#21 In a Time of Forgetting Why We're Alive


1. Do you remember why you're alive? 

You're alive now, but you won't be for all that long. Do you remember what matters most to you, now? If you don't, life will begin to feel both meaningless and painful, or painful because meaningless. And suicidal thoughts might not be far behind. Approximately 3,000 people kill themselves every day. 

The Departure is a documentary about a troubled young man who becomes a zen priest because "no experience" was necessary to enter the monastery. After his training, he becomes a counselor to those who feel scared about their capacity to continue living. They text him, and he hops on his motorcycle to the rescue. 

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This description reads like a bizarre comic book hero plot, but Ittetsu Nemoto is a mere mortal human with a deep compassionate willingness and capacity to be with those in severe anguish. His superpower is his ability to simply listen and even crack a joke in the midst of despair.

Often when we think of superhero Characters, we think of bulging muscles, masks, and fancy gadgets. But what if being a hero is something much more quiet and simple, something even more demanding because the frame on which all the pain falls is a normal human-sized one? 

Nemoto ends up suffering from heart disease because he overworks himself and these life and death encounters with those seeking help are deeply stressful––in large part because he has to pretend they're not. And yet he can't not do this work. It's his own life's meaning. 


There's a beautiful exercise he shares with those on a retreat with him. He gives each participant nine strips of paper, and asks them to write down things that matter most to them. And one by one, he asks them to throw them out. It's a poignant way of gaining clarity about what matters most in your life, and how it would feel if all those things were gone. "That's death," he says. 

Living isn't hard. It's remembering why you're alive that is. 

Here's a link to the movie's website, which has a trailer. It's available to watch now on iTunes. 



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2. Last week's CxD #20 profiled Jordan Peterson  who continues to advocate for a more inclusive debate within the humanities and on university campuses. Those on the (far?) Left, including many of his professorial colleagues, often protest his speaking appearances. 

I was happy to find  that zen teacher Brad Warner has had Jordan Peterson on his radar since at least March, and recorded a youtube video about one of Peterson's lectures. "He kinda sounds like Kermit the Frog" says Brad. He also says lots of other things, including that "the idea of a non-suffering person is false," and "You, personally, cannot fix the suffering of the world, but you can do your bit.... We work on ourselves so that when we go out into the world we don't make more of a mess than what already is. That is the important thing, that is how you can contribute." 

Brad Warner especially liked Peterson's claim that "everything you do matters," and explains that it's not just the big things that get noticed that make a difference, but everything, including how you walk, breathe and sleep. It goes without saying, then, that how you think, i.e. your character, also matters and affects far more than you think, even if you aren't directly aware of it. 

Watch Brad Warner's discussion about Jordan Peterson's lecture about responsibility here.  


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3. There's a new translation of the ur-Character text, The Odyssey, and it's by a Woman! Finally! And it's modern and bad-ass and it makes me want to forget everything I learned about Odysseus from high school English and replace it with her translation:

Tell me about a complicated man. 
Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost
when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy, 
and where he went, and who he met, the pain
he suffered in the storms at sea, and how
he worked to save his life and bring his men
back home. He failed to keep them safe; poor fools, 
they ate the Sun God’s cattle, and the god
kept them from home. Now goddess, child of Zeus, 
tell the old story for our modern times. 
Find the beginning.


That first line! Can't you just feel it? 

Compare with:

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy. ~Fitzgerald


Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel. ~ Lattimore


Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy. ~Fagles



Check out Emily Wilson's translation of the Odyssey here