TEDxIslay - Josh Swiller - The Parallels Between Spiritual Perspective and Deaf Perspective

Uploaded by TEDxTalks on 04.07.2010

So, fifteen years ago, I was traveling all around Africa
I was riding in a bus, in the deep bush, with absolutely nothing around
I was sitting in the back of the bus
And the seat wasn't comfortable. It was over the rear wheels.
It was a school bus. An old and decrepit school bus. My knees were up around my chin.
But I thought, ok, I'll be patient.
But then finally it was too much. I couldn't take it. I got up and walked to the front of the bus.
It was full. I looked around for a seat. There was a kid, a small boy, about ten years old
"Can you switch seats with me?" I asked him.
The boy looked at me very nervously: "Ok, yes sir."
See, in Africa if a man asks you to do something, you must do it. And if a white man asks you...then you really must do it.
"Ok! I'll change!" said the boy. And he went to the back.
I sat in his seat, put my feet down, felt ahhhh, and sat back to relax for the ride.
Five minutes later, the bus started swerving all over the road
The driver had been drinking all day. His driving got worse and worse, more and more erratic...he went into the brush, swerved back on the road and then: we crashed.
Everything exploded. Glass was everywhere. Stunned, us passengers ran out where the front windshield had been.
We checked ourselves and each other. A lot of us were bleeding but other than that, we seemed to mainly be ok.
But then, wait a second, where was that boy?
He wasn't with the rest of us.
We went back to the bus. He was under it.
Because when we tipped, the window was open. And he was thrown out because his knees were tucked up, and caught between the bus and the ground when it fell.
All the men on the bus gathered and pushed against the roof of the bus...and reached down and pulled out the boy.
Hey lay there. We watched him. He was still breathing. And then he wasn't.
Ten years later, I was living in New York City, working for a hospice.
I had a patient, a 98 year old woman, and she had an enormous tumor in her intestines.
The doctor said, I don't want to operate. She's too fragile and she's not in too much pain. Josh, try and encourage her to let go and accept what's happening.
She's had a long life, has a big family, had a wonderful marriage. Now's the time, gently, to encourage her to let go.
I said ok, I'll try.
And she said No! No! Absolutely not! I want the surgery! I want the tumor out!
And I want surgery on my shoulder! It needs to be fixed. And I want my knees replaced and fix the pain in my side! Come on! Let's do it now!
And I remember thinking: when do you have enough? 98 years isn't enough?
Ah, sorry, forgot about the pictures. This one is of a bus crash in Africa, similar to the one I was in.
Here's the hands of an old woman...and the picture of a young, one legged man?
That picture...you see, the same time I was working with the woman, I had another patient, a young man of 25, originally from Jamaica.
One day he was playing basketball and he tweaked his knee.
One day he was playing basketball and he tweaked his knee.
One day he was playing basketball and he tweaked his knee.
It's ok, he thought. No big deal. I'll just ignore it. A week, two weeks...and it swelled up more and more.
It was cancer. The doctors cut off his leg.
But he still had the cancer. It was a very rare and strong and strange type. They decided to hit his body with 18 different types of chemotherapy at once.
One kind of chemo is plenty...eighteen is almost beyond imagining.
One kind of chemo is plenty...eighteen is almost beyond imagining.
When I visited him in the hospital I had to wear a full body protective suit, with a mask and everything...he was radioactive!
After three days or so, the medicine would be out of his system and he would go home to rest.
I'd visit him at home...and was he depressed? Not. At. All. He was sooo happy.
He'd jump around on his one leg like it was a pogo stick. He was full of energy, telling dirty jokes, inviting girls over left and right.
Come on over he'd say. Last chance! We could make a radioactive baby...an X-man!
Twenty-five. Soon, most likely, dead. How did he find such happiness?
So these three stories raised three questions: the first, why? the second, what is enough? and the last, how do we find happiness?
So I pondered these...and came upon the Heart Sutra.
Every school of Buddhism has as its core teaching the Heart Sutra. That is, the Heart Message. The Heart Teaching.
It's very brief, about 300 words and it explains the core teaching of Buddhism.
And this is interesting: There is no eye, no ear, no color, no sound. That doesn't make sense.
So in the practice, you analyze that concept. You sit with it. No eye. No color. And what you see is that the eye and the color are not separate.
Normally we think: My eye is here. I, Josh, am somewhere behind the eye. And color is way over there.
But...everyone has a different experience of color. An autistic child might be scared of color. It's too much! A colorblind person might not see much of anything
An artist, like Picasso, might see color everywhere, in the air.
So the eye and the color, the way it experiences color, are not separate. They are deeply tied together. They are one.
And you can't say, I stop at this point here, and the world is over there. It and you are one.
It's the same with hearing. You think: my ear and me are here and sound is out over there...but then everyone has such a different experience of sound.
For example, I grew up hard of hearing, oral, with hearing aids, and had one experience of sound.
Then I lost all my hearing and sound was different. And then I got a cochlear implant and sound was different again.
All of us have a different experience. A musician might have perfect pitch. An old man who's lost his hearing would have a different experience.
The ear and the sound are not separate. This is the key teaching. That you are not ever separate from the world.
You are one with it.
Now, if the world is separate then its a scary place. We don't know it. Maybe it's against me. Maybe it hates me. It doesn't understand me.
But if you are one with the world, you are always moving together towards the same goal. The idea of the world hating you makes as much sense as your elbow hating you.
What is this oneness?
Now, if we feel the world is separate, what to we do? How do we find happiness? We search out there in the world for it. We try to organize things just so.
If I order my life just right, then I will be happy. If I have the best job, if I win and win and win every competition, if I have a lot of money, and a beautiful family and wife
Then I'll have happiness. Well, that's a picture of Tiger Woods. He had all that. Did he have happiness? I don't think so.
I won! I drink Gatorade! I've got cash! But happiness? When you and the world are disconnected, you will always be searching and nothing is ever enough.
Another example: Michael Jordan, the basketball player. One year ago he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Everyone was thrilled because he was really the best ever. People used to watch him and be, oh my God, did you see that play?
I remember growing up when I was learning to play, I'd watch him and he'd always play with his tongue hanging out. So I'd copy him and have my tongue hanging out.
And when I joined a team, I wanted number 23 because that was his number. The coach said 23? Get in line.
So everyone was very excited to see Jordan get elected and to see his speech at the Hall of Fame.
He's called up, he stands up, it was in Massachusetts...and his speech was so bitter, so angry! He said, you see, I showed you, you and you
You over there, you never believed in me. I showed you. And you, 10 years ago you wrote an article criticizing me...well, hey, look at you and look at me.
Again and again and again he went on like this. And people were stunned. But Michael, you were the best, you won everything...why are you doing this?
It just goes to show, if you try to get happiness through obtaining the things of this world while you are disconnected from it...nothing will ever be enough.
But here's an opposite example.
This man is a French writer named Jacques Lusseyran.
When he was seven years old, he was running around one day, and fell and smashed his face and was blinded. His glasses broke and the pieces went into his eyes.
He was blinded at seven. And shortly after that, Europe went crazy, World War II started, and Lusseyran was stuck in the middle of it.
He ended in a concentration camp for two years. And you'd think wow he must be depressed, but if you read his book you know what you find -- he absolutely is not!
His book is full of light. Full of joy. His heart is open wide and joyously. Everything is full. How?
He wrote that when he became blind he realized that all light, all happiness, that's inside. The source of all love -- it all starts inside.
He realized if I want happiness I can't go looking for it, it's already in there, I've just got to get out of the way. And then it will spill forth.
Now the deaf community is in an anxious time. There's tremendous change taking place. We don't know how to define ourselves.
Are we equal to hearing people? Less than them? More? But if get stuck in that thinking we will lose the connection, the oneness. There's no answer there.
If someone says to you, hey you're deaf, this is your group over there, that hurts. And it hurts not because this group is maybe not equal to hearing people.
It hurts because it misses that deep truth that inside on the most basic level every one of us is equal to God.
Not to hearing people. Forget that! We're all equal to God. We're born beautiful and perfect and this idea that we have to fight and struggle to prove ourselves worthy is a mistake.
I'll show them! Forget that! But we get stuck in that thinking. And it doesn't end. Look at Michael. Look at Tiger. Still fighting and angry.
That's the Garden of Eden. In Christianity, the story of the disconnect from oneness is called the Fall. Ate an apple from the tree of knowledge and boom: disconnect.
And then searching, searching and searching for that connection. And deaf, hearing, we're all the same in this. We're all fallen and searching for the oneness.
And searching in the wrong places.
Now is a time of great and rapid change in the deaf community. It's scary. But know that this time is also one of great and rapid change for the whole world.
Everyone is scared! The economy is collapsing. The environment is going to hell. Oil is leaking. Everyday it feels like some new disaster happens. It's overwhelming!
What do we do? Well one thing that's happening now is you have more and more fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism -- like in those pictures.
Fundamentalism gives you very strict and clear rules of what to do in every situation. This is how you act. The woman does this, the man does that. God said so.
And then we feel whew, we have rules, we have order in a chaotic world. But that doesn't work longterm. Fixing the world out there and forgetting what's inside, forgetting the oneness...
And I think we need to be careful of Deaf fundamentalism. This idea that if we get Deafness just right than we will find that oneness inside.
It doesn't work that way. You have to start on the inside, with the heart. How do we do that? Next picture. Oops.
How? By treasuring our hearts. By appreciating things every day, every moment. By being playful. Being silly. If we see a mess, clean it up; if we see someone in pain, help them.
Someone's thirsty, give them water. Appreciate that every day is full of miracles.
The other day, yesterday actually, I was walking around town. I'd just arrived to Austin and it was raining hard.
I was like damn, they told me Austin had sun all the time. What is this?
But then I thought: wait, this is beautiful. My first Texas rain -- I can enjoy that. I can have a lovely walk in the rain.
Today I woke up with a stuffy nose and sneezing but that's another story.
Another time, I was walking with my Zen teacher. There was a beautiful snowstorm -- this was in upstate New York.
I said to my teacher, hey look at the snow its so beautiful -- these were big flakes. And he said yeah, it is.
And then he said hey you! Snowflake! What are you doing with your life? You need to make something of yourself. You should be a snowman. Get to work!
He was teasing me, reminding me how we always forget to enjoy life because we're so focused on making it better, fixing it in some way.
Just enjoy it, he was saying, in this brief time we have.
I say all this for you, but really for me. Two years ago I arrived to Gallaudet with Mike and part of my job was to try and find and build bridges between the oral world and the signing world.
And I've made many mistakes. I've taken sides. I've judged other people, judged their beliefs, forgetting that in everyone, underneath everything is the desire to connect.
This your wrong, I'm right business...no. Everyone, hearing or deaf, all they want is just to connect. To feel that oneness.
I've traveled through Africa, I've been to over 25 countries, I've traveled in the hearing world, in the deaf world and all these worlds on the basic level are the same.
The future -- we don't know what it'll be like. What's going to happen in 20 years, who knows? Ten years, who knows? What are the jobs of the future? Who knows?
Whatever happens, it doesn't matter in a way. Instead we must always treasure our hearts.
Thank you.