yet - I think partially because of my chronic pain issues.

Last night, Dylan and I talked about conspiracy theories and chaos for a nice bit of time. He had spent the day at work poking around various sources for conspiracy groups online - focusing particularly on the "reptilians" (I hadn't heard of this before) and Illuminati sites. We got into a very interesting discussion about how risky conspiracy theories are, and how they take power away from awareness of real issues. That is something I have believed for a long time, in particular after 9/11, working at a lefty bookstore where the torrent of a wide range of theories started popping up in book and article form almost immediately. Anything from "the Jews did it" to "Bush and his cronies knew" filled the media for a long time, and people still sell books purporting both these and more out of their trunks all across America. I have always felt that wasting one's time trying to make order out of chaos, believing a 20/20 hindsight as being the same as a fully planned action, is not only a waste of time but in fact a complicit act on the part of the conspiracy theorist to keep attention off real issues that affect everyone daily - health care, poverty, food, etc. We talked about how funny it is that no one here wastes their time for instance with conspiracy theories about how Somalians are starving even though we (Americans) waste food all the time - when in fact there are real, honest, negligent policies that directly create a circumstance in which starvation is inevitable. That is not necessarily the plan of the politicians, but the outcome is clear to see for anyone really looking.

We also talked about perspective - he spoke about a rabbinical teaching in which human beings are demonstrated as being to God (taken loosely here) as ants are to humans. This was very powerful to me, as teachings about Space in Buddhism are key to understanding how panic, suffering and pain can seem to consume one's view and render them powerless in face of real work that needs to be done. Again, when we are consumed with plot (all I can see is all there is), we forget the endless resources around us (whether trying to feed Somalians, find out how something as horrific as 9/11 happened, or relief gas pain in our guts) and in the end, wind up perpetuating, if not contributing, to the suffering of everyone in the circumstance.

Carl Sagan, Dylan's hero, came up as well - Dylan mentioned that he talks about how if we want to play the Ockham's Razor card with this one, chaos is the simplest explanation, and the simplest explanation is most likely the real one. Fractals are one of my most favorite (I have come to think of them as, anyway) representations of how space and chaos work in our world. Something beautiful (or in the case of suffering or conspiracy theories, something awful) occurs, and we are convinced there was a plan to establish this. Fractals are so rad, something must have planned them! So intricate, so balanced, so real! And yet, as chaos theory goes, they are as much a result of randomness as anything else. Of course, evolution entered our conversation briefly, and direction of view - assuming something got to the place where it is because that was the only choice, or even best choice, is a pretty "anty" assumption to make about a very large, and very chaotic universe. I am constantly shown patterns in my work, but as Dharma (and many wise teachings of many traditions) points out, assuming that seeing patterns means that we *know* anything is quite arrogant. I would put conspiracy theories and their sheltering, righteous comfort far high in the arrogant category.

One of the guidelines my teacher gave me before taking the vow last Thursday was to go toward paradox. "If two things are resting side by side and it seems almost impossible that they are there, that is where you should be." I find a bliss in circumstances like this - the clarity of seeing through the bullshit of our political system, recognizing patterns and bringing to justice those who are, in fact, anywhere between benignly and negligently causing pain all the way to those planning to hurt others for their own gain, comes side by side with blind arrogance, often in the same beings. I am not exempt, and this, too, brings a certain smile to my face. A humble smile. Just when I think I can pass judgment on someone else and call myself scott-free, the label turns around and sticks to me. There is much to learn, and I will never learn it all. That's no reason not to keep going.

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