Saturday, October 26, 2013

Understanding Comfort (or, How to Panic in Slow Motion)

I am aghast. The pigeons are cheating on me. I was zooming (buzzing) down the road the other day and saw a flock of pigeons playing in the sky. They landed on the roof of the hospital, all nicely lined up on the edge and there they were - Ralph and Edie in the middle, the two white doves. All of them were staring at me. 

That is not a projection. Pigeons are very smart, loyal and can recognize people. They usually can recognize the scooter and me from 4 blocks away and gather on the street. They seem shocked to see me down by the hospital too. Little stinkers. Serves them right I forgot to get rice and they kibitzed and complained their way through the pumpkin seeds and crushed soy nuts of this morning. Of course this didn't stop me from running in to get fresh rice as soon as I saw them back on the mill chimneys. They play me like a fiddle.
Someone commented recently that the most amazing thing to see is a) how happy I get talking about the pigeons and b) how up I am on their drama. What can I say? Life without TV and a YouTube habit begins to make the antics of living things interesting.
I had a moment, earlier in the week, in which everything went awry. A part of what I do is freelance writing and I am on a long term contract right now that is dependent on my meeting a daily 8am deadline. If you don't meet the deadline, you are off the contract no matter how long you have been doing the job. It is the nature of the work. 
7:07 and the Virgin Mobile Tower decides to get shy and hide from my phone. I access the Internet via a June Fabrics connection (if you don't know what that is, look it up, it will make your budget happy). 7:12 and there is no sign of the Tower coming back, I have no Internet connection and am watching my potential stable income fall away.
I am crushed, thinking that the soonest I am scheduled to be out in a place with Wi-Fi will be 10am and excuses just won't fly with this job. It's the first cold morning and it is just not a good thing. Then it occurs to me that I have the eZip. There is a momentary struggle inside as I wrap my brain around the 30 degree chill and I realize that I am clinging to the idea of only being able to reach Wi-Fi by ten because of my comfort. But what is more comfortable? To be able to meet responsibilities and support yourself? Or to be warm on a cold morning and lose it all?
I decide to rush off to the nearest Wi-Fi spot, have a donut and make the upload deadline. So off I go fueled by that underlying panic and dread of missing something you promised to do.
It wasn't until I was on the road, leaning forward with the throttle slammed down that I realized that panic, rushing and stress just don't go with the eZip. I came across more like a cross between the Wicked Witch of the West on a kick-n-go chasing a Dorothy who was walking than someone speedily resolving a technological problem. By the time I crossed the pedestrian bridge at a masterful 8 mph against the biting wind, I was singing to myself and relaxed. I knew I would make the deadline, but the need to rush and panic was gone. If I missed it, I would still come close enough to know that I tried and whatever happened would happen.
I live a very small life with a lot of limitations that originate from a lack of income. Once upon a time, I had a very different kind of life with tons of disposable income. As I came to know what I believed in, having a life that matched it with integrity became more important than holding onto the comforts that money can buy. But it isn't just the material comforts I have given up, time and time again I have to face choices between sacrificing or loosening up just a bit of what I know is integrity in order to make something easier. I don't always make the right choice immediately. Most often I will adopt a passive "let me think" attitude which is little more than an attempt to see if somehow the world will turn and I will be able to have some of both worlds. Life isn't like that. 
If you dare to believe in something, it is only worth the integrity of the life you live that reflects it. I am thinking of the Bishop of Bling, Deepak Chopra, Cheng Yen and Mother Theresa. The latter two live(d) as best they could with integrity; the former spend an awful lot of time telling us why people would expect proponents of anti-materialism to have multi-million dollar mansions and nice cars. Here is a truism in life - unless you live what you believe then you don't really believe in it.
It isn't that you cannot make a good living doing good things and helping people, it's that if you choose the wrong form of payment you will pay with your soul. Money is fairly useless to someone with goals of compassion, care and community. It has its use, but it is a very limited tool and its value is not that high. Time, commitment, service, dignity and integrity - these are the commodities of the compassion trade. Money is nice and has its use, but if you are bringing in too much money in a compassionate endeavor and not more service and time from people, then something has gone very wrong.
Money is a tool that has outgrown its value representation in more ways than just not having gold to back it up. Yet it isn't just money and items that represents materialism. One need only look to the Prosperity Theology that defines American Christianity and the New Age Movement to see that. 
The monetization of spiritual pursuit, not in the sense of cost but in the rise of the spiritual experience and practice as a form of social capital has been swift over the past three decades. The more you can lay claim to a direct experience, the more worthy you are perceived and the more artificially inflated your sense of self-worth. 
I am a huge fan of Meetup and have noted of late the growing numbers of spiritual groups featuring meetups that promise a spiritual or mystical experience on demand. This type of "peak experience" demand can't do anything but create an eventual implosion. Like the revival tents and faith healers of the depression era and the mediums of the late 1880s, every time we react to periods of demonstrated lack of control over our circumstances we seek a miracle bias that shows how we can make God itself show up on demand. In fact, just the other day a new group posted that is featuring table tapping. The result of this reaction is a form of communal narcissistic angst that then eats away at our individual ability to act with compassion, consideration and care - for ourselves and others. This narcissistic angst also generates an inability to withstand dis-stress and an immediate demand for relief from all pain - emotional, physical or mental. 
People begin to jump from faith to faith, belief to belief, when they "stop working;" or worse, become strident true believers who don't even engage with what they believe anymore unless they can be seen. All of this creates a person and society that is lacking in the values of patience, modesty and humility. These "three jewels" are essential to the spirit of life because they acknowledge the individual lack of control and efficacy, while emphasizing the balance of individual necessity to the whole. It is keeping this balance of "us and them" in delicate movement that provides for spiritual fullness as well as individual and communal health. The currency exchanged is consideration which requires an outward turn to the interior life and weighs responsibility to effects that will not be felt by the individual. We don't hear much about developing a sense of accountability and responsibility towards others in our Westernized religions, but that is what is at the core of all the different Eastern and Middle Eastern ones we have adopted. To take it one step further, it is even at the core of the indigenous beliefs localized on this continent. Yet we have lost that in the West and now are pushing our western individuation to the East, despite the evidence we now have of how destructive and ill it can make society.
The answer doesn't lie in turning inward, but outward. To still your mind and emotions and realize that however you define the world is not as important as how your definition works with another's. This is why they say that you cannot come to love yourself until you love another because without an external reflection from an autonomous life that we feel responsible for - we are nothing but children wanting fairytales and surety in a world where the only sure thing that exists is that we all are dependent and responsible for each other.

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