This morning I showed my wife a newspaper photo depicting a politician who closely resembles a recent movie villain. “No one will vote for him,” I said.
She laughed and agreed, but a little while later said, “Wow, that made it hard. I’m trying to give up criticism for Lent.”
I apologized, for I know how hard real spiritual discipline can be. Then I reflected that her resolution echoes a thought I’ve had on and off for some time – cutting, or at least reducing, the negative topics and posts in this blog. The period of Lent, about seven more weeks, seems like a good trial period, so I’m going to try this experiment and figure it out as I go along.
When considering this move in the past, I’ve had fears along the lines of becoming Pollyanna or having nothing to write about if I close my eyes to the world’s crap. I am confident, however, that tens of thousands of writers can take up the slack if I take a break.
There are many reasons to do so. First and foremost for me is this simple truth from Zen teacher, Cheri Huber, so simple and yet so easy to forget: “The quality of your life is determined by the focus of your attention.”
The same truth is expressed in completely different terms in Scott Adams’s new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. This cartoon genius who gave us Dilbert says: “Reality is overrated and impossible to understand with any degree of certainty. What you do know for sure is that some ways of looking at the world work better than others.” (I plan to review this book here soon).
A final, obvious example, given his recent visit to this country, is the Dalai Lama. Beyond doubt, he’s the most joyous person who lives in the public spotlight. I’ve never been in his physical presence, but I have met a few spiritual masters, men and women of several traditions, and for me, they all had one thing in common: when you get near them, you pick up their joy. And I mean a profound joy, the kind that sometimes has left my jaw aching from smiling so much more than I am used to. I’m sure the Dalai Lama is like that.
One of the many things he has said that always struck me concerns a difficulty he had when he first came to the west: he could not at first believe the degree of shame and self-hatred that are native to our culture. It was completely new and shocking to him to hear such a thing, for there was nothing like it at all in Tibet. I believe it’s no coincidence that you never hear the Dalai Lama say critical things about anyone else. He doesn’t even criticize the Chinese, saying only, “They helped me cultivate patience.”
As I end this post, I realize some readers outside the U.S. might not be familiar with its title, which comes from an old western song, “Home on the Range:”
Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the skies are not cloudy all day.
“Home on the Range” is the state song of Kansas, and like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” that other great song that reminds us of Kansas, it seems to ask the question, “Why not I?” Or, “Why not us?”
Asking “why not” is itself a classic spiritual discipline. What factors hold me back from the kind of life I want to live. In my own case, criticism of self and others is part of that mix. Let’s see what happens here over the next seven weeks…