Who am I?

If there is a me, this might be. Can you summarize a life? I did so much living, I cannot recall half of it. But memories flow when I find that those memories may be helpful to others. I also realize that all I am in many regards, is memory. This moment fades immediately into a memory.  Here I lay out the substance of memories which comprise the path I follow to freedom from suffering. I have learned studying the Buddha that the most precious moment in my life is this moment. If you read through I hope it will be worthy of your time.

I am 66 years old. I am recently identifying as a lawyer, meditation teacher and  recovering addict. I relate to Marilyn Monroe when she said, “I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.”

I arrive here by luck and by being very street smart.  I spent most of my teens on the streets of Chicago, as a runaway from a physically abusive dad. While my family was affluent, I chose to live in poverty and crime, sometimes living on pieces of foam in the basements of apartment buildings and churches. I spent my teens stealing property, selling drugs, hitching rides and evading pedophiles.

Fightin’, killin’, wine and women gonna put me to my grave
Runnin’, hidin’, losin’, cryin’, nothing left to save
But my life
Stood on a ridge and shunned religion, thinking the world was mine
I made my break and a big mistake, stealin’ when I should have been buyin’
Uriah Heap

Probability of survival, low.

When I was 23, I created the nonprofit youth agency called Local Motion Inc. because it was the only way I could get a job working with teens. All the established youth programs I applied to declared that my lack of any formal college education disqualified me. So I hired me, I learned how to write grants for funding, and spent most of my time working in the streets with the toughest kids I could find. I was drawn to spending nights on street corners inhabited by gang members. My goal was to draw them away from the violence and facilitate their productive participation in society.

I dropped out of high school at 16. I tested and received a GED, high school equivalency when I was 18. I didn’t see the inside of a classroom again until 11 years later when I began a college program called University Without Walls. I spent 2 years in (and out of) the program getting a bachelors degree. My college program was interrupted when I went into drug treatment. After being clean of drugs for a year I returned to college and social services. Got my addictions counselor certification and my Bachelors in Human Services.

In 1985, at the age of 33, I enrolled in the John Marshall Law School. I was awarded a law degree 2.5 years later. I continued to work as a social worker with high risk populations in the inner city until I began a solo law practice in 1988. My own experiences as a street urchin and a drug abuser made me feel drawn back to the streets even as a lawyer. I could stay with what I had come to know the best, the streets! I have learned most of the tricks of survival by always bringing my work to the streets and the streets to my work.

I have been in numerous life and death encounters, including being shot at a few times. I have been witness to or involved in probably 100 violent incidents. Some days I saw multiple assaults. I have seen hate and most of its permutations. Probability of survival, low.

I am licensed to practice law in Texas, Arizona and Illinois. I studied law with some of the best trial lawyers in America including Gerry Spence and Racehorse Haynes. I loved doing trials and represented clients in all types of criminal and civil cases. I am especially proud of my representation of those accused of murder. The stakes for the accused are almost incalculable.

Moved to Dallas TX when I was 43 with my second wife. She was a corporate executive and I started the DFW Gun Range and Training Center,  the largest firearms training center in Dallas. Studied handguns tactics with some of the best, Thunder Ranch, Gunsite Academy, and the Executive Protection Institute among others. I was certified by the state of Texas to teach police and security firearms and the laws of use of deadly force. Survival odds, improved.

I made a best friend of my little brother Ricky when I became a Big Brother of Chicago over 35 years ago. He was 8 years old then.  My second and best wife and I became foster parents to Danny, an 11 year old I met when the juvenile court in Chicago assigned me to assist in his criminal defense.

I have owned 7 businesses including 3 nightclubs. I regard nightclubs as a world infused, infested with drugs, alcohol and pain. Probability of survival, low.

So let us summarize what I think I am. I do fail more than I succeed but my failures are so delightful to others that I enjoy sharing them when opportunity knocks. So I identify with my failures. At the same time, my failures were harnessed to create subsequent successes. I identify with that.

If I get past labels, it is because I realize that saying I love biking Dallas or hiking Tucson AZ. is not satisfactory. Teaching Buddhist meditation for several years at the Buddhist Center of Dallas and being present for my daughters/family Annastacia and Alexandria, does not explain who I am now.

Should it be a thing that I relapsed on drugs for 10 years but in 2007 I reengaged with and remain in 12 step recovery?  Does my study of Buddhism help sketch out who I am?

Funny story. On my way to losing a fortune during the economic tsunami of 2008, I befriended a Buddhist monk from Thailand who was living in Tucson Arizona. He and I hiked hundreds of  miles of mountain trails discussing and learning meditation the next 2 years. Then I ordained as a novice Buddhist monk and lived in his monastery for a little over 4 months. That monk, Ajahn Sarayut, taught me how to meditate and then how to teach meditation.  Odds of survival, very good.

I eat healthy, treat the Earth with respect and seek the companionship of great spirits. I have two mottos. Do no harm. And, Be humble, because I may be wrong.

I do wish to label me not. I prefer to be what I can be as the moment dictates what is true and right. My study of the Buddha taught me that the path of virtue, concentration, and discernment would lead to a state of calm well-being and then to use that calm state to look at all experience in terms of suffering and freedom from suffering.

I am certain that I must be accepting of everything. I may not approve but with a gentleness I never knew, I must accept the pleasure and adversities and how fleeting both are. Drug addiction was a quick way to allay my emotional discomfort. Meditation is a slower, safer more skillful way to free myself from the very torment that drove me to abuse chemicals, relationships and money.

The time I spend trying to be certain of the solidity of things and thoughts, the more suffering I have. When I bathe in the uncertainty of everything including myself, while it is bewildering, it is liberating. When I sit a look closely, there is nothing I can cling to with certainty. Buddhist teachers challenged me to find where my thoughts began and where they went when they left. I can not. I was challenged by my teachers to prove that my thoughts and emotions were mine to own/control by adhering only to happy thoughts and pleasant emotions. I accepted the challenge and discovered I could not successfully cling to my thoughts or emotions. None of us can.

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” Abraham Lincoln.

If I fail to stand for what I believe I would fail to be who I think I am. When I act mindlessly, not mindfully, when acting selfishly not selflessly, and when my intentions are unwholesome, then I am not who I want to be.

Who am I? Have not a clue. I no longer intend to let the armor around my heart remain there. I have been letting go of the pain of life’s encounters which closes me off to the sunlight of the spirit, creates the illusion it protects me and yet subverts me when I only wish to love. Breathing in I am mindful I am breathing in. I practice in meditation to be aware of the physical sensation of the breath, in and out. When I am fully mindful, meditating,  the sediment of mindlessness settles. There is then a clarity which I never had of this moment and all the pain of yesterday and the anxiety of tomorrow is dissolved. I am free to love my family and friends and even strangers without the rubbish of judgment and opinions I love attaching to.

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.