During my travels, one of the most frequently asked question is “What is it like to be in relationship with an enlightened being?” Why this question? Perhaps they have the idea or image of an ideal relationship, and want to know more about it. Perhaps their mind wants to project itself to a future time when they, too, will be in an ideal relationship and find themselves through it.
What is it like to be in relationship with an enlightened being?
As long as I have the idea in my head “I have a relationship” or “I am in a relationship,” no matter with whom, I suffer. This I have learnt.
With the concept of “relationship” come expectations, memories of past relationships, and further personally and…
Finally getting around to posting a hair tutorial I did earlier this summer. I get asked about how I do my hair so often that I will now simply refer all queries to this youtube video which, I hope, answers the question once and for all:
Out of the blue, I decided to check out Paris Jackson’s Twitter page. Okay, this really only occurred to me because her family’s been in the news about some disputes over money. I had read that Paris had reported her grandmother missing on her Twitter page. So, for the first and possibly only time in my life, I looked her up.
Having satisfied my curiosity, I was about to close the window until I saw — lo and behold – on the left side of the screen, ANOTHER BUDDHA.
This is so interesting in part because I’m more attracted to Advaita Vedanta (Hinduism), than to Buddhism, but Buddha keeps showing up. What does he want?
I didn’t hear about the movie theater attack in Aurora until two days after it happened. I had been traveling – and, thankfully – am almost totally unplugged from the Media Industrial Complex. I quit social media (Facebook) last December after having spent nearly 8 years living through the minutiae of everyday life as well as the mania spurred on by various “tragedies” with 600 of my best friends.
Of course my heart goes out to the families and loved ones of those who were hurt and killed in Aurora. My heart also goes out to the approximately 80 people killed each day in the United States from gun related violence. Beyond our borders, there are hundreds, if not thousands of others, who die from gun-inflicted wounds every single day in civilian and war-related killing. To their numbers, we must add everyone else who experiences suffering from other types of violence every minute of every day.
I mention these countless other cases of suffering and violence not for the purpose of minimizing what happened in Aurora, but rather for the purpose of drawing attention to the arbitrariness of the hysteria that surrounds certain events. When we take a step back, a familiar pattern emerges: (1) a certain case of violence somehow garners attention and 24/7 news coverage in the media (2) lots of everyday people, talking heads, politicians, intellectuals, religious leaders, etc. pontificate with great moral outrage about the ills of our society (3) touching memorials take place as people commemorate the victims (4) feelings of fear, dread, sadness, nihilism, anxiety and anger overcome the populace.
To the extent that such mass attention might raise consciousness about the costs of our current gun policies and the representations of violence and dehumanization that characterize so much of our popular culture, there is much good that can come from greater awareness of these issues. And yet, there are many disturbing things about the obsessive attention and collective angst wrought by events like Aurora:
(1) The attention is always short lived. It will reach its peak and then slowly dissipate. At some point in the near future, no news outlet will report anything related to Aurora on any given day. And, on the unknown future date, most people will not think about any of the victims. In other words, life will return to “normal”.
(2) Many people who express moral outrage rarely use these occasions as an opportunity to put their principles into action in their own lives. Instead, they have very detailed opinions about how other people should change without realizing that positive change concretely depends on how we all live our lives on an on-going basis. That means that if I want a society that values the dignity of all living beings, then I need to take stock of the choices I make in my life in addition to calling my congresswo(man).
(3) The mass hysteria produced by media-driven coverage of tragic events is inherently arbitrary. That is to say: the event(s) that come to occupy the collective conscious are always a mere subset of a much larger sample of horrific happenings.
So, what to make of Aurora? Or the Trayvon Martin case? Or the Giffords shooting? Or any other tragedy that captures the public’s imagination? I have a few ideas.
(1)No loss of life is more important than any other other simply because CNN says so. There is nothing wrong with focusing on a tragic event if it spurs personal and collective action for the greater good. But such attention must extend to the countless cases of suffering that never make it to the airwaves or the twittersphere. In other words, we need to care about suffering broadly – not just in specific cases that seem to horrify or concern us.
(2) External violence derives from and pales in comparison to the “war within”.
Yes, reasonable people agree that our gun policies obviously need to be reformed and we should all do what we can to make decisions (political and otherwise) that reflect our esteem for human life and dignity. That said, there is no amount of other-directed protest, pontificating or policing can solve the core issue at the heart of violence. External suffering has internal sources. We harm each other physically because of internal limitations on our capacity for love, compassion and peaceful co-existence. I have sometimes remarked that people who decry violence need to ask themselves how realistic it is to expect people to treat others with respect and compassion when most people do not even love themselves! If you pay attention to your inner world (your thoughts, feelings and perceptions) on a daily basis, you will quickly learn how difficult it can be to maintain an attitude of love and compassion not only toward other people, but also toward yourself. Difficult circumstances and situations frequently arouse feelings of anger and fear for all of us on a daily basis. Learning how to achieve inner peace and happiness is the only way we can individually become agents of compassion, cooperation and love in our interactions with others. The war within needs our urgent attention, even as we take steps to address the war in our streets.
(3) Social media and mass media interfere with our ability to maintain equanimity and inner peace. Being informed about local, national and global events is important. I am not advocating burying our heads in the sand. But being continuously plugged into the Media Industrial Complex with its assortment of arbitrary news coverage, commercialized interests and biased representations is a recipe for moral decline, passivity and cultural manipulation. I was so grateful that I did not get wrapped up in the hype about Aurora on Facebook (since I no longer have an account) or through cable news (since I rarely watch it). Yes, I found out a few days after the fact and did follow the story with some interest, but because I came to the story rather than having it come to me, I was able to examine it from a place of calm reflection rather than media-manipulated fear and loathing.
(4)The most important thing any of us can do in response to such tragedies is to ask: How am I living? Before I prioritized my spiritual life, I found myself attracted to execrable popular culture like reality TV, violent action films and generally mindless material. Since the dawn of my spiritual “awakening” (for lack of a better word), I naturally found myself mostly reading about theology and philosophy and watching related media (i.e. Eckhart Tolle’s talks or Mooji’s videos) in my free time. I didn’t consciously try to avoid violent material, but I simply lost interest in it. There are some exceptions — I still love the “Matrix” films and have a slight addiction to Breaking Bad, but I try to watch these things consciously, in a way that strengthens – rather than weakens – my concern for the dignity of all living beings. Perhaps more on that in another post. All of this to say, change is possible and it begins with you.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t watch movies like the “Dark Knight Rises” – I don’t think external responses of that nature are the “answer”. To go on a “violent movie” boycott or to only militate for greater gun control (though we do need it) would be naive and shortsighted. Tragic events like Aurora remind me to pay attention to what’s going on in my world – in my thoughts and emotions. It heightens awareness of emotional and mental violence. The moment I feel myself thinking negatively about someone, I am reminded that such enmity – no matter how minor – is the seed from which all mistreatment and violence grows. How can I expect others to be more compassionate if I myself do not prioritize compassion and kindness? When I feel “pissed off or upset about anything, I use awareness of those emotions to bring me back into conscious recognition of my Self as the Presence of God rather than my “self” as the ego with its tote bag of delusions, petty interests and conditioning. This is why meditation and other practices that focus our attention on the present moment – on stillness – are so important. It is only from a place a inner peace and tranquility that we can come to regard each other with the respect, love and dignity that make external violence inconceivable.
What do you think? Is it possible to consume violent culture while also affirming the dignity of human life? Is there any real good that will come from the intense attention to the Aurora shooting? What can each of us do, individually and collectively, to respond to this event?
People in my life know that I make a big deal out of pleasant coincidences. I generally refer to these auspicious confluence of events as synchronicities.
I started noticing synchronicities a few years ago. For a while, I’d keep track of them in my journals. Then, there were so many that I simply could not keep track of them.
For a while, I tried to figure out why these cool and interesting things were happening. I noticed some patterns. My synchronicities:
– did not seem to concern terribly important things (i.e. life and death situations, huge decisions or existential issues)
– were generally pleasant and delightful
– made me happy
– seemed to happen in “batches”
Years ago, I gave up trying to figure out why they happen. I did read Carl Jung’s work on synchronicities with some interest, though I did not delve deeply into the psychoanalytic framework he uses. These days, I interpret cool coincidences as evidence that (1) I’m in the right place at the right time (2) the Universe/God/Angels/Beings of Light/Oprah were essentially reminding me that we live in a magical, matrix-like world (3) God loves me and has a sense of humor.
In any case, my recent trip to New England was full of cool synchronicities. The most noticeable coincidence was the plethora of Buddhas that seemed to follow my every step. When I arrived at my mom’s place in Portland, Maine, I noticed her collection of Buddha statues and took a few pictures. I had seen them before, but I felt some need to document them this time.
A few days later, I showed up at a friend’s place in Cambridge only to find a tiny Buddha statue on the bed in which I’d be sleeping. Again, I snapped a picture.
While walking in Harvard Square, I randomly bumped into a friend I hadn’t spoken with in years. That night, I swung by his apartment. At some point, I noticed a Buddha statue in one of the rooms. I was delighted, though not surprised, despite my friend being allergic to most things spiritual. He then proceeded to point out the half a dozen other Buddhas in his living room. An interesting conversation about the meaning of life, his interests in nature and my interests in Buddhism and especially Hinduism commenced.
Other coincidences during the trip (some less impressive than others):
(1) While driving through Cambridge, I felt compelled to stop by the Weeks Bridge, a beautiful pedestrian walkway that arches over the Charles River. The bridge overlooks my old place at Peabody Terrace, where I lived for 5 years as a graduate student at Harvard. I walked up the washed-out white steps of the bridge, beheld the water and entered into meditation while listening to the recording of my “Harvest Moon” cover (a song I’d become obsessed with). While on the bridge, I decided I wanted to grab a coffee. My heart led me to Petsi Pies, a cool cafe and bakery I used to frequent. At Petsi Pies, I ordered a mocha latte, still listening to my music. Then, I watched as they took down the morning menu and put up a chalk board for lunch. I blinked when I saw that the special of the day was the “Harvest Moon” sandwich. I’d never seen that there before, and they told me they didn’t have that special the previous day.
(2) Walking through the Cambridge Commons, a little park on Harvard’s campus, I noticed a couple walk past me. The woman was wearing a bright green summer dress with a striking gold necklace. Her hipster male friend had on a matching green t-shirt. About 55 minutes later, I walked back through the Commons to my car, and the same couple walked past me, in almost the exact same spot where we crossed paths an hour before.
(3) The Buddhas. The Buddhas!
(4) A lot of synchronicities seem to involve my bed. Staying in my friend Miriam’s home, I noticed that there was a TV box next to the bed where I would be sleeping. It said, in big letters: “BLACK CRYSTAL”. Okay, this one is a stretch, but it still made me smile.
(5) In my mother’s guestroom, I turned and saw a stack of books on the bedside table. One of the books said “Advaita” on its spine. I knew it was meant to be my book.
(6) At my friend’s Cambridge apartment, there was a Buddha on the bed in which I slept.
(7) Lying in bed at my friend’s place in Boston, I woke up to see a book on “Chi Running” on the floor nearby. The book explains a technique for running long distances without hurting one’s self — the subject of an extended conversation I had with someone about a week ago.
(8) Conversations with various people I did not know I would talk with revealed synchronistic interests, reflections and experiences that are too numerous to get into here . . .
Some snapshots from my trip to Massachusetts and Maine. One odd, but cool thing: of the five homes where I was welcomed by friends and family, three of them featured little Buddha statues — and none of these people are Buddhists. One of the Buddhas, at my friend Patrick’s apartment, was actually a relic that dates to 700 A.D.!