Thursday, February 05, 2009

"I hope he fails"

As expected, President Obama is getting slammed by the far right for everything he does. The same thing happened during the entire Clinton administration, but I actually thought that the fringe element would have gotten a clue - given the results of the last election - that the public has lost patience with partisan sniping at the cost of good governance.

It's been implied that Daschle's failure to pay all his taxes is a failure on the part of the president. First of all, someone in Daschle's position doesn't even do his own taxes, and probably doesn't even look very closely at the returns that are filed, yet the president is somehow supposed to know the details. Such an expectation is obviously agenda-driven, and I think we need to look more closely at that agenda.

We need to ask ourselves some hard questions, and look for some honest answers. For years, our country has been controlled by people we didn't elect, and who operated in an atmosphere free of real oversight. Corporate CEOs and industry lobbyists actually drafted legislation that eliminated government constraints upon their activities, then paid our elected officials to pass those laws for a willing president - whose "success" throughout his career was entirely beholden to the same CEOs - to sign.

The results? Insurance companies no longer have to actually pay valid claims. Credit card companies can charge pretty much whatever they want, literally trapping even honest cardholders into being responsible for paying exhorbitant additional fees, for actions over which they have no control. Oil companies post record profits, even as they drink deeply from the well of government subsidies. Corporations get tax breaks for eliminating American jobs and replacing them with foreign labor. Those same corporations are even given incentives to move offshore, where they are exempt from paying a significant portion of their taxes. Daschle's situation - even if it represents intentional avoidance, which nobody has established - is a drop in a very large bucket by comparison.

Mortgage lenders and financial firms have been freed of the constraints that prevented them from taking ridiculous risks and strongly encouraging their customers to spend money those customers couldn't remotely afford. Sure, those customers who bought homes beyond their budgets or made pie-in-the-sky investments share responsibility, but no more than does the industry that prodded them into making commitments that the industry knew would likely be broken.

Now that the bottom has all but fallen out, the right has plainly stated that they want a hugely popular president to fail, even if it means the destruction of the country's well-being. Rush Limbaugh, of all people, has come to be the titular head and spokesman of the far right. The very "conservatives" (and I use the term very loosely, with tongue firmly in cheek) who dug the hole in which we currently find ourselves are demanding that we give them back the shovel.

I think that the controversy over the capping of CEO salaries is a pretty good metaphor for the overall attitude of the right. They seem to feel that a CEO who has led a business into failure should justifiably be given millions of dollars in salary & bonuses, even as he (or she) dictates the elimination of thousands of citizens' jobs. Even worse, that CEO has the gall to literally demand that the government fork over billions of dollars to bail the company out, yet have no voice in what the company does with the money. Banks took $350 billion, with the intent that the money would be used to free up credit and stimulate the ecopnomy. Did they free up credit? No... they simply did what they thought would enhance their own bottom lines, and then refused to disclose what they did with the money. We took a real screwing on that one, and the banks are laughing, all the way to... well, you know.

Our elected officials are sworn to uphold the Constitution, and to defend it from all enemies, both foreigh and domestic. I say it's time we enforce that oath. If an elected official is complicit in drafting and enacting laws that enrich donors and lobbyists at the cost of constituents' well-being, they will have aided and abetted the criminal acts of a domestic enemy, and should face the full force of the criminal justice system. Same goes for officials who subvert the Constitution for their own cynical purposes. We've sat idly as our "leaders" have sold our children's future in order to line their own pockets. It's time to stop. If we don't do it now, things will just get worse. Better to fix a problem now, before the culture we so cherish is destroyed. Fixing it later will be infinitely more painful.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Just Sitting...

Some years ago, I taught several series of classes at a local church, presenting the principles of ZaZen meditation in a manner comprehensible to and practicable by the Western mindset. The instruction began by encouraging participants to recall childhood memories wherein external social/parental influences were absent (ie: daydreaming).

As children mature and are more effectively socialized, they learn to respond to "appropriate" stimuli with "appropriate" behavior, the result being that they are conditioned to ignore or set aside such frivolous activities in favor of more "productive" behaviors. "Don't waste your time! Get up and do something... Clean your room... Do your homework!" The message is clear: Put aside childish things. And the comforting silence we once knew is displaced.

As adults, we westerners are usually taught to access that meditative state by struggling to suppress all external stimuli, which is very difficult. The more we attempt to set aside random thoughts, the more we focus upon them. "Do not think of a white horse." What image is in your mind as you read that admonition? Inevitably, a white horse.

An alternative - and simpler, more effective - method is to allow the stream of collective stimuli to wash over us unchecked and un-responded-to. The internal "conversation" merges into little more than mental "white-noise," and we once again experience the sense of stillness / peace that we knew as toddlers, gazing up at the clouds, and turning them into grand galleons. The "matters of consequence" that so fill our minds diminish into a communal flow, with no single thought being any more prevalent than any other. It is during this process that we are able to look objectively, dispassionately at our life, to make pragmatic decisions and take truly productive action. Thus, allowing the free-flow of consciousness becomes every bit as important to our well-being as is cleaning up our room or doing our homework. We act with integrity, freed from the "issues" that cloud our reason and, ultimately, freed from the expectations borne of past hurts and lingering fears.

The ultimate goal of the practice of ZaZen meditation (at least in our physical state) is for the galleons to dissolve, and for even our thoughts to fade into white noise. Such a state is called Shikan-Taza, or "just sitting." The elation of perceived "victories," as well as the hurts of perceived "defeats" hold little sway over us. They, too, have dissolved into a place of balance, and the discord that once ruled our lives loses its power.

Of course, this state isn't permanent, at least, not so long as we're here being humans and getting what we need from our human journey. What does linger, however, is our memory of that sense of peace, and our deepest hunger is to return to that stillness. In our anger, we recall that serene place. In our sadness, we remember moments of joy. And even in the manic elation that so fills us in moments of supreme "success," the silent seed of "just sitting" beckons. The more we heed that beckoning call, the less time we spend in the illusion of discord. We learn that the only "Truth" is a place that transcends even our limited perception of Love. And in that sweet space, we REALize how profound is the statement that Love leaves nothing undone.

And even when we're being fearful, obnoxious a**holes, the memory of that stillness lingers a mere heartbeat below the turbulence. Not demanding. Just sitting...

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