“A mad scientist friend offers you a chip that would allow you to know what the people you’re talking to are thinking. The catch: you can’t turn it off. Do you accept the chip?”
That was a “Daily Prompt.” What sane person would respond, “Oh, definitely. I would just love to know what everyone I talk to is thinking all the time“?
It’s not just about someone thinking my butt looks big on a particular day. It’s about moral responsibility.
I heard somewhere that 4% of people are psychopaths. On the one hand, that means that 96% of people aren’t. But think about it: 1 out of 25 people you encounter has zero conscience. Some of these folks could easily be planning on stalking someone, hurting someone, sabotaging someone’s career, etc. They may be talking to me, but I am not the primary focus of their attention. I would feel an obligation to let the potential victim know. And then I would have to deal with their inevitable question of how the bleep do I know?
I believe we are all responsible for what we do with what we know. I can barely handle the problems/issues that life randomly throws in my face right now.
Sometimes the safest road is to not know what others are planning. This is not about denial. It’s about a manageable level of responsibility.
“There are these ten topics of [proper] conversation. Which ten? Talk on modesty, on contentment, on seclusion, on non-entanglement, on arousing persistence, on virtue, on concentration, on discernment, on release, and on the knowledge and vision of release. These are the ten topics of conversation. If you were to engage repeatedly in these ten topics of conversation, you would outshine even the sun and moon, so mighty, so powerful — to say nothing of the wanderers of other sects.” Kathavatthu Sutta, Topics of Conversation, Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
People are listening to what you say. You may not believe it, but it’s probably true.
Many years ago, I went to a really conservative Protestant church. They were obsessed with politics and abortion. So much so that I did a test. I was at the regular Bible study. I looked at the clock to check the time. I sparked a conversation, either about lemon meringue pie or the weather. It was one of those topics because I deliberately chose something ridiculously neutral. How long would it take for the conversation to come back around to politics and abortion? The answer? Less than five minutes!
People may be testing you right now. I’m sure the ladies at the Bible study had no idea just how laughable they seemed. I harbor no ill will towards those women. They were living the most righteous life they knew how. However, I also have no admiration or real respect for them, either. They are the embodiment of what I do not want to become. If someone listened to you, really listened, would you feel good about the positive impact you are trying to make, or horrified at your own pettiness?
Let us outshine the stars.
“While I was casting about for something to do for the rest of my life, I hit on a scheme. I’d seen how common it was for an otherwise respectable yard to be surrendered over to the wilderness for the lack of a spade. And the worse it got, the worse it gets. I suggested to my husband that I start an enterprise – not for landscape design or decoration, for which I was unsuited, but just for weeding. I would call it “Just Weeds.” I would go over to people’s houses every week and just pull weeds – probably weeds they didn’t even know they had! I thought it was inspired, but he thought it was lame. So instead I do it every day for no pay.” This is taken from Karen Maezen Miller’s book: Paradise in Plain Sight published by New World Library, May 2014
I feel like Miller, casting about for a direction for the long haul. I do know a few things:
• I want to solve problems,
• I do not want my solutions to create problems for others, later, and
• I can’t pretend not to see problems when they stare me in the face.
This all sounds so obvious. Who wants to create problems? What I have found is not so much that people want to create problems for others, but that they just don’t care if they do. That is the way of the world we have created.
I have started an approach similar to Miller’s: I look for problems to be solved. What can I do to make things work better, more simply, etc.?
I can’t make Barry well. I can’t stop my brother from killing himself one beer at a time. But I can make my life better one choice at a time.
“The foolish reject what they see, not what they think; the wise reject what they think, not what they see.” Huang Po
Zen has taught me to notice even more than my naturally inquisitive mind would otherwise notice. Bosses love me, but my family finds me irritating. Sometimes, so do I.
The fourth of July was rough. I have a brother that has drank way too much, consistently, over the years, but don’t call him an alcoholic. That conversation ended badly over twenty years ago. Now he looks like crap. It has all caught up to him. I’m pretty sure he avoided me. I could see why. I am not comfortable just watching him kill himself with beer. When I heard him say he planned on retiring in eight years, I had to leave. I don’t want to be the problem. I don’t want to be the one to say, “Yeah, right. Like you’re going to live another eight years.”
Practicing Zen makes living in a fantasy world impossible. Being around dying people has made pretense seem stupid. Why pretend you’re healthy when the present moment is all you have to spend with your children and prepare them for the real world? I’ve seen too much loss lately. I was never great at pretending, but Zen has made me so much worse. I will do everything in my power to help others not to suffer, but don’t expect pretense. I will “hospice” someone, but I won’t pretend they are not terminal.
It has to be difficult to protect the kids from observing anyone or anything that might contradict the artificial pseudo-reality so carefully crafted. If he felt free to try to tell me (his little sister) whom I could have as friends twenty years ago, he would clearly feel fully entitled to determine his children’s friends today. It didn’t work with me then, in the late eighties; I would love to observe the attempt in today’s internet-savvy, hyper-connected world.
Buddhism is about preventing and alleviating suffering. That’s tough to do when someone is pretending not to suffer.
Zen will destroy your fantasy world (or prevent altogether your development of one). It will prevent the development of “faith” in anything hoped for but unseen. Zen is reality-based. And reality is not always pretty.
“According to Bodhidharma (and to Zen), if we make enlightenment—or enlightened people—into something special and set them apart from others and from ourselves, we abuse them. In the process, we also abuse ourselves. Thus enlightenment becomes remote, otherworldly, mysterious, and (seemingly) virtually impossible to realize.” Page 53. Buddhism Is Not What You Think by Steve Hagen
This paragraph gave me Aha! Moments.
Learning about Buddhism, especially Zen, has given me an appreciation of intimacy with the immediate moment and situation. The more space there is between me and what is going on, the more opportunities there are for delusion. Life is just smoother going from one immediately obvious task to the next.
Another epiphany comes from the wording comes from “set apart.” “Set apart” is one definition of “holiness” in the Christian world. The problem is practical: How do you set something (or someone, as in the self-important clergy) apart without setting it aside? Setting something aside involves looking at it and saying, “I’ll pick you up later when the time is right.” If your life is like mine, it does not take long for that item to get buried and totally forgotten. Its purity is maintained at the expense of its usefulness and reason for existence. That’s the challenge: maintaining purity and usefulness simultaneously.
Something that is set on a shelf gets no exercise, fresh air, or exposure to the real world. It is easy and comfortable to live in one’s own little world, surrounded by people exactly like oneself. It’s just not real. No use and no circulation amount to mold-covered obsolescence. It really is a form of abuse. Living in social isolation can be a very comfortable form of self-abuse.
I’m sure my family thinks I’m crazy. I have a conscience. My old TV was dying. My parents bought me a new TV. It’s beautiful and works fine. I needed to get rid of the old one. At my brother’s house for the 4th of July, the people in the living room seemed fairly unanimous in their opinion: I should give it to Goodwill or just put it by the curb because someone will surely pick it up.
What’s wrong with these ideas? Everything. The TV is dying. It is on its last legs. Anyone who gets it would have the problem of disposal. The problem has not been addressed; it has simply been transferred to someone else. I am not interested in moving the problem around. I want it solved, not relocated.
I purchased a bulk item removal sticker. I called a handyman service and got it to the curb. I called the city. It should be removed by the city on Thursday. Today is Monday. I thought it would be removed Tuesday with normal city trash pick-up. The sticker cost $33 and the handyman cost $30. (He charged $25 and I tipped him $5. I am just so glad to have it not in my living any longer.) Yes, it cost money, but at least I have not played a geographical trick with the disposal issue.
How many political issues are just moving problems around? I do not want that. That violates commandments in the Bible and precepts in Buddhism: non-lying, not taking what’s not given (non-stealing), etc. It’s so wrong…and yet perfectly acceptable.
Another Reason to Own Less
I’ve been hemorrhaging money lately. Car repairs, garbage disposal replacement, and inevitable stuff like that have really financially hurt lately. Then my TV started having issues. My parents just gave us a new TV. And hooked it up. I am so grateful.
Now I need to get rid of the old one. It is huge, bulky, and astonishingly heavy. I need two things: to have the City of Lansing pick it up at the curb and to get it to the curb in the first place. The bulk item tag will likely cost >$30, but first I have to actually get it to the curb. I might call one of those “honey-do” places. That alone might cost up to $50.
I am accustomed to the concept of paying to get things, but I never thought about the back end of the obsession of acquisition. Getting rid of stuff isn’t always free, either. Imagine if everyone had to spend a dollar to throw away an item of clothing. People would buy a lot less clothing.
Is this how hoarding starts for some? I just wonder. Living on a fixed income forces me to ask, “How much is it worth to you to get this out of the house and off your property?” I’ve been wanting to get rid of that TV for a while, so I’ve understood that answer for a while now. However, I can see how people with even less money might end up hoarding by default.