A few years back, a little book called The Secret was published to phenomenal success, a subsequent film, and an almost cult-like following that continues even seven years after its initial printing. The Secret aligns its principles with the age-old belief that thoughts precede reality; meaning, humans have the power to think and visualize their way to a better -- or worse -- life, depending on where their thoughts and intentions lie.
The book itself is a sort of "beach read," a philosophy-lite version of the deeper concepts related to quantum physics and the ancient "laws of attraction" that date back, for example, to the basis of Hindu's "karma," or are described quite specifically in a quote attributed to Buddha:
"We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world."
Whether or not one scoffs at the various newer-age versions of Buddha's thinking, the fact is, the laws of attraction have been around for a very long time and, really, who are we to dismiss out-of-hand the teachings of a great philosopher?
So, for a moment, let's look at "the world we've made" here in the United States of America and consider that, somehow, it is exactly the product of what we've brought to life based on the energy and tone of our thoughts and intentions. Are you scoffing? Finding that ridiculous? Look a little deeper:
We're all outraged by the government shutdown, horrified that our leaders could descend to such rancor and contentiousness that they can't even do their jobs. We holler about the lack of cooperation and compromise, the appalling level of name-calling, ill-will and general mendacity. We're disgusted with the bitterness and bullying and selfishness that have now become part and parcel of the way politics are conducted. But let's get honest; one doesn't have to look very far to see those exact elements played out every day, on every corner of every town, by Everymen and Everywomen all over our great country.
We can't drive down a street or freeway without someone giving us the finger for not changing lanes fast enough, or screaming "bitch!" when we decide not to tear through a yellow light. Our newspapers and magazines are dripping with smarmy critiques of which actress hasn't lost the baby-fat or which television star is in rehab. We revel in gossip and snark and "gotcha" media like it was good candy. Bullying is a life-threatening and national epidemic. Hate-speech, gay-baiting, sexism, and racial bigotry have crawled out from under the rug, finding fertile ground in the ease and reach of cable and the Internet. Social media is rife with trolls and ugly, ugly speech that seeks to denigrate and annihilate anyone seen as weak, vulnerable or just... someone to disagree with. Even amongst like-minded political contingents, pugilistic in-fighting is greeted with the glee of playground bullies readying to rumble. (I'm less aware of what happens with conservatives, but holy hell, the liberal vs. liberal brawls are epic and disheartening.)
And against this cultural backdrop, we expect a government of decorum, cooperation and collegial compromise?? That seems a tall order when even PTA meetings can end up like gladiator pits.
You know what I'm talking about. It's epidemic and, unfortunately, endemic to much of American life, and it's a toxic brew that has affected -- and infected -- the world we've made.
Simply put: we've got what we've got because... we got it here. We thought and intended and energized it right into being. We got it by closing our eyes and hearts to those in need; wrapping them, instead, in judgment and prejudice to the point that it's easy to discard the compassionate notion of helping our more vulnerable (done with the arrogant presumption, of course, that we could never end up that needy). We got it by allowing our religions to dictate our lack of empathy and tolerance, to the point that we fight for invasive, exclusionary policies and elect leaders equally as close-minded and intolerant. We got it by stirring up racial animus, stimulated by the election of our first black president, enough that we've dragged out old symbols and coded words to fire-up the ugliest amongst us in the name of "the real America." We got it by letting our greed, our ignorance, our rage and our mob mentality set the bar, set the tone, and set the playing field for the war of words and ideas, whether on Twitter and Facebook, street corners and pulpits, or in our formerly vaunted halls of government.
This hasn't happened overnight, certainly. It's the product of thoughts and intentions that have been nurtured, exchanged and allowed to fester for many years. The Internet has surely aided in giving those who traffic in negativity a forum through which to push their agenda... and like a rolling stone from hell, that agenda has rolled and rolled till it's so damn big it'll smash any house it hits. Right now, it has hit the house of our government and the bricks and mortar are flying.
The prescription? We've got to start thinking like people who want a peaceful, thoughtful, compassionate country. Who'd like leaders who can sit across an aisle and still reach the middle to compromise. We have to act like citizens who prefer to exchange ideas, debate conflicting policies, and share opposing thoughts without devolving into sneering, salivating bullies. We have to be people who can solve problems, collaborate on important issues, and come to necessary, respectful, cooperative agreements that benefit the greater good... even when we don't agree. We have to stop being trolls, bigots, sexists, and religious zealots. We need to live with open minds, empathetic hearts and enough wisdom to perceive we might not always be right. We have to shut up and listen once in a while. And get off the computer, the phone; the tablet, and go out, look around, and engage with humanity... long enough to remember that we're all part of this world we're so busy making.
We can snicker all we want at the laws of attraction and the rest of that "new age silliness" but, then again, all we have to do is look around to see it manifested, see that we have exactly the culture, the country, and the government we've collectively created. And right now, that ain't so pretty.
Think about it. Buddha just might have been on to something.
Buddha photo by Lorraine Devon Wilke