Happy Fools’ Day to you all!
For a video clip from my rant, go here: http://bit.ly/2nUNqUt .
Happy Fools’ Day to you all!
For a video clip from my rant, go here: http://bit.ly/2nUNqUt .
Father’s Day is here again and it may be no coincidence that every year it falls within a week or so of the Summer Solstice, a time when pagans like me celebrate the masculine energy of the sun, the s-u-n, our father who art in orbit, hallowed be thy light. On the solstice you can usually feel the penetrating rays of El Sol, as the Northern Hemisphere of the earth tilts toward the sun in a great bow of respect, calling on us to reflect on our cosmic dance – the fact that we are all riding on this little rock through space, spinning madly around our sun at over 60 thousand miles an hour. Can you feel that space wind on your face?
And you’ve got to love our sun, even though it is a tiny one compared to many in the universe. But size does matter, and our sun is perfectly proportioned — just the right size to service the hot loins of the earth goddess Gaia, giving birth to all life.
Many of our ancestors understood that truth, and for a long time worshipped the sun as god, like the Egyptians who used to go out into the desert, and chant “Rah Rah Rah!” (Sis Boom Bah was added later. The native peoples of Northern California held wild celebrations on the summer solstice, with the shamans of the Chumash and Pomo tribes consuming the psychedelic herb datura, leading people in dances to celebrate the sun and the fertility it brings. Meanwhile in Europe the pagans celebrated the summer solstice with feasts and mock weddings, with the young men and women heading into the fields of tall grasses to have the traditional hot fun in the summertime.
So maybe we should start worshiping the sun again, which would hopefully bring our attention to its awesome power. Otherwise, we are simply going to cook ourselves. And would you like fries with that?
While we are paying some seasonal attention to the sun, let’s not forget the fathers, who have had a rough time in the past few decades and deserve some props. Because after many centuries of wearing only the pants in the family, we were suddenly asked to try on an apron. Then we were told that we were supposed to have an authentic emotion every once in a while, and even be willing to talk about it. So fathers are now expected to be tough and competitive in the economic jungle, and then come home and be tender and nurturing — doing a complete yin-yang switcheroo from alpha male to girlie man just on the way home from work! Evolution did not prepare us for this.
Of course the number one problem for all fathers is that they are “men,” which, in spite of the impression we like to give is not an easy thing to be, mostly due to a particular trait that is found in the male of nearly all species, and that is extreme horniness. Mostly it’s a biological issue. Scientists now estimate that the average human male creates 12 trillion sperm during a lifetime, which means that every man could theoretically populate an entire galaxy with his offspring. Man, talk about delusions of grandeur! But we should also note that every human male ejaculation contains 150 million individual spermatozoa, which indicates that we don’t put much trust in the little fellows. “Hey, everybody swim for your life. One of you will make it.”
Finally, I suggest that we make father’s day a time to honor not only our own father, but also the great fathers of humanity. We could start with our common biological father, who deserves some respect. Because while scientists have traced our human ancestry back to an ape woman who they named Lucy, “the mother of us all,” they hardly ever mention the father of us all, who we must presume was Ricky. Hat’s off to the first dude!
On Father’s Day we can also give a bow to our poet and storytelling fathers, like Homer, Rumi, Blake, Dickens, Whitman and Dylan, who reveal our common destiny and universal heart. We could also offer a bow to our philosopher fathers, such as Plato, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Camus and Wittgenstein, who tried to figure it all out for us. And deep bows to our scientific fathers, like Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Hubble. And a few bows to all our engineering and inventing fathers who discovered cures for nasty diseases and built great bridges and whose labors and genius have made our lives today a relative luxury. And of course we can’t forget our political fathers like Adams and Jefferson who trusted the people to rule themselves and who seeded democracy. And deep bows to those giant fathers like Gandhi, King and Mandela who ignited politics with spirit and soul so that we could all rise above ourselves. And on father’s day we might also honor those super fathers, the archetypes who set the standard, such as the Buddha, Jesus or Mohammed, who pointed us all toward our true nature which is perfectly human, and perfectly divine.
So at this moment of the year, find a way to celebrate the masculine, honoring all the fathers and suns, the boys and the men. And this is Scoop Nisker saying “Go man, go!” And, if you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.
Okay, everybody sing along to the tune of Happy Birthday: “Happy earthday to you! Happy earthday to you! Happy earth day every- body — (Hold this note) — regardless of kingdom, phyla, class, order, family, genus or species — regardless of color of skin, fur, feathers, scales, leaves or bark — (Resume singing) — Happy earthday to you!” And this is Scoop here with the real nitty-gritty and the dirty low down.
And yes, the earth gave birth to all of us: the microbes and the macrobes, the ferns, frogs, fish, finches, four-leggeds, you and me and we are all together. And earthday is everybody’s mother’s day.
And the earth continues to suckle us all, with air and water, food and shelter. And even though we are spinning through space at many thousand of miles an hour, we don’t even have to hold on — because the earth is holding on to us with her strong arms of gravity. She is the ground of our being, our rock of ages.
But we humans seem to be out of touch with our mother (we haven’t called home for a while). Maybe that’s because we stood upright and lifted our heads too far from the ground, fostering the belief that we are above it all. Meanwhile, our major religions have come to regard the earth as just a training planet – a place where you come to learn some lessons or burn off some karma, and then you go off to your true home somewhere else.
But those beliefs are dysfunctional, because they take our reverence away from the home planet, and remove humans from the great web of life.
So on this earthday we want to give a big shout out to uncle Charlie Darwin, who started to spin us a new story about who we are and where we came from – and as Sir Charles wrote in the last paragraph of his book The Origin of Species, “There is a simple grandeur in this view of life…in which endless forms, most beautiful and wonderful have been evolved.” And that includes you and me, beautiful and wonderful “earthlings”– born out of the 3 and a half billion year old drama of life on this planet – a story that contains as much awe and wonder as any bible. To paraphrase cosmologist Brian Swimme: “Only 4 billion years ago the earth was a ball of molten rock, and now it can play the guitar.”
So here we are on earthday 2015, playing the guitar in the holocene, my scene and your scene, living through a nice mild interglacial period. But when people say, “It’s a beautiful day” there is a growing menace that comes with those words. And yes, the bio-hazards are now in the house, with temperatures rising faster than expected, endangered species increasing, a looming water crisis, and so much trouble everywhere that the very word ecology can make you scream… “ekkkkk- ology!!!”
And what is required of us if we are going to heal the mess we have been making is not just recycling and driving hybrid cars. It’s about a change in consciousness; it is about embracing the story of evolution as our new creation myth, and then making ritual around it, singing and dancing it, bringing it alive in the corridors of our psyche and the marrow of our bones.
Speaking of bones, my earthling friends, our bones are made out of phosphates, silicates, carbon — the actual clay of earth molded into this human shape. And most of our bodies are liquid, and most of that liquid has the chemical consistency of the oceans. We literally sweat and cry seawater. We are not only on the earth, we are of the earth; made of all natural earth ingredients. We are certified organic.
And in the story of evolution, we find that we are related to every being that ever lived, through the miracle molecules of DNA, which carry the instruction manual for every form of life on this planet. So we are all cell brothers, and cell sisters. Can you dig it? And as the “t” shirt from the U.C. Santa Cruz biology department reads, “You share 25% of your DNA with bananas. Get over yourself!”
The good news is that once we start to see ourselves in the story of evolution, we will find reason for hope. First of all we see that nature is one tough mother, and that life on earth has so far survived comet collisions, continents bumping into one another, ice ages, the plague, and even Henry Kissinger, so there is reason for optimism.
I also find hope by remembering that the word “ecology” has only been in common use for about 40 years or so – and that the first U.N. conference on the environment only took place in 1970, a blink of an eye ago in biological time. We are just now waking up to our impact on the life of the planet, and just now learning how we have to change our story — and our way of living.
It turns out that what the earth needs most from humans right now is a few years of “negative” economic growth. From the perspective of Mother Nature we don’t need a stimulus package — we need a sedative package. Homo sapiens sure could use a little down time, giving our hearts and minds a chance to catch up with our brilliant tool making ability.
And so I ask you on this earthday, to at least take a vow that you will do something more to help heal and protect your mother. As an American on earthday you could try consuming about a third less of everything than you normally do. Or you could go picket in front of the oil company of your choice; or go out into the ocean and take a swim in the primal amniotic fluid. And while you are out there maybe tie yourself to an endangered coral reef, or play some soothing music for the fish that must be very confused lately due to the changing temperature of the ocean water.
No matter what you chose to do, at some point in your earthday celebration, or your any day earth celebration, take off your shoes and dance on the ground, touching your mother skin to skin. Or just lay down flat, ignore your inner cynic, and give your mama a great big hug. As always, she will kiss you and forgive you, and welcome you home.
And this is Scoop saying, “All praises to the earth. Long may she spin.” And as always, if you don’t like the news go out and make some of your own.
Friends, it’s Thanksgiving time in America — time to raise the praise, pass the platter, and remember that it is mostly gravy for you and me on this rocky little planet. And this is Scoop with my annual list of perceived blessings.
First of all, looking back at history, I feel deep gratitude for living in this place at this time, on the fertile continent of Turtle Island in this era of unprecedented freedom and abundance. Remember, just a few generations ago most of our ancestors were peasants and had to sleep in the same room as their farm animals. They had to live without painkillers, mobile devices, or Velcro. And they hardly had any fun at all aside from learning a few folk songs — “Dum diddle iddle-iddle, dum diddle aye.”
And just think, in only the past two hundred years we have nearly doubled the average human lifespan. So you now get twice as long to be yourself. And that brings me to gratitude for being in my 7th decade of life and still capable of falling in love every time I walk down the street.
In the attitude of gratitude, I will give thanks for the tool-making genius of our species that has created our new global brain – into which I have reluctantly plugged a bunch of my synapses. And I will even give a moderate amount of thanks for my mega-giga-pixilated ap-loaded gee-wiz ram-Ram laptop and neo-cortex extender — with the oh my! wi-fi zip-fly and multi-force graphic blaster — even though I don’t have a clue how it all works, or what it could possibly mean in the course of human history.
Meanwhile friends, we can surely all give thanks for the opposable thumb! Without it just think how difficult it would be to button your pants. Or give a thumbs up. But of course, we now know the real reason for our opposable thumb, and that is – “the better to text with, my dear.”
But there are so many solid reasons to have the attitude of gratitude friends. For instance, let’s all give thanks for living in an interglacial period. You know, getting caught in an Ice Age could ruin your whole day.
I also give thanks that so far today I have not been hit by any falling “space-junk”
I also feel gratitude for the more existential blessings. Like the pictures from the Hubble telescope showing us newly discovered galaxies — and super-nova exploding — and to realize that just one hundred years ago we knew of only one galaxy in the universe. The latest estimate is that there are one hundred to two hundred billion galaxies, containing thirty to fifty billion trillion suns. And I got to know about that in my lifetime! Sometimes it makes me feel insignificant, but at other times I become infused with wonder at the size and the mystery of this universe that I’ve been born into and of which I am a part.
And get this: the astronomers are now estimating — based on information from the Kepler space telescope — that there are millions of other planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone that could support life. It is starting to look extremely likely that there is life all over the universe, and I think this is really good news. If there is other life in the universe it takes the pressure off of us — we no longer have to carry the entire burden of meaning in the cosmos! Whew! We can finally relax.
And as you settle deeper into your seat, you might well give thanks for gravity – because right now all of us are hurling through space on this tiny rock, spinning around on the earth’s axis at a thousand miles an hour, and orbiting the sun at 66 thousand miles an hour. And thanks to gravity, you don’t even have to hold on. Can’t you feel that space wind on your face! What a ride!
I also give deep thanks for living in a time and place where all the world’s wisdom and cultures are available to us. So now I can practice Buddha’s blissful meditation in the morning, and then go out and listen to hot Latin music at night. “Let me hear you say ‘om, cha cha cha.’ Ah hum.”
And of course, friends, I cannot forget to offer thanks for the divine substances – the coffee bean, the cocoa bean, the grape, the malt, and of course, the sweetness of the cane and the hive.
And finally, the one thing I give thanks for almost every day of my life, is the fact that I live by the San Francisco Bay, bordered by the great ocean on one side, and the majestic granite mountains on the other, both visible on a clear day from the East Bay hills. And just to the east the richest farmland in the world, and just to the north the hills reminiscent of Italy or Greece, growing nuts and grapes and olives… and in the middle of it all, the magic metropolis; the dream-like town at the edge of the world. Thank you San Francisco, for being San Francisco.
The list could go on and on friends, and you can make your own – but start out by joining me in the attitude of gratitude – for this next breath. Ahhhh! It is the mystery of life itself moving through you. We only get about 13 million breaths in a lifetime, and then maybe none at all for the rest of eternity, so dig this one. Go deep and taste it.
And this is Scoop, encouraging you all to give thanks all around whenever you can. Love this world, because only if you love it, will you find the energy to preserve its life and beauty. So bow deeply to the mystery inside and all around you… and if you don’t like the news go out and make some of your own.
John Lennon sang it out loud and clear back in 1968: “War is over.” He may have been a little ahead of history, but he was giving voice to a growing disgust with the warlike ways of our species. Other great singers of our time offer similar sentiments as they pose the perennial questions: When will they ever learn? How many times must the cannonballs fly? Where have all the young men gone? War — what is it good for?
We should have declared that war is over after counting up the dead from the wars of the 20th century, during which an estimated 100 million people were killed in armed conflict.
We should have declared that war is over after the “little boy” atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, killing 170 thousand civilians with one blast.
We should have declared that war is over after 50 years of the “cold” war, which saw the United States and Soviet Union engage in the so-called “arms race,” with the two sides eventually building and stockpiling enough explosives to blow up the entire planet 10 times over.
Instead of declaring that war is over, the U.S. pentagon became mired in the absurdity and even made up a new word to describe our capacity to destroy – they called it “overkill!” (Presumably, the second time they kill you it won’t hurt so much because you are already dead.)
The idea of overkill doesn’t seem so far fetched when you consider that the official Pentagon policy during the arms race was called “MAD,” which stands for “Mutual Assured Destruction.” The reasoning (sic.) was that if both sides could blow each other up an equal number of times, then neither side would do it. Brilliant!
Eventually the Pentagon built a new generation of smaller nuclear weapons that the generals thought could be used without triggering a full scale nuclear war. They then declared a new cold war policy called “NUTS,” which stands for “Nuclear Utilization Targeting Strategy.” So the Pentagon officially went from MAD to NUTS! Am I reading too much into these acronyms, or were there a bunch of cynical jokers over at the U.S. war office?
The arms race became so crazy that at one time both sides began researching how to put missiles on the moon. If that sounds to you like lunacy, consider that both sides were also studying how to create a hole in the earth’s ozone layer. The idea was to target and bombard enemy territory with deadly doses of ultraviolet radiation. Until this procedure was banned by the United Nations environmental warfare treaty, it apparently received some serious discussion in the respective war rooms.
But the real tragedy is that during the cold war the United States and Soviet Union turned the entire world into an armed camp, distributing modern weapons to anyone who said they were on one side or the other. And now the military mess is everywhere. And even though the United States claims to have won the cold war, it is more accurate to say that everybody lost. The only winner was war itself.
So now its time to run the arms race backward, and the one nation that can lead the way is the United States. Unfortunately, the U.S. happens to be the biggest arms dealer on the planet. Haven’t you read the advertisement?
Advertisement: “That’s right folks, and now’s a great time to shop at Uncle Sam’s World Wide Weapons Inc., where we’ve got tanks, missiles, jet fighters — you name it — all at rock bottom prices. It’s our annual post-war pre-war sale! And right now at Uncle Sam’s you can get yourself a “flexible armament system” – it can kill one at a time or 20 at a time — and it’s manufactured by General Electric, the folks who bring good things to life. And if you want to protect your home and family in these troubled times, maybe you should purchase a few of your own, easy-loading, surface to air missiles. The best are made by Ford, the people with “a better idea.” We’re talking about your basic military-industrial complex. We’ve been known to sell weapons to just about anyone — nations, tribes, two-bit-dictators, guerilla armies, up and coming warlords — just as long as you’ve got the cash, and swear that you won’t use your weapons against us. Promise? Remember, at Uncle Sam’s we don’t have a foreign policy — we’ve just got weapons.”
We can at least hold out hope that future wars might involve less killing. In the past few decades the Pentagon has developed some “non-lethal” weapons, such as a device that emits a low frequency infra–sound, which causes enemy troops to vomit or defecate uncontrollably. So maybe we could have a war where nobody gets hurt, only humiliated. “Look, the enemy is pooping in their uniforms! We win!”
Another non-lethal weapon being developed is an ultra slick chemical that creates such a slippery surface that troops fall down and tanks are unable to maneuver. It’s Keystone cops warfare, and I’m totally in favor of it. Of course, the best non-lethal weapon of all would be a bomb that sprayed nitrous oxide over the enemy. Get them laughing and they’re yours.
War is over – because it is simply too absurd to continue. Just consider the Geneva Conventions, which is basically a set of rules for conducting war. According to these rules it’s okay to go out and try to kill people, but if you don’t kill them and instead only capture them, then you have to treat them nicely. “Oh, so sorry we didn’t kill you. Can we get you a cup of tea and something to eat?”
There should only be one rule of war, my friends — no fighting!
The United States should declare that war is over, if for no other reason than the fact that our continued obsession with war is killing us – draining our energy, our genius, and our resources. The same thing happened to the Roman Empire, and so many superpowers that came before us. We are spending well over half of a trillion dollars a year on our military, which is more than almost all of the other military budgets in the world combined. It’s a classic episode from the scenario of decline and fall. And, as George Bernard Shaw wrote, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”
So let us declare, for our own sake, that war is over. Let’s tell the world that we are going to bury the hatchet for good, beat the swords into plowshares, trade the guns for butter. And I know it sounds politically naïve, but let’s announce a new policy on all weapons of war, and the policy is this: we don’t make them anymore, we don’t sell them anymore, and we don’t use them anymore.
Humanity may be nearing the end of ideological wars, the ones fought over the name of God or some utopian political fantasy. However, changing climate conditions are soon likely to present us with other reasons for conflict – diminishing resources, mass migrations, devastating droughts and floods. What will be required is for humans to shift our allegiance from tribes and nation states to our common identity as members of a species, and as an integral part of the whole of life on earth. What is becoming clear is that the coming era will require of humans a new kind of consciousness.
In the book of Genesis we hear God commanding us to “Fill the earth and subdue it.” It seems that now it is time to subdue that impulse. For most of human history we have been busy trying to protect ourselves from nature, and now we are being called on to protect nature from us. But we are nature, and that is exactly the shift of perspective we need if we are going to live in harmony with the other life on this planet; if we are even going to survive as a species.
So we turn to the Buddha dharma, where we find a different kind of warrior; one who has learned how to use the sword of wisdom, and the shield of mindfulness, and can tame his or her own mind. Humans seem to have the unique ability to learn how to override the fear and aggression that we inherited from nature, and it is through this newly discovered power that we can begin to break free of our tribal instincts and our stifling individualism. On the path of Dharma we can simultaneously begin to heal ourselves and our world.
And just imagine what could happen if we took all of the genius and energy we now spend on making and preparing for war, and apply that to healing the eco-systems of our planet. “You may think I’m a dreamer….” The coming hard times present us with a great opportunity. Let’s say it together, loud and clear — WAR IS OVER!
The dark, oh the dark!
It’s not really so stark, the dark.
Just a time without light, a bark without bite.
A time to rest from the glare of the sun,
A time to get something done, or undone.
Inside your mother you could not see.
The womb of the world is a black hole in space.
The dark is the place of fertility.
In the dark you can see your original face.
Without the dark we would not know there was light.
We would never see day without seeing the night.
And there’s nothing to fear, really nothing to fear,
This darkness keeps turning our way every year.
So the season of darkness is here once again,
And sometimes it feels like it never will end.
But the sun is reborn every year at this time,
And out of the dark will be born the sublime,
And maybe even a new paradigm
That will light up the world and continue to shine.
So just keep the faith, and have little doubt
That soon the sun will decide to come out.
It will shine much longer and stronger each day,
And the dark will retreat and the cold go away.
So friends, when the winter has truly begun,
know that you soon will arise like the sun.
Lately I have been seeing dots. Everywhere I look there are dots in front of my eyes. Other people seem to be seeing them too, and almost everyone I talk to these days, at some point in our conversation will say the word “dot.”
Of course, the dot has been around for a long time. It has been used as part of the small case letter “I”, and also to signal the end of a sentence, period. Legend has it that the dot was invented by a woman named Dorothy who desperately wanted to slow down the flow of information. Dot, dot, dot…. The dot was also found to be very useful to mathematicians and moneylenders who renamed it the “decimal point” and used it to separate the primary numbers from the fractions; the dollars from the cents.
But I fear that what we are seeing today is an alien dot, one that is being used by evil forces to undermine our civilization and to destroy life as we know it. Just look around and you will see this dot everywhere, appearing on every piece of written material, in television advertisements and on all billboards. And you’ll notice that this alien dot is not connected to sentences or to the letter “i.” Most of these new dots are just sitting there, often surrounded by a few nonsensical letters that seem to be placed there just to camouflage the alien dot’s real intent. Or else you’ll see the dots following the three letters “www” which to me looks like an obvious code for world domination.
Which brings me to what I believe may be a dangerous conspiracy – the “Dot Con.” It could be run by beings from outer space, or possibly it is a new Mafia organization with a dot Don.
Whoever or whatever is behind it, the Dot Con seems to have installed itself primarily in younger people – the dot people. And even though they try to appear casual and cool, they spend almost all their waking hours devoted to the dot culture and to the production of new dots. You can tell who has become one of the dot people by looking into their eyes where you can actually see the dots reflected.
You can tell where the Dot Con has already invaded: you’ll see people sitting in little cubicles or at café tables staring into lighted screens, being hypnotized into zombie-like dot drones. And it seems that the more dots they see, the more they become mesmerized, and soon they start believing that they must have their own dot. They start to have dot envy, and they become what is known in psychological circles as “dotty.”
Of course I may be wrong about all of this. Maybe I’m hallucinating the dots; fantasizing the Dot Con. Maybe I’m just getting old and entering my “dot-age.” But I don’t think so. It all fits together too neatly. And if I’m right, then we all have to fight back against this insidious takeover of our lives and language right now, before it is too late and we all become dot drones.
I ask you to join me in this struggle: try to ignore the dots, and whenever possible erase them. Encourage each other’s resistance with the chant, “We will not! We won’t dot.” Be vigilant and maybe we can still save our civilization from ruin, period.
It was a significant moment in the history of the Dhamma, that winter of 1971 in Bodhgaya, when S. N. Goenka began to teach his 10 day retreats in vipassana meditation, attended primarily by young people from the West. Most of us had come to India on a pilgrimage to check out the source of this ancient wisdom tradition that we had been reading about at college in paperback books; the writings of hip scholars like Alan Watts and the spiritual beatnik poets.
I attended my first meditation retreat with Goenka that winter, there at the Burmese Buddhist Vihara, where 30 or 40 of us had gathered, spreading our hippie backpacks and sleeping bags across the roof and through the garden; a new generation from the other side of the planet looking for liberation on the road; on the Buddha’s path.
Some have since called it “the meditation retreat that shook the world.” In spite of the fact that it was a somewhat random convergence of individuals, among those in attendance were Ram Dass and his entourage, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Daniel Goleman, John Travis and others who would return to the West with the jewels of the Dhamma, beautifully polished and presented to us by Goenkaji, as we affectionately called him. That retreat helped to spawn many books and launch many teachers who would eventually help to create a spiritual revolution in the world.
Goenka was a worldly man and taught a straight-ahead Dhamma, perfect for Westerners, using science and common sense and lots of good humor. He used to say, “I’m not teaching Buddhism. I’m teaching the art of living.”
He had an interest in theater and happened to have a lovely baritone voice. I will never forget listening to Goenka singing Buddhist chants to us in the early morning and evening, many of the melodies composed by Goenka himself. I can hear his voice mixing with the tinkle of rickshaw bells and the cries of street vendors just outside the Vihara.
Goenkaji’s love of the Dhamma was palpable, and we trusted him, and practiced hard with him, and under his kind gaze we also fell in love with the Dhamma. Although like many of us who attended those first retreats with Goenka, I went on to study with other teachers, I will always remember scanning my awareness through my body, focusing on the ever-changing physical sensations as Goenkaji chanted to us “Annica! Annica!” (Impermanent! Impermanent!) I will also remember his sincerity, his wonderful laugh, and his admonishment to us at the close of every sitting: “Be happy! Be happy!”
Goenkaji was a true master of the Dhamma, and his presence will be missed in the world.
Wes Nisker wesnisker.com
Labor Day weekend marks the last sigh of summer — and just when you were starting to relax, here’s Labor Day to signal the start of the busy season. It’s time to get hyperactive again! The speed-up has a lot to do with the autumn chill that causes our metabolism to kick into a higher gear, and then we begin acting out the legacy of our Paleolithic ancestors who had to do major hunting and gathering in order to survive the winter. So right after Labor Day we begin our annual shopping binge, the modern day version of hunting and gathering. Labor Day also marks the start of the school year and of course the appropriate sport of football to accompany the crunch of autumn leaves and the full-tilt intensity of our lives in this millennial bardo.
So Labor Day weekend is the time to lay down that plow, hang up your cell phone, and then pick up your Union flag and wave it high from the rooftop of your corporate headquarters and sing, “Solidarity forever….”
But “labor” is really the wrong word for what most of us do to earn a living. Labor is done with muscle and blood, skin and bone. It gets your hands dirty, your elbow greasy and your blue collar sweaty. You tote that barge, lift that bale, load 16 tons and what do you get? (A reduced pension and no health-care coverage.) Labor is done with plow and tiller, hammer and sickle. It grows our food, builds great highways and bridges, and constructs cities full of tall skyscrapers — and that’s where the rest of us go to work, which happens down at the office, with computer and copier, text and phone, moving numbers and symbols from one cubicle to another on the information superhighway. It turns out that most of do work that only makes use of the muscles of our fingers, sometimes engaging our forebrains as well. But most of us who work do not labor. In fact, we hardly ever leave our chairs.
But listen up all you laborers and “workers of the world!” (Quaint old phrase.) Aren’t you insulted to find out that your big boss — the one who runs the company that owns your company — now makes 500 times more than the people who do the actual work; people like you? And even when that big boss fails miserably at his job and drives your company into bankruptcy, he still walks away with a multi-million dollar bonus. And this is after the company cut your pensions and health benefits, or maybe even cut your job, sending it off to China in the satchels of the World Trade Organization. And to add insult to insult, many of the corporations you work for don’t pay one single cent in taxes to support your public schools, or public health and safety, or public anything. They claim that their corporate headquarters are in Barbados or somewhere off-shore, so they don’t owe anything to America. Workers, you should be more than insulted, you should be real pissed off.
And workers of the world, when are we all going to wise up and rise up, and demand that the corporations pay us for wearing their names and logos around on our t-shirts and hats? No more free advertising!
Yes, workers of the world, I know that someone once said “the business of this country is business,” but can’t we make it something else for a while? How about “the business of this country is peace” or “the business of this country is fun and games,” or “the business of this country is the health and the healing of the planet.” I’m not talking here about “capitalism” or “communism”. As Abbie Hoffman said, “All ism’s should be wasm’s.” What I’m talking about is sanity and survival.
So, workers of the world — and especially you young people who are looking for your passion and purpose and means of expression — as you celebrate Labor Day weekend I urge you to consider the great work, the larger purpose of your life which may not have anything at all to do with your job. Maybe your real work in this lifetime is to understand yourself better and learn how to see the full on moment-to-moment beauty and sacredness of life. Maybe your real work in the world is helping to preserve endangered species, or cleaning up the ocean. Maybe your real work right now is to learn how to simplify your life so that you won’t have to spend so much of it working. And no matter what your job, your politics or religion, you just might discover that your real work in this life is nothing less than the labor of love.
And this is Scoop Nisker saying, “Keep “stickin’ to the union” — if you can find one. And of course, if you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.
Lately I find myself engaging with friends in an ancient and revered form of discourse whose origins lie in the dim past of humanity. To take part in this talking ritual requires only that you have reached a certain age and are willing to expose your innermost self. I am referring to the art and practice of “geezing.”
Often it starts with an innocent greeting such as, “How are you?” When we were younger the answer was usually, “Fine, how are you?” Lately however, with friends of a certain age, I find that the question will open into a extended discourse about health and aging, reminiscent of the classic Buddhist reflection on the 32 parts of the body — a report on the liver, lungs, joints, muscles, kidneys, heart – a conversation sometimes known as “the organ recital.”
Geezing can be about any part or function of the body. So, for instance, I notice that I’m not as steady on my feet as I used to be. While I’m not actually stumbling, I am wobbling a little. What should I have expected? I’ve been carrying this over-sized head around on 2 thin legs for almost 7 decades now. It’s a balancing act, and gravity is beginning to win. I am homo erectus, looking for a place to lie down for a while.
But geezing is not just about physical infirmities. There are mental ones as well. At one geezing gathering, after cursing our loss of memory, a few of us came up with a memory game. It’s probably a good brain exercise, and also offers a Dharma teaching – revealing the impermanence of cultures and beliefs and how much we are defined by our moment in history. I made a list of some of our memories. We start every line with the phrase “I’m so old I remember….”
Recently, during a session of geezing I looked around at my friends and realized that the map of their faces had become topographic, the wrinkles sculpted into the masks they wear: the eye edges crinkled from decades of smiles and squints; the worry canyons etched into a forehead; the pensive valleys around a mouth, disappearing into the growing folds of the neck skin. It was as if their personalities had emerged onto their faces.
By the way, speaking of the exposed epidermis, I finally figured out why we get those little age spots that appear on our skin as we grow older: it is nature’s way of marking us as part of the next group to be taken. Yikes!
In recent sessions of geezing I find myself trying to put a positive spin on aging. Look at it this way: you wouldn’t want to be facing death with a youthful mind and body now, would you? Think of all the fun you could still have! But aging forces you to give it up, piece by piece. And when there is hardly any energy left in the body, and it hurts here and it hurts there, and your definition of fun is a long nap, then you might consider death as not so terrible. It all fits together. We bow in gratitude for it all, including aging and death.
Recently I was sitting around with a few friends, and we began speculating on death, what happens next, where we will be going. One of my friends — someone who has actually read the Abidhamma in Pali — said that what happens after death depends on conditions at the moment we die. He warns us, only half joking, “If you die with lust in your heart, you may come back as a rabbit.”
“I’m not going to start worrying about my next life,” I reply, “because I’m still not done worrying about this one. Besides, I don’t really believe in reincarnation, so I’ve got nothing to worry about. In fact, the only thing I have to worry about is nothing.”
Indeed, a lot of my practice these days is to make nothingness more real; to bring it into focus. I’m scouting out the territory. I often do it at the end of each exhale – plunging myself into the void along with my breath. At some moment in the future there will be no following in-breath.
Jorge Luis Borges has a wonderful line about what happens at the end: “Death is just infinity closing in.”
Meanwhile, two distinct moods seem to accompany my aging, both deepening with the passing days. One is poignancy, a sense of fragility and loss in the midst of all experience. I see a family playing with their children on the swings in the park, and while I delight in the scene I know how quickly those moments will evaporate. I also realize that I will not have those particular worldly joys again. And when I am laughing and joking with my daughter I sometimes feel the grief of our parting. How does one “let go” of such worldly delights?
Wandering the hills of Northern California, I carry the realization that I will someday be leaving this place I love, forever. Never again will I see the great pines waving through the in-flowing fog, or the gnarled sculpture of the oaks standing firm; or smell the vibrant decay of the woods punctuated with the tang of fennel and eucalyptus – all of it will vanish, along with my senses themselves.
Lately I find that I am missing myself in the world, ahead of time.
The poignancy that I feel is occasionally associated with my own diminishing possibilities. I don’t expect to become a whole lot happier or stronger or more successful than I am now, or even more enlightened. Okay, so I might be able to inch a little closer to “the deathless state.” But it better happen soon.
I know that this poignancy is a symptom of my love for the world and my attachment to being alive in it. Luckily, in counter point to the poignancy runs a growing disenchantment with it all. That feeling may simply be age appropriate to older people, but it is also possible that the teachings of the Buddha have finally taken hold in me. I figure that either I am becoming enlightened, or just plain bored.
I am growing tired of seeking new and exciting experiences. There are a few places on the planet that I would still like to visit — the Galapagos, Mongolia — and a good movie or a fine dim sum restaurant or the sight of a beautiful woman can still spark my interest and delight. But I admit to having grown somewhat “pleasure weary.” Maybe it’s because I have had plenty of pleasure in my life and have arrived at a place where most experience is a rerun. You know, “Been there, done that.” Also, more and more frequently the effort to make something pleasant happen is simply not worth the payoff.
Maybe my disenchantment is because our world has, in fact, lost some of its innocence and shine. Could it be that my own decline and fall is running parallel to that of my civilization? On second thought, this displeasure with one’s culture is probably just another age-appropriate sentiment, one that has been a prime motivation for geezing through the ages. The perennial discussion usually begins with the phrase “Back when I was a kid….”
That said, let me admit for the record that I don’t like much of the music the kids are listening to these days. (I never thought I would say such a thing.) The lyrics are often incomprehensible and most of the ones that I do understand I would rather not. There is usually no melody worthy of humming and the synthesized electronic drones and drumbeats are just annoying to me. I could go on about my lack of enthusiasm for contemporary art, theater, movies, books, and journalism, but maybe all my complaints about modern culture are simply due to the fact that I’ve consumed so much of it over the years. I am stuffed.
There is a more lofty way to look at my disenchantment. It may indeed be a sign that I have reached a new place on the path of realization, the one announced in the Puralasa Sutta, where it proclaims that for the Buddha, “The intoxication of being has been destroyed and eliminated.”
The Buddha was certainly no romantic. He even warned us against becoming attached to those we love, as in the discourse entitled, “Suffering born of those who are dear.” Yes, the Buddha does call this human life “precious,” but that is because humans can understand themselves and end the stream of karma, thereby escaping another birth. The primary goal of this life is to become a “non-returner.”
I sometimes feel that being alive is more of a burden than a blessing, but I am somewhat ashamed of this sentiment. I was brought up in a culture of humanism that cherishes life, and trying to escape another turn on the wheel feels as if I am betraying my own cause, devaluing everything that I love.
Nonetheless, when I hear that life is not a desirable condition, I often feel a sense of relief. If life is not supposed to be easy or enjoyable or filled with obvious meaning, then I can relax. I’m not getting it wrong. This is just the way life on this planet is designed.
So at times my disenchantment with the world and life feels like liberation. The risk is that for me that feeling too easily slips into indifference, a cold, brittle place where “nothing matters.” It is equanimity on ice.
Besides, I much prefer the feeling that comes from loving the world. (I’m sure evolution wanted us to love it.) I’m talking about the big love here, where you take the whole of creation into your heart, warts and all, and say, “Yes. This is worth all the pain and confusion!” I can get into a sweet place wandering the edges of jhana or catching a glimpse of the radiance of mind, but the older I get, the more I look for my satisfaction in loving. If I have to pay the price of a little poignancy or a sense of impending loss, then so be it.
So, love is the answer, again. And one thing I love to do is sit around with a bunch of friends who have lived through this era and culture with me, and have a good session of laughing and geezing; about the Dharma and the drama and the long strange trip it’s been.