Thursday, June 26, 2008

One View of an Old Idea

Buddhism is well-known for having hundreds of different strategies for pursuing spiritual peace. It's said that the Buddha deliberately altered his teachings based on who the students happened to be, and their particular needs.

So powerful are some of these little lessons that entire schools of practice develop, dedicated to a single element. The sutra on meditation, for example, is only one small piece of buddhism, yet for some schools it is thought, perhaps rightly, to be an entirely self-sufficient avenue to awakening.

In another rather quiet lesson, Buddhism says this:

"Cling to nothing whatsoever as I, me, or mine."

This lesson is sometimes interpreted as an instruction to stamp out the ego at all costs, and there are some Buddhists who carry this to such extremes that they won't even use first-person pronouns in conversation. The theory is that ego itself is the cause of all suffering, and that if we vanquish the individual, awakening results. There is something vaguely depressing about this thought for me, and for a long while when I first thought of myself as Buddhist, I couldn't quite get my head around it.

In practical terms, when I looked about at the world, I saw that nature itself seems to champion the individual. Everywhere about us, nature creates new species of plants and animals all the time, causes the present ones to evolve, and within these species, each individual is unique and separate. Two acorns falling from the same tree will grow into separate oak trees of a distinctly unique nature. If individualism is a perfectly normal feature within nature, how can it be that we're supposed to stamp it out?

And then one day I glanced at the sutra in a relaxed, casual way, and I saw that Buddhism actually had said nothing at all about stamping out the ego. In fact, in more esoteric teachings, you can find the rather mysterious idea that 'the ego both doesn't exist, and doesn't NOT exist.'

What the main sutra says, actually, is just that we shouldn't CLING to any one definition of what constitutes "me."

In other words, it's rigidity that causes suffering, and suffering is reduced, possibly even eliminated, if we abandon rigidity and allow our selves to flow and change and recreate themselves freely.

In my practice, then, I have come to view my identity as a different "me" with every passing moment. And since none of those identities have permanent reality, I try take none of them with grim, deadly seriousness. Who I am is always dependent on the circumstances of the moment, and there is no reason to defend one particular idea of who I am, since in the very next moment all those circumstances will change.

Not taking your "self" too seriously might seem like a cavalier, superficial way to live, but this turns out to be far from true. What I find is that an enormous level of freedom opens up by living this way, since we then become utterly liberated to change who we are as the requirements of the moment dictate.

Suffering, I've come to see, is largely a function of how rigidly we defend a particular self image. Awakening, should it come for me in this or another life, will be an existence marked by a complete and utter surrender of defense.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Citizens of 4F, June 25, 2008

Some mornings I head for downtown especially early, either because there's important work to be done, or because I've slept especially well and just like the feel of downtown in the period just after dawn.

When I do this, I often run into another type of citizen when I step off the 4F bus onto the still-damp streets of downtown Minneapolis.

As I walk to the office from the bus stop, I frequently see two or three of the Wanderers coming up the street. From the freight rail right-of-way gully that runs through the heart of the warehouse district, these isolated men come rising up like puffs of fog into the downtown area. They will dissipate very soon—long gone by rush hour— so the only time to see these phantoms, with their backpacks and lean, hard countenances, is in the very early mornings.

I suppose these men technically could be referred to as homeless, but there is a distinct difference between these men and the beggers and schizophrenics you see in every big city—the ones who are usually referred to as "homeless" in most demographic studies.

A tragic percentage of homeless single men in large cities are Vietnam vets who were never re-embraced by society. This makes me fear greatly for what we're going to see from the current generation of Gulf War vets, for if anything we are now even more callous to the needs of veterans.

But the Wanderers I'm speaking aren't really in this group, though it is possible that here too a goodly number might be war veterans. This group, though, isn't very likely to ever be seen begging or doing hallucinatory mumbling on the midday streets of a city. The rugged Wanderers I see in the morning are more akin to the classic hobos or traveling cattle wranglers who once were so prevalent in the 1920s and 30s.

I'm told that it's now pretty hard for anyone to jump freight trains and ride cross country, but it's still true that the railway right-of-ways are the routes by which many of these modern hobos choose to travel. In our metropolitan area, some of the civilized bicycle paths occasionally run alongside the railway beds, and sometimes you will see the tent of some traveler pitched within 20 or 30 yards of the rails.
This continues to be a kind of no-man's land, where foot wanderers are rarely molested by policemen or other authorities. Nobody with political sway ever owns the land adjoining a railway bed, so it is one of the only truly free areas left in America.

Often the Wanderers look exactly like modern cowboys, with stetsons and cowboy boots, and it is entirely possible that they have traveled into this area on their way to seasonal agricultural jobs in the big farm lands in the southern part of our state. When I was a boy, the neighboring farmer hired a wandering Texan in exactly this way to do dairy chores for the better part of a year. Or maybe these fellows come into town simply take temporary manufacturing or construction jobs, just enough to make money for a few weeks at a time, before hitting the road for another city.

I always feel something like nostalgia, and a little bit of envy when I see this particular type of homeless wanderer. It's a hard life, I'm sure, but it also reminds me of the restless ingenuity and independence that settled this country originally. I'm quite fond of my own life, but I also very much enjoy lonely wandering from time to time.

This morning, a Wanderer in a battered felt stetson and faded Levis was sauntering up 5th street with a worn Limberland backpack over his shoulders. He was taking the last few drags off a cigarette (I imagined it to be an unfiltered camel), and as he tossed the butt into a city trashcan, he spied some other trash on the sidewalk, and paused for few seconds to tidy up the street a bit before heading onward toward the bus station.

He touched the brim of his hat to me just before I turned the corner and lost him to sight.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Orlando Airport

Across from me on the shuttle bus taking car rental patrons back from the drop-off site to the airport terminal, there is a young family with two kids ages 6 and 8 or so. The kids have Mickey Mouse beanies, T-shirts. The father has a weary expression, and I recognize the look from my own adventures with young kids on vaction, 15 or 20 yearsago.

When the bus makes its first terminal stop, the family gets to its feet to leave. The father, I notice, is carrying a gallon jug of milk in one hand.

Their luggage is all neatly packed, and I rather imagine that all their shampoos and suntan lotions are packaged in the appropriate 3 oz. sizes contained in the requisite plastic bags.

The father seems unaware, though, that 128 ounces of milk in a jug might not be allowed through airport security.

Vacation time can do that to you.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Disney, Last Day

This trip to the land of fantasy comes almost 10 years after the last such trip for me and the differences after a decade are interesting. There are changes in the technologies of amusement, of course, and changes in clothing styles, etc. But the most noticeable change is one that I have some trouble coming to terms with.

The ratio of vacationers who roll rather than walk is strikingly higher in 2008 than it was 10 years ago, and I can't help but think this doesn't bode well for us as a society.

Florida, like LA, is one of those places that isn't very friendly to pedestrians, but I was quite shocked to see that even in the theme parks, motorized traffic is beginning to make serious inroads on the simple walker.

I'm not talking about families pushing baby strollers, or family members pushing another disabled family member in a wheelchair. I'm talking about that phenomenon of electric rental scooters, and of kids as old as 8 or 10 years old being chauffered about in rental plastic rickshaws rather than walking on their own two feet as God intended.

I'm quite sure that some of the folks riding electric carts might be struggling with replaced hips or knees, or might have some other physical ailment that makes it hard to walk. Godspeed to them.

But during one leisurely lunch at the Disney Hollywood Park, we watched one of the rental shops send out and take back dozens of these motorized carts, available for the low rate of $10 per day. Our actual count showed that more than 90% of the patrons had no obvious physical limitation of any kind, other than some noticeable obesity in a handful of cases.

In one instance, we saw a fat father driving such a cart, with not one, not two, but three fat children heaped over the top of it. A literal pyramid of flesh rolling down the walkways of Epcot.

In addition, it's become quite common for parents to rent oversized strollers with sun awnings to push around their lazy and often overweight kids in comfort. Sure, I'm fine with pushing an infant or toddler in a stroller. But on several occasions, I saw kids playing gameboy video games from the comfort of strollers, their legs so long that they barely fit. These days, it's grandparent who are stolling about Tom Sawyers island. You'll see nary an active young kid in sight.

As a society, we have chosen to roll rather than walk, not because there's any good reason for it, but because we no longer want to use our muscles in any way.

The impact of this on pedestrian traffic is startling and annoying, for I had my toes run over several times by motorized carts, and twice had drivers smack into the back of my legs with their carts. In some locations, a quick count showed that easily one out of every 40 adults is today rolling rather than walking.

I don't want to be a curmudgeon about this. I"m sure that at some point in history, some naysayer lamented that bicycles were dooming civilization as we know it.

But I really am concerned about the place of America in world society. A great many foreign people visit Disney World, and for the most part what you see in the foreigners is lean and fit human beings taking in the sights. What the foreigners are seeing, on the other hand, is an America full of marshmallow-shaped people with wrap-around sunglasses, pushing fat spoiled children in plastic carts shaped like Donald Duck, or riding about on electric scooters with their wire baskets filled with turkey-drumsticks.

You'll be pleased to know, however, that Mercurious' pedometer shows that he and his bride have been averaging seven foot miles per day for the last week. Alas, I still bear a strong resemblance to a marshmallow. Next time, perhaps a cart...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thoughts in a Crowd

I've spent the last few days at Orlando Florida's famous recreation parks, including Disney's Animal Kingdom, Universal Studios, Disney's Magic Kingdom, Islands of Adventure.

One of the big trends in amusement parks these days is the virtual multi-dimensional movie experience. These shows are filmed in 3-d technology, which when viewed with red and green colored lenses, give the illusion of objects jumping out of the screen into your lap.

Added to this effect, though, the clever creators of these shows have added kinetic and tactile effects, so that you receive little seat vibrations, puffs of air, droplets of mist, that make the illusion of reality even more convincing. At one point during "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," for example, an-screen character appears to dump a load of mice into the audience, and when little puffs of air at foot-level squirt from the bottoms of the auditorium seats, the audience leaps in delighted fright at the sensation that scurrying rodents are loose among them.

In typical fashion, one of the Disney shows actually squirts tiny amounts of odor into the air, so that you actually smell a cherry pie cooling on a window ledge.

This is all really just a matter of movie makers taking the standard visual illusion and extending it to other senses in order to make the illusion more convincing.

But what startled me most about this was how readily we all succumb to the illusion. No matter how often you see this coming, the instinct of every audience member, myself included, is to recoil in horror when a giant dog sneezes and appears to blow snot onto the audience. We all know what the little puffs of air are, yet for a split second we're quite convinced that its the tongue of a snake loose in the audience, touching the backs of our necks.

I found myself reflecting on how easily our senses mislead us. We generally believe that our senses provide an accurate reflection of something called "reality," but a little investigation shows that those senses are fooled very, very easily.

When you get right down to it, what reason is there to think that our senses depict anything that even approximates reality? Our senses are fooled every day, in every way, so much so that it begins to suggest that life itself is really something of a virtual reality show.

In my tradition, it's believed that experience includes the seven traditional bodily senses, as well as a host of mental constructs, including thoughts and beliefs ad memories and feelings. All these things are considered senses.

None of these things, individually or in total, really, can be called REALITY. It's all just sensory impressions we're reacting to, not the world itself. If you think that somehow our senses record "reality" with some kind of accuracy, try asking five people who recently attended the same buisness meeting to recall what was discussed.

The truth is that there is nothing so subjective and slippery as "reality."

There are two ways to react to such an idea. If we acknowledge some truth there——that human beings don't perceive reality so much as they perceive sensory impressions mistakenly believed to be reality-—one might feel discouraged and even despondent. After all, it means that as human beings we will never, ever perceive anything like reality. All we can experience is the senses. For those of us who like to imagine we're searching for the truth, this could be a bitter pill to swallow.

But pushed a bit further, such a recognition could free us, as well. For if nothing is real in the sense we've always imagined, then there is no reason to despair at all. The very things we have agonized over, perhaps for most of our lives, haven't got the kind of concrete reality we've always believed.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Orlando day 2

Any real question I had about the economy being in a serious recession has been laid to rest. At the Animal Kingdom disney park yesterday, the place was wall-to-wall people spending scads of money. No recession here. Although it's also true that an awful large number of visitors here are foreign travelers. I heard lots of German, Russian, Norweigian, Japanese being spoken here, as well as Portugese. Very interestng.

This is actually a very pleasant park though, with wonderful landscaping, which is balm to my soul.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Citizens of 4F, June 12, 2008

When Nancy climbs onto the inward bound 4F bus in the morning, my instinct is to look away. The instinct is born out of fear and insecurity, and I'm a bit ashamed that this is my impulse. Nancy has physical limitations that might be called deformities, and I've never been very comfortable around this. I'm not the only one; lots of people look away when Nancy gets on the bus. I don't like this about myself: I hate hospitals, and often find myself tongue-tied and profoundly uncomfortable around anyone with a severe handicap.

Nancy's chin is almost absent, and her chest is so unusually prominent that I find myself wincing to think about how uncomfortable this must be. A spinal aberation gives her something of a hunched back, and her hands have the claw-like appearance of someone with a nerve disease. One of her legs is a prosthetic replacement, though she uses it so well I didn't know this until the day when I glanced down and saw the metal ankle joint. Damaged or faulty nerves in her face cause one cheek and lower eyelid to droop a bit.

Other than her appearance, much about Nancy's life is exactly like ours. She talks to friends on her cell phone, she commutes to a downtown job each morning, she bobs her head to music playing into her ears through her I-pod. She makes the best of her appearance, wearing attractive earrings, makeup; she takes pains with her hair.

This morning, a young woman I'll call Brook got on the bus near Franklin Avenue, and as luck would have it she sat directly across from Nancy.

In a quirk of fate and genetics, Brook has every physical gift than Nancy has been denied. Both women are in their early to mid 30's, but it's clear that nobody ever looked away after spotting Brook. She is classically beautiful in every modern sense, with small, fine facial features, porcelain skin, a striking figure. She has the legs of an athlete or dancer, and everything about her screams health. I'm not alone in noticing her; several heads turn to look at Brook, and she sees this and looks away in slight embarrassment. The burden of a beautiful woman isn't often appreciated. Surprisingly often, an extremely pretty woman is also a lonely one.

Nancy sees Brook, too, and for several long seconds she stops bobbing her head to the silent music of the earphones and scans Brook up and down. But Nancy's expression when viewing the beautiful Brook isn't envious or resentful or even wistful, even. Her expression is quite matter-of-fact, as if to say, 'isn't life random?'

I wonder: Does Nancy ever get angry at God, bitter with nature, for her lot in life? Does Brook ever thank her lucky stars for physical blessings she was born with?

On the 4F city bus, though, everyone's pretty much the same. In the end, Nancy and Brook get off at exactly the same bus stop: Hennepin Ave. and Seventh Street.

A few blocks later, an odd event: I've been sitting for most of the bus ride with legs crossed, and my left leg has fallen fast asleep. As I get up to disembark at Fourth St., I can barely control my leg and I lurch and hobble off the bus in a manner that makes me feel and look like I have MS or cerebral palsy or some other neurological disease of my own.

Several passengers look away in discomfort when they see my disability.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Off to the Land of Nonsense

In a couple of days now, I'll be off on a week-long trip to (of all places) Orlando. This of course is the venue for DisneyWorld, Sea World, Universal Studios, etc. Back in the day, we took the kids down to Florida every couple of years, but it's now been a full ten years since I've been there.

It's not my favorite place on earth. Like Las Vegas, I find Orlando kind of interesting as a kind of cultural spectacle, an exercise in modern anthropology, for about 24 hours before I weary of it. A better vacation for me is somewhere deep in a National Park or holed up in a small Colorado mountain town where I can hike to my hearts content.

But I'm actually quite looking forward to this trip. The kids are going along again, now fully grown, and my son is bringing his girlfriend, who will be sharing a bedroom with him in the condo we're renting. I think this will be a much different experience, vacationing with grown kids, and I'm very much looking forward to it.

On the last visit to Florida when the kids were young, I discovered the secret to tolerating Orlando. I brought along a small but densely jammed backpack full of good books, and whenever Mickey and Minnie became too annoying, I simply parked myself in the shade and read or watched people while the family got their fill of vomit-inducing sweetness. One of the better vacations I've had in fact.

I've strong hopes that this one will be equally good. I've already put everybody on notice that the day they go to Sea World to see the cruelly confined sea mammals, I may very well drive out to Cape Canaveral and get my fix of great big explosive machinery. And I've already assembled the book collection: Redmond O'hanlon on his adventure in the Congo, some old and favorite John McPhee books, a new book by David Sedaris.

I"m also going to try something new. Now that I've figured out how to post blogs by cell phone, I'm going to be blogging this way for the next week. Expect a lot of Disney-flavored Iphone snapshot photos, and some rather succinct text.

Monday, June 9, 2008

June 7

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Regarding Jesus and I-phones

Last night on the bus, a woman sat down next to me, and opened a small leatherbound Bible and began to read the Psalms in a voice that made it pretty much impossible for me to read the Hillary and Obama stories I had pulled up on my I-phone.  She had some verses highlighted so she could find them quickly. These were read with particular vengeance.

I have no idea what kind of Christian she is, but I found myself thinking....
For the most part, what Christians these days really should be praying for is that they are dead, dead wrong in their belief that Jesus will return to earth some day.  For if he does, he's likely to be really, really pissed at the behavior of many folks using his name without a proper licensing agreement.

There was a time when I believed that some of the common, narrow-minded behavior you hear about reflected the isolated acts of a handful of fanatical wackos.  But I've come to think that this isn't the case.  The Westboro Baptist church, which harassed some families of fallen soldiers by protesting with signs reading, "God Hates Fags," and "God Hates America," is unfortunately more representative of today's Christian than we like to admit.
The mainstream Christian Church is today represented by guys like Jerry Falwell, the very same fellow who flat-out said that 9/11 was God's retribution for America's evil ways. Specifically, tolerance of gay people appears to really piss of God and his only begotten son.

This kind of attitude—that my group and my group alone has the key to truth, and the rest of you are damned—is the principle by which most Christians now live. Sorry, but it's true.  Christians aren't even united among themselves. Baptists are convinced that Catholics and Lutherans will roast in hell; Pentacostals think Lutherans are the spawn of Satan...on and on it goes.

It is exceptionally rare to hear any Christian church preach actual tolerance anymore.  The possible exception is the modern Mennonites—who, by the way, are considered outcasts by a large ratio of other Christian denominations.

I'm not that kind of believer, but I really do hope that Jesus does return to earth.  I want a front row seat when he casts all the "believers" out of the temple. 

I'm a bad man sometimes.  When the lady's holier-than-thou recitation got really intense, I gave up reading about politics on my I-phone and looked for some porn to show her.  (Not really, but I thought about it.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Citizens of 4F, May 2008

It's late in the Spring in my first year of commuter ridership on the Minneapolis Metro Bus line, route 4F. I've rather liked my experience on the city bus thus far. I began riding last November. Commuter transportation gives you a pretty broad picture of humanity's breadth, and I enjoy the fact that I"m as likely to see a young reggae musician carrying an amplifier as a lawyer in three-piece suit with briefcase.

The 4F is a very real society.

One thing I like about living in this cold climate, though, is that the presence of killing frost from October to May keeps the pests at bay. No stinging scorpions or centipedes or malaria in these parts. Too damn cold for serious pests to really get a foothold. What pests we do have—mosquitoes, horseflies, etc.—are confined to the warm months of summer.

In the last couple of weeks I've noticed that there are certain classes of humanity, too, that seem to have come out of the sidewalk cracks to infiltrate the city bus lines during this warm weather. I'm a fellow of strong enough Buddhist leanings to want to believe that every human has value, every person has merit and something to contribute.

I hope I'll be able to hold onto this through next October, when cold drives this phylum of humanity back into hiding against the winter. Experiences on a city bus in warm weather may make it difficult.

Consider these scenarios overheard recently:

• Three young white woman in the back of the bus. Amazons, all. I"m no lightweight, but any one of these woman could beat me to a bloody pulp. Two of them have jailhouse emblems, tatooed crosses imbedded in the backs of their hands. Wearing wife-beater t-shirts, their upper arms are considerably larger than my thighs. The only seat has me facing away from the biggest of the behemoths, and this frightens me, because it seems quite likely that she is packing weaponry.

"Fuckin' aye," says the biggest, and apparently the oldest.

"Fuckin right, fuckin' aye," agrees the second.

"Whatcha talkin' about, bitches?" says the third. This causes no offense whatsoever, though. The third girl appears to possibly be the daughter or younger sister, and such address seems to be a term of endearment. All three begin to cackle, like witches in a really bad performance of Macbeth.

"She won't be fuckin' with me no mo" says the ringleader.

"Fucking A, that's for goddamn sure.

"Shit, yeah."

This goes on for 50 blocks, as the three shout their conversation so that everybody on the bus can hear them. I am horrified to discover that these three gorgons are getting off on my block. How can this be? Mine is a quite nice neighborhood. As I turn the corner, they continue walking, though, towards the city boundary up the road. where a couple of seedy residential hotels exist. Not the direction in which I'll be walking tonight on my evening constitutional.

• Early morning. This family is young, but not so young as the occasional trio of high school boy, girl, and infant child that you sometimes see. Teenage kids with their own children are so common in the inner city schools that high schools have day care provisions that let the young parents drop their kids off so they can go to algebra and home economics and gym class.

These parents, though, are well into their 30s. The child is perhaps two or three, and cute as a button. He pays no attention to his parents, but makes eyes at me, playing hide and seek behind his palms.

"I tol' you, just let it goddamn be," says the husband/father to the wife/mother. "Don't talk about it no more, if you know what's good for you."

It is a family dispute I'm coming in on half-way through.

"I'll damn well talk about what I want to talk about, you piece o' lazy shit," she says. "Don't you be tellin' me what to talk about or not talk about."

"Don't you never learn, woman? " he replies. "It's like you wanna get hurt."

"Hurt me? Hurt me?" she says. "If yo' fist no harder than yo dick, I' ain't very scared, pecker head."

"F@#$, I'm tired o' your bitchin' " he says. The volume of the conversation is now loud enough that all the early morning passengers can hear it. Even the busdriver.

"C'MON,' comes an amplified voice through the bus's loudspeaker. "WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE. THIS IS A BUS."

There is dead silence for a moment, then the husband and wife break into laughter, suddenly united in their opposition to the young female bus driver who has scolded them. "Did you hear her?" chuckled the husband to his wife. "We're supposed to watch our language, on a BUS!"

His wife giggles, and when they step off the bus at Lake Street, their arms around round each other and they are still laughing.

"Have a good day," says the bus driver, and she means it. This particular bus driver holds no grudges, ever.

• On one weekday evening, a mother with three sons board the southbound 4F at 5:30 at Franklin Avenue. The mother isn't very old, perhaps 30, 35. Her sundress is faded and a bit old, but it's in good enough condition, and she's made some attempt to curl her hair. She wears fingernail polish and I get a faint whiff of perfume. It's a special event she's going to, in the late afternoon. I'm touched by her effort, initially. The two older boys are perhaps 16 and 12, and are dressed like all boys their age—untied sneakers, long cargo shorts, faded T-shirts. Their shaggy heads bend over hand-held video games. They mutter to one another, but I can't hear the conversation.

The youngest boy, though, is strangely dressed in a perfect little pin-stripe suit with vest. His hair is slicked back, and his face glows from recently being scrubbed clean. He and his mother sit opposite the other two brothers. I get enough of their conversation to understand that this family is traveling to some sort of church or school function in which the youngest boy is participating. Perhaps it is a confirmation ceremony, or some kind of recognition event for a local school.

"I've got a lot to do tonight," I hear her say to the youngest son. "So afterwards, when I say it's time to go, it's time to go. Okay?"

The littlest boy nods. Thus far the scene is just another one of those mildly interesting vignettes that are so common on the bus rides.

Then I catch a glimpse of the 12 year old boy sitting opposite. He glances up at his mother fussing over the baby of the family, and rolls his eyes. The mother's demeanor instantly changes.

"You keep eyeballing me like that, boy, and I'll smack you so hard your eyeballs will fall out of your goddamn head," she says, with a viciousness that startled all who sit nearby. "And I won't be picking up those loose eyeballs for you. You'll be on your own."

The boy is resigned, matter of fact. Not angry, not hurt. "I don't care anymore," he says, in a dead tone.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Consider Space

If genuine happiness is a legitimate spiritual goal, it probably makes sense to occasionally consider the nature of unhappiness, of suffering.

Lots of words can be used to describe and catalog unhappiness, but occasionally I find myself with an abstract, energetic sensation of this state. Beneath surface definitions of unhappiness, I'm aware that, for me, unhappiness is about the loss of space.

Space, for me, is a critical element of happiness, and when I lose touch with it--when thoughts and feelings and sensations and phenomenon become too dense--freedom and perspective become frozen. I"m not very happy at these times.

Fortunately, this sense of densness--this feeling that my feelings or thoughts or problems are all that exist--is entirely my own delusion. The truth is that space is always present. It is the background out of which all things arise, and into which all things return as they fade away. Modern science tells us as much: space is far more prevalent than matter, and even our perception that stone is solid is our delusion. What we take to be solid rock is largely made up of space between atoms hovering near each other in a strange sort of magnetic hypnotism.

The truth is that no matter how severe my problems or how dense my mood, there is always and forever far more space present than we know.

The inherent spaciousness of all things is really all that is meant by "emptiness" in the Buddhist sense. In our practice, we're really seeking nothing more than to rest in the spaciousness out of which things arise and return. Rather than defining ourselves according to temporary phenomenon, which by definition have no solid reality, we choose to identify with the spacious backdrop instead.

This isn't the normal way of seeing the world, to be sure. The traditional antidote for human unhappiness is to acquire, to solidify, to gain, to eat, to buy, to collect. And the first legitimate glimpse of the void, which for some people comes during meditation, can be unnerving, to say the least. It's unknown, strange, and frightening. Bit by bit, though, as practitioners, we begin to experiment with resting in the void, in the genuine spaciousness. What we find, to our surprise, is that this isn't a frightening place at all, but an exceedingly secure and trustworthy one. Physical matter shifts and degrades and reincarnates, but spaciousness never changes. Reconnecting with that space, once an alien landscape, becomes like going home again after a long, troublesome journey.

The best approach to unhappiness, I've found, is to seek space, to let it into myself and to inject myself into space itself. And then I rest there.