And So it Begins…Our Beautiful, Dangerous Assignments, Part VI



 The struggle we are involved in, that threatens our basic human rights, that proposes oppression and discrimination, that looks and feels like the beginning of a fascist dictatorship, is never going to be completely over. This is all a manifestation of the basic divides in the human mind. All of us have minds that at some level want control, security, and comfort. All of us want to know what’s coming and to be free of uncertainty. Ultimately all of us want to be happy.

From my point of view, many of us just have totally counter-productive methods for getting to these states and have been practicing these counter-productive methods so long we’ve become really good at them. TrumpleThinSkin is a perfect example. He is in many ways the epitome of the American Dream. He represents the end goal of the nation that was founded on colonialism and slavery and capitalism and manifest destiny.

As Buddhist teacher Angel Kyodo Williams has spoken about, it is inaccurate to say that our system is broken. Actually, it’s working just as it was created to. This is capitalism taken to its extreme example. We cannot put band-aid after band-aid on a capitalist system and hope that it eventually will save us. It is based on division and competition and taking ours before someone else can get to it, and profiting from others’ suffering. Right here is where our system has led us. This has happened.

We need to dismantle this system brick by brick. Not all at once or we’ll end up just continuing the habits we are now feeling the horrific fruits of. Like the revolutionaries who eventually take on the same barbaric approaches as the dictators they unseated. We need to change a little bit, and readjust our balance, then change a little more, and readjust again. We need to slowly acclimate to freedom and love and justice.

We need to learn to tolerate uncertainty and the complexity of real diversity and the discomfort of being alive, alongside the joy of being alive. We need to remember our larger identities in the midst of the daily grind of our smaller identities. We cannot ignore the real injustices experienced continually by people of color, queer and trans people, Muslims, fat people, people with disabilities, poor people and all of us who are disenfranchised, by retreating to the safe-hold of “We are All One.” And at the same time we cannot successfully heal our racism, sexism, homophobia and all of our narrow-minded confusion without remembering with every breath that we are One.

Happiness cannot come from money, or power-over others, or temporary security. Happiness cannot come from ignoring what is going on inside and around us. Happiness cannot come to separate individuals. Happiness can only be found in widening our identities and remembering that separateness does not really exist.

I’ve struggled with the saying “No one is free while others are oppressed,” because I thought it meant I shouldn’t have any happiness while others in the world are suffering. I already have so many habits of self-denigration and pleasure-denying, that adding this to the pile seemed like it would be just another layer of guilt and shame. But now I see that it is much more complex and expansive than that. This saying reminds us that there isn’t separation. True freedom and true happiness come from identifying beyond my individuality. So we really do have to move all together on this path, the whole human race, micro-step by micro-step.

Not only do we all directly experience each other’s pain at some deep level of our collective psyche, but we similarly all experience each other’s happiness. If I only work towards my personal happiness, there will be a sense of lack because I have forgotten about my other identities and so am not fully present. And if I only work for freedom and happiness for others, there will be the same lack, but seen from the other side.

As the Dalai Lama has said, wishing for all humans’ happiness at once is much better odds for happiness than just wishing for my own. He calls it enlightened self-interest. Trying to eradicate my ego or my self-concern or the “me first” parts of myself is a losing battle. It’s part of having a mind to get fixated on protecting myself and seeking to secure my own happiness by any means necessary. However, enlightened self-interest reminds me of my largest identity and of a much more reliable path to happiness—being in this all together, as One.

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