The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
. . . still studying and learning how to live

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Current Affairs ... Philosophy ...

First off, I recently sighted a nuthatch and some juncos in my backyard (birds, that is). That is a sure sign of winter’s approach; i.e., birds coming down from the hills just west of here, seeking food to fatten up on so as to get ready for the lean season to come. A group of juncos take up their winter homes here in the suburban jungle, from November thru April. “So little snowbird take me with you when you go, to that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow”, as Anne Murray once sang. But they ain’t going nowhere for a while.

Today is Election Day, and we local bureaucrats still get today off (yea, I know, we don’t deserve it; given the current mood among the electorate, Governor Christie and the Tea Party people will soon yank Election Day, along with lots of other job benefits, away from us). Since my brother is still out of work, we got together to see the early showing of Clint Eastwood’s latest film (as a producer), “Hereafter”. I found Hereafter to be quite a compelling and gratifying movie. It’s about people who are “possessed by death and the afterlife”, and focuses around visions and near-death experiences (including those of Matt Damon and the easy-to-look-at Cecile De France, who is actually from Belgium). Hey, leave it to Clint to give us a beautiful woman to help ponder the ultimate metaphysical questions!

“Hereafter” is very well done, very tasteful; a real movie in the classic sense, a flick that relies on plot and acting and lighting and mood, not on big stars and noise and big crashes and outrageous scenes, which so many movies do today. There is too much adrenalin and testosterone in most modern films, which is what the majority of viewers (read, people under 30) seem to want. Hereafter is an old-school movie. It involves some fantasy and requires suspension of disbelief regarding near-death experiences. And yet, it is so very satisfying; so gentle and yet so captivating with your emotions. I see 1 or 2 movies per year, and this was my movie of 2010. And I think I picked a good one this time.

After watching a movie about death, one thinks about what they are doing with their life. Although I am coming to accept the notion that I am fated to spend the balance of my days without a committed “helpmate” (i.e., I’m not gonna find the “woman of my dreams” and live happily ever after), I still have a posting on a freebie dating site. I hardly get any “traffic” from it, but recently I got a note from a woman around my age who, like me, considers herself a student of Zen. So I wrote back, and received a very optimistic reply from her; it sounded like there might be some real interest on her part in making the effort to get to know one another. So I wrote back again after a day or so, but that seemed to ‘put the kabosh’ on things. All went silent.

Hey, not that I should complain. I have done things like this myself (not that much now, perhaps two or three times; I don’t have a long line of women lined up waiting to speak to me, to put it gently). But perhaps my recent inquirer didn’t like my “post-idealism” view of life. In her own web site listing, she wrote “I am seeking to find work that is genuinely for the good of humankind . . . I want to bring my abilities to bear on a difficult problem and work to untangle it. At the end of a day I want to go home feeling that it’s all been worth while.”

I guess that she presently does not feel that her work and her life accrues to the good of humankind and that it’s all worth while; and furthermore, that somehow a dating web site can change all that. But yes, my thoughts here are a bit too cynical, even if true. I too would like to live in a such way that what I did clearly benefited someone or some group, in a way that was easy and plain to see. Unfortunately, I have found life, along with my own self, to be much more complex, confusing and murky. Often when you think you are doing good you really are not, and when you don’t, perhaps you are.

This incident reminded me of a blog site I recently looked at, written by a young man named Andrew who is presently working for the Peace Corp in Kyrgyzstan. Andrew is the son of a prominent member of my local zendo, and his father has spoken to the sangha about his son quite a few times, and quite proudly. Andrew graduated from the Stern School of Business at NYU, but instead of immediately tackling a career on Wall Street, he wanted to “find work that is genuinely for the good of humankind”. And he’s out there doing it amidst the mountain sheep hearders in Central Asia. Here’s his site: Woori Kyrgyz.

Interestingly, in one of his posts, Andrew makes the point that life in Kyrgyzstan is very disorganized and impoverished compared to the USA and Europe. And yet, there is a recent happiness survey showing that Kyrgyzs are on the whole a good bit happier than the average American. Hmmm, makes you wonder why we send idealistic youth like Andrew to help bring their lives up to American standards; perhaps they should send their youth over here to help us find happiness!

Well, not to rain on Andrew’s parade, or his true and well meaning effort to live a rich and satisfying life. His father seeks wisdom through Zen, and he seeks the secret of happiness amidst the mountain tribes of Kyrgyzstan, versus the high-frequency traders of Wall Street. And I hope that between Zen and something like what Andrew is doing, my recent ephemeral dating candidate will find what she seeks. And I also hope that Clint Eastwood is right in the meta-message of “Hereafter”, i.e. that in the end it will be all right, and that there is something more to life than what we can presently know. (Even though the movie concludes with Matt Damon finding relief from obsession with the afterlife through a chance at happiness in this life; yes, with that dishy Cecile herself).

I have heard it said that we can all life a fulfilled life here on earth and that we really don’t need the hope of an afterlife to make sense of things. Zen Buddhism does not espouse the afterlife. And if the Peace Corp or a dating web site does truly help us find happiness and fulfillment in this world, perhaps the “Imagine” ideal as sung by John Lennon so many years ago is correct (“Imagine there’s no heaven, It’s easy if you try; No hell below us, Above us only sky”). But I myself have found this life to be quite a mixed bag; a place where wisdom can be gained and happiness occasionally glimpsed, but where pain and uncertainty ultimately rule. I think that we are right to look to or at least hope for the possibility of a better afterlife, as to make sense of things. Even if that sometimes means letting go of sweet earthly dreams like Ms. DeFrance! (Or my erstwhile dating site correspondent).

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:37 pm      

  1. Jim, Regarding the woman on the website: Seems to me you likely are not missing much if she has not responded to you. On a website, which I would think would be looking to find another person compatible with oneself, she said she was “seeking to find WORK.” Problem there, as I see it.

    Why go to a website set up to find companions and be looking for work? Something wrong with that picture. Unless she simply mis-stated herself. But she states this idea of “work” twice (albeit in different ways). Could she be looking to “untangle” the work of the relationship? Oh, no, I hope not. Relationships are difficult enough without seeking out one that upfront needs “untangling” so she can feel a sense of accomplishment. Almost sounds as if she has “control” problems and “untangling” of problems would have to be HER way; not the other person’s way. Unless she could explain herself and what she means in some way that would relate to the person and not to work and/or the “work” of a relationship, I’d say you may in the end be glad you are not hearing from her.

    I think too many people who seek someone to love or at least someone with whom to share some companionship in life make the mistake of thinking that the person they are looking for must share everything they themselves do–work, philosophy, attitude toward life, etc. I myself have never been able to see that approach to finding a partner, friend, etc.

    Seems to me that if both people have the same “everything” that they “share”, life together would get very borning. How about being friends, lovers, companions, etc., with someone who doesn’t think like “I” do? Not that one would have such divergent views as to be at each others’ throats 24/7, but at least some diversity of opinion (even if one votes GOP and the other Democratic) would liven up life a bit.

    As to Andrew and the Kyrgystans: Perhaps the message there is that some Americans (particularly those who simply must have the latest up to date everything even if they have to be seriously in debt) are just too materialistic.

    And as to the idea that we can live a fulfilled life here on earth and don’t really need the hope of an afterlife: I disagree. That idea may work when one is young. But the older one gets, one starts to look back and evaluate what his/her life may have been all about. Even for those who may have accomplished their goals in life–both for others and for oneself–one tends to realize that in the end all the hard work actually is “not much.” One tends to start looking “forward” to what may be next.

    I 100% agree that some kind of “hereafter” is a good thing to be able to look forward to. Presumably, an afterlife will be happy or at least pleasant, peaceful, restful, and comforting. I like your idea that some kind of afterlife “makes sense.” MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — November 3, 2010 @ 5:37 am

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