Try to understand for a moment that you are energy. That your body is mass, which is energy, which is the same as everything else in the universe, that when your feet hit the ground, it’s just two manifestations of the exact same thing coming into contact. It’s one thing to intellectualize this idea, but something else to feel it. After a lunch of Kumis (fermented horsemilk) and hotdogs a couple of weekends back, I set out running towards our dam, staying to the dirt road running along the river because it was just me and my purple short-shorts. I ran towards a trail on the other side of the river that I hadn’t run before because the path seemed to die past the old quarry. However, I figured that the summer rains were far enough behind me that I could go through the high grass along the bank, path or not.
After bloodying myself through the brush for a while, I eventually found another path and started cruising through the grass in optimal think-about-life mode, and somehow fixated on the idea that twenty-five years ago I didn’t exist and at some point in the future I will cease to exist again. I’m not talking about darkness, infinity, pain, suffering, or fear; simply put, I was not and I will not be. I stretched out, breathing in the warm prairie air, and meditated on that. I didn’t exist and I won’t exist, I didn’t exist and I won’t exist, I didn’t exist and I won’t exist. I wasn’t trying to think about this idea, I was trying to understand it in my cells, in my brain, in my tendons, to feel it. I think reading novels by dead people helps me better conceptualize this, because when you read someone, even though it’s a one-way relationship on the surface, there’s a certain communion that happens, even though the reality is that they’ve long since rotted away in the physical form.
Suddenly I felt it and it felt good, like life is a breath, a gift, it’s less than a moment in time in which energy transforms itself out of all of the energy in the cosmos and beyond in such a way that allows me to play, to be, for one moment. It’s one thing to think this, but another to understand it, understand that I am the same as everything else in the universe, grass, dirt, birds, the sun, clouds, plastic, my shoes, nats, everything. It feels like everything and nothingness, sameness and limitlessness. Life is a moment, it’s a breath in time, a manifestation of energy that gives birth to consciousness, a gift, the energy in the universe dancing so as to give me the ability to become. Life felt like such a blessing and it felt like the only sin in the world was not to make the most of that moment.
Humans have been walking the earth for a while now and we’re not even close to getting it right, but that makes sense because we’re animals with big brains, an evolutionary blip that’s having some serious consequences on our planet. What baffles me is how wrong we get it. I currently live in a country struggling with rabid nationalism, severe gender discrimination, post-soviet fallout, and buckets of oily cash coming out of the Caspian Sea; I won’t even begin to go into how we’re getting it wrong here in Kazakhstan. Sometimes I succumb to the idea that it’s all better back home, but then I get online and read the Times, Herald, or any other news outlet coming out of the States. The other day I got to read about the Anoka-Hennipen school district in Minnesota and its problems with harassment in regards to sexuality. Eight suicides, four probably related to discrimination regarding sexual orientation, a kid being pee’d on in a bathroom stall, not feeling safe in the locker room, all that good shit.
So again, I understand why we don’t get it right, but I don’t understand how we get it wrong so bad. This is the school district of Michele Bachmann, a top candidate for the United States Presidency, who has been silent on this issue, instead choosing to spend her time fighting a vaccine that keeps girls from getting cervical cancer. It’s just peachy then that she’s supported by groups like the Tea Party and Minnesota Family Council, people obsessed with telling individuals how they should and shouldn’t love each other and have sex, while trembling that Democrats are pushing dangerous Socialist agendas that invade our personal sovereignty, like taxing the top two-percent of the population, trying to make sure all of our citizens have good health care, and funding our public schools. Funny how it’s just in the United States, and pretty much excluding all serious American economists, where we’ve decided that government is bad and the source of our problems.
With our big brains, why do we keep simplifying things to good and bad? Right and wrong? How did we get so twisted as to tell people how they can love, that this loving is the issue when children are being harassed to the point of killing themselves. The words I hear is that people don’t want children to think something is “good and normal” when it is not. In my own experience, not to mention Weinergate, the Lewinsky scandal, and all those closeted Republicans keep on awkwardly getting caught diddling, in terms of sex, people seemed to be pretty much driven by their, uh, own sexuality, whether they like it or not.
Anyway, I have hope. I have a hope that the more people are able to talk to each other and to understand each other, the more we’ll be able to love each other regardless of our differences. I’m choosing to believe that we’re at a junction, that technology has just taken humanity far enough to put us out of our element, but that we can control it in order to take us to the next level of living.
The world can be a mean and violent place, and unfortunately I’ve been witnessed and been a part of more of that than I’d like. One thing I’ve noticed about violence though, is that it’s always awkward. I’m hopeful, because for one thing, it seems like it’s always more unnatural to be violent than not to be, it’s easier to be kind than to be aggressive.
I believe that this aggressiveness and fear is in us because we need it in extreme cases, and that’s what people are exploiting. Fear, lust, aggression, anger, they’re all in us, but they’ve been stoked by people using other people for money and power. Acting on these feelings can feel right, natural, and even good, but I don’t believe they’re conducive to long-term happiness. However, I have hope that there are enough intelligent people in the world that people will begin to start exploiting one another’s deep humanity, long-term happiness.
There are people now who starve themselves in deserts, train with military instructors, eat foul-tasting foods, and do all sorts of unpleasant things to find happiness, so it seems as though humans are beginning to understand that happiness isn’t some cheap pill that can be bought, now we think it’s an expensive and painful pill. At least we’re moving forward. Or maybe we’re at the brink of a revolution in how we do things and look at the world, like a kid in a candy shop, we’ve realized that gorging ourselves on ease and technology won’t make us better or more satisfied people. That living in the moment really means to live in every breath, not perpetually satiating our impulses.
This isn’t an easy thought or way of life, especially when you don’t have a culture that’s supporting it, let alone a culture that goes in the opposite direction. I constantly struggle to maintain that kind of discipline, even while understanding that committing myself to conscious living is what resonates and sounds me out. I’ll wrap this rant up with this last flurry of thoughts, that in choosing to live your life, you not only treat yourself, but you treat others better. Pity-parties are weak, and looking back on my blessed life, I can see that not only do I have no reason to complain, but that the people who I’ve met who have the most reason to lament are often the last to do so.
Writing about happiness and the importance of gratefulness is always easier when you’re happy and life is charming, but I’ll write about it anyways. Starting school, living in my new home, sitting outside on warm fall evenings, life has been very good lately, and it’s not challenging to recognize that. My real question is wondering if I can keep this same attitude through March, whether I’ll be looking back on my hippie-gooey philosophy and eat my words. I’m going to try not to though, if not for my mental health, for the mental health of my students.
Teaching is powerful, and has so much potential for good and destructiveness. The fact that teaching forces one to into constant interaction with young vulnerable people, increases the stakes. Never before has something so challenged, frustrated, and inspired me. Kids just open up and literally pour out warmth, pain, anger, or happiness on you. I’m trying to see how I can let my own humanity come through, but keep that humanity focused in a way that will ultimately be positive for my students. I don’t want to just react and let bad emotions feed off each other, or conversely shut down and be a robot. So let my last comment be a shout out of respect to all the teachers out there, with a special one to my mom, the best mom and educator I know, you taught me how to seek peace, learn, and fight, and to my dad, the best father and hardest boss I’ll hopefully ever have, you taught me how to seek wisdom, think, and be patient. You both taught me how to question and love life and everything about it, and I can’t thank you enough.