Blessed Curse: What I see in my world

Here’s a glimpse inside my head.

I walk into a fancy restaurant. I see people dressed very polishedly and I think about classism in our society. I wonder whether these other people in the restaurants ever think about the widening income inequality. Do they think about what they can do for those who are less fortunate? The food was good, but not as tasty as it would have been if I did not have that lingering thought inside my head. I just did not deserve to be there.

There are many street vendors in Bangkok. I buy food from them all the time. Sometimes I wonder if there are days when they do not make enough. Do they have health insurance? They sometimes use really old stoves to cook the food, which are really energy inefficient. Some of them use coal. Some of them use gas—fossil fuel nonetheless. They’re so integral to the Thai livelihood. How can we ever become fossil fuel independent?

I get into a cab. I feel uncomfortable knowing that I probably make more than the driver does. What does he feel about me? Does he think I’m a middle class snob? His earnings are so unpredictable. I won’t be comfortable living like that.

The cleaners at my office never complain. They clean and clean and clean. It’s kind of a terrible job. Do they have other things they want to be doing? Why are we paying them so little when the CEO gets millions? Do they ever think about the meaning of life? If everyone pursues their passions, who will work as cleaners? Shouldn’t we be paying them a lot more for doing something they don’t want to be doing?

These are what I see in the world around me. Sometimes, it really is a curse, because I can’t go by a single day without noticing how much shittier this world is for some fellow beings than for me, which makes the world very shitty by my standards.

People tell me I think too much. I wish I can be one of those people that think too little, but that isn’t going to happen. I’ve been blessed with this curse—one that I think is probably intended to really be a blessing sometime in the future, which makes me always think about equality and justice in our world. I just can’t relax.

How can I get out of this torment?

Or do I really want to?

Quiet Desperation

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Wise words from Henry David Thoreau.

I’ve never lived this quote as much as I have been this year. ‘Quiet desperation’ is such a poignant expression summarizing my struggle (and I’m sure the struggle of the mass of men around me as well). We go through each day trapped in a routine we know as everyday life, putting up a facade to show everyone that we’re okay. Yet as the days go by the routine feels ever more robotic, and it becomes more challenging to refuse that we are indeed not okay. I’m trapped, and I feel alone.

Quiet desperation.

People keep asking me what I want to do when I am set free from my current commitment. I still don’t quite know what the future holds, but I know it’s not a purposeless life. I don’t understand people who work for money. I don’t understand people who work for fame. My quiet desperation is a struggle against worldly expectations, be it wealth, popularity or conformity. I want to, one day, be able to earn the air I breath and the resources I use. My quiet desperation is me not doing enough for the planet. On some days, it gets to be too much.

One of the tragedies of our time is that we carry these weights around with us everywhere, but we feel like we cannot talk about them. Perhaps we have to remember that there is a mass of men around us who feel the exact same way.

Both our civilization, as well as many of us individually, are entering a transition in our sense of self and world. For simplicity, I call it a transition from the story of Separation to the story of Interbeing. As this shift gathers momentum, the old answers to questions like, “Who am I?” “What is important?” “What is normal?” “How should one live life?”  “How does the world work?” “What is a human being?” “What is real?” are becoming obsolete.

For example, on the collective level, we no longer believe so firmly in old paradigms like the conquest of nature, endless growth, or better living through chemistry. The converging crises of our time make them impossible to hold onto.As they unravel, so do the systems built atop them.

For many of us, something similar is happening, or has happened already, on a personal level. This online course is for people who want to learn about the space between stories, and work with it on any level, from the personal to the interpersonal to the political.

— Charles Eisenstein, www.spacebetweenstories.net

Every time I see quotes like this one, I am always reminded that I have a duty here on this planet. It’s not to make money; rather, it’s to help inspire others find their peace and purpose too. I am stuck in the transition from the old story to the new story, and I am desperate to get out. Once I can, you can bet I will be there to help guide others along their journeys. In the meantime, I’ll allow myself to pray for the strength to weather the storm of quiet desperation in the next four years.

This is my story. I’m sure you have yours. So let’s talk. Let’s amplify our quiet desperation.

Is it selfish to make wishes for ourselves? What do you pray for?

Back in 2012, I wrote a post entitled “Why do we make wishes for ourselves?” It became, to my surprise, the most popular post on the blog. But it is encouraging to see that there are people out there asking the same questions as me. I figured I should write an update to reflect the developments of my thoughts on this issue.

We all want many things in life. Most of us are stuck in a never-ending rat race fueled by our desire for social status. We aim for a fancier job title, a more expensive car, or a bigger home. And we make wishes for them. While this kind of wishes is perhaps not that commonplace, it is often made in Thailand that it concerns me.

Is that wrong?

At one point in my life, when I give thanks at Buddhist shrines, my wishes were like this:

“May all beings find peace.”

“May my family be ever in good health.”

“Please give me the strength to remain rooted in Buddhism. Please give me the strength to refrain from evil.”

“Please guide me in the right direction.”

I stopped short of making explicit wishes for myself. I did not believe that to be acceptable. In the past few years, I started to want more and more for myself. I started making personal wishes–against my beliefs. I felt selfish, confused, and disappointed. Why did I feel this way?

Although I no longer consider myself Buddhist, I am still heavily influenced by its teachings. I believe that what transpires in my current life is a result of past karma–good or bad. So in a way we have limited control over the results of those karma in our lives, but we can in fact influence our future with the karma we made in the current life. My life is interconnected with all others on this planet, and I do not exist solely to maximize my own welfare. In Christian lingo, one can perhaps say I am part of God’s plan. I am here to serve. I believe what happens in my life is part of a divine plan, and the act of paying respects at religious sites or prayers should be just that: paying respect. It should not be a means towards achieving a personal goal.

We live in a culture where we are led to believe that we never have enough. Or we are never enough. Together, we’ve created a society that fuels competition and hunger for material possessions. Consequently, we pray for more stuff. We’ve created a society that fuels desire, and it’s hindering our ability to exercise compassion. I shall be more direct in answering the titular question this time: I believe it is wrong to make wishes for oneself, except as part of a larger purpose.

This conclusion arises as a result of my belief that our lives on this planet are for a greater purpose beyond our individual goals. I respect that there are different viewpoints out there. However, I believe that we can feel our internal resonance with the idea of a greater purpose. Maybe it’s to make loved ones happy. Or maybe it’s to change the world. Whatever it is, I wish you the conviction to stay true to it.

What do you pray for?