Travel

Travel, for me, is mostly an opportunity to be understood. At home, I am trapped in other people’s perceptions. If I want something, “Suzy” assumes I want the same things she would want. She can’t imagine that I do not live in her reality. She can’t listen to me, but only to herself. It’s a friendship that can’t exist; a gulf that can’t be crossed; a prison without walls. Her prison or mine I’m not sure, but “Suzy” is almost everyone I meet here, so from time to time it’s a great pleasure for me to get away to a place where people know they don’t know what I’m thinking, and we can get to understand each other much better.

What is this river of mis-perception that flows constantly over and around us? Why are people so incurious about other people’s realities? How to cross that gulf? One way is with words; that’s why I really do want to know what people mean by what they say. That’s also why I care about definitions. The fact is that everyone does NOT mean the same thing by the same word, even other English speakers, and the dictionary is only a starting point written by someone who also doesn’t know what I want to say.

So yesterday we discovered the Dalai Lama’s definition of the word patience, which is quite a lot different from mine, and much better because his patience is the antidote to anger. Anger feels yucky, so I want to understand what he wants to say. If I get it wrong, the antidote might not work. I’m glad he cleared that up because I have been trying for about a year to figure it out.

In a broader sense, the goal of Buddhism is to reduce suffering and achieve happiness — and patience is one of the six most excellent behaviors that should help us to reach that goal. So now I wonder about the other five excellent behaviors. These are generosity, ethics (I’m sure this one also doesn’t mean what I think it means), meditative concentration (there may be a whole lifestyle/skill in this), wisdom (which seems to mean a knowledge of the Buddhist texts, which is also different from my definition of the word) and joyful exertion, also known as endeavor. Joyful exertion seems the easiest and most fun, so I’ll try to understand that one today. According to the Dalai Lama, “Joyful exertion is finding joy in doing what is good.”

I’m for that, and I assume when he says “doing good” he means choosing behaviors that cause the least amount of suffering. Easy, right?

Wrong.

In our prison of culturally defined perceptions, figuring out what is good means defying most of the propaganda of the political system, the NGOs and the corposystem. Whatever we think is good is ?????? Whatever we want? Or admire?

Wrong.

Think of the economic crash. That was mostly caused by people doing whatever they thought was good, according to our river of mis-perception, without thinking about the consequences. Is it “good” to be able to “buy” a house that costs more than you earn?

Think.

Please.

Or the next crash will be very much worse, because technology can not change how the earth functions to grow our food, and we can NOT grow either our economy or our population beyond the ability of the earth to support. If we try, we will only have bigger and bigger crashes, caused by lack of food resources for ourselves and our machines.

That is not reducing suffering, no matter how “good” we believe our behaviors to be.

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