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The Hammer

There’s a big fat hammer up above, beyond the blue in the sky,” he told me. “It’s just up there waitin’. One day, when you least expect it, that hammer comes streakin’ down on you like Big Pink’s fist. That’s the ultimate test for a boxer, for any man. It’s the punch you don’t see comin’. There’s nothing you can do about it but try your best and recover. That’s what you did against Mikey. You did good.

The quotation is from The Long Fall by Walter Mosley. After that bout, Mosley’s central character gives up boxing despite his trainer’s encouragement. He goes on to say:

But what I hadn’t understood at the time was that Gordo wasn’t just talking about the ring. That hammer was waiting for everybody. It came at you in the form of cancer, infidelity, the tax man, or a comet out of the western sky here to annihilate any creature over fifty kilos in weight.

A big fat hammer. The punch you don’t see coming. 

You cannot prevent it. You cannot protect yourself from it. It happens.

When that hammer comes down, your life changes. You are not the same person. You learn things about life, about people and about yourself that you didn’t know before, whether you wanted to or not.

“There’s nothing you can do about it but try your best and recover.”

The hammer has taught me that any anger I feel about it means that I am living in the past. Revenge, retribution — these are chains that bind me to what happened. When the hammer comes down, anger is perfectly understandable. Some would say it’s natural — it’s a way our system mobilizes energy. No argument — but when the anger lingers, let alone when I build a life around it or it evolves into bitterness, it’s because part of me wants to go back to how the world was before the hammer came down. 

I cannot just wish away the lingering anger or bitterness. It doesn’t work like that. Such changes can rarely be exercised by an act of will. I say this knowing full well that what I say flies in the face of much that is taught these days, namely that we are masters of our lives and if not masters of our lives, then we are masters of how we experience our lives. This just isn’t true.

Bad things happen. Misunderstandings, accidents — they are all part of life. We keep trying to create a world in which none of these things happen, but it cannot be done. When the hammer falls, it changes us and not always in good ways. 

When we see that we are heading or have gone down a path that we don’t like, there are steps we can take. Those steps usually take the form of training and practice, not simple acts of will and certainly not mere wishes. Training and practice require patience and courage, an effort over a period of time, and that, in turn requires a consistency in intention. 

For that, I’m very grateful for my early training in Buddhist practice. Somehow, despite or perhaps because of the confusion and bewilderment of a different language, a different culture and a completely different way of looking at the world, I learned something about consistency in intention, about just moving forward. It has served me well. If there’s any advice I’d like you to take from these few words it is this: whenever you find yourself in a difficult situation, use it as best you can to develop consistency in intention. It’s what will serve you best if and when that hammer comes crashing down.

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Genesis of Good

Ken, would you then say that the genesis of good (or bad) is intention? Or collective intentions? Because the more I practice, the more it seems to me that all I really can "do" is orient myself in a particular direction. Like sometimes I think, "oh, I can make this outcome happen and influence this person's life by doing that" but it doesn't seem like I can actually _make_ anything happen in a direct, "A results in B" way.

Genesis of good

Yes, intention is very important. First, collective intention is a problematic way of thinking because a collective does not have awareness/experience in the same way that a person has. We use that terminology as kind of short cut, but then treat the collective into a cognizant entity. 

Yes, as you say, direct cause and effect only arises in relatively simple closed systems. Once we step into anything approaching the complexity of life, causation becomes much more difficult (as we see from medical research, for instance). This is why I find the language of genesis and conditions more effective (and more accurate). Very often, the best way to bring something about is to plant seeds and let them grow. Taking direct action often yields secondary results which are highly problematic. This is why Sun Tzu regarded the military as an ill-omened tool.

cause and effect

I cannot claim to know what you are referring to, but your words make me think of two things:

1) there are those things that I suffer from that I had a hand in creating


2) there are those things that I suffer from that come from causes and conditions I am not responsible for

Perhaps it is because I am only in my mid-thirties and relatively healthy and provided for that I can say that most of my suffering comes from number 1, but I suspect that most of my suffering will come from number 1 even when I get hammer-fulls of number 2. Meaning, I don't need to worry too much about the hammers, I need to worry about my actions.

another way of looking at cause and effect

You are right about paying attention to your actions. We, and we alone, are responsible for what we do. And, yes, suffering is what we experience when we struggle with what arises in our lives. I know that "cause and effect" is the usual translation of karma, but it's misleading. I've found that "genesis and conditions" is more helpful, and more accurate. That is, to look at the genesis of good, the genesis of problems, and then the conditions that allow the good to grow and spread, and the conditions that allow the problems to grow and spread. 

Nothing good is going to come if the genesis of good is not present. And even when we cannot eliminate the genesis of a problem, we can usually do something about the conditions that contribute to it.

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