by V.J. Leventhal
For the last 30 years (or maybe longer) I have been engaged in a concentrated effort toward self-awareness and mastery. I’ve studied most of the world’s religions, read philosophy, science, literature and poetry – all with the goal of understanding the true nature of reality. I’ve spent many entire days focused on a specific idea – measuring and applying a life lesson to see whether the wisdom holds true. After all this work, which I intend to continue throughout my life, I feel that I’ve arrived at a place of at least some knowledge of how things actually work, and an understanding that allows a glimpse of the bigger picture that may be unfolding in a given set of circumstances. This has enabled me to remain calm ‘while all around me’ are not, to not be swayed too much by the ups and downs of life, to rest easier in the knowledge that things are not always as they appear, and that the cyclical nature of existence leads back eventually to balance. I have come to a place where, generally speaking, anger is not an emotion that I nurture in myself, or others, preferring always to work from a position of peaceful and open awareness.
During the Obama campaign in 2008, I spent a lot of time talking to people and trying to energize them to vote and to believe that change was still possible — no, necessary — if we were to recover our control of our own government and move forward to fix all that’s gone wrong in the last 30 years. I was excited by Obama’s success for many reasons, not the least of which was the seeming awakening of sectors of the American public who hadn’t been engaged at all in their own political system. I knew that the reality of governing would be very different from the promise of the campaign, and that the mess we were in as a nation was daunting, but I also believed that the quality and integrity of the man we elected would mean that progress could finally be made, after 8 years of backsliding, toward a recovery of our American Dream for every citizen.
Then I watched in disbelief as many of those newly engaged voters almost immediately began to shift from elation to deflation, as the reality of trying to accomplish anything in the cesspool that is our Congress and our Courts started to play out. Within 6 months, those people who wept and jumped for joy at having elected Obama were ready to cast him off because they didn’t agree with something he said or someone he appointed or the priorities he was setting. With very little information, and apparently no interest in whether the information they did have was true or false, they were willing to throw him to the wolves of the corporately owned media and the big money interests without defending him, or even being willing to give him some time to try to unravel the tangled web in which he found himself. Instead of standing by him for at least a year or two, it was an almost immediate abandoning of the ship.
Well, now I’m PISSED OFF!
By V.J. Leventhal
Though my musings often tend toward the more metaphysical, I feel the need to say something about the place where inner peace meets the outer world.
This is an old question: how does an enlightened being, or society, survive when confronted by unenlightened, violent practices? How do we engage violence without becoming the very thing we are trying to fix? The only way this has ever worked is through passive resistance. South Africa, India, the American civil rights movement all are examples of non-violence winning the day. Yes, people are injured, jailed, and even killed, but the group, in remaining persistently non-violent, eventually prevails against a seemingly immovable, all-powerful adversary. In fact, violent response to violence usually only creates an excuse to crack down and increase the brutality. In the long view, non-violence is the better answer. In the short term, however, each individual must decide how they will respond when attacked or oppressed. The argument is sometimes made that if Gandhi had been dealing with someone like Hitler, as opposed to the somewhat more civilized British Empire, all resistance would have been futile. And of course, all the inner peace possessed by the Dalai Lama could not stop China from overtaking Tibet. This is where seeing the big picture helps. Where Tibetans have responded aggressively, they have been jailed or destroyed. The Dalai Lama and many of his countrymen had to flee. Sometimes discretion really is the better part of valor. Because he is free, he can continue to inspire and lead the world toward peace while working tirelessly to free his people. So too, did Mandela continue working from jail to free South Africa. There are no easy answers, but if you desire a more peaceful world, you logically must learn to be a more peaceful person.
by V.J. Leventhal
Last week I began my column with a general discussion of external versus internal power. I’d like to talk about what I mean by “internal” or “spiritual” power.
I’ve been studying Buddhism, especially Zen, and Taoism for many years in my own sporadic but dedicated way, and I have found these teachings to be a useful pathway to personal evolution and inner transformation. This study is not simply an intellectual exercise although it is certainly that but also a very specific practice of meditation and expansion of the mind, which includes learning about other states of being. The goal of this practice is to increase one’s awareness of both inner states and outer realities, in order to learn a peaceful and balanced way of living. Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Zen master and founder of what is called “engaged” Buddhism (because it practices both service and contemplation), teaches that wisdom (or enlightenment), requires both clarity of understanding and the practice of lovingkindness. Both the mind and the heart must be developed to live in balance in the world. The Dalai Lama also emphasizes that the key to wisdom is through compassion. Buddhism is a sort of scientific approach to comprehending the true nature of reality, in order to reduce suffering. The Buddha taught that the reality of the world is suffering and also the cessation of suffering. The Tao talks of the rising and falling of the “10,000 things” in trying to describe the fact that everything is impermanent, and in constant motion. By increasing your awareness of the flow of thoughts, emotions, and physical discomfort or mental anguish, you can learn to put things into a larger perspective, and to become more detached and calmer in your life.
by V.J. Leventhal
Power. Power bars, power yoga, power training, power elite, muscles, endurance, speed: we associate the word mostly with a sort of brute strength the big dog in the room, the most money and influence, the ability to have one’s way whenever one wishes. This kind of power has run the world for thousands of years. It is the inevitable result of a materialistic approach to life. If life is about stuff, then the one with the most stuff has the most power, and also has need of the most power in order to protect the stuff from others who would naturally crave it and the power it represents. In this model of existence, there is only one “pie” and power means having more of it then everyone else. Power means control over other people, over situations. So with enough power and control there should be no need to fear anything, ever again, right? Wrong. Fear remains just under the surface in people who need control over others to have power. Fear and anxiety are the natural results of the belief that there is only one “top,” one “best,” one “winner,” and everyone else is a loser, or lesser somehow. The brute force model of power works temporarily, but it is simply not sustainable to try to build a society where the largest number of people reap the fewest results of their effort. It requires more and more force to maintain control over this unpleasant situation.