where feet don’t reach

August 31st, 2022

If you wish to see the truth, only cease cherishing your opinions.— Sengstan

This is a line from an ancient Zen poem that stops me every time I run across it. Can it be that the only thing that keeps us from seeing the truth of our lives is what we might think about it? Whether we like it or not? Agree or disagree? Or in today’s parlance, “how it aligns with our personal values?”

I recently saw a smug somebody define the two US political parties not as Democrat and Republican, not as liberal or conservative, not as right or left, but as my friends and my enemies. In other words, if you think like me you’re safe, and if you don’t you’re dead. Just imagine how much truth has been left out of that assassin’s opinion. Pretty much all of it. But that’s where we always are: far, far from the truth under our feet.

I suppose if we didn’t each have a steady stock of opinions there would be nothing to discuss. Discussion used to be something you had at work, after church, or at your book club, but now it seems to be strictly limited to Facebook or, even less, Twitter. In other words, there is not a discussion at all, just a continuous stream of opinions, rationalizations and condemnations veering miles away from truth.

That reminds me of a long time ago at book club when the topic turned to the death penalty, of all things. I was asked if I was for or against it. Now think about it, when you are sitting in your own living room sipping a bottomless glass of Pinot Grigio and dipping carrots into a bowl of spinach dip, how far from reality is your opinion of the death penalty? I said I was against it. In my memory at least, there arose a clamor of what you might call “personal values.” How could I be against the death penalty if my sister, let’s say, was murdered? Or if my parents were shot dead in their beds? Or if my child was abducted and buried alive? Let me assure you that not then, nor at any time in my life thus far has any of those heinous acts occurred.

I said I was against it because I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t flip the switch. I couldn’t plunge the needle. It seemed to me that the only way I could formulate a view one way or the other I’d have to put myself in the shoes of the executioner. Opinions, you see, tend to float in the weightless ether where your feet don’t reach.

And lately, folks seem to have some pretty firm opinions about what should be done with student loans, and by that I mean other people’s student loans. Should they be forgiven? Mostly? Slightly? Not at all? And all of these opinions seem to be based on principles, an intellectual bit of flavoring that sounds, well, “principled.” All of my friends have principles, and none of my enemies do. 

I am not a college student today, nor have I been at any time in the last 44 years, having matriculated when higher education was so cheap that no loans were required for me to attend, therefore I am not qualified to have an opinion on this matter. I consider myself abundantly fortunate to recuse myself from this debate, as it involves an entirely abstract and irrelevant judgment of others.

I actually wrote that in response to a discussion. On Facebook. Don’t judge.

Photo by Allan Nygren on Unsplash




  1. I came across this pearl of wisdom yesterday:
    “As a man thinketh, so does he perceive. Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world. ⁸Perception is a result and not a cause.” (From: A Course in Miracles)

    Of course we need to address things that are problems, but identifying and questioning our thoughts around these problems goes a long way towards solving them. And what you suggest is also apt, stop having an opinion about things you know nothing about/ have little to no experience with.

    Comment by Sim — September 1, 2022 @ 2:30 am

  2. “What IS” is loaded enough. No need to add the weight of my thoughts. Thanks for this.

    Comment by Bonnie Rae — September 1, 2022 @ 5:52 am

  3. “I actually wrote that in response to a discussion. On Facebook. Don’t judge.”

    This is brilliant and funny.
    ps am totally judging you, get off Facebook 😉

    Comment by Gemma — September 6, 2022 @ 12:37 pm

  4. So true. I know I could never own a gun because I couldnt imagine pulling the trigger. I try to avoid contentious debates but any time when the subject of guns has come up and I make it clear that they’re not for me it’s been interpreted as being against guns. Not at all. If you need one, want one, are comfortable handling them – go for it. But I don’t see the point of walking around with a dangerous weapon I won’t ever use.

    Comment by Jotai — September 11, 2022 @ 11:03 am

  5. I prefer hummus myself!

    Comment by Larry M — September 12, 2022 @ 9:53 am

  6. September is waiting for you to write something.

    Comment by Larry M — September 21, 2022 @ 8:17 am

  7. I see your point re: student loans. While you and I have not attended collge for 4 decades, I have two adult children for whom I took out a Parents Plus loan…so am hapy to get this relief, as am a retired nurse, still making monthly laon payments. Sorry, that was tangential, at best…love your way with words, Karen .. sitting in your own living room sipping a bottomless glass of Pinot Grigio and dipping carrots into a bowl of spinach dip.

    Comment by tom davidson-marx — October 19, 2022 @ 5:14 am

  8. “I said I was against it because I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t flip the switch.”

    I couldn’t make that decision either. To murder another human being (and I’m not speaking here of terminating a pregnancy through abortion, or of self-defense as a last resort), even one who may have committed terrible acts of violence, is to deny their sacredness. To refrain from murder and other acts of oppression and violence, is something both Jesus and the Buddha understood, taught and embodied.

    Throughout history other great philosophers, prophets, teachers and mystics of various faiths have understood and embodied this same message. Yet when we vote for any person who might be elected to ‘serve’ at higher levels of government, and whether we consciously realize it or not, we’re essentially ‘flipping the switch’ by making a decision that involves the fate of *literally* hundreds of millions, if not billions of people throughout our communities and world.

    As an informed person of conscience, fully grounded in reality, I also understand that each of us contains the whole which contains us. We change the world when we change ourselves.

    Would I vote for someone who would murder, maim, torture, starve, exploit, enslave or steal from me? Or who would censor, smear, black-list or imprison me for telling the truth about some great harm that was being done? Or who would deny me basic necessities every human being needs to live and which they themselves continue to enjoy? Or who would inevitably end up being absorbed by the system itself and end up supporting someone who would do any of these things?

    The answer is an unqualified no. Which is why I can’t vote, though I understand why some have made informed decisions to vote in smaller, local elections ~ or at higher levels of government for 3rd party candidates unlikely to win (thinking of Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka, who ran on an anti-imperialist, peace and social justice platform.)

    Embodied compassion is to understand that I’m every human being living in every corner of the earth and beyond. Each of us is invisibly connected to the other. What we do to others, we do to ourselves. There is no other.

    Both the Buddha and Jesus were tempted by worldly kingdoms. Both said no, in the same way we’re called to say no.

    My understanding is that in the Rajja Sutta13, the Buddha is said to have realized there was no way to exercise rulership in a just way without provoking others to kill, steal and cause unnecessary suffering.

    Everything else is a lie, illusion. Or as the philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, wisely observed time and time again: “The crowd is untruth.”

    I realize you may decide not to publish my comment. Either way, wishing you the best.

    Comment by Tree and Fruit — October 24, 2022 @ 4:55 pm

  9. As I said before, I understand, Karen, why you found my truth-full comment disagreeable and chose to erase it. I hope you understand why I felt drawn to make the effort, though clearly it wasn’t the right time, and I wasn’t the right messenger.

    A message like the one I tried to share would need to come from someone you either know and trust or have sought out for reasons of your own.

    Thank you for handling it as you have. Once again, the Buddha’s teachings prove valuable:

    “In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing and disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.”

    Comment by Tree and Fruit — October 25, 2022 @ 1:26 pm

  10. My website is so old that for some reason I no longer receive notifications of comments from first-time commenters (which require approval.) So from time to time, and often after a long time, I check the backend of the site. That’s how I just discovered them. Sorry for the trouble I may have caused you.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — October 29, 2022 @ 9:11 pm

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