We live at the end of times. The conversion of the USA into Trumpistan (thank you for the brilliant term, Margaret Goodman) has taken us a huge jump toward global disaster. The only rational reaction is despair.
There are delightful little people in my life. I want them to have a future, to enjoy a good life, to develop their full potential and to advance along the path of spiritual growth, which is the reason for the existence of all of us.
In addition, I am honorary grandfather to a great many other youngsters, mostly through the internet. I will never meet most of them, but I care for their welfare. I’ve lost count of my grandchildren, but actually, my good wishes are to all young people. They deserve a future, and a future worth surviving in.
They are not going to have one. I am not talking about climate change here, which is merely the second worst symptom of the problem. (The worst is that we are now irrevocably in the 6th great extinction event of this planet. The third is the coming collapse of the global economic system, driven by several causes.)
One level below these symptoms, the problem is unlimited growth within a shrinking system.
We are using so much fresh water that the aquifers are being depleted. Water that in some cases took millions of years to accumulate is being removed so fast that near the sea, salt water is being sucked in; land subsidence is causing enormous damage in many places including Mexico city, Taiwan and California.
We are killing a very wide range of marine creatures: ocean acidification, nutrient and poison runoff from land; plastic in the oceans; rising sea water temperatures; radioactivity; terrible noises (especially harmful to cetaceans); and, above all, overfishing.
And below that is the cause: a global culture that rewards and encourages the worst in human nature: greed, fear and therefore hate of people only slightly different from us, territoriality, depersonalising the ‘other.’
We don’t need to change human nature. If we could switch global culture to one that rewards and encourages the best in us, we would have a chance. We need people to be ruled by decency, compassion, sharing, thinking of the long term consequences of our actions. With a few exceptions — people I consider infant souls — all of us have these as part of our nature.
Instead, sadly, we are heading for more hate, more greed — more Trump and Putin. Once more, nuclear war is possible.
So, as I said, despair is rational.
I can stay sane, stay functioning, because I use Buddhist equanimity. When I manage it, I am OK. When I don’t, I simply exercise the same tools to cope with the fact that, for now, I am not coping.
Here are a few aspects of this tool:
Thinking only hurts if you do it
All cats are great at being in the NOW.
The past is history. The future is a mystery. I give you a PRESENT. There is only this moment, and, for now, things are OK.
Naturally, being able to see where current trends are pointing is part of the present, and it is our duty to strive to save what there is, to delay and minimise disaster. We must protect with compassion those who need it, fight unfairness and cruelty, do our best to steer the future in a better direction.
The secret of doing this with contentment is not to get caught up in success or failure. All I can do is the best I can do. In Ascending Spiral, this is what my protagonist Pip says:
I dislocated a shoulder in 2009. About two months later, my rehabilitation homework was to play basketball with myself. This is brilliant: increasing strength, flexibility and self-confidence in a pleasurable way.
OK, I shoot for the basket and get it in. Beauty. I shoot again and miss. So what ⎯ I’m still exercising my shoulder.
We are on this planet for a purpose. This is not to make money or to be better than the neighbour. It is to learn Lessons, to progress toward the ultimate lesson of Love, the message of Jesus (and this is from a Buddhist Jew).
So, if you join my team and we create a sustainable society, beauty. But if we miss and humanity goes the way of the Dodo, so what. If the students destroy this school, let me reassure you: there are billions of other schools in the universe.
Being able to detach from success or failure is a path to contentment, whatever happens.
What is, is
The sun still shines — the cloud only hides it
In my therapy work, I often need to explain acceptance to my clients. Here is the card I give them:
Geniuses at survival can live in hell, with peace in their hearts. We can learn from them. If I don’t like something, I need to work at changing it. But that takes time, and may never succeed. For now, I can simply accept it. Best illustration is pain.
Pain = sensation + emotion.
1. I have an unpleasant sensation. If I simply accept it, I’m not hurting. It can stay there, I’m OK.
2. Sometimes I can’t manage this. Then I’m hurting. I can accept that for now I’m hurting, in pain, do want it to go away ⎯ and it’s OK to feel like that. Then I may be in pain, but it’s OK.
3. Sometimes, I can’t do this, and am in despair: “What’s the point of living like this?” If I can accept that for now, I’m in despair, I can still carry on.
Acceptance at one level may allow return to a better one, but can’t be done for that reason ⎯ or it’s not real acceptance and won’t work.
In The Greatest Force in the Universe, which is the first volume of my as yet unpublished Doom Healer series, my hero, Bill Sutcliffe, is feeling terrible because he’d been unable to save the lives of eight people who had tried to kill him. Here is what his friend, counselling psychologist Gene Miller, said to him after they’d done exposure therapy for the traumatic event:
- “Do you know what equanimity is?”
“Sure. Whatever is, is, and is all right. If I have a mental or physical pain, it only hurts if I fight it. If I simply accept it and observe it, then I can have the pain in contentment.”
Gene grinned. “Excellent. Do it.”
“Let me tell you a story. This Buddhist abbot was famous for his equanimity. Then robbers attacked the monastery, and were slaughtering his monks. He kept screaming and crying. His deputy said, ‘But Father, what about equanimity?’ The abbot answered, ‘Equanimity is all very well, but they’re KILLING MY PEOPLE’!”
Gene laughed with Bill. “I apply equanimity at three levels. Level 1 is what you first described. I accept the pain, so it’s there but not hurting. Level 2 is when I can’t manage that. I’m hurting, but accept that for now that’s the case, so I can be content with knowing that I hurt. And level 3 is what the abbot should’ve used: life is too terrible to continue, and I simply accept that, and keep going.”
The purpose of life
I don’t believe anything, but go with the evidence. I build a tentative model of reality. As new evidence comes along, I revise it, always open to more change. My current understanding is best expressed in another quote from The Greatest Force in the Universe:
We arrogant humans have looked on this planet as the only seat of intelligent life. It isn’t… There are millions of locations of intelligent life within our galaxy alone, and there are innumerable galaxies. All those places, including Earth, are schools for souls. The body dies, but the life energy of an animal or a plant continues. There is sound scientific evidence for reincarnation.
So, those billions will return, if not here, then to some other school within the universe. This is because we have a job to do… We need to live again and again, learning and advancing, until we have evolved sufficiently. You’re not here to become wealthy, or famous, or powerful. You’re here on a journey toward becoming like Jesus, like the Buddha. This is not a matter of religion. You can be an atheist, but if you attain a life dedicated to Love, what we call by the Buddhist term metta, then you qualify for Buddhahood.
Everything ever born must die. We can die one at a time, or billions together. That doesn’t matter. We can die before birth, or 100 years old. That doesn’t matter. Even suffering is only short term. In the long view, we can shrug that off. All that matters is progress along the journey toward moral perfection.
I hope I’ve eased your pain.
All that matters is what we take with us when we die, and what we leave behind in the hearts of others. Everything else is Monopoly money.
What can you take with you: Lessons learnt, gained wisdom ⎯ or the opposite: hate, bitterness, blame and the like. So, you either advance in spiritual development, or go backward, or of course a bit of each.
Look after the heart, the Love, and you can let go of everything else.