My dentist Gary is one of my best friends, and I visited his office today. I joked with him, “Why do you have to make your living by tearing my mouth apart?”
Actually, he’s great at his job, but that’s another story (email me if you’re looking for a great New York dentist).
The point of today’s story is that Gary told me that a banker friend of his told him that the economy would stabilize for a couple of years, and then it would take another nose dive.
Another nose dive!
So I’m sitting in the dentist’s chair with about ten metal things sticking out of my mouth, and I’m feeling petrified about the future. Then my mind starts obsessing with whether Gary’s banker friend is right or wrong. I try to conjure up my own vision of the future but my crystal ball is cloudy.
Not knowing the future was almost even worse than imagining the worst.
My mind started casting around for what I should do. Buy some land so we always have a place to grow food? Save money under the mattress instead of in the bank? (Burglars take note: I decided against the mattress).
Then I thought of a story someone told me of the difference between heaven and hell. In hell, there is a huge feast laid out on the table, but everybody’s knives and forks are so long that they can’t get the food to their own mouths. Struggle as they may, in the face of all this food, they starve.
In heaven, the story is almost exactly the same. There is a wonderful feast laid out. The knives and forks are so long that you can’t get your food to your own mouth. The difference is that, in heaven, the people stop trying to feed themselves and instead use their long knives and forks to feed each other. No problem!
The solution to our environmental crisis is a little like that I think. And sitting in the dentist chair, I thought that getting through an even worse economic crisis might be like that too. I thought, if we all worry about ourselves it will be hell but if we all try to take care of each other it will be heaven.
Worrying about whether a situation will be good or bad is not what’s most important. In the feast story, we see how a bad situation can be a good situation and a good situation can be a bad situation. What’s important is my relationship to the situation. What is my correct function?
Someone asked the founder of the Zen school where I meditate if he was ever scared of going to hell when he died. He said, “Hell is no problem. I will just help everyone who is there.”
Am I saying that I will have the presence of mind to help everyone if there is an even worse economic and environmental crisis? No. I can only hope.
But what I will say is this: when I began to think about the possibility of doing what it takes to make future catastrophes more like the heaven of the food story, sitting in the dentist chair, I became a lot less stressed about how the future will turn out.