Bob Schwartz

Compassion

A primary act of compassion is to lift the load and not add to the load of others.

Easy to say, not easy to do. Can you smile if unjoyful? Can you sing a happy song when you feel like a dirge?

Being true to your little self, no matter how dark it is, might seem like a good idea—if there is a little self, separate from the rest. We may be encouraged to let it all out, whether as a shout or a sulk. The complication is that if you think you are the center of the universe, privileged to make its own weather, you are right. You are the center of the universe, but so is everyone else. If they are to live subject to your clouds and storms, so you do to theirs.

Compassion, of which joy is an instrument, is at the top of the list for two reasons. It is the most powerful. And it is the hardest. So when next you wrap yourself in a blanket of seemingly private sadness, consider that you are most probably not alone. And that the smallest bit of light might be a big gift.

Mad Men: This Is the Way the World Ends

The Real Thing

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Eliot
The Hollow Men

Readers and viewers know whether they like or are satisfied with the way a novel or movie ends. But they may not recognize the burden of creating those endings, not just to short forms, but to sagas and epics, where possibilities are exponential, and where those dutifully following the tale and trail may be looking for those elusive treasures: resolution and meaning.

It is not surprising that the final episode of Mad Men was written and directed by the show’s creator Matthew Weiner. How could it have been otherwise?

Mad Men is a work of literature disguised as a television show. There are a number of hallmarks of literature and art, including the engagement of those who see and hear. But maybe even above that is coherence, holding together as a work, from one corner of the canvas to another, from the first to last note of the symphony.

Mad Men doesn’t fit it into any particular artistic category: impressionistic or expressionistic, realistic or fantastic, Freudian or Jungian. If anything, it delves into magical realism, where ghosts are real and real people are ghosts and anything can happen and make sense.

Or not make sense. The story of Mad Men in essence begins with the death of the original Don Draper in Korea. Over time, others die, couples come together and apart, people have sex, families are raised, business are started and bought and sold, jobs are lost and found, money is made and spent, some are miserable while others are happy, some grow and all just grow older.

All of it makes just enough sense to be a story. None of it makes enough sense to defy reality, gravity, or time. What more could you ask for? Meaning? What more were you expecting? It’s just the real thing.

Chaos and Order in the Bible

The most important section of the Old Testament, even for non-readers and non-believers, is the beginning, the stories of creation up to the appearance of people. (Stories plural, because there are two different versions of creation in Genesis.)

The second thing that happens in the Bible is that God brings order. But the first thing is the chaos from which that order is brought, chaos presumably also created, and created first.

For most of our religions and their histories, this task of putting matters in good order has been a primary mission. Protocols, hierarchies, calendars, rules. In imitation of God. Orderliness is next to godliness. Order, though, in religion and in our lives, can take on the color of compulsion.

Chaos not only preceded order in the Bible, it became a continuing theme. People are constantly getting lost and tossed around, in floods, in deserts. Being found or finding a way is presumed to be the highest value. And yet the very first moment is not just chaos, but created chaos. Not just a necessary predicate, but a necessary ongoing and perpetual element. No lost, no found.

Mountains Walking

Jesus, Dogen and Donovan each have something to say about mountains. In some ways the same thing.

Jesus says that faith can move mountains, by which he may mean that understanding the nature of things, including mountains, will allow us to see that mountains are always moving, if we will see it. Jesus is all about what we don’t see that is right in front of us.

Dogen says that mountains are mountains and mountains are walking. If you can walk, mountains can walk. Those without eyes to see mountains cannot notice, understand, see, or hear this reality.

Donovan sings about this reality of mountains appearing, disappearing, appearing.

Jesus

He answered, ‘Because you have so little faith. In truth I tell you, if your faith is the size of a mustard seed you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.’ (Matthew 17:20, New Jerusalem Bible)

Dogen Zenji

Priest Daokai of Mount Furong said to the assembly, “The green mountains are always walking; a stone woman gives birth to a child at night.”

Mountains do not lack the characteristics of mountains. Therefore, they always abide in ease and always walk. Examine in detail the characteristic of the mountains’ walking.

Mountains’ walking is just like human walking. Accordingly, do not doubt mountains’ walking even though it does not look the same as human walking. The buddha ancestor’s words point to walking. This is fundamental understanding. Penetrate these words.

Because green mountains walk, they are permanent. Although they walk more swiftly than the wind, someone in the mountains does not notice or understand it. “In the mountains” means the blossoming of the entire world. People outside the mountains do not notice or understand the mountains’ walking. Those without eyes to see mountains cannot notice, understand, see, or hear this reality.

If you doubt mountains’ walking, you do not know your own walking; it is not that you do not walk, but that you do not know or understand your own walking. Since you do know your own walking, you should fully know the green mountains’ walking.

Green mountains are neither sentient nor insentient. You are neither sentient nor insentient. At this moment, you cannot doubt the green mountains’ walking.

From Mountains and Waters Sutra, Shobo Genzo, Fascicle 15 (1240)

Donovan

The caterpillar sheds his skin to find a butterfly within
Caterpillar sheds his skin to find a butterfly within
First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is
First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is

From There Is a Mountain

Ghosts of Mad Men

In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, Don Draper has come unstuck in time. Again.

In the first episode of the last half season of Mad Men, Don as always walks among ghosts. Because, of course, he is a ghost himself, literally the embodiment of a dead man.

He may sense that he will be happiest when he is whole and most present, but that difficult state is looking ever less possible. His most complete moments were with Anna Draper, the widow of the dead man whose identity he stole. As she was dying, he painted her house, stripped down to t-shirt and work pants, no costume, no pretense. Just love for and from one of the few people who knew him fully and unconditionally.

Don Draper, the real one, is dead. Dick Whitman, the real one, is dead. Anna Draper is dead. Lane Pryce is dead. Rachel Menken is dead. Others are alive but dead to Don.

The ghosts are coming, as they will for those who unwittingly seek and invite them.

Discovering Rachel’s death, Don visits the apartment where her family is sitting shiva, the Jewish mourning tradition. He brings cake, an appropriate gesture of respect and regard. But he admits that he doesn’t know exactly why he came, especially because Rachel’s sister begrudges him his relationship with Rachel when Don was still married. Don weakly explains that he is no longer married to that wife, and almost unmarried to his second wife. He looks over to Rachel’s husband and children, as the minyan recites Kaddish, the prayer for the dead.

Don is beyond wanting a do-over or indulging in what ifs. He wants the ghosts to help him make sense of the years and of the present, which they can’t or won’t do.

Craving Chaos

There are those who crave chaos, and some who create it when they don’t find it. Often they are those with low tolerance for boredom and regularity. They are like explorers and adventurers, who go places and do things that others question: Why are you doing this and why does it always have to be the hard way?

This isn’t good or bad. We need such people, because their constant engagement with challenges can result in remarkable learning, insight, and progress. That is, chaos is the nature of things, and dealing with it is a highly valuable skill. But it remains that those who find value in at least modest regularity and order might find all that occasionally troublesome.

Educating Prophets

If we view prophets in a broad sense, in a big sense, not something necessarily biblical or spiritual, not as fortune tellers, but as witnesses, critics, analysts, teachers, and guides, it is something we have always had and needed.

That kind of prophecy may be viewed as a gift, but it is something that can be cultivated and encouraged. That isn’t always to the liking of many. Prophets can point in a constructive direction, but in their role as critics they can also be harsh, and stand in the way of those who benefit and profit from the status quo. So some prophets are more acceptable than others, and some are treated as enemies.

Education, in and out of institutional settings, is a part of cultivating and encouraging prophets and prophecy. That isn’t often, or ever, on the list of what education is for or about. So maybe, if we are intent on viewing education as a path to employment and the jobs of the future, we should make sure to include prophet among those jobs. And should include the sorts of subjects and fields in which prophets and prophecy of all kinds grow.

Harmony Between One God and No God

The harmony between one god and no god, between this god and that god, is work that has been done and will be done. It is often blocked and prevented by something in each that relies on primary distinctions. The disappearance of those distinctions would appear to make that one god or no god, this god or that god, disappear as a particular.

But that isn’t so, since the distinction is, in all authentic cases, what is sought to disappear itself. Even those with no god will say that those with one god or this god or that god have built artificial walls that prevent them from seeing what really is. Those with one god or this god or that god also say that barriers have been built that prevent us from seeing what really is.

That is a harmony, the surrendering of walls between the believer and what is, which is the ultimate mission of those with one god and those with no god. The particulars take on too much significance, the walls take on too much significance. The surrendering of walls is the common and primary task, shared by all.

Freud and Freund

Sigmund Freud

Some dreams are literal or nearly so. Sometimes riding a roller coast is just riding a roller coaster. Some dreams, if you take a symbolic and analytical approach, mean more and say more than the action they depict. That roller coaster might be the story of your day or your life.

The rarest kind are wholly, or at least momentarily, conceptual and intellectual. That is, they are like reading a text or listening to a lecture, wherein an item is dictated or a point is announced.

Last night, a dream asked me to play a word game, to relate two words. It wasn’t quite a request, it was more like a reveal, as in “Look, don’t you see?”

The words were Freud and Freund (the German word for friend). I did not take this to mean that Freud is my friend. I took it to mean that analysis and investigation, which Freud is famous or infamous for, is/can be/may be near the heart of friendship. Friends may not want this or like this, we may not want to do this or complicate the joyful simplicity of a relationship, but it does happen.

Of course, Freud might find the dream and my interpretation of it…interesting. He might expect me to delve more deeply into why he made it into the dream at all, even if only as a name, and why in my dream I was playing word games instead of, say, riding a roller coaster or something equally thrilling. But then, I might ask him, as my freund, to kindly shut up and let me get back to sleep.

Admonishing Others

Teachings of the Buddha

I found this tiny advice in the small and excellent collection Teachings of the Buddha from Shambhala Publications. These words are now required reading for me every day:

ONE who is about to admonish another must realize within herself or himself five qualities before doing so. [He or she must intend] thus:

“In due season will I speak, not out of season. In truth will I speak, not in falsehood. Gently will I speak, not harshly. To one’s profit will I speak, not to one’s loss. With kindly intent will I speak, not in anger.”

Adapted from the VINAYA PITAKA,
Translated by F. L. Woodward