10/29/2001

 

Trying Times Offer Chance for Positive Reflection

 

I have a number of political topics lined up to write about, but this time I have something of a more personal nature to relate.

 

My daughter is just turning 13 and that got me to thinking about what I was doing at that age. By that time I had a definite spiritual life of my own going on, more in spite of, than because of, my Catholic upbringing. It was already quite clear to me that most of the problems humans have are inflicted by other humans, as opposed to unavoidable problems like disease. All of the wars, all of the crime you endure either by being a victim or by paying taxes for police and jails, down to the petty problems like the unkind neighbor who blows his leaves into your yard. We would even have a better handle on the unavoidable problems if we werenít wasting so many resources on wars. Itís a simplistic notion but no less true. And while it can never be fully resolved, awareness of it can help guide us in how to act. So I determined that, within the limits of my human foibles, I would try to apply this in my own life.

 

Okay, so actually if you knew me at 13 you would think I was just a mischievous kid, which I was. But I did occasionally stop to think such thoughts.

 

Being a youth of such notions, and at 17 wandering aimlessly, itís not surprising that I ended up spending part of a summer as a worker at a monastery, situated on a mountain in forest high above the Pacific Coast. It was a memorable experience, both the place and the monks.

 

So as a birthday present I wanted to give my daughter both a fun trip to the coast and share with her some of the places that were most meaningful to me. Besides, if youíre not a regular church goer (Iíve yet to find a 1st Congregational Church of Radical Agnostics) it can be difficult to pass on to your kids your sense of spirituality. So we spent part of the trip just having fun, and part at the monastery. Thatís really not as strange as it sounds. They have rooms for what they call ďretreatsĒ (a misnomer). Little cottages overlooking the ocean; a couple of days of being quietly inspired by the beauty of the rugged coast. Of course you donít have to have a beautiful setting for this sort of thing, but it doesnít hurt.

 

So what do I want to say about all this? Just that itís uplifting to see so many people trying to do something positive. They have more people wanting to get into the order than they can handle, and not just at their spectacular coast location, but also at their more mundane locations. They have an outreach program and a strong sense of wanting to have a positive affect on the world. A monk I helped with his computer uses it to take part in an ongoing inter-faith outreach. He goes off to periodic seminar meetings, and engages in a related ongoing open discussion on the internet.

 

Similarly we have a monastery here, the Buddhist monastery near Chino Valley. The whole focus of becoming more enlightened in their religion is to then assist others. Not just assist them to become Buddhists, but to relieve suffering of others in any way they can. There are many local people who go up there regularly, choosing to spend their time trying to be better people.

 

Then there are the many people who go to the more mainstream churches who have the same goal. And those like myself who just donít have a particular church to hang their spiritual hat on. Of course in all these groups there are those who go but donít have the spirit of it, or go just to save their eternal hides. But those aside, there are a lot of people just trying to go through life and do whatís right and maybe even leave a little more good behind than just whatís needed to get by.

 

These days it doesnít hurt to remember that that includes a lot of Muslims, both here and in the Muslim world.

 

Next time Iíll get into some political or social issue we can disagree about. This time I just want to say to be positive. Itís good for you. Itís good for your kids in these stressful times. Itís one of the best things you can do to resist those who would disrupt us. And itís not whistling in the dark. Thereís plenty of real reason to be positive.