Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

All At Once

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

All At Once

Spring Display photo by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2015)

“Love exists in itself, not relying on owning or being owned.” Sharon Salzberg

Last year, handguns killed forty-eight people in Japan, eight in Great Britain, fifty-two in Canada, twenty-one in Sweden, and 10,728 in the United States. I was listening to the Giants sweep the Dodgers and feeling euphoric and glad when I received the email with those handgun death statistics, and I was reminded of a dharma talk I attended many years ago in Berkeley.

After her prepared talk, the Buddhist teacher took questions from the audience. A woman asked, “How can we be happy when there is so much suffering in the world, so much violence and cruelty and inequity, and so much of it unnecessary?”

The teacher replied, “If we immerse ourselves in news of suffering and violence, it is very difficult to be happy. Life is full of sorrow and joy. Sometimes we feel great and have wonderful experiences, sometimes we are sick and miserable. That’s the nature of life. Buddha said nothing about striving to be happy. He did suggest we make a conscious effort to be kind to each other and to ourselves. Kindness is now the heart of my practice.”

Speaking of sick and miserable, I recently suffered through a bad case of food poisoning that rendered two days entirely void of happiness for me. And yet, during those same two days, the lettuce doubled in size, the apple trees burst forth with hundreds of lovely blossoms, and Marcia was full of her usual vim and vigor and love of life.

“There are good and bad tastes, good and bad feelings, agreeable and disagreeable ideas. It is our attachment to them that creates suffering.” Shunryu Suzuki

This morning we discovered our thirteen-year-old cat Django has not yet retired from hunting, though we thought he had. A decapitated, eviscerated little rabbit greeted us as we opened the door to the laundry room where Django has his bed. I scooped the carcass up with my shovel and flung the body into the forest where all the atoms of that formerly cute furry animal will soon be scattered around the cosmos.

Speaking of the cosmos, the news lately is full of reports of planets just a hop skip and jump away, if only we could travel faster than the speed of light, that might be loaded with water, might be conducive to life as we know it, and might already have life fermenting thereon. I read these reports and can’t help wondering if they are another ploy to distract us from our collective annihilation of the planet we currently occupy.

Yet another collection of eminent climate scientists have come out with a declaration that unless humans reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050, there is little chance the biosphere will remain habitable for children and other living things. Meanwhile, carbon emissions are increasing every year and the powers that be spend trillions of dollars on weaponry that might be spent switching us from fossil fuels to renewables.

Speaking of renewables, did you know the state of Washington is experiencing a historic drought? We knew California was dry as a bone with a snow pack less than ten per cent of normal, but Washington’s snow pack is not much better. This is bad news for salmon and kayakers, but really bad news for apple lovers because Washington grows seventy per cent of all the apples in America and commercial apple farming uses lots of water.

“When you are walking, there is no foot ahead or behind.” Shunryu Suzuki

Everything is happening all at once. My brother’s good friend was just struck and killed by a bicyclist. A young couple we know is about to have a baby. Our government is about to pass so-called Free Trade Agreements that will give corporations supremacy over state and national laws. Rain is drumming on the roof and I have the hiccoughs.

Meanwhile, the Giants are up two to nothing against the Colorado Rockies behind our good young pitcher Chris Heston who comes to us courtesy of injuries to several of our other pitchers not half as good as he. Who knew? Playing at mile-high stadium in Denver where the thinner air favors the hitters will be a big test for the young hurler.

Then there are the resurgent redwood roots. I’ve been gardening in redwood root country now for nine years and am fast approaching the point of surrender. Now the Rockies have tied the game. And now we’ve gone ahead of the Rockies, but now they’re threatening again. Life is threatening and lovely and I just cancelled the manure run for tomorrow because it’s raining hard and Kathy’s corral will be a quagmire. Now the Rockies have tied the game. Nothing is certain.

A recent exhaustive study of the most recent American election, referenced by Noam Chomsky, reveals the level of voter participation today is equivalent what it was in the early nineteenth century when only landed white men were allowed to vote. No wonder our government is so entirely out of synch with the wishes of the American populace. To make matters worse, the Rockies have now gone ahead of the Giants five to four.

Should I live so long, I will be a hundred-and-one-years-old in 2050, though given my tendency to eat questionable foods and hurt myself, the chances of that are not good. Besides if we don’t reduce carbon emissions to zero long before then, nobody will be alive in 2050. But we never know what might happen. This is not wishful thinking but an acknowledgment that life is unpredictable. There may come a moment when everything happening all at once precipitates a sudden cessation of carbon emissions.

In the meantime, the Rockies are now up six to four as we head into the seventh inning. The rain has abated, the lettuce seems delighted by this April shower and as my Uncle Howard was fond of saying, “We’ll see what develops.”

Inventing Ourselves

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2012)

“You don’t have to suffer to be a poet.  Adolescence is enough suffering for anyone.” John Ciardi

My last few trips to the village of Mendocino have coincided with the lunchtime release of the children from the high school on the hill—dozens of young ones wandering singly and in groups down into the miniature commercial district to buy food and drink and to escape the air of confinement and regimentation that is so antithetical to the spirit of the young.

Some of the kids wander as far as Big River Beach to smoke pot or sunbathe or commingle with scruffy older boys and girls, some of whom are homeless, some simply at loose ends as they haunt the beach and headlands, waiting for Godot. But most of the high school kids go straight to their chosen food sources—Mendocino Market & Deli (across the street from the post office), Harvest Market, Frankie’s, the bakery, Moody’s, Mendo Burgers—purchase their goodies and boomerang back to campus where they scarf their food and socialize until the bell tolls for them to resume what we hope is meaningful education but fear is mind-numbing incarceration.

Watching this lunchtime parade of teens often puts me in mind of my own time in high school (1963-1967), a death-defying adventure in communal insanity, the insanity of puberty in America and the desperate search for a workable way to survive the frightening world of our parents and their fellow adult imbeciles who seemed hell bent on destroying the planet before we had a chance to write a good song or get laid.

I think it must be the costumes the Mendocino teens are trying on these days that most remind me of my own high school experience—that search for the perfect apparel to capture the essence of who we hope to be. Look! Here are three lovely young women walking shoulder to shoulder, each clutching a cell phone—a full-blown hippy, a quintessential geek, a scantily clad prostitute.

Hippy: So is your mom picking you up after school today?

Prostitute: Yeah, I have to get my fucking braces tightened.

Geek: I totally hate dentists.

Hippy: Can I like…get a ride with you?

Prostitute: If there’s room in the car, but she’ll probably have my sister with her cello and my brother with his trumpet and probably the dogs.

Hippy: Forget it.

When I went to high school, girls were not allowed to wear pants or shorts or short skirts or lingerie or sexy stockings, nor would they have been allowed to wear belly shirts had such things existed in those days—all of which the Mendocino girls are fond of wearing. But girls in my day were allowed to wear long skirts and fanciful blouses, the myriad forms and combinations of which ultimately became the signature attire of female hippies. Indeed, the rebellion against boring and constrictive clothing was a large part of the creative expression that defined the Sixties; and if clothes make the person, then hippies were certainly made, at least in part, by their looser and more colorful clothes.

 “Don’t laugh at a youth for his affectations; he is only trying on one face after another to find a face of his own.” Logan Pearsall Smith

When I was sixteen I was on the basketball and soccer teams, and I was also in plays and hung out with artists and musicians and poets, many of whom were among the first hippies, which meant I was a jock artist thespian hippy, though my standard mode of dress gave no hint of these affiliations. I wore blue jeans and mono-colored T-shirts and dirty white tennis shoes and a dull gray plasticized rain jacket; and I gave little thought to my appearance until one day I was having lunch with a bunch of gorgeously attired girls and boys of the artist musician poetry drama crowd, and Mona, who could (and often did) give me an erection with the merest glance, said, “Dear Mr. Odd, why so persistently dun? Wouldn’t you like to be just a little more peacock? Hmm? Please? For Mona’s happiness?”

Mona’s words struck deep (and that’s really how she talked, being one of the first truly gone potheads of my generation). I wanted to please her and I very much wanted to be more peacock than dun. Thus I was distracted for the rest of the day thinking about clothing, missed easy lay-ups during basketball practice, and was off my feed at supper, consuming a mere four thousand calories instead of my usual six thousand. I eschewed my homework for rummaging around in my closet, and finding nothing there I snuck into my parents’ bedroom and rummaged around in my father’s closet, something I had never done before.

To my surprise and amazement, at the end of a long line of conservative suits and ties, I came upon an old suede fawn-colored jacket with leather buttons and big pockets. I took it off the hanger, put it on, and felt embraced by angels. Wow! How had this amazing garment come to be among my father’s possessions, being so unlike anything I had ever seen my father wear?

“Hey, Dad?” I called, carrying my prize through the house. “Where are you?”

“He’s in the garage,” said my mother, transfixed by Perry Mason.

I opened the heavy gray door leading from the kitchen into the garage, a place of chaos and danger and probable tetanus where my father was standing amidst the rubble, soldering something.

“Hey, Dad,” I said, always more than a little afraid of him, “is this yours?”

He turned to me and his scowl gave way to a sheepish smile. “Oh, that old thing. That was my father’s smoking jacket. From the 1930’s. I had it cleaned, but…I never wore it. You want it?”

“Yes,” I said, wanting that jacket more than I had ever wanted anything since I’d wanted a bow and arrows (with real steel tips) when I was ten.

And the next day when I wore that old suede jacket over one of my father’s faintly pink dress shirts, I felt properly attired for the first time in my almost-an-adult life. I felt suave and creative and on my way to where I was supposed to be going, though I had no idea where that was. I felt strong and sexy and daring and unique, and less afraid than I usually felt. To my surprise, boys rather than the girls were the most overtly complimentary and envious, several asking me where I had purchased such a groovy thing, because they wanted one, too.

But the crowning moment came when I presented myself to Mona at lunch and she put down her Anais Nin (Delta of Venus) and took off her big red-framed glasses and wrapped her arms around me and gave me a phantasmagoric open-mouthed kiss and whispered, “Imagine such bed sheets.”

 “I never expected to see the day when girls would get sunburned in the places they do now.” Will Rogers

Teenage boys need little (or nothing) to arouse them, sexually speaking. When I was in high school one of my greatest challenges was getting from one class to the next without revealing my persistent erection. This, I think, was the real purpose of binders, shields to be held over our midsections as we moved along the crowded halls to that next desk under which we could conceal our tumescence. For as I said, a mere glance from Mona, or from any number of other young lovelies, would render me brain dead and ready to procreate; and that was in an era when school rules severely restricted the amount of flesh a young woman’s outfit might reveal.

Today there are numerous young women patrolling the streets of our hamlet who, with only the slightest alterations to their ensembles, might easily be mistaken for escapees from a Victoria’s Secret bra and panties photo shoot, which displays of pulchritude, for an old fart like me, are simply wonderful to behold and make me smile and sigh, innocently, of course, in much the same way I smile and sigh when I espy an osprey winging by overhead with a fat fish clutched in her talons or when I catch a glimpse of a mint condition 1956 turquoise Thunderbird or…that sort of thing.

And for those teenaged boys who must survive their long and tedious high school days sitting and standing in such close proximity to such generous displays of so much luscious female flesh, my sympathies run as deep as the deep blue sea.

Giants and Greece

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2012)

“We don’t have to look far to see how pervasive suffering is in the world.” Joseph Goldstein

Matt Cain recently pitched a perfect game for the San Francisco Giants while Greece is in the midst of a massive economic collapse. Gregor Blanco made one of the great catches in Giants history to preserve Cain’s perfecto while Spain is in economic freefall with over 25% unemployment and Spanish real estate prices falling falling falling. Cain gave his catcher Buster Posey much of the credit for the no-no while Syria is in the midst of a horribly bloody civil war with thousands of casualties, many of them women and children.

Cain’s perfect game is only the twenty-second perfect game in the 130-year history of baseball while the Japanese government has ordered the restarting of several of their dangerously unsafe nuclear power plants despite a vast majority of the Japanese people opposed to nuclear power in the wake of the ongoing catastrophic meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plants.

And how about Melky Cabrera, the Melkman, leading the National League in hitting while the American economy is collapsing around our ears. True, Tim Lincecum is having an awful year so far and Barry Zito is showing signs of faltering after a strong start, but the rest of the Giants starters are pitching magnificently while California’s budget deficit is several billion dollars more than state officials anticipated, though anyone with half a brain knew that such drastic cuts in government spending would guarantee equally drastic economic contraction.

“We may have compassion for the victims of social or political injustice, but can we feel compassion for those who perpetrate that injustice?” Joseph Goldstein

For many years I have been in the habit of listening to Giants baseball games on a little silver transistor radio I carry from room to room and out into the garden. When I lived in Berkeley, I had a neighbor who was bothered by my interest in the Giants, and he told me so one day when he found me in my vegetable patch listening to a game while I pulled weeds and watered.

“You’re such an intelligent person,” he said, shaking his head. “How can you listen to that meaningless junk when there’s so much suffering in the world?”

This fellow, I hasten to add, walked his talk. He was a medical doctor who worked long hours in a clinic for poor people and spent the rest of his time reading books about social injustice and political corruption and writing passionate letters to government officials and marching against social injustice and wars waged for corporate hegemony. He lived frugally and gave away most of the money he made to help fund the clinic where he worked, so…

“This is an antidote to my own suffering,” I replied, comforted by the inimitable ambience only baseball on the radio provides. “A form of guided meditation.”

“Sponsored by earth-killing corporations,” he said, pointing at my radio dangling amidst the snow pea vines. “Listen. Yet another ad for Chevron.”

“I studiously do not buy gas from Chevron,” I said—an easy boast since I didn’t own a car.

“But why do you like that garbage?” he asked, visibly upset. “You like basketball, too, don’t you?”

“Love basketball,” I said, nodding. “Basketball was my salvation and succor for many years.”

“And you actually care who wins?” He sighed despondently. “What a waste.”

“I care and I don’t care,” I said, as one of our boys led off the seventh with a single. “The game matters in the moment and doesn’t matter in the next moment. I’m not attached once the game is over. For long.”

“But do you know why the major corporations sponsor these games?” he asked, waving his arms in frustration. “Because it keeps people occupied so they won’t take any meaningful action to create substantive change. It’s a mechanism of social control. And look what they’re selling. Gasoline, beer, cars, insurance, computers, plastic, Las Vegas.”

“So what do you think I should do?” I asked, trying not to hold him responsible for altering the game with his negative attitude (see quantum physics) and causing the double play that just wiped out our first decent scoring opportunity since the first inning. “I don’t have a television or a car or health insurance or really much of anything except a piano, a guitar, a very slow computer, and things to cook with. You want me to toss the little radio and take a vow of chastity and silence? Gimme a break, it’s baseball. I love baseball. I played baseball growing up. Baseball is in my bones, in my blood.”

“Entrained since childhood,” he said, nodding dolefully. “That’s what they do. Cradle to grave entrainment disguised as entertainment.”

Then it hit me: this guy did not play baseball growing up. Baseball was not in his bones, in his blood. He did not understand what I was experiencing when I listened to a game on the radio because he had no real understanding of the language of baseball. He might as well have been listening to someone speaking Greek, assuming he didn’t understand Greek, which I think is a fair assumption.

And the moment I realized that his antipathy was as much about what he didn’t understand about baseball as it was about what he did understand about corporate control of the media, I was filled with compassion and said, “Want any lettuce? I have a vast surplus in need of harvesting.”

“Love some,” he said, his frown giving way to a smile.

“Compassion is the tender readiness of the heart to respond to one’s own or another’s pain, without resentment or aversion.” Joseph Goldstein

There are only eleven million people in Greece, about a quarter of the population of California, and because Greece is so small, relatively speaking, the annihilation of Greek society by their corrupt government in collusion with their corrupt banking system is easier to discern than the annihilation of American society by our corrupt government in collusion with our corrupt banking system. But the mechanisms of both annihilations are identical (not to mention intertwined), and what unfolds in Greece is predictive of things about to unfold here if the powers-that-be don’t quickly and dramatically shift current fiscal policy away from austerity to something resembling the stimulating policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

That is to say, a small minority of unscrupulous people in the banking/government system of America, stole trillions of dollars from the people of America, kept billions of those dollars in their personal bank accounts, and gambled away the rest. Then when the financial system began to totter and fall, these same criminals stole trillions more to prop up the markets and the banks a little while longer—which is where we are today.

In their most recent election, enough Greeks were scared by erroneous propaganda into voting for the same criminals who created the current economic mess so that the annihilation of their country will continue, in the same way that enough Americans in our upcoming election will be scared into voting for the same criminals who created our portion of the global mess so the annihilation of our country and the world will continue.

The good news is that the Giants are doing remarkably well this season and are poised to make a strong run in the second half. If Lincecum can get back on track and Pablo will shed twenty pounds and stop swinging at high pitches out of the strike zone, and if Blanco can keep getting on base ahead of Melky, and Melky and Buster keep hitting well, and Crawford keeps being Crawford, we might very well go deep into the post season if not all the way to the World Series. And once there, as we know from recent experience, anything is possible.

As Charles Dickens wrote to begin A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

And as Joseph Campbell said so eloquently on his eightieth birthday, “The field of time is a field of sorrow. Life is sorrowful. How do you live with that? You realize the eternal within yourself. You disengage and yet re-engage. You—and here is the beautiful formula: you participate with joy in the sorrows of the world.”