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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.
Detail of the painting Recognition/Compassion (St. Francis)
St. Francis – he always seemed to be around when I was growing up. I had a St. Francis nightlight of glowing yellow translucent porcelain. He was over our TV, as a cross stitch on burlap or something – some coarse material – it came out of the 70s. In that, St. Francis was walking outside and had a bird in his hand. I remember, too, a rabbit, another bird flying, and a butterfly. The stitching was sparse but there he was. A two foot tall concrete statue of him lived in the garden.
So he was around. Who was he, to me, growing up? Of all the characters of Christian pantheon – and I heard about plenty – he seemed to be the least mythic – and the most human. He was a simple and gentle man, a monk, who loved nature and walked amongst the animals and saw the God in all things.
My parents took us hiking a lot. My Dad would comment on how lovely it smelled, how beautiful the trees or the leaves were, the songs of the birds, and we’d drink hot chocolate. My parents delighted in seeing different birds, maybe another occasional animal or the tracks thereof. What I’m saying is: we were brought up with a love of nature and a respectfulness of the earth we walked upon.
It was later that I had my own more personal experiences of that ‘God in all things’. And it deepened a sense that was planted there at the start.
St. Francis is as close to we get to a ‘pagan’ in Christianity: a lover of the earth. A compassionate friend to ALL things. Someone who took to heart the message in Genesis – of being a steward of the Earth. Being a steward is a humble job. A master has dominion over all things and is at the top of a hierarchy. A steward… a caretaker… Neither high nor low. Just walking the path and taking care – recognizing the divine in all things.
A while back I picked up a book titled The Art of Japan. On the cover there is a painting of Amida Buddha (Amitabha) in gold leaf on a black background. I imagine it to be a flat matte black. I saw that painting and I thought about it’s technique – and that a painting of St. Francis like that would be lovely. Obviously that changed.
In any case, I made this painting of St. Francis as a gift to my parents in honor of their 40th anniversary in June, 2014.
Detail: First World Problem Child
“My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death.”
– Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (amongst my favorite books)
Some thoughts on a painting. Or – what’s this thing about? So…. here we go…
It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. As long as I’m not fighting back.
My freedom has bought me this corner I can curl up in. You and I: we’ll have our petty arguments about the current NFL quibbletastic paparazzi inflammation score. There’ll be news at 6, intensive investigation at 7, and a debate at 8. We’ll go through it ALL. OVER. AGAIN at 9. Also: don’t forget to be afraid of radiation. Chemtrails. Aliens and meta-beings. Instabeings. Whatever your disease. Isn’t there anyone out there listening? Doesn’t anyone really care? Isn’t someone going to save me from this mental quagmire I’m in? Is there a reason – a real fucking REASON – for whatever the current argument is?
These human constructions and systems and governments and economies and monetary systems and structures – boundaries and borders – beauracracy terrors – we’re making it all up as we go along.
But there I am: that curled up scared ball of flesh just wanting to get OUT of its current imagined boundaries.
No. There I am: the fast car driving cup of coffee in my hand running I’m late – I’m not even late – I am just not stopping to CARE about the person man woman child all their belongings in a grocery cart wanting a bite to eat never having enough to eat I am that too. I am the military machine marching over and carried along upon the backs of millions in pursuit of the Dream – the ever loving ever living I am LIVING IT! dream – EVERYONE WANTS A PIECE OF ME – I am the kitten loving tit sucking cock cunt ass kissing guns blaring new horizon GLARING desire hungry you know what I mean it’s an endless scene – all of it just blaring – come fuck me – I’m tired of waiting just give it to me – the next big thing – I’m enamored by the latest gadget – love these romanticizations of the gritty dirt of the city street – o god I wish I could find something nourishing to eat. I’m the helicopter chop chop chopping overhead keeping it all secure – stay indoors! – I’m on the very top floor the view looks so good from here – shiny crystal glass clinking – want another drink what are you drinking? There’s always another edge to reach! The party never ends! It’s a life long pursuit of the American DREAM and it could be YOURS – life, liberty, and the pursuit… the pursuit… we’ll keep them spinning at the pursuit…
O the pursuit. No new jobs on the horizon. Fear is the best and only thing to be afraid of. As far as the kids know – the kids who feel they have no hope after college yet continue to enroll because what else are they going to do other than amass one endless loan for the banks to collect upon? Seems like a good system to me! To them, this world has never been any different. The government has always been able to precisely pinpoint you and your intentions via every one of your ten thousand communications. Also. don’t forget: endless terrorist war. Also: GMO scares. Also: pesticide chemicals compounding atop disease and distress. What’s there even to celebrate anymore? Have it YOUR way. This way. MY WAY. It’s a me me me world and someone else is after yours – or so the corporate machine would like me to think.
Buy buy buy. Work work work. Content providers do their best to get me to buy. To get me to work. To get me to buy. On and on and on. Go to school. Get a job. Buy a car. Drive to work. Home. Play. Consume. Buy buy buy. Consuuuuuume. And when break time comes, there’s not much thought as to what or where or how just have a cigarette another cup of coffee take some drugs are you feeling ok? Maybe this new antidepressant. Maybe a vacation to Hawaii. The DOW Jones is always plummeting and there’s always someone waiting to bang down my door and take what’s mine – listen in on my calls, know where I’ve been, been talking to, follow all my dots – my pinpoint connections – and connect my unconscious desires to a shiny new product for which someone else more famous will sing about the madness I’m experiencing in a carefully calculated manner to trigger my desire to purchase the next hit single. All and everything is just an ad for an endlessly possible perfect future – and it’ll be obsolete as soon as the next commercial.
O, say can you see this country I love: its cities and mountains and valleys. And its people: its tired hungry lonely scared selfish selfless colorful creative exuberantly ever-lasting just-wanting-to-live people from all over the world. This vast pool – this human organism – this melting pot of flavors melting down into suburban homogeny – wouldn’t it be SO nice if everyone just did what they were told – perfectly coiffed, cataloged, and commoditized to be repackaged and sold to the next developing nation? Ever on the verge of reaching a boiling point – the final explosive fomentation of tension between the what we could be – an easily controlled populace – and what we ARE: human beings… THAT is this country.
See: this country – scared into subservience, wrapped up in credit card debt and trying to take care of the kids – while the military machine defends the corporate machine bleeding us to death for every last dime because it feeds the disease of sociopathic capitalistic greed and we – we are wound so tightly – so tightly around up into ourselves in mazes of bureaucracy and in the end mirrored sociopathy of i me mine – wouldn’t you like to see sex, kittens, shiny things? The next episode of Stupid Things? Don’t you have dreams you’d like to chase – I mean ‘manifest’? Hold this crystal, it’ll cure your cancer. Chant this prayer, it’ll bring you closer to that which is also outside of you. Just go to this church. Sit in this Mosque. At this stupa. This structure. We made up all of it. And, while you’re at it, won’t you give a dollar so we can build another altar to ask for more alms to build more altars to ask for more alms to build more stairs to whichever vision you like – whatever – they’re all endless projections of an endless I.
It’s a trap of our own devising – complicit cogs of the gears of this mental machine of our own separation imaginings – twisting and twining and holding it all in – because we don’t have any room – any fucking room – to breath. Just give me a little space to breathe, man. Just a moment to breathe. I can’t take it anymore.
I want to fucking scream.
This silent empty echoing aching in my bones SCREAM.
I want to let it all out.
I want to know what it is to have a good time for which no one suffered.
I want to know what you mean by this ‘Freedom’.
I have everything. And nothing. And everything. And nothing.
All at the same time.
I’m sorry it had to be like this.
Ugly and hurting. Painful and wanting. I can’t paint a pretty picture when this feeling is eating me – and you – from the inside out – alive.
This elephant in the room is stomping us to death.
And I love you too much to ignore it any longer.
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