By Johnathon Lee
I was walking across the basketball court during recess.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, two boys knocked me flat onto the ground. They started stomping my stomach and groin, then kicking my back and side. When they were done, the bully Steven kneeled down and hissed, “If you tell anyone, I’ll kill you!” The other kid involved was my first best friend.
I crawled across the court, moving through the agony, focused on the teacher ahead. She finally saw me and rushed over. Of course I told. Not only that, but when I saw Steven later, I leaned in and taunted, “I tooooold.” He was so enraged; it looked like he was going to explode. It was tremendously satisfying.
I never understood why I was targeted. My peers made it clear that I was different from them, but they never explained how I was different, or why it was bad. These differences, whatever they are, made me a perpetual outcast. I only started making friends when I got into music, drugs, theft and vandalism.
My 20s were a whirlwind of work, school, loneliness and longing.
In college, I once again found myself surrounded by strangers who seemed vaguely hostile toward me for some reason. As with grade school and high school, I made friends with the teachers more than the students. My 20s also included booze, a suicide attempt, the loss of a friend in a drunk driving accident, a stay in the looney bin, and several unrequited loves.
Then I found Buddhism and went back to school for psychology, living off of student loans. I got my Bachelor’s Degree, but you need a Masters to practice. Out of money, I went back to work at the same place I worked before. Then I had a breakdown, quit and before I knew it, two of my friends were murdered. Then I moved in with my demented grandma for a year before getting my own depressing little apartment.
Now, I’ve got a bigger place with my best friend. She’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a girlfriend, even though there’s no romance to our friendship. We take care of each other the best we can.
Yet now, at 36, I’m still stuck. Still on the outside. That said, my self-hatred is finally lessening. It’s shifting to hating the forces that made me.
There was no reason why life had to be so fucked up for me. Yes, I’m a tubby, blind, autistic guy, but that doesn’t mean I should’ve been abused by my family and peers. The abuse and the frantic pace of the shallow system made me think of myself as a hideous monster who was unworthy of love and success.
Buddha would say that I should just let go and find happiness within.
An old Chan teacher said, “Do what’s good. Avoid doing what’s bad. Cultivate your mind.” I could do that. I’m in a great position to double down in my monkish ways. But that’s pointless. I’m tired of drifting along the perimeter. When I look within and ask myself what a purposeful path would be like, the image I get is one of me trying to dismantle the system that made me.
No one should have to go through what I did—and do. Our mentally ill aren’t just born that way. Nature plays a part, but so does culture. Since most of the symptoms of mental illness have some natural function, I can’t help but say that it’s society itself that refuses to evolve.
We’re in a collective slump where we do the same menial work each day to make people we’ll never meet filthy rich. As we struggle, they’re living the lives we dream of. More than that, they’re not doing their duty of using wealth to heal the world.
If you’re a billionaire, there’s no ethically justifiable reason to not change the world for the better.
Fight poverty, make green tech affordable,and democraticize the workplace.
Poverty is the big one. Poverty shaped every aspect of my life, and I’m still impoverished to this day. There’s no reason for it. We live in a time of surplus and abundance. Everyone should have more than enough of the basics. Life made me into a sociopath. All I can do is try to use that for good, and make the world more hospitable for future neurodivergent people.
As for Buddha, he’s going to have to take a back seat for this.
He wasn’t an activist. He didn’t lift one finger to topple the caste system or feed the hungry. He just invited them into his monastery. Now, you can’t even live in a monastery if you’ve got debt, and who doesn’t have debt?
Buddha isn’t the prototype I need for this period of my life. I need a warrior because this is a war. The battle is against oppression in all of its guises. We must learn to lead ourselves and work together so that we can leave our leaders in the graveyard of the past.
Until I’m free from this oppression, I will fight it publicly, even as I try to climb the corporate ladder in hopes of a living wage. Peace is possible, but only if we ignore all of the hardship out there.
Meaning is in the fight. It’s time to act. It’s time to remember who we are.
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