sacrifice

Where the Work of Choosing Comes In

From  "This is Water" by  David Foser Wallace:

"The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it's going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way, and who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem here in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line, and look at how deeply unfair this is: I've worked really hard all day and I'm starved and tired and I can't even get home to eat and unwind because of all these stupid goddamn people...

If I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do - except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn't have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default setting. It's the automatic, unconscious way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities. The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations...

...if you've really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars - compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff's necessarily true: the only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.

...there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the "rat race" - the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing."

The Ego Will Be Asked to Open to Something Larger

"The ego wishes comfort, security, satiety; the soul demands meaning, struggle, becoming. The contention of these two voices sometimes tears us apart. Ordinary ego consciousness is crucified by these polarities. Again, the paradox emerges that in our suffering, in our symptoms, are profound clues as to the meaning of the struggle, yet the path of healing is very difficult for the apprehensive ego to accept, for the ego will be asked to be open to something larger than itself."

~ James Hollis, from Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up

Even the Sky

My Two Cents
by Dean Young, from Fall Higher

Generally, there are two problems
With money: 1. Getting it and 2. What
To do with it. Certainly the food bank
Needs your help. The bristled ant.
Girls’ volleyball and these days even
The water supply, even the sky.
As you may surmise by my raiment,
Drapings really, and the primitive
Medium of this message, I have little
To recommend re: 1. Whereas 2.:
Start small. Make a stack of quarters
Then knock them down like an affordable
Coup d’état. Pennies are mostly zinc
So there’s your source of zinc,
An excellent sunblock. If you crumple
A crisp, uncirculated bill then
Uncrumple it incompletely,
It’ll appear to have shrunk as vivid
Visual aid to the recession. Blame
The president. Blame Congress. Blame
Mexico. For dramatic effect
Abbie Hoffman dropped a few hundred ones
On the New York Stock Exchange floor,
The ensuing pandemonium shutting down
The world economy for a couple hours.
Vermeer-owning industrialists
Stared into the nothing-mist. Oil
Magnates and hotel highnesses stared
Into the mist. Squeak, squeak — tiny, pink
Rat-feet on the wheel. My father worked nights
Most his life then died young but we never
Lacked electricity or clothes. I hate
To suppose money makes everyone its slave
But nearly everyone I know is sleep-
Deprived and wants to send a robot-clone
Into work for them. Squeak, squeak. Often
Money, like gin, can bring out the worst
Although once, after a couple stiff ones,
My mother gave you her mother’s diamond ring.
Maybe she won’t remember a thing, we thought
But she wrote it off as a gift on her taxes.


More tax day poetry from The New York Times.

Continuing to Signal

The Signal
by Sharon Olds, from One Secret Thing

When they brought his body back, they told
his wife how he'd died:
the general thought they had taken the beach,
and sent in his last reserves. In the smokescreen,
the boats moved toward shore. Her husband
was the first man in the first boat
to move through the smoke and see the sand
dark with bodies, the tanks burning,
the guns thrown down, the landing craft
wrecked and floored with blood. In the path of the
bullets and shells from the shore, her husband had
put on a pair of white gloves
and turned his back on the enemy,
motioning to the boats behind him
to turn back. After everyone else
on his boat was dead
he continued to signal, then he, too,
was killed, but the other boats had seen him
and turned back. They gave his wife the medal,
and she buried him, and at night floated through
a wall of smoke, and saw him at a distance
standing in a boat, facing her,
the gloves blazing on his hands as he motioned her back.

The Power of Half

From “What Could You Live Without?” by Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times (January 23, 2009):

The Power of HalfMr. Salwen and his wife, Joan, had always assumed that their kids would be better off in a bigger house. But after they downsized, there was much less space to retreat to, so the family members spent more time around each other. A smaller house unexpectedly turned out to be a more family-friendly house.

“We essentially traded stuff for togetherness and connectedness,” Mr. Salwen told me, adding, “I can’t figure out why everybody wouldn’t want that deal.”

Turning Sadness into Compassion

From “When Does Death Start?” by Darshak Sanghavi, New York Times, December 16, 2009:

Holleigh and Paul Tlapa with their children (Alexeigh, Aspen and Gage) at a shrine to their daughter Jaiden, who died at age 8.  (Photo by Lydia Panas for The New York Times)Over time Holleigh Tlapa and her husband, Paul, realized Jaiden wouldn’t get better, and they asked about organ donation. Because she wasn’t brain-dead, D.C.D. [donation after cardiac death] was the only option. Although the task force at Children’s disagreed about D.C.D., the hospital drafted a protocol. The Tlapas were told about the disagreement, but they chose to proceed. On Jan. 13, 2008, a dying but not dead organ donor was brought to the operating room and prepped for withdrawal of support for the first time in the hospital’s history. Holleigh and Paul lay in their daughter’s bed and played Jaiden’s favorite Miley Cyrus song as the breathing tube was removed. They held their daughter and waited.

There’s something remarkable about such families. I’ve known hundreds of parents whose children are stricken by terrible diseases. For many, the gravity of the situation is so overwhelming that they withdraw into themselves, letting no emotion escape, and then suddenly explode into a supernova of blame and anger. But there are others on whom this terrible pressure exerts a metamorphic power that turns some of their sadness into a compassion that is strong and diamond-brilliant. [More…]

Offering the Self

This poem is a retelling of one of the Jātaka tales, Asian folktales which recount various acts of self-sacrifice performed by earlier incarnations of the Buddha. I came across this poem in Norman Fischer’s Talks on Dogen's Genjokoan published in "Moon in a Dewdrop" (Part 4).

The Rabbit in the Moon
by Ryōkan Taigu

Moon rabbit It took place in a world long long ago they say:
a monkey, a rabbit, and a fox struck up a friendship,
morning frolicking field and hill,
evenings coming home to the forest,
living thus while the years went by,
when Indra, sovereign of the skies,
hearing of this,
curious to know if it was true,
turned himself into an old man,
tottering along,
made his way to where they were.

“You three,” he said, “are of separate species
yet play together with a single heart.
If what I’ve heard is true,
pray save an old man who’s hungry!”
then he set his staff aside,
sat down to rest.

Simple enough, they said, and presently
the monkey appeared from the grove behind
bearing nuts he’d gathered there,
and the fox returned from the rivulet in front,
clamped in his jaws a fish he’d caught.

But the rabbit,
though he hopped and hopped everywhere
couldn’t find anything at all,
while the others cursed him
because his heart was not like theirs.

Miserable me! he thought,
and then he said
“Monkey, go cut me firewood!
Fox, build me a fire with it!”
and when they’d done what he’d asked,
he flung himself into the midst of the flames,
made himself an offering
for an unknown man.

When the old man saw this his heart withered.
He looked up to the sky,
cried aloud,
then sank to the ground,
and in a while,
beating his breast, said to the others,

“Each of you three friends has done his best,
but what the rabbit did touches me the most!”

Then he made the rabbit whole again
and gathering the dead body up in his arms,
took it and laid it to rest in the palace of the moon.

From that time till now
the story’s been told,
this tale of
how the rabbit came to be in the moon,
and even I
when I hear it
find the tears
soaking the sleeve of my robe.

I Would Be One of Many

Samar Jarrah of Port Charlotte, Florida describes the benefits she sees in experiencing Ramadan in the United States:

I just got back from Jordan…and my family was telling me, Why can’t you just stay a bit longer and spend a week of Ramadan in Samar JarrahJordan or in Egypt? And I said, You will never understand this, but the best Ramadan I ever spend in my life is always in America. Because I feel sometimes that I am the only person fasting, it’s more strenuous, I feel like every day is a jihad for me – a struggle to maintain my faith, to maintain my fast despite the amazing food around me and the smells. If I go shopping or if I go to the mall, there is food everywhere. Everybody’s eating except myself and this brings me amazing strength. And I wake up very early in the morning. I can be lecturing. I can be driving to my class – a hundred miles each way. I can be feeding the homeless. I can be doing amazing stuff that I would not be doing if I were living in a Muslim country, because the whole country would be fasting and I would be one of many.

[More…]

Listen to more voices at Revealing Ramadan from Speaking of Faith.

Waiting to Be Discovered

Dr. George Ellis, Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Cape Town and the author of On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Cosmology, Theology, and Ethics in conversation with Krista Tippett on Speaking of Faith (5/10/07):

Archimedes Thoughtful by Fetti (1620)

Mathematicians discover the nature of mathematics despite what they want. What I mean by that is something like the following. It was a great shock to mathematicians when they discovered that the square root of two is irrational. That's not something that they wanted. The number pi is irrational. That's also not something mathematicians wanted. What I'm pointing out here is that mathematics exists and is discovered. It's not invented by humans. It's something which is discovered. Therefore, in some sense, it exists in order to be discovered.

The view on ethics I take as an ethical realist is it's the same, the nature is sitting there in some sense waiting to be discovered. And the deep nature of ethics...is what we call kenotic ethics.

[Kenosis is] a Greek word meaning letting go or giving up, and it's used in the Bible in Philippians. It's central to my understanding of Christianity, and there's a spectrum which goes through in practical terms from forgiveness, which is a crucial part in which you are giving up the need for revenge. And it goes through to self-sacrifice on behalf of others, which is what Gandhi was about, Martin Luther King was about. And to me, that's the really, really deep transformative principle, which was also in the life of Christ, of course, when he sacrificed himself on behalf of others.

I think it's important to say that to me, kenosis is a generic principle which is much wider than just ethics. For instance, it's actually central — this emptying oneself — it's actually central to education and learning, because if you go into learning any subject with a preconceived notion, you can't learn. You have to empty your mind of your preconceived notion that you can see something new.

In ethics, though the key point about kenosis is the willingness to give up, which makes way for contact with the human part of the other person. And it's a kind of moral jujitsu in that they're expecting you to react in the way that they want you to react. They are your enemy and they want you to be their enemy. And if you refuse to be their enemy, then they don't know how to handle it.