Where seldom is heard a discouraging word

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, by John Snape, CC-BY-SA-3.0

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, by John Snape, CC-BY-SA-3.0

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.

Dalai Lama with Christ University Choir, Bangalore, India

Dalai Lama with Christ University Choir, Bangalore, India

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…

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17 Responses to Where seldom is heard a discouraging word

  1. sciencethriller says:

    I like this!

    • Thanks. Mary did too – thought it was one of my better recent posts. What’s interesting is over my first cup of coffee this morning, I realized I was completely out of blogging ideas… I never cease to be amazed at how that works.

  2. ptero9 says:

    Wow, very challenging Lenten practice (or any practice for that matter)!

    • I know for a fact that “right speech” is a very challenging practice, one best approached as an hour or a morning at a time. By contrast, I expect “right blogging” to be much easier.

  3. calmgrove says:

    No, I do remember Home on the Range — but only the chorus! — perhaps from seeing some westerns in my youth. I’m convinced I’ve even taught the song in English classrooms for music lessons many moons ago…

    My daughter was lucky enough to meet the Dalai Lama in the Indian foothills. She knew virtually nothing about him or Buddhism, but trekked up into the hills with a friend because she was told it was his birthday. When she met him (after waiting patiently in a very long queue) she said it was extraordinary — it was as if she was, for some very long stretched-out moments, the only person that mattered in the world and that he was focused entirely on her. She’s never forgotten that moment.

    • You may well have taught “Home on the Range,” for Wikipedia reports that Frank Sinatra’s cover was released in the UK in 1946, but not in the US until 1993 – for whatever reason. Meanwhile it has been covered by both Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig, as well Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and Alvin and the Chipmunks. The Kansas state senate and house of representatives both sing it a cappella on Jan. 29, the date of Kansas’ admission to the union as a state.

      Your daughter’s experience matches that of everyone I’ve known who has met the Dalai Lama. He is widely regarded as an “emanation” of avalokiteshvara, the boddisattva of compassion, and he seems to make everyone he meets feel like his special friend.

  4. calmgrove says:

    Incidentally, Lent is six and a half weeks, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. It’s an approximation of the traditional religious period of forty days — Jesus in the wilderness, Jonah in the whale’s belly, the gap between Christmas and the Purification of the Virgin Mary, the last of which parallels the 20C practice of mothers having a doctor’s check-up six weeks after a birth and which is echoed by our idea of quarantine (forty days isolation).

    That Lent’s not exactly forty days is partly due to discrepancies between the lunar calendar of the Jews and the solar calendar adopted by the Church, not to mention the celebration of Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox…

    • That’s very interesting, thanks. I also seem to remember something about 40 generations from Adam to Abraham, 40 from Abraham to David, and 40 from David to Jesus. For Jung, 4 was the number of wholeness – 4 directions, 4 winds, 4 functions, etc, and I guess 4 x 10 even more so. And I guess when you come down to it, 39 days in the wilderness or 41 days of purification doesn’t sound nearly as satisfying.

  5. YOu missed the first two lines of Home on the Range. “Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo roam, and the deer and …

  6. Rosi says:

    I love the Dalai Lama’s statement that he Chinese have taught him patience. That is the kind of view we should all strive for. If we could all learn to have a more positive outlook, the world would certainly be a better place. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. derdo says:

    Reblogged this on Derdo's Weblog and commented:
    The title of the blog caught my eye as it was a song I used to sing to my son whenever we’d read an Ernie and Bert book that contained the line, which also was the song’s title, “Home, home on the range. Where the deer and the antelope play”, after which either Ernie or Bert said “Shucks.” I was so thrilled then when son suddenly said “shucks” after I sang the last note, “play”. The words following were not in the book so I had all but forgotten them, though I knew where the title of this post came from immediately. Such a long and irrelevant intro to a blog worth lending a pause to, not necessarily for Lent merely, but for all time. In my case who rants, nitpicks and groans at the Pollyannas in my life, this is easier said than done. Still wonders never cease.

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