Last Friday at about 6pm on my way home from the gym I rear ended the SUV in front of me at about 50 mph after I glanced away from the road for a mere moment – two seconds – tired from the gym – there was the back of their vehicle in my headlights – no time to swerve or move though I tried and – my car – their car -BAM – airbag explosion in my face –
I’m lifting my head and it’s quiet and the cabin of my Honda CRV is smoky and my engine – in front of me – practically in the window – a gnarled and gnashed mess of dull grey corners and curves and I wipe my lip with my hand, a bit of blood. I bit my lip. Is my hand burned? Body feels all in working order although the wind is well knocked out of me and my chest is tight. I don’t feel or seem injured. I can open my door and I climb out and onto the asphalt highway. A sea of red brake lights surrounds me in the middle of the highway, horns honking because goddamn I just screwed up everyone’s evening commute but no one is stopping just honking. I manage around the other side of my car and, 50 feet ahead, along a path of the broken glass and detritus of my car, is the other driver and car with it’s impacted bumper and this young girl is coming towards me yelling about how I hit her and it’s a new car that she just got and why did I hit her how is she supposed to trust anyone ever on the road blah blah blah and I’m just apologizing because shit I’m alive but I’m sorry I hit her I didn’t mean to yes it’s terrible but it’s useless to be angry but she needs to be angry at someone.
I walk to the side of the highway and, crouched down against the railing, stunned and shaking and shaken, call 911 and they tell me that CHP will be on their way and everything will be ok. A white van pulls up on the other side of my car, blocking traffic, and the guy gets out and comes over to check that I’m ok and he’s looking at my car, amazed I made it out because my car is a crushed mess. He checks again that I’m not hurt and I tell him my chest is in pain and he says it’s from the airbag which hits you at 250 mph or something but, well, accidents happen at least you’re ok, man. It’ll be ok. You’re lucky your alive. And this isn’t the first time in my life for that statement.
The friendly samaritan leaves when the CHP show up and they’re just nice professional highway patrol taking down all the details. It’s not major. There’s no ambulances so it’s not major. No big deal. Business as usual. Accident clean-up is an efficient process. They’ve called the tow company. They’re dealing with the girl I ran into and the guy she ran into. The tow guy shows up, this heavier hispanic dude and the cop, a buzz cut white dude, calls him ‘brother’ and I think ‘only in California’ and I’m grateful for these moments of human decency.
And Violet – who was about ten minutes behind me – who came upon my crushed car sitting sideways in the middle of the highway with the airbag deflated and me not in sight – comes running up to me holy shit what happened are you ok and I’m a bit in shock but I am ok. I’m ok. I just… I look at my totaled front end car and again shake my head, I just looked away a moment… I wasn’t touching my phone or anything I just… It’s a bit much and I want to sit down and we get all the stuff taken care of with the cops and my mind is replaying the crash again. CRASH. again. CRASH. again. Crash… crash… What have I done? What did I do? Just accidents… all the things that lead up to this… just little things, so many little things.
The road is clearing and my car is loaded onto a flatbed truck and I will go back and retrieve the paintings in the back – 5 big paintings in the back – that are also ok. I go and gently sit in Violet’s car while she finishes up with the cops. My body is wracked but in such minor ways, I remind myself, such minor ways, tense and tight and my chest feels torn and I can’t move very well but I’m alive and shocked. And alive.
An accident on the life highway and the angel of grace that said – o no, not you, it’s not your time. You have work yet to do.
The other day, I had the privilege of listening to James Cameron (director of Avatar, Titanic) speak to a smallish group of us. He is someone who has been phenomenally successful in his creative endeavors and is actively reinvesting his earnings in finding and sharing more sustainable ways of living – aquaponics, solar and wind energy, education, working with indigenous peoples and much more. That is great but what was more prescient – and inspiring – was, for me, the deeper underpinnings of his inspiration and motivations.
Capitalism with it’s competitiveness and lack of forward thinking is killing us, he said. While there are innovations that stem from capitalism, those innovations result in design and technology that lasts a year, two years. No iPhone is designed to last 20 years. Compassion is what we need to guide us.
Capitalism has no compassion for others. It is through compassion that we actually change things, where we actually reach people. In all truth, we will be the last generation to know what abundant coral reefs look like. The human population has, he said, tripled in his own lifetime. And humans have changed the globe in a serious way.
There was a time when our model of expansion was simply to take what the next person had – whether you were the Greeks conquering neighboring countries or the British with their expanding empire or whomever. Constant expansion was possible because there was always a next person. Eventually, though, you meet yourself on the other side of the globe and there is no one to take from but yourself. A bacterium in a petri dish expands and expands and fills the dish and then, when it can no longer expand, it dies.
That is where we are at. This is a serious thing. We have met ourselves and we are now only taking from ourselves. We are adaptable though and, to many, it is evident that the current model does not work. Given the chance, or the necessity, we are also innovative. They come up with solutions. We don’t want a future where we just get by – where we can just sustain. We want a future where we can thrive. So we need to reinvent how we do things. For example – how we feed people. There’s no ‘food crisis’. That’s just the result of Monsanto and big agribusiness companies with their monocrops and over-fertilized soils that perpetuate drought and weather patterns. Then we go on to throw out food in one place, over consuming, and leave others hungry growing all the corn we need for soda and livstock… the cycle just goes on.
There is no compassion in the current business models. In the thralls of Wall Street commerce, compassion is smirked at as a novel passe idea. But that is what is killing us. We understand the world at a global culture level. We have all met each other now. We can’t not see how we affect each other. Our minds and intellects are excellent at understanding and identifying problems and coming up with solutions but we need to let compassion guide us. It is the only way we can actually create a world both present and future that will allow the human race to thrive.
The same old story: “Why vote? Voting doesn’t make a difference. Politics isn’t real. It’s all smoke and mirrors. An illusion to keep you distracted.” It’s a common story – in one form or another – told by a disproportionately large section of people my age and younger. I’m 38. So that’s a lot of people!
Getting people to believe that ‘politics isn’t real’ is a great way to con a populace into apathy and inaction. Each group, each subsection of the population, seems to have it’s own methods of doing so. It saddens me to watch people slip into sleep like that. Buddhism and Hinduism can use ‘karma’ – we are where we are and our lot in life is just our karma playing out, from the local to the national to the global level. It pacifies people. It keeps them from affecting changes. Christianity offers the carrot of eternal reward in Heaven and that God will judge, not man, so let things go. We all are guilty.
The New Age community offers this: “If you sit and think hard enough you will manifest a reality in which YOU have everything you need. Other people’s problems are simply them not thinking hard enough and manifesting what they need.”
Marx was right: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. Man creates religion, he said, not the other way around. We create religion to justify our actions. To give us a framework with which to move through the world. If we choose to ignore the political currents of the planet or if we choose to feel powerless in the face of such currents, we can create a religious worldview which supports – even empowers – that sense of powerlessness.
But that doesn’t make it go away. Ignoring a thing doesn’t make it disappear. People are real. As are politics. Desires, needs, goals, greed, and generosity. They exist in as much as everything else exists. We move through the world together.
For the foreseeable future, there will be a Supreme Court. There will be women’s rights. There will also be pesticides and limits or bans or lack thereof. There will be trade agreements and the EPA. And, at some point or another, there will be a law against a thing you believe in. It might limit your dancing. It might restrict your access to birth control. It might strip you of some freedom you thought was undeniably yours. There will always be something.
Walking through the world maintaining an ignorance of any and all things that ‘bring you down’ only serves to further disenfranchise, to further the system as it is. The only way through is to engage. We are all humans having our collective human experience. While our mindsets might be different, the desire to live healthy and happy lives is something we all share.
Things get better. Some get worse. It’s a constant evolution of how we live together on the planet.
We are individual bodies but also a collective body – on local, state, national, and global levels. Like a body, we are always fighting off virus, bacteria, parasites. We have to be ever vigilant and can’t just roll over. There is no cell in my body that says “Fuck it, I’m just gonna sit here LA TI DA TI DA!” They all work together – all of the time. The same with people. We are all in it together, all of the time.
iI, say, one of our limbs is diseased, focusing only on our healthy hand – look how pretty and shiny it is! – doesn’t make the disease go away. In fact, we are more likely to lose the diseased limb. And we are weaker for it. The only way to heal is to engage with the process.
It is our duty to one another to engage this process of creating a healthy and happy environment for the entirety of our bodies – our local body and our broad global collective body. On the local level, we can vote for people who enact laws and ordinances that lead to situations like this:
A Florida City Just Arrested This 90-Year-Old for the Crime of Feeding the Homeless
or we can vote for people who can enact things like this:
Salt Lake City a model for S.F. on homeless solutions
“Salt Lake City has cut its chronic homelessness rate dramatically during the last 10 years by giving homeless people nice, permanent places to live with lots of counseling on-site. Its experience offers valuable lessons.”
This is now. This is what is happening. This is change in one direction or another. We aren’t just one ship with one rudder. We are many ships with many rudders and they change course one at a time. Eventually, when one ship sees that the direction another ship is heading in leads to greater prosperity, it will follow suit, or it will suffer. Such is life. But that doesn’t mean we stop.
Lead and others will follow. Follow and you have no right to complain about where you’ve been led.
We were in a gallery in Lahaina on Maui. The gallery had an interesting cross section of work – lithographs and etchings from Chagall, Rembrandt, Dali, Picasso, even Albrecht Drurer (etchings not lithos!). Amongst these pieces was a smattering of work by other artists who I have never heard of. Paintings of elephants, polar bears, Hawaiian sunsets, modern impasto kind of figurative works. Gallery stuff.
In one room – where the walls were painted charcoal instead of cream and above these large paintings of faces – messy sloppy things looking like they were done with tempera and fingers – Anthony Hopkins’ name was emblazoned in silver.
A salesperson was exclaiming to the couple that seemed interested in the art, “Anthony Hopkins has moved out of the realm of ‘celebrity artist’ and into a whole new category of artist. Purchasing one of his pieces is like purchasing a piece from Dali in his own lifetime – while he was alive and making art!” The salesperson was so EXCITED about this – comparing Anthony Hopkins the actor-turned-artist to Dali. Or was he just in on the joke…
This is what the masses – this hapless couple who don’t know a Drurer etching from one by Rembrandt – are sold as ART. They look around for something they can afford – something to take home with them. They want to buy some ART. So they ask the salesperson. The salesperson convinces them of the INVESTMENT potential. This is something truly of value. The couple doesn’t know why they feel uncomfortable. They don’t get why they feel empty inside. Perhaps that’s what art is supposed to make you feel…
This is what people are fed to buy mediocre art. It’s a money game – this con game – and it made me once again think, “God, I hate art.”
Don’t get me wrong, in the same gallery there were some lovely pieces from modern creators – sculptors, painters, etc – but Anthony Hopkins and the pedestal upon which he’d been placed… Now you might like this piece. That’s totally ok! However, when the selling point is the name of the creator and not the creation itself, then the work loses any semblance of real meaning and turns into commodity, just more stuff to pass between each other.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps his work really does stand there next to Dali. Perhaps someday I will have to eat my words. With some fava beans. And a nice chianti.
Here is a thing that boggles my mind: we need to convince other – we need to argue about – why people should be compassionate towards one another. We need to debate why we should guarantee a living wage? How is the bottom line more important than the basic needs of your workers? We discuss into absurdity why we should pass laws to guarantee that our veterans are cared for. And we need to convince people that we should care for the planet instead of just dumping toxic chemicals will-nilly everywhere. And we have the world we’ve created… that echoes all of these struggles.
Why should we be compassionate and how far should that compassion extend? Just to people who look like us, act like us, think like us? What about the people who are different than us? What about to, say, a tree, a bird, or the air? What’s the use – the utility – of compassion?
We tell stories about a wise sage who told stories about being compassionate. We tell tales with as far out of consequences as possible: you’ll earn karma, have a better spot in heaven, God sent his only Son, and so on. We tell all these stories – over and over. We create religions, stories, institutions… all just to create a reason – why we should feel a little bit of compassion for each other. And for ourselves. How did we go so far from that?
The earth. The animals. Trees, grass, people. The whole planet, the universe, the stars and sun. We run past the homeless person on the street. We can barely fathom that someone of the other side of the world. Our own lives carry on enormous conversations inside of our heads.
Religion: we create these intensely complex forms of spiritual governance all to just stimulate a little compassion for our fellow human – all to give a reason as to WHY we should care for those around us – and, more importantly, those who we perceive to be as DIFFERENT than ourselves.
We see ourselves and everything else. And we have this ingrained idea of needing to struggle to survive and the fittest – not the most collaborative – is the one which will survive. There’s nothing in the capitalistic mindset that says that most compassionate will survive. It’s a dog-eat-dog-world we’re told from the start. Competition is key! The man with the most wins!
The thing is – when we think like that, we stop recognizing ourselves in others. We’re taught to see the differences. Man. Woman. Black. White. Gay. Straight. Old. Young. Blond. Brunette. Red head. And so on. And we’re taught that our survival – in fact: our flourishing – doesn’t depend on their survival.
Yet, like all other organisms, we are self-perpetuating machines striving to perpetuate this human organism. How can we not see that the happiness of others supports our own happiness? And vice versa. We are not individuals: we are separate nodes of a greater organism. And, really, deep down, each of those nodes just wants to love and be loved.
It seems to take so much for us to just feel some compassion for others. And yet: it’s as easy as extending a hand, recognizing the life in another, feeling some kinship to another, and loving.
Names: what we name things. We name things all the time. Often we are using names we’ve been told to call things. Those names serve the purpose of being a point of reference in a conversation. Sketchbook. Pen. Cat. And then there’s more signifying names: my cat’s name is Figaro. Or Lukki. Or Maceo.
I had a name that was given to me when I was born – Michael – and it accompanied a middle name – Robert, my dad’s name – and Brown, my father’s last name. And that was my identity for many years, tying me to a long family heritage and, on a broader scale, a long system of patriarchy.
In typical male/female marriages, the man always keeps his last name. Conversely, the woman has to give up her last name. This is rarely questioned. Sometimes people hyphenate the names but even that is MaleLastName-FemaleLastName. Few men ever consider taking the woman’s last name. Ask some married couple you know about that sometime. They will laugh, feel uncomfortable, etc. It’s weird.
So when Violet and I decided to get married o so long ago, she said: Let’s take a new name. She declared that she wasn’t interested in just taking my name and perpetuating the patriarchal idea of ownership of the wife. At the same time, we wanted to be creating a solid container and, along the lines of the naming of things and, in a sense, bringing them into being via the name, a hyphenated name still seemed to create a sense of together-but-separate. It didn’t feel like that solid unified container that the contract of marriage created.
Violet suggested we take a new name. The new name would be our new container that we agreed upon together. It would be the name we decided to call ourselves. We are mirrors of the world around us so we wanted the name to reflect how we see the world.
Taking a name from another culture didn’t feel right. Our language is our language and its words and sounds and turns of phrase are a part of its own magic. It’s the language we have grown up speaking and the one we use to the call the world into being. Taking a word from another culture seems to support an imagined esotericism.
Quite importantly, we wanted it to sound right in our ears, with our first names, etc. It had to have a nice flow to it. Like harmonies in song, the last name had to work with the sounds of our first names. I like to feel words in my mouth: feel how they rolls off the tongue. Or not. How they starts and stops. Where they breathe and where they pause. So much meaning – and reflection of the world we perceive – is related through the sounds of words.
Lots of different words flowed through our mouths and ears. Finally we settled on “Divine”. It seemed to fill in the blank of that last name appropriately and would be symbolic of the container of this new family we were creating. It mirrored how we saw the world – all of the world – as divine. This divine life. This divine being.
Sometimes people meet me and they have this idea of me based on my name and on their own ideas of what Divine might mean – and why I might have chosen it. To some, it’s pretentious because the “Divine” is a far off thing or idea and who am I to call myself that? To others, it’s more what-your-last-name-wasn’t-good-enough? because we should be content with who and what and where we are in life. And, for others, it makes me super spiritual, whatever that might mean, because the Divine is so spiritual. The they meet me and they see that I’m really a rather ordinary person. I’m just this guy who sometimes has a rather crass sense of humor. I like wine and music. I like life. And to some, even that is an affront because, in their eyes, it’s not divine enough.
I can’t take responsibility for the projections of others. But I can take responsibility for who I am – and that is a human being, living his life. I enjoy this life quite a bit – with all of its many facets – and try to see it for what it is, whatever that might be.
And if we were to choose a word for that ‘what it might be’ then Divine seems to be a pretty good word.
Art: “States of Mind: Those Who Stay” by Umberto Boccioni
The other day we’d gone to Mother’s – the organic healthy food store nearby and one of the things that makes Orange County, CA so much more tolerable. Orange County is something of a conservative bubble within the general liberality of Southern California. If you look at voting maps, you’ll see blue almost everywhere but for the red bubble of Orange County. We live here because my wife teaches and is getting her PhD in philosophy here.
On that day, Southern California happened to be in the midst of a rainy deluge (thankfully, since it’s been a worrisomely dry winter) and, though we had walked there while the skies were clear, the sky was now down pouring. So we waited it out and, sitting at the counter along the large windows at the front of the store, ate a chocolate bar.
A woman – maybe in her late 40s or early 50s – sat down next to us, remarking about the rain. I agreed: it was quite a sudden downpour.
“I just think about those people whose homes will be caught in mudslides!” she exclaimed, conjuring up images of large homes on hillsides and deluges of mud.
I agreed. Mudslides are intense but also… “I think about homeless people. It’s got to suck. Everything you own is soaked… I imagine that, for them, this drought we’ve been having is sort of a blessing, all things considered.”
She looked at me, with her pursed lips, her dyed silver blond hair, and her thin eyes. Uncomfortable. Silenced. Awkward.
“Mudslides are rough, too.” I shrugged.
And the conversation, what little of it there was, resumed.
So many people seem to only be able to empathize with those they feel are just as or more fortunate than themselves but when it comes to those they feel are less fortunate, they feel uncomfortable.
These blinders that humans have up, blocking each other out, living in bubbles based on imagined ideas of social standings… Our culture – with it’s hypnotized upward gaze – continues to exacerbate and perpetuate it. From birth we are presented with humanity as a spectrum of those who have less than us and those who have more. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to join those who have more and move up the social ladder. If we’re unlucky, we’ll slip down the social ladder.
And our lives, our cars, our homes, our social circles – all build on the bubble of our identities.
Yet, it’s so easy and so painless to step out of that bubble – and to include others. Look around. Do what you can on the very small person-to-person level. If you are walking into a grocery store and there is a person outside of that store asking for money, pick up an apple, a sandwich, something – and give it to them. Most often, people are just tired, hungry. Everyone wants just a bit of care. Every person just wants to love and be loved. If you can show that – through a smile, a gift, a handshake – then it helps to break down those boundaries a bit, it allows for basic humanity to shine through.
It is small things. It is compassion in the moment. It’s awareness… It’s life.
Near. Far. High. Low. Sunrise. Sunset. All’s relative. The sense of perspective and point of reference. Most of all: the limits that define us: the breadth of our breath and the width of our brow. All our stories and all our beliefs. Our laws, our traditions, our ideas of love, of economics, of mine, of yours. We create systems and structures that define us and tell us how to live in community with others. All of those systems: imagined ideas, dependent on each other and, most of all, on the belief in the solidity and actuality of this ‘I’. I am this. I am not that. I have this. I do not have that. Where am I in this picture? Where do I fit? And am I getting what I deserve? Am I giving what I should be? And does it translate to YOU?
Every image has a perspective and offers a glimpse of what-i-see-from-here. There can be so much to a little sky scape on a little canvas. And, then again, nothing at all. Paint, arranged in a specific array, that evokes a sensation. And a flurry of ideas.
If even it is a moment of sweetness, of non-linear, non-denominational, non-theoretical thought in the course of your day… A dash of color, a reminder… We are all here on earth, under the same sun, the same sky… There is no real reason to not love each other.
5″ x 7″
I recently decided to shift one of the ways I engage with the world around me and wrote this article that was published on SolPurpose.com
Anyone who knows me knows that I can be an incredibly irreverent and snarky person. At times it can quite humorous and, at other times, it can be…less so, so I’ve come to found. I’ve thought about this – about what I say, how I act, what I do – about the roots and causes and effects of those words.
What is snark? UrbanDictionary.com defines it as a combination of “snide” and “remark.” “Snide” is “derogatory or mocking in an indirect way”…so to be snarky is to make indirectly derogatory remarks. I am certainly guilty of this.
Snark rarely adds anything to the world. In fact, it allows me to retreat from a discourse without giving anything back. Often, I use it in lieu of expressing actual disagreement or the opposite side to an argument. It lets me dish out my opposing view disparagingly in a way that cuts the other person.
Read the entire article here: http://solpurpose.com/2013/12/27/why-ive-given-up-the-snark/
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