Looking Both Ways

We can’t help but compare ourselves with others—their accomplishments, their looks, their virtues. Perhaps we just need to be true to our inner self. But when we look inside, we discover an unruly family of subpersonalities, with conflicting affiliations, fears, and yearnings.

No wonder we often feel inadequate to the task of establishing who we are and why we’re here. It’s as if we are auditing hundreds of classes at some college where the registrar keeps asking us what our “major” is. We likely produce some kind of answer (“family man”, “tax accountant”, “retired person looking for his missing piece”), but are we trying to register a flight path for a bird who doesn’t actually fly?

Yet when we do take flight, our problems with coordination disappear.

Some of us find ourselves pondering how it all fits together and whether the opportunities we discover looking outwards have any real affinity with the aspirations orbiting within us.

Inner and outward perspectives clearly influence one another—but both are showing signs of distress. Growing indifference to the well-being of others, incarcerations of convenience and prejudice, armed borders, and strategically contrived catastrophes leave behind a harvest of PTSD, homelessness and deep resentment in the minds and hearts of those who are dispossessed. And for those of us who, for the moment, are getting by, the stress of safeguarding our positions takes its own toll.

We may well question the cost of struggling to preserve our own corner of space. Gated communities, fortified national borders, cards of identity all seem to say more about what we fear than what we love.

In the middle ground between our inner and outer worlds, we often find ourselves desiring some things, rejecting others, and maintaining a dull indifference to the rest. But how else can we survive if we don’t choose between what has value for us and what does not?

So it may seem strange, even irrelevant, that Buddhism warns us of the “three poisons” (desire, animosity, and ignorance) and discourages us from vigilantly winnowing what we like from what we dislike. But surely, we may counter, isn’t that just intelligent self-interest helping us survive?

Might it actually be the case that our uncompromising preferences are contributing to the breakdown of communication among nations, classes, and races, and provide fuel for wars waged to preserve the status quo?

Even if we suspect a connection between our own behavior and the conflict and greed that hold sway globally, the task of eradicating ingrained habits of desire and aversion is daunting. Perhaps it is more promising to examine the lack of understanding that created them in the first place.

In any case, aren’t there simply too many of us on the planet now, with not enough to go around? And isn’t the aspiration to live in peace, to share what we have with others, and to care for a founding environment that supports and nurtures us, just an ideal that can never be realized, because our species is genetically coded to compete, dominate, and horde?

Has anyone out there found the key? Of, perhaps I should ask—since our only hope may be as a family living in a shared world—“”Has anyone in here found the key?”

I realize that this post is in the vein of others I have written before, but perhaps, in the flying moment—just as today’s blossoms give voice to the rain, dirt, and sunlight that have brought them into being–we are free to ponder how amazing it is that the vast cosmos is, even now, knowing itself through us.

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