End of Year Reflections

How was your 2017? Mine began amongst friends in Missoula, MT, the city of my college years, and ended in Seattle, WA, my adoptive city as of late May of this year. Along the way, I have developed my courses in Mindfulness, travelled again to teach Buddhism in mainland China, and taught an online philosophy course. I finished my Ph.D. in Buddhist ethics, saying goodbye once and for all to my days as a “student.” I co-founded an online platform for mindfulness teaching called Guideful. And I began writing here at Buddhistdoor. All have been wonderful, but all have had that hint of “patchwork” to them.

The goal, the aim, the desired outcome of my Ph.D. studies was to enter into a tenure-track job somewhere, setting down roots, building a resume and communities of learning, colleagues, and friends. As with many things in life, however, the best-laid plans were little match for the realities of the world. Through the early 00s the “market” for new professors was shrinking, and in 2008 it contracted sharply. Since then there has been little rebound, as Ph.D. programs have continued to churn out more and more talented and well-qualified candidates.

Thus began my slow move away from academia – I still hold a foot tentatively in the world with a handful of online classes each year and my work in China is in an academic capacity. To where though, I’m not sure.

We live in an age of precarity. But hasn’t it always been so? How real have the securities of the past been? How often and how devastatingly have they crumbled?

Reflecting on my year, our world, and the teachings of Buddhism on the many realms of rebirth: the human realm we take for granted, the heavenly realms – beings lost in bliss but accumulating no karmic benefit or wisdom, and the animal realm, where lives are filled with constant fear and instinct, even the hell and hungry-ghost realms, filled with fiery-anger and unquenchable greed, I feel invited to explore my place among the realms, both as an individual and as a member of many communities.

How much are we comforting, teaching, and building one-another up? Are we using this precious human lifetime to its fullest? Are we using our communities to their fullest? Our society, our world? How deeply are we acknowledging and exploring our interconnections?

On the other hand, how much are we at conflict with ourselves? Do we have goals for our lives? Do we live in harmony with them? What about those around us? Our larger society invites the same reflection. There is much that is going against my own values in the current political world, but there is also much good happening, workers toiling locally and in ever-growing spheres to help one another, to reach the forgotten and the silenced.

While the energy found in anger is appealing, the old truth taught to us again and again is that this power ultimately burns us, like the hot coal we grab to throw at an enemy.

The other source of energy, more gentle but more sustaining, like a spring bubbling into a desert, is that of our community: beginning with ourselves, finding and growing our deepest values, and extending out, finding fellow travelers and helping them, helping others, inspiring growth in values that will ripple out throughout time. And in that way tasting immortality, not for a selfish construct of an individual being, but for ideas, impulses, connections that extend indefinitely outward.

If I were to set a resolution for 2018, and I’m not one to make those too often (as they tend to be more on the individual-focused kind), it would be to explore more deeply that community-value-centric source of energy in the world, not only building them in and for myself, but in those around me, and outward throughout the world.

For now, too, I will focus on gratitude for all that I have: particularly the family, friends, wealth and warmth. The opportunity to be here writing on technology made in China, in a heated home in Minnesota, to be published in Hong Kong and sent out, digitally, around the world. We live in momentous times. The powers we are afforded are indeed precious. Let us realize this with humility and vow to use our time and resources wisely and ethically.

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