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?”

 

I stand by Black Lives Matter.

Despite all that I hear about black on black or black on white crime, I stand in solidarity with BLM. I do so because the causes and foundation of racism in the US have never, ever been fully and openly addressed. The deterioration and disintegration I have observed over the past 40 years have convinced me that the war on black people has resulted in the unraveling in the inner-city of their culture, communities and values. I do not believe that the people residing in ghettos are inherently more violent or prone to criminality. I believe that by marginalizing, demonizing and disenfranchising poor blacks this country has created the environment and circumstances which has resulted in the devastation we see today.

My personal experience in the inner-city lead me to the conclusion that we over-incarcerated, under-educated and created the conditions upon which gangs can freely infest and prey upon the communities. But the gangs are in fact the product of the conditions I have cited. Gang kids are not born, they are created.

Chicago police historically and relentlessly preyed upon lower-income blacks. They committed crimes including torture against young black male suspects. They framed them for crimes they did not commit. They took payoffs to let gangs operate. They robbed drug dealers and resold the product they stole and spent the cash. One elite special operations group of the CPD has been implicated in significant series of serious crimes including attempted murder for hire on a police officer.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/08/chicago-police-charged-wi_n_846528.html

Chicago is just one of many departments that committed crimes against the community they swore to protect. While victims were many and diverse, the bulk of the crimes were committed against black men.

There are more good cops than bad cops if we use a yardstick based on intent. But if we use a different measure which requires a good cop to be intolerant of bad cops, we have a serious shortage of good cops. We need to challenge police officers to rise up intellectually and spiritually to actively do the Right Thing. When what is intolerant is police misconduct and when peer pressure weighs against misconduct, then we may see a seismic shift in policing practices and an end to the need for BLM.

We can not change people’s racist attitudes but we can diminish their impact. We cannot fix the stubborn racist black or white who tenaciously clings to his hate. But we can deprive him of permission so that he acts alone if he acts at all. Racist should be as afraid to come out of the closet just like a pedophile. It should be a source of shame in the presence of our society to proclaim your racial animus. Lest we forget what community norms result in, remember Emmett Till, a 14 yo black boy beaten to death.

http://time.com/4399793/emmett-till-civil-rights-photography/?xid=time_socialflow_facebook

We are the frontline of defense against racism and its harm to our entire way of life. No more uncomfortable laughter at cocktail hour racist jokes. No silent acquiescence to locker room chatter about “those people”. Our young white athletes and students need to be given our permission and encouragement to stand up to this insidiousness. Power to the people ought to mean all people. You may just be the best example of a human being that some people ever see.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will ……

I have made up my mind who I am going to vote for. My friends have made up their minds also. We can publish all the facts, rumors and innuendo available, but no one now is changing. Unless it is extreme (like David Duke blaming Jews for Melania’s speech) I will refrain from posting for or against the candidates. I am not attached to my candidate. I am supportive but I will survive in any case. We are slowly becoming a third world country. Our economy is failing the poor. Our police are openly targeted. Our police are frequently abusive. Our capacity for productivity has diminished and we rely upon exports for many of our needs. Our population is breaking into tribal like groups based on territory, race, religion ideology, politics, etc. Our agricultural productivity is threatened by climate changes.
 
Instead of worrying about God in or out of government and schools, and worrying about what color Iphone case you want, I suggest you worry about race relations, the disintegration of our primary and secondary educational system and about the inability of millions of Americans to thrive economically in an increasingly hostile financial environment for our aging and unemployed population.
 
The seeds of revolution and disintegration of society as we have come to know it looms greater every day. Wake up. It is not the absence of God or religion It is economics. Hungry people are angry people. Ignorant people are angry. It is not a shortage of God. It is a shortage of wealth and opportunity which will plague us into thrid world status. Then back the Blue will be meaningless. Lawless will be commonplace. Look around.
 
We disenfranchised men of color and poor whites by incarcerating them at the fastest and largest rate of any country in the world. We are not the most criminal country. We are the most punitive. Then when we release these prisoners without training and resources they soon find that rehabilitation and reformation and integration back into our society is near impossible. They won’t vote, cannot work and they use what they have to get what they need. That requires immersion back into the criminal subculture.

Then we have our returning soldiers (again often drawn from our underclass), many who are mentally unstable and now are choosing to use their skills to kill cops rather than become one. The cost of mental instability to our economy and safety is immeasurable but I guarantee it will be astronomical.
Follow the bouncing ball. The wealthiest are dividing us by race and religion. They permit police misconduct because it perpetuates the agenda of emasculating and disenfranchising opposition. There is no shortage of scapegoats. Every year they want to magnify our anger and fears. It is paralysis by fear. We elect the angry guy. He justifies our worst emotions and gives permission to persecute and prosecute our most recent enemy. Why in the last 30 years have we had some group or another, who never imperiled us, become the focus of our fear? Do you even remember when all of the sudden you found out the illegal Mexicans were no longer a source of cheap labor but the new thieves, rapists and drug dealers? Do you remember when the Middle East shifted from being out there somewhere to being here? (It was September 11, 2001.) Do you know why we were suddenly incapable of having peace with Muslims? Did you follow our military incursions into the middle east which preceded our being targeted at home. Did you see the carnage in the middle east brought about by the years of shock and awe which we unleashed in the middle east?
 
If you wish to make reference to the Bible, make this the foundation of your studies. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Galatians 6:7

The practice of meditation and loving kindness can be a source of suffering.

I hate this empathy thing. I drove across country recently. I could not help but notice many cows in fields on extremely hot days without shelter. I ruminated that a mammal is left to fend without shelter. Wild animals can seek shelter. But these cows could do nothing. They were fenced in, no cover in view. Other cows were in fields with trees or structures and they were all gathered out of the sun, to escape the heat. Domesticated mammals are often in the hands of  persons who are indifferent to the animal’s comfort or worse exposed to torture.

I find I suffer at these observations. I want to do something. I want to mitigate, ameliorate or prevent the neglect and/or abuse of all living things. I cannot prevent harm to all living things. But do I in some way contribute. Do I create a market place that makes the raising and selling of animals desirable/profitable? Should I worry about the other animals like horses and livestock which are equally helpless? Should I lobby for domesticated animals to have access to food and shelter? Should I advocate to criminalize the farmer who forgoes the cost of providing such? Could our economy tolerate the elimination of meat and chicken consumption and the reliance of so many on the industry.

I do not have answers. I do not even purport to judge consumers. I just want to stop my own suffering by mitigating my contribution to this marketplace. My time eating meat may be coming to an end soon.

Pets are equally helpless. On Facebook this week alone, there was a video of a dog being gleefully hung by a teenage boy. The next day a photo appeared of a dog who had had fireworks placed in his mouth and detonated by another teen. Should I do more to alleviate the suffering of homeless cats and dogs? Is it not enough that I care for 2 rescue cats?

Sometimes I even worry that being a U.S. citizen means I contribute to the suffering of untold numbers of humans worldwide. I have no desire to surrender or denounce my citizenship. But maybe I should do more about resisting the military/industrial complex.

Again, no answers. Just questions today.

Vietnam and the US patriot

I am of the age to have served in the military during the war in Vietnam. Instead, I joined the anti-war movement and avoided being drafted into the army. Now I see many young and old people being accused of being unpatriotic for protesting our armed forces being in Iraq and Afghanistan. Makes my blood boil to see them judged so. and here is why.

My older neighbors and friends went into the armed forces and fought in Vietnam. Most of them returned with regrets that serving their country meant blowing up someone else’s. They regretted calling in air strikes on entire villages. They regretted interrogation techniques which amounted to torture. They regretted seeing US GIs blown to bits, driven on to punji sticks,  and disemboweled.

They regretted participating in the use of napalm and Agent Orange to destroy in its entirety everyone and everything touched by chemicals. And like every GI, they regretted that they had left family and friends, jobs, and schools, to fight an enemy that was elusive and in fact often invisible.

So many of the men I knew returned home full of anger and regrets. Some had even been involved in attacks on military superiors in response to orders they would not obey. These were good men. Proud men who had grown up much like me, with every intention of serving their country admirably and honorably and unhesitatingly. When they returned and we sat to talk about their time in Nam, here is what they said. Don’t go. It is a wrong place where we are doing wrong things. This is  ot the war our fathers fought. This is not a just war. They told me to resist. They told me to forget everything I thought about war from John Wayne movies.

I began to question the notion that when I reached 18 I would serve in the military, with vim and vigor. I read more news accounts. I spoke to more vets. I watched the Vietnam Vets Against the War march in downtown Chicago.

Many of my generation will never trust the military/industrial complex. We have tried in earnest to motivate the next generations to listen with caution to the beat of war drums. I cannot say with certainty when we should militarily or politically intervene in foreign countries. I can say that I think it should be quite sparingly and reluctantly.

And opposing the war in generally associated with protests and demonstrations. Some are peaceful, some not. Some are well organized, some not. Often times they turn dramatic. Flags and effigies are burned and profanities hurled along with an occasional bottle or rock.

I suggest that whatever dishonor and disrespect you interpret in these actions, many of us believe that not resisting unjust wars are dishonorable and disrespectful.

Phil Ochs, a folk singer sang this lyric  “It’s always the old to lead us to the war
It’s always the young to fall
Now look at all we’ve won with the saber and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all”

Read more: Phil Ochs – I Ain’t Marching Anymore Lyrics | MetroLyrics

He also sang this lyric

One-legged veterans will greet the dawn
And they’re whistling marches as they mow the lawn
And the gargoyles only sit and grieve
The gypsy fortune teller told me that we’d been deceived
You only are what you believe

I believe the war is over
It’s over, it’s over

Read more: Phil Ochs – The War Is Over Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Be slow to judge who seem unpatriotic. They may perceive themselves to be super patriots. They/We risk being beaten by cops, going to jail or prison, losing jobs and being despised by neighbors in order to follow their conscience. Even if they are wrong does not mean they are unpatriotic. I fought my war during Vietnam. When riot police surrounded us I was scared. I was afraid of being gassed or beat.I knew if I left quickly I could avoid the ugliness to follow. But I stayed the course and chanted anti-war slogans. Because I loved my country.

Renunciation (or what I didn’t get for dinner)

Renunciation is an act or instance of relinquishing, abandoning, repudiating, or  sacrificing something, as a right, title, person, or ambition. Renunciation is often  used to describe the act of a monk or nun going forth into a homeless life to be liberated from lust.

As you know, over 5 years ago, I was ordained as a novice Buddhist monk and resided in a temple/monastery for over 4 months. I had many apprehensions going into this challenge. I had never cut off my hair and eyebrows. I had never gone without dinner and monks do not eat after the midday. I had never resided in a community where I was the oldest person with the least amount of authority. I had never vowed to make no physical contact with a female. These are all part of the monastic lifestyle.

I have never been able to fully explain how I went from what was at times  an extraordinarily hedonistic lifestyle to monk. The transition was quite gradual but it is incredible that it took place at all. My primary guide was Ajahn Sarayut (ajahn being a honorific for monastic teacher), a monk from Thailand living in Tucson Arizona. We met through his meditation group on Meetup.com.

After attending his monthly 90 minute meditations at the local library, I asked to be given more comprehensive training in meditation. And Ajahn asked me to guide him in hiking the local mountain trails.

For the next year I imagine we hiked about 3 times weekly. Always meditating. And we always had hours of conversation. What do you talk about to a monk? We had no common life experiences in the physical realm. No cultural similarities. As a matter of fact, language was often a barrier to communication. At least Ajahn had studied English or we would never have spoken since I do not know Thai.

I can tell you that the inclination is to discuss Buddhism when you spend hours with a Buddhist monk. And so we did, up and down the mountains and in dozens of emails which I wrote at night as my brain demanded more information. Simultaneously, I read dozens of books, journals and magazines on the subject. Then one day I decided that I would be Buddhist and I would take the vows associated with declaring oneself a Buddhist.

Here they are in Pali and English.

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.                                                                                                                          2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.                                                                                                                       3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.                                                                                                                                  4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from lying or gossiping.                                                                                                                                    5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

I look back now at my “adventure” in spiritual growth. I marvel that the least of renunciations caused me much distress. I so fear/feared being hungry at night that I ate gluttonously at each lunch. It has taken me years to examine why the deprivation of food is so difficult. I am an overeater, that I know. But fear and anxiety about a meal…why?

The idea of self-imposed austerity is somewhat alien to my upbringing. If you can afford it, then eat it, wear it, drive it…own it. Austerity is generally for persons of limited means. While I am not rich, anymore, I can afford to eat. I can even afford to go on some spiritual retreats without having to renounce the life of a lay-person and become a monk. There has to be perceived value in the monastic lifestyle or why bother. In my case I saw it as a vehicle to diminish the fire of anger which burned constantly in me. I was incapable of putting out the flames of self-righteousness on my own. I was expert at rationalization, justification and resistance to change which were the barriers to a calmer life.

In the monastic life I had more time and occasion to reflect on my thoughts and actions. I was not distracted for hours upon hours by music, television telephone. I had my laptop and phone, but the emphasis was on practicing a quiet, contemplative  lifestyle. Mindfulness was emphasized. If you eat, then eat. If you walk, then walk. If you drive, you drive. I was urged to do things and speak skillfully. I was encouraged to examine my actions for their intent and effect. Most visitors to the temple spoke Thai so small talk was kept to a minimum.

Cloistered with and managed by lifelong Buddhist monks was weird but simple. No one ever really asked me to do something I did not or could not do., yet I found these simple commands of the monastic life difficult. Ludicrous at times. But slowly, having nothing else to do, I began to engage the world more mindfully.

One of the primary functions of monastic renunciation of so many aspects of ordinary life is to facilitate an inner transformation. Mindful meditation jump-started the process of seeing (awakening) to the truth. The truth being that most things I relied upon for happiness or caused me sadness were not true causes. Gil Fronsdal, a Buddhist writer says “Renunciation is often difficult. Grappling with the power of desire, attachments, and fear may require great personal struggle. But that struggle yields many benefits. We develop the inner strength to overcome temptation and compulsion. We don’t have to live with the suffering and contraction that come with clinging. Clinging can be exhausting; letting go is restful. We may taste the luminous mind of freedom, which is hidden when clinging is present. And, last but not least, we are more available to work for the welfare of others.”

I had an epiphany after 3 months. I was and had always been in the throes of thought patterns that demanded I create and nurture resentments. Nothing was fully exempt from my manufacturing of disdain and resentments. But suddenly in one of my morning meditations, I saw clearly that I was the source of my problem and a solution. Rather than try to teach the monks how to behave in my Anglo-culture, as I had been doing dutifully, I would simply offer myself to be of service. It was a seismic shift which could be felt by the ajahns I lived with. My new mantra became “what can I do to help today?” My old mantra had been more like, “how can I teach you today?”

It is coming up on 5 years since I returned to my family and the life of a lay-person. Hardly a day goes by that my experience does not directly impact my thoughts and behavior. I still joke mindlessly at times, but I rarely act mindlessly and unskillfully.  I wish most people not be as hard-headed as I am about their spiritual growth. But my experience with people leads me to believe that most people are very much resistant to genuine change of a spiritual nature. It requires renunciation not of lust but of comfort. It requires practice in observing the mind, primarily through meditation. Spiritual progress has not come about by judging or interpreting the actions of others, but in keeping the focus and solution on myself.

Soon I will face the prospect of returning temporarily to the monastic life. I am still attached to my hair and dinner. These two things alone lead me to believe my work is far from over. Meantime, I ride my bike and teach. These things are powerful spiritual motors. I have been able to ride them to new destinations previously inaccessible.

 

Be humble, you may be wrong.

I saw this saying, Be humble, you may be wrong, about a year ago and decided to make it my slogan for a while. Participating in 12 step recovery, practicing meditation and studying Buddhism has taught me some seemingly very important things.

It started with learning something about humility. I abandoned drugs in the throes of despair and surrender. It was obvious that all my intellect, physical strength and wealth of experiences were fruitless in salvaging my spirit from addiction. I feinted right and ran left. I dibbled and dabbled. I abstained and indulged. No matter my will, I could not pull myself out of my bondage to substances.

So when I finally gave up and returned to a 12 step program which had previously kept me sober for 14 years, I did so feeling humiliated. But that feeling was transformed in short order to humility. I recognized that my way of viewing the world could be bettered. That was to be the tip of the iceberg.

Over a period of time and spiritual meditative practices I experienced a reversal. At first it was quite subtle and subsequently a deep reversal in the way I viewed life. I became certain that a new course was right. There were many paths ahead. Forks in the road awaited me often. I inched my way forward, afraid to make a (another) wrong move. There was certainty only in my sentiment that my previous path was not right. I worked to let go of my belief system and adopt a healthier one.

I left Tucson AZ. about 4 years ago and returned to Dallas TX. Shortly after I relocated I found my patience was running out in traffic. I was getting increasingly angry. I sought a mental health counselor. I said to her “I am hardwired for aggression”, She replied, “it is not a hardware problem, it is a software problem.” In that moment I felt that there was new hope that I could indeed reprogram myself. And I have come a long way.

I read an article on the Art of Being Wrong. I recognized myself in said article. Essentially, I do not know “right”. What I have learned is how wrong I was. I now am learning and gaining significant proficiency, thanks to all that has happened over the past several years, to simply be wrong. The author Henry Shukman, asserts that success is to not have a “right view’, but to give up any view. It is enough for me now and I am comfortable with the realization that I was clinging to wrong beliefs. Beliefs that did not bring about happiness, did not make me a worthy companion and restricted my capacity to grow spiritually.

I counsel many people on a variety of subjects, mostly legal and spiritual.I knew instinctively all these years to distinguish what I thought with what I knew. I learned early on that stating my beliefs as facts was a non-starter. It eroded whatever credibility I had. It alienated the clients I worked with. So, when sharing with others I was careful to differentiate between fact and opinion. I held other persons opinions to the same standard. What I did not do, was to tread as cautiously inside my own thoughts and feelings about myself. I made my internal life a grand story and then acted it out in real time.

Meditation has taught me to scoff at my internal dialogue. I watch my thoughts like a good movie. Good or bad, it will end and some new dialogue or feelings will rise up to occupy my time.  I refrain from clinging to any thoughts. Some thoughts and feelings are so powerful I feel that require my full attention, even obedience. But practice has proven that the best approach is to watch my thoughts as one would watch clouds. They are not to be grasped, held or fondled. They are simply objects to be observed as they float in and out of my purview.

Odds are that I will continue to make proclamations which are simply wrong or at best, useless. It is better for me to remember that I am a wounded healer and that my wounds can distract me from viewing situations objectively. I am a warrior who needs to remember that if all I have is a hammer, I will treat everything as if it were a nail. If all I have is a sword I will cut what offends me.

So to return to the beginning, I am learning to be humble, because I may be wrong. In fact, the likelihood is that unless I pause, I am likely to be wrong. Maybe not about facts but certainly my perceptions.

 

 

Transformation

So there is a story behind every transformation. Every Anglo who walks into a Buddhist temple is a possible even probable story of transformation. Not because entry to a Buddhist temple is required but because it usually signals seeking and dissatisfaction.

I have come to a spiritual awakening of sorts through significant dissatisfaction(s). It starts in 1982 with a dependence on cocaine to alleviate the emotional pain associated with a lost love interest. I twisted the age old adage that “time heals all wounds” and decided if I could use coke to numb my pain it would eventually pass. It was a flawed plan.

A year after I put that plan in motion I was ready to enter a treatment center for drug abuse. I spent 3 weeks there being introduced to 12 steps and the underlying foundation of a belief in a higher power. My initial reaction which I openly expressed went like this. “If it will take God to keep me clean, then I am hopeless.” But I decided to try the 12 step programs because I really didn’t have a better plan.

Putting myself into close proximity to the people in AA and Narcotics Anonymous made me want what they had. I found a willingness to pray just because it worked for them and I had nothing better. I spent the next 14 years in recovery and I practiced and eventually believed that there was a higher God-like power and it was helpful to pray to said power.

In the process I undertook tasks that had once seemed impossible. I started school, I went to sleep at regular hours and I exercised consistently. I, a high school dropout, got through law school. I, an incurable insomniac, began to sleep. And I became a regular in the gym and on the triathlon circuit.

But, complacency eventually became my constant companion. I got cocky and believed that I had molded myself into a normal guy. Time though has shown that I am not normal even at my most normal. I can mimic a community. If it is a criminal community, I’m in. Recovery? OK. PTA? I’m good. I won’t blend in but my behavior will comport to societal norms.

So subsequently I drank and then drugged again. If I missed doing a drug in the first go round, I got to it this time. I wouldn’t even try in this story to recount the horrors of my addiction. That is a book in and of itself. Nope this is about the spiritual transformation that then occurred over the next several years.

I went back to 12 step meetings. I sought mentors and sponsors. I inadvertently read books about transformation, starting with Eckhart Tolle. I taught myself to meditate. I sought a meditation teacher and wound up practicing with Ajahn Sarayut a Buddhist monk from Thailand. (ajahn means teacher in Thai)

I was teaching Ajahn how to navigate amongst Anglos and he taught me meditation and the practice of Buddhism. After 2 years spent constantly studying with each other, we undertook to open a new Buddhist temple in Tucson. I subsequently felt compelled to continue and deepen my practice by becoming ordained. To serve as a temporary Buddhist monk required the permission of my family, shaving off my head and facial hair and living exclusively in the temple and having no physical contact with females. I was allowed to eat the single meal of the day that monks eat, I wore only the saffron robes and I participated in twice daily chanting and meditation. I learned to chant in Pali. (The word Pali is used as a name for the language of the Theravadan Buddhist scriptures.)

I sought training with other teachers as well. Jack Kornfield, Lila Wheeler, Eric Kolvig, Lama Marut and more. I crossed the country to spend days in lectures to attend silent meditation retreats.

I “unordained” and returned to my family a little after 4 months. Ajahn completed my training as a teacher of meditation and provided me with a letter of introduction to the Buddhist Center of Dallas when we subsequently relocated to Dallas TX. I have been teaching meditation at least 3 times weekly for the past 4 years in and around the area.

I have left behind my drugging and drinking. I have long left the world where I owned adult entertainment nightclubs and websites. I am an infrequent participant in the firearms world where I made a living for so many years.

Everyone American I meet in the Buddhist temples is a seeker. None of us were born into Buddhism. To arrive here we had to have dissatisfaction with whatever came before. Some will embrace Buddhism and others will simply develop a mindful meditation practice. We are driven consciously or unconsciously to seek answers to our discontent. Some find what they are looking for. Others do not. But the practice of mindful meditation will facilitate or perpetuate transformation to all who practice it.

I hate you and everything you stand for. Or I love you, go away.

How can we live together while we disagree about things that are so personal? I am pondering that maybe it is time to separate myself from social media civil discourse. It is way past ugly now. Many of my friends are staking out positions which do not allow for acceptance of differences. There is little effort to understand opposing viewpoints. Considerable effort seems to go into seeking memes to post to Facebook which seem to glorify, justify and promote our opinions.

The Buddha taught among many other things, Right Speech. “It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.”

I myself am losing perspective and have difficulty staying on the path. I find that the community I reside in influences me tremendously. I spend a great deal of time with recovering addicts and alcoholics and I remain free of intoxicating substances. I stay close to my spiritual community and that results in a concerted effort to practice spiritual principles. But here on Facebook I have many friends beyond those communities I hold you in great affection and even admiration. But since your instinct is to be “right” and you are closed to living civilly with those that think “wrong”, you create an ambiance of polarization and intolerance. Whether it be guns, religion, gay sex, or abortion et al. These are hot topics and engender strong personal beliefs.

Passion is not the enemy. Intolerance and lack of acceptance are the foes. We have not and will not force agreement so we are challenged to work spiritually and practically to live harmoniously. Alternatively, just dismiss this rant and seek out your next meme to launch your next attack. Sadly, many of the people we are attacking reside amongst us. The Buddha did not suggest that if the object of your ire lived in another country, we were free to speak harshly and self-righteously.

Do we really need enemies? Do you let others decide they are your enemies because we are so powerless that if a cult or sect or organization has extremists we define their members by the worst of them.

Buddha said “Speak only the speech that neither torments self nor does harm to others. That speech is truly well spoken. Speak only endearing speech, speech that is welcomed. Speech when it brings no evil to others is pleasant.” Trump scares me. I am often tempted to verbally crucify him. I did throw dirt at Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott recently. It came so easy. But while I do not like that propensity I have refrained from attacks on most of my social media community. I issue the challenge to all to dig spiritually to ascribe to and practice better behavior in speech and writings. Loving kindness towards all sounds silly in our Western civilization. But it is integral to spiritual practitioners everywhere. So if ever there was a moment of spiritual challenge, that moment may be now.

Can’t go home again.

I cannot go home again, cause I do not like it there. I was born and raised for 14 years in a nice middle-class area, South Shore, and now I am a member of a Facebook page for that old Chicago neighborhood of mine.

Often people will post an old photo of the area. The strolls down memory lane begin. Then someone will remark how nice it was until “they” destroyed the area. (My old neighborhood is sometimes referred to as Terror Town in the press.) By “they” I generally conclude they mean the Black people who now are the primary inhabitants of the community.

There are frequent laments about what a fine area it was and it has now deteriorated into a crime plagued ghetto. How great it was growing up there, back then. But there are some other truths to accompany the past. Whites fled the area. Blacks didn’t “take over”. Truth, before the Blacks arrived, I got chased regularly for being a dirty Jew. Many families in our nice community had raised their kids to be racist, anti-Semitic and just plain prejudiced against others.

I drive by my old home and cruise around the hood and see the changes. It is hard to see the decline which took place. But to speak about the changes as if they were foisted on the area, to speak code for Nigger, to act as if you were without options years ago is to do a disservice to what is and what was.

My family remained after the initial white flight. I was sent to boarding school for academic rehabilitation. My family moved to a smaller place in an adjacent neighborhood called Hyde Park. I got thrown out of  boarding school, returned to Chicago and resumed my public school education alongside Blacks and Whites and others. My family never made an effort to shield me from the effects of living on the south side. I used public transportation or walked everywhere.

Many members of the South Shore Facebook page are former cops and many are former parochial school attendees. I have gently tried to prod some recognition out of some members. These are men that I remember. As boys though, they didn’t know me, despite living within blocks of me. Our social exchange back then was restricted to pushing me down in the snow, or chasing me down the street threatening to beat me up. But short of saying, hey I was that Jew you bullied, I have been unable to stimulate their memories of our good times together.

So it is nice to see the posted photos of the old toy store, the bowling alley, the drug store. It sure would be more fun to stroll memory lane without the recitations of racial animus that pervaded the community then as it transformed and the lingering racism found in former residents’ hearts today.

It isn’t like every post or every person makes the kind of comments I despise. But even one self-righteous ignorant comment is too many.

I was treated better by the Black children in my public schools in South Shore than I was ever treated by the Catholic parochial or public school kids.  I hated the Italians, Polish and Irish boys who thought taunting us was great fun.

I have been in some Christian houses of worship lately. I have been welcomed and treated quite warmly in contrast to my childhood experiences. In fact, just today I went to the Fellowship Bible Church Dallas for a memorial. Incredible eulogy by a Pastor Greg Brandenburg. (When I see love in practice in Christianity I sometimes lament that I do not have that type of devotion and faith that many show for Jesus Christ.) I learned that it is not the religion which created the hate. It is the people, their parents, and the environment they choose to live and cloister within.

I could have mistaken Catholicism for a hate group at one time. But as an adult I have many friends who are devout Catholics. Nope, seems to me that hate and prejudice are choices. So buck up former south-siders. Do not let your disdain for “others” taint your memories, such that you feel compelled to blame “those people” for robbing you of your fond memories. I do not hate you for creating my hateful memories. Seems you can do as much for those that succeeded us.

 

 

Polarization, Narration, Frustration,

I started a post on Facebook about the polarization I am seeing between the political/ideological factions amongst my friends and acquaintances. The premise of my post is that the Right vs Left is so disparate and hateful now that there will never be a political reconciliation. Without reconciliation and a new narration there will ultimately be a disintegration of our society and country. We cannot remain the United States much longer. The language of hate I hear on the Right is too similar to the language of hate used against Jews.

Anti-Semitism is not something I just read about. It was a frequent event in my young days. It was not uncommon at all to be called a dirty Jew, a Kike (a contemptuous term used to refer to a person of Jewish religion or descent), Yid, Christ killer, Hebe, and more. I heard it on the South Side of Chicago, when I was in grade school. I heard it in New Hampshire where I was sent to boarding school. I heard it in automotive and motorcycle shops, clubhouses and more. 

I was assaulted by a Palestinian in my gym class when I was 14 y.o. He beat me unconscious. I harbored hate for years as a result. But eventually maturity set in and I came to recognize the threat had passed. The perpetrators of anti-Semitic assaults against me would have no further opportunity to harm me without facing significant opposition. I further recognized that my experience was not the sum total of the universe nor necessarily reflective of the non-Jewish world. I slowly altered my reaction to the world at large.

I read the following today. and it helped me fathom what I have gone through. “Humility allows you to make mistakes and to start over when you fail. It also frees you of the expectation that you should be rewarded for doing the right thing.

Many times I don’t know what the right thing to do is, so cultivating “don’t know mind” can prepare the ground for new possibilities to arise. When faced with a difficult situation, ask myself, “Do I know for sure what’s right?” If the answer is, “I don’t think so,” then reflect on my inner experience: “Is this a situation that I have some feeling about that seems to be true, and is it important for me to bring my truth to bear?”

– See more at: http://dharmawisdom.org/teachings/articles/do-right-thing?utm_source=hootsuite#sthash.VDX1ORax.dpuf

I showed up today with my “don’t know mind”. It feels very liberating. But is it futile in a world where most people are signed on to a narrative which engenders polarization? Is the frustration of being bombarded with hate speech and fear-mongering something I can continue to “don’t know” about?

I thought when I broke through the haze of hate infecting my mind, that I was well on my way to being liberated. But I ran smack into a wall of other people’s hate. It stopped me in my tracks. I am constantly resisting the urge to be the “knowing one”, the “right one”. I am working my way to accepting that even hate may be a social passage which must be allowed in order for us to move forward. Seems like a bad plan but when I start seeming, it is often disastrous.

Anyways, I think the point is that the narrative which is dominating the conversation in the world around me is very negative. It is polarizing, It is frustrating. Can I help shape the narrative? Earlier today, long after I started this blog post, I noted on Facebook, that I was inspired by other Facebook posts to be more charitable. That seemed to stimulate truly generous even loving feedback. So for the next couple of days I will try to not feed the beast and perpetuate the negativity. I will resist telling others about the flaw in their logic. Instead I will see if I can stay in a place of “don’t know” but “can do” actions which originate from a place of grace. The pastor at the memorial I attended today, said many inspirational things. He did a beautiful closing argument for the power of God and his readiness to embrace us all, no matter what we do or who we are.

Transitions

So if you know me it is no surprise that I am writing about transitions the day my pal Jerry died. But the subject is not really about Jerry but about me. I have been transitioning before your very eyes. Social media, specifically Facebook has been the playground you can see me play, fight, grow.

When this all started, I had issues and my issues had issues. I had skills but I had at least one specific deficit, dealing with pain. Jerry’s dying has given me an opportunity to see my own transformation. Sometimes I am directly connected to my shifts, at other times I find myself merely a keen observer.

Like everyone I know, I have suffered losses in my life. Family and friends die Colleagues die. Physical, psychological and emotional pain are often my constant companions. I have mad coping skills sometimes. I am seriously good in a crisis. Like everyone I know, I also must suffer through loss. It is inevitable.

What is weird to watch is a pronounced absence of a type of suffering which I experienced which I think was caused by two things. A lack of tools and spiritual ignorance. That type of suffering has evaporated. In its place, for now, is an acceptance of thoughts and feelings that previously went undetected, ignored or silenced.

While I find nothing positive about Jerry’s death other than a release from physical suffering, I do find that the journey has been with purpose. Jerry’s death in my life has brought about a willingness to be present with my feelings. I am willing to cry (while still thinking “if you make fun of me crying, I will kill you). I am willing to just be. I have demonstrated to myself and others that I can subjugate my anger and fears in order to be of maximum service to others. Subjugation, crying, acceptance, and being present were not concepts I was interested in exploring before.

Facebook creates this public arena for pain and suffering, joy and happiness and kids photos. In the past, if someone close to me had died, I knew instinctively to share. But I didn’t always know with whom. Or if I knew, either I couldn’t find said person to share with, or I waved off the idea. When my boarding school roommate died years after school was out, I felt quite alone because no one in my world knew him and I couldn’t find anyone that did. Eventually over the years, I heard from two people who went to that boarding school with us, and have reconnected. They helped me bring closure to losing my roommate some time back and now, today, they help me embrace my new loss.

Some of Jerry’s friends are my friends. Facebook has become an outlet for the community to grieve. I do not feel alone in the least. ( I will overeat today. Powerless to resist food when hurt.) Unlike the past where I felt a loss of this type was my loss, today I see it is a community’s loss. It is a loss to Jerry’s community and family as well as to my community and family. My friends who never knew Jerry are still sharing their intimate acquaintance with experiencing losing a loved one.  They are empathetic and sympathetic. If I made this about me it would also be about how shallow I could be.

I am uncertain of the value, especially in the long run of exposing ourselves on social media. But in this moment it is quite apparent to me that it is serving me constructively. This blog is a way to harness the thoughts and feelings that come in waves. And then the blog will post to Facebook. Then I think I shall revisit my pain in a healthy way in days ahead versus the neurotic coping I see in people who can only see their pain in a very small context.

Pain and suffering are not the only feelings that are arising. My friends and I share joy, passion and anger also. And in some slightly more mature way than before, I am here for all of it. Sometimes I gloss over Facebook posts about new boyfriends/girlfriends. I skim over hundreds of photos my daughter posts from Korea. And most recipes and book reports go unread. But many life events are noted. Many of those I reply to. Sometimes I even get the right feeling to match the event when I post. (Sometimes not)

So I post photos of my family, friends and I, having fun, surgery, passages and disasters. I sell and buy stuff from Facebook. This is not intended as a promo or an advocacy of the utility of Facebook. It is merely to observe that I am transitioning before your very social media eyes. But big shout out to 12 step recovery, meditation and Buddhism for facilitating the change for others to observe. By the way, if you scratch your head and think, “I don’t get it”, that’s cool too. If you think, “Bull, Facebook and social media are for sissies” or some such, I hear ya. I do not think I care that much what you think.

Today is my little brother Ricky’s birthday. I woulda forgot without the FB  reminder. I texted him a greeting as a result. Sometimes I give a birthday shout to mere acquaintances. It just seems reasonable since I was already at the computer and seems a nice thing to do. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers have been lost. Pets have died and I sent condolences to the owners. I am not half-bad at it and sometimes I say something which strikes a chord with someone in the midst of their own difficulties.

Meditation has shown me that feelings and thoughts arise, and they depart. I have no investment in managing or controlling when and how. I need not crumble in the face of great emotional pain. My feelings are simply appropriate and to be expected. My anger is especially interesting as I struggle to put it in perspective without nurturing resentments or feeling guilty. It is just anger I feel. I am not the anger. But it is only by observing these thoughts and feelings that I resist the time old tradition of acting as badly as I feel. Interesting to watch people I resent and know in my heart that most of what I feel is all about my choosing to feel that way. Just as I can choose to feel pain without embarrassment and joy without clinging, I can also let anger arise and leave without the need to exacerbate it.

I hope my growing up in public serves more than a voyeuristic moment for the observer. I hope it stimulates interest and action to spiritual pursuit. Maybe it will encourage the practice of metta.  Metta, loving-kindness meditation, is the simple practice of directing well-wishes towards other people, and all living beings. It would be reasonable to think, if Ken can do it, anyone can.

Jerry Cichon passed away today. He was like a brother. We traveled what was frequently and arduous and tortured spiritual journey together in AA and elsewhere. After the 3rd or 4th hour of talking our way up a mountain, you tend to go deeper, to connect deeper. The small talk is long out of the way and straight talk kicks in. I may have known Jerry better than even my oldest friends because Jerry was so raw when we met. I was his lawyer, friend and brother. He was my first new friend in my new sober lifestyle who died in such a way (cancer) that sometimes it felt like we faced it together. It was not sudden for Jerry. It was not without great suffering. But as with most things in his new sober life, Jerry saw it was an opportunity to practice his spiritual and religious beliefs. Circumstances preclude me from sharing with his family the many things he shared. Such a day may come. Jerry said to me in recent days that I was spiritual perfection. Imagine that. Even if it isn’t true, can one man say anything kinder to a pal?

Ding dong, racism is gone

Reuters) – From the dingy donut shops of Manhattan to the cloistered police watering holes in Brooklyn, a number of black NYPD officers say they have experienced the same racial profiling that cost Eric Garner his life.

Garner, a 43-year-old black man suspected of illegally peddling loose cigarettes, died in July after a white officer put him in a chokehold. His death, and that of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, has sparked a slew of nationwide protests against police tactics. On Saturday, those tensions escalated after a black gunman, who wrote of avenging the black deaths on social media, shot dead two New York policemen.

The protests and the ambush of the uniformed officers pose a major challenge for New York Mayor Bill De Blasio. The mayor must try to ease damaged relations with a police force that feels he hasn’t fully supported them, while at the same time bridging a chasm with communities who say the police unfairly target them.

What’s emerging now is that, within the thin blue line of the NYPD, there is another divide – between black and white officers.

Reuters interviewed 25 African American male officers on the NYPD, 15 of whom are retired and 10 of whom are still serving. All but one said that, when off duty and out of uniform, they had been victims of racial profiling, which refers to using race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed a crime.

The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them.

Desmond Blaize, who retired two years ago as a sergeant in the 41st Precinct in the Bronx, said he once got stopped while taking a jog through Brooklyn’s upmarket Prospect Park. “I had my ID on me so it didn’t escalate,” said Blaize, who has sued the department alleging he was racially harassed on the job. “But what’s suspicious about a jogger? In jogging clothes?”

The NYPD and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the police officers’ union, declined requests for comment. However, defenders of the NYPD credit its policing methods with transforming New York from the former murder capital of the world into the safest big city in the United States.

EX-POLICE CHIEF SKEPTICAL

“It makes good headlines to say this is occurring, but I don’t think you can validate it until you look into the circumstances they were stopped in,” said Bernard Parks, the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, who is African American.

“Now if you want to get into the essence of why certain groups are stopped more than others, then you only need to go to the crime reports and see which ethnic groups are listed more as suspects. That’s the crime data the officers are living with.”

Blacks made up 73 percent of the shooting perpetrators in New York in 2011 and were 23 percent of the population.

A number of academics believe those statistics are potentially skewed because police over-focus on black communities, while ignoring crime in other areas. They also note that being stopped as a suspect does not automatically equate to criminality. Nearly 90 percent of blacks stopped by the NYPD, for example, are found not to be engaged in any crime.

The black officers interviewed said they had been racially profiled by white officers exclusively, and about one third said they made some form of complaint to a supervisor.

All but one said their supervisors either dismissed the complaints or retaliated against them by denying them overtime, choice assignments, or promotions. The remaining officers who made no complaints said they refrained from doing so either because they feared retribution or because they saw racial profiling as part of the system.

In declining to comment to Reuters, the NYPD did not respond to a specific request for data showing the racial breakdown of officers who made complaints and how such cases were handled.

White officers were not the only ones accused of wrongdoing. Civilian complaints against police officers are in direct proportion to their demographic makeup on the force, according to the NYPD’s Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Indeed, some of the officers Reuters interviewed acknowledged that they themselves had been defendants in lawsuits, with allegations ranging from making a false arrest to use of excessive force. Such claims against police are not uncommon in New York, say veterans.

STUDIES FIND INHERENT BIAS

Still, social psychologists from Stanford and Yale universities and John Jay College of Criminal Justice have conducted research – including the 2004 study “Seeing Black: Race, Crime and Visual Processing” – showing there is an implicit racial bias in the American psyche that correlates black maleness with crime.

John Jay professor Delores Jones-Brown cited a 2010 New York State Task Force report on police-on-police shootings – the first such inquiry of its kind – that found that in the previous 15 years, officers of color had suffered the highest fatalities in encounters with police officers who mistook them for criminals.

There’s evidence that aggressive policing in the NYPD is intensifying, according to data from the New York City Comptroller.

Police misconduct claims – including lawsuits against police for using the kind of excessive force that killed Garner – have risen 214 percent since 2000, while the amount the city paid out has risen 75 percent in the same period, to $64.4 million in fiscal year 2012, the last year for which data is available.

REPORTING ABUSE

People who have taken part in the marches against Garner’s death – and that of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown – say they are protesting against the indignity of being stopped by police for little or no reason as much as for the deaths themselves.

“There’s no real outlet to report the abuse,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain who said he was stigmatized and retaliated against throughout his 22-year career for speaking out against racial profiling and police brutality.

Officers make complaints to the NYPD’s investigative arm, the Internal Affairs Bureau, only to later have their identities leaked, said Adams.

One of the better-known cases of alleged racial profiling of a black policeman concerns Harold Thomas, a decorated detective who retired this year after 30 years of service, including in New York’s elite Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Shortly before 1 a.m. one night in August 2012, Thomas was leaving a birthday party at a trendy New York nightclub.

Wearing flashy jewelry, green sweatpants and a white t-shirt, Thomas walked toward his brand-new white Escalade when two white police officers approached him. What happened next is in dispute, but an altercation ensued, culminating in Thomas getting his head smashed against the hood of his car and then spun to the ground and put in handcuffs.

“If I was white, it wouldn’t have happened,” said Thomas, who has filed a lawsuit against the city over the incident. The New York City Corporation Counsel said it could not comment on pending litigation.

At an ale house in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last week, a group of black police officers from across the city gathered for the beer and chicken wing special. They discussed how the officers involved in the Garner incident could have tried harder to talk down an upset Garner, or sprayed mace in his face, or forced him to the ground without using a chokehold. They all agreed his death was avoidable.

Said one officer from the 106th Precinct in Queens, “That could have been any one of us.”

Editing by Ross Colvin

Who are we people that you hate?

This my attempt to examine the way we deal with differing ideologies and viewpoints. I just discovered that a grade school Facebook friend has unfriended me because of my “stance on guns”. There were no preliminary exchanges before he did it. I didn’t know he had done so until I sought to look him up on my friends list and see what he was up to. (He didn’t appear in my friend list of course which was the first clue.) He is not the only one who reacts strongly to my views. But in the case of other friends who told me they were going to unfriend me, none actually landed up doing so….yet. I attribute that to the fact that by telling me their intention, they opened up a dialogue. And that dialogue engendered some willingness to tolerate what feels distasteful for the sake of friendship.

I have never hunted nor have I ever killed an animal on purpose in my life. I am not now nor have I ever been a card carrying member of the NRA. I actually go out of my way to eat vegetables instead of meat as often as possible for my health and the ecology. I recycle most everything. I voted for a democrat for president since my first vote cast. I also have something called hypervigilance. Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats. Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. Thus, if I do not feel protected and ready to engage threats I am in a constant state of increased anxiety. As a result, I may respond to my environment different than others. My closest friends can tell you that I am guarded in public and can consistently discern threats which others miss. It has served me well in dangerous situations, like living in the inner-city, evading Catholic school bullies, working with street gangs, representing criminal defendants and traveling across country on motorcycles and in cars.

It happens that I was riding my bicycle Sunday morning when a large man on a large motorcycle started yelling profanities at me. I had just gone around him on my bicycle at a stop sign. He caught up to me and yelled at me about breaking the law and what a fucking asshole I was. I stopped my bike and asked him why was he so upset. This seemed to enrage him. He clearly thought about getting off his bike. I calmly asked him why what he thought I did was making him so mad. I asked what harm had I done him. He kept yelling at me, strings of profanities, his face flushed. I tried using deescalating techniques, which I am well-trained in. It didn’t work. In the old days, before I carried a firearm I would have escalated the situation by meeting his aggression with greater aggression. It is very effective in averting violence to convince the initial aggressor that I mean to do him great harm if he pushes me. This tactic was precipitated by the fact that I am fearful of violence and experience dictated the best defense is an aggressive offense. My rationalization? If you sought to intimidate me, I would demonstrate what real intimidation looked like.

I found I didn’t need to escalate in that fashion when I have a handgun. I know that if I am armed and someone intends serious violence, I will be able to respond quickly and effectively to protect myself. This helps keep me calm. Most folks never have violence visited upon them. Not sure yet why I am so special. But between my past work, my travels and my being the odd looking one, I have seen dozens of assaults and I have been attacked or threatened with attack on dozens of occasions.

When the girls were young we sometimes went walking or hiking together in Tucson. One day we went walking but there was no sidewalk where we were. So whenever a vehicle approached around this curvy road, I would step more into the road to force vehicles away from my young girls. (If we tried to step off the road it was all cactus) A man pulled over and got out of his truck and started yelling at me for walking in the road. This guy went nuts. As soon as he had pulled over and I saw him getting out, in the middle of nowhere, I placed my hand on my gun in my pocket. I tried to calm him down but he just had to tell me that he had been proceeding safely and I had no business causing him to slow down. Understand? He is yelling at me and is highly agitated in front of my two young girls. Do you think I would have hesitated to prevent him if he made any physical threat? In fact if I didn’t have the gun, I probably would have used the rock which I was holding in my other hand.

So you may have handled yourself differently in all these encounters. You are more self-assured, more pacifist, more gracious. You are probably sweeter and more intelligent than me too. Maybe you go to church on Sunday and the good Lord keeps you and protects you.

We should be doing all we can to combat societal ills which are tearing at the fabric of or country and the world. I think we should recycle, be vegetarian, donate often to charity and be kind to strangers. If you do that then I admire you and I want to be just like you. Then you deserve a platform to discuss gun violence, an issue which gravely needs to be addressed.

I find no usefulness in yelling at or being yelled at about my political views and ideologies. There are so many issues which are critical to our survival and comfort as a species and they are all related. I suggest we attack violence holistically, as an ill which needs to be addressed at so many levels, including, but also beyond firearms.

I hope all can agree, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; a real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Plato  It is my experience that all persons have boogeymen. Our world is many things and dangerous is one of those things. We are a vulnerable little eco-system of a human trying to thrive in an environment fraught with chemical, ecological, climatic and accidental perils.

My friends cover the spectrum of political ideology. I doubt any of my friends is wholly insensitive to the concerns of others, but most are quick to dismiss the viewpoints they do not agree with. I have urged friends to open their minds up to the discourse in a more loving way but it generally falls on deaf ears in any ideological discussion. Guns is one of many issues that tear at my friends and family. (My family is generally quite anti-gun and was very disdainful of my owning a gun range) In fact, I will continue to urge my gun owning pals to open their minds to the need to explore solutions not approved or encouraged by the NRA. I will continue to tell them that they only think they know what a liberal wants much less what a liberal thinks.

If you read this far, thanks. I keep saying I have nothing more to say about guns. But yesterday, a crazy man randomly stabbed a jogger to death on my regular bike trail. Being hyper-vigilant I remain alert when riding alone in wooded or isolated areas. I have no wish to die from the repeated stabbings of a lunatic. I don’t want someone to bash my head in as I ride beneath an overpass where homeless men with liquor sit or reside. So this incident yesterday, the death of a random victim makes me sad. But it makes my spidey sense tingle just a little stronger. Forgive my frailties and my lack of faith in . Forgive that I place faith in myself and my training and my weapons. I don’t pretend it is best, it is just my way.

So once again I will assure you that I wish to have no part in this debate. It is a polarizing issue which is complicated and divisive. I lose friends because of it. As Paul Simon the songwriter noted, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”. See ya on the other sid

If you cannot bow to the Buddha, you cannot be a Buddha.

So I just got off the phone with my friend Jerry. Jerry and I met 7 years ago and our friendship has revolved around 12 step recovery and hiking. Jerry doesn’t much like easy hikes. So we often hiked long and hard for hours on end. Jerry works in the defense industry and is very conservative. As friends are want to do, we discussed every topic under the sun.

We talked politics frequently and we did again today. We don’t talk as often as we used to because he has late stage cancer and between the pain and the nausea he is not often talkative. But as we talked today I was reminded that despite being worlds apart politically, neither one of us ever had to disrespect the other’s beliefs. We have always done a great job of accepting each other. We often threw each other’s candidates under the bus, but not each other.

So what makes some people civil and others not so? Why does someone have to disparage others who do not agree with them? What is so satisfying about feeling superior?

An author I like, Henri Nouwen authored 40 books on spirituality as well as countless articles on theology and psychology. Nouwen was a Catholic priest. He once said “As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their “right” place.”

Billy Graham offered this bon mot on judging. “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”

I spent years in courts hearing judgments passed that I knew in my heart did not reflect my reality. I used to warn clients charged with crimes, that judges were so removed from the reality of the streets, that they would be well-advised to expect harsh results. Judges handed out prison time like candy. Juries were supposed to be my client’s peers but rarely came close. I left the practice of law for reasons related to the persistent ill-affects of judging.

Ever since I joined Facebook I hear persistent negativity spewed freely. Liberals this, Conservatives that. The harshest refrains are never true. They are junk. They rise out of the depths of ignorance and self-righteousness. Yes, that is a judgment I just made. I need to make judgments of sorts constantly. I need to judge situations and persons and decisions. I need to determine what is healthy and what is not. I need to decide who should be in my life and who should not. The judging I speak of is most often found in the political and ideological arena.

I had a radio show for several years. I interviewed dozens of guests from all walks of life. Some were nuts. Some were holders of opinions I found despicable. (I interviewed the Westboro Church family.) I interviewed the chief law enforcement spokesperson for The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. He offered nothing but platitudes. I felt bad for him because he was so lacking in empirical data and made statements that were hollow about controlling violence. As my guest I did what I often do and tried to help him make his points. It was hopeless. I interviewed his nemesis John Lott. Lott is armed for interviews with statistics and anecdotes and is quite persuasive. I hear he has been discredited but in my experience those that attack him are very partisan.

I interviewed people who believe the US government blew up the Twin Towers. Gosh I actually interviewed quite a few conspiracy theorists. I tend to disbelieve conspiracies but I never found it necessary to put any of my guests down. I challenged them all. Friend or foe, I tried to facilitate discussions that illuminated the various opinions on the subject. I have interviewed cops and criminals, prisoner support groups, advocates for convicted sex offenders, supporters of 12 steps and disbelievers in 12 steps. That was then, this is now.

The transition to social media has been most pleasant in connecting with friends from all periods and places in my life. I love visiting with pals throughout the day who I might otherwise not communicate with. The photos and jokes and news is a welcome addition to my day.

But the flaming, judging and general pride in opinions leaves me wanting to  wash away the dirty feeling. Buddhism has taught me some resistance to judgments. I learned humility in the monastery living amongst monks. I learned to bow to another human. Something I could hardly imagine doing in the past. But I think it makes a good point when said… “If you cannot bow to the Buddha, you cannot be a Buddha. It is arrogance.” Shunryu Suzuki.

So Jerry and I have weathered the same kinds of discussions that have caused unfriending. His tolerance of my liberal views has made his friendship all the more dear to me. His advocacy for political viewpoints I have never held or admired, taught me to listen beneath the words. Loving kindness makes me feel better about myself in a way that self-righteousness never has. Who knew? If you had told me I never would have believed it. I had to love my way into a new way of living.

“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.” ― Galileo Galilei

So I have not discussed this subject very much. I have been teaching a variety of subjects for many years But I am not employed or retained as a teacher. It has not been my vocation. But I enjoyed it.

I studied Buddhism the past few years. As a result of my Buddhist practice, I was taught to lead mindful meditation by the monk, Ajahn Sarayut in Tucson AZ. I then became the go-to Anglo for school groups who came to the Dallas Buddhist temple.

I have pursued studies in my practice with persons I respect. I have really been gifted in this regard. Starting many years ago, I was privileged to be taught my various trades by the best. Gerry Spence amongst other greats taught me trial lawyering skills. Clint Smith amongst others taught me handgun skills. Buddhist monks taught me Buddhism. (That may seem obvious to the uninitiated but actually very few Americans learn Buddhism directly from monks.)

Last March during a meeting with Ajahn Sarayut, despite my objections, he told me I was a teacher. I argued with him but monks do not engage in arguing for more than a moment. I agreed to try to comport myself like a Buddhist meditation teacher. I agreed to be more mindful of posting inflammatory remarks on my Facebook page.

But I rarely self-identify as a teacher. But I recently applied to re-enter the monastic life for another few months. This led to a conversation with a friend and life-long Buddhist on the merits of such an action. He attended my ordination back a few years ago. He staked out the position that I was misguided in my efforts. He went on to say that I am already the teacher I have sought to embrace. He argued with me when I told him I lacked the credentials to be a teacher.

Similar skills are needed to do street work with street gangs, argue to a courtroom jury, teach a police academy, and communicate  and counsel solutions to individuals in pain, suffering and anxiety.

The skills were honed in the very need and use of the skills. But they arose out of my own insecurities, fears and anxieties. They emerged first from my own experiences in a most personal way. Then I grasped how to communicate and transmit the necessary sentiment and information to others. That is what has made me excel in my endeavors.

I decided today upon much reflection that I am a teacher of those subjects I have a command of. Meditation is one of those subjects. Buddhism for Westerners may be another. At the least, I can teach the application of Buddhist principles to the western lifestyle. There is more to that proclamation than meets the eye, but I do not know how to express it. Perhaps that is the subject for another day.

Getting to know me, getting to know all about me.

If you befriended on me on Facebook as a result of having mutual interest, shared groups, but you do not know me personally, I have to disclose the following. I carry a firearm for personal protection. I am probably carrying a knife also. I will resort to violence in defense of self or family. I have never nor do I intend to ever hunt an animal. I do not judge hunters, I simply am not one.

I am very liberal about taxes and social welfare programs. I believe in being an active part of helping persons less fortunate than myself. I welcome immigrants just as my Russian immigrant family was welcomed.

I had personal violent experiences with Muslims when I was young which caused me to hate them. For years, I hunted trouble with Muslims. I did not serve overseas. I did not serve in the military. I have dozens of friends who have killed in countries far away. Some of my friends were US military in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of my friends are private contractors and they too have killed in countries far away. I love my friends. I do not approve of some things they chose to do or felt forced to do, but I love them for who they are not what they have done.

But as I aged I decided to stop hating the Muslim. He is my brother. I forgave the Catholic school bullies who chased me and beat me regularly for being Jewish. I forgave Christ for whatever it was he taught that made others hate me. I learned to love. I love legal and illegal immigrants. I love those that have everything I ever hoped to have and those that have nothing. I pray for those who are being oppressed and I pray for their oppressors. So, with this glimpse in mind, you may wish to abstain from arguments about kicking anyone out of the US or demolishing welfare, or eliminating the minimum wage. You can not persuade me with fear or venom. I know you are tired my brothers of waiting for your way of life to be shattered by some Muslim extremist. I know you may fear illegal immigrants sucking the fiscal well-being right out of the marrow of our economy. I hear your bravado when you sound the alarm, blow the bugle…CHARGE!

Why you ask, am I not with the program? What is wrong with Ken that he cannot see the threat, the magnitude and depth and breath of the seriousness?

I have never spent one day in this country free of the fear that the anti-Semites will rise up angry and accelerate their attacks on Jewish institutions and persons. You want me to get excited now. Where the fuck were you when I spent years in grade school trying not to get caught by believers in Christ. Who green-lighted the murder of Jews in Spain, Russian, Germany, Austria et al. Who convinced country after country to throw out the dirty Jews?

It is the same attitude that empowers so many Americans to select the scapegoats amongst the American population. Jews are still very much at risk. There are extreme organizations plotting to destroy Jews in the US. Many are part of the same organizations or thinking that permits us to deviate from core American values and insist we purge Muslims and immigrants from our country.

Someone is convincing so many of you that our precious resources are being squandered teaching Mexican children to read and write. That same kind of thought convinces some of you that the Muslim effort to preserve their religious and cultural identity is a threat to our safety and our culture. Just like the dirty Jew and his yarmulke on his head and his tzittzit which the orthodox Jew wears under his shirt.

I believe it is possible in my lifetime that I may have to defend the life of someone who will face grave bodily harm for what they are not, or for what they are doing. (I do not mean those that commit acts of terror upon others.) I made the decision long ago to not be   force-marched to an oven to be incinerated in a Nazi type attempt to extinguish the culture of the Jews. Nor will I stand by if the day ever comes where this country starts to cattle drive others to internment or concentration camps.

If you are my friend and an American, then stand with me as we resist intolerance. Let us speak out against any oppression visited upon those who cannot properly defend themselves. Please don’t cherry pick which groups are worthy of our help. Let us be heard. Let my Christian friends lead in the spirit of Christ.

Matthew 11:28-30  “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

And may the day come when hate filled websites like this one below do not proliferate, do not find audience, but die like an aged and toothless beast who must starve for the winter has protected his prey from his old eyes. Please go to this website I have linked. Perhaps it will awaken you to the hate that thrives amongst us!!!!! (Don’t let the title fool you.)

http://www.realjewnews.com/?p=881

My first acid trip was a trip!

It started as a trip to the north side with some guys for a party in the summer of 1968. I was 15 and had recently returned from boarding school after being expelled. I went with some guys from a nearby high school. I don’t remember a whole lot until the moment that one of the guys, Eric opened his wallet at the party and in the plastic photo section displayed a blue tablet he said his older sister had given him. She told him it was LSD. We all stared at it. There was certainly a lot of interest since most of us had never seen LSD. Eric said he was scared to try it and so I volunteered to take right then and there to see if it was for real. I had never done hallucinogens before nor had anyone else there. But I swallowed my apprehensions and my fear along with the LSD. We stayed at the party a while but I didn’t feel anything. I remember calling some guys, Jimmy and Tom from University of Chicago Lab School. They were not friends but guys who had professed to have done acid. They said if I hadn’t felt anything already it was probably fake.

So we jumped in Eric’s car, a Fiat Spyder, and he even let me drive. It seemed uneventful going home to Hyde Park except when we arrived at the next party my foot was all tingly like I could still feel the Fiat motor purring beneath it. I began to feel real weird. I went to the party at 5000 East End and had my first encounter with the Hyde Park counter-culture. Preppy kids and hippy kids all twisted up in this hi-rise lakefront apartment. It was the first time I met the notorious long-haired hippy kids I had been warned about.  I remember we got in an elevator to leave and someone screwing around had pushed every button for very floor. I felt claustrophobic and wanted out. But there was nowhere to go.  I recall the relief I felt when we finally got to the ground floor. I walked home to the large lakefront apartment of my parents which was on the 18th floor.

It was in a great old art deco building called the Powhatan and it was a beautiful place with a view of the lake and downtown Chicago. I had heard the building also hosts the only 24-hour elevator operators in Chicago. I had my own section of this great big apartment. I snuck into my room that night and tried to relax, listen to music and chill. But I was real antsy and dreamy at the same time. It was late. I called Lynda, a friend from a suburb, Kenilworth. She was the logical choice because she was the only one I knew who had her own phone in her bedroom, so I wouldn’t wake up her family and get in trouble.

We chatted for quite a long time. I will have to call her soon and see if she remembers what we talked about. Before we hung up she asked me if I would be all right. I assured her I was fine. But shortly after we hung up I got antsy again. It was about 4.30am by now. I went to the back door. The front door was a manual elevator, which required the elevator operator. He would be the night man and would be sleeping on the couch in the lobby by now. I could ring him with the elevator bell, but I figured he would wonder about my timing and my mental condition. So I walked down the 18 flights of stairs in my socks, holding my shoes to muffle my footsteps.

As luck would have it, after all that, I tripped as I approached the building’s front door and woke up the doorman. He looked at me quite curiously (or it was the LSD) and let me out and off I went into the night/morning. It was dark and quiet. I had no idea where I was going, None, Zero.

But off I went. We were new to the area, had only lived there a few months. I was home for the summer from boarding school and really hadn’t had time to get that familiar with the hood. I had often visited friends in the area but it wasn’t my home turf yet.

 The weather was lovely. It was a Chicago summer and that hour brings the best of the cool breezes. I walked away from the lake and towards the central part of the neighborhood. There was a commuter railroad that ran through the area. Its rails ran above ground level but to cross over the neighborhood you had to find a viaduct that went under the train. These were not unlike the tunnels that one traveled under the main road to get out to the lakefront. They had their own ambiance and sound, a good place to whistle and late at night a good place to get mugged. As I approached one of these viaducts I saw two people walking up ahead, a guy and a gal. They looked back towards me and for some reason it just scared me. Not hard to do to a kid on his first acid trip. I looked around, spotted a Yellow Taxi nearby and flagged it down. I jumped in with no destination in mind. Upon quick reflection I directed him to take me to a restaurant back in my old neighborhood, further south at 71st and Jeffrey.

  The restaurant at 71st street when I was growing up had always been called Peter Pan’s.  The new name was the Orange Pig. They probably changed it to reflect the changing racial composition of the neighborhood from white to black. It probably wasn’t the smartest place to go. But it seemed the right thing at the moment. I had grown up only two blocks from that corner. We had only moved out recently. But it had been a long time since it was safe to be out late at night in that neighborhood. As indicated, the neighborhood had been in transition from white to black. Didn’t bother me much but when the cab pulled up to the restaurant on the corner of 71st street, I suspected I should have stayed in bed. The restaurant was all plate glass in front. It seemed everyone in the place looked up at my cab when we stopped. As I paid my fare I looked at a sea of black faces. They certainly had reason to look. I was indeed the only white face around and I was only 15 years old and it was now 5.20AM. I know the time because while I hung around outside the place afraid to go in, I looked at the bank building across the street and it was supposed to give the time and temp. But right now it was only giving the temp. There was a black man standing nearby who answered when I asked him “Isn’t that sign supposed to give the time also.” He replied as he looked at his watch, “Sure is and I am tired of waiting for this lady to show up. It is 5.20 young blood.”  And so we struck up a conversation. I remember that he was a medium complexioned black man about 25 years old. He was wearing a straw wide-brimmed hat, not unlike the Chinese bamboo ones you see in the movies. He had a goatee. He wasn’t a big guy. He laughed easy as I made wise cracks, which is what I do whenever I am ill at ease or just plain scared. I was wearing blue jeans, a t-shirt, a blue jean jacket and a metal peace sign hanging around my neck from a leather strip. My hair was long by the standards of the day although I was a long way from the hippie hair I would soon adopt.

He asked me “Are you high on what I think you’re high on.” I asked him what he thought I was high on. He said, “You know, the big L”. I replied ‘I don’t know what the big L is so I couldn’t tell you if I was high on it.”  He laughed and said, “You know, LSD.” I got real scared and thought this guy might be a narc.  But for some reason I answered him truthfully, that I was in fact high on LSD. He laughed again and said he had once smoked some LSD.

Shortly thereafter he said he had to go in and eat his breakfast and bid me goodbye. I purposefully followed close on his heels, through the revolving doors into the restaurant. I did so that it would appear I was with him or knew him. I was trying to make it to the counter to sit down and evade the stares. When he got to his table where a friend of his was sitting he noticed me behind him. He asked me if I wanted to join them. I was grateful and of course I accepted his invitation. He introduced himself for the first time and then his companion. He was Eugene Hairston and his friend was William Throop.

We had only been sitting there a moment when he excused himself to make a phone call. I got real scared again. It occurred to me that he was a narc again and he was calling for police to come get me.  I was distracted from my reverie when William called for the bus boy. The bus boy came over and asked “Yea brother?” William stared hard at him. The bus boy said “Yea man?” but sounded a little strained. William stared harder and said with intensity “Stone run it!”  The bus boy said, “Yea, Stone brother, stone run it.” William spoke harshly, “Where’s my steak and eggs?” The bus boy looked scared and said he would go get them right away. Before it all had sunk in, Eugene returned to the table. We began to chat. He asked me why I was there. I explained that I grew up there and used to live right down the street. He then said “Oh, you got the Stone in you.” Oblivious to its meaning we chatted on. When he asked why he had never seen me around I explained it really wasn’t safe to come around anymore because of the gangs. I told him that even though I had grown up there the local Blackstone Rangers had taken over and could be dangerous. He asked me my name again and I told him. He asked if I knew anyone from the gangs. I told him I knew the former branch leader J.B. but that I had heard JB had quit and in fact that was why it had gotten dangerous for me. He smiled and asked “You really know JB.”  “Yea” I replied. He asked whom else I knew. “I know Paul Gibson too. “ He smiled and said “You know them huh? Yep. Then he asked me if I knew who he was. I replied he was Eugene. He said, “I am Eugene “Bull” Hairston. And this is my warlord Bull Sweet Jones“ (AKA Sweet Pea), pointing at William.

I knew the name of Eugene, aka Bull, Hairston and it seemed unlikely he was who he said he was. The name had been in the papers constantly because Hairston was on trial for solicitation to commit murder. It was alleged that he paid three 12 year old boys to shoot two drug dealers who had failed to get permission to operate in the Rangers territory. The murder attempt failed, the boys were caught after shooting and wounding the 2 dealers and they had given up Eugene.

So I put foot in mouth and accused this man of lying.  “So you mean you are Bull Hairston from the newspapers? I don’t believe you.”  He got agitated for a moment. But then he said, “You a funny little white boy. You tickle me.”  After some back and forth he pulled out his wallet and showed me his driver license.

I was having breakfast with one of the two most powerful guys on the south side of Chicago. This was one of the two original leaders of the Blackstone Rangers, the most powerful street gang to ever exist. His co-leader was  young man by the name of Jeff Fort who himself has been serving time in prisons for over 20 years. At the time it was estimated that the Blackstone Rangers numbered over 30,000 members.

I couldn’t believe it. I asked for his autograph. I was having breakfast with Cappo di Cappi of  Black Chicago gangs. He laughed some more and instructed William to write me a note. William complied and a moment later wrote me as follows. To a fellow Stone. ABSR signed William Throop. I believe ABSR meant All Mighty Black Stone Rangers.

I paid my check and went outside. William had gone to get the car and bring it around for Eugene. It was a clean white Cadillac. Before Eugene got in passenger side, he patted my head and told me to come back next week and have breakfast with him again.

I noticed as we left the restaurant that he did walk with the air of confidence that accompanies power. And when he paid the tab he had a roll of money. Course I now understood why the busboy was terrified and why “Stone” was the only acceptable response to William. “Stone” was the common reference to the gang and “Stone Run It” was their battle cry. Lucky for me that even though my old classmate JB had in fact quit the gang, he was still respected by OGs (Original Gangsters) like Eugene Hairston. The name of JB got me in good with Eugene and saved my ass just as JB had when I used to call upon his assistance in high school to ward off bullies.

I had every intention of going back the next week to meet them. But midway through the week I read that Eugene had been convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison. A war for control of the Stones broke out and William Throop survived an attempt on his life when he was shot 7 times in a motel on the south side. His girlfriend died in the barrage of bullets.  William Throop did not survive the second attempt on his life.

Eugene was shot and hit three times shortly after he got out of prison on parole. He survived. They say it was a warning from his successors to stay away. In 1988 his luck ran out when he was gunned down in a south side housing project. The papers conjectured it was gang-related.

As to that note that they wrote me, I tucked that in my wallet like it was a get out of jail free card. Remind me to tell you how that worked out when I it was discovered on me by Chicago Police officers.

As acid trips go it was pretty fulfilling. I took a cab home to Hyde Park after the sun had come up. My head was ringing and my eyes burned with fatigue by the time I got home. I was worn out from the hours of sleeplessness and psychological hyper-awareness that I had paid to trip the light fantastic. I would soon become a full-blown acid-head, ingesting untold amounts of hallucinogens over the next two and a half years. I would trip in a variety of places like Kenwood High School, Museum of Science and Industry and a lakefront location called The Point. Every trip was weird and of course under a variety of conditions but I doubt I ever brushed up against the likes of Eugene and William again.

 

Once upon a time in a faraway land, Part 1

I remember standing outside the high school waiting for the bell to ring for. Until the bell rang students had to wait outside untill they unlocked the doors and let us proceed to our classrooms. 5 black boys approached from a gang called the Blackstone Rangers (Stones). I was a pipsqueak. I was 4’11” and I had Free Lunch stamped on my forehead and these guys wanted lunch at my expense. I didn’t know these guys, but they had a keen sense of smell and picked up the scent of my fear.

I needed to do something and fast. I sized them up and ran through my encyclopedia of bluffs and the first one that occurred to me was to act as if we were all together in this escapade. This normally doesn’t work for a little white Jewish kid about to be robbed. but I had spent a lot of time around guys like this and I am a good mimic. I could talk the talk even if I couldn’t walk the walk. I knew these guys were gang-bangers just from their look.

 A gangster’s style was dress-casual. He wore lose fitting, almost baggy clothes. His shirt was an Italian knit and he wore pants with two pleats at the waist with room in the leg so that a gangster could pimp. Pimping was a way of walking with a kind of shuffle and slightly slouched and emanating attitude. They frequently wore narrow sunglasses that they had to look over the top of when talking.

The way this worked, when thugs approached, I would initiate the encounter by talking to them. I mean I knew damn well they planned to rob me, so I greeted them first, “Hey, what’s up?” (It is called, act as if.) Then I asked if “Anyone has seen JB.” See JB was the baddest kid around and a leader in the Stones and we went to grade school together. So I would got the jump on guys by asking for JB. The fact that I knew his name gave me credibility. so usually after that, they don’t ask for money. A rule of the streets was to not rob a friend of a gang leader.

Now if that doesn’t seem like much of a plan, it wasn’t but I had a back up bluff. That next part was to act as if I could fight. I acted like I would want nothing more than to have these guys mess with me so then I could whoop someone’s butt. Totally grounded in fantasy! Fact is if you acted first you might throw them off balance psychologically long enough to get in the school. One way to do this is as they approached I would ask them for some money and act huffy when they don’t got it. So the 5 spread out in a semi-circle in front of me. They arrroached me intending to secure compliance and get my money or pounce.     I know I have to make eye contact and hide fear. So I stare at the closest one and ask  “Hey, someone got a quarter?” The reply “Huh? Are you out of your mind boy?”, (a reasonable assumption when a small white boy tries to coerce several young black boys out of “spare change”) I would reply along the lines of “Hell yea, I’m out of my mind. better believe it! So who got a quarter? Don’t be tight. man. Someone give it up. don’t be cheap, help a dude out man.”

I was not only a small white boy, but I was dressed preppy. The uniform style of dress amongst my peers was Brooks Brothers button down shirts, khaki pants with cuffs dark socks and Bass Weejun penny loafers.  I might have been slightly more convincing if I dressed like the white thugs we called greasers. Anyways, if that bluff failed….run.

This particular encounter just typifies the type of incidents that took place regularly in my neighborhood. This time it ended with the five boys walking away, heads nodding in bewilderment and wonder about what exactly had just happened and who the hell was I. These encounters would have the hair on the back of my neck stand up. My palms would be quietly sweaty. My heart would beat so loud I thought anyone near by could hear it.

Amazingly, for me, acting like a teenage Jewish kid was much more difficult. At least acting like a “cool” Jewish kid. The encyclopedia of bluffs was quite useless in this realm.  I arrived to high school from a grade school that was over 50% black. In grade school I had taken to speaking the language of my black peers. So, in high school I had to learn to minimize my inclination to mimic the sound and speech of a young black boy who had emigrated to Chicago from Knoxville TN.

Many of the Jewish kids in my high school were in organized fraternities and sororities which were comprised mostly of Jewish kids. I have never met anyone outside of Chicago’s south side who had these clubs in their Chicago area high school. It seemed important to be accepted into this fraternity environment. I can’t tell you why but it did. My older brother had been in a fraternity, but I didn’t like him much. For sure I desperately wanted to be cool. But the reality was, I was too young and too awkward to blend in well. Fraternities just didn’t place a value on having members who were 12-year-old, freshmen, short, non-athletic, jive talking and not particularly affluent. I was 3 years away from a driving permit, and my body wouldn’t see pubic hair in the immediate future.

It took about 6 months of lobbying to be accepted into the second lowest-ranked fraternity in school. Ranks were based on the number of cool guys you had in the fraternity and gentiles and blacks were not considered cool and don’t count. I suspect most non-Jews were invited to join to bolster the athletic standing of the group (Ringers). My fraternity was considered just slightly cooler than the one fraternity that accepted both people of color and gentiles. But my membership resulted in 2 friendships that span over 43 years so I consider it a good investment.

Anyway the point is I had a harder time passing in my natural state for what I was (the little Jew kid) than passing as something I wasn’t and didn’t appear to be (the little black kid).

I can’t tell you the first thing about being with a sorority girl as I was barely able to negotiate being a preteen boy in a teenage world much less hope to date girls. I had no business being in high school. I wasn’t a good student or mature beyond my years. Hard to say if I was even age appropriate as I had no way to determine that. I had gotten ahead in school through some stubbornness, luck (bad/good), timing and mistakes. So while most kids had already consummated their childhood before going to high school, I was still wrapping up my juvenile affairs. bar mitzvah, puberty, walking, you know the basics. There is much more to this story. I was on a trajectory which would lead me to 5 failed years of high school and becoming a drop-out. It was the precursor to becoming a real criminal. But here is an insight. I got sick and tired of being picked on. Not only was I robbed the first day of each of the three Chicago high schools I attended, I was assaulted my first day of college preparatory boarding school in New Hampshire. In the sophomore year I was brutally attacked and nearly drowned by a rabid anti-Semite Palestinian student. I promised myself that someday I would get a gun and I would end the reign of terror of bullying and getting robbed which seemed to summarize my early years.