Last night when I went to check on my parents, my old dad was sitting barefoot and cross-legged on the seat of his Lazy Boy chair, like a yogi. I don’t think his dark Indonesian frame can get any thinner. My mom was sitting in her usual spot near the front door, reading a new large print edition of Reader’s Digest. The house was completely silent, like a temple.
Lately, when I arrive at around dinner time, my dad greets me with, “Why don’t you come earlier?” He seems not to realize that I’m coming at the same time as always but the days are getting shorter and it’s dark sooner. About the only time he looks at the clock is when he has a doctor appointment.
I had to take a few days off from talking to my dad. On the last visit we got into the taboo subject of the family property located close to town—a property where I could have a huge fenced yard for my dogs, if my dad would allow it. About once a year I remind him that it was my years of elder care for the former property owner that was instrumental in his buying that property—and that he has helped both of my younger sisters build several houses. Every time he proclaims, “I treat all three of my daughters equally,” I keep hoping that he will do the charitable Christian thing and pave the way for me to have a little hut close to town with a big fenced yard. Instead, he now suggests that I solve my housing problems by renting a room in the Santa Paula mansion he and my youngest sister built before the market crashed. This harebrained idea so angered me that I had to take a break to recover my joie de vivre.
Like many people, my dad dismisses the drain on my finances from the never-ending responsibility of feeding, walking, grooming, and cleaning up after five animals with three words: “That’s your choice.” The implication being that there are other viable choices. Surely I can find another home for at least one of the dogs. Or return my oldest cat, Ginger, to the Humane Society. I score no points for keeping my animals floating along with me on my precarious raft. Deep inside, my dad thinks I’m too attached, sentimental, soft-hearted, and stubborn. He speculates that I’m lonely and neurotic, that I love animals more than humans, and that maybe I’m too far gone to make the more practical, logical choice.
I love my dad, but if I want to outlive him I have to get these things off my chest. And of course, the whole time I’m thinking about all this I’m surrounded by books, articles, and spiritual teachers insisting that we create our own reality and that our thoughts can change everything.
“The universe always mirrors back to us the conditions of our dreaming. So if we’re fearful that money won’t come to us, it won’t. However, if we experience abundance with what we have today, even if we don’t actually have money right now, we will have abundance and we can be sure that further riches are on their way to us. So when our life isn’t working for us, the most effective solution isn’t to change our career, spouse, exercise routine, or community, but to work on the purity of our dreaming.”
I want to tell the popular teacher who wrote this, Alberto Villoldo, PhD, that this line of magical thinking only works under favorable conditions. I’m sure many a prisoner of war, many a child slave laborer dreams of a new life . . . but their dreams are extinguished by circumstances, not for lack of mental powers.
How can any thinking person look at the state of the whole world, the millions of people living in extreme poverty, and believe this: “The universe always mirrors back to us the conditions of our dreaming. So if we’re fearful that money won’t come to us, it won’t.” Does that mean that all the people starving to death were fearful that their next meal wasn’t coming?
I question the implication that the homeless woman I saw early Sunday morning in Ventura, riding her bicycle down Main Street with two large black garbage bags dangling from the handlebars and two leashed dogs running alongside the bike, somehow brought her life situation solely on herself. Yes, we have to take responsibility and do our best, but we don’t know the chain of events that brought her to this point in time. Maybe her son was murdered and she lost heart. Maybe she had a relative who took what was rightfully hers. I think we all have to face the fact that, no matter how pure our dreams, life can still come crashing down on us.
“We all know, deep down, that most of what we have is good fortune. No matter how hard we work, we did not earn our functioning brains or the families into which we were born. We live in cities others created for us, organized by a government and protected by a military shaped by our predecessors. Yet we still point to our accomplishments and proudly proclaim, ‘I did this!’ The well-off salve their consciences by assuring themselves that it is hard work and merit that brought them success, which also leads them to conclude that it is lack of merit that keeps others from succeeding.” —Rabbi David Wolpe