Lily Tomlin Revisited

Personally, for many reasons, I am time and again blown away by the Lily Tomlin quote “Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past.”

So simple, brilliant and true. Not just about forgiveness, but sanity, dharma, spirituality.

But then, as relevant as that was to some low personal places I was visiting very recently, we are all also confronted with the not so unreasonable and more tractable wishes for a better present and future, and an honest appraisal of our shared past.

That serves a purpose, to guide our actions, to craft our responses. To be more compassionate and to act with wisdom and justice.

There was a lot of compassion shown this week, a lot of standing up to insanity and malfeasance. To injustice and fear and hate.

Large peaceful crowds come to mind.

Polls that show large public support for change do as well.

Cops and mayors and governors taking a knee comes to mind. The leaders standing up to the reactionaries. To Trump and his sycophants and base.

Totalitarianism. It can happen here. I grew up being told that after World War ll. It is so clear now that even Pat “gays cause hurricanes” Robertson told Trump to back off! I have NEVER agreed with him before. I was stunned. That’s how bad this administration is. We can all supply many other examples.

Justice is supposed to be what civilization is about. What America is about. Superman says so!

This vision of justice, of the time is now, wont be sustained unless we sustain it.  It will fade into memory and be dwarfed by daily concerns., big and small.

Or we will be destroyed by the powers that will cause a backlash if we are not vigilant.

Or by misjudgments and mistakes by well meaning people.

We need to be change, to support change. We need to vote. Get others to vote. Don’t be too purist. this is not the time for that indulgence. Get the evil ones out. Then we can re-group and debate the fine points.

Be generous. Give to those trying to help. To campaigns, to rights groups, to groups that make things better and help people.

Be active.

Be alert.

Reject hate and fear.

Hold those who are egregious in their words and actions responsible.

It’s the compassionate thing, the right thing.

It is dharma.

It is simply being a good citizen.

You may have limited reach, but no one has no reach.

So yes, we don’t wish for a better past, that is fruitless. Lily is right. We work for a better world.

I know I am preaching to the choir, that’s part of why I haven’t been posting.

But still, I would like to add my voice to this large chorus of friends around the world.

 

addendum: I will let this stand, but please dont confuse my trying to see the positive side of what is going on mask that I do believe the hard work is yet to come. There are entrenched interests that will fight meaningful change tooth and nail. My congresswoman Karen Bass is on it, but are many other democrats beyond the symbolic?

This is deep and abiding and we’ve been here many times before with great ideas and little to no action. Watch John Oliver on HBO if you can from yesterday, 6/7/20. This isnt just a few “bad apples.” It is systemic and the bad apples are protected by other bad or not so bad or even ok  apples.

The police violence against protestors and even “liberal” mayors like de Blasio of NY seem  oblivious to the extent of police violence. Tonight there were scenes of  the police showing support for police officers that were obviously guilty of frank unprovoked assaults. Excessive force against peaceful protests against excessive force is way beyond irony to cynicism and evil.

Still, there are some aspects of this that do seem different. The nature and size of the peaceful protests, the willingness of some police and officials to at least appear open to change, and Trump showing his true colors and being called on it from not just the usual quarters.

We need to rebuild. Police must be held responsible as pilots, doctors, bus drivers and others are. I never saw a clear act of malpractice applauded by other doctors, but I have seen brutal cops today applauded by other cops.

This is about racism. This is about our horrible abdication of responsibility.

This is personal for me; my grandson is mixed race and drives around with his black father. But having said that, kind of so what? It was important to me before my grandson was born, and it should be personal and important and critical for every person with even a touch of heart, or conscience, or even selfish concern for the future of all of us. No justice, no peace isn’t a threat, it’s a fact.

We Cant Wish Ourselves Out of Any of This (wish we could!)

Hakuin Zenji the great 18th century Japanese master, pipe dreams himself as an old woman former prostitute poet.

 

It is incumbent on us not to be married to the stories we tell ourselves.

That is not an excuse to think that nothing you think matters.

Of course, “matters” is relative and subjective, a product of mind.

But then, so is existence.

I have of late been concerned, as I bet you have, about the state of our nation and world. It is awesome in the sense of being overwhelming. Stunning in the sense of of being hit in the gut and having your breath knocked out.

What level of greed and delusion is our species capable of?

Look around.

A wall in Berlin

 

I was speaking to a friend of mine who is a professor of history. We don’t only learn from history in the sense of studying events that have occurred long enough ago to somehow be at a sufficient distance that they are described in summary form in textbooks and can be “processed,” that is, to have developed a coherent story about the events that relates to our world view (the big stories we tell ourselves). Events aren’t made into history after some respectable time has elapsed. Everything you experience is history. The “now” is too fleeting to grasp. Science teaches us that energy must reach us, cause changes in energy states in our sense organs, change the membrane states in the nerves that feed our brain, then our brains must sort the data about these energy transformations and decide how it relates to your stories and experience; all in time and space.

So, your “now” is a result of transformations that happened in the past.

It’s all history.

In my personal life I have sought liberation by pursuing my practice. More and more I appreciate the wisdom of Lily Tomlin’s statement that forgiveness is not wishing for a better past. That is true when seeking to forgive others and to forgive your self. That is especially true when you consider that to the extent you perceive, think, feel, and conclude anything about anything, you are experiencing the past.

I admit it. I find that I often wish for a better past. A past where delusion, ideology, racism and greed didn’t run our country and many other countries around the world. Personally, there are times I wish I zigged instead of zagged in my life. There are times I wish those near and dear to me zigged when I hoped they would, when it would have fit my image of the way things should be, when my ego would have been more supported, but they found zagging to be what they needed to do.

But wishing is delusion, it ends up causing more pain and suffering. It is an attempt to reify our stories, what we think we need instead of want, our conditioning, our egos.

We get disappointed when reality doesn’t fit our model of it, our stories, our wishes for a better past. As Stephen Gaskin said over 45 years ago, you have to appoint to be disappointed.

Of course, this can devolve into just more concepts, an excuse to give up, to not care. In Zen we say don’t pick or choose. Well, be careful about how you parse words and concepts. Compassion is at the base of Buddhism, of any religion or philosophy or world-view that isn’t just a way to rationalize greed and delusion. We may not want to be slave to our egotistical, conditioned picking and choosing, but we discriminate a rock from a potato, a kitten from a cobra, compassion from greed.

Hakuin Zenji not deceiving himself and occupying the ground he sits on

In Zen we say start where you are. Occupy the ground you stand on. Maezumi Roshi stressed no self-deception. Easy to agree with; what else would make any sense? Actually doing it, I find, is not so easy. How often do we like where we find ourselves? It isn’t always pretty, is it? But what else is there? Where else can you start, and what other strategy but no self-deception would possibly matter (see above)?

In the past few months I haven’t been too interested in math and science, other than as a professional medical scientist. Seemed a distraction. I have enjoyed taking a bit of a philosophical/metaphysical turn (in the sense of philosophizing about the implications of science) reading, for example, Bernardo Kastrup. Then last week I was talking about the coolness of quantum mechanics talking to a friend at the Zen center who has a strong math background, and I found myself fired up, going back to review some math and science and loving it; so pure, so elegant, so inherently not greedy, insane and devious.

Dogen said to study Buddhism is to forget the self. At least when delving into how an abstract logical construct like linear algebra ends up being a way to describe quantum phenomenon, I can, for a bit, forget myself. OK, that’s not totally true, and it certainly isn’t what Dogen was really saying. He said body and mind fall away, and mine hasn’t, not even when absorbed in new material. But still, it seems to at least give me a little break from all of the noise.

I like that you can’t cheat it without, well, cheating, and what’s the point of that? And it can get deeper as you return to it. You might have a certain understanding of a mathematical operation, but seeing how it works in another context, say linear algebra in quantum mechanics, brings you deeper; very cool.

Myths and stories can do that too, and I do like creative writing and have been doing some of that as well. I read somewhere you might as well do art; worse that can happen is it sucks, then you toss it. I like that. Nice if it doesn’t suck though, but hey, gotta start somewhere.

 

Of course, the ultimate art, the great performance piece, is our lives and our deaths.

Keep on dancing!