Wednesday, April 29, 2009

the "good" self

It's been a cool, dreary, rainy day here in Minnesota. Images of growing greens, peas, radishes, and carrots have flashed through my mind a few times throughout the day. While it may not be to the liking of many of us humans, this weather is very much to the liking of those plants. Another reminder of how flimsy and limited our preferences can be in the grand scheme of things.

I'm a bit too groggy to write anything about the chapter I read in Yasutani Roshi's book on the Genjokoan. Maybe I'll return to it another time.

Instead, I'd like to talk a little about what we've been working on in a class I'm in at out zen center. Essentially, the focus is on awareness of, and breaking through, deeply ingrained habit patterns. This can be anything from biting your nails to perhaps the biggest habit pattern of them all - clinging to, reinforcing, and believing in a fixed and separate self.

What I have chosen to examine is the tendency I have to do things to prop up an image of myself as "a good guy" or "nice guy" or "likable guy" or other variations on that theme.

Here are a few pointed observation questions we've worked on in class, and have taken up in meditation.

1. What triggers it? (the pattern)

2. What is the body sensation?

3. What's the story that arises?

4. What do you say or do?

5. what's the impact of your behavior on others?

I like the clear, easy to follow nature of these questions. To me, the beauty of Buddhist practice is that not only is it rich in wisdom teachings, but it also is rich in practical applications based on those teachings. I can dig into Dogen one day, and sit with very simply, pointed questions the next. I feel very grateful for that.

The stories behind the "good guy" I've discovered so far are the following: 1. If you do something that causes someone irritation or uncomfortableness, they will cease to like you for the long run. 2. You're supposed to be good, that's what a good Buddhist does. 3. Being "good" makes life easier.

Now, the reality is that this "good" includes an awful lot of repression, false affect, over-eagerness to support others, and sometimes flat out lying.

I think the triggers are interesting too. The desire to uphold this "good guy" image appears when:

1. I have something to say that might threaten or contradict others' ideas.

2. I'm in a situation where someone needs help and I have no idea how to help.

3. I'm upset about something, but don't want to "worry" the person or people I'm with.

Not every time I'm in one of these situations does this issue come up, but enough of the time so that it really is calling for attention. This, to me, is the essence of practice - seeing what is arising in your life, often over and over again. And I think it's important to recognize these kinds of patterns precisely because they take you away from your life.

I have come to see these kinds of patterns as linchpins stacked against enlightenment. And at the same time, through them is the way into our complete, unhindered lives. Hopefully the practical nature of the questions above are useful to you, as they have been for me. May we all continuously unfold and break free from our habitual ways of living.

Monday, April 27, 2009


"If the dharma has not yet fully come into one's body and mind, one thinks it is already sufficient. On the other hand, if the dharma fills one's body and mind, there is a sense of insufficiency." Dogen, Genjokoan

I'm very interested in these lines, partly because I wonder if we in the "West," might display something else than what Dogen experienced in his time. It seems that students in Dogen's day, upon tasting a little bit of true nature, of clear understanding and seeing about their lives, may have been very prone to arrogance. Not unlike the undergraduate student that learns a little about psychology and then walks around claiming to understand how everyone thinks and what everyone's personality is. Yet, does the same hold true for those of us studying zen now, especially in western nations?

It strikes me that feeling insufficient, having a strong sense of lack, is pretty common here in the U.S. anyway. Ironic, given how much "material abundance" we have, even those of us who are fairly poor, at least in comparison to much of the rest of the world. But it's also beyond this. I remember hearing about how the Dalai Lama was shocked that some people in "western" countries were plagued by self hatred, or at least battered "self-esteem." And beyond this, the strong influence upon the cultures of our society of the doctrine of original sin, and the view that we're all fallen and soiled, no matter what we do in our lives. Which makes me wonder if it's really possible that a lot of us could display the kind of arrogance Dogen was writing about in the Genjokoan.

This is not to suggest that there isn't any arrogance appearing from students of the way who glimpse their deeper nature. There definitely is. And maybe some of those cases are very like the one's Dogen experienced, or read about in the historical teachings. But I can imagine there's also another set of things going on with a lot of seeing "a bit of truth" for the first time. Like feelings of insufficiency, inadequacy, puffed up arrogance followed by self-centered doubt, maybe even self hatred.

None of these is the humility Dogen displayed upon his own enlightenment, as he went to verify what he had experienced with his teacher. The insufficiency he speaks of seems to call forth an awareness for the need for constant curiosity about life, since it's depths are always unfolding, always changing. Instead of a sense of openness and curiosity, though, the patterns I mentioned above are all closed down and self-centered "insufficiencies." Which makes me wonder if these lines from Dogen need further exploration in terms of their teaching, given the context of our 21st century lives and experiences.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Reflections on my dharma name

"A person getting enlightened is like the moon reflecting in the water. The moon does not get wet, the water is not disturbed."

The above passage is from Dogen's Genjokoan. The image expressed in it is very basic, very common. How many of us haven't at some point or other seen the moon reflected in a lake, river, or ocean? And yet this issue of enlightenment in spiritual practice is a tricky one, easily shunned and dismissed, or clung to fiercely as the sole goal of our lives.

I received my dharma name last year, after several years of practice, and a fair amount of hesitation about entering the jukai process and being "more serious" about what I am doing. The several months of classes, sewing, meditation, and reflection that made up jukai for us at Clouds in Water Zen Center were a wonderful time filled with powerful moments. This blog is one of the recent outgrowths from that time; an effort to strengthen both my writing practice and my study and expression of the teachings.

So, what is the dharma name, you might be asking by now?


Which translates as devoted to enlightenment, or taking care of enlightenment.

It's no lightweight of a name, for sure. And with it, I find myself turning more and more toward extending everything in my life into practice. I'm noticing how things that used to just be annoyances or difficulties that I would bitch about with others, now are being seen as opportunities to explore Buddha's teachings, and see through the preconceived notions I have about whatever situation I'm in. This doesn't mean I never bitch and whine, nor that I never get lost in delusional stories about my life anymore. But the tugs of those last for shorter periods, and often are less intense than in the past.

It's all a process, this path of ours called life. How are you devoted to enlightenment? How do you take care of enlightenment, even if you don't really know what "it" is? That's the real question if you ask me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Biking through the elements

I spent the day biking to and from all the places I went. Nothing unusual about that; it's something I do fairly often throughout most of the year, sans parts of the really cold months of winter. Today, my companion was the wind. A warm, 20-30 mph wind.

As I listen to it continue to blow outside my apartment, I am reflecting upon how the experience of riding in it today was very much like life itself is all the time.

A few moments stand out as telling. Coming down a hill on the way back home from work this afternoon, the wind blowing right at me, nearly holding me in place no matter how hard I peddled. Doesn't that sound like certain days, weeks, months, maybe even years of your experience?

Another moment - going down a different hill with much less of slope, and yet with the wind at my back pushing me along so that I am gliding, almost flying without so much as a few spins on the peddles all the way down. This, too, may sound familiar.

Another - turning a corner, the wind at my side, pressing my balance point off balance.

A sense of wanting to give up shifting quickly into the drive to push on as conditions changed ever so slightly.

Biking through the elements is a full body experience, a way to completely be in whatever weather, and whatever place, is present in a way no one inside of a car or other vehicle can ever do.

I often chant while riding, as a meditation, and to work with the myriad of things that arise during an inner-city bike ride.

But today, there was no need for that even. Only being with the wind, and the bike, as whatever appeared appeared. That was it's own meditation, this very life unfolding.

P.S. Don't worry; it's not snowing here in Minnesota. The picture is from December, when I biked through a different set of elements. That old, green Schwinn is one tough cookie.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Photo Commentary

I came across this as I took my first bike ride of the year along the Greenway path in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As an avid bicyclist, it is such a joy to have a route like the Greenway that runs right through the heart of the city, which serves not only as recreation, but also as a functional means of getting somewhere specific. In the future, it would be most intelligent if cities had entire linked networks of these kinds of paths, so that bicyclists could actually move through the city, instead of fight their way through cars and trucks and buses on streets designed for those vehicles alone.

But this post isn't really about advocating for bicycles; maybe another time. I want to speak about art and dharma, and how the two often merge.

As you may have noticed by the photographs I have posted, I have become very interested in the grittiness of the city. Specifically, I'm into the margins, the forgotten and ignored of the city. I want to work on the pivot between junk and beauty recognizing that it reflects our life in so many ways. These photographs are an attempt to express the juncture of the sacred and mundane.

There is no way to know when something, or someone, will appear in your life that is a great teacher. It's happening all the time, but sometimes, there is a sharp jolt that comes with an appearance, and it's difficult to ignore or forget it. Seeing this graffiti along the Greenway was just such an experience.

Many dismiss graffiti, and graffiti artists, as simply vandals and underground thugs. Yet, what really is at play with graffiti is a violation of our notions of private property, of ownership, and in the end, of our views that we are separate from each other. With every tag, there is a making public that happens. And even if the laws of the land are broken, and damage is done that shouldn't be, we are forced to pay attention to something that we most likely ignored before, even if only for a split second.

It's so easy to confine things. To say art is that which is in museums, publicly sanctioned, and considered by critics in magazines and newspapers. To say that what teaches us can only be found in books, or during meditation, or from the lips of another human.

It's ok - we all do it. Forgive yourself, as the tagger has reminded us. Even the choice of words, the message here, defies the stereotype of the graffiti artist.

It's as if the whole thing is telling us to just stay open, and let go of the need to place everything into neat categories and story lines.

Maybe this image will jolt you a little, like it did me, into waking up to the impermanence of our lives.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Throwing Away Oneself

In his commentary on Dogen's Genjokoan, Hakuun Yasutani writes "What is essential is to throw away one's own views and oneself. To throw away all one's acquired affectations, which are the knowledge and experience accumulated since birth, to become a pure white sheet of paper, and to bring oneself in accord with the teachings of the buddhas and ancestors."

What is this business of "throwing away"? It's not about rejecting yourself, nor is it about getting rid of something, although maybe there will be a dissipation of certain things. Take the heaviness that accompanies everything that "I" hold on to, cling to as my own. I don't think I can throw that away like a piece of garbage into the can, and simply go on with my day. No, it's more like at some point, when I've gotten tired of gripping tightly whatever it is I am fixed to, the air leaks out, like from a tire, until it is empty and there is nothing left really to hold on to.

Let's move into the garden for a moment. When a plant dies, it's body decays and goes back into the soil, providing nourishment for the next generation of plants - that is, if we allow it to do so. How often do we rip out "weeds," bag them up, and send them with the trash to wherever it is the trash is going? It's all a little too tidy right here for the time being, and yet the stuff has to go somewhere. This is not just about the garden; this is your life too! The words "throwing away" may not be the best translation, at least for us in the "West." Neither is the word "pure" maybe, which plays right into that desire to keep everything neat and clean at all costs, forgetting that the lotus blooms out of the mud, not out of sterile soil.

It's essential to let go of that which has passed, that which is, in the relative world, dead. If the tomato plant has birthed its fruit and withered, nothing I can do will bring it back. And if I try to hang on, I end up missing its current suchness, what it is right now: a decaying body ready to break back into the soil.

I really think that Hakuun Yasutani, and Dogen, are telling us that everything from our past is like that withered tomato plant. It's not that our knowledge and experiences are gone, or should be made to be gone. But if we treat them in the present moment as THE expression of the present moment, we've missed it.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Patience is, it seems, a buzzword in many spiritual communities. People sincerely want to cultivate it, and are very much aware of how our speed addicted, multitasking society fails to support it. And yet, how many of us know what patience looks like, or how it manifests in our lives? How often do we simply believe that patience means putting up with something we don't like until it changes or until our mind changes around it?

Pema Chodron speaks of patience as being able to relax in any conditions. You can see this when you're able to step back from your thoughts and reactions to a particular situation and are able to see it for what it is. And yet, I'd like to also add that patience is not only an in the moment quality, but also a long term process which manifests moment by moment. During yoga, in down dog, the ease of it tonight came out of a several month commitment to daily (or almost daily practice) without knowing what the results would be. A year ago, every time into down dog was a trip into stiffness and some pain, even though I didn't push beyond my limits. So, patience is a quality of practice that manifests in the moment, but is birthed moment by moment in practice. In other words, you aren't going to just wake up one day and "have it;" you have to cultivate it.

Overall, it's in the ability to be ok with not knowing for sure, both in our practice and in the rest of our lives, that we learn how patience will manifest in just the right way, moment after moment. In a way, patience is loving what is, exactly as it is. It's a simple, and complex, as that.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


I spent much of the afternoon yesterday in the garden, overturning soil, cutting down dead brush, and planting the first of this year's vegetable crop. Already, little tufts of nettle have crept out of the ground to join the creeping charle, which seems to have no fear of the cold and snow.

It's been a beautiful weekend - sunny, temperatures in the fifties - perfect gardening weather.

When I'm in the middle of digging a new bed, or chopping down last year's dead, there is no separation between I and the world. There isn't really an I, just the coming together of everything in that moment - the tossing of soil, movement of arms, slight breeze, smell of dried leaves, sound of cardinals in the trees above. And when I reflect on this more, I can even see the suffering of sliced earthworms, removed little plants that are just beginning to grow, fleeting memories of an ex-girlfriend who helped me plant some of the perennials that are now beginning to return. Nothing is missing. This is true of every moment, Buddha taught, but I forget that so often. Yet, in the garden, it's an easy path for me to awareness, and to letting go of everything, including awareness.

The earth never ceases to be our teacher.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Supporting War as a Buddhist?

In recent days, President Obama and his defense department team have made proposals to increase troop levels in Afghanistan and to add another $83 billion dollars in "special" funding to an already huge defense budget. This, at a time when the U.S. economy is in shambles, job losses at a thirty year high, and nearly 50 million Americans (including myself) are without health insurance. The shift in focus from Iraq to Afghanistan (again), as well as the increase in war spending, is justified as necessary in the "fight against al-Qaeda." Is it just me, or does none of this seem to add up?

I'm well aware that many Buddhists, along with millions of other excited Americans, cheered and went wild when Barack Obama won the 2008 Presidential election. And it was, indeed, a historic moment, and hopefully, in terms of race relations, another turning point in the long struggle for equality, dignity, and respect that people of color and their allies have worked so long to achieve. In addition to that, all the talk and desires of that election squarely sat on the shoulders of change. And I think in many minds, not tiny changes, but real, substantive change.

I feel it's important for me to disclose that I voted for the Green Party ticket because I continue to greatly question the politics and decisions of both the Democrats and Republicans. And yet, even I was relieved that Obama won, hoping that his win would eventually signal a shift away from the war madness, oppressive domestic policies, and sometimes wildly delusional tactics of the Bush Administration.

Given this, the calls for large sums of money and troops to go into a country (Afghanistan) which has suffered thirty years of nearly continuous warfare strikes me as not only sad, but downright inhumane. Never mind that some of the funds are going for humanitarian aid, how is devastating an already crippled nation and then handing out some food and clothing a compassionate answer to what's going on there? It frankly inexcusable to continue to use the September 11th attacks, and the hunt for a scattered band of terrorists (who may or may not be members of al-Qaeda), as an excuse to invade other nations, murder civilians, and destroy infrastructure and ecosystems.

External wars represent the worst manifestation of the internal wars we have within each of us. The deep belief in separation, which plagues most of us (even those of us who are steeped in Buddha's teachings of interconnectedness), is the driving force behind the hatred and fear that spirals into killing and war in the world.

What then should be done in Afghanistan and Iraq exactly? And how do we address terrorism? I don't think there are any easy answers to these questions, and yet, continuing to fight massive scale wars in the name of creating peace is like repeatedly sticking your hand in a fire and believing that one of these times, it won't be burned.

The escalation of the war in Afghanistan, as well as air strikes in Pakistan, is a call to Buddhists and all Americans who voted for President Obama to reflect on what they really wanted when they made that decision. Even if you were aware that Obama's plans all along included some kind of increased presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, how do these decisions feel to you now knowing that our nation is in a deep recession? And how do these decisions mesh with your desire for a major change from the Bush Administration? How is fighting wars in the name of destroying terrorists any different from fighting wars against communism and communists? And of what value are teachings like the first precept of vowing not to kill, or the Bodhisattva vow to free all beings if one also supports massive war operations in other nations? In other words, can you really liberate anyone through large scale destruction?

I personally would love to be in an age where the United States is known as a nation of peace, and model of non-violent conflict resolution. But knowing this will take a very long time, if it ever happens at all, it seems reasonable to at least stand tall against state sanctioned warfare and do my best to learn about and promote other ways of thinking and acting. And even for those out there that support some military interventions, doesn't it seem insane to be increasing military spending at a time like this with all of our economic problems? Or isn't questionable to be escalating a war in a nation that fought off the old Soviet army, and fought off the British years before that?

May we all discover a way to true peace in this world.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


There is something about the long, cold winter months here in Minnesota that brings on a loneliness so deep it's sometimes hard to bear. Reflecting on this over the past several months - and probably much longer - I have begun to realize how little this loneliness has to do with socializing, having a significant other, or being a member of a group.

I have a number of good friends and colleagues that support me in countless ways. I'm also fortunate to have good relationships with both my parents and with my only sister. In other words, I'm well loved.

Yes, there is definitely a strong desire within me to have a significant other, to share my life with another person in a deeply intimate way. Sometimes, some of my loneliness comes from not having this currently, at least on the surface.

But the reality is that most of the time, it's irrelevant whether I'm in a romantic relationship or not, having a good time with friends and/or family or not, being with others in my spiritual or professional communities or not. The reality is that I, like you probably, can be going along just fine and then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, an ache can arise that seems to have no source and which contains no obvious method of resolution. I've sometimes wondered if a pregnant ghost has come to haunt my body, it's bony shoulders poking mine and it's fat stomach pressing hard against my own.

Sometimes, I go days, even weeks, without a visitation. Other times, it is as if my body has become an extended day, full service hotel, offering everything in the name of both feeding it, and fighting like mad to get rid of it.

The well known Buddhist author and teacher Pema Chodron writes: "Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It's restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company."

How often I have felt that, and then done that, in so many ways. You, too, have a fairly long list if you take a little time to reflect on it.

Yet, what is interesting is that, there have been times where I have simply sat with it, breathed into that ghost inside me and watched as it inevitably changed. Not that it always went away completely, but there nearly always has been a softening of the energy when I have given it some space through breathing and meditation.

Who hasn't experienced loneliness? If you haven't, please let me know so I can recant my story :) As far as I can tell, loneliness isn't something I have to bear so much as a human expression that appears within us all from time to time. Obviously, some experience it more than others, but can any of really claim it - claim loneliness - as our own?

There's a deep liberation in recognizing that loneliness isn't about ME - alone - that I don't have to somehow come up with a way to free myself from it because I did something wrong, or because I'm single, or because no one is home when I call, or whatever else appears to be the reason for an appearance of loneliness.

How often do I have this recognition? I'm not sure. There's still plenty of grasping and efforts to be rid of going on here.

But a lotus flower can grow out of the dankest mud. So, there's no telling how big a jungle may sprout from a bed of loneliness freed from all our grasping.

Monday, April 6, 2009

This Too, is My Life

In his commentary on Dogen's Genjokoan, Hakuun Yasutsani quotes his own teacher as saying that the Genjokoan means "everything in a person's life is the living Buddha way." Now, regardless of whether you are Buddhist or not, how often do you experience this sense that EVERYTHING in your life is sacred? If you're like me, you probably have extended bouts with picking and choosing, really loving some things in your life, and rejecting other things in your life in various ways.

We have minds that are set up to discriminate. To decide what is what, to label, to judge, to organize - the mind just does these things, and there isn't anything inherently wrong about that. But so often we (I for sure anyway) get in trouble because I believe too strongly in whatever story mind mind has created about something. It's tricky stuff, isn't it?

I was on the bus coming home this evening. Sitting across from me were two fairly drunk people, a middle aged white man and a middle aged African-American woman. They seemed to know each other, although they sat a seat apart so that at the next stop, someone gets on and sits between the two. The woman turns to the new passenger, a middle aged African-American man, and starts telling him how she's drunk and how her son gave her $100. At some point during the conversation, the white man sitting behind the other two tells the African-American guy to apologize to the woman. For what, he doesn't know, nor do I. It seemed to come out of nowhere. I started to feel tension rising up within me. Concerns that a fight might break out, and right next to me even. I wondered if maybe there wasn't also some underlying racial issue going on as well, seeing as there didn't seem to be any obviously reason for the white man's comment about apologizing. Anyway, the guy in the middle clearly assessed the situation - he was sitting between two heavily intoxicated people - and so, he just let the odd comments go and waited out what was going on. After the other two got off, he looks over at me and says "I'm just trying to get home." And he starts to laugh, and I do as well. And the driver does as well. It was a beautiful moment.

At the same time, the whole experience was so interesting - just paying attention to what was happening, feeling it in my body, and also the stories that came up in my mind. I often have found myself just wanting to be out of these kinds of situations, to ignore them, or get away as fast as possible. And yet, this too, is my life, so why turn my back on it? This is the question we all need to ask, whenever we forget that everything "is the living Buddha way."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Cold Rain

Listening to the cold rain fall outside my apartment window. Just a few minutes ago, sitting in meditation, following the breath mixing with the sound of this same rain, and the occasional mind chatter. There really isn't anything else to want right now, but it's easy to say that, things being so peaceful and all.

In an essay I've been reading by Sunyana Graef in the book "Hooked," she writes "We're a nation of hungry ghosts, wandering through life ... Every time a hungry ghost tries to eat something, it turns to poison." Hungry ghosts are part of a Buddhist teaching describing six realms of living, of experience. Without getting too much into that teaching, hungry ghosts are basically beings that always want, and can never get enough. Does this sound like you and me?

The ground outside my apartment is currently receiving a drink. Other times, it receives sunshine, garbage, spit, piss, and whatever else comes its way. Whether it wants certain things (rain or sun for example), I do not know. But unlike you and I, the ground doesn't seem to make a mess of things with its wanting, if it indeed has any. It wets with the rain and dries with the sun. It dents with the dropped, broken TV set, and curves up with the shovel that makes mounds out of it.

There is no way you or I can be the ground, but maybe there is something in us that can act in a similar way. To drop off the wanting, or to contain the wanting in such a way that we don't overturn everything in our wake. Let's uncover this all together.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Economic Beings as Buddhists?

Lately, I have been reflecting on how, if you really dig deep into any spiritual path and actually do the work it's calling for, then how can it not radically change who you are and how you live. Given this, there is a great rub, then, between that belief and the level of consumerism and capitalistic influence on Buddhism here in the U.S.

This issue goes beyond the cost of classes and retreats at Buddhist centers, although it includes that as well. It goes beyond the mindless buying of things we don't need, although it includes that as well. What I see as a great rub is the collective and individual efforts to maintain a sense that the lifestyles we have built here in the United States are compatible with the dharma. In other words, we can become kinder and more aware through our practice, and keep our exploiting, over-consuming economic patterns as well.

Now surely there has been a lot of hand wringing in Buddhist circles over all this. And there has been a lot of efforts made support increased recycling, buying less, restoring damaged landscapes, and increasing use of "green" products, among other things. Also, there has been more discussion about fees for dharma teachings, and the impact of money on the make up of sanghas(communities). All very good steps.

Yet, at the end of the day, how often do we subvert the power of our own teachings in the name of keeping the economy going, or supporting leaders and policies that keep greed and exploitation front and center (but give some of us cheap products), or going along with the way things are because we are too afraid of really looking at how we live as "economic beings" and making changes?

Buddhists in the U.S., including both Asian-centric sanghas and convert sanghas, still are a small proportion of the overall population. Any effort to change the economic structures of this society, as well as the way we related and interact as economic beings, will only occur in coalition with other groups, secular and spiritual, who wish to create a new economics.

So, I'm not suggesting that somehow we in the Buddhist community are responsible for changing everything. But what I do find odd is how rare it seems that anyone, let alone large groups of U.S. Buddhists, steps outside of the capitalist box and articulates an alternative economic vision that is informed by Buddhist teachings. Are we just so individually and collectively blind to the need for something greatly different than what we currently have? Is the fear of falling into the old communist/capitalist trap still holding people back? Are people just too comfortable, or too busy to worry about such things?

Surely all the concerns about global warming, pollution, and disappearing 401ks have to be sinking in at a deeper level somehow. But beyond that, how about the old adage that money can't buy happiness? Doesn't it seem like there's an awful lot of anxiety, depression, and misery here in the U.S., despite the fact that we have this powerhouse economy that has brought us tons of material wealth and support?

I guess I don't believe it's enough to just become kinder and more compassionate. Now, the more of us that do, the better. But if we do so, and maintain this out of control economic system - one that now is truly global and must be looked at globally as well as locally - then it might not matter much in the long run that we're kinder and more compassionate.