- Mountains And Waters
Last night the potluck group listened to Morris Berman on “Why America Failed.”
Halfway through I was wondering why I did this. By the end I remembered.
But first let me mention this: most of the hour consisted of an overview of what’s wrong. (This talk was pre-Trump, by the way, but you could already see which way we were going.) It wasn’t new to the people in the room last night, but it might be new to you. If you think things are okay (or were until Trump) please listen to this talk and pay close attention.
The smaller of the reasons would be his stark assessment of personal options, during the question period. He outlined three: (1) Change the system – forget that, can’t be done. (2) Leave the country if you can. (3) Within this country, try to make a space that will be more human-friendly during the collapse. Which of course is what is happening here, in the local small-farming community which includes us.
Giving up on the thought of system change is depressing. Recently I listened to my friend Beth about when she gave up on system change in Palestine – and the personal implications of that. She went to work with dying people after that, for many years. I won’t try to share more about it, because listening made me more aware of how hard I cling to hope.
The big reason is the analysis of why we’re like this; why America, of all the world’s nations, persists in cruelty to everyone who is not “us” AND destroying the planet AND let’s not do the long list of outrages – latest being the border wall “emergency” and before that the cruelty to migrants – but this talk was during the Obama presidency.
Why are we like this? It’s about identity, he says. We define ourselves by our enemies. We have defined ourselves against the British oppressors, against the [pick your adjective] indigenous, against the evil Mexicans, against the Communists, against the Fascists, against the Nazis – who are we? Of course that is the “white people” we. It tells us why, these days, the leadership of environmental protection is with indigenous people. They have a community, they have an identity that is not about being against something. Of course many of them have the disease too, but there’s a core that holds. Maybe that’s what attracts so many of us white people, settlers, colonizers – just to feel a wholeness that we haven’t known.
If that sounds like someone else, think again. I’ve had many identities in this lifetime, and the last few decades have defined myself against patriarchy, capitalism, militarism, racism, heterosexism, industrial civilization…. and who am I but a member of all those groups? Stopping climate change – stopping the root causes of climate change – my enemy? My self-definition? Where, then, is peace and wholeness? Who am I?
This is a question, or perhaps a project. First, to notice what’s missing in our own experience of the world. We can realize that we are the hungry ghosts of Buddhism (always hungry, impossible to satisfy), or the wetiko described by Jack Forbes (warped, cannibalistic… ) First, know something is missing, then learn how to find it. That’s the process called “decolonization” for those of us who became colonizers. It’s hard and people usually do it badly.
I’ll say that Zen practice has given me a sense of identity as a part of the universe. And a peace I didn’t have before. I will not say that’s the answer; it helps me a bite. Needing to study this – well, sesshin is next weekend, I’ll place that personal wound on the altar and just be present with it, allow myself to settle down with it.
And that’s what I have to offer this week.
Next month’s potluck will listen to a talk by Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass. Nourishment.
Love to you all.