Ancient Lessons About Reducing Anxiety and Embracing the World

Despite feeling tremendous relief just a few nights ago, when Catharine Masto Cortez was declared the winner of the Nevada Senate race and my wife, and I, danced around the living room⎼ today I feel heavy once again. Why is that? I was so happy the Democrats exceeded expectations and maintained control of the Senate. The outpouring of support for the rights of women and to vote has clarified for all that the GOP war for autocracy can be stopped.

 

But sometimes, we get so caught up in a situation, a worry, expectation, and lose any perspective. We might be too frightened, traumatized, or invested and we see things only one way, as if the moment stood isolated in time. And we lose sight of how the situation came to be.

 

We might lose sight, for example, of just how traumatized we all were by past threats and those still looming. We have the GOP barely gaining control of the House and, of course, keeping control of the Supreme Court. And their leaders, DJT and others like him, are still threatening to seize the Presidency, avoid prosecution for their crimes, and impose their will on the rest of us. And the chaos they might yet cause, with their program of hate, lies, and division, and denying the factual results of this and past elections.

 

But not only is no human an island but no moment. The past sets up the present, as this moment educates the next. One moment’s mistake can lead either to another mistake ⎼ or to insight, when we can allow our heart, mind, and senses to be open to it.

 

I was reading a book by Joan Sutherland, a Zen meditation teacher, called Through Forests of Every Color: Awakening with Koans. In chapter two, she talked about how a new form of Zen developed in China in the eighth century in response to catastrophic times. Over just ten years, two-thirds of the population died due to rebellion, invasion, famine, and disease. The Tang dynasty of the time went from a flourishing empire to, afterwards, a barely surviving one, where life was so tenuous.

 

Of course, this mirrored back to me our own time, marked as we know too well, with so much disease, so many climate disasters, and the threats mentioned earlier of violence, and the attempted destruction of our democratic form of government.

 

No moment is the same as any other, but how did people, in awful times in the past, or going through awful times today, cope? Can we today, or those from the past, reveal ways of living that can help us through the pain to something we could welcome, to ways of living that meet our needs and strengthen our humanity?

 

I especially look to people like Zen adepts, those who have spent years studying the mind, body, and heart, and living harmoniously with others and nature. According to Sutherland, the Zen adepts and innovators of the 8th century,  realized that trying to escape their world through a narrow path to personal peace or religious ceremony would not serve them or their culture. They needed a sense of immediacy and, awful as it was, they got it….

 

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

The Hideous and the Beautiful: A Good News Newsletter on the Two and the Infinite Sides of Humanity

There’s so much in our society and world right now that angers or frightens me, but also so much that is providing optimism, maybe, or at least, reassurance, that what we need or wish for is possible. I’m often tempted lately to write a good news newsletter to cheer up and energize myself and others.

 

First, there is the news that our legal system is greatly damaged but not broken. In 2021 and 2022, the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty of murder and hate crimes. The DOJ has also increased its efforts to prosecute hate crimes.

 

Secondly, it has been so jarring and has created such anxiety in so many of us to see DJT’s obvious criminal, unjust, even traitorous actions escape any legal consequences, until, maybe, now. The Jan. 6 Hearings have and will continue to present for all to see (if they’d look) new and old evidence of DJT working to violently overthrow our constitutional democracy. Then there’s the evidence collected at Mar-A-Lago that DJT illegally took government documents, including classified files, with him as he left office. He obstructed investigations into that theft.  And the DOJ has opened investigations into his election interference, and issued over 40 subpoenas to people in DJT’s orbit. He faces a very good chance of a criminal indictment.

 

The GOP cry they must enact controls on voting (i. e. suppress the vote) due to voting fraud, but the evidence shows their claims are disinformation. Such fraud is a GOP created myth.

 

The biggest voting fraud is by DJT followers, some of whom are now being held accountable. For example, GOP officials and lawyers, such as Sidney Powell, have been exposed for breaching and illegally sharing voting information. In Michigan, DJT’s pick for attorney general is being investigated for a conspiracy to get access to voting machines. There is Representative Scott Perry in Pennsylvania and a GOP election official in Troy, New York, named Jason Schofield. According to the DOJ, Schofield “was arraigned on an indictment charging him with unlawfully using the names and dates of birth of voters to fraudulently apply for absentee ballots for elections held in Rensselaer County in 2021.”

 

Then we have criminal investigations against DJT in Georgia, fraud investigations in New York. And the investigation into DJT fraudulently raising money to fight a fraud that never happened, but he spent the money for his own personal uses. Some of these charges could result in jail time and/or disqualification from running for office.

 

Thirdly, with abortion, the GOP have exposed their heartlessness. Having an abortion is an awful choice to make, but it’s a mother’s choice. The GOP are not only trying to rip from women the right to make decisions regarding their own bodies; they’re demonizing mothers who want the right to decide when, how many, or if they have children. They’re trying to ensure women are legally considered second to men.

 

This has frightened and angered so many people. And GOP Senator Lindsey Graham’s call for making abortion illegal nationally just increased that anger. The number of those registering to vote to protect the right to abortion even in red states like Kansas has increased dramatically, and with young people as well as women. The whole election calculus is changing. In many states, the number one concern motivating women and young people to come out and vote is abortion, second only to protecting democracy. This is happening in many other states as well.

 

People are saying, “enough.” …

 

**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

The GOP Would Sacrifice Us on the Altar of their Power and Profit: What if, Instead, We Created a Better World?

What if we, or I, have been looking at this all wrong? I often feel like we’re on the verge of losing almost everything. But what if we’re on the verge of⎼ well, winning. Or maybe not winning but at least making things better? Maybe we must re-think our thinking about  what’s possible.

 

The GOP, and even some Democrats, or the financially well-off financiers of some Democrats, have become totally desperate. The immorality of many GOP, their willingness to sacrifice everything and everyone for their greed and power, has become totally upfront and obvious to anyone not blinded by lies and an unwillingness to question their beliefs or recognize the humanity of those holding views different from their own.

 

Desperation is a sign of weakness, not strength. Unwillingness to change one’s views or listen to others is a weakness, not a strength.

 

On May 30th Sonali Kolhatkar, host and founder of Rising With Sonali, a tv and radio show that airs on Free Speech Radio and Pacifica stations, wrote an article for the Independent Media Institute arguing very cogently that the very rich are making a very dangerous calculation⎼ that it is worth sacrificing millions or even billions of lives in order to preserve corporate and individual profits.

 

She cites a new poll by the National Surveys on Energy and the Environment which found that “there is no longer skepticism among the public that the effects of climate change are real, as 76 percent of respondents—the highest on record since the poll started—’believe there is solid evidence that temperatures on the planet have risen over the last four decades.’”

 

Yet, despite overwhelming support for doing all we can to halt climate change, “corporate profit-based considerations have constantly dictated our energy use and climate policies, [and] we have effectively decided that major sacrifices of lives—most likely poor people of color—will be worth the pain of relying on fossil fuels for energy.”

 

And the same holds true with the pandemic. “Today, even as COVID-19 infection rates are skyrocketing, with cases having risen by 58 percent in the last two weeks alone, mask mandates are being dropped all over the country and COVID-19-related restrictions are ending. This is not because the virus is under control—it is clearly not—but because it’s no longer financially viable for corporate America to sacrifice profits for lives. So, it will sacrifice lives for profit….”

 

Greg Sargent wrote in the Washington Post back in September about how the GOP would exploit the pandemic, sacrifice lives by lying about vaccines, for example, to resurrect their power. Millions of people were tricked, made sick, and many died due to the anti-vaccine propaganda of DJT and the right.

 

*This blog was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

 

Life Is Our Question

Right now, we are inundated with so many questions. So much uncertainty, fear, and grief. So much awareness of how tenuous life is without an equal awareness of how to face the tenuous. The fragile. The uncertain.

 

We often want to return to at least a semblance of stability. Security. We want answers. Sometimes, like for many of us, right now life can be too much. And all too often, the answers we search for are delayed or too difficult to uncover. And living in a state of questioning is uncomfortable. It is also uncomfortable to go through our day or at night to sleep with our questions as our bedmate. But often, that is the only answer. To just sit, sleep, ache with our questions. Or be grateful for the fact that we can ask them.

 

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, in answering a letter from a young poet, to “be patient to all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves.” The point is to “live the questions” so at some point we can live our way to an answer.

 

He was mainly concerned with love relationships, creativity, and integrity. But I think this advice applies to all questions that could change the direction of our lives and heart.

 

One of my favorite contemporary philosophers, Jacob Needleman, developed this further and wrote: “Our culture has generally tended to [try to] solve its problems without experiencing its questions.” We want a solution quickly, even before we feel the full dimension of what we face. We too often want what’s easy and immediate.

 

But rushing for an answer forces us to leave out what could be most important, and to favor what’s “practical” over what’s compassionate, our bias over reality. It weakens us just when life is trying to teach us how to be strong.

 

I noticed when I was teaching secondary school that the students loved to grapple, in the classroom, with real, tough, open-ended questions. But with adult friends and relatives, not so much. Finding solutions was preferred over asking questions that might have no verbalizable answer. Needleman said that when we open any newspaper, or today, look at our phones, and we see every news item breathes philosophy. Breathes deep questions. Ethical. Existential. Metaphysical. Epistemological.

 

We read about Putin’s war against Ukraine and ask about the nature of evil, or human nature, or⎼ how do we stop a war? We read about the climate crisis and ask about reliable evidence, truth, or ⎼ how do we get people to realize this crisis is so real we must stop and change what we’re doing?

 

We read about racism, attacks on LGBTQ+ children, and so many other forms of hate, and ask⎼ How do we talk to a neighbor who hates so deeply they create violent walls around everyone they know? Or we read about the pandemic or attacks on women’s health and ask⎼ How do we turn the richest society in the world to one that actively cares for the health of its members?…

 

**To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Visual Art as the Entranceway to the Ancient Caves of Humanity: Alone, Yet in the Embrace of Everything

Since the pandemic began, I’ve had this impulse to look at, or hang on the walls of my home, new pieces of art. Sometimes, they’re pages from an old book or museum calendar or one I created myself; sometimes, a piece from a dealer or a work by someone I love. I take a walk every day, look at whatever seems beautiful, trees, roads, hills, brooks, buildings, animals, and people. And with art this sense of beauty can come inside with me.

 

And there’s something more. Something about aging, relationships, and life itself, or life in a time of great crisis, that eludes understanding yet is motivating this impulse.

 

I’ve written about art before. So have thousands of others. Art is one blessing we can all share. No matter how hard we look at, think, or feel about an artwork, it keeps on evoking something new⎼ or it can. One look, one realization sets the stage for the next.

 

There is an infinite depth to any perception, as any perception takes place in and is influenced by an infinite number of factors, or by the universe itself. It is this infinite depth that art can access. So the English poet William Blake, in his poem Auguries of Innocence, wrote the famous lines: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And a Heaven in a Wildflower.”

 

I look at this woodblock print by the Japanese artist Kawase Hasui which hangs on the wall of my bedroom. It is called The Inokashira Benten Shrine in Snow. I love this piece. It is so detailed. It depicts a snowstorm over an old Buddhist Shrine that sits next to a pond that over a hundred years ago stood at the head of the source of Edo’s (now Tokyo’s) drinking water. Each snowflake stands individually by itself, and then floats into the whole. I feel as if I could enter the scene, become another detail in it, or feel the artist as he painted it.

 

Maybe each artwork is a door to a hidden place in ourselves, or the universe, or the artist’s vision. Like C. S. Lewis’ wardrobe doorway to Narnia. Or a window; just like a painting might be framed, a window frames the world for us to view with care and attention. And I feel that if I can mount such windows and doors on my walls, I will never be lonely or bored. An adventure will always be available to me. One minute, the world might be tired or threatening. The next, it shines brightly.

 

Years ago, I bought a piece of Buddhist art, a slice of shale with a Buddha painted on it. It is a reproduction of a painting from a cave in Southeast Asia. When I slow down and let my eyes linger on it alone, focusing on the whole piece; then a detail; then back again, the scene expands, taking on dimensionality. I feel what I see. The Buddha stands there for a moment in 3-d.

 

Art was probably created just for this sort of purpose. When we let go of our focus on ourselves for a moment, our plans, concerns, and beliefs, art can help us see the world in more dimensions. That’s why, throughout the centuries, it was closely tied to religion and spirit. One of the greatest visual works of art ever was The Creation of Man (Human) painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, by Michelangelo….

 

*To read the whole post, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

 

**Photo is from the cave created by students in our school.