Ahem. I saw something interesting tonight. I was waiting at a red light when I witnessed four grown men standing on the street corner, holding signs that said "Stop Immigration!!!!" One of the signs said "Help us take back OUR country" on the bottom, and another of the signs said "Non-whites are RUINING our land!!!!!!!!" Okay, I know I don't even really need to go into this any further....all the thoughts that ran through my head, all the questions I had for them, of all the ridiculous things!!!! But I found something interesting in my reaction to these men. I was baffled, a bit speechless (imagine that) and awestruck, but the one thing I didn't feel was anger. I felt it just briefly, but it didn't stay with me like it would have in the past. In the past I would have let the incident eat away at me until it reached the very core of my soul and maybe I'd get sick to my stomach or something. Tonight, I just thought "huh."
I wonder what Malcolm X would have to say about that. I know that anger was the driving force behind a lot of important social change that has transpired over the past couple of centuries (or millenia). Anger has served its purpose to an extent, and it will continue to, I just don't know if I want to live with it, personally.
I've been reading a lot over the past couple of days about a graduate program in psychology that has sparked my interest and that came to mind while I was gauging my reaction to these men. The program is called Contemplative Psychotherapy, and it is offered at a Buddhist school here in Boulder. All the programs at this (1,000 student) school are rooted in Buddhist idealogy (including their writing program, which was founded by Allen Ginsberg and is called the "Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics"), and meditation is a part of graduate studies every single semester. What interests me about this program is that it lends a spiritual hand to otherwise cold and clinical western psychology, and its participants are encouraged to find peace and presence in the moment in their own lives, as a way to understand people and the world around them. There is so much to it that it's hard to describe it all right now, but there were a few things that I was reading about in some of the program's literature that I thought were interesting, and which are giving me a different perspective on people and their (sometimes unfathomable) behavior.
One Buddhist monk (Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche) is describing his first experiences with the western world (in England) and how he reconciled them with his eastern background. He writes, "Buddhist psychology is based on the notion that human beings are fundamentally good. Their most basic qualities are positive ones: openness, intelligence, and warmth....Coming from a tradition that stresses human goodness, it was something of a shock for me to encounter the Western tradition of Original Sin. When I was at Oxford University, I studied Western religions and philoshical traditions with interest, and found the notion of original sin quite pervasive." In this particular case, the Rinpoche was talking about how the idea applies to western psychology, which sets up the hierarchical arrangement of sick patient and healthy doctor. The sick patient has done something wrong and the doctor is trying to "fix" the problem. The Buddhist idea is that people are fundamentally healthy by nature, and that through various forms of meditation, etc. people can find their way back to health, having temporarily departed from it (the reasons for this departure are not considered unimportant, but regression therapy and things like this would never be the focal point in this kind of therapy).
I know it seems I've gotten off the subject, and I probably have, but please indulge me. I often think about how we are products (to an extent) of our environment. Sometimes I look at guests of, say, the Jerry Springer Show and think how I shouldn't judge them because their experience could easily have been mine, had I been born where they were born, into families, financial, social, or educational situations like theirs. Even saying that sounds like a sort of judgement to me. It's hard to think of different without considering words like "better" or "preferrable," you know what I mean? Anyway, the Buddhist idea of inherent goodness, rather than guilt as a result of the actions of Adam and Eve and those that crucified Jesus, fits well with my outlook on things. These men on the street corner...they are not evil (is there really such a thing?). They just feel cheated out of the things they really wanted in their lives, and they are looking for something to blame their disappointments on.
Another central tenet of Buddhist theology is compassion. I like that. I think we can accomplish a lot more in the world by using compassion, than anger and war. I know there are MILLIONS of people out there that would disagree with me (they would say that Osama bin Laden is evil, Hitler, Rush Limbaugh, etc. and that they should be destroyed), but I just can't let go of the idea that peace is possible, when people look at the world with loving eyes. We spend so much time blaming. So much time feeling guilty, judging and being judged....looking around at other people and wondering why, damnit, they couldn't just be and act more like US!!!!! What a waste of time. What a lonely and depressing way to pass a lifetime. I mean, those men could have been spending a nice, quiet evening at home with their families playing Scrabble or something. Instead they're standing on a street corner feeling livid and inciting anger in others. And think about all the anger. They riled up the people that agree with them, and pissed off those that don't. One thing I can say for them....they made people think, and I've decided once and for all that thinking is a good thing :)
Ahhh. Breathe deep. On a lighter note...I got a great little bit of trivia from my friend JD the other day. It seems that there is a Walt Whitman Mall (yes, I said Mall) in Long Island!!!!!!!!!!!! I have to quote him here..."In Long Island there is a WALT WHITMAN MALL!!!! If that don't beat all huh?? I can just see that planning meeting.... "What can we think of that will make people want to buy stuff?? I know... Walt Whitman hated materialism so why not name the epitome of materialism after him!!! And we will call it Walt Whitman Mall!!" (picture the guy moving his hand in an arch with that far-off look in his eye)"
Awesome. Here's a site:
Peace and love and joy to you all.