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Clarity of purpose - the funcrunch files


Apr. 8th, 2014 10:38 am Clarity of purpose

Spending a lot more time offline, and more of that time devoted to moving (my body), reading, and reflecting, over the last few weeks has refocused my energies. In an October 2012 post about Food Not Bombs I said that I'd had an epiphany that food - basic, plant-based, life-sustaining food - should be given away freely, and doing so was my life's purpose. I've drifted far from that ideal, allowing stress over my gender transformation and other issues to depress me into a state of inaction.

Volunteering at the Free Farm Stand this Sunday reminded me of how right it felt to be giving away food, especially locally-grown produce. And watching Food Inc. last week reminded me of how much the current U.S. food production and distribution system is unsustainable and damaging to all life forms - humans, animals, and the ecosystem.

I cannot make a paid career out of giving away food, nor would I want to. boyziggy currently makes enough money to sustain both of us, even in expensive San Francisco, since we have rent control, but we need more savings to be secure. So I still need to find some source of income-producing employment, even if temporary. I'm hoping that he will join me in following the steps of Your Money Or Your Life, a comprehensive program I keep letting slip but is directly in accordance with my values of living sustainably.

The texts on Buddhism and Jainism I've been reading have been inspiring, but have also reminded me why I can't in good conscience currently identify as a member of one of these or of any other religion. I find a lot of wisdom and useful advice in Buddhist ethics and metaphysics, and can even see devoting myself to following the path and precepts much more strictly than I have been. Jainism has also appealed to me because of its focus on nonviolence and strict vegetarianism.

But in both of these religions, escaping the cycle of death and rebirth is the ultimate goal. In Jain monasticism, this is taken to the extreme of denying any worldly pleasures at all - not only sex, but also friendship, music, and laughter. This level of asceticism is something Buddhism sought to avoid - seeking a "Middle Way" - but the end goal as I understand it is still to transcend worldly existence and achieve the perfect state of Nirvana.

I don't see life this way. I don't believe in reincarnation, or in an eternal soul. (There is no soul in Buddhism, which appeals to me, but there is still, somehow, the concept of reincarnation. In Jainism, all living things, even plants, have souls.) While we are all interdependent (another Buddhist concept), for practical purposes I believe we have one life, and when we're dead, the individual body and mind are gone forever. But the impact of our words and actions lives on and affects other lives for generations.

I don't believe it is necessary or desirable to escape the world. Life can be "nasty, brutish, and short" - which is the way I've been seeing it much of the time - or it can be wondrous, fulfilling, and eternal (in terms of our impact on the future of the planet) - which is the attitude I'm attempting to adopt. Fighting against often overwhelming feelings of depression, anxiety, and frustration at the differences between myself and others has hindered me from trying to acknowledge the common bonds that I do share with humans and other life forms, and using those to help improve my own life and the lives of others.

I have a lot of work to do, and much of it will be beyond my comfort zone. And that's OK. I know there are a lot of other smart people out there who are concerned about the planet and feeding the world, and I've connected with some of them here. I will be seeking others. I'll be focusing on the local, though the situation in other countries is far more dire; if and when I have a decent income again, I'll likely be following the advice of philosopher Peter Singer and donating a reasonable portion to fight extreme poverty. For now, my body and mind are what I have to give.

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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
From:funcrunch
Date:April 9th, 2014 07:57 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I was thinking about this more, and realized that the cycle of death and rebirth and the various life states - hungry ghosts, angelic beings, etc. - can be instructive in a strictly metaphorical sense. But just as I did not feel I could practice Judaism or identify as Jewish if I didn't believe in God*, I have trouble discarding or reinterpreting core parts of the Buddhist religion in order to justify identifying as a Buddhist again. Plus, I want it to be seen that a solid moral framework is possible in the absence of religion. Peter Singer and other conscientious atheists demonstrate that nicely.

* Going to high school in a predominantly Jewish community, many of my friends were Jewish but also agnostic or atheist. My father's side of the family pretty much was/is as well. My mother is not Jewish, so I technically wasn't Jewish by birth anyway, except by Reform standards.
(no subject) - (Anonymous)
From:funcrunch
Date:April 9th, 2014 10:42 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Well, I disagree that we shouldn't refer to anything outside of ourselves because I do feel that all life is interconnected. That's the primary basis for my ethical framework. But I don't believe that interconnectedness has a consciousness or intelligence that can be worshipped or that can make rules about how we should live our lives.