Saturday, November 23, 2013

enlightenment is dog piss

"Being a community" is thinking small. Our ultimate goals and purpose cannot simply be about ourselves. Unitarian Universalists, like members of every other religion, are trying to change the world by encouraging people to live a different way. By word and by deed, Unitarian Universalists are trying to change people. It is time for us to acknowledge and proclaim this, and to see that building a religious community is but a means to that larger end...
What I am talking about is related to the "missional" trend in Unitarian Universalism, in which people are committing themselves to living out our values in real, embodied, particular ways in specific communities, "to love the hell out of the world"...Our purpose is to cultivate people who can feel such passion...
The contemporary understanding of Unitarian Universalism is in truth a utopian and demanding vision of community: we are trying to gather not the community that is, but the community that ought to be...The religious community to be built...[is] one that deliberately includes the formerly excluded. Our goal became to build on the experience of...people who...realized that they could be themselves in this church. It followed that everyone should have that experience: the historically marginalized and oppressed, the disabled, the mentally ill, the chemically sensitive. Even those on the margins of traditional religious community--the children--are to be brought to the center...
Inclusion has been our goal. But inclusion is about "bringing in." We should now be thinking about "going out." Now we should turn ourselves inside out to turn the world upside down.
--From "Religious Community is Not Enough" by Tom Schade in the Winter 2013 issue of UUWorld

We must turn ourselves inside out to turn the world upside down. That is, and should be, a frightening proposition. I know I'm scared. I'm scared shitless of it. I've been turning inside out the past two years (at least) and all it's brought me thus far is depression and frustration. Sometimes I see Something, Something That Is I miss and most people miss, and it's a great moment. And then the crushing reality of How Things Are--the need to make money just to live, the fact that I'm in my 50s and my time left on the earth is finite and growing smaller by the minute, and the overwhelming  effort of work like that (and the fact that it pays no money)--overtakes it and leaves me eating ice cream in the middle of the night because I need to get numb and I don't want to get drunk.

But I keep returning to it, I keep turning myself inside out because I know that it's work worth doing, maybe the only work worth doing. The Real Work Gary Snyder called it. It's tough to admit to myself I want to turn the world upside down. I don't want to rock the boat. I want people to like me. I ought to just keep my head down and get along, I got my own shit to worry about. Paying the mortgage, keeping the house warm in the winter, getting the smell of dog piss out of the carpet. There's nothing more crushing when I'm trying to meditate and get myself together than the ripe, fishy reek of dog piss.

But when I'm honest with myself that's what I want to do. Turn the world upside down. At least one small part of it, the part I'm in contact with. It's a tiny, tiny part but the recognition I came to yesterday was that working at the microcosmic level is where the real action's at. It's where real change can occur. I haven't a clue how or what the change looks like. But change is needed and it's already begun with me. And that's horrible because what it does is open my eyes to injustice and wrong all around me and know there's a better way to be. When I was in Montreal in sesshin I spoke with the abbot one day and said, "I think I've made it, I've become enlightened." And he appraised me and looked really sad and said, "I'm so sorry."

That's where the depression and frustration and anger come from, this open-eyed, frank regard of the world as it is and how it ought to be and how wide the margins between those posts are. And how much work that is and how little time I have left and how can I find meaningful work that pays me enough to help us live on and GODDAMMIT! I can still smell dog piss.

In my best moments I know that smell of dog piss keeps me grounded but it also distracts me. My frank admission is that I know I have gifts and the urge to share them and I know how--or at least imagine some of the ways--but I'm either too timid or cowardly or caught up in my own shit to take whatever the next step may be. Some days I imagine the next step is to bake bread and take it to places where the homeless gather and share it. Some days it's to just sit down in the sun and meditate.
Some days it's to visit friends. The issue becomes recognizing all those things and not acting on any of them because it's a lot easier to surf websites while waiting for the vinegar I've soaked into the carpet to work. Turning myself inside out has led me to falling into a First World Problem: I've got the shits and I'm faced with two dozen different remedies. I know better than to think someone will come along and say, "This one," or to think that's what I want. But the varying claims and prices and dosages keep me occupied until suddenly I have to go again. I waddle off to the public toilet thinking, "Next time I'll pick one."

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