by Bo Lozoff
What are we doing here, and how can we make life work? Every thoughtful person, not just intellectuals or preachers, wrestles with those basic questions at some time or other.
The great “Wisdom Traditions” all point in exactly the same two directions: Inner transcendence (Communion), and unselfish behavior (Community).
In response to the first question, “What are we doing here?,” the Holy Ones have all said 1) It’s way beyond your understanding, so give up trying to figure it out with the mind; and 2) Look within, look beyond the mind, be STILL, go to the Secret Place within the heart. In other words, they point to an experience of direct contact with the Christ—Allah—Great Spirit—The Almighty—Yahweh—Buddha Mind, etc., which can only be found by going inside, past all our notions about self or God. A word for this which no tradition would argue with is COMMUNION.
In response to the second question, the holy teachings, once again, have each expressed exactly the same advice, the same ethics and standards for human behavior: Be kind to one another; love thy neighbor as thyself; do unto others as you would have them do unto you; live for a mightier cause than selfishness; serve the poor; make the world a better place. Another simple, unarguable word sums it up: COMMUNITY.
It’s easy to think of family and friends as “community,” and everyone else as strangers, associates, rivals or even enemies whom we just have to cope with in order to make a living, do our time, get ahead, etc. It’s easy to think “I’ll practice Community and Communion as soon as I get home from work, as soon as I get out of prison, as soon as my boss stops picking on me, as soon as things smooth out for me, as soon as, as soon as…”
It just doesn’t work that way. Our community is exactly where we are at every moment during the day; exactly whom life places in front of us at any time. That’s the whole point! That idiot, that lecher, that bully, that con, that bureaucrat who drives us up the wall, that windbag politician on TV — everyone we see, hear, or meet must be respected as a brother or sister on the path, even if they have no idea there is such a thing as a path.
The Great Recovery
The Great Recovery is from the terrible addiction of self-centered living. That’s the recovery all the prophets and sages have encouraged us to seek. Our whole modern world is hooked on looking out for #1, yet the more we do it, the worse we feel. So we up the dose of selfishness. It’s classic addiction.
Sita and I have visited a lot of treatment programs lately, both in and outside of prisons. We’ve spoken to a lot of people who have been through the doors not just once, but two, three, four, five times — good people with decent hearts and a lot of sincerity, but who seem to keep finding themselves caught in addiction.
They ask why? Why can’t I lead a good life? Why do I keep screwing everything up? I asked many of them what their treatment goals were, and received the same answer I’ve heard for over twenty years: “I just want to stay clean and sober, get a decent job, get back with my family, have a nice little place to live, a decent set of wheels… I’m a good person; I deserve it, don’t I ?”
Those goals sound right, don’t they? But are they enough to create a happy life? “Me and mine” is basically what they amount to. “Me and my family.”
The fascinating thing is, if you investigate the anatomy of recovery failures — and most recidivism in general — you find two types — one which occurs during the first year, and the other between the second and third years.
The people who go back to using drugs (or other crime) during the first year seem to crumble because they fail to achieve one or more of those standard goals: Their spouse kicks them out, or they can’t find a decent job, etc., and they give up pretty quickly. It seems like an easy situation to understand: They didn’t reach their goals, so they got discouraged and gave up.
But here’s the fascinating part: The people who crumble between the second and third years, seem to fail because they reach the goals. Everyone has been there for them, gone out on a limb for them, they’re loved and fed and employed … and that old constant craving begins again, and they keep it as a deep secret, until they are filled with shame and guilt, thinking “I must be a really horrible, ungrateful person to be craving drugs again after everyone has helped me so much; I must be rotten to the core.” From there it’s a pretty quick slide to “I may as well go ahead and get it over with; I’ll never be any good, and they all may as well find out already.”
The real tragedy is, they’re not horrible people, they simply didn’t understand that their “me and my family” goals were simply not big enough goals. They got what they wanted, and something inside was still empty and craving, because “me and mine” is not enough to make a whole, happy human being. Not wickedness, but simple ignorance, was responsible for their failure. Has it happened to you, too? Will it happen next time?
If you know — really know — that all religions boil down to Communion and Community, you could meet the Pope or the Dalai Lama, an imam or minister, rabbi or shaman, and they would welcome you as a holy friend and agree that you understand the heart of their religion: An inner journey beyond all words, and an outward path of devoting ourselves to others. Countless different methods, but they all lead in those same two directions. Now we know the road. Let’s travel it together.