Sunday, February 28, 2016

Why the Future is Bright

I have to admit, right now I'm not feeling all that optimistic. There's a lot of negativity in the news and it seems almost certain we're going to hell in a hand-basket.

My spiritual teacher says, “There are some people who are pessimistic. They say that the society around us is very bleak, that it has no expression of vitality and that it seems that everyone is in a deep slumber. Pessimists say this because they have never made any detailed study of human history, nor do they care to. Had they done so, they would certainly be optimistic, because if they had looked carefully at the symptoms of pause, they would have realized that significant preparations were being made for the subsequent phase of speed. So under no circumstances should human beings be pessimistic. That is why I am always an incorrigible optimist, because I know that optimism is life.”

The future is bright.
The future is bright.

Reading that makes me feel a little better. Maybe what we're going through right now is not all that special or unique. Maybe this is merely history repeating itself, another phase in the human cycle. Also, I'm reminded there are some pretty amazing things happening in the world.

Did you hear about that Dutch teenager who is cleaning up the ocean? Or how about that $16 water pump in India that will provide clean water to a family for a year? Or how in Yemen they're fighting a water shortage by harvesting fog?

It's easy to get sucked into doom and gloom, to think the world is a terrible place, that nothing is improving, and nothing will ever change. I know this because I feel that way from time to time, which is why I have to remind myself over and over it's not true. I just listed three news stories about how human beings are tackling real-world problems.

I'm an optimist not because I have my head in the sand and think nothing bad will ever happen again. I'm an optimist because I see that despite problems like pollution, dirty water, and a drought, people are doing something about it and will continue to do something about it. That there are solutions to all our problems. That no matter what is thrown at us, we will overcome it.

I'm going to quote my spiritual teacher again because I think he sums this up quite nicely. He says, “[H]uman beings should always be optimistic. The cimmerian darkness cannot retard your progress, cannot cover the light of the human heart. The spirit of your heart must move on and on against obstacles. Kick away your obstacles like pebbles from your feet – you are stronger than your obstacles.”

Amen to that. We are stronger than our obstacles. For every problem there is a solution and we will solve it. We are solving it, personally as well as globally. Our progress cannot be retarded and that's a future I want to live in.

I dream of a world where we maintain our optimism. A world where we remember we are stronger than our obstacles. A world where we act on inspiration to make the world a better place. A world where we realize the future is bright.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Who We Really Are

“People have a need for meaning and for belonging,” Dr. Gabor Maté writes. “But this society defines the value of a human being by how much they can either produce or consume. For all our talk about human values, we don’t really value humans for who they are. We value them for what they either give or purchase.”

I've been thinking about Maté's quote a lot lately. In my post last week, “We Can Do Better than This,” I mentioned one of the plights of capitalism: homelessness. The underlying sentiment is if a person is poor, or mentally ill, or physically incapacitated, or old, they have no value. They can neither produce or consume anything so they are shunted off to the side where we don't have to think about them. However, I would like to point out it's not only certain segments of society who are harmed by the notion of what is valuable, it's all of us.

On Tuesday, my dear friend Amal called me up and asked if I'd like to go to the Chapel of the Chimes, which is a crematory and columbarium. Afterward, we walked through the adjacent cemetery and watched the sunset. Seeing the sun set over the bay, I felt like crying because this, this, is what life is really about – not checking off my to-do list, not producing content, not building up my following on social media.

The sunset I mentioned. Photo credit Amal.
The sunset I mentioned. Photo credit Amal.

In our materialistic society, I absolutely define my value by what I'm producing and I know businesses define my value by how much I'm able to consume. That means if I don't produce something every single day, my perceived self-worth diminishes. Heaven forbid I take a rest day! That's also why my health condition, maladaptive stress syndrome, is so freaking challenging: I'm tired all the time. I need more rest than the average person, but that also means I can't do as much as the average person. And because I can't do as much, produce as much, my self-worth goes in the toilet.

I have to remind myself over and over what my life is really about, which is to achieve a divine union, and that's not dependent on how much money is in my bank account or how many followers I have on instagram. Furthermore, my spiritual teacher says, “The Milky Way is vast from one end to the other; an ant is a very small creature, but the role of both of them in maintaining the balance of the universe is equal. If one ant meets a premature death, it will disturb the balance of the entire cosmos. Therefore, nothing here is unimportant, not even an ant.”

That means I'm important, you're important, we're important even if we never win a Nobel prize or an Oscar, because our worth is not inherent on what we're doing. I could lie in bed all day every day and be just as important as a school teacher. I have to tell you I have so much resistance to saying that, but I'd really like to believe it's true. If the Milky Way is just as important as an ant, how could it not be?

I dream of a world where we recognize our inherent value and worth as precious human beings. A world where we realize we matter just because we are alive. A world where we remember we are blessed children of the universe, no less and no more important than anyone else. A world where we remember who we really are.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

We Can Do Better than This

A part of me doesn't want to write about this because it makes me uncomfortable, but I was affected so deeply I know that I must.

On Thursday, I went into San Francisco and while there, walked through a BART station corridor covered with ads for Gap. The walls and floor showed image after image of beautiful people wearing denim with the slogan: “1969: new generation.” All throughout the corridor, homeless people were passed out or holding up cardboard signs asking for money. One man sat on the floor, on top of the Gap ad, with his back against the wall, head held down with matted hair, literally covered in his own feces. That was the encounter that broke me.

This picture encapsulates this post for me.

The juxtaposition of a man, wearing jeans no less, covered in his own crap while sitting on an ad touting a time period of turmoil and change was too much for me, the irony too great. I walked away feeling helpless and downtrodden because what am I, little old me, supposed to do about this? I am not a policymaker, I am not a housing developer, I'm a journalist, so I'm doing what I do best: writing about it.

When people talk about the American dream, about there being no limits to the heights they can reach and the money they can make, they forget there is a price. P.R. Sarkar says, “[W]hen capitalists declare, 'We have amassed wealth by our talent and labor. If others have the capacity and diligence, let them also do the same; nobody prevents them,' they do not care to realize that the volume of commodities on the Earth is limited, whereas the requirement is common to all. Excessive individual affluence, in most cases, deprives others of the minimum requirements of life.”

We are all in this together so that means, no, one person should not be allowed to accumulate massive amounts of wealth unchecked. To do so, the uber wealthy “reduce others to skin and bones gnawed by hunger and force them to die of starvation; to dazzle people with the glamour of their garments, they compel others to wear rags,” Sarkar writes. That's exactly what I witnessed on Thursday and I'm not OK with it. We are one big family, literally, and it's time we started acting like it.

I'm writing to say the world doesn't have to be this way, we don't have to say “yes” to this. Alternatives exist such as Prout, the Progressive Utilization Theory. It's a paradigm of development that places economic power in the hands of people and communities, nurtures living beings, promotes equity, ends exploitation, and maintains sustainable balance with the biosphere.

If Prout doesn't float your boat, that's OK, but something needs to change. We can't keep going on like we have, that much is clear. I don't know how this new economy will come about, or what action needs to occur. All I know is in the meantime, I'm talking about it with you. I'm telling as many people as I can because I want to live in a better world and I really believe we can make it so.

I dream of a world where homelessness is eradicated. A world where there is a cap on wealth. A world where everyone's basic needs are met. A world where we take care of each other because we recognize we are one, big, universal family. A world where we do better than this.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Why We Are Physical

On Monday, I woke up feeling gross. In physical pain, emotionally drained, tired, and just generally cranky. I wished more than anything that I wasn't in a physical body. Being a spirit, or angel, or something without form, sounded great. No pain! Just bliss! Alas, that's not true.

Many years ago, a good friend told me there are only two positions for the feelings switch: on or off. That means either I'm numbed out to everything – joy, sorrow, anger, pain – or I have to feel everything. I can't pick and choose which emotions I may feel. And that means some days I want to be over as quickly as possible.

If we're not physical, we can't enjoy things like skateboarding.
If we're not physical, we can't enjoy things like skateboarding.

The idea of being a free-floating spirit is so tantalizing though! Would I be in bliss all day long? Would it be a non-stop pleasure fest? No, no it would not because a body is necessary to feel anything at all. And when I'm having a terrible day where I'm in physical pain and everything sucks, of course I don't want to feel anything. But as my friend reminds me, feeling nothing means I also shut out the good things. The exhilaration of a roller coaster. The joy of spending time with a good friend. The peace of a gorgeous sunset. Without nerve fibers, there is . . . nothing so I must be physical.

I want to be happy all the time. I want to feel good all the time. We live in a society where we're told if we're not happy, something is wrong and we need to fix it. Start using affirmations or keep a gratitude journal, or quit a job, dump that boyfriend, go on that vacation. Most people are selling the five keys to happiness, but what if there's nothing wrong with feeling icky? What if that's what it means to be human?

We are caught in a pleasure/pain cycle but that's normal. My spiritual teacher says over and over again that a human body is necessary for meditation and to achieve the ultimate union I seek. That to me means being physical is essential. There are no shortcuts. I don't get to dance with the divine unless I'm inhabiting a human form. That means feeling sad and angry and disheartened. It also means feeling happy and peaceful and inspired. I don't get to have some but not others.

I dream of a world where we remember being human means feeling pleasure and pain. A world where we remember we can't feel good all of the time. A world where we realize while the idea of being non-physical sounds appealing, to experience what we're really after, a human body is required.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.