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Acceptance

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The more I enquire, the more I understand acceptance is all that’s required.

Speaking from the point of view of relative truth, acceptance is acceptance of what is not me: other people, circumstances, phenomena, and so on. Speaking from the point of view of absolute truth, acceptance is acceptance of me, because there is no not-me.

I think acceptance is difficult for people in our society to hear. What we hear is some version of defeat or resignation. We cannot hear it as a possibility, which is to say we cannot hear it at all.

To hear acceptance is a task worthy of one’s life.

A few weeks ago, a work colleague was telling me of the time immediately after she migrated from India to Australia. She had a husband and young child, and she knew only her husband’s school friends who lived here. She said she prayed every day she would find a friend of her own. I don’t remember her exact phrase; it was something like, “Every day, I touched the feet of [her Hindu gods].”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I surrendered,” she said.

Following is a passage from Thich Nhat Hanh on surrender, or acceptance. The Paul Tillich he refers to is the Christian theologian.

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“The true nature of things is called, in Buddhism, cessation (nirodha) or extinction (nirvana). Cessation is first of all the cessation of all notions and illusions, and extinction is the extinction of notions and wrong perceptions. The extinction of delusion brings about the cessation of craving, anger, and fear, and the manifestation of peace, solidity, and freedom. All notions applied to the phenomenal world – such as creation, destruction, being, non-being, one, many, coming, and going – are transcended. The greatest relief we can obtain is available when we touch the ultimate, Tillich’s ‘ground of being’. We no longer identify our body’s duration as our lifetime. We no longer think that life begins when we are born or stops when we die, because the notions of birth and death have been transcended. Life is no longer confined to time and space. This is the practice of releasing the notion ‘lifetime’.

Touching nirvana, touching the ultimate dimension, is a total and unconditional surrender to God. If the wave knows its ground of being is water, it overcomes all fear and sorrow. The moment [one] surrenders one’s entire being to God as the ground of being, all of his fears vanish.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

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Image: Pastoral (Rhythms), 1927, Paul Klee

Pretending to die

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“One day as I was about to step on a dry leaf, I saw the leaf in the ultimate dimension. I saw that it was not really dead, but that it was merging with the moist soil in order to appear on the tree the following spring in another form. I smiled at the leaf and said, ‘You are pretending.’ Everything is pretending to be born and pretending to die, including that leaf.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

Image: Pink Spring in Deep Winter, Paul Klee

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Happiness at work

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For the last four months, I’ve been part of a project team building a computer system for doctors. It’s been a revelation being part of this project and has shown me what’s possible in working. What fun, what commitment, what team spirit! People have been willing to be available at all times of the night and the weekend to make it work. There have been Indian feasts cooked by members of the team, and most days we laugh until we cry over some funny, absurd thing that has happened.

The person who’s created it is the project manager. I’ve never before come across such a gifted leader. She has many extraordinary qualities and I want to tell you about two of these qualities.

Firstly, she cannot be stopped. Every day of the project, she’s been faced with numerous breakdowns: developers who haven’t delivered when they promised, or have delivered something full of mistakes, people letting her down generally. She will get annoyed for a few minutes – a few minutes! – and then she’ll set herself to work on finding a way around it. Within half an hour, she will have let go of any reaction and developed a solution that is often better than the original.

Each time there’s a stuff-up, somehow she plucks victory out of the air. As was said of the famous Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton, hailed as one of the greatest leaders to have lived, she is constantly “shaping herself to the next mark”.

Secondly, she is completely available to each and every member of the team. She doesn’t sit in an office, but next to us and purposely so. No matter what she’s doing, we know we can ask her anything and she’ll drop what she’s doing and give us her full attention. She can turn on a sixpence, and without missing a beat, give herself wholly and without reservation to the matter at hand. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s phenomenal.

The project is coming to an end because the system has been successfully implemented, and we’ll be sad to be disbanded. I know I won’t be alone in treasuring the experience for a long time to come.

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Image: courtesy of The Guardian: Thiruttani, India: Rupa, 28, has her hair shaved so she can donate it to the gods at the Thiruthani Murugan temple. Rupa donated her hair with the wish that her daughter’s illness be cured. The process of shaving one’s hair and donating it to the gods is known as tonsuring. The “temple hair” is then auctioned off to a processing plant and sold for wigs and weaves in the US, Europe and Africa; Photograph: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

“A load of hot, unschooled certainty”

Very funny article in today’s Guardian by Victoria Coren Mitchell about the palmy days of 2013 and mansplaining, the way men talk generally, what really matters and kindness. Also contains the line that should be tacked above the entrance to Twitter, in fact, any conversation anywhere – “It isn’t about the person they’re talking to – it’s about themselves.

“It made me feel sentimental to see ‘mansplaining’ in the news again. Did you read the story? Actually, there have been two: the first was that Unionen, Sweden’s largest trade union, has launched a mansplaining hotline for women to phone if they’ve been a victim of male condescension.

Oh, with what shivers of nostalgia this took me back. Back, back, back to the salad days of, ooh, 2013 it must have been, when I first heard the term.

It was pretty obvious what it meant, though somebody (probably a man) told me anyway: mansplaining is when a male explains something to a female in unnecessary detail, often a female who understands it better than he does. I was familiar with the phenomenon, of course. Every woman has had simple things explained to her at interminable length by a man. That’s just basic social interaction.

Of course it’s annoying; nobody likes to be treated like a fool. Of course it’s boring; nobody likes to be lectured. But still, how wistfully I remember the luxury of being troubled by that sort of thing, in the long-lost idyll of 2013.

Do you remember what troubled you back then? On the world stage, I mean. You may have struggled – may still struggle – with all sorts of private worries: a medical trauma, a row at work, a harrowing debt. The way your wife runs out of the room giggling when her phone bleeps late at night. That weird recurrent dream you have about a marrow festival.

But the things we worried about generally, in 2013 … my word, I spent serious time worrying about whether the 500-year-old remains of Richard III should be buried in York or Leicester! Those were the bloody days.

Have we really got time and space, now, to kvetch about whether men talk to women in a patronising way? With all the other wars that threaten to wage?

The truth is, I don’t think mansplaining is even sexist. I don’t think men reserve a patronising tone for women alone. It’s just how they talk.

In the original essay Men Explain Things To Me (which, although not actually coining the zeitgeisty word, is credited with being the core identifier of the tendency), author Rebecca Solnit writes about a man who lectured her on the subject of one of her own published books.

Because he employed the sort of painstaking, long-winded detail that Solnit herself would only use if giving instructions to an idiot, she assumed the man thought she was an idiot. But the point that I think has been missed by Solnit – and by all the women who have written and talked about mansplaining ever since – is: men also talk this way to each other. It’s not that they don’t defer to women. It’s that they don’t defer to anyone.

Men simply love explaining things. That is what men want to do in conversation: make jokes and explain things. Your average man would be happy to tell Gareth Southgate how to manage the England football team, or the head of MI6 how to deal with Isis, or Stephen Hawking what he reckons about black holes.

It isn’t about the person they’re talking to – it’s about themselves. If anything, the inclination could be seen as a compliment. They offer their nuggets of wisdom as gifts, like a cat offers a half-eaten bird.

That doesn’t mean there is no danger in the mansplaining tendency. Many of the world’s problems can probably be traced to the way men take this approach into government, filling the atmosphere with a load of hot, unschooled certainty. I suspect we’d be better off if we all reached consensus by respecting others’ opinions and experience.

But socially no harm is meant by it. Men would be terribly sad if they were told they must never explain anything again. They get so much pleasure from being expansive, from chewing over their thoughts, sharing a bit of half-remembered fact or quote, airing a little aperçu that occurred to them when driving along the M6. And sometimes it is properly informative or enjoyable.

That is Christmas, for most men: sipping a tasty drink, reaching for the nutcrackers and settling in for a good long disquisition on why it rains or what’s wrong with modern television or whither North Korea.

And, if you ask me, the biggest problem facing our western world at the moment is the decline of kindness. As huge differences of opinion batter against each other, we forget to be gentle and careful with each other’s dreams, respectful of each other’s self-worth.

It means a lot to your poor old dad, uncle, colleague, husband or friend to offer his advice and insights. Sitting there, mug or glass clutched eagerly in hand, looking forward to holding forth … how much do you really want to see him quiet and disappointed, confronting his own limitations? How much do you want to shout: “Nobody gives a shit, Granddad! You pompous old bore! Let’s talk about me!”? How much are you actually reduced if you let him feel listened to?

At the start of this column, I said there had been two recent stories about mansplaining. The first was that the 600,000-strong Unionen has launched a mansplaining hotline.

And the second, which followed soon after, is that the majority of calls to the hotline have been from men: anxious, self-doubting men, asking exactly what mansplaining is and how to avoid doing it.

Beware of throwing your ire at the wrong target. It’s so easy to get angry about things. Too easy. We get distracted from what’s actually important, dissipating our energy with the wrong fights.

Women don’t want to be silenced by men. But I don’t think the answer is for us to silence them in return.”

~ By Victoria Coren Mitchell, The Guardian, 27 November 2016

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On madness: The US election

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, arguing starving hysterical on Facebook over whether a vote for Jill Stein was defensible, and whether Hillary could possibly be as bad as our old high-school classmate seemed to think,

who cracked their knuckles and made public their electoral opinions, clicking or tapping the “post” button dizzy and feverish and high,

who hours later sat up in their kitchens hollow-eyed trying to figure out how to respond to being called a cuck, which is short for cuckold, which apparently is a political thing now,

who dealt with the ascension of a fascist to the highest office in the land by typing eighty words per minute and shuttling them out into the gray hallucinogen void of the Internet, and many of those words were “fascist” because that’s what this man seems to be and, fuck, that’s really something,

who no longer speak to their cousin, yes, that one, because she said the wrong thing about Bernie Sanders that one time,

who were ecstatic screaming in 2008 and very pleased also in

2012 but who aren’t happy at all now and who had sort of forgotten what that felt like,

who now sit scrolling with bloodshot eyes naked and all-seeing down the screen past other people’s posts that say things like we’re all Americans and other generally annoying shit like that,

who now cross lances in the sweaty heaving fray of comment threads and subthreads and whose attendance at Thanksgiving is now being called into serious question by that thing Uncle Jim just shared,

a lost battalion of liberals and Marxists and socialists and people whose food allergies would go unrecognized in much of the country, whose mute righteous anger finds new life with every “like” acquired, and bonus points if it’s one of those smiley-face reactions that Facebook now has,

who still can’t fathom their nation having clanked its way to this precipice—

rocky, barren, staring down the maw of catastrophe unreckonable yet with frightening historical precedent, and plus now we all have to watch this orange man on our TVs and phones for the next long while, Jesus, fuck,

who wonder whether it’s too soon to start just donating money to Elizabeth Warren right now and the hell with it,

who could not and cannot abide the dim flameout of the American experiment and who’ve decided to combat this insidious flameout with ten tweets a day, and, hey, why not, it seems to have worked for Trump,

good God, President Trump is a thing we have to get used to saying,

O.K., back to the poem,

a party of souls adrift, wandering, travelling the broken gray landscape and confined to the trundling Internet boxcars they’ve hopped aboard, sharing online petitions and think pieces as though they were cigarettes and whiskey and asking what news from home but there is no news save the thing Uncle Jim posted, you wouldn’t believe it,

Thanksgiving is out of the question, we’ve said it before but we mean it this time,

a people who once believed that a formal endorsement from the Ku Klux Klan would be enough to sink an American Presidential candidacy, lol,

who now walk unblinking and mad with heads cast downward and muttering powerless at their phones as they cross the crosswalk because a mildly famous person just tweeted something about how they’re proud to have not voted at all, you have got to be goddam kidding me,

who now need to take a deep breath and count to ten per their therapist’s orders, O.K., breathe, O.K.

who have come home and are breathing deeply, breathing breathing in through the nose, slowly, lying supine naked in bed and with eyes closed unfeeling and with headphones, having YouTubed the words “relaxing meditation” and who’ve gripped onto the topmost result like a life preserver and the water rising Biblical and absurd and totalitarianism never comes all at once but gradually step by step and when did our first step take place and could we but retrace our blind steps we could surely carve out a new destiny and arrive at someplace other, right?

Hey, I should post that.”

~ by River Clegg, The New Yorker, 18 November 2016

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Not enough community, not enough belonging: Shadi Hamid on politics and technocracy

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Here is a commentator with something valuable and insightful to say about Trump’s win, politics in general, being human, and the fall and fall of technocracy: Shadi Hamid, senior fellow of the Brookings Institute and author of Islamic exceptionalism: How the struggle over Islam is reshaping the world and, a rhetorical title this one, Is a better world possible without US military force?

” … this gets at a bigger problem which is that classical liberalism, the liberal tradition, and the left in America … what it’s sort of morphed into is a kind of placid, centre-left managerial technocracy. It’s about nudging, it’s about tinkering around the margins, it’s very fact-based, it’s very policy-oriented, and that doesn’t speak to something which again – I don’t want to get into human nature or moral philosophy too much here – but what a lot of us are actually looking for at the end of the day is a politics of substantive meaning, and technocracy does not offer that, and it’s not just in America, it’s in Britain, it’s in Continental Europe, it’s throughout the world, the Philippines, the Middle East …

Some people find this meaning in religion, as in Muslim-majority countries oftentimes; in places like France and Poland, they find it in illiberal ethno-nationalism. What connects these different strands is a kind of disaffection with this liberalism which says, “Hey, anyone can find the good life in their own way through the individual search for meaning”, but a lot of people find that it’s chaotic, it’s empty, there’s not enough structure, there’s not enough guidance, there’s not enough community, belonging and family, and that’s who we are. We are beings who need that …

And I hope that one thing we can all learn from this is that the liberal left needs to rethink its basic assumptions about human beings. We don’t act according to rational economic incentives a lot of the time. That’s not who we are. And when people say, “Oh, Trump supporters are voting against their economic interests because there’s going to be massive tax cuts that benefit the rich – hey, that’s probably true – but people aren’t being rational in this very narrow economic sense. They’re valuing things which mean more to them, which they associate with culture, identity and community …

Liberalism needs a fighting fate. We need to know what we stand for, we need to articulate a vision that inspires people instead of telling them that we’re going to give you slightly better universal healthcare …”

~ Shadi Hamid, speaking on The Minefield, ABC radio, “What is the meaning of Trump?”, 10 November 2016; @shadihamid on Twitter

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The passion and courage of women

If Michelle Obama’s mighty speech on the dignity of women wasn’t enough to cleanse the palate of recent events, here’s a tribute to a man who reveres women, the Spanish filmmaker, Pedro Almodovar.

I just saw his latest movie, Julieta, about women, their mothers and daughters, and how grief and guilt, amongst other wounds, is passed down through the generations by the mechanism of well-intentioned silence. It’s as good as Volver, starring the magnificent Penelope Cruz, which he made in 2006.

Pics from Volver and Julieta, starring Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte (click on an image to enlarge it).

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“What was your face before your parents were born?”

Today is Thich Nhat Hanh’s 90th birthday. Many people around the world who revere him are contemplating a question posed by Thay himself: how are we being Thay’s continuation?

Thay says birthdays should really be called continuations: “The day of our birth was only a day of continuation. Instead of singing, ‘Happy Birthday’ every year, we should sing, ‘Happy Continuation.'”

What he means is based in the insights of no birth, no death, nonself and interbeing. The last one, which is also called interdependent co-arising, is the realisation that everything is both cause and effect of every other thing, including every thing and person who has ever been born and every thing and person who is yet to be born; everything that ever was and ever will be is arising, all of a piece, in this moment.

Following is a particularly beautiful passage from Thay. May his love and compassion touch your heart. Happy Continuation, Thay!

“When you look at this sheet of paper, you think it belongs to the realm of being. There was a time that it came into existence, a moment in the factory it became a sheet of paper. But before the sheet of paper was born, was it nothing? Can nothing become something? Before it was recognisable as a sheet of paper, it must have been something else – a tree, a branch, sunshine, clouds, the earth. In its former life, the sheet of paper was all these things. If you ask the sheet of paper, ‘Tell me about all your adventures,’ she will tell you, ‘Talk to a flower, a tree, or a cloud and listen to their stories.’

The paper’s story is much like our own. We, too, have many wonderful things to tell. Before we were born, we were also already in our mother, our father, and our ancestors … We usually think we did not exist before the time of our parents, that we only began to exist at the moment of our birth. But we were already here in many forms.

‘Nothing is born, nothing dies’ was a statement made by French scientist Lavoisier. He was not a Buddhist. He did not know the Heart Sutra. But his words are exactly the same. If I burn this sheet of paper, will I reduce it to nonbeing? No, it will just be transformed into smoke, heat, and ash. If we put the ‘continuation’ of this sheet of paper into the garden, later, while practising walking meditation, we may see a little flower and recognise it as the rebirth of the sheet of paper. The smoke will become part of a cloud in the sky, also to continue the adventure. After tomorrow, a little rain may fall on your head, and you will recognise the sheet of paper saying, ‘Hello’ …”

~ From The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation by Thich Nhat Hanh

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Something wicked this way comes

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The worst thing about Trump’s odious way of being is that it’s contagious. Look what happens to Robert de Niro.

Yes, it’s very funny – “he’s a mut … this bozo” – and by the end he’s fallen as low as Trump and is talking physical assault.  Any columnist or commentator has the same issue.  Trump’s way of being calls forth the corresponding way of being in each of us. Like calls to like.

It’s the case with any way of being. If we’re being love, we call forth love in the other; if we’re being mean, we call forth mean in the other; if we’re being dishonest, we call forth dishonest in the other.

That’s why the issue is never with the other, it’s always with us.

Some time ago, I was part of a group engaged in a task, and a woman in the group kept switching the group’s attention away from the task to something she wanted to talk about. I knew her a little and knew she hadn’t been in good shape. We kept going round in circles, getting nowhere. I was starting to get annoyed and at one point I looked into her eyes, and it was as if I could see her little demon looking back at me.

Meanwhile, the little demon in me was getting hooked, and there came a nanosecond when I noticed my heartbeat had increased, and when I noticed it I had enough awareness left to disengage. I consciously softened my face and smiled. After that, the conversation changed. She made a few more bids for distraction, only now I wasn’t in it and soon we got back to the task; 10 minutes later we finished it.

Afterwards, I thought about the incident and what had happened. The little demon in her hooked the little demon in me. In times past, that would have been it. I would have been gone, lost in reaction. This time, I had enough training to pull away before it happened. What I also see is that I tended to myself and that that was enough; in fact, it was the best course of action. I took care of my own reaction and the situation resolved itself. I didn’t have to do anything or say anything to her.

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For Aussie readers: GAME ØF TØNES

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FOR AUSSIE READERS

My friend, Steve Jasper, writes a column on Facebook called Game of Tones, about you-know-who.

He thought it was time to hang up the quill, but lo …

Here’s his latest instalment, the best yet.

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And now, it’s time for another episode of …

GAME ØF TØNES

Stonus Abbottheon was dead. Dead, buried and cremated. Copperwire had roundly defeated him, and gone to fight for the Six Kingdoms (and Two Territories), where he had defeated Ser Bill Shaftem by the narrowest of margins, with many from the House of Libberster dead. (Goodbye Bronwyn. Goodbye! Bronwyn, Bronwyn, Bronwyn, goodbye! Toodle pip!).

But Copperwire’s biggest danger was not from Ser Bill Shaftem and his army – although they *were* a constant thorn in his side – but from his own right flank, who questioned the legitimacy of his rule. Every. F*cking. Minute. And who raised stupid questions about plebiscites, and Muslims, and halal hamburgers and safe schools and whatnot.

At least Stonus Abbottheon was dead. Dead, buried and cremated.

Or was he?

There had been some frightening reports of Stonus’ corpse seen to be animated in the nation of his birth, Bleak Island. Rumours grew louder. Had Stonus become … a bluetiewalker? The prospect was too frightening to contemplate. And would Ser Grecian2000 make another tilt at deputy? (Probably.)

The turmoil around the Krudd / Red Queen years seemed inevitably to be replayed, with Copperwire doomed within a year. Only time would tell …

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The turning point

It was eight years ago this weekend (Grand Final weekend in Melbs) that I did the Landmark Forum. It was the turning point of my life, and I date events in my life as either before or after.

Up until then, my experience of life was often a miserable one. Much of the time I felt anger, boredom or despair, and I had little or no control over these gusts of emotion. I was scared of other people and life in general, and spent loads of energy trying to cover this up. I was at the mercy of the world around me, a world which occurred as hostile.

Everything changed with the Landmark Forum. Since then, I’ve lived as much of my life in possibility and joy as I previously spent in suffering.

Following are some of the insights and propositions of the Landmark Forum, many of which are also part of Buddhism. I feel a thrill to say them as mere words. To experience them as reality has been the greatest gift.

  • The world is empty and meaningless
  • Human being is the space or clearing in which the world is arising
  • Human being creates the world through language (through thought)
  • Human being is the meaning-making machine
  • What you call “you” or “your wife” or “your husband” are simply fixed ways of being or identities made of “strong suits” and “rackets”
  • Strong suits are fixed ways of being you took on as a small child and an adolescent in a moment of perceived failure in order to ensure you never experienced that moment again
  • Rackets are persistent complaints you entertain – about others, about the world, about yourself – because you derive a covert payoff from keeping them going; payoffs include being right, being justified, dominating/avoiding domination, looking good/avoiding looking bad, and the big one, avoiding responsibility
  • Who you really are is everything and nothing.

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