More thoughts on insignifance

wonder baby

My last post about insignificance, relating to our size compared to the rest of the universe, got me thinking about big numbers.  It also got me thinking about the dichotomy of how insignificant we are as individuals in the grand scheme of things on the one hand, yet how incredibly significant we can be depending on what we chose to do with our lives.  Actually, scratch that.  We are significant simply because we *are.*  And that is a very hard thing to grasp, considering the incredible vastness of what is “out there.”  It’s also very hard to grasp in the world in which we live *down here*, in a world that places such a strong emphasis on one’s value coming from “doing” and “having” as opposed to simply “being.” What’s one of the most frequent questions we’re asked by people we meet?  “What do you *do* for a living?”  Sure, it’s a conversation starter, but isn’t it awkward when the person responds, “I stay at home,” or, “I’m unemployed,” or even worse, “I’m a garbage man.”  And then, there are the incessant conversations and social posturings about possessions and status:  Where one lives, what sort of car one drives, where the kids go to school, and so on, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

In my day to day encounters, even though I am no longer a therapist, I still come across many, many people who have strong feelings of “insignificance.”  Feelings of profound depression that are often related to feeling like they do not matter.  That they are invisible. That they have nothing to offer the world around them.  What often comes comes with such feelings are thoughts of being unlovable, unworthy, and other symptoms of depression.  These are crucial, existential questions that need answers.  Unfortunately, too many do not try to answer them, instead seeking to just be numb or, to check out completely.  Sadly, I know far too many who did check out.  Sadly, I even tried to check out once.

What does any of this have to do with big numbers?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  Let’s start with this, first.  I am not going to sit here and tell you that you were “created with a purpose,” or none of that pie-in-the-sky stuff.  Frankly, I’m not much into that stuff.  But what I *will* tell you is this:

The average male produces over 500 BILLION sperm cells in his lifetime.  (“Oh dear lord, he’s talking about sperm.” Yeah, sperm.  I bet you weren’t expecting THAT turn in the road, were ya.  Sorry folks, but bear with me.  I really am going somewhere with this.)  Every month, that average male sheds about one billion of those little dudes.  During sex, as few as 40 million or as many as 1.2 billion sperm cells can be released.  (“OMG I am starting to blush.”  Get over it, we’re not in church.)  Now, on the female side, she starts out with about 2 million egg follicles.  Only about 450 eggs will ever be released.  And you know what’s going to happen next (cue the Barry White)…

So… there was that ONE egg out of the 450 that yo’ momma released in her lifetime (1:450) and that ONE spermatozoa out of the astronomical amount (let’s say about 500 million, or 1:500,000,000) from yo’ daddy that were fired off during that ONE time they had the sex that resulted in you.  You.  YOU resulted from that.  Now I’m not talking about God or miracles or none of that shit.  But just think about these odds for a second.  It COULD have been another egg.  It COULD have been any other sperm cell.  It could have been any other night that your parents decided to stay up late, watching Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno or David Letterman (depending on the age of your parents) and get frisky.  It could have been a whole host of other variables that changed the equation and caused a different outcome.

But it wasn’t.  It happened the way it did.  And here you are.  🙂

I’d say that you are FAR from insignificant.  I’d say you’re pretty damn lucky.  Or blessed. Or whatever adjective you want to use.  Sure, it may be “just chance” that all of those variables coalesced the way they did so that “you” came into being.  So what.  Who cares. Doesn’t matter.  YOU are still HERE because of that “chance,” and you know what, I’m overjoyed about that.  You may have had to endure a good bit of suffering as a result of that “chance.”  I have too.  A lot.  But I bet you’ve had some happiness too.  And there’s more to be had too.  And I’m still glad you’re here.

You’re here.  And the world is a much better place because of it.  I hope you decide to stay a while.  ❤

Insignificance

 

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It’s been a while since I’ve written anything.  We’ve had a lot of snow and ice, the wife and kids left town for a trip to visit friends, and I have had to take care of the farm.  Then I fell ill with the flu.  I greatly dislike being alone when I’m sick.  It got me thinking about how alone we all are in this world. Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a doom and gloom, depressing, woe is me sort of post.  But let’s face it.  At the end of the day, when we really face reality, we are not our spouses, we are not our children, we are not our friends.  We have to, at some point in our lives accept the fact that we are fundamentally alone.  And we should get comfortable with that.  It can be very daunting and scary, but it can also create peace.  Because accepting the truth brings peace.  

Then, at some point over the weekend, I saw this.  (Sorry, you may have to copy the link and paste it into your browser.  The free version of WordPress doesn’t seem to want me to use the fancy “link” option.)

http://themetapicture.com/proof-that-we-are-really-insignificant/

Hopefully, you’ve taken a look at that.  If not, it shows what the Hubble Deep Field camera saw in 2003 when it pointed it’s lens into a small, seemingly empty spot in space.  What it found, after four months of exposure, was utterly fascinating.  In that ONE little section of space (and believe me, it was a VERY minute section of the sky, roughly 1/10 the size of the moon) they were able to see over 10,000 galaxies.  That’s galaxies.  Not stars.  Galaxies.

Let’s just look at our own galaxy, the Milky Way. So, our sun is just ONE of anywhere from 100 to 400 MILLION stars in the Milky Way. Our sun has it’s fans, the planets, circling around it. It’s estimated that there maybe as many planets circling the stars in the milky way as there are stars. Possibly a lot more.  THAT is mind blowing in itself. So, here we are, one itty-bitty planet, the third from the sun, one of possibly hundreds of millions, if not billions.  

You know what just hit me, the odds of winning the Powerball are roughly 1 in 175 million. Kind of funny, isn’t it?  Do you think that those are the odds for having just one planet in our galaxy having life on it?  

Now, take that picture from Hubble.  That picture from that very small, dark section of space.  The section that revealed 10,000 galaxies.  The smallest galaxies, dwarf galaxies, can have several billion stars.  The largest “giant” galaxy can have hundreds of trillions.  So in that ONE little section of space, where there were 10,000 galaxies, we were seeing approximately 1e+16, or 1 times 10 to the 16th power of stars.  That is this many:  10,000,000,000,000,000.  I don’t even know the word for this.  Now, consider that some of the stars may have, in fact, probably have,  planets orbiting them, like our sun.  Whoa.  Mind blowing. 

Where am I going with all of this?  I’m really not sure.  Except that I am reminded of a conversation I was having with a friend who was embroiled in a nasty situation with other friends.  There was gossip, back-stabbing, lying, double-crosing, and treachery.  All from people who professed to be friends to each other.  When you stop and look at things from a larger perspective, does any of that shit matter?  Really?  What DOES matter?  

We are small and we have very little time here.  My maternal grandfather, a WWII veteran, and I went for a walk when I was young.  He was a quiet man.  He didn’t give me much advice, but on this walk, he did.  He only said this one thing, and it has stayed with me always:  “Michael,” he said, “Life is short.”   That’s all he said.  And on we went in silence.  I didn’t understand it then.  Later on, after his death, when I learned of the difficulties in his life, partly brought about by his own choices, I wondered if he was speaking about his own regret.  About things that maybe he wishes he should have done differently.  Whatever he meant, I know what it means for me: Life is too damn short to be wasted on insignificant bullshit.  

And as for our insignificant position in the universe, I think that is relative.  I may be insignificant relative to other stars and planets in the Milky Way or in relation to the vast universe, but I can be extremely significant in my little, infinitesimally small place that I currently occupy, if I choose to be. I can be an instrument for change, for peace, for spreading healing, especially when I have used a lot of my life thus far for spreading discord and hurt.  

Time is short.   

“Love the sinner, hate the sin” (or, the new scarlet letter)

ImageI went to college with someone who is now a rather famous priest in the Catholic Church, famous in the sense that he has popular books for sale in Barnes & Noble and in the sense that he is frequently on TV.  Today, on his official Facebook page, he posted this:

  • I was just asked how to minister to gays: Same as to straights: friendship, love, honesty. Yes, friendship, love, honesty.

A lot of responses to his post were predictable.  I lost count of those who said, “love the sinner, hate the sin.”  Eventually I couldn’t help but chime in and ask such people this: do they apply such a stark demarcation, such a stalwart principle to their own lives and to the lives of their non-gay, sinning friends?

Never have I seen this slogan used more than with regards to homosexuality. It’s as if any Christian HAS to qualify their love: “OK, I’ll love you, but let’s be CLEAR here. I’m only loving YOU, i’m NOT loving your SIN!” It’s as if homosexuality is the leprosy of the Christian/Catholic world.  When someone who uses this inane slogan embraces the alcoholic who has fallen, yet again, and needs support and encouragement to get up and try to get sober, do they say to him, “hey listen, I want to be honest here. I’m loving YOU, not your sin.” Do they insist on using this meaningless slogan to the pregnant teen, who is scared and alone and who is considering abortion? “Hey missy, just so there is NO misunderstanding, I’m only here to love YOU. I can’t be seen as accepting your sin AT ALL.”  If any Christian says these things, first of all, shame on them. Second, how effective do think that witness would be?

How about sins that are considered to be more damaging to the soul, sins like pride and spiritual sloth and judgement?  If a Christian sees one of their friends committing these sins, are they quick to say, “hey pal, whoa, I still love you, but man I hate your spiritual sloth.”  How ludicrous.

Yeah, somehow I doubt it. I could be wrong, but when I was Catholic, I didn’t see that happening. Ever.  Not once.  Now, I *DID* see good, honest people “calling each other on,”  which meant that if one Christian person thought another Christian person was doing something wrong, and they had a close relationship, the wrong doer would be admonished in a loving, kind way.  But how is this any different from any non-Christian friendship?  I would consider it very foreign, and indeed not a friendship at all, if I did something wrong and one of my friends did not say something to me about it.

Back to the topic at hand, homosexual “sin.” It’s as if these people somehow think that the stain of the homosexual’s sin is going to mark them, like a Scarlet H, and they’ll be judged by God and everyone else that they *gasp* accepted and *choke* loved a homosexual.  Do they think that the gay will rub off on them, for goodness sakes?  I really do not think that this is an exaggerated view.  I have heard so many Christians quote Leviticus, which calls a man lying with a man an abomination, when speaking about this issue, yet fail to mention the other abominations mentioned in Leviticus.  I have seen the disdain in the faces and have heard it in the voices of those who speak about “those who sin against nature.”  I know a mother and father personally, prominent Catholics, who have disowned their gay son because of his “choice of lifestyles.”

You know what’s interesting? I’ve learned more about love from some of my gay friends than from most Catholics I’ve known. And you know why that is? Because these people *know* what it means to suffer. To *really* suffer. If you can come through the sort of suffering that many of them have had to endure and STILL be a loving, compassionate soul, instead of one that hate’s the world and everything in it, that’s really something.

I love my gay brothers and sisters.  I want the world to know that.  They have taught me much about what it means to live.  And I stand with them.  Now and forever.

Addiction

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I don’t quite know why the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman has made me so sad. Maybe it’s because I really, really loved his work as an actor or maybe it’s because we were just about the same age. Maybe it’s because I am, like he was, an addict. Maybe it’s an amalgamation of those things and more. Whatever the reason, I’ve been sad since his death.

I didn’t know him, and for all I know the man could have been a complete jerk. But wow, could he act! He played some of my favorite characters. I wonder what it is, this connection between the highly creative and the addicted. We see it so often. Of course, they don’t always go together, but they happen often enough that surely there’s something there.

As for me, I’ve been lucky. My addiction to prescription pain medication was caught early on. It started early in my teen years, when I was first diagnosed with classic migraines. Back then, there weren’t a lot of preventative treatments, so the neurologists that diagnosed me just gave me a shitload of percocet. Not good for a young man who had a family history of drug and alcohol addiction a mile long. I’m very lucky to have had a mother who stepped in a few years later when things were getting really rough to help me get clean.

Here I am though, almost 44 years old, and the “rapacious creditor” of addiction still plagues me. I still have to be extremely careful with alcohol. It doesn’t take much at all for me to drink everything in site and black out. A couple of years ago, I developed pneumonia. The doctor prescribed a cough syrup with hydrocodone in it. I thought, yeah, i can take week’s worth of syrup as prescribed. It was gone in less than 48 hours. And god forbid I get a hold of an unlimited amount of money. I still struggle with smoking, having started that nasty habit at the age of twelve.  I could go on all night, listing the addictive behavior I’ve been enslaved by, but I’ll spare you the gory details.

What is it that causes this craziness? As a former therapist, I know the theories, yet I’m still perplexed by this problem which plagues so many people today. And I’m even more perplexed why some people are able to get free of these demons and some aren’t. I had heard in a few placed that Phillip Seymour Hoffman was clean for over 20 years before his most recent relapse.  For me, it’s been a cause of despair at times.  When will the maddening temptations end?  “Some say that the only way to be free of the desire is to give in,” we hear from some recovery literature.  Yet that same recovery literature promises that a higher power can and will deliver you if he/she/it is earnestly sought.

I never found that to be true.  God never showed up.  At least not in a discernible way, a way that he/she/it seemed to for so many others (at least, the way they claimed).  And that, in part, is why I don’t really believe anymore.  It may sound sad to some, but it’s my story.  To me, it’s not sad at all.  It was very liberating to shake the dust from those sandals, to finally speak those words that, for so long, I was afraid to say:  “I don’t believe in you.”  So I found something else.  Meditation does it for me now.  I don’t have to rely on the whims and fancy of someone or something “out there” to save me from myself.  In fact, I’m learning that I don’t even need to BE saved!  I have an innate goodness, built right into me.  I am a Buddha.  I am recovered.  Yet at the same time I am still wounded and broken.  I am both, and.  It’s when I sit, breathe, and I’m really connect that I am no longer plagued by the crazy compulsions anymore.  It’s then that I’m really at peace.

Buddhists believe in reincarnation.  I don’t know about that.  Christians believe in Heaven.  I still like that thought, to be honest, but I’m really not sure what happens after we die.  My hope for Phillip Seymour Hoffman is that he continues on, but without the suffering that he had here in this life.  The gifts he shared with us will certainly be missed.

I’m not sure any of this made sense, but if you stuck with it through the rambling, I thank you.

Serenity Now!

ImageSo, my day went to hell in a hand basket.  I woke up at 7:00 am, which is an ungodly hour for me, in hopes to get to the Sangha – the Buddhist community meeting that I started going to last week.  It was raining like mad when I left the house.  I hate rain, but I thought, screw it, I’m going anyway.  Then, I stepped in a huge puddle in my new Dansko shoes.  I wasn’t wearing any socks, knowing I was going to slip these off when I got to the Sangha, so now my shoe was filled with cold water.  Fine.  I’m still going.  I need this.  OK, so I’m in the car, sopping wet, but I need to get going so it’s off to the gas station to fill up the tank.  It’s an hour drive to the meeting place and I don’t think I’ll quite get there on what I currently have.  Oh shit.  My bank card isn’t working.  Tried a credit card, also declined.  Perplexed, I go inside the convenience store.  Turns out my credit card expired yesterday and I haven’t seen a replacement come in the mail yet.  As for the debit card, I had no idea why it wasn’t working.  I know there’s money in the account.  So now I’m pissed.  I get up at the buttcrack of dawn (well, it is for ME anyway, don’t mock me 😉 ), and now I can’t go to my meeting because I have no way of getting gas.  So I come back to the house and decide: Screw it, i’m going back to bed.

5 hours later, I wake up and it’s after 1 pm.  So I figure I’ll Facebook a little, read a little, clean a little.  That’s when the mail comes.  My new bank card is in amongst the random bills and other flotsam delivered by the USPS today.  I look at it, completely perplexed because my current bank card doesn’t expire until fall of NEXT year.   Wonderful.  No wonder my “old” card isn’t working. Those jerks sent me a new card and deactivated my old card, seemingly on a whim.  I hate our small town bank.  Granted, it’s better than Bank of America, but still… why they would do such a thing is just beyond me.

So after stewing in this cauldron of pissiness for most of the day now, it finally hits me.  What a perfect time to practice acceptance.  There wasn’t a damn thing I could do to change the situation, so why get all steamed up about it?  Why lose peace about it?  There really isn’t anything worth losing one’s peace and serenity over.  There’s enough suffering already without willfully causing more.  Right?  Right. OK then.  Situation accepted, serenity restored.

Anger, Part II (or, why I sold my guns)

ImageThis post is going to be a bit difficult to write.  It’s about guns.  And it’s going to be difficult to write because this topic can so easily be divisive, polarizing, political.  But what I want to say applies just to me.  That’s one thing I really dig about Buddhism:  It seems to me that Buddhism is an accepting and nonjudgmental system of belief.  Evaluate what works for you.  Try it on.  Test it out.  If it doesn’t work, move on.  No biggie.  Don’t accept things blindly just because some smiling chubster said it was so.

Anyway, I’ve always been a gun lover.  My father was a cop.  I grew up in the military.  Guns were always a part of my “culture.”  And, following an event years ago when I was a therapist, involving a deranged patient, guns became a very intimate part of my everyday life. I convinced myself that they *needed* to be part of me for my intrinsic well-being and for that of my family.  They became a large part of my identity.

The only problem is that I as I started to delve further into Buddhism, I noticed two things:  First, I have a huge anger problem.  Second, one of the aspects of “Right Action,” as one of the core teachings of the Noble Eight Fold Path is to abstain from killing.  Regarding the first issue, it’s not like I was having a hard time refraining from shooting people.  It wasn’t like that at all.  However, I did notice that there was a connection between being around guns and not being at peace.  Between packing heat and being able to respond to other humans with unconditional positive regard and without suspicion.  I felt like I always had to have my guard up, I always had to be alert.  I’m not saying that this is a bad thing *in general.*  It’s wise to be aware of one’s surroundings, to be sure.  I’m just saying that for me, it was starting to cause problems.  It was keeping me from being settled.

Secondly, the admonition to not kill was causing me a moral dilemma.  I was looking to people like Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama who have been two very powerful forces for peace specifically *through* their nonviolent stance.  I began to wonder if my attachment to guns  (as well as my saturation in the gun culture) was prohibiting me from fostering peace within myself, within my family, and within the world around me.  The image of a would-be Buddhist, sitting on the cushion to meditate, while having a .45 strapped to his hip just seemed terribly incongruent.  “I want to be at peace with every living thing, but I also want the ability to blast the shit out of something that is a threat to me.”  Those two thoughts, at least in my current evolution of thought, don’t seem to be able to live together.  Maybe they can, and I’m just myopic.  I don’t know.

Now, before anyone decides to start a debate about this, let me again say this:  These are just *my* thoughts about this matter as they pertain to *me.”  I am not making any judgement at all about anyone else’s beliefs.  In fact, I’m still not completely settled about the matter, especially in terms of self-defense:  I live out in the middle of no where, and law enforcement are slow to respond.  What if my wife or children were in danger?  What is my obligation to protect them?  What is the best way to protect them?   On our farm we occasionally have coyotes that can threaten our animals.  Wouldn’t it be prudent to have a firearm to protect again them?  These are questions I still struggle with.

Whatever the answers, I know what I want.  And that is to live a life that is at peace with myself, with my loved ones and with the world in which I live.  And at this point in my life, I’m willing to do anything to accomplish these goals.  I know that, since I’ve gotten rid of the arsenal (well, everything except the 12 gauge anyway – coyotes and other predators really piss me off), I’m a lot more peaceful.