Suffering – it is a Necessary Experience

We all go through periods of intense sadness or significant loss. Sadness that cripples, loss that shakes our bones and crushes them to powdered marrow; suffering that makes us feel as though we are less than human, sometimes. We may have lost a loved one prematurely, or have gone through a major health crisis, or, in some cases, have a corrupt fascist dictator telling us what to do on pain of death or torture (in some countries other than Amercica – hopefully…) There are many things that make humans tick.

What can we do to counteract this?

The answer is: (wait for it….drum roll!) Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

What!? You will most likely protest at this seemingly ludicrous claim. You will most likely be thinking: Then  what is the point of being aware of it, and why on earth can’t I do anything about it? Let me explain – patience is a virtue, says the old cliche adage, for a very good reason. It is one of the key tools to alleviate a suffering mind.

You see, the thing is, suffering, while it hurts so bad, makes you want to tear your hair out, sometimes makes you want to jump off your apartment complex building, (which is the only thing that can make suffering moot, and render all your endeavors to be happy and healthy futile, and the endeavors of your family and friends futile, forevermore…Suicide is ultimately a vain and selfish act), The fact is… suffering brings out the beauty in life. Suffering is a necessary ingredient, in fact for happiness! Think about it. First of all, if we didn’t ever suffer, how can we know what joy feels like?

It’s like…take a running faucet. If you always run the cold water, how can you ever know what warm water feels like? Or, take a person with failing vision. How will this person know she needs glasses if she never gets her eyes checked? Then she puts glasses on, and the world is revealed to her.

dante inferno

Now, I know to suffer hurts. It hurts like the seven circles of hell. It hurts so much sometimes that we wish it would be eradicated from our lives forever. I live a comfortable middle class life and go to school at a prestigious conservatory of  music – nevertheless, I feel lack in my life at times, I also feel as if my life has been destroyed in some ways by certain experiences. In short, as my self-esteem withers, so does my happiness. I sometimes wish I could take a pill that would somehow give me an infinite amount of patience and eradicate any sadness, hate, frustration, or anxiety forever from my body and mind.

This, of course, is impossible.

If it was possible, it would be a lobotomy. Which is a bad idea. Lobotomies are when you essentially hack off a section of your brain that is responsible for a certain function of your existence. I have a friend who lives in Sacramento who once knew a young man – a college student, actually, who had decided that one of his main pursuits was to get what is essentially a lobotomy through an injection. What the injection does is target the pituitary gland, thus chemically inhibiting the section of the brain that produces certain hormones. In this case, the young man wanted to inhibit his sexual drive, because he felt that he needed to focus on what really mattered in his life, and that his sexual drive was keeping him from achieving his full potential.

It turned out, as my friend had told me, chuckling a bit over his torta that he bought from the university’s Baja Fresh, that his old friend – after receiving the injection, had less drive to do anything at all! He actually had less motivation to do anything he cared about and had less physical energy to go about doing those activities! Thankfully for him, the injection was a temporary “fix”. His hormones came back after a while after he stopped taking the injection.

After my fellow Sac state friend told me this little story, I was baffled by it, and all the possible metaphorical implications of the story.

So, going back to my originall point of the possible eradication of any type of suffering (and let’s be clear: what I mean is not the potential for external causes of the suffering, I mean the ability to feel it) I mean, is this not a great, if not infallible scientific example of the function of any human emotion? An affirmation that our survival and indeed, happiness, depends on all our human emotions? If this story is true, (and I trust my friend is not a lying sociopath or a fabricator of outlandish stories for their own sake), then suffering, too, frustration, anger, and all of what the tenets of Buddhism calls afflictive emotions, are natural and even necessary to live total lives.

buddha statue

Now…Buddhism. If you are familiar with the basic doctrines of the highly scientific religion of Buddhism, then you might disagree with me that there is absolutely nothing you can do about suffering. I hasten to explain myself: doing nothing does not mean one must sit there and let the emotions take root in their soul, and eventually lead them to jump off a cliff. No, ‘nothing’, in this case, means to let the emotions pass by. Like you’re walking through the scariest jungle in the world. You get nicks and scars and even gashes from the beasts of the jungle, but once you come out of the dark brush, you see a meadow and a river. Now, you are a more experienced person. That is all I mean. I just want people to know that experiencing suffering is a part of life that makes life more enjoyable and beautiful once you get through it. This will be easier if you take things and see them as they are, through contemplation and meditation. If you are interested in Buddhism and how to live with more compassion for others and yourself, I suggest the New York Times Bestseller: An Open Heart, written by the Dalai Lama. It will change your life, of course.

Because the key to getting through a hard time is to be kind to yourself and to others too.

Also, looking at the sky, the cosmos, and remind yourself that you are living. And mochi ice cream. And fried chicken. And dogs, too. Don’t forget a nice cup of lemonade on a hot day next to a swimming pool. There is solace in simplicity.

 

 

 

The Dreamer Knows All – a fictional story

Image result for colors of the wind

Whats up, everybody? Yeah, I know: this picture is from Disney’s Pocahontas, but hey, it works. I enjoy writing fiction, and studied it a lot while doing my undergrad at Sacramento State University. I was that close to getting my creative writing minor, but had to drop it by default because of a lack of one measly class… (P.S.  this piece was influenced heavily by the Magical Realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez).

Anyways, listen to this link before or after reading to enhance the experience!

Pharaoh Sanders – Colors

Echoes of my family (May 24th, 2016)

Rivers on the mountainside remind me of the times I swam underneath the sky in my sleep. Once, when I awoke, I saw a bird. It had iridescent green-gold wings that sparkled when they flapped. I recollect now the sight of the bird craning its neck skyward and beginning to cry—and it was so very shiny and beautiful and delicate that I teared up. Recollecting my mother, who looked like this bird, which now flew by, flapping its wings, sprinkling gold and green and red dust which made my furniture shiny too—my mother would look at a man and he wouldn’t know it, but later after he would recall her too, little by little falling in love with the image of her eyes whose color he could not remember.

She sang to me as a child, and I wish that the bird I had seen had uttered a cry, so I could reconcile my dead mother’s voice with that spiritual vision.

I went to the river once, and bathed in its icy currents. My feet burned with cold, and my knees shook and wobbled, but, seeing a cabin of marble on the other side, I persevered. My clothes soaked as I struggled to cross, swimming and gulping pure and terrible ice-water.

Then I saw an angelic woman in all-white garb, sheets billowing behind her, and she walked on top of the river. My heart throbbed with jealousy—I wanted to walk on the water too. I wanted to be able to skirt across many currents of time and fly across the red cliffs like birds. I wanted so badly to be like the woman.

She glanced at me while she walked by on the water. My head was barely above the surface and my arms flailed, raw with cold. All that was in my eyes was envy. She pitied my eyes. She slowed and hovered there, standing like an angel about to fall. Like a mother entreating a child.

But then I reached the shore. The riverbank was muddy and turgid. When the angel stepped onto the ground, the muddy soil became soft and fertile as the skin of her bare feet touched it, and little dandelions and bright orange poppies spontaneously grew from the now fertile earth.

Then the sun came out and smiled with its light. Dappled reflections rang and the echoes of my father came to me in the form of a tiger. The creature stared at me, looked into my eyes. Entreating me to stare back. The angel had seen the marble house, then saw the tiger and went to it. She tamed the wild beast with a touch of her silver-gold, luminescent hand on its head. It purred like a house cat and its razor-sharp teeth shrank. Its fur receded and its stripes rearranged themselves, changed color.

The angel kept petting it while I looked on, panting like a dog and dripping wet, my hands on my knees. I closed my eyes briefly. When I opened them, my father completed his transformation and was now a naked man. Albeit he was still hairy and had orange and black streaks on his legs and chest, he was there.

The angel, who was my mother in spirit form, turned towards me and smiled a smile so warm, I could actually feel the heat of it on my chest, and it dried my body. She leaned down and picked up some earth, blew on it, then placed it on my father—who was a spirit animal just moments ago—he took it from his head and put it on the ground. I stood there, transfixed.

I saw, right then and there, a little sapling grow, which finally grew into a tall mango tree, which bore red and gold and green fruit the size of my head.

My mother said, “Come, young man, try the fruit.”

“My father smiled from the left side of his mouth, before the rest of it followed, and I felt the heat of two suns burn away the rest of the icy drops of water that had clung to my now warm skin. The glow was tremendous.

“Yes. Even though it is red, it still has a pure core of translucent meat to sustain a growing boy like you.”

And then my mother, the angel, laughed, and I felt at that moment something more potent than mere heat: I saw the whole terrain transform into Spring spontaneously in front of my eyes. Peacocks appeared suddenly out of nowhere, unfolded their plumage and screamed with animalistic joy. All manner of wildflowers sprouted and blossomed on the ground before me. I watched the river run freer, and finches tweeted and flew past it while fish jumped.

It was difficult to describe the sensation that overwhelmed my body, however. Though I believe,  as I recollect that day, that it was the most wonderful, strange, stark feeling that I have felt before or since. It was more than the transigent pull of love, more lasting than the memory of an orchestra playing Mahler symphonies. Love itself was embodied in this wave of energy.

When they laughed together, it was music more in harmony than any angel chorus in the sky that could be possibly imagined by abbots of any religion. The call and response of the tones coming from their throats spilled into my ears and into my soul, washing it clean a thousand times over.

I doubled over and wept.

My tears fell. They watered the wild flowers beneath my feet. My father walked over to me and I looked up and cried harder.

He tousled my hair, which was now dry and frizzy, saying, “My boy! Do not fear. It is only the wind, a transitive thing, only a passion of nature that will pass in time.” Then I spoke, my voice cracking a little, “Is that you, Dad?”

He grew forlorn and his voice dropped, “No, son. Only a shadow of the man you once knew. Even death is temporary, you know. This is the wisdom that you and all of mankind must learn. Without this wisdom, we will grow miserly, and the whole human race will eventually crumble and fall.”

The spirit of my mother perked up from where she stood, a ring of wildflowers blooming ferociously about her feet, swaying in the mild breeze. She leaned towards me sadly, then at the spirit of my father, plaintively looking at him.

He looked at her briefly, then looked at me and told me to rise. I did. He gave me a small book with pages that were blank. He told me to go into the marble house, where I would meet Permanence.

“If you want to know and see what permanence really is, you must go there and see it for yourself.” He smiled, his eyes sad, and pointed towards the pale house of polished stone, which glowed in the brilliant sunshine.

My mother said then: “If you learn one thing, son, learn to love solitude in its purest form. You will know happiness.”

In an impulsive move, I opened my arms and tried to hug the spirit of my mother, desiring to touch her and smell her warm breath. But at that instant, she disappeared from the world of the tangible, slowly melting away, her image growing lighter and lighter, until nothing remained.

My father’s body was replaced by the tiger once more, whose fangs grew large, his purr rumbling full of affection.  I reached out to touch his fur, but he took off in a second.

I made my way towards the marble house. I reflect now, over a cup of coffee at the local café across the street, that people know me, though I don’t talk to them much. I look out the windows and see clouds made of down pillows and a sky so brilliantly azure that it almost blinds me. So I know, even now, that that day was the same day that I felt my mother’s and father’s energy surge into me, teaching me what bliss is, what permanence really is.

The sage that I found in the marble house looked like a hominid from prehistoric times. He knew exactly why I was there, what I had come there for. When I walked into the house, I smelled a freshness that only a room untouched by sinful hands could retain. It was a relic of a house. The sunlight came in from a hole in the ceiling and was dappled a thousand times in a regular pattern of shade and light from a lattice-work of marble windows on the east side of the house.

This sage turned to me. His face was so strange, almost ape-like, with huge cheekbones, a tall head and a large jaw and brow-ridge.

He flared his nostrils a little. I stood there, dumbfounded, mainly because of his strange appearance. He said in a calm baritone drone, like water sloshing in a great drum, “Greetings. Do you have something to tell me?”

I tell him I did not know. He took my arm and led me to an alter room, where another sage sat on a pedestal, carved out of marble. This was my ancestor, he told me, and he chuckled contently. After a small talk, I presented him the blank book. He took it and laughed a husky laugh that gave me chills and warmed me up at the same time.

He said in his resplendent voice that the book was blank because it defies the Sutras of Permanence. “If I were you,” he said, “I would cast the book into the river.”
He said the only wisdom you can have has already been thought and recorded throughout time. One only had to study it.

I became angry. My anger started slowly, building little by little while he showed me his house. It was very unlike the sensation of warmth that I felt when my mother and father laughed—it felt like my limbs and fingers were on fire. The incendiary sensation spread through my body like a cancer, the growth of it like branches of parasites, which cling to my nerve-endings. Why though? Why did I feel this way?

 

I lift up my coffee and peer through the window, seeing thousands and thousands of people pass by every hour on the street. The city teems with so much life, yet as I drink my coffee, I wonder if they really live.

I have no right to say. I am, after all, a stranger in their eyes. I am as impermanent as they are, as they ever will be. People of every race and ethnicity get on and off the bus every five minutes, yet no one even talks to each other. They know they will die someday.

I think that a piece of the puzzle is missing. That something is missing from people’s hearts that one can only retrieve through dreaming. Yet, students at the universities get only a few hours of sleep sometimes. They have no time for dreams. The blank pages that a man has is filled with wisdom. It needs only to be recorded, retrieved and then recorded again. That sage had reached the age of reason, and as old as he was, he will stay in that marble structure forever and ever, never to die, always, and permanently,

alone.

The Meaning of “Soul”

 

(This is my favorite James Brown performance) Sometime – James Brown – On James Brown’s album Superbad

Approximately two years ago, I saw the James Brown documentary: Mr. Dynamite. In the documentary, the godfather of soul was asked the familiar question posed to many R&B and soul singers. Which is: What is soul?

Jame Brown said to the interviewer, “Soul…is being told no – over and over and over again. Soul is being told you can’t go inside the same restaurants as white people, can’t go to the same bathroom as a white person, can’t date a white woman, and no, you can’t be  doctor or a lawyer even if you tried.”

The emotion of soul music comes from this rejection. It manifests from the tension and the friction that inevitably develops from wanting something and never getting it; from all of the frustration and mental and physical pain that inevitably develops from being told you won’t ever get something as long as you live. From repeated humiliation in the slums dancing for quarters in the deep south, and from seeing your mother leaving your alcoholic father and you together.

 

james brown

 

Soul music was created from the ghettoes of America. It comes from the blues, which was the African-American slave’s only chance to express how he felt, in an unfamiliar land, in an unfamiliar situation with unfamiliar people treating him like a non-human.

The beautiful thing about music is it is an outlet for release. Spiritual, primordial release of this raw and furious passion. And it signifies everything. When a singer feels sad, he sings about why he is sad. When a singer feels angry, she sings to calm herself down. And when a singer is cornered like a dog and feels he has no where to go, like a drowning man struggling to free himself from the water that will kill him, he will scream to the gods in order to appeal to the Lord to free him from his predicament.

I’ve always loved soul music. This is mainly because my family exposed me to this type of music-I can’t say that I was predetermined to like it. The energy of boogie-woogie, the repetitive nature of doo-wop and low-rider oldies had a special quality to it that I eventually learned to love. The music is sincere and does not hold back. It is desperate. It is of men and women playing and singing music not to please the royal court of Vienna or to please the critics – it was for the masses, for their families, for their communities, and for themselves.

The reverend Al Sharpton, formerly a news anchor for MSNBC, said in the film, ‘Soul Survivor’: “James Brown’s moan, his groan… all of that was ‘I want to release this feeling,’ even if you’re not comfortable with it. And when he released it, he released a scream in all of us that had so much scream built up in it, but never had the nerve to let it go.”

This kind of audacity has its own virtue to it, don’t you think? It serves the public in a psychological, spiritual way. This is what musicians are meant for, after all. Not only entertainment, but for this too. To express what cannot be articulated, only felt.

Not that any other kind of art music and even pop music has no appeal to the masses or exists for its own artistic sake. R&B and rap today has its own merits, of course. I would argue that the image and the ego of the artists are emphasized so much, that the sincere emotion and expression is being lost, slowly but surely, or rather, the emotion and expression of the musician is being enveloped -like a white blood cell enveloping a necessary cellular ingredient in the body – by the profit-motive. By the record company, by the corporate sponsors, by the masses themselves. Not to mention the hyper-sexual element of today’s music in general – and I want to talk about this. This also sells, of course. Now before these days, R&B used sexual themes in their music, but I would argue that those artists in the 60’s and 70’s did so with some purpose in mind, and did not use sex for its own sake. Music videos such as Nicki Minaj’s “Feeling Myself” and “Anaconda” and other hit singles are being played on the internet and all of the T.V.’s of the cities, and anyone could see them. This is what our children are seeing, day in and day out. We are what we eat. If we are exposing our children to these soulless, mindless, and hyper-sexual songs, whether we like it or not, these children will grow up to become what they have seen, in one way or another.

Anyways, back to soul music. It’s got feeling! Feeling not from the genitalia, but from the heart! Love, altruism, sadness, joy, grace, and justice are all words I associate with good soul music.

Here is a link to one of my favorite soul songs by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions (the first link). It is one of my favorite because it is deeply personal to Curtis, yet has a quality of universality to it. Also, the groove is killing. It is as beautiful as a Tchaikovsky melody, in my opinion.

-(And since I love Curtis so much, here is another for the ear candy cornucopia! You may recognize it from the movie: Superbad)

The Impressions – I Loved and I Lost

Curtis Mayfield – P.S. I love you