The Zoo Fence

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The Way Home
The Way Home


Bo Lozoff

Bo and Sita Lozoff are founders of the Human Kindness Foundation, a non-profit, tax-exempt organization whose purpose is to encourage more kindness in the world. Besides its internationally respected Prison-Ashram Project, the Foundation sponsors a spiritual community and visitors center called Kindness House, their newsletter a little good news, Bo’s free talks and workshops at prisons, hospitals, churches, universities, and spiritual centers throughout the world, and much more.

This material is copyrighted by the Human Kindness Foundation, whose generous permission for our use of it here is gratefully acknowledged. Suggested reading: We’re All Doing Time and Just Another Spiritual Book, both by Bo Lozoff. For those, and other titles, as well as videotapes and audiotapes, and additional information, please contact the Human Kindness Foundation, PO Box 61619, Durham, NC 27715; (919) 383-5160, or visit their web site at

Ampersand at The Zoo Fence

A friend of ours here in North Carolina recently lost her beautiful 19-year-old son to suicide. She told us he was the sixth among a small group of friends who have committed suicide in the past two-and-a-half years. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among teenagers … .

We need to start asking ourselves some searching questions about why life seems to be of so little value to our kids. From a spiritual perspective, one sentence can sum up the whole thing — not only our own and our kids’ problems, but our planetary problems too, from pollution to wars:

Human life is very deep, and our dominant modern lifestyle is not.

It is as if a king had sent you to a country to carry out one special, specific task. You go to the country, and you perform a hundred other tasks, but if you have not performed the task you were sent for, it is as if you have performed nothing at all. So man has come into the world for a particular task, and that is his purpose. If he doesn’t perform it, he will have done nothing. #

Our “task” is the Spiritual Journey. Life is deep, we are deep, and we’re not acting like it. Life is inherently joyful, yet we’re not enjoying it. We’re caught in the details, in the “hundred other tasks” which will count for nothing if we don’t wake up to our spiritual depth.

Right now, while you are reading this, take a moment to center yourself in your body, in this place you sit, and feel yourself breathing, and smile. Don’t just speed-read on to the next paragraph, please. Let go of past and future. Appreciate that you’re alive; appreciate knowing how to read. Appreciate knowing about spiritual wisdom. Bring a soft smile of gratitude into your heart and onto your face.

This is what we rarely pass on to our kids. Our kids don’t get the message from us that being alive feels good. We may say it to them occasionally, but how do we show it in our everyday activities? Even the best, most loving people often seem to be working themselves into the ground, keeping up a frantic pace just to pay the bills and to keep resolving each day’s repairs, breakdowns, details, and little crises.

Would YOU Want to Grow Up?

You must admit, from a kid’s point of view, growing up doesn’t look very appealing. Besides seeing so many joyless or downright angry adults in schools, businesses, and government, it also must appear that adults have no control over their lives. “Honey, I’d like to hang out with you, but I’m sorry, I really can’t help it, I have to do such-and- such, I wish I didn’t have to, but I do … .” How many times do our kids hear such stuff? What’s the message they receive — that adult life, everyday life, is mostly a drag and out of control.

Everyday life is all we’ve got. The deep, wonderful secrets of life, the mysterious presence of the Divine, the joy of cherishing each other, the beauty of nature, the satisfaction of helping out, our journey into the ageless Wisdom — all exist only in our everyday life. There is no bigger ball field on which to find Meaning. It’s either right here, today, or it’s nowhere.

This is exactly what Issa (Jesus) was trying to point out about the Kingdom of Heaven. His followers kept thinking it was far away or far off in the future. But he repeatedly exhorted them, The Kingdom of Heaven is within you. I tell you the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

At hand. Not after the revolution, not when the next ‘Golden Age’ brings worldwide peace and harmony. Here. Now. You. Me. Our kids. In the middle of the ghetto. In the middle of prison. In the middle of our endless details, our ceaseless worries about the future. …

When the Buddha experienced His great enlightenment, He got up from where He had been sitting and walked toward the village. The first person who saw Him was awestruck by His radiance and power. The man approached Him, and said, “Sir, what are you? Are you a God?” The Buddha said, “No.” The man said, “Well, are you a Spirit or a Demigod?” Again, the Buddha said, “No.” “Are you a human being?” Once more, the Buddha said, “No.” The man said, “Well, what ARE you, then??” The Buddha replied, “I am awake.” And then He spent the rest of His life making it clear to us that we can awaken, too. The joy is right here; we just need to wake up to it.

The basics of life are no different today than they were thousands of years ago: Get up in the morning, take reasonable care of our bodies, minds, and souls; do some kind of work which benefits the world instead of harms it; respect and cherish each other, and then get some sleep. It’s important to keep our big view simple, and to pass such a simple view on to our kids. They need a Big View.

Around 2,500 years ago, the Chinese sage Lao Tzu talked about this very subject. He said,

Those who wish to know the whole truth take joy in doing the work and service that comes to them. Having completed it, they take joy in cleansing and feeding themselves. Having cared for others and themselves, they then turn to the masters for instruction.

Notice that he mentioned joy twice. With joy, do your worldly duty, with joy take care of yourself and your family. And then study the timeless wisdom. How civilized! How straightforward! Simple living, simple joy.

So what has gotten so out of whack in modern times? Why does it seem so complex and draining merely to pay the bills and just get by? Why does it seem so difficult for us to take Lao Tzu’s advice?

For one thing, our consumer culture encourages us from the time we’re born to have ceaseless desires. To put it simply, we want so much, all the time, that we have not even noticed how much quality of life we have given up, how much peace of mind we have sacrificed, how much fun we have forfeited, in order to have the right shoes, cellular phones, TV’s in every room, sexy cars — all the stuff that counts for ZERO in the deeper part of ourselves, in our Kingdom of Heaven.

American life especially has been about “keeping up with the Joneses,” but it is time we noticed that the Joneses are not happy. One of their kids is on drugs, the parents are in divorce court, Mr. Jones is on anti-depressants, and Mrs. Jones is taking anti-anxiety medication. This is no joke; this is the reality.

… A simple life is possible. A joyful life is our true nature. Life can be rich and rewarding; but we have to give up our constant demand for new, bigger, better, more … It’s literally killing us.

“What Do You Do?”   “Who Cares?”

A second, related culprit of our imbalance is the role of “career” in our lives. Career seems to have become the accepted hub around which everything else revolves. We choose career over own health. We choose career over our mates and children. We choose career over our time to study, pray, walk, hike, meditate, participate in community life. We fuss over our children’s potential careers like it’s the most important thing in the world. If our child wants to take a year or two off between high school and college, we freak out. We worry they’ll “get behind.“ What does that mean? What’s the message?

Career is not deep enough to be the center of life. Career is not who you are. … If you sink all your identity into it, then your life hasn’t started until your career begins, and it’s basically over when your career ends. An astounding percentage of American men die within three years of retirement. That’s sad, foolish, and unnecessary. …

The Most Timely Activism

The most valuable form of activism in this day and age may be to explore a lifestyle based around simple living and simple joy. It may take toning down our materialistic demands and figuring out how to live on less income, but that process itself will begin to save some of the world’s resources and thereby address many of the world’s pressing problems, as well as giving us more time with our families and communities. …

And, of course, providing a spiritual perspective to our kids is always the Big Activism. It horrifies me how many people proudly say, “I tell my kids they have to figure out whatever they want to believe in. That’s their business.“

My God, why would we put such a burden on our children? We help them to walk, talk, ride a bike, drive a car. But not to teach them about their connection to the Great Wisdom handed down by so many elders and traditions? Not to teach them about the common threads of all religions? Not to acquaint them with the “One Task“ in life which Rumi described to be deep, people? …

I find it sweetly ironic that the Great Activism of our day — inspiring our children to stay alive, and to live and behave in civilized ways — requires us to discover the simple joy of life for ourselves as well. We gotta do it. Nothing less will do.

# From “Table Talk“ by Jalaluddin Rumi, quoted in The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, itself an excellent source of teaching. (back to text)

Ampersand at The Zoo Fence

Going up!

Get me out of this frame!

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