Disaster Relief

Thrills (150dpi)

Thrills by Gina Freschet, water color and pencil on paper. http://www.freschet.com

Another natural disaster and we gather together, not as individuals but as a race, to work for Disaster Relief.  Rock stars Rock for Disaster Aid, TV and movie stars move mountains of red tape to do Visions of a Better Tomorrow Telethons, recording stars record songs with children – “We are the world,  we are consumers, buy us a donut.”

It is the positive actions that each of us take in the face of these enormous calamities that spell success for our race on this planet. People acting out their hearts, pitching in to rebuild, making communities strong and by extension the nation and the world.

But why are we only knee jerk, Good Samaritans after something terrible has happened? Like we can’t help our neighbors every day, but when their dog dies we’ll throw them a bone? Maybe we shouldn’t call it Disaster Relief. After all, how much relief can you get when Mother Nature chooses to turn your house into a permanent parking lot and your neighbor says he’ll help you out by parking his car there.  Maybe we should just cut the Good Samaritan act and call it Disaster RELEASE.

That’s a better description of what we need. Parties really; orgies, why not! To be released from the fears we’ve had, that our planet is angry with us; that it’s okay we didn’t recycle, didn’t treat our slaves better, didn’t pick up our garbage but sent it to Pago Pago on a barge instead—that the Industrial Revolution was actually a bit of a nightmare—planet-wise. It’s okay. Let’s move on from here. But only after we get some kegs and add a few more used condoms to shore up the beach front. Let’s Party! We need the release.

On the other hand if we call it Disaster Release Mother Nature might get the wrong idea and release yet another disaster on our poor heads. When do we pay for the party? When does the bill come due? When you wake up Sunday morning with a hell of a hangover do you seek for something deeper? Something more satisfying than another beer? Maybe we should be searching for that deeper thing. Maybe the action we need is MASTER Release.

Yes. Large televised judicial proceedings where we expunge our master complex and finally cede full control back to Mother Nature. We were just kidding. No really. Really!

We gather together around bon fires afterwards and chant it loud enough for Her to hear.  We’re not the master. Never were. Okay for a while there we thought we were pretty good.  I mean string theory is pretty advanced for cavemen, but really, you de boss. Next to the Grand Canyon and black holes, string theory is pretty silly, really. And that Bible thing. We’re really very sorry. Adam and Eve were supposed to have dominion WITH the animals in Eden, not OVER the animals. Oops. Typo. That’s what I’m saying, we took a left turn. We’re not as arrogant as we seem. We’re sorry. Honest. And we promise to give any dolphins left first crack at the new iPads, more fine wines for the winged creatures, and good wookie for any creature around that we haven’t already turned to BBQ.

On the other hand, once we’ve released our inner master complex with nothing else to replace it, not far down the road we’ll just be in this same predicament again. Plus, if we truly release our inner masters, gun sales will plummet. That’s not good for the economy. Alright. Forget about Master Release, we should call it Master BELIEF.

We must build our spiritual selves. We have too many people committing suicide because minimum wage workers forgot to put pickles on their Big Macs. Come on people. Stop using your heads. The brain is a drunken money. It is the heart that is important. A spiritual practice connects you to past, present and future. We’ve released our inner master back to God but that doesn’t mean we are just another animal on the hoof. We’re ready for the mirrors.

Our hearts are in the right place when we erect huge mirrors and line up and stand in front of them to look into our black and grievous souls and admit what Pogo knew fifty years ago and that that’s okay. The enemy may be us, but we are the world, we are the people, we like donuts.

The faster we believe our humble but mighty place in the universe, the better. If you believe, there’s no end to what we can accomplish. No longer in need of relief from Mother Nature’s hand, we realize we are Her, a part of Her universe.  We have met the enemy and She is us. We belong in a universe we can care deeply about because it’s where we live. And as my mother used to say, “You don’t shit where you eat.”

The things that feel good—ocean, sun on skin, hiking, commuter rail, Seinfeld reruns… are a natural function of our love. But perhaps we shouldn’t call it Master Belief. Yes we have to master it, but in this day and age it takes advertising to get the word out. Besides everything is faster today. If our mission is to master our belief in the universe we’ve been given as fast as possible and not fuck it up, then we’d better call it FASTER Belief. 

That’s right. Because we have to master it faster if we’re going to save ourselves. Faith is the key, humility is the action and now that we’re gonna master a belief system let’s talk about what we really need. Faster Belief. Let’s face it, there isn’t a lot of time left. It’s got to be deep. It’s got to be real, and I think MacDonald’s can teach us something. Let’s get on the stick before the next hurricane hits. Fast Faith. Drive through even.

Because Faster Belief leads to Faster RELIEF. We’re proactive here. Let’s raise money now for research on how to power our electric grid with orange seeds and pickles.  It’s not perfect but goddamn it, that’s why research is needed. Would you rather raise a billion dollars to research fusion energy from dill pickle slices or on bandaids and plywood to rebuild after the next hurricane? Because frankly forget about Disaster Relief, without Faster Master Release Belief, just like the ruins in Greece, all that will be left of our world and its people will be an ALABASTER Relief. 

The Skeptic

vectorstock_1956607I’m skeptical about everything. So when it comes to religion my brain has a field day. The media aids and abets. Every abusive priest, every soldier who kills in the name of his God. Let’s put it this way. I’m old and I’ve seen too much. I know how easily God is twisted to the purposes of men. It is soma. It is control. It is a tool of dictators and power fools.

So when someone suggested I needed more personal faith, I laughed. I scoffed. I was, in a word, superior. The fact that it was a pretty girl who I was dating at the time made no difference. My religion was certain. It was of my own making. It included leaves and trees and the other obvious signs of Mother Nature. I got that the Earth was ours to ruin and we were doing a pretty good job. I believed that Native American drumming and other practices before white people polluted the land were probably pretty spiritual. I believed in signs — the croaking raven, etc. Looking back, my religion was basically a positive, media- driven, pollyana for a day and depression for a week, panoply of the senses that deserted me in crowded malls and during the evening news, and flourished during long hikes and days when my personal star rose.  Kind of a patched together, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t sort of religion.

I had this health problem — nothing fatal — but something kind of scary and inexplicable that I was freaking out about. My girlfriend told me to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I told her I hated salmon-colored robes and finger cymbals and to leave me alone. She persisted. She made me get a pen and write the words down. When I got off the phone I tried it once. It was ridiculous. It was everything I hated in religion: a stupid mindless magic bullet that was supposed to make me feel like a happy gummy bear. I might just as well chant “Mary had a little lamb.”

So I did.

“Mary had a little lamb. Mary had a little lamb. Mary had a little lamb…” Ok. This wasn’t particularly revelatory. After two minutes of chanting, I didn’t give two shits about Mary, and I wished the worst for her pet (lamb chops and a sweater). So I tried my girlfriend’s chant. Equally ridiculous. What does it mean? It’s simply gobbledy gook some Asian person who can’t speak English came up with to make himself feel better about having a bad day. It probably translates as “Mary had a little lamb.” Enough of that.

Fast forward.  Despite my misgivings about her religious counsel, I married my girlfriend and that’s when the real fun began. Sometimes I would come home from work and she’d be light as a feather and other days she’d be heavy as Hell itself. On the feather days I figured she’d gotten good news or something else that made her spirit light. But come to find the only actual difference between a feather and Hell was that she had chanted the feather days, and hadn’t gotten around to it on the Hell days. How could saying gobbledygook make that big a difference? This was problem that required study.

Moreover when I walked into the house and she was chanting, her body was posessed, or more truthfully just anchored at its deepest source. My wife is fun-loving, Italian, expressive, girlish at times, free-spirited, playful — her voice is sexy, sweet, and so honestly open that at first I fell in love with her voice in those early years as I talked with her on the phone from Boston. What it isn’t, is anchored, solemn, from the gut, resonant, bass, focussed. But when she chanted, her voice was all these things. It was like this beautiful girl was suddenly possessed with a priestly James Earl Jones.

Being a Buddhist she would have other Buddhists over to the house to chant or she would drag me to a meeting somewhere and I would experience the transformation of a bunch of knuckleheads into serious, resonant, instruments of God.

It was a feeling my brain couldn’t wrap around. But okay. I got it. There was more to this than met the eye.  But really, I was too deep in my need to control my surroundings and my image to fall for it. I, my career, my life was just way more important than being the flying Buddhist nun. Sally Fields and the Dalai Lama could have it.

Besides, I’m a mind person. You have to appeal to my mind to get my respect. So my wife gave me a Buddhist book by Daisaku Ikeda called “My Dear Friends in America.”

It was good. A little Japanesy for my pioneer American mindset, but still I would agree with almost all the things he said. On top of that, he had some great metaphors and some great examples. He spent a little too much time telling people he didn’t know how great they were, but whatever. It was a good book. Since it appealed to my brain, unbeknownst to me and against my better judgment, my brain started a dialogue with my heart. I started to feel this chanting thing and it was hard to deny the results. Overall this was pretty good shit.

My natural shyness that can turn anything into a punchline held me back though. Take away a barrier and I’ll erect three more. At meetings at our house I would hover around the edges. Stall. Stand. Chant a little. Go do dishes. Use putting my children to bed as an excuse not to participate. Someone has to do it! I was a busy father for christ sake! Who has time for this!

But in those moments, days, weeks that we’ll call depression (doesn’t everyone count his toes while staring down from great heights and admiring just how far the drop really is?) it was my heart that spoke the loudest–trying to reason with my brain about actual tools that might keep me from this ledge a few less times.  What did I have to lose, except my life, my depression, my superiority…except my life. Besides marriage was proving to be a hiccup and a half from my logical, ivy-league mind’s point-of-view. It followed no pattern I could follow from math class. Just when I thought that x equalled the square root of four, I’d have a fight about finger nail clippings in the sink. Holy shit. Really? It turned out there was no square route. You couldn’t get there from here. So I broke down. (I admit it fellow superior beings, so sue me already!) I chanted. 

It makes no sense at all to a Vulcan, but damned if I didn’t start to feel better. Sometimes I’d look back three months and couldn’t remember the last time I’d counted toes from a high angle.

But it was my secret. No one must know. What if my friends in the Atheist’s Club found out? My membership card would be spirited out of my pocket and burnt at the stake.

But then, month by month, the atheists themselves began to fade from my life. Really, they were so stuck in their ways: demanding that life had no spiritual component whatsoever; that there is nothing outside of their little selves that mattered. No wonder so many also belonged to self-help groups and Hemlock societies. If I don’t act like myself, kill me. I’m in control damnit.

No you won’t, Atheistas! What you is, is beautiful, irreplaceable human beings who’ve lost the instruction manual. Look the Tin Woodsman in the eye and tell me you have no heart.

Today, I can’t even spell ‘skaptic’. Because a ‘skaptoc’ is someone who doubts, and doubt is the lack of faith, and I know enough, when my toes start itching for the ledge, to chant. It’s an everyday tool. It’s a practice. A mindless activity. Literally. My skeptical mind is along for the ride, but basically it’s just humming at the curb, waiting for instructions from my heart wisdom.

Mary was a beautiful soul who will never come again. When the lamb touched her life, together they became as white as snow.