February 24, 2008

On Smile Lines and loving-kindness

A few mental ramblings that came to me while wandering through the woods today. As is so often the case, it began with a song...

Smile Lines or, High School Never Ends

Met my match today
Felt the blood rushing and mingling
A curious and enigmatic thing
Now spiders in my dreams...
Synchronicity weaves like a web when
You were meant to be a meal!

I want you bad!
I want you bad!
I understand why they say,
"High school never ends"

I'll never act my age
But you can tell by the lines in my smile
That I have been around for awhile
So, insecurities
Are about as useful as trying
To put the pin back in the grenade

I want you bad!
I want you bad!
I understand why they say,
"High school never ends"

This isn't coincidence
There's no such thing
This isn't coincidence, no
This isn't coincidence
It's no such thing.
This isn't, no...

I want you bad!
I want you bad!
I understand why they say,
"High school never ends"

My interpretation of these lyrics is that Brandon's speaking to some woman he's met and to whom he's intensely attracted. And that's fine. As such, it's a perfectly respectable boy-meets-girl type of rock song, with the typical Boyd-esque twist that Incubus fans know and love. But disregard the chorus and there's so much more to it. Looking between the lines of lust to those references to synchronicity and insecurity is a great jumping off point for mental meanderings.

I've discussed synchronicity a bit recently with various friends, and it's something that I wonder about often. But what exactly is it?

Synchronicity, since Jung's introduction of the concept in 1951, has remained among the most original and controversial ideas in analytical psychology and, at times, one of the most difficult to grasp. The title of Jung's work on the subject, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, provides the term's definition: Synchronicity is a principle that links events acausally, that is, in terms of the subjective meaningfulness of the coincidence, rather than by cause and effect. Thus, understanding synchronicity and synchronistic events requires a way of thinking almost entirely foreign to Western culture, a way of thinking that does not separate the physical world from interior psychic events. The phrase that often occurs with regard to Jung's concept of synchronicity is unus mundus, Latin for "one world". Synchronicity requires that one consider the world a unified field in which subject and object are fundamentally one, two different manifestations of the same reality.
(A Guided Tour of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Robert H. Hopcke)

So, where do we draw the line between coincidence and synchronicity? How do we know when something's truly synchronous and when it's just chance? Is it ever really just chance? I've come to the conclusion that coincidences are what's left of those "curious and enigmatic" moments that we notice yet do nothing with. If we take something from it, if we use the moment as a springboard of some kind, then it's synchronicity. You just have to be aware enough to realise it.

Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen? Chance favors only the prepared mind. -- Louis Pasteur

"I'll never act my age..." Every now and again, I stop to think about the fact that I'm addicted to a band made up of people significantly younger than me, the majority of whose fanbase is even younger than them, and I wonder whether I should feel weird about that. There are times when it does feel curious to be so inspired by the wisdom of someone younger. Aren't I supposed to be the wiser? And I often feel a definite generation gap when reading posts at the Incubus forum. I frequently sense that many of the people who post there are going through that "I'm cooler than thou (and I'm working so hard to maintain that cool!)" phase that I know I went through in my 20's. At this point, I just don't worry anymore about being cool or accepted. "Insecurities are about as useful as trying / to put the pin back in the grenade" If I post something there that brands me as a dork, if I'm too eager in expressing my appreciation for the band, so what? "You can tell by the lines in my smile / that I have been around for a while" and I've earned the right to be a doofus when I wanna be. I'd like to think that I'm too busy watching out for synchronous events to bother with trying to be cool.

While sitting in the woods scribbling my thoughts on the song above, I found some notes for another blog I'd planned to post a while back that never came to fruition. But now's as good a time as any. On another rambling day, I did post that I'd begun reading Brad Warner's book Sit Down and Shut Up and that I couldn't wait to find out his take on the Buddhist concept of metta, or loving-kindness. Most of the descriptions of metta that I've read have given me serious pause. This one particular concept has been the hardest thing for me to grasp about Buddhism. The traditional Western translation, "loving-kindness" is the stumbling block. It reminds me of that bumper sticker that reads "Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty." I think of folks with that bumper sticker as 'random senseless' people, and I don't really wanna be one of them. I want to be able to maintain my off-beat, sometimes cynical, sense of humor and my curmudgeonliness. I also, though, want to be able to treat other people with respect, occasionally even graciousness. So, when I got to the chapter in SD/SU in which Brad addresses metta, he blew me away.

Up until reading SD/SU, I had apparently only been exposed to a small part of the Metta Suttra. There are entire meditation practices devoted to this particular suttra, and the recommended mantra goes along these lines:

"May all beings be happy,
may all beings be secure,
may all beings be happy minded and
may their hearts be wholesome."

But Warner took it one step further. Reading his chapter on metta was the first time I'd ever seen the entire suttra:

This is what should be accomplished by the one who is wise,
who seeks the good and has obtained peace:

Let one be strenuous, upright and sincere, without pride,
easily contented and joyous;
Let one not be submerged by the things of the world;
Let one not take upon oneself the burden of riches;
Let one's senses be controlled;
Let one be wise but not puffed up;
Let one not desire great posessions even for one's family;
Let one do nothing that is mean or that the wise would reprove.
May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety.
All living beings, whether weak or strong, in high or middle or low realms of existence, small or great, visible or invisible, near or far, born or to be born, may all beings be happy.
Let no one deceive another, nor despise any being in any state; let none by anger or hatred wish harm to another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life watches over and protects her only child, so with a boundless mind should one cherish all living things, suffusing love over the entire world, above, below and all around without limit; so let one cultivate an infinite goodwill toward the whole world.
Standing or walking, sitting or lying down, during all one's waking hours let one cherish the thought that this way of living is best in the world.
Abandoning vain discussion, having a clear vision, freed from sense appetites, one who is made perfect will never again know rebirth in the cycle of creation of suffering for ourselves or for others.

Ok, so I can kind of understand why most books and magazine articles don't usually print the entire thing. It's freaking long. But focusing only on the brief wish that "may all beings be happy, etc" leaves out all that great stuff about how you get to the point of being able to wish such a thing for all those beings who, basically, act like assholes much of the time. And Warner uses a different translation for metta:

The word metta is hard to translate and is usually given as "loving-kindness". "Benevolence" may be a better translation, since it's a little less drippy sounding.

Thank you, Brad, oh so much. And, since the book is basically an explanation of the Zen Buddhism taught by the 13th century monk Dogen, he goes on to mention that, in all of Dogen's writing, the Metta Suttra is never mentioned. Apparently, Dogen preferred to teach compassion instead of love, and boiled that practice down to four basic elements: free giving, kind speech, helpful conduct, and cooperation. The trick to following these prescriptions is, of course, to remember that we're all here trying to accomplish the same thing-- a happy life. In that sense, we're all one, as in Jung's unus mundus. Like synchronicity, metta "requires that one consider the world a unified field in which subject and object are fundamentally one, two different manifestations of the same reality".

There's a lot to strive for in living according to the Metta Sutra, but goodwill and benevolence are way easier for me to reach towards than "loving-kindness". So, to anyone who's bothered to read this far: May you be happy, secure, and wholesome (even if you are one of those 'random senseless' goofballs).

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