The book that Oprah urges everyone to live by teaches that all diseases can be cured with the power of thought alone: “The question frequently asked is, ‘When a person has manifested a disease in the body temple … can it be turned around through the power of “right thinking”?’ And the answer is absolutely, yes.” The book then offers the testimonial of a woman identified as Cathy Goodman. “I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I truly believed in my heart, with my strong faith, that I was already healed. Each day I would say, ‘Thank you for my healing’.” Goodman watched “very funny movies” to make herself laugh. “From the time I was diagnosed to the time I healed was approximately three months. And that’s without any radiation or chemotherapy.”
The message got through. In March 2007, the month after the first two shows on The Secret, Oprah invited a woman named Kim Tinkham on the program. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and her doctors were urging surgery and chemotherapy. But Tinkham wrote Oprah to say that she had decided to forgo this treatment and instead use The Secret to cure herself.
Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything -
That’s how the light gets in.
- Leonard Cohen
No one gets through life unbroken. However fortunate, strong or wise we may be, life breaks every last one of us. The only question is, will we be broken, or will we be broken open?
To be simply broken is to be destroyed. To be broken open is to be just that - open. The broken places are where love enters and compassion pours out. For as long as we are unbroken, we are closed.
Life drops us, we fall and we break. And if we have some clarity we ask, “Do I choose to be broken, or broken open?”
“Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”
So says Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick. We consider Ahab to be a madman, engaged in a mad pursuit of revenge on the whale that took his leg when he tried to kill it, a mad pursuit that can benefit no one, including Ahab, even if he gets what he wants.
Ahab is mad. And so are we.
How is the way most of us live our lives any different, any saner, than Ahab’s? Driven by anger, ego, self-protectiveness, we live separate from our own hearts, regarding other people, circumstances, our environment, life itself, as opponents to be fought against in a futile battle to be right, to be in control. The self that Ahab, and we, are enslaved by is not real, but the whale is real. The whale is life, and life always wins.
The law of diminishing returns applies to pornography. When a piece of pornography is new, it’s exciting. As time goes by, the novelty wears off, and so does the erotic charge, and so the person who was previously excited by it now has to find something new to masturbate over.
When the earthquake devastated Haiti, I saw many people fetishize it and become obsessed by it. Some projected their emotional wounds on to the suffering of people far away. Others put a positive spin on it, spouting heartwarming homilies about what a wonderful opportunity for compassion was being presented, and what the world was being taught, as though the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives was so that privileged white people could learn something. Both views are equally exploitative, turning people into commodities, as pornography is accused of doing.
And now the novelty has worn off, and the obsessing about Haiti is diminishing as they turn towards other fetishes, all in a desperate attempt to find distraction from their own pain and fear.
Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
- Jesus Christ
Last week, I was talking with a student who had practiced at several different Zen centers before coming to The Sitting Frog. He remarked, “There’s no soft or medium in this zendo, is there?”
He was neither complaining nor enthusing, just stating his experience. I told him I agreed with him.
The rigorousness of our practice can seem severe or extreme. I would say that the way most people live their lives - devoted to self-centeredness, even when they think they’re being kind or loving - is what is extreme. Listen to the conversations around you, at work, at home, in places of leisure. Better yet, listen to your own conversations. If you pay attention, you will hear little other than expressions of suffering - anger, resentment, sadness, fear, hope that things will get “better” (a greedy rejection of things as they are)… So many people living for a self that doesn’t exist. So, when they don’t get what they want, they are unhappy. And when they get what they want, they are unhappy. Being unhappy having gotten what they want, they think they need more of it, or need something else. And on it goes.
When we take a “soft or medium” approach to contemplative practice, we are still holding on to what we like. We are still holding on to self. The student who made the comment to me realized that. When I pointed out that he had used Zen practice to form even more strong opinions and attachments, and then to try to resist whatever didn’t fit his opinions, he laughed and nodded.
To end suffering, we have to give up everything we have - and by that I don’t mean just material things, possessions, which are easier to let go of than our biggest attachments, which are our selfish desires, opinions, ideas about who we are and what we want.
Contemplative practice only seems extreme because the sickness of the world is extreme, and so soft or medium doses of the necessary medicine might temporarily ease the pain, but they do not heal the sickness.
Suffering does not arise from pain. It is born of the tension between the way life is and the way we think it ought to be. When we can be at home in the intersection between the two, there is still pain, sadness, grief, heartbreak, but there is no suffering, and so the pain is neither bad nor good, just what it is.
The American public is deathly afraid of the kind of changes we actually face – such as, the end of consumer culture, the gross loss of value in suburban real estate (which forms the bulk of the middle class’s private wealth), the prospect of food and fuel scarcities, the need to re-localize our lives, the need to physically shape up to stop the costly and unnecessary drain on our medical resources, to grow more of our own food, to work harder at things that actually matter, and to save whatever we can for a difficult future.
- James Kunstler
Your servant here, he has been told
To say it clear and say it cold -
It’s over. It ain’t going any further.
- Leonard Cohen
A couple weeks ago, I saw a headline on the front page of The Arizona Republic, saying that it might take another three or four years for the economy to recover. I didn’t read the article - I just saw the paper in a store - but it seemed to be implying that this was bad news. If it only took three or four years for the economy to stablize, that ought to be taken (by the privileged, anyway) as very good news. The reality is that the economy isn’t going to recover.
By “recover,” I mean what most people seem to mean when they talk about recovery - a return to “normal,” to how things were before. I’m not doom-saying, not predicting the end of the world. So many people, however, when they say “the end of the world,” mean the end of their world - the end of their self-centered, privileged, wasteful, consumerist lifestyle.
That world is over already. It’s not going back to how it was, not in three or four years and probably not ever, unless we find some oil to steal as a temporary stay of economic execution. Consumerism was always going to be finite, because oil supplies are finite, and, no matter how well we utilize alternative energy sources, the power we generate is not going to be nearly enough to sustain our present lifestyle - a culture of egoic intstant gratification.
The suburbs are over. Automobile culture is over. Both will try to continue, but their illness is terminal, and their painful death is on the way.
This is a good thing.
It is a good thing because it narrows the gap between the person driving twenty miles from an air-conditioned suburban house to an air-conditioned office and the person riding around downtown on a bicycle, picking soda cans from the trash to sell for enough to eat - or just eating what is found in the trash.
Our cries of I want and Me, me, me will be the dying words of the society we have lived in. The question is not, as the newspaper headline-writer thinks it is, how long it will take before we can return to blithe societal narcissism; it is how long it will take us to accept that playtime is over, the toy-store is closed, and we are going to have to join the rest of the world.
If I wanted to deny impermanence, a look at my email archive would make it impossible. So many vibrant, engaged emails from friends whose bodies are now rotting into the earth or scattered to the wind. And so many “living” people who are waiting to begin their lives, thinking that they always have time.
Pregnant Latina Says She Was Forced to Give Birth in Shackles After One of Arpaio’s Deputies Racially Profiled Her
The bleeding kept her up all night, drenching her black-and-white-striped jail uniform.
Alma Chacón feared her baby would arrive early. Her nightmare had started with a traffic stop a day earlier. She’d been weeping since. “What if the baby is born here, in the jail?” she thought.
In the afternoon, she was shackled and transported to Maricopa County Medical Center, where she gave birth in a “forensic restraint.” She couldn’t hold her baby daughter or kiss her. She could only watch as hospital personnel carried the infant out the door. She wouldn’t see the baby for 72 days.
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