Renovation Dharma: Our Futures Demand it!

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by John Cox

When I was a younger man I had an idea that violence should be an unnecessary part of the human condition. I wasn’t naive. There was enough violence coursing through my body for two people. One could say that I was raised that way: on a steady diet of both mental and physical abuse with parental units who had few control mechanisms that didn’t involve intimidation and fear as levers. So, along with a very serious struggle with depression, by the time I reached young adulthood, it was a hot mess inside my brain. The situation wasn’t for the faint of heart. But, time goes on.

For me, like all humans, that’s all time can do. As it does, I leave home in my seventeenth year, shortly afterward I leave school, eventually ending up in Washington D.C. where my dad was stationed and living with my stepmother and their children. I’d like to say I turned things around, but I’d be lying. Truth is, the tornado of chaos that was me just kept making a mess of things in my life. But there was also a certain malaise in our nation’s culture too. I’m sure I was feeling like a part of it. After some months, with a failed attempt to return to school and having lost my job at the Petty Officer’s club on the nearby naval base, I found myself sitting in the Air Force recruiters office signing the next six years of my life away. No, don’t worry, I didn’t  get it together, it only lasted thirteen months.

Having come home to Michigan in the middle of a major recession, I would spend four months finding a job and several years sorting out the problem with my brain. In the process I would work to oppose the culture of violence in our society while doing what I could to tame the raging lunatic in my head. Most times I won that battle, but sometimes I would lose.  But in time I would learn to seize control of that hideous monster and hide my weakest moments away so as to not pollute others with the violent contagion that sometimes held me hostage.

The Buddhist four noble truths are self evident in that they can be tested and found valid against the human condition. That we suffer is obvious. The recent mass shooting in a Floridian high school is evidence enough of it. A child-man suffers from mental illness and so murders seventeen people. In the process he contaminates the school’s community, and through news broadcasts, the nation’s and world’s consciousness, with the virus of his suffering. So we all become a little more mad. 

The cause of our suffering is attachment to our mental states, or desire. We try to hold on to our mental states whether healthy or not and they poison our lives.  Often we do this out of ignorance, we just don’t know any better. Sometimes it’s greed, wanting more, be it money, power, love, acceptance, etc. Other times it’s anger that unhinges our lives and allows fear to push us to violence.

It stands to reason that by becoming aware and ceasing our attachment to our mental states, especially the unhealthy ones, we end the process of human suffering.

In Buddhism there are the eight actions of practice that lead to the end of our attachments and thereby ending our suffering. Beneficial understanding, beneficial thoughts, constructive speech, constructive actions, constructive livelihood, proper effort, proper mindfulness, and proper meditation, all work together to end our suffering and bring about a more contented interface with our lives.

These four noble truths encapsulate a process for addressing the monsters that seize control of our lives no matter how big or small they may seem.  The thing about the process laid out in the eightfold path is that it requires action by us as individuals to do the work, to find our way. None of the responsibility for your happiness can be put in another’s hands or the hands of an invisible friend. You are responsible for your life and must do the work necessary to bring harmony to it.

As I have gotten older I have gained a greater understanding and power over the process that re-channels the energy of the monster that dwells just below the surface in my mind. I have also found a brightness and beauty on the other end of depression that helps me hold on even when it gets really dark inside my head.  I work my way through the eightfold path best I can, recognizing that harmony is what I’m after and perfection is not required for me to find it.

So all these years later I still think violence is unnecessary.  For the sake of our children, we must learn to walk a deliberate path away from beating the drums of violence as a society –  whether those drums are the mental and physical abuse wrought on children by their parents, or the social neglect that brings crime and violence to our community’s neighborhoods, or the drums of war that demand a sacrifice from all but those with the money and power to avoid participating. We must begin to stop this grasping and clinging we do as a country and in so doing, cure our madness. Our futures demand it!

If you’re struggling with the ravages of mental illness and it’s driving you to harm yourself please seek help by contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  at  800-273-8255 or online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Until next month

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