In the United States, in much of the world that has long followed its lead, life is about surfaces: superficials carried to extremes of glamour like a thick and heavy layer of makeup; makeup that highlights, changes, and masks what lies beneath it. Glamour not only hides reality, it denies it. It seduces and lies and makes it seem that it is what matters most. Glamour distracts. 

We have learned not to look deeper. We have forgotten the need. 

But there are calmer cultures, older cultures that live lives more full, more dimensioned. They live with their own depths, knowing that besides the uppermost, there are layers like the ocean: the playful shallows of the shore; the quiet beauties and wonders that inhabit the zone of decreasing light; the profound and total darkness of the deeps that harbor monsters… and still, wonders. 

There are gardens in their cities, there is art and music in their streets, and people stop to take them in, to appreciate, to feed their own souls. Cities are not all about pavement and profit-seeking. Of course those things are there, too, but they are not alone. The superficials are there, shining and flashing in the breeze, but they are grounded in the reality of the wholeness of all the layers. Not everyone thinks about it, but they live with it always in the background, always on some level, aware. 

There are the powerful who wield the mop and broom, who chop the wood, carry the water… 

There are the wealthy who finance support for the weak in body, in mind, in resource…

The strong in the superficials also have inner, deeper strengths that make them more whole human beings. Glamour does what it does, but the blinding seduction, the total distraction fails, because the whole human being knows what things are really worth, and recognizes, distinguishes between the real and the false. 

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  1. I think of the Shrine of Monk Wan Song, when I imagine places of peace in the midst of a city crowded with corporate affairs, busy business, and mad politics. It had it’s own bits of profit seeking/needing to survive… but it was still a place where not much was asked of anyone but their respect for the spirit of the place. The garden, the cats, the quiet music, the tea, and of course the antiquity of the place.

    I dream of having the resources to bring such a place of peace to somewhere it is needed… somewhere it can help.

    Playing music too, I have experienced this feeling. One of the most dehumanizing corporate endeavors in my own experience was the work I did for a cell-phone company call-center. Everyone there was a cog, treated with little more respect than a delinquent high-schooler in detention. No one felt the warmth of trust, or empowering sense of being respected… Older folks in need were fired because their call-times lagged. The need to end calls quickly and make it as hard as possible to give what was deserved, to let someone go when they wanted it. The threat of losing our income was constantly used as a bludgeon to beat down our own desires to truly help the people who’d called us looking for help. It didn’t seem bad at first. It shouldn’t be bad. But the people who thrived were those who could not only put the corporate interests above their customers needs, but above the well-being of their fellow employees. There were always those who toed the line and showed dedication enough to be given their own supervisory bludgeoning stick for a doar llmore an hour. For everyone else, it wears them down, and tells them that goodness and desire to help is weakness, is laziness, is unworthy of the income offered. In that environment, during our tightly monitored lunch-breaks, I would bring the penny-whistles I’d been learning and would just play. I did it to relax my mind, to remind myself of beauty where it was sorely lacking. Someone came up to me after a song and thanked me. They said that it was what they really needed right then. I believed them. I realized then that I wasn’t alone in how the place made me feel. I’ll never be sorry I quit that place, never stop being grateful i was able to, and I still regret having to leave so many people in that situation, and I hope someone else brought in a little music to break-times.


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