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.

 

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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.

I poison my own well with doubt.

This has been a rough run. I have all the tools to navigate hard times but I get sad, hurt, angry. You too? I thought so. So none of us is alone in our moments of despair and pain. I can easily forget how hard others have it. I can easily obsess on self.

My dear friend Gary Coursey was THE BEST example of someone who struggled to make ends meet and yet never let me forget that we need to share, help, and give voice to those less fortunate.

My friend Chuck Horn would show generosity of spirit to all despite his desperate struggle with his own very active addiction. He and I would talk daily and a day never went by without Chuck referencing his concern for someone else’s suffering.

My friend Jerry Cichon had more than most. But again, he made frequent references of concern about people who were caught in spiritual, financial or emotional pain.

The irony is these great teachers who passed through my life but then passed beyond are often the very reason I feel lost. Without their counsel and friendship, I forget how good I have it and get lost in losing them. Just like when you lost someone close to you. Remember how much it hurts. Hell yea! I find myself humming the song from Les Miserables

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken,
There’s a pain goes on and on.
Empty chairs at empty tables,
Now my friends are dead and gone.

Oh my friends, my friends forgive me
That I live and you are gone
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken,
And there’s a pain goes on and on

Tomorrow may bring a new friend, lover, teacher. It may bring blessings unimagined today. It may just as likely bring more pain, loss and depression. But if I stay in the moment, breathe, accept and give to others, and cease and desist my propensity to drink poison, grasp hot coals or wear a hair shirt (a shirt made of rough animal hair worn next to the skin as a penance) it will be okay. I wish it felt okay now but that would be unrealistic.

I am a lucky person to have and had so many good friends. And I know, really know, that you have your moments of despair also. I hope reading this caused you to nod your head in understanding, because after all, No one is getting out of this life alive.

Why is being a jerk is so easy.

I have to work at be empathic. It does not come that naturally or easy. But I am making an effort to push myself to look beyond my little world which is relatively free from suffering. So the damage to all in the path of hurricanes demands my attention. If Puerto Rico is harmed, I am harmed. If refugees from war zones find no comfort and safety, I am harmed. If young Hispanics came to this country at a young age and now have no sense of security and stability, then I am harmed.
 
If I am willing to pray for the well-being of others then my prayers are the health, safety and welfare of millions I have never met who are in the midst of war, storms and famines.
 
If I am one who prays then I express gratitude that my family and friends are all relatively safe, have plenty of food and water and sleep in comfortable beds at night. It has come so easy to have my needs met that it is often hard to empathize with those who have not. I do not worry about where my next meal will come from. I worry about where I want to go for my next meal.
 
May God open my eyes and heart to the plight of my global neighbors. May all living beings, human and non-human who lack safety find safety and all who are hungry find food and all who suffer be free from suffering and harm.

Epilogue or Sowing the Seeds of Discontent

This is slightly redundant but necessary to the story. I offer a this story that originates in Hyde Park. When I was 15, I was expelled from a New Hampshire boarding school. I was from South Shore but my family had just relocated to Hyde Park. Upon my return to Chicago, I never stayed at home for long. I hated where I lived which was the Powhatan, which was nice but not home. So each day I would go to Kenwood High School and then walk a to 57th street and see who was around the coffeehouses, Medici and Ahmads. If I didn’t stay there, off I went to the Blue Gargoyle, a coffee house located in a church. When I first started going to the BG, it was the cheapest, warmest place to go without getting thrown out. (I was eventually banned from both Ahmad and the Medici)
I met a young Black guy named Tony at the BG. We were both runaways. He was running from the Stones around his house at 66th and Blackstone. I was fleeing my dad. We found different places to crash every night. Fraternity houses and the Quaker House basements, UC students’ apartments, wherever. At some point Tony introduced me to the “art” of burglarizing. Eventually we would rent our own place and survive burglarizing and selling drugs. The BG remained our main hangout.

I previously told the story of Loel Callahan but for filler, Loel Callahan was a divinity student and lived next door to the BG. He and Dwight Caswell founded the BG. They were good guys. Shortly thereafter they were joined by a staff member, Vic Bernstein. A square dude if ever there was one. Tall, Jewish, naive and a UC student, Vic was Loel’s backup. That meant lots of craziness all around.

A year or so later, when Loel secured a grant from the Robert Woods Foundation we started the youth program at the Gargoyle that I wrote about.

Like I said before in my previous blog, I was wanted by the police for some 50 burglaries and they were hot on my trail. (Ken Love knows more than most about that.) I had fled to San Francisco but had recently returned to help my pal Tony get out of jail, for burglary.

So, for whatever reason I decided to help Loel. Mostly because he described a program where we would do for ourselves with him as a kind of adviser. It seemed right. Shortly thereafter when we formed the Hyde Park People’s Organization (HYPPO) under the auspices of the University Church, Loel made sure we were autonomous from the rest of the Gargoyle. He convinced the church to let us take over the Blue Gargoyle 2 nights a week, running the coffeehouse and providing activities for youths. All youth related activities were run past us.

Now for the new part. Several years later while living on the North Side, I tried to start a youth program. I was 23 and wanted to help kids like Loel had helped me. I applied but couldn’t get hired by existing youth agencies because I had never completed high school. I decided to rent a store front on the north side with my savings and open a drop in center for teens.

But Hyde Parker, Tony Roberts insisted I meet him at the House of Tiki to meet another Hyde Parker named Kaye Hill. Kaye was a grant monitor for the Illinois Dangerous Drug Commission. She wanted to start a program for young at-risk girls. We talked that night and decided to work together.

Kaye convinced me that my plan was doomed to fail for a variety of reasons. Instead she taught me how to structure and organize an organization which would be capable of securing charitable donations. She taught me how to do research, write grants and more. We chose the Lakeview community to operate in. We named our new baby, Local Motion Inc. Kaye helped me write the bylaws, secure our 501(c)(3) and recruit the board of directors. I tracked down Vic Bernstein, formerly of the Blue Gargoyle staff, and now a PhD in Psychology and he became one of the first board members. He did not have the fond memories that I had for the Gargoyle but he came on board. (I just looked him up and he is shown as an Associate professor at the UofC)

Kaye and I modeled Local Motion, after the HYPPO youth program. I spent every day on the streets, seeking out the kids that were most alienated. I made contact with every street gang. About 15 of the kids I worked in and around died of gang violence in three years. Kids designed every program and activity we sponsored. We joined the Chicago Youth Network Council a coalition of independent youth service programs which was started years earlier by a group of youth service providers including Loel Callahan.

Our board of directors grew and became inhabited by community leaders/clergy, businessmen,  and neighborhood kids and their parents.

I resigned 3 years later and took a job as the Youth Service Bureau Director with the YMCA Southwest Youth Outreach Program at Morgan Park/Mt Greenwood. Once again I set out to prove that kids just needed a facilitator and they could blossom and be productive. It was also when I attended the Chicago State University, University Without Walls program and got a BS in Social Services.

After a stint in the business world followed by drug treatment, I became a drug counselor for Tapestry Youth Services, operating out of the University of Chicago Social Services building at 61st and Ellis. My area of operation was Woodlawn, reaching out to kids and their families. Doing house visits could be unsettling just parking my car back then.
I was recruited a year later to open the Hyde Park Hospital’s Drug Detox Center at 58th and Stony Island. (Now closed) The year I served as a drug therapist at Hyde Park Hospital I had a daily routine of walking ambulatory patients to Wooded Island behind the Museum. http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/04/25/old-hospital-in-hyde-park-is-now-a-memory/

One year later I left to attend law school at the John Marshall Law School. Upon graduation, I solo practiced for 13 years specializing in adult criminal cases and juvenile court abuse and neglect and delinquency cases.

The Blue Gargoyle went through many permutations over the years. Loel left to work overseas. The BG tried in vain to find staff who could control the youth like Loel had done. Myself and Sam D’Orlaque and friends along with the help of some other tough kids, physically and psychologically intimidated everyone who followed for the next few years. The Church brought in a social worker, then a hippie commune and then an ex-con to manage the Gargoyle and us. But no one ever engendered the loyalty of the original BG staff. HYPPO fell apart under adult interference.

This Blue Gargoyle story has a million other stories which spring from it. Some of you worked there or volunteered there in later years.

Footnote. The Hyde Park YMCA contracted around 1972 with the BG to start a youth program at the 53rd St. Y. Their programs had been destroyed by gangs. The BG had developed a reputation for its gang neutrality and excellent work with teens. The Gargoyle sent me to the Y to start a program. Among other things, I approached the Chicago Police Department Youth Division at 29th Prairie for help. They had some resources like mobile health care units and other services for youth at their disposal. They liked my presentation and their help seemed imminent. But they notified me that they were canceling their planned participation in any effort because they found out I was with the BG. The officer said that it was a known left-wing organization which housed radicals with a sketchy reputation.

This is my story and I am sticking to it.

The truth behind closed doors

As I grew up in Hyde Park, my dysfunctional self discovered the University Church for the Disciples of Christ at 5655 S. University around 1970. There was a coffee house inside the church, called the Blue Gargoyle.  It was intended for University of Chicago students but many a wayward youth stumbled upon it. Cheap food, no one hassling us and beautiful Gothic Church ambiance drew us there. And keeping us under control was a resident divinity student, Loel Callahan.

Loel had spent time doing community organizing under Saul Alinsky and working with the street gang, the BlackStone Rangers. He was very measured in his dealings with us wilder kids. We used drugs in the cubby holes and broom closets we found throughout the 3 story church building.  We initiated fights and friendships there.

I was 17 years old when I had to leave Hyde Park for a while. Seems a misunderstanding between a homeowner and I about his missing property led the police to my location. A literal dragnet was cast around Ahmad’s, a Persian restaurant. I escaped by minutes. It became quite clear that a trip out of town would be well-advised versus a trip to prison. So off I went to San Francisco to enjoy the hippie revolution.

Much took place between the time I left for SF and the time I came back to Chicago, but that is another 50 stories. This story is about how Loel Callahan started a youth program at the Blue Gargoyle. He came to me on the streets one day. I had recently snuck back into town and was agitated at the time, trying to figure out where I could steal enough money to get back to SF before the police discovered I was back.

Loel convinced me to stay and help him at the church. He said he wanted to start a youth program run by the youth. He promised me that we young people could develop and run our own program. Kinda of the people, by the people, and for the people. It hooked me and I was soon lost in my head with ideas about the possibilities. Shortly thereafter, I became the first kid elected president of church’s newly founded youth group, Hyde Park Peoples Organization (HYPPO). As an aside I was elected by my peers while I was sitting in the police lockup for some misdemeanor.

As part of my new responsibilities I went out and recruited everyone I could to participate. Besides kids from Kenwood High School and the University of Chicago High School, I brought my older pals most of whom were either drug addled and/or criminal but enthusiastic to be part of something. See my blog on Tiny.   https://lawdisorder.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/dedicated-to-my-friend-tiny/

We did some truly cool stuff. We became part of the secular community at the church. We initiated and ran programs for younger kids as well as dances and jazz nightclub nights for our peers. We took over management of the Blue Gargoyle food service two days a week. We provided security for other groups at the church like the Gay Liberation and Women’s lib organizations which had taken up residence there. (They had no idea in most cases what we did for them behind the scenes. Many of the University students behind the organizations were too naive or too arrogant to know how often we intervened to avert criminal acts against their property or persons.)

The kids in HYPPO who gathered together at the Blue Gargoyle were as diverse and eccentric a group as I have ever been part of. We were smart and street wise. We rubbed shoulders with brilliant students from the University. We invited prominent local jazz performers to entertain us, listened to Chaka Kahn and her sister sing in the sanctuary after school and watched a young big afro wearing Jessie Jackson drive by in his Eldorado cadillac with his entourage.

HYPPO members ranged in age from 14 to 27. They were Black, white, Hispanic  and Asian, students, car thieves, bank teller, burglars, drug dealers, former military and draft dodgers. We had females and males, from rich families and poor. Some of us were homeless at times. I rode herd over this rag tag group and discovered the power of empowerment, the path to self-esteem, and the value of team work.

I was slowly embarked on a course of action which brought me to a transformation of sorts. I decided to model myself on this Reverend Loel Callahan. But it would be 7 years before I would go to the community of LakeView and start Local Motion Inc, a non-profit organization. I designed it to teach youth how to design, develop and implement programs for their own enrichment, entertainment and growth.  It would teach street kids how to serve themselves in a positive way. And I was looking, always looking for some kid like myself who could be motivated to bring his/her friends, enthusiasm and imagination to my program.

The police never did get me for the burglaries. I grew up with only a modest arrest and conviction record. Nothing which stood in the way of becoming a lawyer and bringing that sense of empowerment to the courts on behalf of my clients.

Growing up in America

When I was young I found myself in a very diverse community, the South Side of Chicago. I can adamantly swear under oath that I found different cultures fascinating. But in particular this is about people of color.

The Black and Hispanic families often lived differently than my white pals. I discovered that was the result of two things. Money and culture. I learned that white people live differently than blacks and wealthy live differently than poor. Culturally our music and books and clothes were different. But the 60s brought us all closer to a more unified culture as we had music crossing over

What I also found was that poor persons of color displayed a stronger sense of justice. While young Jews often were afraid to confront antisemitism for fear of the physical or social results which might flow, the persons of color were quite likely to confront it. The white ethnics in my area often inflicted violence on us Jewish kids, merely because we were Jewish. The black kids did not single us out. They beat us up sometimes for being white but not for our religious status.

And when I was growing up, everyone was aspiring to become successful participants in society. Black, Latino, Irish, Polish, Italian et al. We laughed at the same television shows and talked of how we would someday grow up to be……(fill in the blank)

But something happened around 1970. The sociologist started to declare that young black boys were being raised to be super-predators. Incorrigible, incapable of rehabilitation and fearless was the description of what we would find in our midst. And in response, legislatures created sentencing structures to assure that young people of color would be imprisoned as long as possible to protect us. Then they passed laws making crimes like possession of crack cocaine harsher than an equal amount of possession of powder cocaine.

I looked around and people of color were being marginalized, criminalized and disenfranchised. Upon their return to the streets, we no longer shared aspirations or cultural contexts. These men no longer could share the American dream of affluence deriving from hard work. They were prohibited from living with family in public housing projects, they were denied access to resources designed to rehabilitate and reform behavior and lifestyles. Slowly they grew into a large criminal subculture. Much less enmeshed with middle class America and much more savvy in the ways of full-blown criminal enterprises, trained in the school of hard knocks and prison tiers.

People of color seem so bitter to so many whites who feel they are being held responsible for the sins of our great grandfathers. But the discrimination now is no less violent or insidious when you marginalize entire inner city communities where jobs and education are as scarce as hens teeth. Maybe the average white man is not perpetrating this offense but our government, our police and our correctional centers are perpetrating every day, all day.  We have done little to create equity in education and opportunity. If you criminalize for life and then penalize continuously for the early sins, you create the self-fulfilling prophesy of a super-predator who is impervious to rehabilitation and assimilation. (And let us not forget the influence of a for profit prison system.)

The confederate flag and statues are not the true issue as much as access to prosperity. Persistent denial of the realities, of the absence of opportunities in achieving the American Dream is the REAL issue.

 

Women are being served a lot of s**t sandwiches, (and told it is roast beef)

Is it not painfully obvious that we treat women badly? Is there a man who does not know at least one woman who has been sexually assaulted? Personally, I know dozens of women who have been. The truth
I wish our society would expend a lot more effort into figuring out how to dissuade men from exploiting, assaulting or otherwise harming women. We do not seem to put any real effort as a society into changing our misogynistic culture. The best we offer as men is benign platitudes about respecting women while we keep the language and media of exploitation fully active.
When we realized smoking was harmful we changed our whole outlook as a society about it. We sucked the oxygen out of the cool factor. Couldn’t we do that with sexism?
We love our daughters but not enough to train our sons to keep their mouths and minds out of the gutter.
I love my shoot em up movies. I hate the gratuitous female beauty who is there solely to titillate. I love my shoot em ups. I hate when the tough lady suddenly starts bawling at the losses while the men keep their composure.
I could keep this up all day. The list of sexist messages we either approve of or fail to openly disapprove contribute to a culture where truly helpless people are harmed, psychologically, emotionally and/or physically.
I seem to be the only person I know who gets pissed off watching dance shows and the women have to compete with high heels and flimsy outfits as if that has some relevance to their skill. (“Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels.”)
This is what happens when I sit home and watch television and take pain pills. It is also what happens when I see depictions of harm done to women, children or persons or living beings unable to defend themselves. I generally don’t mind watching men beat themselves silly, fantasy or reality. Or “tough broads” fighting or killing. I love my shoot em ups.
But it is not enough to get pissed off about this stuff. It is long past due where men need to participate in the sexual revolution that resulted in women evolving socially, sexually and intellectually. I swear it seems we men just stood by with stupid grins on our faces while it all went down.
Time to man up and put meaning into the word “gentleman”. Not complicated. Break it down. Practice love, do no harm, hit the reset button. Listen, observe and wait before we speak the next anti-woman expression, whether all in fun or in anger or from ignorance.
The stakes are high. Just say no to misogyny. Or anything that even sounds demeaning.
Update…The recent release of parts of Clinton’s book and the recordings of Trump speaking crudely are trumpets sounding. Women are appalled. Why not men. Not interested in the few exceptions of righteous indignation. I mean where is the groundswell of umbrage that these things can happen so publicly without consequence.

“Trust God. Clean house. Help others.”

Dr. Bob’s famed summary of the A.A. program and way of life? “Trust God. Clean house. Help others.”
Another way Alcoholics Anonymous has had of stating its foundation is “unity, service and recovery”. I have expanded these to all parts of my life, in and out of AA.

Will our future as a country be one of expansion, tolerance and progress, or one of intolerance anger and fear. If I did not have AA I would probably be engaged in a battle for my soul because I enjoy Facebook but it is just not a place to keep up on the comings and goings of my friends and the world anymore. More and more it brings an onslaught of hate and intolerance. Righteous indignation!!

Then today this appeared on my Facebook timeline.
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” ― Isaac Asimov
The truth which runs through that quote frightens me. There have been mass purges of people based on their education. Historically, countries like Cambodia and Turkey, Russia and more have purged the educated, and of course many countries have purged Jews who were generally well-educated. I don’t know of any country which killed people based solely on their lack of education.
The present president has a large segment of our population that keeps trumpeting about purging elements of our society (including liberals). I am too old and too well armed to suffer the worst but the move towards a more tolerant, open and progressive society seems to have been halted at best and regressed significantly at worst.
How could this be in a nation which prides itself on its adherence to Judeo-Christian principles and the Golden Rule?
A large number of people are using Facebook to proclaim knowledge and understanding of important issues based on reading Internet articles which have no truth or even a semblance of truth contained therein. It is as if people are now proud to not have studied hard, read well and engaged in appropriate discourse with other knowledgeable persons. These folks seem to discard the notion that they need skillful teachers because these folks are either too lazy to resume their education or are entrenched in a false belief that these short articles found in cursory glances at the Internet equal knowledge. I confess, I did poorly in school and I dropped out at a young age. But from a very young age my father made me read books and more books. And I listened to everything the teachers said in class. But I didn’t do homework. Hated it. Short attention span. So, I got bad grades.
But being well read is the reason I could navigate law school when I lacked a standard high school or college education. What I mean is, I could read, understand and analyze what I read. If I were were to defend you in court the way some of you defend your political positions, you would fire me or sue me for incompetent representation, and rightfully so. You expect me to show up in court and present your case with skill based on knowledge and facts. You do not need to go to law school to choose a political candidate or choose your value system. But why do you feel free to publish memes that are lies and damnable lies? Why is the standard of choosing our politicians boil down to an adherence to anger and ignorance? It takes open-mindedness to navigate the Internet skillfully. We need a political revolution in this country. We need to loosen the strangle hold that moneyed interests have in our system. But a political revolution without genuine spiritual principles to guide it was called under Mao Zedong, the Cultural Revolution. China underwent a spasm of violence in support of said revolution.
To increase the likelihood of building a greater America and stronger society we may need to look to our adherence to spiritual principles. AA and Buddhism are paths to spiritual progress and liberation from self-will. There are others. I was ready when I arrived at these disciplines to do; the study, the homework and what the teachers who were knowledgeable told me to do. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. We hope.

What happened when you were not looking?

The first time I was jumped on (outside the home) was 2nd grade. I do seem to have been in more fights than most of my peers. It often had to do with my mouth and my unwillingness to back up. Growing up on the south side I was attacked, robbed, beaten and chased on innumerable occasions. I left South Shore at age 14 and moved to Hyde Park. The instances of violence directed at me or near me, continued countless times. The problem was magnified when I left home at age 15/16 and lived wherever I could find that night to lay my head.

When people are aghast that I am armed all the time or that I am hyper-vigilant, I in turn become aghast that they are aghast. If my father had never struck me often and regularly, I probably still would have gotten PTSD. \

I was robbed or attacked my first day of high school, my first day at my third high school and the first day of my fourth high school. I was attacked in a preparatory boarding school (second high school) in New Hampshire.

I do not recall initiating attacks but I could be having selective amnesia. I certainly learned to live amongst predators. I had many friends who were quite capable of launching a violent attack but I do not recall us ever starting the fight.

As I slide into old age, I do not feel safer. I do feel more resigned to the universe, impermanence and death. So I am a hybrid of ideas, experiences and education. I am violence tinged with metta/loving kindness. Or perhaps it is metta tinged with violence.

I don’t know if I would have wanted it otherwise. I have no idea if I would have done many of the good things I did as a social worker or a lawyer if I had been raised in a more peaceful arena. I do not know if I would have been motivated, experienced or concerned enough to have provided the advocacy that I was able to provide clients. Having my experiences as a kid, as a defendant and as a loudmouth made me more empathic than others who lacked my background.

Time takes time. What is, is. What was, was.

When the heart weeps for what it has lost, the soul laughs for what it has found. ~ Sufi aphorism ~

It would be hard if you were not there to know the changes. There were changes constantly going on, physical, mental, psychological and spiritual. I was meditating today and had a flashback. I have had it before but not while meditating. I was 13-14 years old. There was an overnight party at a rented cabin by the beach. The party was all high-schoolers of various ages. I was the youngest.

My “friends” at the time were proud to act like animals. On this occasion they decided to vandalize the cabin. I cannot recall but there were probably 3 of us who did this. The older guys must not have said anything to stop us. As I discovered the joy of destruction, I went wild. I do not know how much damage others did but I broke everything breakable. Furniture! We pulled out dresser drawers and broke the wood bottoms. Destroyed chairs. Broke the plasterboard walls, kicked through doors, whatever.

No one ever reprimanded me, that I recall. I believe our club got a bill for the damage but I do not remember anyone telling me what a fuck up I was.

As I had this memory come back to me during meditation it hit me so hard I opened my eyes and my heart was beating fast. I wanted to undo what I had done. I was so ashamed. I never had the good sense to be fully ashamed before. I did apologize to my date about 20 years later but never to the cabin owners.

I grew up to be a good person. I did many fine things for many people. But when I was young I did many bad things to people and property. I broke into dozens of residences and stole their belongings. Some days I would steal anything not locked down in stores and homes. I spent hours quietly unglazing and taking windows out of buildings so I could get in. I manipulated door locks with screw drivers and knives to get in where I did not belong.

I would walk down the street and try every car door late at night to see if a car was unlocked so I could steal what was inside. I jumped through the window of an empty police car one time and stole everything that was loose on the front seat.

I pick-pocketed students in school for their drug stashes. I would eat in restaurants and stay for hours and would eventually order a second meal but only pay one of the checks. And then steal the toilet paper out of the restaurant bathroom for my apartment. I enjoyed my reputation as a thief and a thug.

Of course I was victimized plenty also. A kid on the streets gets exploited as much as he hustles others. People stole from me, assaulted me, tried to use me sexually. I dropped out of high school so there were plenty of hours to get in trouble.

Years have gone by. I have been through so many phases, changes and transitions. Drug addiction, recovery, addiction again and recovery again, marriages and divorces. I got an education , became a social worker, lawyer, teacher, counselor, friend, husband, father and more. Each phase, every twist and turn carried change.

But nothing has been as transformative as mindful meditation accompanied by the practice of loving/kindness. I do not just change, I am change. I do not just grow, I am the growth. I see change unfolding in the quiet moments of reflection. I see the past with clarity and without excuse or praise. I see the moment without justification or reservation and I only ask for absolution from the world on these rare occasions.

I am a better person than I have ever been. I will be better as time goes by. But in this moment I am able to be the better parent, son, husband, friend, customer, driver etc. All the changes before were mechanical in contrast. They happened because they were necessary to stay off drugs or get through school or do my job or stop pain or derive pleasure. But in Vipassana (Insight) meditation as taught in Buddhism by my teachers, I change organically because I simply want to be better. I want to operate free from any motive other than to just be a best me.

I am absorbed in social media and I have to constantly expend effort to write mindfully and skillfully so that I adhere to a morality which I embrace. It is so challenging. What a great tool Facebook has been for me to grow. Nary a day, an hour goes by on Facebook where I am not presented with the chance to practice vigilance, restraint of pen and tongue, and yes, restraint of knife and gun.

I show up each day for life. I have no reason to avert the gaze of others. I need no reason to reach for a kind word to share. To be the best me is possible in this moment for no reason other than it is the rightest thing I can do. I am nice when I can be because in the quiet moments of meditation, I saw the source of all my suffering and I wanted to be free from it. My life was non-stop attachment and desire to what I thought I needed or wanted and my life was one long painful event which pain I interrupted by moments of service to others. I was petty and resentful. And meditation exposed how corrupting my thoughts were and how my own thoughts put distance between me and happiness. In this revelation lived my liberation. I was the cause of all my suffering.

I hope to inspire others to create the change they need to be free from suffering. I intend to use the time remaining to be useful. I can feel the physical unraveling in my body they call impermanence. It is liberating to not have to escape aging and to be aging. I do not have to flee death, I am, like all beings, dying. I am a long way from where I would like to be in terms of behavior, but my soul does laugh for what it has found.

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly. – Buddha

 

Are we all connected to each other?

In 2012 Tricycle magazine interviewed author Paul Hawken about the Occupy movement and other uprisings. It resonates that we have Trump, Sanders and Black Lives Matter occurring in like manner now. I believe what he said about the political rebellion then is apropos to what is happening now.

“The movement is part of humanity’s immune response to ecological degradation, political corruption, and economic destruction. There is a biological quality to the full sweep of humanity confronting its shadow. The upwelling of awareness and compassion—and anger and frustration—is different from anything humanity has done before because we are connected in a way that has never occurred. This is terra nova. We know something is happening, but we don’t know what it is, as Bob Dylan once wrote. What the Occupy movement cannot do is prevent the bankruptcy of the U.S., Japan, China, and much of Europe, which is where we are but which we have so far deferred by financial contortions. We have created the delusion of economic growth and well-being by creating unpayable debts to the future, whether they are financial debts, the debt of resource depletion, or the debt of structural poverty, and the Occupy movement is holding up a mirror to a political-financial system that is manifestly unfair and is causing incalculable damage to the world, whether it be by bank bailouts or the Athabasca tar sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

“What confuses the media and draws scorn is that there are so many issues at play and that there is no they there. Critics do not see how seemingly disparate issues are connected and linked. We have to be careful to not let our understanding about Occupy come from the very institutions that need to be occupied, among which are corporate media.”

Buddhist practices in many ways demand an examination of life events in large measure to determine the morality and our relationship to said events. What intention do we create through mindful effort to address our response to events. Detachment or engagement, suppression or rebellion? What can we bring to every moment which is mindful and skillful and in line with our personal truths which we arrive at through effort, examination and meditation. Are you in or out. Do you see the peril predicted? What is happening now is what has been happening for a while.

Hawken also cited the following.  “The formation in England of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787 was the first time citizens organized themselves on behalf of people whom they would never know or from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit. The motives of abolitionists confused the establishment. The prevailing wisdom was that people organized for social change only to protect or serve their own interests. An altruistic mass movement didn’t make sense in the latter part of the 18th century. Today, everywhere in the world except North Korea, there are civil society organizations that do this and it is considered normal. This represents a great awakening in humankind, the likes of which had not previously occurred. It is largely invisible to us, or is so taken for granted that we cannot see a miracle is happening. Occupy is deservedly nabbing the headlines, but we should remember that there are over one million organizations in the world addressing the salient issues of our time with respect to social justice and the environment.”

Is there hope? “The questions I ask myself are: Why am I here? Why have billions of beings, including me, come to Earth at this time? Which delusions prevent me from being fully human and humane? What is joy? Are my words, actions, and work helpful to others? Do I have any control over the future (an easy but an important question)? Do I love the way things are right now? If not, why not? Am I grateful for the privilege of living in these extraordinary times? What is my intention?”