Tuesday, January 28, 2014

To be Free from Suffering

A comment on my last post made me realize I need to clarify something.

How can I accept the world exactly as it is, and yet desire that people be free from suffering? Isn't this an incredible contradiction?

It isn't, for two reasons: this sort of acceptance comes from a place of nondual thinking, and so to accept the world is to accept my desires, as well. Second, to be free from suffering does not necessarily mean that the suffering ends.

The path of accepting the world precisely the way it is begins with a deep inquiry into our own nature and the processes of our conception and cognition. The more deeply I understand the nature of reality, the more willing I will be to accept it. And this inquiry into nature's essence has, for me, yielded the conclusion of the nondual nature of the world.

What do I mean by this? Much of our philosophy and perspectives on life are based on the idea that we are something separate from life itself. There is this self, and there is everything that happens to it--two separate things. There is mankind, and then there is nature--two separate things. There is self, and there is God--two very separate things. Watch yourself, though. Watch your thoughts and your motivations and ask this one crucial question: where do they come from? Where is their origin?

This is the incredible thing about studying history. When you study a time period deeply and then read the writings of people who lived and thought in that time, you see their thoughts and feelings in context--almost everything they write can be viewed as the product of historical forces. Likewise, my every thought, and many of my fears and pains, are the product of historical and social forces. My hunger, thirst, and fatigue are the product of the laws of nature. So what exactly am I?

Nothing separate from the whole. I am the intersection of many different things, but I am not separated from the world or from life itself. And so, to accept the world is to accept my own desires and thoughts about the world--but to accept them for what they are, which is not any product of my own uniqueness, but rather the culmination of the intersection of historical and social forces that I represent.

And this is why acceptance is never quietism. I believe that the world is perfect just as it is, including my desire to change it. I do not want people to be hungry, and so I accept the world of hunger and my own desire to change that world. These are not two separate phenomena. They are one.

Second, to be free from suffering does not mean that pain ceases. Freedom from suffering comes when we stop identifying in suffering. When we recognize ourselves for what we truly are--which I believe is loving awareness--we find an incredible capacity to greet our own suffering with love. Instead of identifying in the pain, we can identify in the awareness that is aware of the pain (and the awareness of the pain is not in pain--it is simply aware of it. Awareness of depression is not depressed. Awareness of anxiety is not anxious.)

As we cease identifying in our suffering, something changes about its nature. We stop desiring for it to leave. We find an incredibly deep acceptance. Ironically, it is this very acceptance that changes things. It is this very acceptance that makes us, like Hafiz, "always kind and full of wonder." This is the step between desiring change and becoming change.

Suffering can be a beautiful and wonderful thing, because it is a call to awaken to our own nature.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Morality of Acceptance

Trev left an important comment on my blog post yesterday: he said that to argue that "virtue is constructed of vice" is a "huge jump." And I agree with him. I think I need to clarify a bit what I mean here, and I've realized that the words I've been using to express this idea have been inadequate. So I'm going to clarify what I mean and delineate what I call "the morality of acceptance."

I think that "vice," specifically is the wrong word. It's not big enough. Vice is generally interpreted as a specific bad habit that leads to more suffering, and thus ought to be overcome. What I mean is that everything we view as negative literally constructs everything we view as positive. And also, everything we view as positive constructs what we view as negative.

This first began to occur to me when I read "The Great Divergence" by Kenneth Pomeranz. The book explores the question of why industrialization was sparked in Europe and not in Asia; China and India were both significantly more economically advanced than Europe prior to the nineteenth century. One of the important reasons Pomeranz discusses is slavery. Slavery enabled economic growth in such a way that encouraged industrialization (I'm not going to get into his argument as to why; you can see the book for more details.)

This was really profound to me. I thought about my entire life, which has been extremely comfortable in terms of material well-being. And I suddenly realized that none of that material ease or comfort would be possible if slavery hadn't have existed. Now this doesn't make me grateful for slavery, but it made me realize something profound--when you step out of the judging mind and look at life for what it is, you realize that every benefit comes associated with costs. And likewise, every cost brings along certain benefits.

I believe that the same principle can be applied to individual people. Every particle of suffering I've ever experienced has worked to make me more compassionate. My own inability to overcome my vice has constructed within me the virtue of empathy. My understanding of myself as essentially limited has led me to judge others much less. What I view to be my own greatest virtues have been constructed of what I know to be my greatest vices.

And so I advocate for a morality of acceptance. A morality of prescriptive injunctions, "I should...I ought...I have to...", seems to me to generate more suffering than not. On the other hand, mindful acceptance generates important changes. When we step out of the judging mind and stop thinking in terms of good and bad, we see things more clearly--we see that what bothers us most about other people is also what enables their good qualities. We see that what we hate most deeply in ourselves is what enables our best qualities.

From what I've been able to observe, this seeing changes things. Because as you accept life exactly for what it is and rejoice in it as it is, you develop equanimity. You react to all things the same. You're less bothered, less filled with hate, and more likely to be compassionate. Instead of wishing for people to be righteous, you just hope that they'll be free from suffering. Instead of getting down on yourself, you treat yourself with compassion.

And this is a great irony. Because as you begin to appreciate vice, it begins to dissipate. This is because you no longer judge it. Instead of talking and thinking about change, you become the change.

And this is the base of the morality of acceptance. instead of judging life, you accept it. This acceptance works within you the change you never could have done with judgment or prescription. To me religion is deeply symbolic of this reality. God is the great "I AM." He is the personification of existence itself. Scripture observes that as we accept God, he begins to change us through his grace. I believe that as we accept reality just as it is, we experience this phenomenon of grace. Life works inside of us to change our very nature. It changes us from beings of judgment and prescription to beings of acceptance and love.

And love itself is to accept. It is to embrace people just as they are and only have the best of wishes for them. There is no judgment or condemnation in love.

For anyone who desires to be more loving, I would ask this: how do you expect to cultivate love by the means of rejecting the reality that meets you? Acceptance is cultivated by accepting. It's counter-intuitive because there are many things we feel we should not accept. But practicing acceptance on the most difficult of issues (such as our own vice) builds the quality of acceptance, of love, within us and fundamentally changes the way we approach living.



Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thoughts on Gay Parenting



So I have a question.

If you find yourself opposed to gay parenting, would you be willing to look the children in the above video in the eye and say to them, "your life experience is fundamentally flawed and should never have happened. The person you are and who you will become is a problem that needs fixing through social policy. The family you love is something wrong with the world and ought not to exist."

For some reason, I don't think so. It just feels intuitively wrong. And yet, whenever people argue that gay people shouldn't be allowed to have children, that is exactly what they are saying. They are saying that children raised by gay people deserve something more than the family they have and argue that children raised by gay people will have a disadvantage in life. In essence, they are saying that these children will have a life flawed so deeply that it would be better for social policy to prevent their existence.

One of the biggest problems in the way we approach people, I think, is the assumption that there is something wrong with them that needs to be changed. And it's not just with gay people and their families. I think the application of this attitude to gay people comes from a deeper problem with the way we approach life. We look at life and people as if it's filled with problems that need preventing and stress ourselves trying to gain control over life and people. Most often, I think, this is because it's the way we treat ourselves. Too many people believe there is something fundamentally wrong with themselves that needs changing and perfecting.

I've never met anyone whose ever been able to rid themselves of what they think is wrong inside of them. And the most miserable people I've encountered have been those most obsessed with changing who they are. The path to progression, it seems to me, is counter-intuitive. It comes not by rejecting our flaws, but by embracing them and seeing them for what they are: the very building blocks of our virtues.

Virtue is constructed of vice. Our weaknesses enable our strengths. A deficit in one area transforms itself into a surplus in another. In trying to rid ourselves of all vice, we also rid ourselves of our greatest virtues. The maximization of virtue happens when we see our weaknesses for what they are and embrace them with love. Compassion for self and others arises from imperfection, and it is generally compassion and love that we most admire in people.

As we truly accept ourselves, we begin to see others more clearly as well. We see that their flaws enable their best qualities. We begin to fall in love with their fears and insecurities and see beauty in them exactly as they are. To me, this is the deepest form of love: one that does not require any change at all, but embraces everyone equally precisely because of their faults and imperfections.

Could it be that the way we approach social problems like gay marriage and the families of gay people originates in how we treat ourselves?

If we see ourselves as possessing fundamental flaws that need to be eliminated, and we believe that there is something sub-optimal about gay parenting, we'll apply the same outlook. Eliminate it. If, however, we stand back and see our true nature--that nothing good about us could exist without the parts we think are bad, we'll begin to see things more clearly. We'll begin to understand that the optimal is impossible in all cases, and that what we call sub-optimal comes along with unique benefits.

Humanity's greatest strength is its diversity. We need our transgender people. We need our straight people. We need our asexual people. We need our single people just as much as our married people. We need our atheists just as much as we need our theists. We need our blind, deaf, and physcially impaired people as much as anyone else.

We need the children who were raised in homes with same-sex parents because they have a unique perspective to offer us.

My deepest hope is that we can all accept ourselves just where we're at. I hope that we can all become well practiced in self-compassion, and then apply this outward. Instead of engineering the perfect society by eliminating sub-optimal family combinations, we should embrace every family as they are. Instead of asking the question, "how can I make myself and others perfect," perhaps we could ask, "what can I learn from my own flaws and the flaws of others?"

Does every child really deserve two opposite sex parents? What children really deserve is our affirmation. They deserve to know that they are okay, loved, and welcomed in society whether they were raised by a single mother, single father, two men, two women, a grandparent, or in an orphanage. Every child deserves to feel like they and their family belong.

Feeling far from Love

"Friend, do not despair if you are now feeling far from love. You are only seeking a reflection of your own heart. Love is burning even more brightly now, even if it feels like pain and longing.

If it is warmth you seek, if it is closeness you long for, begin by feeling the warmth of your own broken heart, reconnecting there at the very source of disconnection, finding presence in your own presence. Your loved one is near, for you are near.

Know that your life cannot go wrong. Even if you find yourself in ruins now, understand that even the ruined place contains seeds of grace and the fragrance of renewal. You cannot go back, life only marches on. Dignify its ever-onward movement. The power of suns is always with you.

Know that a new life can only grow from the ground upon which you stand. A new painting must begin with a canvas. Use the canvas that is given. Even old canvases can hold fresh paint.

If you dream of a new tomorrow, your dream appears now, held in your presence. Keep sight of the goal, yes! - but never lose connection with the ground, this moment, the place from which goals are seen or not seen, held or released.

Being present is never in conflict with holding a vision of a more expansive future in your heart, for the holding can only happen in Presence. The present holds the future.

And then, out of the ashes of ground zero, that dark place associated only with death and destruction, a new kind of life may suddenly appear possible, and, with love and trust, begin to manifest.

Never give up on life, for it never gives up on you, even when you give up. And know that your heart is near, broken yet radiant."


"If our love is dependent on looks, when our looks fade, our love fades. If our love relies on feelings, when feelings weaken or suddenly change, our love is threatened. If our love is attached to stories and memories, when history cannot be remembered, our love is forgotten. If love clings to form, then when form dissolves, as it must, love dies too. 

Is there a love that is not dependent on form or feeling, looks or stories? Is there a love without conditions, and without end? Is there a love untouched by disease and death and the passing of things? Is there a love that is so close, so intimate, even the word 'love' is too much?

We do not seek love, find love, borrow love or steal love; we do not buy love or sell love; we do not even become love. Love is what we are, the awesome power of universes, holding planets in their orbits and dripping morning dew from the grass in the first light. Without love, without the profound interconnection of things emblazoned on our hearts, without that deep knowing that we are inseparable from all we see, all the riches of the world fall into nothingness.

Love is all."


--Jeff Foster

Friday, January 24, 2014

What I Know to be True

Truth...knowledge....these are such common words in Mormonism.

So many people talk about what they "know to be true."

How often do we really deeply pause to reflect not on the knowledge we have, but rather on the process of knowing. How is it that a thing can be known?

What are the most basic things that I know? Well, I know that I am Josh DeFriez.

But wait, what even is the concept of "Josh DeFriez"? And what is the "I" to which I am assigning this identity? Is it the thoughts in the head of the body typing these words? Are these thoughts called "Josh DeFriez"? Or is it the body itself? Is it the feelings in the body? Or is it a combination of all of them? If it's a combination of all of them, then how do I go about setting the parameter for the combination that creates this mysterious person? My thoughts and feelings are deeply based in historical and social patterns. They most often did not originate inside this head. Then are those forces and patterns also a part of what it is to be "Josh DeFriez"?

But I feel that I have an intuitive understanding of what it is to be "Josh DeFriez." Maybe this mind isn't capable of defining the thing, but it most definitely exists. Kind of like when the sun is just barely going down, and stars start appearing in the sky. If I look directly at them, they disappear. I can only see them from the corner of my eye.

And this is odd. Something appears to be there from the corner of my eye, but not to be there upon closer inspection.

Isn't the self kind of like that? If I'm not thinking about it, I feel intuitively that I am a self. And yet, when I examine the thing, I find that I can't know for certain exactly what it means to be a self.

And the more deeply I examine the processes by which I think and function, the less certain I am about certainty. I don't really know how any of it works. I don't know exactly how thought is formed, or how food is processed into energy, or why I feel the way I do about certain things.

I am a mystery to myself.

Now back to knowledge. If I have any knowledge at all, then it must be stored in the vessel of this thing I call my "self." But if I cannot even know with certainty what sort of a thing this "self" is, then how can I ever know for certain the veracity of its beliefs or what it thinks it knows?

I can't, really.

And yet, I tell myself I know things. And telling myself these things create patterns of action. And these patterns of action can often lead to suffering.

And this is the way I see it when LGBT people continue to live in suffering because they "know the church and its teachings are true." While we are not capable of ultimate knowledge, we are capable of setting parameters within our own minds. These parameters can hurt us.

But within a narrative that tells you abandoning the narrative will lead you to the greatest suffering imaginable, it is difficult to ask deep, important questions. And this is the central problem of narratives based on the assumption of certainty. The nature of reality is uncertain. Maybe this is why the certainty of testimony more often leads to pain than joy--because it's not in line with the nature of life.

To me, religion is less about what I know to be true, and more about the conglomeration of mysteries that enfold my life. What do I know to be true? I don't know even know what truth is, ultimately, let alone how I would know it if I knew what it was. Of course I have general predispositions and methods of judgment, but even my most certain means of judging the nature of reality must be approached with a degree of apprehension.

And the more I acknowledge the unknowability of things and the incredible mystery that surrounds even the smallest action I take, the more deeply connected I feel with life. The more I embrace mystery, the more I feel peace.

Mystery fills me with awe. And, as Rumi says, "awe is the salve that will heal our eyes."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tripping Over Joy

I've started a new blog just to share poetry called "Tripping over Joy." The title comes from one of my favorite poems by Hafiz. For any interested people the URL is trippingoverjoys.blogspot.com

Monday, January 13, 2014

My Love Poem to Everyone

This is a love poem I wrote to everyone. Including you.


Dearest,

You are no simple thing.
You are a message so precious
That the Beloved
Built the Universe as a bottle
To carry you to my eyes.
He shaped stars and formed galaxies
To contain you 
While you deliver that 
Truth that is your own Being!

Cease from fear and worry--

Embark on an inward-facing journey
And be God's divine message
To the world.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Today

Today

I
Do not
Want to step so quickly
Over a beautiful line on God's palm
As I move through the earth's
Marketplace
Today.

I do not want to touch any object in this world
Without my eyes testifying to the truth
That everything is 
My Beloved.

Something has happened
To my understanding of existence
That now makes my heart always full of wonder
And kindness.

I do not
Want to step so quickly
Over this sacred place on God's body
That is right beneath your
Own foot

As I
Dance with
Precious life
Today.

--Hafiz--



May each of you dance with precious life today!
May each of you be safe and protected from inner and outer harm.
May each of you be happy and find joy in the present moment exactly as it is.
May each of you be well.
May each of you be peaceful and at ease with life.

May each of you be friendly to yourselves today!