sensitive dependence on initial conditions

I’ve often thought about what it would be like to be able to rewind, to be able to take present knowledge into the past and undo the things I’ve done to screw up my life. The desire for such an ability, however, has always been darkened by my knowing that I’d just screw everything up in a different way.

Last evening I watched The Butterfly Effect, a movie about a young man who was blessed/cursed with an abnormality that gave him the power to return to critical points in his life where he could alter his actions to create an alternate future. How this all worked out in the movie solidly confirmed my supposition that nothing could or would be gained.

The title of the movie is, of course, taken from an aspect of chaos theory stating that a hurricane’s formation is contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before. As ridiculous as this thought seems on first encountering it, I cannot deny the possibility.

Knowing that every decision I make, every action I take, and every word I speak, however small and seemingly insignificant, can have a profound effect on everything that comes after, in both my life and the lives of others, is overwhelming. It makes me want to shut myself away and have no interaction with the world. But I suppose even that non-action would affect the future.

Having seen this dark, pessimistic movie, I think I would still do the rewind if it were possible. Certainly I would make a mess of things again and end up with another life of regret and remorse. But I can’t imagine how it could be a whole lot worse.

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and he got it right.

Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived. Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it. Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it.

© panthera2, 2012.

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attachment

It seems that most major world religions are in agreement on the subject of materialism. Attachment to the temporal things of this world is not good.

There seems, however, to be some divergence when it comes to how much and in what ways we are attached to other people. Having spent most of my life in a Christian milieu, I am accustomed to hearing things from that particular angle. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies. Love one another as I have loved you. Let brotherly love continue. If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. The list goes on and on. (The fact that very, very few people who call themselves Christians actually practice any of this is a subject for another day.)

My way of reflecting on these Christian teachings was recently challenged when I heard a recording of a speech given by the Dalai Lama. Following is an excerpt from that speech that was particularly challenging to me.

I also feel that too much attachment is not good. Sometimes I find that my Western friends consider attachment to be something very important. It is as if without attachment their lives would be colorless. I think we have to make a distinction between negative desire, or attachment, and the positive quality of love that wishes another person’s happiness. Attachment is biased. It narrows our minds so that we cannot clearly see the reality of a situation, eventually bringing us unnecessary problems. Like the negative emotions of anger and hatred, attachment is destructive. We should try to maintain a greater sense of equanimity. That doesn’t mean that we should have no feelings and be totally indifferent. We can recognize that one thing is good and that another is bad. We should then work to get rid of the bad and possess or increase the good. (delivered at Central Park, New York City, 15 August 1999)

The Dalai Lama begins by pointing out a difference between typical Western and Eastern thinking. He seems to be saying that Westerners tend to confuse or unnecessarily entangle love with negative desires and/or feelings of possession. If this is what he’s trying to say, I think he’s right.

Most of the unnecessary problems and pain I have experienced in my life can be attributed to my confusing love with attachment or, worse yet, with possessive control.

What the Dalai Lama is saying is not at all at variance with what Jesus or the Christian scriptures say. [Love] seeks not her own. For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? (Even tax collectors can do that.)

I have to conclude that Jesus and the Dalai Lama are actually in agreement. Love is good. Attachment is harmful.

Love is the heartfelt desire for another person to be happy and free of pain and suffering. One who loves places no conditions or restrictions on his or her love. It is given freely without any expectations of getting something in return.

This sounds good, but I don’t think I can do it. In order to avoid hurting and being hurt, I think I will need to become a recluse.

© panthera2, 2012.

people are mean

A few days ago I watched a movie that really disturbed me. Angels Crest (2011) is the story of a young father who, through careless indiscretion, is responsible for the death of his three-year-old son. (If you want to watch Angels Crest, I suggest you stop reading this post now and come back after you’ve seen the movie. Otherwise, what you read here could spoil it for you.)

Yes, this man did a terrible thing. Because of his carelessness and selfishness, a young child died. Even so, watching this grieving father struggling with incessant pain and suffering is heartbreaking.

Every hour of every day, he lives with painful memories and self-torment. He cannot forgive himself for his wrongful actions. He hates his very life, he despises who he is, but he can’t escape the reality of his own being.

Then, in addition to all the shame and self-loathing he already experiences within, his friends, family, and community heap on him even more shame, hatefulness, and hurt. There is little to no compassion for this hurting father. In a sense, he is lying on the ground trembling, and those who pass by (if they don’t go far out their way to avoid him), give him a little kick to make sure he knows how disgusting he is.

But this is not enough. The District Attorney’s office brings charges against the young father for negligence and abuse. So now the crippled, injured man is expected to defend himself. How does this make any sense? The prosecutor’s actions do nothing to bring healing to the community or to anyone else. Vengeance (eye for eye and tooth for tooth) only perpetuates the cycle of punishment and pain. Instead of promoting healing, it impedes any chances for a return to wholeness for anyone involved.

What is the matter with us? What are we thinking? Are we thinking?

When the day comes for the young father to present his plea, he is absent from the courtroom. His chair is empty. The movie ends with him out in the countryside, in the snow, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Why not? What kind of life remains for him? Even if he could learn to forgive himself, he would never be forgiven by the community at large. Once the demonizing begins, it does not end. Once a monster, always a monster. There is no reconciliation. There is no healing. There is no peace.

© panthera2, 2012.

There just has to be a better way.