Passengers

One of the marks of a good (x) is the ability to improvise — or find unexpected value — when things unfold in a different way than what is anticipated. Fill in your own word: chef, carpenter, sailor, writer, reader…

Driver. Passenger.

When you’re a passenger with someone and they take a different route to your shared destination than the one you would have taken, do you object? Do you spend the time arguing — even if only in your head — that your way would have been better? I suppose if you’re paying for the ride, and getting gouged by the alternate route, then, sure, object. But otherwise, why not look out the window and enjoy the unexpected scenery?

My friend Adrian used to drive for a shuttle service that carried people from their homes to Los Angeles International Airport. Adrian knew the surface streets of his city, knew what time a certain thoroughfare would likely offer smooth sailing, knew how to get from point A to point B like nobody’s business. His passengers paid a flat rate for his service, so there was no benefit to him in taking a longer route than necessary. And he never did.

He liked to tell the story of a passenger who commented warily, after travelling along several unexpected streets, how they’d never gone to the airport this way.

“Ma’am,” he said. “The only one in this van who needs to know how to get to the airport is me.”

If you’re always in the driver’s seat, it’s okay to relax and let someone else do the job for a change. Let them improvise, let them show you things. Let the world show you things. You can take delight in seeing something unanticipated, instead of umbrage that you got where you were going a different way than you’d planned.

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Lawyers

I think I was nine years old when a teacher sat me down in a little room and gave me an aptitude test and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Nine years old. What did I know of the world and all its vastness? What did I know of myself?

I used to like certain kinds of television shows, ones with courtrooms, ones with cowboys. “I want to be a lawyer,” I said. “Or maybe a cowboy.”

Why do we do this to kids? Why do we do it to ourselves?

At last count (2016) there were 1.3 million lawyers in the US — one for every 250 people, give or take. Is there really that much work for lawyers? Or did they just grow up watching the same sorts of tv shows I did, and the career path for cowboys wasn’t looking all that great?

Flood Stage

All day long it’s been raining. The river is crazy high. On the drive home we saw news vans, three of them, parked at a particularly scenic point, their camera crews pointing lenses at the swollen Ohio.

There will be floods. Every year there are floods.

Flooding in this area is particularly troubling because of the city’s aging and non-EPA-compliant sewer system. The city was sued by the EPA into taking long-postponed action to remedy the situation, with the financial burden falling on current residents and small businesses to atone for the sins of previous generations. It’s not like they didn’t know they were dumping raw sewage directly into the river — a river that is the source of drinking water for some three million people. They knew. They just chose to do nothing about it.

Until they were forced to.

It’s such a very human response.

But tell me more, please, about how those government regulations are the real problem.

Too Many Thoughts

Sometimes when I say “I have a lot to think about” what I really mean is “I have too many thoughts.”

When you have things on your mind, thoughts are not always helpful.

They get in the way.

When I have “a lot to think about” the best thing I can do is to stretch out the space between thoughts. Abide in that space.

It’s nice there. Nice here.  Same space.

Meta-Ego

So I’ve been reading Reginald Ray’s Touching Enlightenment for the past few weeks, picking it up and putting it down, mulling it over. A day ago I came to a section that led me to consider that there might be a planetary counterpart to the individual ego — something like a meta-ego — that conjures and defends a meta-self, e.g., a nation-state, a dominant culture, a way of life that is otherwise indefensible vis a vis the wisdom of the natural world.

Wandering down that trail is what prompted yesterday’s post, the one about the USA being the ego of the world.

Since you’re not reading the book along with me, I thought I’d offer a little more context for that post. I am playing with a thought here. If you’re into that sort of thing, maybe you can play, too.

Here’s the excerpt that triggered my contemplation:

“What happens to all that denied and rejected experience that our body has already received? (…) As we have seen, we literally freeze the body — which knows and is aware of the totality — so that we don’t have to feel more than the very small portion we can accept. The experience of the body, however, has not been destroyed by our rejection, nor has it somehow disappeared. Rather, it continues to live in the patterns of mental avoidance and physical tension that we have developed around it.

(…) “The experience that our body has taken in but our conscious “self” has been unwilling to receive dwells in a kind of no-man’s land or bardo (“intermediate”) state in our body. There, we do subliminally feel it, primarily as an abiding threat and source of subtle anxiety that runs throughout our life.

(…) “Our ego maintenance, then, represents the ongoing activity of rehearsing and repeating, over and over, the “narrative” of our personal “self” — who I am, who I should be, who I want to be, who I must be, to survive as “me.”

And here’s the rabbit hole I went down:

I started by considering the story told by the dominant culture about the European conquest of the Americas. The framing of it of a “discovery.” The assumption of “destiny” and inevitability. Such a very small portion of the vast experience spanning hundreds of years has been retained as “history.” What happened to the rest of the story?

The rest, to borrow from Ray, continues to live within the dominant culture in what he calls “patterns of avoidance.” In other words, we don’t talk about these rejected aspects in any consistent way that would fold them into an understanding of our true shared history. We in fact actively avoid such enfolding.

But the body (of the Earth) knows. The body retains it all. And as creatures of the Earth, we feel it. Subliminally, viscerally, we know this information is there. Yet we can’t let it in without shattering our sense of meta-self.

Which makes us — as a people, and as a country — defensive, anxious, unable to feel safe anywhere, perceiving threats to our survival everywhere.

Our national identity, our origin stories, our patriotism, nationalism, all of these might be seen as the work of the ego writ large, the meta-ego that must defend itself against the knowledge of the world, all those traumatic experiences that have been forced into hiding by a meta-self that requires constant reinforcement of who it is and why it is and how it must survive. These defenses play themselves out as continued dysfunction and hypocrisy and war and brinkmanship and misogyny and the incessant, almost manic, urge to turn the living planet into dead numbers on a ledger.

Can we begin to heal the meta-ego in the same way we begin to heal the personal ego, by slowly working to relax its stranglehold on our perceptions, our lived experience? And can we do it without demanding that everybody sit on a cushion? Because any solution that requires everybody to do anything is no solution at all.

Does any of this make sense to you? It feels so unwieldy.

And yet.

I might have more to say about it later. For now I think I’m going to sit with it a little longer.

Ego

Maybe the ego is a shell of defense created to protect the concept of the self.

Maybe the concept of the self is a creation of the ego.

Maybe without the concept of the self, the ego has nowhere to plant its flag.

Ego and self. Chicken and egg.

Maybe the United States is the ego of the world.

No Time at All

Bodhichitta practice. Informal. Slow.

Not striving for. Not reaching for. Breathing in.

We breathe into the heart center and find it armored. Of course it’s armored. We breathe anyway. Like making friends with a feral cat. We sit nearby. For a day, or a week. Then we sit alongside. Companionable. No demands.

A day is a long time. A week is no time at all.

It rained overnight. The snow fell this morning. Now the wind blows.