Assortments of Thought

Continuations and Journeys

Posted on: January 9th, 2013

The end of the world was upon us, or so the notion went. Most of us knew it wouldn’t be so, but the ideas were certainly out there, and talked about, with a strange appeal born both of the stories, but also of our desires, perhaps, for a release from it all. But December 21st, 2012 came and went, and the world didn’t end; no cataclysms devastated it, or us; and in the end, the end of the Mayan calendar was just that, the ending of a calendar. Instead, we have since found ourselves in the same positions that we’ve always been in, journeying into an increasingly uncertain tomorrow, with the same old situations continuing to play out. And, while the world may never end as it was famously said it would on December 21st, 2012, we nonetheless face many problems that remain threatening to a brighter future. Perhaps the core issue is that we just don’t care sometimes, about our fellow human beings, about animals and other life, and about our future, the future of our world. Between different groups of people, we maintain divisions that aren’t truly there, and we sometimes even look down upon or turn away from others for no good reason, to all our detriments. And, perhaps we seek everything from others all too often, yet not so often give of ourselves in the many ways we can, a pattern currently playing out in and dominating political thought even. Yet in spite of all these things, there exists a way out, and an awesomely simple one at that. For if we can only learn to care more about the world than the world ever cared about us, acting under the auspices of our religious beliefs and psychologies alike, then, we will do what only living, conscious beings such as us can do in this universe: make it a better place in which to live. And it is accomplishing this aim, one step at a time, that we each ought to be focusing on, for there’s still time to make things right, even as greater challenges yet loom ahead.

Our fundamental problems are difficult to characterize, perhaps, but whether we do so deliberately or only incidentally, the notion that we often don’t care enough is a reasonable one. We maintain divisions that aren’t truly there, and we neglect to see the value of other people’s work and practices, even as we turn away from one another over fundamental issues that touch us all. Male or female; gay or straight; and of any number of races and religions; such are the ways we classify ourselves, but we take these classifications way too far, and always have. Even if blatant dislike and discriminatory practices aren’t the result, unneeded divisions between us inevitably are; and all of us who have ever felt judged or simply left out know this to be true. For friends of differing race often encounter discomfort from others when spending time together; gay and bisexual people face a lot of glares and outright animosity simply for daring to be together; women and men harbor notions of differences that keep them from sharing their lives in the ways that men or women readily do apart and amongst themselves; transgendered people face the harshest reactions of all, a testament to how much some of us resist the fundamental equality of women and men; and, many people remain estranged from one another, in some sense, simply for holding varying spiritual beliefs. And yet loving people of any gender is a trivial difference for the relationships we involve ourselves in as we go about our lives; being of a multitude of races simply means that our joint heritage stretches back through millennia to all across the globe, in spite of the divergent experiences of our ancestors still affecting us to the present day; differences in gender merely arose over nature’s way of ensuring that our species and all similar ones on this planet could perpetuate; while our contrasting religious beliefs are simply all the ways in which we’ve tried to understand our shared existence, an existence whose full grandeur we can’t even fathom. Hence while we’re all undeniably different from one another, even as individuals (and certainly more so by race, gender, and the like), we build these differences up to the point of being artificial divisions that separate and divide us, when in truth, we’re all just people with similar thoughts, feeling the same old feelings, and sharing that same ageless desire to be accepted and loved.

In a similar vein, we don’t always value the work and ideas of one another either. Whether from our work, our ages, or even from our religious backgrounds, we neglect to see how meaningful our diverse contributions are, even as we benefit from them everyday. Janitors and people working in retail, for instance, often encounter or are at least regarded with indifference or outright contempt as they go about their work, and all too often, they in turn do their jobs to completion, but with no true passion for what they’re accomplishing, or caring for the people they serve. And yet, keeping our stores and workplaces clean is such an essential and needed thing, as is interacting with customers in a variety of retail settings (just imagine stores and restaurants perpetually dirty, or with no one around to to serve and assist with a friendly smile), that we should all value such work for everything it means for us, while the people carrying it out have every reason to feel pride and caring in doing so. More generally, of course, working-class and white-collar workers tend to find themselves at odds, as do college-educated and non-college people, even though both paths are worthy and important, and all jobs matter, or else they wouldn’t be around. And more personally, of course, the efforts of good parents, students, teachers, and family go unnoticed or under-appreciated all too often. Students typically don’t realize or appreciate how much work their teachers put in on their behalves; teachers often respond with dutiful yet routine instruction, especially with students who just don’t care beyond simply getting it done; and parents, children, siblings, and other family members sometimes neglect to see how much they do for one another and mean to one another; assuming, of course, that they care much about each other at all. Indeed then, we often neglect to value the work that we all do, even though it all matters to us so very much.

Nor, then, do we always value each others’ ideas and practices. From diversity comes different perspectives, including, not in the least, a rich variety of generational approaches and religious objectives. All too often though, we let our disagreements overshadow the greater and altogether more useful wholes. Young people and older people, for instance, often find their ways at odds, and admittedly, understandably so. Every generation grows up in a different world, a unique era, and so disagreements inevitably arise over what young people perceive as antiquated versus what they see as good and new, and what older people see as time-honored and true, versus what they perceive as foolish and unneeded. Yet while older people have generally experienced many more things in life, and hence have a greater source from which to become wise and offer sound advice, young people are perhaps more in sync with what’s new and upcoming in the world, and hence have a greater capacity, sometimes, to innovate and try changing things as they need to be changed. And so aged and youthful thinking are complementary, and people across generations actually have a lot to teach each other.

Similarly then, people often find themselves at odds over religion, for just as we’ve always sought the answers to the grandest of questions, so too have we always arrived at differing beliefs, sometimes leading people to look down upon others and become, in some sense, spiritually estranged. Yet many core religious sentiments, as passed down through various religious traditions from the people who first realized them, are again complementary for a greater whole. Jesus, for instance, taught us to forgive others and to bear the brunt of suffering ourselves sometimes, even as Krishna taught us to act in selfless service. The Buddha, meanwhile, taught us to release ourselves from misery by letting go of all our desires, even as Lao Tzu taught us to achieve without action, placing ourselves beyond the myriad things and within the mystery. And, indeed, Mahavira taught us to respect all life and harm none, human or otherwise, even as White Buffalo Calf Woman taught us to live in harmony with the land, and ultimately with the cosmos itself. It isn’t then that our wide variety of spiritual beliefs are equivalent, or sometimes in specifics even entirely compatible, but rather that they all have something enlightening to offer to each of us, underpinned by the realization that we’re all in this together. Hence we not only neglect to value each others’ work, but nor do we always value our diverse ideas and practices, even though despite all their differences, they often have much to teach us.

Finally, all too often, it seems, we take and take of what others and society have to offer us, but give little of ourselves in return, a pattern we display both politically and personally. Giving, of course, isn’t confined to offering material things either. Contributing time and energy for the betterment of us all is one way to give, for example, but so is simply trying to understand people better as well as the issues they face, staring down uncomfortable feelings so that we may act with more acceptance and solidarity towards one another. Regardless of our political leanings, however, we still manage to give too little, often enough, and to turn away from or even look down upon others over fundamental issues that touch us all. Conservatives, for instance, often seem to disbelieve in the fundamental equality of us all. Too many among us neglect to reach out to many of us, if not actively seeking to ignore or otherwise leave many of us out, even as they condemn reasonable behavior that nonetheless falls outside of a strict set of “moral” and “religious” bounds. Liberals, on the other hand, often seem to misunderstand the economic problem of unlimited wants in light of scarce resources. Too many among us seek to boost government support towards unsustainable levels, focusing too much on the group as opposed to all of us as individuals, even as they thereby foster restricting dependence of all of us upon the government. Yet between these harmful extremes, liberals usually perceive the logic and decency of all of us acting inclusively towards one another, even as conservatives usually understand the value and necessity of work, and know of all the benefits in freedom and liberty that striving for self-sufficiency brings. (And note that I’m excluding libertarians and centrists from this discussion only because they’re too scarce in upper-level politics for any practical analysis, while centrists are more inherently diverse.) Hence while all of our political views offer sound principles that can fit together in ways that would allow us to accomplish quite a bit of good, too many of us nonetheless seem to hold political positions that are differently-but-equally harmful, thus demonstrating via politics, perhaps, that we don’t always give as much as we should.

Regardless though, we often aren’t so willing to give in our everyday, personal lives either. We sometimes turn away from one another for no real reason besides a lack of understanding or sensitivity, perhaps, while at other times, we do so, in essence, by letting fear, embarrassment, or shame overcome us. Most of us, for instance, continue to act and feel as though anything less than some unrealistic, ideal body image isn’t beautiful, and in so doing, foster insecurity and self-loathing that probably only furthers a cycle. We tend to stigmatize all sorts of medical situations as well, ranging from depression and various disabilities to colostomies, when just a little reading and reflection would help us to support others with these things, things that may befall any of us, at any time, at all. We aren’t always so great with participating in relationships either, for we often act as though being single is a problem, driving us to linger in relationships just to avoid being alone, even as we sometimes treat others as objects, almost, by playing up our true intentions. And, despite how surrounded we all are by sex, far too many of us act as though masturbating and engaging in other sexual activities is wrong, that enjoying and promoting the enjoyment of our sexualities is wrong, fostering attitudes, incidentally, which probably encourage and make the effects of the sexual abuse and rape all that much worse (which we often blame victims themselves for as it is). Meanwhile, we can’t seem to bring ourselves to deal with bullying in schools, leaving our children and young people to suffer all too often in hostile, humiliating environments, with far too many of us already having carried such painful experiences into adulthood. And lastly, while it isn’t perhaps that we should avoid eating or using animals for work or sport, we nonetheless kill them in rather inhumane ways all too often, and sometimes even abuse or neglect them, demonstrating a lack of concern for the pain or potential feelings of other beings that reflects badly on our caring for each other as well. Hence our hesitations to give in all the many ways we can not only show up in our political positions, seemingly, but unfortunately are abundantly present in our everyday, personal lives to boot.

While the world didn’t end then on December 21st, 2012, and will probably never end in accordance with some similarly predicted doomsday, we nonetheless continue to face the same problems as we always have. Such problems keep us down in the here and now, even as they threaten all our hopes for a brighter future, but their most tangible and immutable damage is how they do and forever will, so long as we fail to deal with them, cause us misery and suffering. As we’ve seen, all too often, we greatly exaggerate and maintain hurtful divisions between one another over our gender, race, and the like; we look down upon others for their work, despite its natural significance and value; we don’t value the ideas of others, including those of people older or younger, or with differing religious beliefs; and, we don’t give of ourselves as much as we should. We hold harmful political positions sometimes as well, and otherwise turn away from one another and let embarrassment, fear, and the like hold us back, when in fact it’s precisely during such times that we just need each other, more than ever, to stare down such uncomfortable feelings and become supportive. Such failings on our parts don’t bode well for the future, for if we speculate just a bit, we may foresee soon creating intelligent robots, or else participating in open contact with conscious beings from another world, from somewhere out there in the unfathomable depths of space. If we still can’t accept and feel for our own human selves as equals, then how we might interact with and treat other beings, either from within our world or from beyond, becomes a great concern, whose potential bad endings we can all guess pretty well. But setting such speculative scenarios aside, just in the here and now, in our societies and everyday lives, our failings bring us unnecessary misery and suffering, and will continue to do so until and unless we make significant strides towards correcting them. In short, we often just don’t care enough, about ourselves, our world, and for the future; the future of our planet, of each and every one of us, and of everything we ever were, are now, or could eventually become.

This state of affairs is the world’s stagnation at best, if not it’s downward spiral at worst … and yet, as we journey into a future whose reality we’re continually setting, there exists a way out, and an awesomely simple one at that. For if we can only learn to care more for the world than the world ever cared about us, no matter how challenging such learning may be, and if we can only come to realize the power within us all that only conscious beings such as us possess … then, we’ll go on to make our world all that much better of a place in which to live. And, even as we all journey towards such a brighter tomorrow, doing so under the auspice of countless of our religious traditions, incidentally, by the peculiarities of our psychologies even, we’ll come to find personal happiness and protection as well. Yet such journeys are seldom if ever easy, no matter how simple they may truly be, for developing such empathy for others is far from automatic. For we all hold perspectives similar to those that our caregivers held as they raised us to adulthood, even as we all hold ideas unique to our own histories and realities. Thus, we usually don’t feel any sense of kinship with people at large, at least without certain new experiences and interpretations of our own, because our formative experiences and long-held beliefs often only enable us to feel a connection with people that are like ourselves in specific ways. No matter then that our feelings of both pain and joy are common to us all, as are the fundamental hopes and dreams we all share, including of and for a better world; the specifics in which our lives greatly differ, as well as our comfortable perspectives, will always tend to keep their hold on us. But most damaging of all to our chances for a brighter future, is just that as it’s always easier to destroy things, easier than it is to create and maintain them, so too is it always easier to just get by around or even lash out at one another, rather than be supportive and giving. For we experience injustices and pain caused by other people all the time, both on the bigger scales as well as in much more personal ways, and it’s really hard to give a lot of ourselves to the world, indeed more than we receive, when we know others are inevitably going to fail us, or even deliberately disregard or hurt us. Such, then, are the challenges we face in seeking to care more for the world than the world ever cared about us, and hence are the challenges we face in making the world a better place in which to live.

We all possess a power though to help us meet the challenge, and it’s an awesome, incredible power at that. It is, simply, that as conscious beings, we can learn to empathize with others, and that we can then actually go on to improve all our lives. The very suffering we all experience from time to time can become the basis from which we acquire empathy, and from there, we can actually adjust our actions and thoughts for the better. And as soon as we realize this power, so then do we herald the birth of a much brighter future. Yet this power isn’t outwardly dramatic, for it’s much too subtle, and is therefore easy to overlook. It isn’t as dramatic, certainly, as with all the many vulnerabilities we all have, for we indeed have many of them by which substantial harm can befall us. We can easily be killed in a bloody and gory fashion; put in a permanent coma with a simple accident, or otherwise be significantly harmed; or even have our very sense of identity and who we are taken from us, whether by head trauma, degenerative brain disease, or purposeful, malicious intent. Rather, our power becomes clear when compared to the universe at large, as to what it allows us to accomplish that the universe never does, and in fact cannot. For while the universe is tending towards a state of total entropy every day, or a total degradation of all energy into less and less useful forms, as conscious beings, we can all do things that, from a certain perspective, defy even all the laws of physics. And it is, simply, that while our collective treatment of others can also degrade every day and across all our lives, just as all the energy in the universe does on the grand scale, to the contrary of what the universe must do, we can all accept how we’re treated, but then turn right around and treat others so much better. We can cast forth light, in some sense, to banish much of the darkness that surrounds us, and thereby accomplish incredible feats beyond all expectations. Thus when we’re rejected for who we are, we can contemplate how that feels, and then in turn accept others around us. When our work is put down, we can think again just how important the work of others is, and so remember to value it. When our ideas are overlooked … when our religious beliefs are unfairly attacked … and when we’re simply treated without respect or due consideration, or left without deserved support … then, we can learn from our hurt, turn right around, and treat others all that much better. Hence we indeed have a power to make the world a better place, the power to care about the world far more than the world may ever care about us, and it is precisely by this power that we may all eventually reach a brighter tomorrow.

Regardless of where we may or may not eventually journey to, even in the here and now, in the everyday, care and concern for others can bring personal happiness and a sense of protection as well. For to think well of and act considerately toward others is to act, incidentally, under the auspice of nearly any religious tradition, while even more pragmatically, by the peculiarities of our psychologies, it helps ensure that we’re never truly alone, and that we recognize as much. Indeed then, whenever we act in the true service of others, animals, or the planet, then as Hindus believe, for instance, we accumulate good karma, furthering us throughout our lives to the state of spiritual unity known as moksha. And, whenever we refrain from lashing out at others, or in other words, in at least one regard, refrain from acting on strong personal desires, then as Buddhists believe, we begin to dissipate the weighty karma that binds us to life, furthering us to the desire-less state of bliss known as nirvana. Yet whenever we act with kindness toward others, no matter how we may be treated in return, then so too, as Confucians believe, do we act virtuously, tending towards social harmony; and so too, as Jews, Muslims, and Christians in part believe, do we work for God, furthering us to the eternal rest and joy known as heaven. Thus while our differing religious beliefs are indeed very different in many cases, and certainly different enough so as to be incompatible with one another in their full grandeur and assorted details, perhaps their core sentiments are nonetheless actually much the same. To act for others and the world, then, is to act under the auspice of countless of our religious traditions, for everything that that may mean.

The really amazing part though, and perhaps the most personally unrealized truth in these matters, is that care and concern for others can actually bring about personal happiness, and a sense of protection to boot. For all that which our religions would suggest we do in support of others is, in fact, advisable even from a purely secular viewpoint, owing to the simple way in which our powers of light can also banish loneliness and isolation within. For it has been said that bad things happen to good people, that no good deed goes unpunished, and no doubt, such notions underlie a lot of what many of us do. And, it’s undeniably true to some extent: bad things do happen to good people; implying, perhaps, that going out of our way for others isn’t particularly worthwhile. Yet when you find whole groups of people around you to be inferior … when you find the work and ideas of others to be inconsequential … and when those moments inevitably come, again and again, when you encounter simple limits in what you can do for yourself, to alleviate your own suffering … then, when you feel no motivation to give of yourself in support of others, to help alleviate their suffering … it is then, indeed, that you are truly alone, in a way in which none of us should ever be alone. So, it may be argued that you should limit what you do against others before the law catches up with you; or that, even better, you should act nicely toward others, since some of that good behavior may return to you one day. In truth though, the most fundamental reason that supporting and standing in solidarity with others will help you, is that it’ll save you from ever feeling truly alone and in despair. For no matter what unpleasantries befall you, at all times, you’ll be working for something greater, accomplishing something greater, beyond what you could ever do for yourself alone, and this will protect you in a certain emotional, if not even spiritual way. For is such a protection and feeling that of moksha, nirvana, heaven, or the like? Perhaps it is, and yet it hardly matters. Those states of existence may or may not exist, but if they do, then there you may one day reach, and even if they don’t, then for as long as you’ll live, perhaps you’ll experience all their warmth and protection besides … all for having reached out to others, standing up in their support.

Thus while we continue to face many problems and struggles like we always have, we nonetheless hold the awesome power to change things for the better, the power we use when we simply care for one another, more than others may ever care about us. We can accept one another as equals; value each others’ work, ideas, and religions; and, just in general, be more approachable and understanding. Yet as we go about exercising our powers, there are at least a few things that we should keep in mind. For if it seems too unrealistic, for example, that any of us can ever make such a positive difference, doubtless though it is that it’ll take some effort, we really needn’t all give our lives over to strictly working on behalf of others. Rather, we should give to others precisely to support their own self-interests, and hence, we shouldn’t neglect our own self-interests either. And, certainly, we should seldom interpret “supporting others” to mean letting others take advantage of us, or otherwise harm us; such are times when we ought to just walk away and maintain distance, or else concern ourselves with other, more active methods of self-defense. As well, even as we strive to follow more caring lifestyles, we shouldn’t expect that suffering and bad intentions will ever go away entirely, for we’re simply trying to make things a lot better than they’ve been. Misery, or that which contrasts with the light, enables us to cultivate our powers of light, and so at a certain limit, it’s disappearance can only mean its resurgence. Finally, we might all do better as well to realize that for the individuals directly facing it, in all likelihood, there’s no such thing as death. For if any form of afterlife exists at all, then when one of us dies, we’ll find ourselves there, while if death is truly an end to our conscious experiences, then we’ll have absolutely no idea that we’re dead at all. We won’t be able to relish being freed from our earthly torments then, and in fact, being unable to know that we’re not any of the many other conscious beings still living in all of Existence, then in some unfathomable sense, we’ll go on to “become” all that which is still alive and well, or ever was. Hence, we needn’t live extraordinarily to make our significant contributions; we should never mistake our faith in a better world for a notion that pure and all-encompassing good will prevail, at least within the physical world in which we all live; and, we oughtn’t to ever think that we’ll eventually escape it all somehow, fanciful notions of the world’s end not withstanding, because conscious experience never ceases. As we continue to live out our lives though, with the same old situations playing out all around us, we can and should focus on making the world a better place in which to live, subject to these acknowledgements; for it is then, and only then, that we will shift our journeys away from more of the same, and instead, towards a far brighter, happier tomorrow.

©2013, D.S. Applemin. All rights reserved.

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