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The Times We are In

Our minds, out of habit, crave unambiguous, well-packaged reality. If we all accept that in truth, all of us want to be happy, then such a craving would seem both logical and a useful as the impetus to achieve this utopian goal.
Yet, time and again, our efforts get foiled – no matter where we stand in the political, social, and religious spectrums. Conservatives do not like liberal agendas. But, then again, T-Party members don’t think that the conservative agenda is conservative enough. And Progressives don’t think that Liberals are liberal enough. Our President backs alternative energy solutions, yet supports the likes of Monsanto who have seemingly made it their goal to claim patents on all of creation. Wall Street is still having a party while Main Street debates on how to parse up the scraps that are thrown its way. For a nation that has the highest number of people going to church on Sunday and otherwise being involved in one form of organized religion or another, we still measure our social and personal worth based on consumer indexes – as if happiness/nirvana/bliss is the endpoint reached when each of us lives in a perpetual state of want.
Where some are still touting the notion that nuclear power and more drilling for oil are the solutions to the woes of our flailing economy and the growing social unrest and number of disfranchised people living close to or below the poverty line, others are making efforts to return to the land, to come back to our senses through the efforts of bioneers, nature schools, and the proponents of permaculture and sustainability. My own disposition is to support and go along with the efforts of these re-discoverers of simplicity.
And yet, I am wary of embracing even this kind of reality – without caveats.
A few years back, I was asked by a publisher to interview Buddhist masters from around the world. I asked them about current events and what they see happening over the next fifty or so years. One may think that such “other-worldly” beings would have little to say about the everyday foibles and conundrums of our daily lives. But, in truth, this is where Buddhist teaching comes to life; where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. So, all of them were happy to share their opinions about wars, global warming, economic hitmen, corporate greed, and the like.
What was interesting to note is that the Western Buddhist teachers tended to be more optimistic. They believed that social media and other aspects of the technology of communication were fostering a connectedness that would help us travel through these times and make significant changes for the better in all sectors of society. The Eastern teachers were not so convinced. From their longer-reaching view of humanity over the millennium, they noted the rise and fall of civilizations. And, from where they stood, there were more indicators of a collapse of what we have grown accustom to in our comfortable part of the world. They see clearly the disparity between the small percentage of the haves versus the greater percentage of the have-nots. And they are not blind to the avarice and greed that has disguised itself in social, political, ad religious rhetoric. And so we see what looks like a revolution in Egypt fostered by Facebook coming to terms with an entrenched establishment wearing a different suit. And the “winds of change” throughout the Middle East that some claim to be the early beginnings of budding democracy have seen demonstrators and freedom fighters turning to the West for inspiration and support only to find that our resolve is not so strong and our commitment to their success not as great as our concerns their oil and havens for our military.
In the late seventies, I attended a talk of a now deceased Canadian Buddhist teacher by the name of Namgyal Rinpoche. He saw a time of increased bureaucracy and mediocrity ahead; where corporations in sync with governments reach deeper and deeper into our lives to limit the availability of what we eat and drink, where we can and cannot go, and in what manner we can take care of our own health. And so, in keeping with his predictions, at the end of April, unless it has been miraculously stopped by popular efforts, legislation will be passed in the European Union that will make it illegal to make any medical claims for herbal and plant-based medicines unless they have gone through the same scrutiny and testing as the products of multi-national pharmaceutical companies. Some of these remedies have been around for centuries. And the companies or individuals that make them do not have the political or economic means to do years of testing just to prove such things like the fact that that fennel is good for digestion. This will see an end to western herbology as well as such ancient systems as Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ayurveda in the west.
But, Namgyal Rinpoche was not a pessimist. Where mainstream society would continue to collapse, he saw the arising of what he called “pockets of light;” groups of like-minded people coming together in their communities, sharing information, recipes, supporting each other, getting re-acquainted as friends, neighbors, families. Nuclear families arising out of the industrial and corporate realities of the last 150 years have isolated us and destroyed family and community life. Today, we are re-discovering connection. As Rome burns, many of us are waking up to the true value of our human community and its inter-dependence with all that lives.
My concern for this movement, the movement of the bioneers and the like, is that there is still a belief that society can be transformed. I have friends that don’t want to read the papers, listen to the news. They don’t want to hear about the wars, the nuclear devastation of Japan, the ongoing greed of Wall Street, the bickering in Washington, the bombing in Libya. In truth, who would really want to hear such horrible and devastating news all the time. It’s sickening and it sickens. But, by analogy, I would suggest to my idealistic friends to periodically take a homeopathic dose of this reality. Feel it. Feel the pain. Feel your sadness. Grieve. Only then, as you build community and pass on to your children what must be preserved, will we be able to endure and pass on the seeds of what can arise in a future that perhaps many of us will not see.
We all want to be happy. But unless we embrace impermanence and understand the ambiguity of our fragile life on this planet, our wants and desires – what we crave – will always be lopsided and in the end, disappoint us. Breathe deep and think with a clear and critical mind. Pessimism is poison. Put it down. Turn to a friend and see what they need. Love and share.
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