Friday, September 12, 2014

Regard All Dharmas as Dreams.

I got very worked up yesterday about this new war, very angry and hurt. This blog post by Noam Chomsky, maybe surprisingly, maybe not, made me feel much better, sort of forcing my vantage point back to a reassuring philosophical distance. Noam Chomsky is one of really few public intellectuals I always trust, ever since reading the mind-blowing and undeniable Manufacturing Consent in my late 20s, and, though I know there are some who see his name and roll their eyes, I'm too old to care. A prophet who isn't widely considered a crank is likely not a true prophet.

C. took me to task yesterday for writing somewhere on Facebook that I was angrier at Obama than I'd been at Bush. What I meant to express is that I was more deeply hurt because this new war is the last thing I expected from Obama whereas with Bush it was no surprise and I never liked him anyway so he couldn't hurt me. I guess I thought it was self-evident that Bush is the greater evil. I was just talking about my feelings.

And that's the problem. Why am I taking all this stuff so personally? I've been thinking about my blog post from yesterday, about how I reacted somewhat blandly to the events of 9/11. Because I was off the grid. Because I was in a beautiful forest. Because my own life was distracting me from world politics. The lesson that I seem to be trying to teach myself -- again -- is that it's not about me.

I will try to watch these world events unfold and not experience it all as a personal insult. You all know how I feel about this war and other wars, and now I will try to keep in check my moment to moment outrage.

As always in moments of anxiety about the world around me, it helps to return to my Lo Jong slogans. The operative one here is "Regard all dharmas as dreams." Pema Chodron, with Chomsky in my pantheon of reliable and always pertinent teachers, says:

Whatever you experience in your life—pain, pleasure, heat, cold or anything else—is like something happening in a dream. Although you might think things are very solid, they are like passing memory. You can experience this open, unfixated quality in sitting meditation; all that arises in your mind—hate love and all the rest—is not solid. Although the experience can get extremely vivid, it is just a product of your mind. Nothing solid is really happening.
Words to live by as we glide together to the end of the Holocene.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


On September 11, 2001, I was staying in a state park just outside of Ithaca, New York, with Jay and Roger. On the road, we lived more or less without media, except for the radio in the van which is how we heard about the World Trade Center attacks. We'd been living on the road for nearly two years and in that time had made two circuits from Nashville to the West Coast and back around to the East.

That September, we were on our way to the city for a show at HERE Arts Center. I think I've told this story here before, watching the dirty smoke rise over lower Manhattan as we approached on the New Jersey Turnpike and the bruised, sad eyes of our dear friends when we reached the city.

As we all do, I think about those days every fall. The way I commemorate the events is to renew my vow to avoid images of the planes crashing into the towers, the flames and smoke, the people jumping. We had no way of encountering those images at the time, but in conversations with traumatized friends in the days following it seemed clear to me that their trauma was caused as much by looking at the photos and video over and over and over as it was by what had actually happened. I decided I didn't need to see it.

As you can imagine, it's been impossible to completely avoid the pictures. They ambush me at newsstands, sneak up on me in commercials. But I look away quickly; I take in as little as possible.

I used to think that the reason I was not as revenge-crazy as it seemed the whole country was in 2001, and still (if slightly less) in 2003, was that I hadn't felt the visceral blow of seeing the attack. But last week, don't ask me why because it's not like me and it didn't even really seem voluntary, but I looked at the video of James Foley being beheaded, and I still don't have a taste for blood.

I'd say it's just temperamental, that I'm meek and tender-hearted, but that would be disingenuous. I can think of half a dozen times I've felt homicidal rage when I've been attacked or slighted or insulted or humiliated. I'm capable of it.

The video was shocking, and certainly justice is called for, but my feelings are somewhat abstract. I'm not angry. I guess I just don't feel like anyone did anything in particular to me.

I'm angrier at President Obama this morning than I am at ISIS. I probably shouldn't admit that today, but it's true.