Is public assistance a blessing to society? Is a birth defect a miracle?
The following two blog posts offer unexpected answers to those questions. In a way, they’re each a parable. A parable (called a “koan” in zen) is a teaching story that subverts your expectations to open your eyes to a new way of thinking.
Your ability to learn from them depends on how attached you are to the answer you expected.
A Self-Made Man Looks at How He Made It – Johns Scalzi. People will (and already have) taken the discussion around this thought-provoking post in a political direction. But my first and lingering impression is that, possibly without realizing it, Scalzi is giving an excellent example of naikon. I studied naikon for a few years; it’s the reflective half of the Japanese-based therapy style called Constructive Living. (The other, active half is called morita, but that’s a whole other conversation). In naikon practice, you meticulously give an accounting of all the ways you have been provided for, supported, or otherwise been a burden or trouble, to the rest of reality. If you do it right, it’s both soul-crushing and liberating. People go to retreats and literally recount their entire lives, down to minute detail, acknowledging their debt to the world around them.
Naikon is about cultivating gratitude, humility and a more realistic understanding of how important you are relative to the rest of the world. Which is to say, not very. We walk around thinking we’re the main character in some epic tale, the truth is that we’re not that important in the greater scheme of things. For all our vaunted independence and self-reliance, we all are laughably at the mercy of the grace and provision of the people, events and things around us. People of faith would say God, since we ultimately believe all reality comes from that source. It’s ironically freeing to acknowledge your absolute dependence, and it’s that freedom which Scalzi captures perfectly with this post. Well done. Doomo arigato gozaimasu, sir.
A Miracle Inside the Aurora Shooting: One Victim’s Story – Brad Strait. With all the terrible news associated with the Colorado shooting, I appreciated this hopeful story. Brad describes the excruciating experience of waiting in a hospital for an outcome perfectly. Although it takes a happy turn, it’s not a fairy tale ending; Petra Anderson’s story is just beginning. Once she physically heals, she will have to make sense of everything. Why she lived, when others didn’t. Why such a terrible thing happened in the first place.
I suspect most television programming and half the internet exists because we require constant distraction to keep ignoring big questions like that. I’m not sure she will be able to do that. The experience will likely force her to examine her life and beliefs. Her experience will force others to examine their lives and beliefs–and I’m convinced we need that. If you need an answer to “why save only one?” then perhaps one possibility is “so the rest of us will ask questions like ‘why save only one?'” We can’t grow strong unless we wrestle long and hard with heavy things, but we’d rather have shallow philosophical or religious soundbites slapped over an image on Facebook or in a cartoon from The Oatmeal.
On the face of it, these two blog posts would seem to be from entirely different perspectives. Yet they both resonated with me strongly. I don’t write a lot of poetry, but this one came from reading these two posts:
We are small, fragile constructs.
The material world is enormous, fallen, indifferent.
We cannot make it alone.
We need each other, desperately.
Our desperate need makes us angry.
In our anger, we act out. We rage. We hate.
The hate only increases our emptiness. Our need.
Like a tesseract, our small bodies have infinite capacity.
The emptiness can’t be filled if it’s already full of bloated ego.
Ego doesn’t satisfy. It has volume but no mass.
We have to drink it down, one bitter, pride-flavored cup at a time.
Make room to fill it with more satisfying things.
Gratitude. Hope. Wonder. Mystery. Love.
Like a tesseract, our capacity for these things is infinite, too.