When I was young.

I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a very nice house. My dad owned his own company and we were not rich but we were well-off.

When I was 14 and in my second year of high school I met Marv Kirchler who remains my friend 52 years later. We used to roam the south side in his father’s Dodge Coronet. This was just one of many dangerous acts I did as Marv took years to polish his driver safety skills. Marv is older than me by 2 or 3 years and had a drivers license long before I could even apply for one.

From time to time, Marv and I would walk at night from my house to the end of the block, to the corner of 71st and Jeffrey.  There was a tavern right on that corner. In preparation for going there, we would buy a big bottle of root beer, grab our drum sticks and off we went. Marv and I shared an interest in drumming.

The root beer would stay in a brown paper bag like a wino carries around his bottle of wine. Marv and I would stand outside the tavern and watch through the tall plate glass window the live jazz combos on stage. The drummer would be right in front of us, with a stand up bass player to his side. And a keyboard or guitar in front.We would take turns drumming along on the red brick exterior under the glare of the early Mercury vapor lights. Inside, the patrons and performers were almost all African-American.

Jazz drumming is such a simple/complex, beautiful art. The drum set was comprised of a snare, bass, and a tom tom, with a high hat,  2 cymbals and maybe a floor tom. Nothing like the drum sets in popular rock bands that had lots of accouterments.

Marv and I were joyfully mimicking the Black musical culture around us. We listened to the Monkees and the Temptations. Janis Joplin and Diana Ross. What a marvelous environment.

About my pal, Marv was born on the other side of the tracks from me. Blue collar family. His dad was gruff, with a gravely voice and a drum set he played when he was not working at a printing press. Marv’s mother was the salt of the fucking earth who never turned me away when I showed up on her doorstep, under-age and fleeing the brutality of my own upscale home.

Growing up on the south side had such benefits. Marv lived in a classic white area which harbored many families tainted by anti-Semitism and racism. But rough and tumble young Marvin was more likely to attack a long-haired hippie than a black boy.

We had a third pal, Kerry. We shared 3 characteristics. We were Jewish, middle-class and smart. Together we transitioned from typical high school kids to early members of the pot smoking milieu.

When high school ended, Kerry went to college, Marv became a political operative and I became a criminal. Kerry fell in love, dropped out and moved to California. Marvin won elections for people and I became a social worker.

52 years later, I have never heard my 2 friends utter words of hatred towards others because of their religion, race or sexual orientation. (I hated Palestinians for years but I already blogged about the incident and how that happened.) I attribute that too the cultural diversity we embraced as young lads.

When I was young and molding and modeling behavior, I was lucky enough to be exposed to a world which was smart, colorful, diverse, violent and then more diverse. I could walk a few blocks and visit friends who were Black, Irish, Polish, Italian, Middle Eastern and more. Some were wealthy, some poor. A short drive away was the University of Chicago, home to the children of world renowned physicists, psychiatrists and scientists of every type.

The pizza parlor, barber shop, movie theater, bowling alley, produce store, supermarket, the aforementioned tavern and hardware store were within a block or two of my home.

What would I be like if I had been raised in a more homogeneous world, lacking in diversity instead of a world filled with rich characters of every ilk. The commuter train at the end of our street would take me to the heart of downtown Chicago in 30 minutes.  Lake Michigan was an easy 2 mile walk. Bonus, when I was 18 years old my father gave me a job working on demolishing buildings/flop houses on Chicago’s Skid Row where resided the largest collection of men, marginalized by poverty, alcoholism and drug addiction ever assembled in the Midwestern United States.

My early world included swimming at the Jewish country club at 10, bar mitzvah at 13, standing on a street corner, imagining I was the second drummer in a jazz combo at 14, school dropout at 16 and facing 6-15 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections when I was 17.

 

Itchycoo Park  where, It’s all too beautiful.

I’d like to go there now with you
You can miss out school – Won’t that be cool
Why go to learn the words of fools?
What will we do there? – We’ll get high
What will we touch there? – We’ll touch the sky
But why the tears there? I’ll tell you why
It’s all too beautiful, It’s all too beautiful
It’s all too beautiful, It’s all too beautiful

And the Animals singing

“When I was young
It was more important
Pain more painful
Laughter much louder
Yeah, when I was young”

Adoption and where does love come from?

I do not have an answer by the way. But I think it a good question. I just came home from watching a movie called Instant Family with Mark Walhberg. It is about foster care and adoption and many of the problems associated with it. The movie is good in that it depicted areas of the foster care and adoption system and the obstacles.

I applied to be a single adoptive parent when I was in my late 30s. I attended an adoption fair, as depicted in the film, and I consulted with the hosting staff. The host, Illinios Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) would only allow a single male to adopt an older male child. When I met the caseworker, a black woman, she recoiled when I told her I was open to a child of any race. The caseworker would not consider letting me adopt a child of color. It was a distressing event because you walk around this area with all these foster kids running around. Almost all were children of color. Most were cute as a button, even the older ones. Older kids in the system are designated HTP, hard to place. Families usually want to adopt infants or very young kids.

After I complained about the case worker’s attitude on race pairing, the DCFS assigned me to a private agency called Lutheran Welfare Services where they assured me I would get better assistance in my pursuit. Wrong. While they had no issue that they openly shared with me about race matching, they had little experience with single parent/older child matches. Fail!

A few years later, my second wife Laurie and I became foster parents to a an 11 year old boy I was appointed to represent in the juvenile courts in Chicago. He was convicted of some thefts and was ordered removed from his chaotic home in the public housing projects which proliferate the south side. Because he was under 13, he could not be incarcerated so he was remanded to DCFS for foster care.

When the court orders a child removed and placed with the state, in Chicago, the first step is a group home. Bad, bad situation with kids of all ages and issues. I liked Danny although he was very quiet. He looked quite innocent, despite his history of stealing, and I assumed he was overwhelmed to be caught up in the juvenile criminal court. I asked the court to place him in my home until a suitable foster family could be found. This cannot normally be done because neither I nor my home was licensed for foster care.  The judge thought I might be crazy so he took me into chambers to determine if I knew what I was doing, could I provide an appropriate and safe home. Then he ordered the DCFS to immediately put Danny in my home. until a foster family could be found.

Danny had mental health and developmental issues. A wonderful boy who was a good thief and a bad student. But he adjusted well to our home. He was with us about a year before they found his first race appropriate home. He remained in the system in one placement or another for a number of years. Such a long story for another time.

He was eventually returned to his mom’s home, which by the way, was still chaotic. While he lived with us, we pursued becoming licensed foster parents but the system was so ineffective we were never licensed despite taking the classes and submitting to background and home checks. I lost track of him about 24 years ago, but I continuously search for him.

My then fiance, Laurie, was not crazy about me bringing a foster kid home before she and I had actually moved in together or got married. She complained once, that I recall, and never again. She was a wonderful foster mom to Danny. I loved that while Danny could not read, she read to him most nights before he went to bed.

On a side note, Danny escaped from some other placements when he was 13. He fled back to his family of origin. His oldest sister called me to please take him into my home again before he gets killed.  He was running the streets, selling crack cocaine and had ripped off the drug dealer twice who was fronting him the crack. Great stories about the rescue for another time.

So many of us want to help. We want to love and provide a healthy environment for children. The film, Instant Family, was hokey and over the top at times but in large measure depicted the crazy chaotic feelings of foster children, foster parents, and the challenges of foster care. There is a story thread depicting how the family reunification policy which guides the courts can result in a mixed, often bad result. And no exploration of the foster care system is complete without showing how some foster families treat the kids like a business.  It was a tear-jerker at times for sure.

DCFS creates profiles for online kid shopping where you can view hundreds of kids who are available for adoption or foster placement. You read their profile, see their photos and then are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem.

I did finally adopt two daughters. raised them and perhaps failed them. Loved them and sheltered them. Not sure by any measure that I am a good parent, but I know these two quotes are true.

We should not be asking who this child belongs to, but who belongs to this child.     

James L. Gritter

Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone, but still miraculously my own. Never forget for a single minute, you didn’t grow under my heart but in it.     

Fleur Conkling Heyliger

 

 

“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”Benjamin Franklin

“Ardently do today what must be done. Who knows? Tomorrow, death comes.” Buddha

The message is unavoidable and simple. The reality is that it feels like more effort than I can muster to get things done today. So now I actively harness mindfulness into my life. More on that later.

If you read this blog today, you should at least care about one of two things, preferably both. Me and you. Not together, just as participants in this exchange.

I have been thinking about my pal Gary Coursey. He died almost 2 years ago. He was many things to me. Important things. But here is what he brought me today. I knew Gary about 49 years when he passed. I have 2 friends that go back further, Kerry and Marv. They are my oldest friends. Gary and I were friends about 36 years when he became my best friend for about 13 years.

We started living close together in Arizona about 15 years ago. Gary began a habit of calling me everyday or so and checking in. I did not think about it a lot the first several years but then I began to notice he had become my best friend. I knew that within a day or two, we would call each other and I would share with Gary whatever was going on. And usually vice versa although he always had more secrets than me. I moved away and back to Texas about 7 years ago. But we still talked almost daily.

After he died I still had my two oldest friends. The oldest friendship is with Kerry of some 52 or 53 years. Last year his wife and life companion of 45 years died. While she was dying and since then we have been in closer contact. I wanted to check in and see how he was doing after such a blow. We have always tried to be there for each other. We have always trusted each other, mostly. He too has more secrets than me.

So, I decided to call Kerry as often as I want. I have always been measured in how often I call friends, including Kerry. Not too often, not too little. Whatever that means. But as I reflected on my friendship with Gary, I realized that Kerry could handle all the love and friendship I have for him. Gary had shown me that I have a deeper capacity for  friendship that I did never thought about.

I called Kerry and said I plan to call him as often as I like and if that was a problem, let me know. Of course it is not a problem (yet). We are best buds. We have weathered high school, drugs, marriages, disease, surgeries and death together.

Gary Coursey, you gave me, Ken, permission to be as much friend as I wish, without measure or hesitation. I never had that before and I surely have not realized what a gift it is.

So dear reader, if aging is inevitable as well as death, better start on that bucket list today. And knockout everything else that was on that list because tomorrow may not go as well as today.

Do not put off showing love to family/friends. Maybe call some friends monthly if possible and try all friends annually or more. Do not put off making a will and trusts or power of attorney for healthcare. Get the annual physical, travel and most important, ride a bicycle.

Mindful meditation brings things into focus. It settles the chatter in my mind and allows for attention to the moment. I simply notice whatever arises. Today this insight into friendship arose.

A favorite Buddhist author of mine Maritine Batchelor, wrote this paragraph in an article 15 years ago…. “You must also be careful not to equate meditation solely with concentration. It is essential to cultivate inquiry as well. This is the quality of the mind that sees clearly into the impermanent and conditioned nature of reality. Whether you are focusing on a specific object or not, the cultivation of inquiry requires you to look deeply into and investigate the nature of each phenomenon in your field of awareness. Whether it is the breath or a sound or a thought, each and every thing can be seen as conditioned and constantly changing. It is essential that you cultivate together and in harmony these twin elements of concentration and inquiry. Concentration will bring stability, stillness, and spaciousness; inquiry will bring alertness, vividness, brightness, and clarity. Combined, they will help you to develop creative awareness, an ability to bring a meditative mind to all aspects of your daily life. In this way, meditation becomes both a refuge and a training: a refuge into being, and a training into doing.” Maritine is a practitioner of Zen Buddhism but Theravada Buddhism, which I teach, recognizes this as  Vipassana (Insight) meditation. Insight meditation is believed to be the oldest of the Buddhist meditation practices.

I suggest we live the new year with an awareness of the need to attend to the “now”, this moment. I think it would be wise to look at any inclination to delay and balance that against the possibility that there will not be a “later”.

Like going to the gym to exercise the body parts, meditation is exercise for the spiritual and mental parts. A well-rounded visit to the gym should include aerobics in addition to weights. Likewise, loving/kindness is the balance for insight meditation. The Buddha insisted that a strong mind should be balanced with a loving and compassionate heart.

“May all beings far and near, all beings young and old, beings in every direction, be held in great loving-kindness. May they be safe and protected. May they be healthy and strong. May they be truly happy.”  May all who read this have a good, safe and peaceful year.

 

My family is blessed with keen minds and good hearts.

I came to my computer to write about a blessing in my life. As I sat, I saw a friend of mine had just posted on Facebook about a political schism in her family, which many families are dealing with. She has family members who defend/support the present trump administration.
 
Coincidentally, here is what I was about to write about.
I am so glad that everybody in my family holds progressive, anti-regressive views and hates the present administration. My sisters are both keen intellects and very well-read and mostly open-minded. (Gun control used to be our hot button disagreement at family gatherings.)
 
I am well-aware that it is helpful to not have a trump supporter in my family or at least one who does not insert himself into the discussion. My family and especially my sister Karen Topin hates trump as much and if possible, more than I do.
 
This makes family dinners much more enjoyable. I have heard from so many friends how ugly and painful it is to have a relative who defends the trump administration.
 
Anti-intellectualism has been used by totalitarian dictatorships to oppress political dissent. Perhaps its most extreme political form was during the 1970s in Cambodia under the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, when people were killed for being academics or even for merely wearing eyeglasses (as it suggested literacy) in the Killing Fields. The Khmer Rouge regime frequently arrested and often executed anyone suspected of connections with the former Cambodian government or foreign governments, as well as professionals, intellectuals, the Buddhist monkhood, and ethnic minorities.
 
Trump is well along this path by deriding scientist, democrats, liberals, and a multitude of others. Notice that trump supporters are not fighting facts with facts. They are supporting regressive policies and a magnitude of vitriol never heard from the Oval Office in the past.
 
Of significance to me is that no matter what facts I use or trump lies I expose, his supporters are unwavering. Civil War is just ahead.

Dying to get in, literally.

Last year, 412 migrant deaths were recorded on either side of the border, up from 398 a year earlier. This despite the number of attempted border crossings falling dramatically, according to the United Nations’ migration agency.
Placing immigration centers far from medical facilities is a plan, a design and this week, 2 young children died on our side in our care. Putting kids/families in centers built away from urban centers (and hospitals) to segregate and isolate is a plan/design. Trumpeting how people will die in our care as a tactic to scare away immigrants is a plan/design. Killing people of color to make a point, plan/design. Trump announcing he wants immigrants from Nordic countries is a declaration of white superiority/supremacy.
 
I am so sorry for every immigrant locked away, separated from family and in need of clothing, comfort and safety because our policies are intended to demonstrate disdain for people south of our border. It is not a way station, it is incarceration. Arrival here is not escape from tyranny. It is arrival into the arms of a new tyrant. 
I have watched Wackenhut, private security buses at checkpoints, loading the captured immigrants to deliver them to the “centers”. Armed Border patrol agents are lined beside them with AR-15s. Border patrol get so used to bullying folks they do not know how to act around citizens. I walked into a buffet in Arizona and freaking BP agents were pushing people aside to get to the food. Either they thought it was all donuts or they were rude. I so hate the long vehicle lines I encounter at checkpoints on Interstate 10 where every agent fancies dark sunglasses, and German Sheperds sniff every vehicle.
 
We militarized our border, spending $14 billion for 2018 to employ 59,178 men and women including law enforcement and trade personnel:
» 23,079 CBP officers
» 2,423 CBP agriculture specialists
» 19,437 Border Patrol agents
» 610 air interdiction agents (pilots)
» 337 marine interdiction agents
» 256 aviation enforcement agents
» 883 trade personnel

Then ICE, a separate agency, has another 20,000 law enforcement and support personnel in more than 400 offices in the United States and around the world. That agency has an annual budget of approximately $6 billion.
 
Overall 2019 funding for U.S. Customs and Border Protection of $14.2 billion and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of $8.3 billion is 22 percent higher than the FY 2017 enacted level. That is $22.5 billion spent annually and we have not yet started on the 1,000+ more miles of border wall.  (Numbers taken from White House Budget Fact Sheet.)
Obama built 700 miles of wall along the 2000 mile border. Building an additional 1,000-mile wall could cost as much as $40 billion, according to an analysis published in the MIT Technology Review. Maintenance of barriers along the southern border will also be costly. The Congressional Research Service estimated in 2009 that double layer fencing would cost an estimated $16.4 million to $70 million per mile over 25 years, depending on the amount of damage sustained. 

 

An aside, on the subject of money and personnel, thousands of medical jobs at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country remain vacant because VA leaders contend they can’t find qualified candidates who want them, an agency report released Thursday revealed. Directors for 140 VA hospitals reported a total of 3,068 staff vacancies that they are struggling to fill. On average, it takes the VA 110 days to hire a nurse, 177 days to hire a nurse practitioner, and often even longer for a physician.

But I digress. I wanted to make the point that you really have to be dying to get in to our country to be willing to die to get in.

And so Merry Christmas……

I am using my holiday time to do more research on the Bible. I found James 1:26-27, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
 
This gave me pause and I wish to offer the following unsolicited advise. As the trump and his administration while away hours waiting for the border wall funding, I propose this time be used wisely to examine dangers facing our nation and beyond. I offer the following for your consideration.
 
October 28,2018, at least 60 deaths have been attributed to Hurricane Michael, including 45 in the United States and 15 in Central America. Hurricane Michael caused at least $14.58 billion in damages. There was damage to U.S. fighter jets with a replacement cost of approximately $6 billion at Tyndall Air Force Base, and at least $3.3 billion in insurance claims in the U.S. Losses to agriculture and timber alone exceeded $5 billion.
 
November, 2018, the Camp Fire caused at least 86 civilian deaths, injured 12 civilians and 5 firefighters, covered an area of 153,336 acres and destroyed 18,804 structures, with most of the damage occurring within the first four hours. As of November 19, insured damage was estimated to be $7.5–10 billion.
 
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 2018, while Sabbath services were being held, eleven people were shot dead and seven were wounded. It was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.
 
Another mass shooting took place on November 7, 2018, in Thousand Oaks, California, at the Borderline Bar and Grill, a country-western bar frequented by college students. Thirteen people were killed, including the shooter. Ten others were injured. Police identified the killer as a United States Marine Corps veteran.
 
None of these deaths can be attributed to immigrants, or colored folk or Democrats. Since you have time off from golf, I urge you to use your spare time to research and propose scientific solutions to the immediate problems we face as a nation.
Merry Christmas president trump. May the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future open your heart. May you lull yourself to sleep with a tome prepared by experts on national security. May the Hannities and Limbaughs and Laura Ingrahams be silent. Mr. President, celebrate the birth of Jesus tonight. May his voice be the loudest one you hear and his teachings guide you as you navigate us through our national crises. May you visit orphans and widows in their distress and not create them. 
Amen!

Jesus is the reason!

Jesus is the reason for the season! We talk about how many religious/ethnic celebrations occur this time of year. As if this is a holiday season for all. But in truth, it is not. It is Christmas time. This country would not come to a standstill for Hannukah or Kwanza etc. It comes to a halt to celebrate Christmas because Christians rule. They do!

I do not have an issue with Christians having their season(s). I understand that numerically they will control the political and social milieu of this country. I do appreciate that the Christians that created the constitution recognized and protected the rest of us from a theocracy (rule by religion). It makes my time here as a citizen much more acceptable because Jews have been run out of most countries we called home at one time. https://www.biblebelievers.org.au/expelled.htm

Makes it hard to get settled into your La-z-boy and smoke a cigar. In fact, I admit I have been vigilant and suspicious of the rise of anti-Semitism my whole life. I have been carrying a firearm a good part of my life in response to incidents which I experienced as early as grade school.

But back to Christmas. I enjoy the holiday season. I do not celebrate it but I enjoy it. People get happy, time off and gather together. That is nice. So, I believe Jesus is the reason for the season and that no other holiday could hold that sway over a national consciousness. Easter too. I recall getting Good Friday off in school although I did not know what Good Friday was. I remember the kids coming to school with ash on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday.  I even mimicked the gesture of “crossing” oneself  before undertaking a risky undertaking. I did so because I saw it so frequently amongst my peers and athletes on the field. ( I assume my parents would not have been keen to see that.) As you can probably tell, I lived and worked around a whole lot of Catholics. But I was the recipient of the love and assistance of ministers in the Lutheran and the Disciples of Christ churches. (Reverend Steve Swanson got me in the pews 2 years in a row for Midnight Mass. Reverend Loel Callahan turned me from a life of crime when my trajectory was prison bound.)

Dear Christians, I mean no harm when I say Happy Holiday. I was never trying to rob you of your holiday. I innocently was engaging in acting out gestures of holiday cheer in a neutral manner because I am not Christian. I did not boycott Christmas or spit on the Christmas tree. I did not bah humbug. It is simply not my holiday. I am not now nor have I ever been, a Christian. I do draw the line at a Christian government and I do so because I was taught from an early age that this was the foundation of our country. Freedom from and of religion. I was taught, in school, that I would have to allow all persons to worship as they see fit and in exchange I would be allowed to do the same. I was taught from a young age, and again in high school and college and then in law school, that their would be a separation of church and state and I could demand it, expect it, and enforce it. It was the “law of the Land”.

I am certainly no one to deny the birth, death or resurrection of Jesus because lord knows I know not. I believe that it is beautiful to think that this promise attributed to Jesus, shall forever be kept. “And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”  Jesus Christ
Today, my family donated food for families in need so that fewer may want at this time.  But I also recall that “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” Mother Teresa. Credit a Hindu swami with offering food for the soul with the following,  “Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.” Paramahansa Yogananda

Please, please, please, have a wonderful Christmas. May you be showered with gifts, food and love. I genuinely want this year to be your best year.

 

 

Why me?

My mom and I had many chats this summer when I visited her. For your information, she is 101 years old and that is relevant.

As happens less frequently, I ask her about some friend of hers. As the years passed, the answer was generally, the friend had died. This year she finally said, “they are all dead”. She means the friends from her youth, the friends of my parents I knew so well as I grew up, the friends she made in California where she lived part-time for 30 years, the friends she made at the retirement community she has lived in for 13 years. She means, they all died.

I asked her how she feels about that. She said, “why me?”.

I asked her if she meant that she felt guilty. She replied, “no, I just wonder, why me.”

Is death the end of suffering? I do not know anyone alive who does not suffer some. Buddha said desire and ignorance lie at the root of suffering. By desire, Buddhists refer to craving pleasure, material goods, and immortality, all of which are wants that can never be satisfied and desiring them can only bring suffering. Ignorance relates to not seeing the world as it actually is, especially the truth of impermanence.

Can we overcome our seeming human nature? Can we act in ways which are only wholesome and healthy, compassionate and kind? Or will our inclination/draw to unhealthy desire undermine our psychological and spiritual health.

The short comment from my mom sticks with me. Why me? Am I here to fulfill some purpose? Will I have regrets when I die? Should I practice meditation harder/longer? Should I be working pro bono for vets and immigrants? My friends are dying. Dear close friends are dead. Buddha taught that all things are impermanent. Nothing drives that home more than losing a loved one.

My mom is ready to die. Of that I am convinced. She did not live an active life. She was a housewife, mom, occasional golfer, card player, mahjong player and reader of many books and doer of crosswords. But that is no less remarkable than most folks I know.

Is hers a life well-lived? Will mine be more remarkable, more memorable or more fulfilling? Already I can ask, why me. Why are Susan, Gary, Jerry, Chuck and at least a dozen others dead and I am still here? Am I chosen? Lucky? Unlucky? Blessed?

I cannot afford to live to 101. I need to stay in the Now. If I do not know how I will die or when, I figure I better get busy answering, why me. I need to be in the moment, alive to the possibilities in this moment. That is a tall order but if I do not try, I will certainly not succeed. “Why me” is a question survivors ask. A question I think that can only be answered now. Insight meditation (Vipassana) is the only path I know to the big answers which arise in my emotional and spiritual quest.

I can say that I believe with certainty and despite my own inclinations, that the practice of compassion and kindness is a definite key to happiness and freedom from suffering. Beyond that I know not…….yet.

 

 

The enemy within.

It was back in 2002. I had become aware that someone was trying to kill me. It was scary because they knew my every move. No matter what I did it became clear to me that I was flirting with disaster. Someone had it in for me in a big way and they weren’t going to stop till they had destroyed me.
I hired a private investigator and asked him to figure out who was ruining my professional and social life. Weeks passed by before he contacted me to arrange a meet.
He arrived at the appointed time and said he knew who was gunning for me and he could produce him on a moments notice. He held a 8×10 manila envelope and proffered it to me. He warned me that before I opened it I should know it would be unpleasant when the culprit was revealed.
I grabbed the envelope and tore it open hastily. I was eager to see who cared enough to ruin me. There were several photos to view. But clearly the investigator was being amusing or stupid for all the photos were of me. Me at the office and at bars and around town.
I looked at him with narrowed eyes. What was this all about.
He said his investigation was thorough and correct. He then went into a discourse on what he observed and analyzed. He explained how he had to engage some mental health experts to assist in his conclusions. He handed me another envelope with a report by a psychologist who had reviewed the evidence. It said I exhibited signs of a narcissistic personality with depression and ADD. It asserted I was perpetually sabotaging my life by my choices of friends, work, and women.
I sat down and began to read slowly and carefully. The evidence was compelling. I realized that I was reading the truth but that the truth had always escaped my detection. No one can victimize me more thoroughly than me. This was a killer who knew my every move and every thought and feeling. This was an enemy I could never defeat with the weapons I had. I needed something more. I realized that  I was a sitting target, in the cross-hairs of my bad choices to drink, drug and let my self-will run riot.  Maybe someday I will write in detail about the all the ways I was destroying me.
For the next 5 years I wavered between wanting me to make a clean shot to my head and end it, and cleaning up the remnants of my life. I took a geographical cure and moved to Arizona. Within months I found that my self had followed me, got access to my wallet and binged on drugs and alcohol. I planned that bullet to the head but before I could execute my plan, I found a space where my nemesis was disarmed.
Something was about to change.
More will be revealed.

Is integrity in trouble?

Abraham Lincoln’s reputation will endure the tides of time because he was consistently referred to as a man of integrity and intellect. He warned of a destructive force from within.

During a speech in 1838 he asked his listeners:
“Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.””he staked his career on the premise that reverence for the law should become the political religion of the nation.”

He warned that whenever the vicious portion of [our] population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision stores, throw printing-presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure and with impunity, depend upon it, this government cannot last. By such things the feelings of the best citizens will become more or less alienated from it, and thus it will be left without friends, or with too few, and those few too weak to make their friendship effectual.

Lincoln warned that a tyrant could overtake the U.S. political system from within. “Is it unreasonable, then, to expect that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time spring up among us? And when such an one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs. Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm, yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.”

The antidote, the prophylactic, there was a need to cultivate a “political religion” that emphasizes “reverence for the laws” and puts reliance on “reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason.”

Trump shall not his reputation endure well. He will be a moment of disgrace in a country long proud of its heritage as a union and as one bound together by laws. All the mistakes we have made as a country, under democrats and republicans will pale in comparison to the viciousness and pettiness of this president.Would that you could see ahead to the mistake we call trump and sadly,
” A fool too late bewares when all the peril is past.” Elizabeth I

There is a battle is progress

Jeff Sessions is an old white man who thinks pot is the gateway drug. Where do you find these people. No one with a lick of open=mindedness still buys that bull. Be that as it may, I am publishing this link to the Marshall Report. It is a very illuminating website which seeks justice where none is found. Subscribe to it and you will have an opportunity to stay abreast of a potpourri of issues which are swirling around, just beyond your sight.

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2018/10/25/how-jeff-sessions-is-undermining-trump-s-prison-reform-agenda?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter&utm_source=opening-statement&utm_term=newsletter-20181025-1172

In federal penitentiaries across the nation, prisoners eagerly awaiting a transfer to halfway houses say they are being told that they will have to wait weeks or months longer than they had anticipated because there is a shortage of beds at the transitional group homes.

This story was produced in collaboration with Politico.

But that’s not true. According to inmates, halfway house staff and industry officials, scores of beds lie empty, with some estimates of at least 1,000 vacant spaces. They remain unused due to a series of decisions that have sharply reduced the number of prisoners sent to halfway houses. And home confinement, a federal arrangement similar to house arrest that allows prisoners to complete their sentences with minimal supervision, is being even more drastically curtailed.

The Bureau of Prisons says it is curbing overspending of past years and streamlining operations, but that doesn’t make sense. Putting inmates in halfway houses or on home confinement is much cheaper than imprisonment. The federal government spent almost $36,300 a year to imprison an inmate, $4,000 more compared with the cost to place a person in a halfway house in 2017, according to the Federal Register. It costs $4,392 a year to monitor someone on home confinement, according to a 2016 report by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Abandoning transitional supervision aligns with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ disputed opinion that reduced prison populations during the Obama administration are to blame for a small uptick in violent crime. As a senator from Alabama, Sessions led the charge two years ago against a bill to ease sentences, and as attorney general he has instructed prosecutors to be more aggressive in charging defendants.

But his draconian ideas are undermining his own boss’ stated preference for early release and rehabilitation programs. President Donald Trump has endorsed the First Step Act, which would let prisoners earn significant time to finish their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement if they complete certain rehabilitation programs. The bill is awaiting a Senate vote. Trump has said that he would “overrule” Sessions if the attorney general tried to stymie efforts to reform the criminal justice system.

The halfway house program in Cleveland is designed for offenders needing long-term rehabilitative programming of 90 days or longer.

 

“There has to be a reform because it’s very unfair right now,” Trump told Fox News. “It’s very unfair to African Americans, it’s very unfair to everybody. And it’s also very costly.”

But the DOJ has lobbied against the bill saying the bill would give prisoners “nearly unlimited opportunities” to move into halfway houses “at the expense of law-abiding citizens.” And now there is evidence the Bureau of Prisons, under Sessions’ direction, is actively discouraging the use of transitional supervision even under existing rules.

The Bureau of Prisons declined interviews and would not answer specific questions, but said in a statement that the “fiscal environment” prompted a thorough review of programs, which led to ways to “most effectively use our resources.” The agency said placements are based on each prisoner’s needs, the prison system’s ability to meet them, public safety “and the need for the BOP to manage the inmate population in a responsible manner.”

The White House did not respond to questions. Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, who leads bipartisan efforts to reshape sentencing laws and prisoner rehabilitation, said the Justice Department had not explained to Congress the cutback in inmate transfers to transitional housing.

“Attorney General Sessions has reversed key prison reforms like reducing the use of restricted housing and private prisons and improving education opportunities and reentry services,” Durbin said in a statement. “It makes no sense to eliminate reforms that are proven to reduce recidivism and make our communities safer.”

Since the 1960s, halfway houses have provided federal prisoners a running start before release to find work, which has been shown to help people stay crime-free longer. A Pennsylvania state study found connections between higher rearrest rates and stints in halfway houses, while federal violationsviolence and overdoses have contributed to poor public perception of the facilities. But prisoners and their advocates say moving into a transitional residence gives inmates an incentive to avoid trouble in prison and join rehabilitative programs.

Under the Obama administration, the number of federal prisoners in halfway houses and other transitional programs boomed. The federal government required the privately-run residences to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment, and the Department of Justice also increased access to ankle monitors so more prisoners could finish sentences in their own homes.

At the peak in 2015, more than 10,600 prisoners resided in federal halfway houses. The number of inmates in home confinement—4,600—was up more than a third from the year before. In all, one in 14 of the people under Bureau of Prisons supervision was living at home or in a halfway house.

Since then, the population in halfway houses has dropped by 28 percent to 7,670. Home confinement is in freefall, down 61 percent to a population of 1,822. The majority of that cut has come in just the past year. Now only one in 20 people under federal supervision is in transitional housing. While the overall prison population has also fallen in recent years, the number of federal prisoners monitored in communities has dropped more sharply.

Prison officials would not disclose the number of bed spaces the bureau has under contract in halfway houses. Judge Ricardo S. Martinez, who chairs the Committee on Criminal Law of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which helps write policies and guidelines for federal courts, said “we are also in the dark about those numbers.” He said the committee is working to establish better communication with the Bureau of Prisons. Federal judges, who can sentence defendants to halfway houses, need to know how much space is available.

Rough estimates based on the current population in halfway houses, internal memos, statements from prison officials and prison records put the number of vacant beds in the federal system anywhere from 1,000 to several times that number. Swaths of beds lie empty even after the prison system ended contracts with 16 of its nearly 230 halfway houses, facilities described as “underutilized or serving a small population.”

Martinez, whose committee has pushed for placing more prisoners on home confinement, said that advances in tracking technology and risk assessments should alleviate public safety concerns. “It’s a stupid waste of taxpayer money to put people in a confinement level they don’t need to be in,” the judge said.

“Case managers in the institutions are telling the guys the halfway houses won’t accept you because they’re too crowded,” said Herbert J. Hoelter, chief executive of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, a nonprofit group that provides defense lawyers with alternative sentencing plans and inmates with services and housing. “That’s certainly not true.”

The Justice Department’s aggressive dismantling of the halfway house system is plainly visible in the saga of the McLeod Addictive Disease Center.

The McLeod Center, a nonprofit facility in Charlotte, ran North Carolina’s largest halfway house. It has contracted with the federal government since the 1990s and avoided the scandals that have troubled many other facilities. In 2015, the center bought a former post office and renovated it into a 130-bed “flagship, state of the art facility,” said Mary H. Ward, the president of the center.

She recalled federal prison officials touring the new center and being impressed by the computer labs, security cameras and badge readers. In July 2017, McLeod moved 88 inmates into the new residences. On May 31 of this year, the McLeod halfway house closed because of drastic funding and prisoner reductions that began unexpectedly last fall.

“We were doing great work, and we were a stellar program,” Ward said. “I wish I had more answers for you, but I’m left baffled because I don’t think we did anything to warrant this sudden change.”

The plight of the McLeod center appears to be connected to a seemingly arcane change in how halfway house contractors are paid—another reversal of an Obama-era policy. In 2015, the Bureau of Prisons began offering flexible, guaranteed contracts that rewarded halfway houses for graduating eligible inmates to the less stringent regimen of ankle bracelets and home confinement.

 

VIEWFINDER

Visual commentaries on criminal justice issues

But the Trump administration, complaining in testimony to Congress of “bad management controls,” said providers routinely exceeded contracts and pushed the prison system nearly $40 million over budget, according to a former Justice Department official with knowledge of the agency’s finances. An Inspector General’s audit of federal reentry services says federal halfway houses were consistently over capacity between 2013 and 2016.

The Bureau of Prisons reverted to the old system of paying operators based on monthly headcounts. A drawback to that approach, according to a recent inspector general’s report on halfway house contracts, is that it “can create incentives to keep some residents in-house rather than transitioning them to home confinement when they are ready.”

The Bureau of Prisons’ own guidelines recommend bypassing halfway houses more often to send more inmates considered low-risk directly into home confinement. But just four percent of eligible inmates received a direct transfer home. That “strongly indicates that BOP is underutilizing direct home confinement placement as an alternative to transitioning low-risk, low-need inmates back into society,” according to a 2016 federal audit of the prison system’s reentry program.

Not only are fewer inmates being sent to halfway houses, the stays are shorter. Last year, prison officials cut the average stay for inmates by nearly a month, to four months. Mark Inch, then the Bureau of Prisoners director, told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in December the goal was to keep within a tighter budget while also sending as many prisoners as possible to halfway houses.

“Is it our intent to cut back on our program?” Inch told Congress. “Absolutely not.”

Prison officials say stays of six months or longer in the centers’ crowded and often aging dorms can lead to growing tensions and increased bad behavior when people of different criminal backgrounds mix.

But halfway house operators say shortened stays threaten the main purpose of transition.

“The concern is if you’re only letting these people come out for 30 to 60 days, how do you expect these people to find a place to live or find a job?” said Anne Connell-Freund, past president of the International Community Corrections Association, which represents operators of halfway houses.

The changes dishearten prisoners counting down the days until their prerelease date.

At the FCI Seagoville prison camp in Texas, one inmate told a common story: He had lined up a construction job in the Dallas area anticipating his move to a halfway house on Aug. 30. Then the prison system told him there were no available beds. A recovering addict convicted in 2013 of conspiracy to deliver methamphetamines and marijuana, he was eager to be more present in the lives of his two teenage sons, who he had learned were experimenting with drugs.

“He wishes he could physically be there and say you don’t have to do this,” his wife said. “He’s been trying to be a father through 15-minute phone calls.”

She learned that the nearest halfway house had at least 30 open beds. But prison officials told her the system was overwhelmed. She asked them to send her husband home in an ankle bracelet since he was already under light supervision at a prison camp with no fences. They told her he just had to wait his turn, now rescheduled to October 30.

“We want to have faith in the system, and it completely depletes our faith,” said the inmate’s wife, who requested anonymity, fearful the prison system could add another delay. “They call themselves corrections, but what is it really correcting?”

In another break with the Obama administration, the Justice Department no longer requires halfway houses to treat mental health issues and drug addiction.

A person with knowledge of the decision said federal officials wanted halfway houses focused on the core mission of finding inmates housing and jobs. They argued that the few months prisoners spend in halfway houses were inadequate for effective treatment.

A bipartisan group of senators, including Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote last year urging Sessions to restore the programs.

“These changes, particularly in the absence of a justification, threaten to make our communities less safe while increasing BOP operating costs over time,” the senators wrote.

The trade association that represents halfway house operators said the behavioral health programs are where inmates learned to control anger and deal with underlying issues.

“We went through the whole ‘nothing works so you should just keep people in prison,’” said Connell-Freund, who also serves as executive vice president of Oriana House in Ohio, a federal halfway house provider. “To keep them in a bad situation longer doesn’t make them better.”

Am I what they say I am.

When I was 14 years old I was beaten unconscious by a first generation 17 year old Palestinian boy in the swimming pool during swim class at South Shore High School. The reason I was beaten, the 6 Day War in Israel. Several Jewish boys watched as I was beaten. (I was 5′ tall and weighed 115 pounds) After I was resuscitated I approached the Jewish kids and stated as best I recall “I was beaten because I am Jewish and you didn’t help me. I hope they march you all to the ovens some day. I will take 6 of them before they get me.”
I was angry at those Jewish kids. I made a decision to be armed some day. I am not angry at Jews anymore, or Palestinians but I sure as hell am armed. I believed then that Anti-Semitism could get me killed. I believe it just as strongly today. The drums of hate are beating. The rhetoric of trump is the dog whistle to violent white nationalists. If they hate Blacks and Gays, They hate Jews.
What is my point? This is not a mere election between progressive vs conservative policies. This may be survival….. “ranging for revenge, with Ate by his side come hot from hell, shall in these confines with a Monarch’s voice cry ‘Havok!’ and let slip the dogs of war.” Shakespeare.
They are saying we are the violent ones and they are selling the story, quite successfully, that liberals are dangerous. I am mindful that fear has a similar effect on me as it does on the Right. I want to be secure in my home and community. I must balance my Buddhist sensibilities with history of resisting anti-Semitism, Racism, misogyny, and homophobia. The good people on the right are not coming to save us from the violent chants of white supremacists. No one in the republican congress is standing with us.
Tomorrow I may feel kinder and gentler. But trump praised a physical assault of a reporter and he is justifying the heinous torture/murder of a Middle Eastern man who lived amongst us. And his supporters laugh. He encourages violence against us. How do I wake up secure in home and country with this going on? How do I default to loving kindness and compassion when I feel the hot breath of hate on my neck?
Until I figure it out, I am prepared to take some with me when they come to march me to the figurative or literal ovens. Still gonna ride my bike, go to 12 step meetings and flirt with women. Live life yes. Am I going to be what they say I am? I cannot honestly say yet.

The Brett Kavanaugh hearings. We are seemingly nothing more than we believe.

Watching Senator Flake verbally assaulted by sex assault survivors, in the Senate hall today, drives home that there are those who will demand that their view be the definitive view and coerce compliance. Flake has frequently articulated a neutral view and attacking him after he took a reasoned if controversial position is doomed to result in more backlash.
Perhaps my friends know better how it serves the cause to subject Senator Flake to this type of verbal attack. Is throwing blood on celebrities wearing fur an effective tactic for PETA? I am falling further and further away from any side including my side. My Facebook is overwhelmingly filled with much self-righteous anger, and a sad certainty of the facts unproven.
I defended a young man in 1990, who was identified by 5 eyewitnesses as a killer. He was not guilty but he sat in jail for a year before I could put on contrary evidence. He was acquitted by a judge who heard all the evidence. In 1996 I defended another young man charged with murder. Multiple eyewitnesses identified my client. He also signed a 5 page confession. He was innocent. He was found not guilty by a jury.
There are many forms of evidence including eye-witness testimony, documentary evidence, and physical and scientific evidence. We can demand the outcome we prefer in the absence of evidence. We can tenaciously cling to our position and ignore and reject those that believe differently. And we can then get on with the public lynchings via social media of character and reputation.
At this hour there is still a chance that there will be further investigation. I have no confidence that any such investigation can be helpful much less dispositive.
I am tempted to demand that my (un)certainty be imposed on the public in this case.  I do not like the political or judicial views of Brett Kavanaugh. I believe he is lying about some important matters. I dislike his exhibition of anger and indignation. That makes him guilty of having temperament, beliefs and friends which I hold in low regard. Nothing more has been proven. I am certain of this and you must agree.

“Must be” cause “must ain’t” don’t sound right

Warning. I am not at risk of self-harm or suicidal but I want to use harsh terms and serious language about my state of mind. I am as universally screwy as everyone I know. Just different. Here is my screwy. Here is my must be, because anything else would be untrue.

I am not good with failure. It sends me into a tailspin. But the one that has always given me the most difficulty is failure in relationships. And that is a misnomer. I doubt I failed so much as recognized the relationships failed. The relationship was not meant to be because of personality, emotions and/or history that could not be overcome.

But if I invested my heart and affection into the relationship, I define it within me, that hidden self thing, as “my” failure. Sometimes I went to great lengths to try and fix it. Sometimes I could shrug it off and move on readily.

Old age and circumstances have conspired the last few years to puncture my defenses and leave me feeling defeated after relations failed. I conjure up numerous personal demons to explain why I failed. But note, even if I had no real role in a failed relationship, even if I blame the other person, I still find a way to blame me. I might tell myself that I should have seen failings sooner. Or, I should have never given my heart and made myself vulnerable.

This attachment to the outcome of important relationships is the primary source of suffering for me over the years. I suffer from a deep-seated insecurity that I do not have the skill to be in relationships. Believing I do not deserve to be in a good relationship, the belief that I am a warrior and destroyer not a lover and a healer.

The insecurity eats at me. It erodes my sense of well-being. It pushes me deeper into social isolation and when I need others the most, I repel from reaching out. (Ultimately I reach out but I am exhausted from the effort.)

I have years as a student of the mind and emotions. I know the truth. But I can rarely harness my knowledge of the nature of life to mitigate the bad, bad feelings. Sometimes I want to die. Not kill myself. Just die, not cope anymore, stop showing up for life….escape. Other times I want to bury myself in pleasure. Sex, drugs, and play should help the situation.

At my age, these avoidance techniques do not even bring temporary relief anymore. Nope, I have no recourse but to navigate the choppy waters of my self-inflicted torment. I tread water as I am awash in waves of melancholy. I have all the skill and knowledge anybody needs to successfully move on. I have not the ability to avoid or escape that drowning feeling, of feeling really really bad. I always seem to have a period where I struggle daily, hourly, against feelings of doom and gloom. The world sucks, I suck and you suck.

When you hurt I know just what to say to you. I use my experience and knowledge to guide you to safety. But when I hurt, my emotions interfere with any attempt to return to a place of equanimity.

But I do have the coping skills. I do not expect to die over bad feelings. I know my wounds are self-inflicted. I am aware that how you treat me should not dictate how I treat myself. I have wisdom, compassion and yes, affection and love. Despite years of trying to pummel the vulnerability out of myself, toughen up, I will eventually surrender to the pain that is an inevitable result of giving access to my affection.

All things are impermanent. Someday, you will not be here to read this or I will not be here to write it. Everyone I know who has not passed, will pass. With each passing there will be sorrow and pain. Sometimes I bounce back like a rubber ball and sometimes I hit like a raw egg.

Your concern, love, empathy are so helpful. But at the end of the day, the only way I have found out of pain, is through the pain. I let it in and feel it. I hold it up to the light and see its power and its source. I use pain as a meditation object sometimes. It is called mindful contemplation of feelings. Allowing it to reside within me, but refusing to let it take root, I think, “this too shall pass”.

But damn man, I hate the hours spent in self-reflection, self-pity and self. Gosh, I hate feeling locked up inside, unable to express the full extent of my sorrows. I hate the unguarded moments where anger, greed and hatred run rampant, and I disdain making the effort to nurture love and compassion. I hate that some of my closest confidants who I shared my personal issues with, have died and taken years of trust, sharing and memories with them.

As always I offer to end my blogs with blessings. May all beings be happy, safe and free. It feels a little better to go to a place of loving kindness.                                                            People in Alcoholics Anonymous taught me this lovely (St. Francis) prayer which I think serves to take me out of self and makes me focus on being of service. Focusing on the needs of others is like the release valve when the pressure of depression builds.

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace;
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

A Perfect Flaw.

I have so many flaws. I am so perfectly human and so perfectly flawed. But I would prefer at times to be oblivious to my flaws. I cannot complain about who I am since I do make the effort to be the best me. But like all people, I have limitations on just how much I can handle and how much I can transform.
I want to be home living in Chicago near my family and old friends. But I cannot tolerate the weather and the traffic. I try. I cannot. I also want to be the great trial lawyer I could have been. But I couldn’t/cannot take the heartache and the heartbreak.
I want to be sweet and kind. But I harbor so many demons that if I do not remain vigilant I will speak with intent to hurt and destroy. If I feel pushed I will resort to psychological, emotional or physical aggression. In response, I have spent years befriending, changing and purging my demons by; remaining drug free, meditating and emulating the prayer of St. Francis.
I wish I could rest on my laurels. I wish I believed in a higher power that would remove my flaws and my pain. I have coping fatigue.
I want to go back and win all my legal cases. I want my fortune returned to me. I want my daughters to have a happier childhood.
I want my friends, Jerry, and Gary, Susan and Johnny to un-die. I want to dial their numbers and hear their voices. I want their counsel and empathy.
I want a magic wand to wave when I hurt, am sad or lonely which will magically and instantly transform my emotions to better feel joyful appreciation of your success and friendship. As E. B. White said, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
I am certain most of the people I have met in my life want the same things. But it is my aches I feel. I am a wounded healer and an injured warrior. I am you, just as you are me. I just do not feel you like I feel me. I do not mean to be indifferent, I just do not always have the concentration to focus on what you want to tell me. You deserve my attention, compassion and focus when you share with me.
My experiences cause me to repel from certain encounters but also propel me to the uncertain future. I crashed my bike last year on the Des Plaines River Trail north of Chicago. I was alone, hurt, the wind knocked out of me. I just did not want to move and decided for the first time in such a moment to just lay there until someone would ride by and help me up. No one came by and eventually I got up and rode another 70 miles. That is my life. I want to be helped by outside forces but no one can fix the broken parts of me. Only I can. I have learned to love me, my flaws and this moment. I have learned that I am neither the giant of my dreams nor the dwarf of my fears. Like I said, I am perfectly flawed and in the quiet moments of Buddhist insight meditation, that is the wisdom I found

Bicycling is so much more

So let me tell you a few things about biking. Now the obvious, good exercise. Low cost investment generally, but maybe not in my case. Low maintenance costs though.

Here are some benefits folks do not realize. Biking is far more intimate than being in a car. I am constantly engaged with my environment. Cars often wave to me (or curse me). I wave or smile to drivers, bikers, walkers, runners and just everyone.

Biking I hear and smell everything. I hear so many birds, lawnmowers and blowers, car engines, kids, wind, water, dogs barking and more. I smell foliage, exhaust, dead animals, mulch, cut grass, and more.

I see every crack, hole, imperfection in the street and sidewalks. I see flowers grow, creeks run, creeks run dry, kids laugh/cry, faces, fishermen, bridges and animals like opossum, squirrels, bunnies, mice, rats, skunks and more.

I feel good. I do not take medication for heart, blood pressure, cholesterol or anything else. I smile more in an hour on the bike than hours in my car.

It takes commitment. It means discomfort when very hot or very cold. More sweating and showers. It requires my attention, skill and mindfulness. I learned to enjoy my own company and exploring my world. I am at peace with the environment and all celestial beings. I can carry whatever I need to enjoy my ride. Water, food, clothes, caffeine, tools, money, keys and more., if need be.

Biking is so much more

Is lonely a result of being alone?

I rode past a community pool today. The children were having fun. It took me back to a time where I could be happy despite my environment..

When I was young my family had enough money to live well. We had a family business that provided a good income for my father. We lived in a nice house and in the summer we went to a country club where I played in the pool. I loved the pool and had fun despite the fact that I went to sleep at night fantasizing killing my father because he beat me regularly.

What does family of origin have to do with the adult quality of life. No one knows for sure. No one knows what makes relationships work. (Does not prevent “experts” from saying they do).

But I was damaged. I knew hate better than love. I knew anger better than compassion. I lived like a caged animal, looking for an opportunity to escape. My psyche was damaged. Probably no more so than most kids but more than some. I made early decisions intended to survive. Then as I became a teen I made decisions intended to thrive in dysfunctional arenas, like the criminal subculture.

I did not have the ability to see that my behavior was driven by this very damaged psyche and soul. I was dangerous to myself and others the same way an injured animal can be dangerous. I could not fill the hole in my soul and I had no idea how loneliness played a part in all of it. I am a very social animal. But my social circle even now finds me most comfortable amongst the denizens of the night.

 

Now, I frequently sit quietly in meditation , carefully watching this thing that I have which generates thoughts. I treat it like a circus performance. I am amused that I once performed in all 3 rings, simultaneously and mindlessly. The most prominent performance I give is that of Victim. It is a place from which no healing or growth can be had. I would blame everything but my own thoughts for my misfortune. In truth, I suffer because I think and I suffer because I do not get the outcome I desired. Who stood in the way of my success which I have so clearly defined? The answer is, it is always me and it is always about my defining success.

I mention love and relationships a lot in my writings because in my travels as a counselor and human being, it seems that people identify loneliness as the most significant source of emotional and psychological pain. And like everyone else, it has plagued me greatly at times.

Everybody has their path. Some smoother, some rougher. I am, like you are, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. You can never really know me and I can never really know you. But I will keep showing up to try to know you better and I will work hard to let you see me better. This will stimulate a community which has spiritual underpinnings and can help me to not feel so lonely and help me to feel lonely.

May you be blessed and know that all things, including loneliness are impermanent.  May all that you miss, you not need. May all that you need, you will have.

How it was I came to self-destruct.

I write a lot about relationships without writing about my relationships. It is my most significant challenge emotionally to navigate my love of others without resort to excessive joy and affection, shame, recriminations, anxiety, and the gamut of emotions I experience. It is just a complete list of why I drank and drugged myself half to death.
Every time I slipped underwater and drowned myself in drugs, it was because I did not having coping skills when hurt or angered in a romantic relationship. Every time.
The very things that made me regress then, make me grow now. I have a new skill set. I have learned to examine my participation in every interaction I have with people, especially lovers. Sadness leads to knowledge about myself. Anger leads to knowledge about myself. Joy and affection lead me to knowledge about myself. It is not only the bad that I must be wary of. The good times inevitably create the attachment which leads to suffering as I chase after more good times.
What a blessing to find that I am fully capable of participating in my life during good times and bad times without resorting to drugs to enhance or diminish my feelings. This is a gift derived from sobriety followed by mindfulness. These are two practices which put me on the path that leads to wisdom.
These things I deserve but did not earn. I got lucky. So many people destroy their lives and the lives of loved ones because they have no skill and no capacity to recognize their thoughts and emotions are self-inflicted wounds. I myself have always been and surely will always be a wounded healer.
Thank you to those of you that keep me close. You surround me and remind me to stay in the middle of the herd, where the predators can not pick me off when I feel weak. Good friends are much cheaper than drugs and alcohol.
I acknowledge I am the recipient of these blessings and wish they be shared with all living beings. May the merit I accrue through good acts be acquired for the benefit of all who know anger, hurt and suffering. May all beings be free from all harm and know peace and comfort. I wish these things because I believe what The Buddha taught, that we must accompany wisdom with four qualities of love: Friendliness, Compassion, Appreciative Joy for others and Serenity.

Am I on the path less traveled?

In Buddhist practice we study the Dhamma or as it is pronounced in some lineages, Dharma. The teachings of the Buddha are said to lead to enlightenment, which  is liberation from suffering/happiness.

The Buddha asserted what we call, the 4 noble truths.

Buddhism’s four truths are called noble because they liberate us from suffering. They are the Buddha’s basic teaching.

1. Suffering

Life always involves suffering, in obvious and subtle forms. Even when things seem good.

2. The Cause of Suffering

The cause of suffering is craving and fundamental ignorance. We attach to things and all things that exist are impermanent.

3. The End of Suffering

Suffering can end because our awakened mind is always available to us.

4. The Path

By living ethically, practicing meditation, and developing wisdom, we can take the same journey to enlightenment and freedom from suffering that the buddhas (awakened ones) do. We too can wake up. This path is the 8 Fold Path.

THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH

  1. Right understanding
  2. Right thought
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

Having put that out there, I want to make a point. My nature causes me to suffer. Human nature leads me to suffering. We will suffer. We will hurt. We will fall ill, lose loved ones, fail at love, harm others unintentionally, etc. If we practice an ethical and compassionate life we can often mitigate our suffering but if you are participating in this thing called life, things will happen.

Our untrained, unmindful thoughts are usually leading to disaster. But mindfulness does not end suffering. The 8 Fold Path is not the end of suffering.

Monks train constantly to think, speak and act mindfully. They practice mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. Monks eliminate most of the distractions and attachments which cause suffering or limit happiness. These same attachments for a lay person lead to great joy at times, great suffering at others.

I do not chase enlightenment but instead simply try to live in the moment. I can do many things Buddhist monks can do. I can chant in the Pali language, recite the blessings, study the scriptures and teachings, go without jewelry, and more. But I live in the world, seeking companionship, friendship, financial security and love. I enjoy pleasure, accept pain. I try to not resist a change of circumstances or fortune, especially one that is unwelcome or unpleasant. Rather, I have a dedication to the development mindfulness and skill, wisdom and compassion. I do not expect the elimination of difficulties or attachments. I have learned to moderate and mitigate suffering and to navigate the type of difficulties that can rob a person of peace.

The past few years have been littered with difficulties and blessings. I would have been crushed under the weight of my own insecurities, fears and low self-esteem. But now I recognize that I am not my thoughts and feelings. They are the story I generally tell myself but which I can alter and improve upon by acting in a skillful, wholesome and kind manner.

Monastic life has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that it is a simpler life generally without the complications and the challenge of paying rent, buying food and clothing and raising daughters. I would if I could but I cannot I know. I can live more simply but I will always be encumbered by the responsibilities and distractions of a non-monastic life. It beats the old way though by a significant margin. It is a life of service, free from intoxicants and a recognition that I can be in the moment when all my fears and insecurities are pulling me back to the pain of the past or anxiety of the future.

“If you just walk with me
And let me walk with you
I’m on a journey
I don’t wanna walk alone”    Pearl Jam.

 

Mindful contemplation of feelings.

I study my mind constantly (via Buddhist insight meditation) to see what it will bring up. Of particular interest to me is the presence of sadness. Sadness can hit the accelerator on emotions like nothing else except anger. Anger is easy to spot and relatively easy to manage now. Sadness is more insidious and does not have as strong of a physical component as anger.
I feel sadness but it vibrates at such a low-frequency it can get entrenched before I spot it. And while I see anger in many people, I see a semblance of sadness in almost all people. There are many ways I have to combat the sensation of overwhelming melancholy, the most effective is to stay in the present moment. But I am amazed at the resilience and power of sadness even when it is pushed back on by the most effective tools I know.
So much of living triggers various manifestations of sad. No matter what I have loved, who I have loved or how I loved, impermanence visits every time in one way or another. All the feels good is impermanent. But so is all that is unpleasant.
I discovered years ago that the path out of pain and sadness was through it. No over, under, around. Just through. And on the other side of the discomfort is the recognition of the blessings contained therein.
May all persons be liberated from suffering and free from discomfort, fear, sadness, anger and harm. May all beings be at ease, tranquil and peaceful. This is the blessing I send to all sentient beings and is my path out of my own pain and suffering.