Despite my illusions to the contrary, no one will read my books or know my name a hundred years from now. If for some strange reason I am wrong about this, just add another hundred years to the example and my point will be recognized. I'm not important in the long run–no one really is. I'm only important in the short run, in the here and now... When the Buddha was asked whether he was a holy man, he replied simply, "I am awake."
- Stephen Asma, The Gods Drink Whiskey
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There is this: all of your striving, all of your anxiety, all of your anger, all of your sorrow, all of your joy, all of your dreamings, all of your wisdom is evanescent: the sudden glow of a lightning bug. We pretend it is not so. We move through our days confident that the things we say and do carry with them an importance, a correctness, a validation of that confidence. I think, therefore I am. I do, therefore I am correct, or important, or have the devil by his tail. We puff out our chests commenting on our acquisitions, our pay, our politicians, our way of moving through life as if there was only one way - our way, the American way, the liberal way, the conservative way, the way of capital, the way of Jesus, the Middle Way, the way of righteousness and power, the way of judgement and caste. And, in ways large and small, it is all the way of sleep. Here, I'll define sleep as anything that removes you from this very moment, this one eternal now. If you are not here now, then you are not with us at all. You are sleeping and in your sleep you believe your dream is real and you do great damage to yourself and those around you because of it
No one needs another fucking holy man, woman or child telling us what to do. We just need to be awake to one irreducible fact: we all die, love. The time to live is always right now.
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Compassion is our highest art - not love - for compassion exceeds the bonds of affection and pours itself out everywhere. Even in those dark and fetid places where hatred and violence fester and erupt out into the world. It isn't so much turning the other cheek as it is having mercy on those who are so lost, so far gone in their illusions and delusions that they clothe their ignorance in endless justifications. What justifies most violence, most cruelty, most narcissism is the false idea that both the future and the past are places they can create and recreate and revisit to excuse their actions right now, when the truth is they have it exactly backwards. There's only here, there's only now.
Look, everyone has it hard. Everyone struggles with the pain of loss, of being lost. We construct systems to order and guide our days (religion, politics, commerce) but those systems have come to replace our capacity for individual thought. We vote straight tickets. We denounce other faiths. We war over oil. When your faith does your thinking for you, you are asleep. When you accept political propaganda, or commercial advertising (is there a difference?) without questioning its veracity, you are asleep. When you meditate in your home, when you pray in silence but don't bring that peace to others, you are asleep.
We all die. We fear it and so busy ourselves pretending it isn't so, believing in heavens, believing in hells, believing in nothing when there is a greater truth that is walked by because it is so obvious and so difficult: if there is to be a heaven, it will be here; if there is a hell, we have made it here. Right now is all we have and the things we say and do matter - not just for ourselves, but for others as well.
Think of it this way: when you're on a plane and they go through the safety instructions they always say to put your oxygen mask on first and then help those who need help. If you are awake, then your oxygen is flowing - now go help the person sitting next to you. This metaphor breaks down when you try to help another and they refuse it, believing, in their dream, their sleep, that they already have all the oxygen in the world and you are the poor sod who isn't going to make it.
This is where compassion becomes art.
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I am an idiot. I have been helped throughout my life and refused to see it, or worse, felt guilty or embarrassed for the help. This is why compassion matters so: those who helped me let me fail, let me struggle to wake up - they didn't do it for me. They were just willing to catch me when I fell. No dogma. No judgement. Just the hope I'd figure some part of it out before I died.
I am still an idiot. I still fall, still fail, but through our conversation I've started to wake up. It is my hope some part of this helps you as well. If not, that's cool. You'll get there or you won't. That's up to you. In either case I'll be here.
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