Monday, February 13, 2012

The Lama and The Cave: It's All About Perspective

"Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but -I hope- into better shape." Charles Dickinson, Great Expectations



"Darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can do that." ~Martin Luther King Jr.

In Harold Ramis’ 1980 classic Caddyshack, Bill Murray plays Carl Spankler, a gopher obsessed groundskeeper who relays a story of how the Dalai Lama once stiffed him. Spankler explains that after caddying for this Fount of Wisdom, he approached his Temporary Employer and said:  "Hey, Lama, how about a little something, you know, for the effort?  And he [the Dalai Lama] says “Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.”  So I got that goin’ for me which is nice.”  Now every single time I hear this line I just lose it. Why you ask?  Well here it is: In my humble opinion, personal history, as well as national or global, is about imagination. Each day we write our own mythologies using select bits of evidence, half truths, and misconceptions to accept our present and map out our future. Now, I know, what I just said sounds negative and hypocritical, but in reality I think this Personal Rewriting is healthy and natural. The human brain, not to mention the heart, can only handle just so much weight before those organs begin to break. In the darkness, we long for explanations, linear progressions, and something that resembles a plan. We need hope and part of acquiring that particular intangible means believing there is order amongst the chaos.  Finding this order often requires a bit of imagination so we choose our perspectives, choose our evidence, and then choose a conclusion.  Its that simple yeah?  Well, no its not.  Lets be honest, part of our worldview is shaped by events in our lives beyond our control: Falling in Love, Waiting for Change, Celebrating Success, or Coping with Failure.  Then factor in genetic predisposition, upbringing, and environment.  After we take all that baggage into account, with the tiny space left we exercise our Freedom of Perspective.  There is no controlling whether the Lama will give us a little something for our time and effort but we can control our mindset, a that belief in gaining "total consciousness" on our deathbeds will be nice.  Because when it comes right down to it my friends, we either throw our hands up in defeat or we fight through the pain and decide, as someone quite special recently reminded me, that “little by little we achieve our goals”. The question then becomes: How do we hold onto hope?

Well, for me, holding on starts with a mantra. To be quite honest, like The Rolling Stone's Ruby Tuesday, its difficult to hang any name or refrain on me for too long, but at the moment I keep repeating lines from a Mumford and Sons song called "The Cave" from their Sigh No More CD (See Song Below)  Now, if you do a bit of research, you'll discover that many different theories about the meaning of the song's lyrics are floating around the internet.  Some claim "The Cave" is about a relationship between two people.  I, personally, reject this theory and believe adherents to that particular ideology are illiterate at best and half-witted at worst.  In my opinion, the lyrics reference an inner struggle between holding onto hope, discovering the truth, and gaining freedom versus succumbing to the dark, listening to personal siren calls, and losing our identities.  "The Cave" is about contending with inner demons.  



You want evidence? Well, go ahead and listen to the song.  The refrain begins: “But I will hold on hope.  And I won’t let you choke on the noose around your neck.”  In other words, Hope is down for the count but rather than letting it perish we protect it.  What comes next?  “I’ll find strength in pain.  And I will change my ways.”  Thus, in our darkest moments, when our identities begin to slip, we have two options: Lose Hope, Give into the Pain, and Fade Away or Hold on, Find Strength, and Change ourselves, as best can, for the Better.  Doing the latter allows us “know” our “name as its called again”.  In my most painful of moments, I begin to lose myself. Like Guy from Galaxy Quest, even when I am assured I have an identity, I reply: "DO I? DO I?"  I'm just Crewman Number Six. Completely Expendable. It takes strength and belief to hold onto our names, allow who we are at our very core to survive the storm, and emerge shining and new in the light of day.  



Banksy's Balloon Girl
To my way of thinking, surviving the Oncoming Storm requires Three Rules: 1.) Know your Call 2.) Ignore Your Inner Sirens 3.) Find a Friend Who Understands and Can Accept your Baggage.  Let's begin with knowing your “call” or, in words, what you are meant to do and who you are meant to be.  Most humans (other than the 1% which include the likes of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian) need a purpose and a mission to survive. Thus, if we have any chance of finding our way out of the Cave, then we need a reason to pick ourselves up and stumble forward no matter how overwhelming the darkness. Now on to Number Two: Tell Your Inner Siren to Fuck Off. Often times, just as we decide to have faith and believe in our call, we hear “sirens”. These nasty inner voices assure us we have no hope, no purpose, no plan. Perverted Little Demons whisper that we're not good enough for those we love and not worthy of a call. Hope is a delusion. Tantalizing and Cruel, they lead straight to Destruction. But what can you do? I'll tell you what. Ignore them.  Its not True.  Sirens will consume what’s left of your “broken mind”. So when those Twisted Fucks begin to sing, transform into Teresa Heinz Kerry, tell those Sick Bastards to "Shove it!", go find a hopeful mantra, and then repeat it over and over again. But lets be realistic here. You're in the middle of a Flippin' Cave without a flashlight and Mother Fucking Sirens are howling your name. You're gonna need some help while you crawl toward the light so, Number Three, find a Friend. Here is the deal: Its easiest to help someone carry baggage when its similar to your own. Or as C.S. Lewis puts it: "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”  Listen, most of the deepest intimacies in life come from common understanding and experience.  Anything that matters or lasts, whether Friendship or Love, requires the "What!  You too?" moment and that is especially true for anyone whose had to crawl out of a cave.  Lifetime Sunshine Dwellers are not bad people but their Above Ground existence has not provided them with any conception of what life in the darkness is like.  Some things must be experienced to be understood.  So hurry along and go find a Fellow Cave Explorer before you bounce off another wall or crack your head on another stalagmite.   

Now what have we learned?: Find a Mantra, Remember Your Call, Ignore the Fucking Sirens, and Find a Familiar Friend.  Finally, remember, no matter what, hold onto hope even if every part of your heart and mind tells you otherwise.  Sure things seems bad but Neil Gaiman, himself, wishes: “Your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”  Listen I can't promise you any of that will happen though the good book part is really just a matter of effort.  In all likelihood, only after lugging some pampered Guru's golf clubs on your back and saying "Hey Lama, how about a little something, you know, for the time and effort?", will you find out he's a Cheap Bastard.  But maybe that's where imagination and perspective come into play.  Tip or no, you met the Lama and that's a pretty cool story.  Cards on the table here, I've no clue how to ensure my upcoming year will be filled with pleasant intangibles (no way to know), however, I'm holding fast to hope, finding strength in pain, and waiting for a pleasant surprise.  What that isn't detailed enough for you?  Well, the particulars are none of your business!  But, I'll give you one specific.  For now, my plan includes waiting for the Dalai Lama to return to Bloomington, Indiana so I can meet him. You see, if nothing else, I'm hoping he'll allow me to achieve total consciousness on my deathbed so I'll have that going for me...which will be nice.  Its all about perspective.


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