Bernie Sanders appealed to the young, the ones who want a chance in life. The older half of the idealistic political sandwich wistfully joined in for "one more chance". A week ago I took my chance and started hiking a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail, in Washington state. Hiking up another steep incline I feel my ideals "Bern" under the load on my shoulders. The young ones passing by, move faster - they have bigger goals, lighter loads. They don't need the comforts of padding at night, padding for the shoulders, the knee band, the soft socks around the bunions - They carry less food, since they reach re-supply places faster.
We're here on the trail, young ones and older ones in the shoulder seasons of our life, finding out how far we can take ourselves, finding out what we're made of. There are 2 rules on the trail: hike your own hike and .carry your own load -representing a very American independent mindset.
We share nature, we share information about the trail ahead as North bounders meet
South bounders. Sprinkled among us through-hikers, the day hikers, the weekend hikers going camping at a pretty spot - show us their wistful eyes about doing more.
The last two weeks the American political machine has been talking a lot at their conventions about the American dream for MORE, more for me, and more for those I call mine. For the young ones and the old ones on the trail more is in each step, each breath we take. We're not waiting for someone else to make it happen, we make it happen, sandwiching the miles between rest stops in the day, between re-supply points on the trail.. More is in the miles we cover.
More is the view of towering snowy Mt. Rainier, more is a bear cub sighting, more is the wild waxy bear grass blooming in filtered sunlight, more is a hot face under a cold waterfall, more is the taste of sweet wild strawberries, huckleberries, raspberries hugging the trail. More is the relief felt when dipping a sweaty body in a garnet mountain lake, the relief felt when putting the pack down. More is the one cup of hot tea in the cool of the misty morning. More are the precious moments squeezed out of the hard labor of moving the feet, legs, arms, swinging the body along the trail, mile after mile - fast or slow, young or old, more means the same on the trail.
I know that those out on the campaign trail to gather votes are doing the hard work of gathering, vote after vote. I hope that "more" is a shared sense of more, not just more power for a few. For now I'll stick with the MORE nature has to offer.
“Can goodness win?” “Yes, it does all the time.” “No, it cannot: it loses all the time.” Both true.[…] See how long you can stay in that space, where both things are true. You, little mind, actually don’t have to decide. That’s a great place to try to be. And for a fiction writer, that’s the best place to be: you’ve put two apparently opposing truths in the air and you’re just letting them hang there, knowing that the real truth is … that opposition.”
George Saunders, in Upstairs at the Strand, in conversation with Deborah Eisenberg
In the aftermath of yet another horrible shooting, the question “Can Goodness win?” must be on your mind. It certainly has been for me. So when I read what George Saunders said, it took hold with me. I remember sitting on my cushion in retreats pondering the duality of things, taking the paradoxical stance that although nothing is permanent we still have a body and a mind that need to make decisions, carve out a life.
Saunders says that in the opposition of goodness winning and losing, hovers the truth. The truth is that a horrible shooting brings people together in their horror and grief, and at the same time destroys people’s faith in institutions that are supposed to protect us, protect our rights. I get it that people end up taking the law in their own hands and express their discontent, their disappointment in how society has treated them, with whatever weapons available to them, be it voice, protest signs, or a gun. We can chime in, we can join in the protest, we can go out and buy a gun to protect ourself and our loved ones, but in the end we cannot change that sometimes goodness wins, sometimes it loses. We can strive toward a peaceable society by regulating, by instating protective agencies, but we cannot control the forces of nature, the good and bad harvests, the greed that drives economic ups and downs.
When a youth signs up to fight a war in a strange country, he or she learns to use powerful death tools skillfully. When that youth comes back disillusioned from a war that cannot be won -no matter what the “Bushes” of our time may say - traumatized from seeing and experiencing too much violence, that person walks around with a mindset that goodness is a fairy tale, that institutions are corrupt. Such a person does not just roll over and accept the unfairnesses society presents. Such a person has the capacity to set things “straight” in a manner he or she perceives as effective. Such a person can be the sniper who shot five policemen in cold blood.
I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist. I sit with the paradox of truth. As I am readying myself for another one of my long hikes, I know that I will experience Nature’s goodness, but I may experience the swift and unforgiving force of destruction as well when Nature lets loose her power. Both are true, both exist. One of the main Bodhisattva Buddhist vows is, “Life is suffering, human beings are innumerable, I vow to save them all.” An impossible task indicating intent. As a human trying to better the world we live in, I’m tasked with anticipating, protecting, strengthening myself and those around me for these opposing forces. To live means facing the force that brings goodness and takes it away. To live means looking that opposition straight in the eye. My heart aches when I look at those left behind in the wake of the shootings. I go out in the early morning and row a narrow skull on the ever moving water, where I must find that elusive perfect balance with each stroke of the oars. In the same way in everyday life, we must practice focusing for the impossible task of creating balance in a sea of opposites.
I have a room of my own in my head. Like Virginia Woolf said, in her diary, just before her book “A room of one’s own” came out,
"These October days are to me a little strained and surrounded with silence. What I mean by this last word I don’t quite know, since I have never stopped “seeing” people… No, it’s not physical silence; it’s some inner loneliness. "the impulse to create begins - often terribly and fearfully - in a tunnel of silence."
In the tunnel of silence Virginia talks about how she touches on her reality, a world more real than often the outer world, a world where ‘is-ness’, surfaces and needs help to be expressed. This world is the source of her creative work.
As Virginia says: “and when I wake early I say to myself Fight, fight. If I could catch the feeling, I would; the feeling of the singing of the real world, as one is driven by loneliness and silence from the habitable world…”
I often wake early and a thought, words from an inner world where things get created, a library of thought, arises and wakes me up to the reality of things.
This morning that thought was “I have a room of my own in my head”. This room separates me from the people I’m with. This room is a reality I can’t share and need for myself, a source of inspiration in the literal sense of the word. Where I breathe IN, fill up with a new view on reality, however small sometimes. I need that room even though it has caused me agony, given me an existential experience of loneliness that no intimacy can shatter. A loneliness I have had to learn to face, a loneliness I now seek to be able to create. A loneliness that scared me when I was young, that pushed me to find other people, places to belong. And I did find them, but the room was still with me. As a stranger living in a foreign land I used my foreignness as reason for the existence of the room, for the feeling of separateness. Now I know better, the room is my own, no matter where I am.
Forty-three years after I left my country of origin I brought my daily circle of American friends to the land I came from, my original reality. Some asked what it was like to have friends from my American world enter my original world. I experienced what I experienced as a child. I experienced the comfort of lots of people who accept and love me all around and yet the feeling of separateness was there also. I can be with my siblings, I can be with my American friends, it doesn't matter who I’m with, I feel the separateness, want it even, to be able to travel the worlds of deeper knowing. To touch reality. I don’t have to escape these people, I don’t have to go to far countries to belong. I always was the child who sat in the corner reading a book, near the rest of the family playing cards together. The book was more ‘reality’ for me then than the circle I belonged to. Living alone let me discover that I can belong. Living among people let me discover my belonging has a chamber, a bubble of my own in it.
As Virginia Woolf pointed out, original thoughts surface as the source of reality in a room of one’s own contrasts with the reality of living. I need both to find those thoughts, thoughts that color my actions, drive me forward in life. As a human I need the connection with other humans, the deep belonging. As a human I also need the separateness to infuse life with new thought, new inspiration to live creatively. By bringing past and present worlds together I discovered that a world - a room - of my own isn’t a sign of separateness. A room of my own leads me to, as the Buddhists call it, “the sound of one hand clapping”, a deeper, more intimate understanding of the reality of things.