America the Damned

I’ve been reading so much online about the current American travesties that I can’t remember where I saw a list of criteria that are indicators of the imminent fall of an empire. If I remember correctly, my country is exhibiting all of them.
On top of that we have ravaging fires in drought-ridden parts of this country, heavy rains and flooding in areas already known to be sodden, horrific tales of pedophiliac priests rising out of the religious dark, and an increasing number of news stories of parents breaking apart their kids’ bodies and spirits.
My son ruminates online about his painful alienation from his country of birth, and we all wait to see if something awful will happen on the day on which we celebrate the ideal that America was supposed to strive toward.
No wonder we’re all depressed. There is hardly anything that is in our control anymore. It makes me wonder about what exactly IS still in our control.
Maybe all we have is all we really can expect to have as humans on this planet: the challenges of daily survival; of creating ways to connect with and love each other; of working toward and celebrating small successes because the large ones will always be out of our control; of learning how to share our successes with each other so that we can all hope beyond the daily.
Perhaps we humans have gotten too arrogant. We assume that we can control — each other, the elements, the whims of the universe. The truth is, it seems to me, that the only thing that we each have control over is our own Self. And nowhere in our upbringings or educations are we taught to understand that and how to accomplish that with love, compassion, joy, and meaningful connection.
Maybe those of us who survive what comes next will be those of us who can hunker down, live small, stay connected with similar souls, wait for it all to blow over. If it doesn’t blow us all up before we make it through.

10 thoughts on “America the Damned

  1. Yes.
    Yes.
    Yes.
    If you aren’t a little depressed, you aren’t paying attention.
    But I feel a little less depressed, just reading your blog.
    Thank you Elaine!

  2. Elaine,
    First, it’s normal to be depressed sometimes. But then, that’s a cue that you should give some attention to where you’re giving your attention.
    If you’re depressed because things aren’t the way they should be, well then, where is your attention? It is not on how things are, it is on the difference, the difference between reality and an expectation. Which is more real? Which deserves more of your attention?
    And by focusing on how reality differs from your expectation, you’re ignoring all the things about reality that aren’t very depressing and are, in fact, quite pleasant.
    You’re right, the only thing you can ever hope to exert any amount of control over is your self (or Self, or soul – it’s all the same.) But we’re always being distracted from paying attention to the things that facilitate improving our power over ourselves. To some extent, even your sadness at the state of affairs in the world serves some group’s needs more so than your own.
    It may be of no comfort to you now, but if you pay attention you’ll begin to find that everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be. Everything is perfect just the way it is.
    It really is.

  3. Well, there’s always the big picture and the little picture. I suppose that I can say, in a Zen sense, that the way it is for my own small life is the way it’s supposed to be for my own small life. After all, I make my choices and and I take my chances. I can deal with that. But what I can’t accept are the same things that b!X can’t accept in the big picture. That’s definitely NOT the way things should be — not by any moral, ethical, or humane standards. Those are not the choices of any people of conscience, any people of soul. So no more depressed about that for me. Rage. Rage. That’s more like it.

  4. “Bull. Shit.”
    How wonderfully Zen.
    Indeed.
    Let me ask a question. How do bad things happen in the world? The bad things brought about by people, that is.
    Do they set out to do bad things? Do they get up in the morning and say to themselves, “It’s a good day to make the world a worse place!”?
    No, I don’t think so.
    Everyone always wants to believe they are making things “better.”
    The world wants to make things better for the Jews after the holocaust and creates Israel. The suicide bomber wants to make things better for the Palestinians and blows up Israelis. Bin Laden wants to make things better for his view of Islam. Bush wants to save the world from Bin Laden.
    If we want better things, perhaps we should all try a little less.
    And I wonder if there would ever, could ever, be a time when people might say the world is “good enough,” that there isn’t something I need to point out as “bad,” or to try to make “better.”

  5. Hmm. Well, for me sitting here with my cable connection and my government pension, I would have little trouble saying that my life is “good enough.” But what of my sisters being beaten into their burquas? I don’t think that their lives are “good enough.” Do you think that they should think that their lives are “good enough?” There will be a time when all people think their lives are “good enough” when we all have food, clothing, shelter, safety, political freedom, and a commitment to the Golden Rule. Heh. What are the chances of that happening?

  6. The point I am unsuccessfully trying to make is that much of what we regard as not “good enough,” or “evil” is the result of someone else trying to do something to make things better.
    There’s a verse in the Tao that says something to the effect that noticing what’s good is what brings evil into the world.
    It’s possible that someone else, wearing a burqua, views your life as not “good enough” and therefore feels as though they have some responsibility to improve it for you. Indeed, it is possible that some of them are trying even now.
    And all of those efforts come, not from faith, but from fear. And I don’t mean a faith in God that is itself rooted in fear, I mean faith in the essential goodness of life. That in the midst of even the most depraved suffering, there is something that is to be cherished, something that elicits joy.
    Have you ever read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning? It’s a powerful story.
    I’m not advocating a totally passive existence, but I am saying that we must become the change we want to see in the world. That we must each begin to transform ourselves, and that if we truly devote ourselves to that effort, we will have little opportunity to inflict further progress on our brothers and sisters. We must begin to examine if our lives are rooted in faith, or in fear.
    Rage is anger and anger comes from fear. Can we evolve to the point where we never know fear, where we are never angry? Perhaps not, but we can do a lot “better” than we are now.
    All the answers we seek are right before us. There are those we can help right next to us. There is one we must help within us. To the extent that we give our attention to stories told on television or newspapers, we have no attention for ourselves or those right next to us.
    Everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be. The universe is telling the truth, but we only want to listen to the story in our own heads, told to ourselves and written out of our fear. As long as we fool ourselves, the universe will just keep telling the truth until we begin to pay attention.

  7. I totally agree that transformation has to start with ourselves and that when we act out of fear instead of love, we make matters worse. Past that, though, there is a complexity to human personalities that does not allow a simple answer.
    And sometimes, I have seen, sacred rage becomes the fuel to propel one out of self-centered complacency and into the kind of collective activism that is needed to respond positively to the blatant messages of the universe.

  8. “And sometimes, I have seen, sacred rage becomes the fuel to propel one out of self-centered complacency and into the kind of collective activism that is needed to respond positively to the blatant messages of the universe.”
    Isn’t this _precisely_ the type of behavior that is responsible for, say, the War Against Terrorism? Why is it that it seems like the _majority_ of people are in favor of the War Against Terrorism? Is it because they believe they are inspired by a “sacred rage” and that they’ve been “complacent?” Don’t they believe this is a “positive” response? Sometimes I even believe it. And there’s no shortage of rhetoric out there that’s saying we need to “pay attention” to the messages the Islamicists are sending, that they mean to destroy the state of Israel and provoke a violent confrontation with the West. This whole “Clash of Civilizations” thing is just more fear-mongering.
    One can make the case it is precisely the same kind of rhetoric that is responsible for the Intifada, the “sacred rage” of the Palestinians that mobilizes young people to end their lives and those of others in physical and psychological violence.
    And what you might call self-centered complacency I would define as ego-centered distraction. Distraction created by those who fear, who crave a power they cannot possess and who seek to do nothing more than stir and inflame the passions and fears of those they supposedly seek to aid; in order to deceive them and to preserve their own illusions of power. Bin Laden, Sharon, Arafat, Bush, they’re all of a kind. That’s not “moral equivalency” it’s behavioral equivalency. Who’s exhibiting a new response? I would even go so far as to say none of these are “evil” men, they’re simply men who are too tied to their own ego-centric illusions to see another way.
    I don’t think there’s any such thing as “sacred rage,” I think there’s just ego-centric fear. Where is there room for compassion in “sacred rage?” Or is compassion reserved only for the people who agree with us, or just the ones we feel have been the victims?
    Everyone on the whole damn planet needs to just be still. Failing that, we could use a lot fewer appeals to fear and a lot more people who are centered in themselves.
    I don’t know Elaine. Clearly, we don’t see things the same way, and I don’t mean to be argumentative. I just know that more of the same breeds more of the same, regardless of its origin. And none of it is within my power to change, all I can control is how I choose to view the world and my life in it. I could be a “warblogger” or an “anti-warblogger,” but to my eyes, they’re two sides of the same coin.
    There is sorrow in the world, but there is joy too. And this is the way it will _always_ be, and it’s okay. Faith that everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be liberates me from having to react to events in ways conditioned by my fear. I know that I have all I can handle to work on myself and to try to help those nearest to me. Neither side in the “good vs. evil” debate needs me for a cheerleader, they’ve got plenty of those already. I don’t need to contribute to the fear.
    Right this moment, it is a lovely day and I am grateful to be alive. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate in this discussion, you’re a gracious host and I’m perhaps not the best kind of guest (those who don’t overstay their welcome). I’ll step aside now and allow you the last word.

  9. My only last word is ‘positive — that’s the signficant word in my statement about ‘sacred’ (not religious) rage propelling one to POSITIVE action. Not action based on fear, but action based on a commitment to making the lives of suffering people better. The War on Terrorism the way America is waging it is not positive; it’s negative, deceitful, destructive. And ‘being liberated from having to react to events’ certainly, then, leaves the door open for the Hitlers of the world to walk through with impunity. Well, we can’t all be spiritual warriors. There’s a place in this world for contemplatives as well. Positively.

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