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Since I pulled way back from writing blog posts on politics, and radically reduced by attention to the day to day activities of the sociopathic crowd who dominates the news, I have found my outlook improved even if my view of our country’s future has not. I’ve begun reading fiction again for pleasure for the first time in years. I camped out for the first time in many years. I am planning a drive to the Yukon and back in August, the road trip of a lifetime, as I have always been in love with the north. These were things I had come to consider personal indulgences ever since I abandoned most of what I loved doing in the early 2000s, to battle the Bush regime assault on everything I cared about: nature, peace, justice, decency, courage, integrity, the feminine, the masculine.
When I turned to battle against the malignant right, I told myself I did not want to be in the shoes of more than a few Germans who in 1936 berated themselves for not having fought harder against the Nazis. Even then I saw what the Republican Party was becoming. Today its nihilistic celebration of domination is pretty much in-your-face. All it lacks to become a true fascist force in this country today is a leader of strength and popularity. Fortunately the ‘manliness’ of right wing males is entirely fake. (Maybe that is why women like Palin and Bachmann appeal to so many of this crowd.) But the Democrats are utterly corrupt. we can no longer hope for a decent push back from the weakling in the White House and the even worse creature heading the Senate. But for the moment the immediacy of a vicious rather than a Madison Avenue authoritarianism has receded. Madison Avenue saves its viciousness for those who cannot buy its products.
I needed to sit back and rethink things.
As a Wiccan I am aware there are times of growth and times of decline, times of life and times of death.
The Summer Solstice is fast approaching, and my garden is bursting with beautifully exuberant plant life. The daisies, lavender, yarrow, roses, summer poppies, and many other flowers are blooming madly while the flowers of spring, the iris, lilacs, and daffodils are gone. But their passing is a reminder that even the most lavish growth is never without its counterpoint. The daffodils had to step aside so the daisies and yarrow could take their place. Focusing on what we are losing blinds us to what we are gaining. I think that is one spiritual lesson of the changing seasons.
In this world of duality every success breeds the conditions for its decline and I think the wisest approach is not to hold tight to what we have now, but to treasure and love it while remaining open to adapting to the changes that will inevitably come. As a wise Buddhist put it:
“You see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”
In the same way death is often appropriate in its time. With that insight we honor it at Samhain. Death comes in many forms. Every initiation marks the death of the old to make way for the new. The death of a nation makes way for new life elsewhere. We are the better off that the system that was Rome died, for it had become parasitical on all around it. But we would be still better off if Rome’s greatest achievements in art, music, and literature still survived to be honored. But people who hated and feared death, and so ironically spread it further, destroyed much of what was best in the Classical world. Only a little bit survived, but that little bit sparked our Renaissance.
But as death triumphs the seeds of new life are planted. Its victory is never total. Rather than vainly seeking to prop up the rotting, decaying mass of what was once a free country, perhaps the wiser approach is to focus on the seeds of the future buried within that mass of mold and rot. Seeds that hopefully will sprout here on Turtle Island, but will assuredly sprout somewhere.
In other words, when I stood back a bit I was able to put my despair over the sad and seemingly getting sadder shape of this nation in a larger context, one hidden when all I could write about was the latest horror perpetrated by corrupt politicians, business, or ‘spiritual’ leaders. We cannot always live when life is abundant and growing. Perhaps we are living in the late fall and early winter of our culture.
This does not mean I think our country is doomed. It is very big with many incredibly creative and good hearted people dwelling within it. I have been blessed with knowing a small portion of them. Predictions of the future have a habit of proving themselves embarrassingly wrong, especially the most apocalyptic. But I think it may be doomed, a casualty of the transformations wrought by World war Two, the Cold War, power besottedness, corporate domination and religious nihilism. There may yet be an opportunity for American renewal ahead of us. And if we turn simply to despair we will miss any opportunities that present themselves. But if we are in the late fall, that is when the seeds of the future are deposited.
More importantly, if there is such a time and America has a future worth honoring it will not come about by preserving what we are now but by outgrowing and transcending it. And in the sense of that Buddhist saying, no matter what happens in the next few decades, the America of our founding ideals, like the glass, is “already broken.”
If, as I believe, we are individually on spiritual trajectories of our own towards ends we cannot imagine, we will be better for ourselves and better for our friends, loved ones, and country, if we learn to stand outside the current set of corrupt alternatives and seek to offer alternatives we can be for as amounting to something better than the lesser evil. I will still vote for Obama because a Hindenberg is better than a Hitler, even if of little value as a leader himself. I will expect no more of him than I would of the decrepit old conservative war hero. Instead I will try and put my major efforts as a citizen of this world in spreading the seeds of the future, wherever they may sprout.
I do not believe, as some Buddhists say, that this situation means we should focus only on our spiritual lives. That is fitting for those who regard the world as ultimately an illusion from which we need liberation. But for we who love the world, love its sunsets and islands and mountains and forests and canyons and meadows, clouds caressing its peaks and the mighty towers of thunderstorms, who treasure the company of friends and visions of our beloved, our task is harder. We need always to see and experience and celebrate our loves within the largest context we can. Think of a sunset. For me they are among the most beautiful and moving of nature’s gifts to us, and they are perpetual change ultimately turning into night with its own beauty. To know and celebrate this larger context while taking care of what we love, nurturing and serving it, that is the true challenge in my view.
These are some of the insights I have gained from stepping back from the political and cultural battles, not to turn away, but to hopefully play my role more wisely, and without losing sight of the larger contexts within which we all live.