People say, what is the sense of our small effort. They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There’s too much work to do. – Dorothy Day
I always loved Alfred E. Neuman and MAD magazine. Many of you are too young to remember the iconoclastic periodical founded in 1952. As a teenager in the sixties it truly spoke to me. Nothing was sacred. The writers and editors poked fun at and splashed absurdity on everything from politics, to religion, to philosophy, to social norms, to human presumption, to the military-industrial complex. My parents hated it. It was “disrespectful” they said. Try as I might I never could get them to explain to me why the “establishment” which was failing should tacitly deserve amnesty. I couldn’t help but imagine that perhaps there was an alternative?
At the time I thought there was. It didn’t really turn out that way. When my “generation” of leaders arrived, it wound up being primarily more of the same. Consciousness raising finally got us out of Vietnam (how ironic that they never were the menace they were painted to be); but we evidently had learned nothing when considering intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan (which has also gotten us nowhere). We can’t seem to be able to think or get outside the box. Of course, there are those occasional glimpses of light and insight; people who can raise our hopes, inspire our vision, and console our spirits. But more often than not the light dims and the vision disappears. The status quo is just too persistent.
That is not to say I have become apathetic. I do agree with Dorothy Day and Margaret Mead that there is too much to be done and that we can do it. But I have also come to more fully realize the meaning of moksha. In the Hindu (and Buddhist) traditions, moksha is usually described (not defined) as “non-attachment.” It is not detachment; not separation or alienation. Rather, it is letting go of desire and craving. We may still have goals and objectives, but we can let go of the emotionality which so often fills us with distress and disaffection; even anger and disrespect. The Mahatma described the journey as satyagraha: committed non-violent action towards peace and justice.
Satyagraha in its dynamic condition does not mean meek submission to the will of the evildoer, but it means the pitting of one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant. Working under this law of our being, it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his (sic) honor, his religion, his soul and lay the foundation for that empire’s fall or its regeneration. – Mohandas Gandhi
And he did bring down an empire. So I am inclined to persevere. I think we have fallen under the spell of a tyrant; peace and justice are under attack; the empire does need to be taken down or regenerated. There is way too much at stake for the future of the earth and the global human family.
But, and it’s a huge but, I am also influenced by that great mystic who grinned and asked: What, me worry? In many ways he projects his own version of satyagraha. I need to let go of the emotionality, the attachment, the pain which comes from worrying about the future of the world. I need to practice moksha, the spiritual letting go which actually not only liberates but empowers. In not hanging on to my dissatisfactions and disappointments, I can focus much more of my time, energy and effort on a productive response.
March 1st marks the beginning of Lent. Why not decide to give up worry and take up action for at least forty days (and nights)? Why not resolve to think outside the box? Why not become that iconoclast which questions everything? Why not become the change we want to see in the world? What, me worry? Indeed! There is too much to be done. Remember, as Alfred once asked:
How come we choose from just two people for President, and fifty for Miss America?