Radical Acceptance, Desire, Suffering, And the Ways of the Universe

As a child I had a great sense of fairness in my mind in the way I thought things worked in the world.  For one I was a good hearted kid.  I liked people and found comfort and strength in relationships.  I was also raised in church.  From the pulpit things always seem to turn out right for God’s people by the end of any given sermon.  The preacher never hooped and hollered a sad ending when climaxing the point of his message.  Then there was Hollywood.  In movies and television, the good guys always won at the end.  Justice was always served.  I recall the first time I saw the good guys ‘lose’ and a bad guy get away was in an episode of “Hill Street Blues.”  Though I don’t recall the exact details I do remember feeling jarred emotionally with a sense of loss and injustice.  Nowadays that’s pretty common for TV.  Seasons 1-5 of “The Wire” crystallized the realities of life more than any other show in television history.

For me there has always maintained this inner struggle between right and wrong, truth and justice, fairness and hardships.  All of these factors mentioned above made muttering through life mentally and spiritually difficult many a day.  I struggled with questions like why do people hurt others on purpose?  Why do good things happen to bad people?  Why do bad things happen to the good people?  Why would an elected official do evil things to the people he/she serves?  Why would a friend betray you or someone hurt you if you gave them your all?  All my life I’ve heard that doing the right things, working hard and treating people justly will bring good fortune and a good life.  I’m almost 45 years old now and through the study of history, events from around the world and life in general, it feels as if I’ve seen it all in some form or another.  And all that I’ve seen show that life is way more complicated than this.

The above mentioned formula didn’t seem to work true to life.  And most of my internal struggles have been an attempt to decipher the ways of how I fit in within the schemes of constant contradictions and suffering through good intentions.

It was my counselor and life coach Mrs. Francis Thomas (Miss Francis I call her) who first introduced to me the concept of ‘radical acceptance.’ Sitting in her office she forced me to consider ‘Letting go of fighting reality and accept your situation for what it is.’  Sounds simple doesn’t it?  Folks have a term for it nowadays.  “It is what it is.”  How many times have we heard that one?  Taking a closer look however, the concept of truly accepting things as they are is not natural to our culture.  There is and always has been a push and pull to try to influence or change reality.  And why not?  That what this country has been since immigration.  People came to this land to be what they wanted and live in a fashion empowered by personal ambition.  Those causes weren’t altogether pure either in that often living a chosen life rarely included allowing others to do the same.  And so there was and is conflict for the remaining up and comers, even till this day.  (See Colonization, Slavery, The fight for Civil Rights and Immigration)

And so we live, we love, we compete, and we pursue a vision not for what we accept but for that which we desire personally, vocationally, culturally, and institutionally.

This is our living.

And yet the midst of pursuits in happiness there is always a fly in the ointment of the oil that flows through what we call life.  Suffering.

No matter what we do, suffering seems to be inevitable.  I’ve tried to minimize mine as much as possible by following the golden rules.  But that’s too simple in the scheme of things.  So I sought knowledge.  How can I eliminate or reduce suffering?

Buddhist teaching reveals that the very cause of suffering is the attachment to ‘desire’ or craving.  The Second Noble Truth for instance include:

The Cause of Suffering– samudaya
The principle cause of suffering is the attachment to “desire” or “craving” (tanha). Both desire to have (wanting) and desire not to have (aversion).
1. Desire for sense-pleasures–kama-tanha
The desire for sense pleasures manifests itself as wanting to have pleasant experiences: the taste of good food, pleasant sexual experiences, delightful music.
2. Desire to become–bhava-tanha
The desire to become is the ambition that comes with wanting attaiments or recognition or fame. It is the craving to “be a somebody”.
3. Desire to get rid of–vibhava-tanha
The desire to get rid of the unpleasant experiences in life: unpleasant sensations, anger, fear, jealousy.
The clinging to desire comes from our experience that short-term satisfaction comes from following desire. We ignore the fact that satisfying our desires doesn’t bring an end to them.

Part of the Third Noble Truth simply says:

The end of suffering is non-attachment, or letting go of desire or craving.

In my spirit I totally understood and resonated with the substance of these words.  I sensed a light or a glimmer of hidden wisdom that I had never seen.  This was especially enlightening because by nature I am a doer, a man of action.  If I want something to be a certain way, I did what I could to make it happen.  I used action in an attempt to gain the reaction I desired. (Good deeds, hard work etc.) The thought of letting go of desire seemed to be a game changer.  A freeing experience if you will.  I started the process of embracing this concept slowly in my life.

Reading this may give the impression that by letting go of desire we are to just stand pat and allow whatever happens to happen in our lives.  That brings me to another teaching form Miss Francis.  “A life or inner peace will not consist of embracing an all or nothing paradigm.”

My journey of living is a continuous evolution of learning that the colours of life are rarely black and white, but shades of varying schemes that paint the world.  If there are no desires, there is no progress.  I believe we were created and the Universe calls for us to make contributions towards giving and receiving from the earth, as well as it’s inhabitants.  We can’t make a difference without having a ‘desire’ for something better.  Our humanity provides that we are creatures with feelings and emotions, as well as creativity and logic.  We not only want to survive, but thrive in serving and fulfilling a purpose all the while enjoying pleasure and senses of accomplishment.  The key is balancing all of life’s journey with a certain brevity and perspective.

In the bible Paul deals with this dichotomy.

In Philippians 3:14 he says he continues to press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.

In Philippians 4:11 he says he’s learned to be content with whatever state he’s in.

Ecclesiastes 3 goes in great detail identifying the cycles of seasons and change in our existence.

The reality is that as long as we are living there will always be this struggle in understanding the push and pull of life; What to try to change and what to accept, how to love in the midst of hurt, pain, or rejection; Whether we are indeed living in a season or if it’s within our power to change the climate.

For in our flawed sense of justice through our blurred lenses the wicked do often prosper, good is not always rewarded, the good die young, love is not always returned gracefully.  Neither the good nor the bad are always what they seem.  And even the very best of us are often guilty of doing to others that which hurt us the most.

I submit that walking in the balance of universal harmony in the midst of it’s seemingly continuous contradictions is impossible for the natural life.  Indeed it requires a supernatural experience and existence which must be practiced if not perfected.

We should desire to be significant though not necessarily popular.  (Though being significant can bring fame.) By focusing on the process of living as well as the intent and ramifications of our actions rather than the results, in the end, I believe the Universe will balance and pay, and regulate accordingly.

And if not,… well then hey, it is what it is.

BB&G Explores Religion & Political Conflict

I was watching Meet The Press on Sunday morning, and of course one of the topics featured was the current crisis between Israel and Hamas.  As Hamas fires it’s missiles and Israel advances via ground, I imagine this is partly because there is a new administration coming into power later this month.  The Bush administration is of course an unrepentant supporter of Israel.  And while Obama says he also supports the nation just approaching 60 years since their declaration of independence, I don’t think the limits are known to Jews.  They may find it to their advantage to get a foot in certain geological and political places before Obama takes over.

What fascinates me as gas prices slowly rise again in the midst of this conflict, is the age old source of the initial conflict, religion.  In this case the beef between the Jews and a particularly radical group of Palestinians. 

I grew up experiencing and participating in various denominations of Christianity.  For a time I considered myself a rather devout Christian.  Now what that means to the reader is certainly subjective as we will get into later on.  I have also questioned and taken Christianity to task on differing subject matters.  I studied religion in college as well, and that really gave me an insight into how the religious beliefs of man determine lifestyles, laws, treaties, alliances and enemies.  It is the oldest and most consistent source of conflict in the world.  And when taken to such extremes, it seems as if it will never end.  Take the discussion on Meet The Press.  One of the guest was Jeffrey Goldberg, a Jewish American writer who currently writes for The Atlantic.  He had occasion to speak with Nizar Rayyan a late military leader of  Hamas who was said to be killed on New Years Day.  In his column from January 2,  Goldberg had asked Rayyan about the possibility of peace between Israel and Hamas.  This is what he wrote:

The question I wrestle with constantly is whether Hamas is truly, theologically implacable. That is to say, whether the organization can remain true to its understanding of Islamic law and God’s word and yet enter into a long-term non-aggression treaty with Israel.  I tend to think not, though I’ve noticed over the years a certain plasticity of belief among some Hamas ideologues. Also, this is the Middle East, so anything is possible.
There was no flexibility with Rayyan. This is what he said when I asked him if he could envision a 50-year hudna (or cease-fire) with Israel: “The only reason to have a hudna is to prepare yourself for the final battle. We don’t need 50 years to prepare ourselves for the final battle with Israel.” There is no chance, he said, that true Islam would ever allow a Jewish state to survive in the Muslim Middle East. “Israel is an impossibility. It is an offense against God.”

And there you have it.  This guy’s way of looking at his faith, or so he said was that no way his God would allow another people to live peacefully and that the only reason for a cease fire was to load up weapons and artillery for future battles.  Now don’t get me wrong, I have opinions on this as well as other conflicts both current and historical.  This “Deity Factor,” a phrase I coined in college which I will post later explains this perfectly.  But that is not the purpose of this post or the series which I plan to explore for the week.

My question is how do we deal with religion in the 21st century.  I see religion as a binding entity that has helped a lot of people.  I see it as a unifying force that allow great things to be accomplished among followers.  Through it people learn discipline, submission, and servant-hood as there is a recognition of a higher power beyond human domain.  Religion has sparked many humanitarian efforts all over the world through aid in the midst of wars and natural disasters for instance.  Equally, religion and religious ideology has also been the source of most wars around the world.  Historically, one religion cannot exist without some group of another trying to eradicate it from the earth in the name of said religion.  Religion has divided nations, torn brotherhoods asunder, killed babies and colonized generations of people.  People have ravaged lands, raped women, burned people alive and even attempted to wipe an entire ethnicity off the face of the earth – all in the name of religion and a brand of faith.

As sophisticated and technologically sound as we are in this nation with our computers, internet, satellite and space shuttle capabilities etc., primal religion and faith are still the straw that stirs the drink of American thought and motivation.  I don’t care how secular some say this nation is, make no mistake about it;  A major play in this past presidential election as well as the two previous are fundamental religious beliefs among Americans. 

This week I would like to explore that thought, provoke some conversation and get the opinions of ordinary people about the state of religion and how it effects our lives.  Of course we can’t cover every aspect, but I would like to start the year by exploring what is THE most significant factor of political and personal thought. 

Is it possible to exist with a people who don’t believe another people should exist?  Are we too radical in our approaches, not just them but us?  (Whomever us is) Do we question the origins of our own beliefs enough?  Do we respect others who do not believe as we do?  Are we doomed to just fight one another until the end of the earth?  All this week as we cover different topics surrounding religion, I invite you to just talk about it.  Maybe we can come up with some ideas, perhaps start a positive movement.