This is your life. Now who’s going to clean that up?
“Someone just dumped a big pile of shit on your porch. What are you going to do about it? The people who dumped it aren’t coming back to clean it up. No one else is going to clean it up for you. It’s unfair, but life isn’t fair. Are you just going to leave it there to stink and get worse, or are you going to clean it up?”
I’m paraphrasing, but that’s what Ajahn Brahm, the funny, non-reverential monk and Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia says about the problems, obstacles and injustices in one’s life. It makes you part of a highly non-exclusive social club. It’s called the Human Race.
Which means you have to clean up your own massive mega-deuce, regardless of how much or not you contributed.
Of course, as Ajahn Brahm points out, shit is critical for real growth.
In fact, mud that little fishies and turtles and froggies crapped all over, maybe even some alligators depending on where you live, lies at the very core of what Buddhists believe. The lotus flower symbolizes the beauty that springs joyfully from the mud. That messy, messed-up mental muck is where the beauty of the lotus — enlightenment — lies.
This is a lotus flower in mud. This is your enlightened brain on mud. Any questions? Creative Commons CC0 photo from Pxfuel
It doesn’t necessarily mean sitting-under-the-bodhi-tree-while-the-kundalini-energy-shoots-up-your-spine-like-a-newly-plumbed-spigot enlightened, but more peaceful and insightful than you were before.
You don’t have to be a Buddhist to do this, of course. Christians have a ‘born again’ experience, which is when you take your faith and beliefs more seriously and actively strive every day to be a better Christian. What Would Jesus Do?
I don’t know what other religions call a similar enlightening experience, but I’m sure they have it even if they use a different name.
Regardless of your label, once you consciously commit to becoming a better, more enlightened person, you’re confronted with a big pile of shit you may have largely ignored most of your life.
Which is, your life.
Nobody likes dealing with it, and feels fairly resentful because we prefer to blame everyone and everything else for it.
But…you can’t spiritually grow without that life-giving shit. In fact, you waste a lot of energy railing against a cruel world that dumped it on your parietal porch because absolutely everyone who has ever lived has had to deal with their shit (or not). Even Jesus had to struggle against the Temptations of Satan in the desert and doubts about his own divinity. Buddha famously spent an entire night, according to legend, assaulted and attacked by the demon Mara while he was meditating. Mara ended by lobbing his final thermonuclear-level self-doubt Buddha bomb,
“WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?”
Needless to say, both Masters survived the onslaught. They famously grew to be great teachers before their deaths. But both were cursed at birth with a human brain, and they couldn’t escape having to clean up their own shit.
Neither can you, which is why your deity or Darwin’s biology gave you, quite conveniently, your own cortical caca from which you can grow and flourish and turn into something as lovely and sweet-smelling as the lotus.
Thank God! You’re welcome.
(Or just be grateful for evolutionary biological bullshit, if you’re an atheist.)
Plus, we all play our part in the spirit of cooperation by generously dumping more shit on each other in the form of family dysfunction, social and economic inequality, bullying, abuse, war, crime and a wide assortment of extremely unfair conditions into which we’re born without any say in the matter whatsoever.
The big Pile O’ Poo springs from different places. Some you control, some not:
Your default cavecritter neuro-circuitry
Your environment and proximal humans
The circumstances you were born into
Mental illness (psychological disorders)
Mental illness (more common — depression, anxiety, stress, maybe PTSD)
“Some are born shitty, some achieve shittiness, and some have shittiness thrust upon them.” — William Shitespoor
It’s not fair, but there it is: We all have shit to deal with.
One reason why I like writer Ayodeji Awosika is because he reminds us over and over that life isn’t fair. That people rage against government, inequality, the machine, politicians, unfair employers, and anyone else they can blame their problems on. He acknowledges these obstacles are real; but he questions how much they have to control you.
Social media certainly seems to be Ground Zero for the permanently outraged. I’m frustrated with the relentless negativity of both political sides in the United States, from whence I came, and Canada, to which I’ve come. Folks rage about a lot of real and systemic odds unfairly stacked against them, due to unfair interpretations about their biology or merely the circumstances into which they were born.
Then there’s the other side, railing against having been left behind economically, a changing world they didn’t have time to keep up with, stagnating income, and getting really, really, tired of this so-called privilege others say they have which they legitimately can’t see sitting in their trailer park home with a fifth baby on the way, no health insurance and an employer that just cut their wages again.
Also, very real and systemic challenges.
“That is one big pile of shit.” — Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park
Many writers expose us daily to the challenges they face from their own traumatic upbringing, including rape, other forms of sexual abuse, neglect, crazy religious and cultural traditions, and sometimes just poor decision-making by young people born into this world without a reliable user’s manual or effective parenting.
It’s fair to differentiate who’s responsible for your shit, because blaming yourself for it all, as many do, is counterproductive and downright toxic.
But…blame is the name of the game in our divided and hyper-individualistic culture where assigning it means never having to assume any responsibility.
I.e., having to clean up your shit.
You can debate whose fault it is, and how much you added to the shit pile, and dissect the intersectional subtle and overt institutional and systemic aggressions and microaggressions that obstruct your maximal self-potential, and you can fight this white cis-centric patriarchal power structure with protest signs and pussy hats but in the end (or out of it, ar ar)…
It’s still your shit, and no one’s going to clean it up except you.
Or not, as you choose.
The good news is, as the Buddhist teacher Tara Brach likes to say, if you shine the light on the deepest wounds, therein you’ll find healing.
Buddhist monk, poet, activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of Encouragement, the second turning of the Four Noble Truths wheel.
“Our suffering — depression, illness, a difficult relationship, or fear — needs to be understood and, like a doctor, we are determined to understand it. We practice sitting and walking meditation, and we ask for guidance and support from our friends and, if we have one, our teacher. As we do this, we see that the causes of our suffering are knowable, and we make every effort to get to the bottom of it.” — The Heart of the Buddha’s teaching: Transforming Suffering to Peace, Joy and Liberation
He doesn’t differentiate between the pain we’re born with, or created ourselves, or which was forced upon us by others. It is our unique pain, ergo our responsibility.
CC0 Public Domain by Linnaea Mallette
It’s not easy, and usually pretty damn scary, and sometimes our shit is so critical we require professional help in handling it. Sometimes, it’s best not to go too deeply into the shit-wounds without a trained professional, or at least a very good friend, to accompany us.
It may be hard to let go of our shit. It’s been with us all our lives; how can we live without it? Who are we if we’re not defined by our shit? What if we’re supposed to forgive those who tres-pissed against us? Are we seriously expected to just let them off the hook?
Forgiveness isn’t for those who dumped a lot of that shit on you; it’s for yourself so that you no longer suffer from it.
The good news, the great news, is that truly letting go of your shit, learning different coping mechanisms, perceiving the world in a different light with a less egocentric point of view, and taking life and perceived slights less personally can be marvellously healing and reduce the negative emotions and reactions that now darken your otherwise astounding life.
CC0 Public domain on PXhere
The reason I call myself the Crappy Buddhist is because I’ll never finish shoveling my shit, and I sure as hell will never become an enlightened kundalini-spewing spine spigot. But a couple of years ago I decided to face my anger management problem and have been actively working on becoming less triggered, correcting my Wrong Perceptions as best I can, and thinking before I speak. I’m far from perfect but I’m less easily triggered than I had been, and I recognize now which triggers to avoid and sometimes I even stop myself before an emotional hijacking kicks my tongue into high gear.
I must do my Buddhist duty, dodge the fecal finger of fate (not to mention my colonoscopy-obsessed doctor), and shovel more of my own shit, but there’s room for a few lotus blossoms now.
Here, take a few seeds. I want you to have some lotus blooms too.
This shitty article first appeared on Medium.