Calling My Shot

19365_717013806513_9223634_39963040_868241_nThe earth starts to rumble
World powers fall
A’warring for the heavens
A peaceful man stands tall

– Megadeth

We have a set of very simple choices in front of us:

We can be part of someone’s bad day, or we can be that which makes it better.

We can be silent partners in a world in decline, or we can take responsibility for the shares we hold and work toward recovery.

We can take hold of what we have and hold on for dear life, or we can let go and share the wealth, precisely because life is so dear.

One of my favorite quotes, from George Monbiot’s Age of Consent:

All those with agency are confronted by a choice. We can use that agency to secure for ourselves a safe and comfortable existence. We can use our life, that one unrepeatable product of four billion years of serendipity and evolution, to earn a little more, to save a little more, to win the approval of our bosses and the envy of our neighbours. We can place upon our walls those tombstones which the living erect to themselves: the framed certificates of their acceptance into what Erich Fromm has called the ‘necrophiliac’ world of wealth and power. We can, quite rationally, subordinate our desire for liberty to our desire for security. Or we can use our agency to change the world, and, in changing it, to change ourselves. We will die and be forgotten with no less certainty than those who sought to fend off death by enhancing their material presence on the earth, but we will live before we die through the extremes of feeling which comfort would deny us.

Simple decisions? Yes: simple decisions with fearfully complex implications. Once I decide to step up, once I call my shot, life becomes a whole new ballgame. I said in an earlier post that this isn’t about me, and on one hand that is true. On the other, though, it’s all about me. It’s about who I decide to be in relation to the world around me. Which shouldn’t be about me. Who I decide to be, expressed in the actions I take and the decisions I make. Which, again, shouldn’t be about me. Never about me. The world has to come first, starting with my family (spouse, children, etc.) and spiraling ever outward. Because it’s not about me, it’s all about who I decide to be.

Small exercise: Pinpoint one aspect of “you” that might be conceived of as the weakest link. At its most basic, what sort of work does it need? For me, it’s all about patience (impatience, really). So I look to the traffic light. At its most basic, my impatience stems from a belief that my time, my affairs, are the most important consideration in the world, and when I find myself fuming at a red light, it can be boiled down, pretty much, to that selfish impulse. It’s all about me, and this stupid light is getting in the way.

My first step, then, toward moving myself out of the way and living a world-centered life is, oddly enough, about learning to let stoplights be, and recognizing the importance of others’ lives. When I manage even this insignificant little feat, then it’s not about me anymore. Stress levels drop, frustration falls away, and I’m free to love a world my selfish side demands that I hate. And once that first, baby step is taken, I’m ready for the next: I’m ready to cultivate patience in all situations. Waiting for a table at a restaurant, standing in line at the grocery store–am I really the only person in the world who needs to eat? Much as I’d like to think so, probably not… :0)

Impatience lies at the root of my egocentric world; remove the cornerstone, and the whole structure begins to weaken, and will eventually collapse. And that’s the goal. Therein lie the seeds of the new world order: it’s not about political systems, or religion, or economics; it’s all about who I decide to be.

Choose to be a peaceful person in a world of chaos. It just might be contagious.

Cognitive Dissonance, Republican-Style

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Equality is a reality, not a right.

This morning on Face the Nation, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio made two fairly significant assertions. Put these two statements together, and let the logic-ache begin! Like Ron Silver in Timecop, if they occupy the same space at the same time, nothing remains but a puddle of conceptual goo:

1) Homosexuality is not a choice; rather, sexual preference is from birth;

and

2) Same-sex marriage is not a constitutional right, not for the courts to decide; if gays or lesbians want to marry, they can petition their legislatures like “anybody else.”

In other words, LGBT Americans are born that way, but even so, it is up to the state to decide whether or not they are treated equally.

Does that remind anyone else of anything from our national past?

The question before us is, whether the class of persons described in the plea in abatement compose a portion of this people, and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.

Ten points if you recognize that quote. Clue: It has nothing to do–directly–with the comments made by Marco Rubio, mentioned above. But, before I tell you what it is from, tell me this: that underlined section there–sounds a bit similar, right?

This is a quote from the majority decision of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s 1854 Supreme Court, in a case we like to call, simply, Dred Scott. You know, that time the Court ruled that certain blacks (namely, those whose ancestors were “imports” rather than immigrants; in other words, someone’s property, freighted here like a bunch of bananas) were not, and could not, be considered citizens equal under the law until such time as the law condescended to view them as such…which to that point it had not.

Now, you may protest that these two situations are not the same. But while the details may differ, the sentiment is suspiciously alike. A sector of our society which, according to Rubio himself, through no other circumstance than birth falls into a certain demographic, still must be granted equality by, as Taney phrased it, “those who held the power and the Government.” Because same-sex marriage isn’t, again in Rubio’s words, a constitutional right.

Newsflash: Heterosexual marriage is not a constitutionally-guaranteed right, either. But strangely enough, my wife and I did not have to petition our legislators for the “right” to get married. Hmmm…

The fact of the matter is that opposition to same-sex marriage has nothing to do with the Constitution, and everything to do with the fact that many of us just think it’s weird. We don’t get it, because to us, it’s different. Well, I think it’s weird that someone like Rubio, with his nineteenth-century thinking, could be in the high position he’s in and derive any support in the process. But that, too, is one of the hallmarks of this thing we call “democracy”: anyone is allowed to voice his or her opinion on (almost) any topic. Why?

Because, in this country, everyone is EQUAL.

Shine On!

If nothing we do matters,
then all that matters is what we do.

-Angel

This could be heaven for everyone…

Stop thinking in big, defeatist pictures, and start thinking in kibbles, bits and pieces. Not what can we do. What can I do?

What can you do?

We can build heaven together, but it takes all of us, acting individually, to act together. No one can do it but us. Baby steps. Smiles here, caring touches there. That waitress that keeps dropping stuff? Don’t tip less; tip even more than you normally would. Life’s not about being served. It’s about serving. About being of service to the strangers around us, in the interests of abolishing the term forever. About acting in ways that surprise, that take expectations and dash them to pieces. That transcend the status quo in order to establish a new one. That raise the bar, set a higher standard, that turn human nature on its head and give the human spirit a fighting chance at survival.

It’s not about retribution; it’s not about getting our own out of a situation. It’s about taking what should be our own, and cutting ties with it, giving it away, giving it up. Leggo your ego. Let. It. Go.

Put your self down and step away slowly.

Snot about Me

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Started a landslide in my ego
Looked from the outside to the world I left behind.

– U2

Fire burns brightest when the darkness comes from within.

Last weekend, I was sprawled at the epicenter of the perfect storm. I was sick–couldn’t breathe, nose running several marathons at once, head pounding like Grond at the gates of Minas Tirith. I was also feeling quite sorry for myself. Had there been any worms on hand, I would have been popping them like Skittles. All in all, it was a fairly lousy few days, headspace-wise.

And then, the little metaphorical light bulb went on, and I had a moment of blinding (and in no way Benadryl-related) clarity:

It’s not about me.

Four words. Simple as that. It’s. Not. About. ME.

Over the past week, this has become for me a mantra of sorts. I have never felt more free. Free of myself; free of everything that sets me apart from others and builds walls between us. I can see clearly and to great distances. Once we realize that the horizon is only really the shadow of Self, there is no limit to the power of sight.

This is not to say I’ll never again stumble into the Slough of Despond, or that reciting those words will always keep a smile plastered across my face. I will be depressed, from time to time; I will allow my own pettiness to cloud my awareness of the claims of others to my time and attention. Sometimes, there will be tantrums; other times, there will be inaction lost in the fog of self-pity and doubt. Rajas and tamas go hand in hand.

But if I am to accomplish anything, I have to let go of the Vance-centric state of mind. You may not have noticed, but the word “advancement” has me built right into it. It’s too easy to let that thought dominate my thinking, to become all I am about. Ad-VANCE-ment.

The world is pain individualized. But only because we accept the false premise of individuality. We are not many. We are one. Humankind: a word defined by what kind of humans we choose to be.

I can only make something meaningful of this life I’ve stumbled upon if “I” am no longer involved.

It’s not about me.

I.M.U.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe lives in wisdom,
who sees himself in all and all in him.

– The Bhagavad Gita

Please listen. Because this isn’t about me; it’s about you. And it’s about me.

I recently said, in an e-mail to a friend, that I was taking some time to rethink my goals for this blog, because the endless cycle of bravado and breakdown was proving unsustainable. It occurs to me, though, that this is what life is: we’re all teetering, all the time, on the brink, poised on the precipice that separates false certainty from overwhelming doubt. It’s a shell game, this search of ours: we move our fears from one place to another, like Sisyphus, up the hill, down the hill, and back again.

Happiness is an elusive animal. Here I let Edwin Arlington Robinson speak for me:

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
‘Good-morning,’ and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

In one of my latest posts, I commented that I don’t feel like I belong. On reflection, I see how selfish a statement that is. Who am I, that my belonging or not is what really matters? And what of you? Do you, in the dark moments, in the shadow of gathering clouds and pouring rain, feel that you belong? And if not, where does that leave me?

That’s not as self-centered a question as it seems, I think. Whether you be clod or promontory, we stand or fall together, we fade or remain as one. But we have to understand and honor that connection for it truly to bind us…and by binding us, to set us free. Free from ourselves, in order to be each other.

Let me try to explain.

I have walked in some very dark places. I still do, and I always will. Sometimes, the darkness by its nature obscures perception, redefines sight. When you can’t see past the nose on your face, your face seems to be all that there is. And so I forgot something very important, vitally important. I’m not alone, here in the dark night of the soul. You’re here, too. All of you.

For every face in this world, there is a mask hiding it from view. Masks we’re taught to wear by those who’ve worn them before us. We think we are all different, because the masks make us so, but underneath the masks we wear we share the face that matters. The human face, the face we recognize in one another on those rare occasions when pretense is dropped and the masks come down.

Please understand: I say this not by way of claiming a position of gnostic clarity, but as one whose mask is set firmly in place. If I pretend to be wise, it is because in doing so I may momentarily fool myself into believing I have any wisdom to share. If I pontificate on the “real meaning” of friendship, it is because I myself have no idea what that “real meaning” is. If I claim selflessness, it is because I can just glimpse a light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m self-involved enough to think that light is me.

Really, the light at the end of my tunnel is you. You are what I cannot live without. All of you.

I will not apologize for my weakness, because my weakness stems from my humanity, and without my humanity I wouldn’t be in such need of yours. It’s like this, see: each of us is a piece of the puzzle, and each of us is a puzzle. We are missing pieces, and pieces are missing from us, at one and the same time. Call it a God-shaped hole; call it a donut hole–whatever its shape, we are each of us incomplete as we stand, and it isn’t more cowbell that we need. What we really need–what I really need–is to see the ways in which we fit together. Buddhists call it “interbeing,” but what you call it doesn’t really matter, so long as you know that it’s real.

Of course I belong. I belong to you.