Here We Are

April 20th, 2010 triggered an event that has given our civilization a look into something we have not had to address in our modern era: our mortality in regards to the natural world.  12,000 years ago our ancestors broke away from the dependency upon hunting and gathering; the intense dependency on the earth’s natural cycles.  12,000 years ago our ancestors began simple forms of farming in order to live independent from natural order.  Sure, they were still subjected to climate disturbances, natural disasters, and a certain level of predatory threat, but for the most part, they were beginning a journey of freedom.

This, “freedom,” has evolved over the last twelve millennia into something they could never have foreseen.  Here we live, in a world so incredibly independent from nature that in fact, we can consider ourselves completely detached from nature.  There is little regard for how dependent we truly are upon the natural world.  Well, maybe we give it some fleeting thoughts from time to time.  We will entertain ideas like, “if bees were to go extinct the world would soon follow,” because a lack of our favorite pollinators.  Yes, we will cry and fight with each other about the bees, the poor bees!  We might even start a small campaign of, “Save the Bees,” in which we protest every Friday, downtown, dressed up in a bee suit.  “Cute little antennas and cute little round butts,” people will think to themselves.  “Honk if you care!”

Sadly, or not, this is what our existence has become.  We are stuck, like a T-Rex in a tar pit.  Yeah, once mighty and strong roaming the open plains eating up smaller little dinosaurs until it met its match.  There is something that will destroy the ferocious beast; something that it would never be able to defeat.  The beast fears it, too, keeping its distance as much as possible. But eventually, when it takes its eye off the ball, the T-Rex will meet its fate.

And here we are, coming face to face with our own tar pit.  Oh, we have seen it before.  It has caught our eye from time to time, and we smile, turn our music up louder, and continue driving our car down the open freeway.  Oh, our leaders have seen it.  It has caught their attention at least once or twice, but they dim their eyes, overwhelmed at the thought of what it all means to civilization and their pocketbooks, and keep on playing the role they were given.  And, us, the followers are happy to play our role until Mama and Papa Leaders make us stop.  But, what if they don’t? What if they are just following the script handed to them like we are? What if they are not willing to face public upheaval in the short-term in exchange for mass chaos in the long-term.  The long-term, when some other leader and their followers must bear the consequences: a script that is played out in the 5th Act of a Shakespearean Tragedy.  For those of you who care less about Shakespeare: a script that reads, “You have Been Voted off the Island.”

“This fool’s talkin’ ‘bout tar pits and reality TV.  He’s off his rocker!”  Yeah, I am talking about tar pits.  Big bubbly, gooey, hot tar pits.  One is called, “Global Economy,” which is conveniently located next to, “Capitalism.”  And these are just a walk (errrr—) DRIVE away from, “Natural Selection,” and, “Refusal to Evolve for the sake of Survival.”  Now, I realize that I just tossed out some juicy, hot-button phrases.  Let me clarify that this discussion is not going to be about the economical benefits of the first two.  It is well understood that the economy is important to those who care about, well, “the Economy.”  However, not all of us care in the same way, nor can all of us agree of one right answer when asked what is best for, “the Economy.”  This is because it is a man-made concept.  Therefore, it can be interpreted, analyzed, and critiqued a million different ways by a million different talking heads.

This said, what I wish to discuss is the latter two phrases and their correlation with the former two.  What this oil spill (errrrr—-) LEAK is shouting loudly to us right now is that we are incredibly dependent upon the natural world for our survival.  Whether we wish to accept this as reality, is not an option.  Let me re-phrase this: if we wish to continue to live on this planet, we must accept that the way we currently live is not conducive to the natural cycles, and essential needs of the Earth.  Whether we wish to accept this as reality is not an option.  Let me re-phrase this: if you don’t want to DIE a gruesome death like our old friend T-Rex, open your EYES!  Because whether you wish to look or not, there is a tar pit awaiting you, your family, and all of civilization.

If we survive this oil leak (assuming that it will be stopped up before too much irreversible damage is done), it is primetime for human civilization to think about its “progress” thus far.  If human civilization could be represented by your average Meth-addict, it is time for Druggy McDruggerson to look himself in the mirror.  Druggy has no family, no friends, and is completely detached from the rest of society.  He’s got a connection to his drug source, but no real concern for the source itself.  Well, except that he wants his source to stay alive so that he is ensured more Meth in the future.  But, certainly, Druggy is not spending his time acting as a bodyguard for his source — he’s got more important stuff to do:  Meth.

Well, so here we are.  Completely detached from the rest of the Natural world.  We’ve isolated our food sources and we protect them well enough to keep ourselves alive.  We plant/raise food, divert water, and drill oil so that we can “survive.”  Outside of this, we have no real PRESSING concern for animals like, say, dolphins.  I mean they are cute, do cool flips at Sea World, and make for a decent football mascot, but other than that, “what are they doing for me,” is a question.   How about stuff like coral reefs and birds?  Micro-bacteria? Soil fungus? Old-growth trees/forests?  Does mentioning these things do anything for you?  Does it make you sweat with excitement at what they mean to your true survival?  Probably not.  Didn’t do much for me either.  In fact, I kind of dazed off thinking about my laundry that needs to be done.

So, here we are.  Completely detached from the rest of the Natural world.  All of the things that exist in this, “Natural world,” operate on a balance.  It is like dominoes (the game, not Pizza chain).  Every part plays a significant role in assuring that the flow keeps on going.  This domino-effect happens every moment or every day!  It is happening in streams, rivers, oceans, mountains, plains, farmlands, and even the atmosphere (weather, fresh clean oxygen, rain) depends on a finite balance we can not possibly duplicate, but are constantly seeking to dominate.

I reassure you, this is not a discussion about why environmentalists are right, and economists are wrong. This is about the WAKE-UP science has been telling us for decades and centuries now: the Earth upon which we SURVIVE operates under a natural system — a natural order, in which it keeps itself ALIVE.  This is about the REALITY that the system WE have in place, does not run in congruence with the Earth’s system.  Let me re-phrase that: how we are currently living RIGHT NOW, will lead mankind into a hot, bubbly, tar pit (aka EXTINCTION).  Let me further clarify, this could very well happen in YOUR lifetime.  Meaning, YOU and I have the choice whether we want to roll the dice at dying a horrible death as a result of something like widespread disorder as a result of food shortages, gas cessation, and power outages.  Could you imagine Los Angeles, if suddenly the system it depended on, FAILED?  No water and limited food to MILLIONS.  Hmmm…Katrina x 100,000?!  And, could you imagine if this happened simultaneously to all the big cities in the world at once?  Where would these people go?  How would they survive?  They wouldn’t.  OK, well, some might, but many would perish amongst complete mayhem and violence.  There will be no government to the rescue; and, suddenly this is every man and woman for themselves.

I reassure you, this is not a discussion about end of days.  No, this is about seeing what is in front of us.  It is seeing the tar pit that we have known to exist for quite some time now, and realizing that pretending it doesn’t exist won’t keep us from walking right into it.  Instead, if we look, we can build a bridge over it.  Hell, maybe even put a fence around it to keep the kids out, who knows.  The point of this discussion is to be brutally honest with ourselves about the future of mankind.  There is a bridge, but it requires unfathomable courage and a willingness to stop civilization’s momentum on a dime.

Collectively, this can be done.

Individually, it will only continue to be a person dressed up in a cute Bee Suit downtown until the “end of days” arrives onto the scene.  Individually, it will only continue to be “hippies” who run off into the woods to start sustainable farming practices, out of sight from society.

The solution is right in front of us!  It is spelled out, and it has been proven to work.  We can survive using simple practices that live in accordance with the Earth’s natural cycles.  We must be willing to give up everything we have achieved through our unnatural processes.  We must be willing to give up our “life” as we know it.  One without cars, TV, internet, grocery stores, coffee shops, porn, lipstick, movies… Yet, also, one without bills, mortgage payments, bankruptcy, 9-5 jobs, 4 hour commutes, 10-page essays — in short, without WORK. JOBS. MODERN DAY STRESS.  I correct myself, there will be work, but it will be simple: harvest food.  Survive.

The bridge to cross this tar pit is one step, ONE STEP away.  It can be done together, swiftly and cleanly, with precise organization from our leaders and support from their followers.  But the key is preparation and a willingness to let go of the script we were handed.  We cannot survive without the Earth.  I am not a bleeding-heart-hippie waving a peace sign who (according to that stereotype) is just livin’ in the clouds.  This is reality.  Want to prove that we CAN survive without the Earth, once we’ve depleted it, polluted it, disrupted the natural order of all things? Once you have it figured out, tell me whether you would actually want to do the work necessary, and how the hell it’s gonna happen because from what I can imagine it will be damn complex and a lot of work.  There is a way to survive WITHOUT our current man-made, “system,” but there will be NO survival WITHIN it — only the illusion of survival.

Now you know.  The pit awaits you and me.  I fear as well as confidently await the day we decide our own fate.  I am not exempt from this day, nor are you.  May we choose wisely.

Accepting Ourselves

Sure, accepting ourselves is an easy mantra to repeat over and over in any self-help script. But, what the hell does it mean? What does it feel like to accept myself? What does it act like? What does it sound like? These are the real questions that come up when I think of accepting my Self. And, I suppose, until one practices long enough with the intention to accept their Self, they will only be feeling out what it is and isn’t in varying moments.

Something that I experienced that brought my mind to a deeper awareness of what accepting myself is like, came during a conversation with my sister. Simply put, she said, “instead of working so hard trying to accept others, spend that energy accepting your Self.” The thought is profound. In many non-western spiritual lineages the teachings stress the idea that there is no Other, there is only the Self. So, here we go again, accept the SELF. Accept it how it is, rather than wondering why there is such difficulty with how you fit in the world around you.

I have a habit of unknowingly abandoning the Self. Every time that I believe that I am wrong, and fight endlessly with conflict around me, believing I am not accepting others enough, or understanding/loving them enough, I am essentially abandoning my Self. I am saying my needs and feelings are not as important as trying to figure out what ways I can sacrifice my Self in order to meet people half way. The truth is, there is no need to fight myself. I can accept that my beliefs are valid and appropriate based on my own experience. It is a fine line between close-mindedness and protecting the Self. However, in all reality, decisions will always be made.

Living in this modern world, we are slammed up against each other. People share tight spaces at home, at work, and in community areas. It isn’t until we can “escape” to the country, mountains, remote beaches that we can find solitude. In this, we are subjected to others’ ideas about how to live daily. Our boss decides what cubical we sit in or what music is played in the shop. There is a highly refined process we are participating in, and it is always our choice to accept or reject what is in place. It is inevitable — whether it is conscious or unconscious. Certain things are more valuable to us than others. It seems that denying ourselves from what we value only creates more disharmony in our lives. And when we believe that someone else holds the power, or is the source of our suffering, we are denying our Self happiness. How we attain this happiness is not by someone else’s pathway to resolution. It is through compassionate acceptance of ourselves, knowing that we know what is best for us — and that we are the only one responsible for insuring this process to be a healthy, reflective one.

Compassionate Learning

We are in a constant state of learning whether we realize it or not.  The question is whether we are willing to learn the lesson.  In second grade, learning to do multiplication, we had the option of understanding how to do it.  It may not have felt like it with the pressures of teachers, parents, and even, our peers, but the option was there.  We could have chosen, and some of us did, to not learn multiplication.  Perhaps it was too confusing or complicated.  We became nervous and anxious that we weren’t understanding.  We began comparing ourselves to everyone else, and our fears soon steamrolled over us.  It may have carried on into division, or even other subjects like english, science, and history.  The scenery changed, but the feeling was the same inside the car: we were scared of not knowing.

In being scared of not knowing, we began to be scared of learning.  Learning is the bridge between not knowing and knowing.  Once we are afraid of the process that will actually relieve us from our suffering we have ensured that we will be in a constant state of it.  And, in fact, the only way that we can “escape” our suffering is to surrender to the experience at hand.  In this, it is not an action we are taking, but in some regard, an inaction.

This is the powerful ocean behind the path of Zen, and one that scares most all people.  Inaction is the bridge between knowing and not knowing.  Inaction works just the opposite of school-taught-learning, it untangles us from the idea that we KNOW and returns us to our natural state of we do NOT KNOW.  Again, the pattern rises to the surface by resisting to believe we “do not know.”  When one begins to fear the process that will remove them from suffering, they have committed themselves to suffering.

By not “acting,” enough times, we will see that there is a process that we are scared of engaging in, while we will also notice that there is a process that we are involved in regardless of whether we believe we are acting or not.  At that point, it becomes easy to see that there are things in our lives we are keeping suspended for our “safety.”  Yet, this is not a compassionate, secure kind of “safety,” we feel, but rather, one that is very guarded and protected by layers of fear.  It is a comfort we have in our own suffering cycle.  Each time we go ‘round and ‘round that cycle we are shown a doorway out of it.  We know exactly what that door looks like, and when it arrives we have the option to walk through it, or continue walking around in our circle.

How could we blame ourselves?! We have worked hard many years wearing this groove in its place.  It’s like that old couch we have with nicely worn butt-imprints on it.  It is the most comfortable place to rest your bum after a long day of worldly adventures, but you see the years of dust, dander, and mold plume into the air each time you plop down into its inviting arms.  We can see it causes us “suffering,” but we are in love with the comfort of it, and have our apprehensions about getting rid of it as well as spending money for a new one.  We can see the doorway out of our, say, breathing problems, is to just get a new couch, or at least, begin by ridding ourselves of this one.  However, if we are comfortable in our suffering and afraid to make the motion toward change, we will not exit.

Our inner Self and suffering cycles within it are probably a little more emotionally stirring than our old couch, but the idea is there.  Do we have enough presence within ourselves to consciously exit our cycle?  The other option is to shut off our emotional response and unconsciously experience the rest of the ride, which is only going to return us to more suffering.

If we are acting and “trying” to escape our experience, we will only continue to suffer.  This can be a confusing concept when translated into words because just like all life, it just is as it is.  The words attempt to describe an experience, but they are not the experience itself.  Everyone can agree, the word “pizza” is much different than the experience of, “pizza.”

With this established, the golden key in regards to suffering and learning how to gracefully exit its tight grip, is compassion.  The experience of compassion cannot be summed up into one word, or words defining what it is.  It is going to be greatly different for every individual, and vary according to every situation.  Without context, compassion can sometimes feel like the opposite.  For instance, if someone were about to unknowingly step in front of a bus, you may tackle them to prevent it from happening.  Without context, this could appear to be a hostile act.

Once we begin to engage in non-physical exchanges between people it can get very difficult to grant ourselves compassion.  When there is not that tangible and obvious looming threat of danger, like a bus, our mind wants to search for formulaic ways of resolving the matter.  It begins to look for past experiences and the judgments made upon those experiences.  It might say that yelling of any kind is bad; saying something disagreeable is bad; or, being reserved and withdrawn is bad.  This is all part of our unique and special learning experience.  When we can compassionately accept that we do not have the answers, and that every moment calls for something different, we allow for mistakes, uncertainty, and error.  We allow for what IS to BE.  In this process, we also allow time for loving reflection, free of judgment and criticism, so that we can see our actions for what they are, knowing that we are acting from a place of love for ourselves, which ultimately is a love for those around us.  It is here, in this compassionate space, we begin to truly trust ourselves and each unique moment that we experience.