Social currents

Photo by Soroush Karimi on Unsplash

 

Nikos Kazantzakis was a recent Greek writer and philosopher, author of “Zorba the Greek” and the very controversial “Last Temptation of Christ” – which you may know. He was nominated for the Nobel prize in literature nine separate times. But obviously, lost, so, draw your own conclusions!

His most famous quote is this: “I hope nothing. I fear nothing. I am free”.

Let that sink in for a moment. 

Dispassion. No desires. No hopes, no fears, no emotions. Freedom??  

I have my own version of this quote: “I hope nothing. I fear nothing. I am dead.”

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Photo by Shubham Bochiwal on Unsplash

 

My life has been wild.

It’s been a ride on the arrow of ancient time, and all space on the planet, and deep into the passions of mind and heart, all wrapped in bows of raptures and disasters. And here I am, bruised, broken, and patched together, still craving more.

Disaster, resisted.

It was just when I thought the chaos in my life would finally give way to sanity when it happened. My younger son had just graduated from Berkeley physics, and I was driving home on the 5 Fwy when I got the call. I had cancer – really bad cancer. It was stage 4 aggressive, with awfully bad statistics. It recurred two years later and now, after all the chemo, my hair has grown back, but so much of me has changed.
I resisted making cancer the center of my life, but there is no helping it anymore. I was not supposed to have survived – even this little much. And I may not. It changed everything. And it’s time to share the lessons. I’ll start you at the top. (more…)

From the moment my recent chemo treatment began, months ago, I had one thought in mind: Once this is done, I want to travel. I had my sights on Tashkent, and Samarkand, and Amritsar. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know, it’s like something is waiting there for me. No matter, it won’t happen: The virus happened, and I am grounded. I know, my timing sucks!

When will it end? No one knows. I no longer consume virus news. And while I do not mean to litter our collective mindscape with more virus food, I will. Because if I don’t speak out now, it may be too late.

Our response to the virus worries me. Not for our 3-6 month future, because we know that will be painful. But for how life will be in 3-5 years and beyond.

There are unrecognizable lives ahead of us:  a healthcare disaster; economic collapse; retail, and airlines, and hotel industries going down; geopolitical games with China; the environmental rebound that nature engineered, that we have incapable of designing in over 30 years.

But I will focus on only one:

The cratering of our social life

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

There was that summer, many years ago, when my travels through the rough seas of mental pain hit a category 5 hurricane. My heart grieved losses so catastrophic, so life-crushing, that I lost all anchors. It felt like my brain had detached from my skull, that is was swirling and shifting inside my head.  I was in depression severe enough to have me dissolve into rivers of tears, so sudden, that I had to bolt from the dinner table and go hide until the storm passed. I needed to do something to not drown.

Know when you need help

And I did: I explored everything. The magic of therapists, and of mind-bending gurus; Medications; And meditations, kirtans, retreats, temples in Indian valley villages, I needed help. I did everything by the book: Sat through deep breathing exercises, trying to let my thoughts come and go without engaging them, without judging, passively staying in the one breath.

“You can do anything for one breath”, they said. “Your mind will be constantly buzzing, just let it be”; “try slow-eating a raisin for 5 minutes”. The problem was the mind, the mind, the mind. “We need to silence the mind”. Everybody was convinced that therein laid the root of human suffering.

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Photo by Haley Lawrence on Unsplash

I was a just little girl.

That evening, I was playing on the floor next to my father’s armchair, when I accidentally knocked over his cigarette holder. His cigarettes all spilled out. He got fuming mad. He demanded that I pick them up and replace them in the holder. He yelled at me to apologize. I refused to do either. I froze as this went on for a couple of hours. I cried, but never apologized.

It was downhill from there. As a teenager, he imposed a 9 pm curfew. If I showed up at 9:05, there would be punishment. Delivered with a belt with a buckle, on the front steps of the house, no discussion. I remember the day that the rage in me became a distinct object that lived in my throat: I had just gotten t my hands on my first Beatles record, when he pulled it from the player and smashed it on his knee — because he did not like the lyrics. I was devastated.

For decades, I carried that fury around. It seeped into everything in my life. I remained stubborn, I couldn’t trust anyone, I had authority issues.

What do you do with all this damage?

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Fareed Zakaria Liberal EducationCNN’s Fareed Zakaria, who has one of the most thoughtful programs on TV (CNN Sunday mornings!), has just published a new book, “In Defense of Liberal Education”.

His main fear is that the current trend away from the 4-year liberal arts college education (set in motion by the Great Recession, and rationally supported by the ballooning college price tag), will create a nation of graduates who cannot quite think, write, or speak with clarity and conviction.

(See: http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2014/05/24/why-the-liberal-arts-matter/)

The counterpoint, of course, is that the country needs engineers and scientists urgently and in numbers. So, if highschoolers keep choosing history, English, and arts majors, where will the STEM competency come from?

I completely agree with the point. And with the counterpoint. And when that happens, I know that we must not be asking the right questions…

Is the problem really that high school graduates choose liberal arts over science? Is this the reason that we don’t have STEM-competent employees in the workplace?

Or is it, that given the level of high-school math and science our students get, it is mostly impossible to get into an engineering or science major, or even, to be excited about math and physics?!

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