Tonglen for Joanne and Fetish Of The Individual

For my 59th birthday Joanne and I went to St. Simons Island in Georgia for a weekend of walking on the beach, eating good food, and being together. Joanne is a writer – in some ways a far better writer than I. When I first got the idea of FSATFOTI I started to tell her about it, but she suggested I keep it to myself till it filled out some. At that time I had about  37,000 words written about it, I decided to tell her what I could, and after a few minutes of my spinning a tangle of ideas (see the Zen saying about Buddha speaking about the unspeakable) she asked “How does this help anybody?” A really good, if difficult question. While I think there may be many practical applications that come from these ideas, I realized that to me this is more of a vision than a theory.

I think the fetish of the individual, if taken by itself and without fractal society, points to a limit we place on how we see the world. But the real utility or real vision comes when we combine it with fractal society. We can start with either idea, and add the other to it.

Starting with the fetish of the individual – if we accept the idea that an indivisible being might not be the optimum way to think about ourselves or about other people, then the question arises “So how should we think about them?”  And one plausible answer is “a part of fractal society.”

I just took a break from writing, I’ve still got the laptop on my desk and Persian music is coming from iTunes and I leaned back on the couch and looked up at the ceiling light/fan above me. I thought about a tough work issue Joanne is facing (what is the difference if I said “facing Joanne”) and I did some tonglen for her. This is a practice where you take on others confusion and frustration or anger or whatever is vexing them, and send them the opposite – some sense of freedom and workability in the particular situation Joanne is facing. If I think of Joanne and Michael as two separate things (and of course on some levels, from some viewpoints that is totally accurate or true (what is the difference there) tonglen doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I mean, how can I take on her tightness and give her my sense of freedom and opens? So I could do that practice, but it seems stronger to do it from a sense of fractal society – that we are connected and more than connected. In some ways, we are part of the same thing, — though that doesn’t hit the nail exactly on the head. So I stopped again, and thought “If I can do this for Joanne, why not do it for the reader?” And I did.

The point here is that having the view of fractal society and the fetish of the individual makes tonglen work better – it is a frame that fits with the practice far more than does the frame of “we are all individual things bound inside our skins.” As a word of acknowledgement, part of doing tonglen is that first you flash on absolute Bodhicitta, which is a view of things that is way beyond fractal society- I think.

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