In 2014: Break Us Open With Love

birdsToday, this New Year’s Day, I’d like to get to the heart of things.

I do so with a little bit of trepidation because this means revealing to the world how much of an optimistic and earnest fool I really am at heart and I know how much some of you hate that kind of thing. I know, I live in the world, believe me.  I know it’s taboo to talk about anything in grand terms anymore, and words like love, compassion, etc. makes people gag.  So, I know that this isn’t going to be a popular post, and yet I feel compelled to post it.

It has been a difficult year for me, personally and financially, for all sorts of reasons that I won’t bore you with, but what has been most difficult for me to accept almost all year long is people.  We’ve had a lot to deal with in this past decade in terms of world crises, and it does seem as though everything capitulates to a rather bleak reality: the nuclear power plant in Japan, the world monetary crises, war, war and more war.  And yet, it seems to me, most of us (and I include myself) look at these world disasters as though we are helpless to do anything about then and divorced from anything that might have brought them along in the first place.

This year, the biggest obstacle I have faced has been to hold my faith for humanity: many times, in those down moments we romantically call “the darkest hour” I really saw no hope for  humanity’s survival.  If I were a messenger from the heavenly realm, or an undercover spy who, like in the movie Oblivion with Tom Cruise, has undergone a willing memory delete in order to more realistically infiltrate humanity, if I were responsible for reporting onto a higher authority whether or not humanity deserves to survive, humanity would be in trouble.  Just a few weeks ago I would have reported that short of a few earnestly generous souls, most human beings are clinging to the following fatal and self destructive flaws:

1. We believe ourselves at the center of the Universe: therefore we have no respect for vegetable, mineral or animal life.  In fact, if we judge how we ignore, stomp over and generally use and misuse one another, how much trouble we have tolerating even the slightest variations amongst ourselves, in culture, or physical properties, we can definitely see how dismal we have made life those who do not belong to our species at all.  Our attitudes that animal and plant life are disposable, an attitude that is unfortunately reinforced by certain dominant religions, has made life a living hell for any animal or plant that also happens to share this planet with us.  If we were to meet a race from outer space, I’m not really sure what sort of welcome we would expect, given our own background.  If we do find intelligent life, we can only expect to find another objective of our racial and personal hatreds, or else end up on someone’s plate or victim of whatever toxic wastes they dump upon our environment for their own ends, with total disregard to how it affects us.  And we couldn’t even say that we didn’t have it coming.

2. We are astoundingly credulous and easy to manipulate.  Step back from the noise of politics, talk show host, internet posts et al. and you can clearly see how fast and easily the crowds are stirred from hate to outrage, to believing that we have accomplished great things that in reality are only recycled victories from long ago, sad testament of how stupid we are, how forgetful of history, and how willing we are to settle for so little.    As an example: much was made of the rights of gay men and women to join the military and of the legalizing of marijuana.  Whoot, whoot.  Same stuff our parents were arguing for and our parents’ parents.  Truth is that the fact that we had to have arguments about it only reveal how little we love that freedom we claim to be so proud of, and how little we think of our fellow men that we must dictate and rule even in the bedroom.  In the meantime, we spend a great deal of energy, time and resources arguing over matters that aren’t and shouldn’t be political material, while world poverty rages on, inequality rules, and most people live in perpetual misery and numbness, comforted by pills and by hopes of a future that never comes.  I find little evidence of compassion, understanding or even vision in the accomplishments that we so tout.  Hurray for proving that we are no longer in the Dark Ages.  I’m not sure that we really did prove it. The analogy is that of  a serial killer wanting to be thanked and praised for not killing.  In the meantime, nobody notices that these so called accomplishments are nothing but truces.  Did we not already go through the suffrage? Why are we still arguing women’s rights?  If that isn’t proof that we have not evolved at all, but only distracted, if that isn’t proof that we don’t know what we’re talking about, I don’t know what else is.  And least you think I’m arguing for a leftist agenda, I have long dropped out of that puppet theater we call politics.  As far as I can see, nothing has changed: a few people in the world hoard all the resources and power, and the rest struggle.  This is how it has always been, or at least, as it has been for the last six thousand years, before we had any such thing as left wing and right wing.

3. We think that the only way to protect and defend ourselves is through violence.  We have become so indoctrinated in this idea that even the most pacifist and neighbor-loving people will cling with desperate and identity-threatening outrage at the idea that peace, harmony and self preservation might occur without the need to point a gun, a bomb, or a fist at someone’s face.  This is true not only with how we deal with our own human race, but also how we deal with the environment in general.  If we dislike bugs, kill them.  Dog bit a child? Kill it. A mountain stands in the way of your road? Tear it down.  Of course, the biggest issue with violence is with each other.   The numerous cases of passive resistance, diplomacy and even on a personal level, connection to others as successful means of assuring peace have all been ignored in the best of cases, reviled in the most common instances, dismissed as ineffectual with vehement denial, as if our right to own power over another’s life is our birthright.  We balk when our kids act like pack dogs and cry outrage when disconnected, emotionally damaged people who were abandoned and left to their own devices pick up guns and weapons to assert their reality via mass slaughter and we fail, time and time again, to connect those sick actions to our own sick attitudes.  Children act as their parents do: we show our children that only bullies survive, and children show as that they are perfectly able to emulate what we teach them, cornering the “weak” and asserting their rightness through violence and pack action.  The best advice we can give ourselves and each other is “ignore it” or better yet, “fight back,” never even giving a single thought to developing, nurturing and sustaining oral skills and cooperative attitudes that can diffuse altercations and result in nonviolence assertions. Liberal writers and moviemakers who profess great charity and compassion make billions out of perpetrating the idea that heroes are heroes when their fists, guns and karate moves silence the bad guy into non-existence.  There is no question in anyone’s mind, ever, that violence must be a necessary means by which to ensure peace.  In fact, even my bringing this up as possibly flawed thinking is causing right now, in you, the reader, feelings of repulsion and disgust towards me.  “Have you ever had a gun pointed at your face?” asked one family member, outraged that I was suggesting that owning guns may invite violence, rather than prevent it.  Never did he give one thought to the notion that, perhaps, if he did survive having a gun pointed at his face, it was because he himself wasn’t carrying one.  But we hate to feel disempowered. We have to own not just our own life, but also the lives of others.  In fact, when we talk about defense, on a national level, international, or personal, what we really talk about is ownership.  Ownership of arms has so conflated and blurred with our idea of rights that none is bothered by the notion that ownership of weapons is akin to ownership of life and death over others.  Let’s face it: this is really what matters to us, not our rights to live life as we want, but our rights to impose on others the life that we want for them.  I am not saying that I have the answer (or that anyone does) to the appropriate response when someone threatens your country, your life, your loved ones. But  I do think that with all the efforts and resources we have wasted on developing war strategies and better and deadlier weapon, we could have just as easily studied and developed peaceful strategies and neutralizing elements that might have ensured self preservation with means other than violence. This never happened. Don’t try to tell me that the human race ever tried this because it hasn’t, short of Ghandi, and we know how people hate to talk about Ghandi.

4. Last but not least: we have no accountability.  Again, politicians and society pay great lip service to accountability, ironically engaging it as a weapon for blame and finger pointing.  If students don’t succeed, professors must be held “accountable” (and no one else, not the students, not the parents, not the governments that make the school as they do, nor the employers who fish for cheaper candidates among less developed nations).  If a President failed at a policy, he is not to blame, but Congress.  Congress holds accountable individual politicians, and voters, who fail to see the reason of their actions.  Voters blame those on the left or those on the right: we are all “stupid” “arrogant” “out of touch” depending if we are on the right or on the left of whatever absurd argument we are snapping at in the moment, ignoring larger issues, like world meltdowns, and our own individual contribution and participation in an essentially corrupt, essentially rigged system. Our ability to turn ourselves off from the vicissitudes of others has grown exponentially and at a pace with our ability to connect to virtually anyone in the world via technology. The more we see, the more we are blind.  We are too busy.  Too busy to worry about what our politicians are really doing. We are too busy running around from one end of town to the other, shuffling our kids to school and after school projects to ensure their future, a future we are simultaneously destroying, for example, by wasting coal and energy and gas we know we cannot sustain forever. We trust what we see on the Internet, what television sells us, what seems most logic in the endless diarrhea of rhetoric that comes from left and right, all of it guided by the one god of blame-pointing, the god that says you, individual, self, ego, are not responsible for this, not for any of this.

And when I pondered these things this year, when I pondered how difficult it would be even for me to change who I am, to stop participating and contributing into systems that I know encourage social inequality, dis-education, violence, racism, hatred, disharmony, environmental disaster, etc. when I see how hard it is even for me, this individual person, to trust herself with even just one simple thing: honesty with herself (I asked my husband for a stunner this Christmas, worried about the new gun policy on campus and the increased incidence of robberies; I am unable to detach myself from my personal comforts, movies, books, good foods, the occasional vacation, even when I know that money could save many children’s lives, and so on)…then I love faith that we will ever make it as a race of human beings. I feel sorry for the animals that will have to live through the aftermath of our destruction.  The nuclear accidents of Japan and our persistence in denial seem to bode a very bleak future for us all, leftists, rightists, atheists and evangelists, bullies and victims, environmentalists and industrialists all of us.

Then it occurs to me that I believe in Grace.  Not as a Christian concept, necessarily, but as an inexplicable force of Universal compassion, a moment when, after someone has tried everything to attain something, put all her efforts towards it, all her best intentions, and then is faced with nothing but random chance, no longer has any more control over the outcome. During that moment, if the heart is open, if the mind is in the right place, sometimes, there is Grace, a synchronicity of events that bring about what may otherwise be absolutely impossible.

I long ago stopped believing that a single Savior, like Jesus or Buddha could alone account for the world’s awakening, but it does seem even more hopeless, given my concerns, to yearn for every individual in this world of six billion people to suddenly awake to self-awareness, to embrace our individual responsibility in the world we live in, and to reach out to one another for a utopian objective of peace and cooperation.  Unlike atheists, I do not believe that such a thing is possible, with or without a spiritual belief — regardless of what individually we may think about what is or isn’t out there.  To hope that we will all suddenly by collective agreement wake up to our reality and change ourselves so radically as to alter the conditions of the world — that just seems too naive and too optimistic.  I commute to work. I’d love to stop using gas, but I’m afraid of losing my job. How likely is it that I will stop? Only if suddenly all of us by world consensus decided that we were not going to punish one another for trying, only then it might be possible for each of us to try and become accountable.  This is a difficult proposition.  I see it more likely that life will continue on as always, until it doesn’t.

This is the part that you’ll really hate about me, something you will think is really stupid and banal and naive:  that while I don’t believe that could happen by our individual efforts alone, I do believe it could happen through Grace.

Sometimes, rarely, when I meditate, when I really open my heart, I am able to experience that thing that has no name, that is something like the love of a mother for her child, except that it is a love that applies to everyone, the whole world, even the grass, the bugs, the air that we breathe.  It’s a feeling of absolute belonging and benign gratitude for all that makes being possible.  It’s that glimpse of reality that all religions strive to bring to their followers, that moment when you conceive yourself not as unique and isolated, but as part of a great big system that is perfect as is, regardless of your puny individual perspective of it.  Individual misery in that light becomes irrelevant. In fact, all individual thoughts and preferences and needs become irrelevant because what takes over is love.

So, long-winded, I will share my vision for the future of the world.  This is a vision where by Grace we experience love.  And I don’t mean selfish romantic love, or even the love we feel for our children and friends because that kind of love always has a self-serving purpose in the end, as proven by the heartbreak we experience when we feel slighted or betrayed or abandoned by a friend or family member.  I envision a moment of Grace when somehow by some great force of Universal compassion, we are cracked open with love.

When I had that glimpse of a possibility of such Grace, I realized that I do have faith in humanity.  Our minds our fogged with ideas of success and happiness that has to do with our comforts and ownerships and status with each other, and in turn when we don’t measure up to such standards, our own egos being the worst and most critical judges, we end up feeling miserable about our lack of contribution to the world.  But I do believe that humanity as a whole as a unique gift of transformation, as proven by science and engineering, architecture, music and art.  We have great powers in ourselves. I know I sound like a geek, totally, I agree, but I feel that human beings have the gift of gods.  We are able to do great things, and if we could operate from that one feeling of connectedness and wholeness, we could really prove to ourselves how heavenly we really are.

That is my hope for the new year: that we get cracked open with love, through Grace.  Then it will be easy to do the right thing, and everyone will do it, altogether now, like the Beatles said.  Happy 2014, my fellow gods.

Published by laura

I'm the author of two short story collections, a story cycle, and a collection of short memoirs. I am an educator, literary translator, journal editor, and writing coach.

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