“I am humbled before the earth
I am humbled before the sky
I am humbled before the dawn
I am humbled before the evening twilight
I am humbled before the blue sky
I am humbled before the darkness
I am humbled before the sun
I am humbled before that standing within me which speaks with me
Some of these things are always looking at me
I am never out of sight
Therefore I must tell the truth
That is why I always tell the truth
I hold my word tight to my breast”
Tom Torlino, Navajo, c. 1890, quoted in Peter Gold’s Navajo & Tibetan Sacred Wisdom
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
United States Declaration of Independence
What does every mother hope for their child? That they will be happy. What does every father hope for their child? That they will be happy. What does every living thing want for its own life? That they will be happy: that their lives will be meaningful, that they be able to enjoy food, safety and shelter. One could say this basic observation about the goal that keeps motivating life is self-evident. It is true life is also a fight for survival in an arena of natural selection but the life itself, the great bulk of time not directly involving birth, sex and death, this life itself is full of the pursuit of happiness.
The same aspiration seems to run through most, if not all, the animal kingdom as well to various degrees. Mess with a bear cub and momma bear will set you straight right away in a clear and simple, yet profound, display of loving protection. I cannot believe the robin caring for her chicks, or the rabbit family eyeing my garden are not sharing in the same basic experience of care and concern we people know so well. There seem to be differences of degree, not differences in kind between us and much the rest of the living fabric of the ecosphere.
This makes us fundamentally equal with all living things. The infinite expanse of space casts forth its web of cause and effect, churning in a vastness inconceivable. It is churning in just such a way that a complex congregation of molecules takes place on our planet as an almost immortal pulse of life, full of awareness in every direction but clothed exclusively in mortality. The countless sentient beings are like an eye blinking open, tasting a very specific set of experiences and then shutting quietly to rest as bones among the bones of innumerable individuals spanning countless species and time immemorial.
I’m not sure there has ever been a being born from a source that wished it ill; as if the deepest wish of an egg laying Sea Turtle or a laboring Alpaca was ‘oh I hope you have a life full of pain and difficulty, hardships and great suffering.’ That just is not the case. Given that life itself includes this deep aspiration, that those born might be accompanied by happiness, we should ask ourselves some pointed questions.
Have we been working to create an environment in which it is easy to live well and be good or are we populating our environment with every type of allure and temptation towards our lower nature we can think of?
How is that working out, can you be happy just being alone with yourself, basically can you rest joyfully? Content? Or does your mind run on a treadmill of concerns and worry punctuated by moments of spacing out and long spans of rewriting the past and guessing the future? A parent’s aspiration for the happiness of their child is perhaps the most defining characteristic of our species. How is it that this radically fundamental characteristic of the human experience, this break-you-open-it’s-so-wholehearted wish for another’s happiness, how is it that it is nowhere to be found in our society at large? It is so taken for granted it is barely mentioned, yet isn’t it rather obvious, both from our own experience and looking around, that it is not easy to lead a happy life, that we could use a bit more skill in this department?
We don’t talk about it because it doesn’t jive with our images of ourselves as Faustian world conquers slaying all our competition in the ‘marketplace’ – the place we spend the most of our human time and energy. We don’t talk about it in our movies, books or theater; it is not discussed in government or classrooms; it is not highlighted from the pulpit. Compassion, kindness, cooperation; these things embarrass us to talk about, as though that which is soft and gentle and promoting peace could not also be strong.
I’m going to tell you the secret about human life. It is easy to kill. It is hard to provide succor to the grieving survivors. Cheap foolishness can destroy, only patient wisdom can build up.
I think most people will find it an interesting exercise to try and set aside all your preoccupations and see yourself with eyes that only want what is really best for you. Normally our minds seem host to a set of hyper-critical eyes always noticing our flaws and shortcomings. It is as if we had internalized the sociological mores as an ongoing justification dialog between ourselves and our accusers. We spend an inordinate amount of time explaining to our ‘selves’ (and often anyone else who will listen) just how right we were or are to have done or be doing whatever it is, and how cursed the whole damn universe is because it is unfairly unfair to us. Those eyes seem to frighten us half out of our wits and keep us from ever really deeply relaxing. We may sing, “Don’t worry, be happy” but rarely can we take our own advice.
Against all those who would dictate how you should walk, talk and dress; what you should feel, believe and say; against all these internalized law givers, all you have is the strength by which you are able to walk your own path as an individual. The first step on this path takes place when you see the deep equality shared by all living things. Those with the critical eyes and ready formulae for how you should live your life are bluffing. Though often with the best of intentions our friends, teachers, preachers, philosophers, and theologians endlessly full of advice, at the end of the day know no more about the great mystery of being than what your own heart teaches you. The final truth comes from the inside. Hospital workers often understand this directly as they are not as removed from the real living and dying going on all around us every day.
The mother’s eyes that wanted only what would be best for you are willing to forgive your missteps along the way as little more than learning episodes. Those eyes want to see you enjoy a long, healthy, meaningful, love-filled life. We become adults when we are able to look after ourselves. We will do that well to the degree we learn to look on ourselves in the same loving way. If this is your most fundamental relationship with your life experience, that experience will be one of deep contentment at the blessed opportunity to have even a few moments in this sacred world. This is in sharp contrast to the hyper-critical eyes which insist on driving you to try to get and be ever more and more and more.
Looking on our own lives this way is a very immediate and potent invocation of the nurturing emotional system we looked at earlier. What if you could learn to look on yourself with those eyes? It is hard to even imagine, let alone fully feel. Which is sad because there is healing in the glance, the kind of healing that could have cooled the troubled hearts of our rampage killers.
We are basically a gentle species; witness the care with which we make love. Lovers know a sweetness in giving freely with consent a rapist will never, ever know. This too is common knowledge, self-evident really, though this too has mostly gone missing from our culture thoroughly pornified by those who would sell us stuff. The eye most of us have watching us is not the enthusiastic, warm eyes of young love or the accepting eyes of our mothers but it is this one, the eye of money. It is the hexing eye of the Jones, full of status and hierarchy.
I would like to remind us that we are actually under the gaze of our ancestors. We inherit from them the lifestyle and institutions by which we organize our life support systems. Both are flawed and are in need of reform. This is the task that falls to our times.
We are just like our ancestors, carrying on the same legacy. Now it is our turn to know and feel the bonds of gentle love and the brokenness of jagged grief. Like them, we too will know terrors and fears of very real possibilities that threaten to disrupt the delicate interdependence we have come to rely on. Like them we will need to draw on reserves of courage and determination to protect what is precious.
This is the eye that dazzles us with status, bewitches us with shame, distracts us from the conversations we could be having about the world outside the box. It is a world messy with poverty and weaponry, with corruption running from the deepest hells of shadow banking up through the commanding heights of the glittering board rooms running our oil based economy. We would be fools to think all the institutions built up through the previous generation’s education in the school of hard knocks should be replaced wholesale but it would be equally foolish to think they are still serving our needs and not in need of radical reform.
With every passing day we are burning up the planet just that much more. We already have exceeded our planetary carrying capacity, with every passing day another tick of growth just increases that excess that much further. This path will not allow us to enjoy a long, healthy, meaningful, love-filled life. It is time to wake up. It is time to open our eyes.