Imagine that….I lead mindful meditation

As there are in most people’s lives, I have people who come and go. Some recent acquaintances and some long standing. Most old friends have never seen me in my new environment. Even my old, (40 plus years) friends back in Tucson may never have seen me directing meditation for a group. And the Chicago friends, fuggedaboutit.

So what? Well I find I straddle between who I was, who I am and who I am becoming. Not only is it a transition, it is a laborious process. Imagine that I arrived  in Dallas with a letter of introduction from a Buddhist monk in AZ to the Buddhist temple in Dallas. The letter was written in Thai so I will have to guess what it said. I think it went something like this. Ken Goldberg is competent to lead Westerners in meditation!

How had my life come to this? Dozens of hikes up and down the mountains with the monk. Days spent learning meditation on the mountains, in the desert and in the non air-conditioned Buddha Hall. I accompanied the monk to art fairs, grocery shopping, community meetings and finally as a novice monk. My head and eyebrows were shaved, I was assigned a bed in the hall, and typically I was in the Buddha Hall by 5.30 AM chanting and meditating with fellow monks.

This post is not for those who have come to know me in the recent past. What would you care my journey. This is for the old crowd. To them I say, Imagine that….I lead meditation, in a Buddhist temple. With the blessings of the monks. I know darn well, not one of you, not ONE, ever thought this day would come. And with good reason. This day had no business coming. It was not on the itinerary or flight plan. My orbit was not scheduled to come into retrograde Aquarius with a Sagittarius moon or some such. Nope, live fast, die young and have a good looking corpse.

If anyone had told me I could modify my life in this way, I would have scoffed. If someone called me sweet, I would have mocked them. I would be derisive to those that had not learned to fear me.

You are welcome to join me every Wednesday night at 7 PM at the Wat Dallas at 8484 Stults Road for meditation. Ends at 8 PM. Or join me Tuesdays at noon,  Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas community mental health center at 8140 Walnut Hill Lane #200 Dallas, TX 75231‎ for meditation. That is an invitation you never saw coming.

He who aint busy being born is busy dying

Living can be strange when taken in conjunction with dying. I thought the good times were the times worth living. But I am not sure anymore. Clearly the hard times shaped me, chiseled me, It is like the saying about the sculptor just likes chiseling away rock to create the sculpture that previously existed only in the imagination.

I get these moments when I imagine dying. It is hard to do but sometimes it feels so tangible and I have this little mini-freak out. Like I see into the abysss of nothingness and just lose myself in fear for a moment. I have worked with death in my meditation practice. I have prayed about it. I have studied it. I have thought at times I made friends with death.

Why is it so hard to imagine non-existence? Why is it so hard to be at peace with reality. The proof could not be more clear. No one is getting out of this alive. Barring rebirth then, what is my purpose? Is it to enjoy life. Be of service to others. Raise the next generation? Is it a mere biological process like plants. I take in oxygen, expel carbon dioxide, and grow taller and fuller like a tree until my natural life span ends and then tumble to the ground where I return to my carbon form and nurture the earth?

Is karma really going to affect my after-life? Will there be a reckoning of my sins and deeds? I practice acceptance everyday in many ways. I am driven by mortality. But still I get out of bed each day and as they say, I suit and and show up. I can fear economic ruin, poor health, loss of loved ones and more. All the while if I also experience joy I look up and see the Sword of Damocles hanging by a horse hair over my head.

And so I return to my original statement taken from Bob Dylan, she who aint busy being born is busy dying. But perhaps all man’s purposes come to naught in death. Or maybe the joy of constant birth and life transcends this and will carry us to the heavens where we will reside with long lost loved ones in perpetual happiness.

Kill or be killed?

I grew up strange. I despised violence and I reveled in it. I was beaten regularly but not severely by my father. My middle-class neighborhood turned less middle class at some point in my grade school days. Along came bullies meting out violence to the small and defenseless.

Why was I bullied. I was small, for my age and for my grade. I was 12 when I graduated grade school. I was a mouthy kid. I couldn’t fight physically, at all. But I never went down without a verbal barrage. I learned to manipulate the streets to accommodate my desire to live free or die. Others chose to get off the streets when it became unsafe. Go do homework.

Not me. With almost no friends or protection I sauntered to the local playground and watched from outside the fence. The tough kids and the athletes moving freely. I stood apart, locked in fear.

Maturity or something resembling that put my skills to work making pals. On every side of the fences. Gang kids, high school fraternity pals, Jews, Black, Ricans, but not Irish or Italian. The Catholics were bad news for me. Christ killer they said.

I learned to act tough. I learned to adapt. I learned to thrive on violence. I hung with criminals. I became a criminal. A burglar, a thief, a dealer. I threatened people and I was threatened. I was arrested. Repeatedly. And I prepped for prison. Simultaneously, I joined in the love, peace and drugs movement. I dropped LSD and grooved to Jefferson Airplane. I marched against the Vietnam War. I was called up to serve and I dodged the immoral war and refused to kill in the name of peace. The sergeant at the draft board took a look at me and said “we need tough guys like you in Nam”. The cop on the beat said I looked like a felon. Subsequently I was convicted of unlawfully carrying a handgun in Chicago.

Then I became a social worker specializing in street gangs. I buried about 13 kids in 3 years who were homicide victims and perpetrators.  Social worker to the very emotionally disturbed and I preached peace. I denied violence as a credible response to conditions. Then, I worked the next 2 years with kids enmeshed in a race war on the far south side of Chicago. I was attacked by both sides and took some physical licks to the head in the process. And I preached peace and preached against violence as a solution.

I became a drug counselor in Woodlawn. A hard-core inner-city community. I made home visits and prayed I wouldn’t get beaten or killed….again. A community infested with various black street gangs whose reputation for violence was well earned.

Then I became a criminal defense lawyer. Always in the streets with my clients. Always aware of the threat of violence being all around.

Eventually, I became a gun range owner and seller of firearms. I became real good with a gun. I taught the proper and legal use of deadly force. I taught the application of violence to certain conditions. And I preached peace and denied violence as a proper rsponse to conditions.

I am lost. I have violence and aggression permeating my thoughts. I have lived in acceptance of violence for years, even when I preached against it. I defended the users of violence when I was their social worker, lawyer and friend. I made friends with violence even as I chastized its application.

Now I am too old to protect myself physically. I have injuries. I have lost strength and muscle tone. I could not prevail against threats to my well-being. But with a gun, I can dominate situations that a weaker man would lose. I have the mind-set and the skill set to apply deadly force when I think it prudent. All the while unconvinced that it should ever be prudent if I were to mind my manners, stay out of conflicts, avoid making eye contact with aggressors and practice my Buddhist precepts and meditation.

Kill or be killed? I don’t know exactly how I got here nor how this will turn out. I accept that exposure to violence has left me damaged. I recognize I am eager to live by peaceful principles. I know I have to work at it.  I know I am a good teacher and a good pistolero. This battle has not been decided yet.