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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Right Action for me, today, in this moment.

I had a chat with a friend this morning. The subject of truth-telling came up. I advised that since I took Buddhist vows I have not lied. The Buddhist vows or “precepts” are as follows

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami: I observe the precept of abstaining from the taking of life.

2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami: I observe the precept of abstaining from stealing or taking that which is not freely given.

3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami: I observe the precept of abstaining from sexual misconduct.

4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami: I observe the precept of abstaining from lying or gossip.

5. Suramerayamajjapamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami: I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants.

Since I declared my intention to practice Buddhism I have tried to adhere to these vows. I fail at times but not for lack of trying. Neither I nor anyone in my immediate family has purposely violated the first precept and so much as killed an insect since we formally took the precepts.

Why would a Jewish-American choose the practice of Buddhism? Why would a man with my history undertake any religious practice?  I heard the Buddhist pronouncement that life was suffering. As Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote “The search for a spiritual path is born out of suffering. It does not start with lights and ecstasy, but with the hard tacks of pain, disappointment, and confusion. However, for suffering to give birth to a genuine spiritual search, it must amount to more than something passively received from without. It has to trigger an inner realization, a perception which pierces through the facile complacency of our usual encounter with the world to glimpse the insecurity perpetually gaping underfoot. When this insight dawns, even if only momentarily, it can precipitate a profound personal crisis. It overturns accustomed goals and values, mocks our routine preoccupations, leaves old enjoyments stubbornly unsatisfying.”

I experienced this and now I confine myself to behaviors and undertakings which increase the likelihood of success without regret. That would be success without the accompanying dissatisfaction at having had to harm anyone financially, psychologically and emotionally. I live with those very type of regrets as relates to my 2 former spouses and anyone else who drew close enough to my flame to get burned.

It is 20 years ago today that I was wed to now ex-wife Laurie. I would have to look far and wide to find someone more deserving of  great kindness and happiness. Despite believing that, I let myself slowly drift from the straight and narrow and into a spiritual abyss which I did not escape from for many years. I can say with certainty that she gave me every opportunity and resource to live a normal rich and rewarding existence. She offered solid ground upon which love could thrive. So here is what I learned. I had demons which lurked, waiting always to undermine good choices. I had unresolved issues which were always waiting to manifest in my behaviors. I had mental-illness ready to unravel any progress I might exercise.

And but for 2 little girls, now my daughters, who needed me less than I needed them, I would have spun out. But God gave me strength of character to protect the weak and needy. While my attributes were inadequate to bring me salvation, my resolve to act honorably was resolute enough to bring me to a place of willingness to take the actions needed to protect them.

Thus is born the seeds of sobriety and Buddhism in my spirit.

What is the measure of a right life?

I struggle to get it right. But what is right?

What will determine whether I had a good life or not. Is it to be a spiritual analysis? Did I abide by the Golden Rule, or pass the test of a karmic challenge, or was I properly restrained by religious dogma? Will it be an IQ test or economic analysis? (Historically I am a good test taker.) The Buddha said that a right life is to develop insight into the truth of reality. The eight parts of the path to liberation are grouped into three essential elements of Buddhist practice—moral conduct, mental discipline, and wisdom.

Here is a synopsis of what has happened. I lived fast, tried to die young and have a good looking corpse. The strategy failed for a couple of reasons. First, I outlived the time frame of die young. I lost some of my delight with the idea of dying. I created possibilities and achieved them. There became this idea I could affect not just my life positively, but others.

I got addicted and from my recovery I found salvation. I lost salvation. I created effects but they were not always positive. I created exes, like ex-wives and ex-lovers. I did good, but I didn’t know how to do better. I gave up trying to be better but never gave up trying to be good. I took a road less traveled. I went against advice of counsel. There became little tolerance for pain. Intolerance led to escape and escape led to spiritual and financial ruin.

Now, I have trained myself to accept what is. I have practiced being better and I am better. I have embraced the counsel of others. I have given permission to teachers and guides to lead me. I became a mentee, a student, a sponsee and a client. It began when I accepted a teacher to give me a program of recovery.

A second man/teacher guided me up the mountains. Over and over, time and again, at the break of dawn, without question, I followed him up mountains and through canyons, dodged rattlesnakes, and along the paths, shared our life stories.

Then another of my teachers ordained and wrapped me in the saffron robes of a Buddhist monk and assigned me a small bed to sleep in. Like religious men from centuries ago, I rose early, every day, for months, to chant and sit in silence.

I went on meditation retreats and opened my heart and mind to new ways of coping. And I became willing to hope for change. I became the teacher, the mentor and the sponsor.

Today, were I called into eternal sleep, would I go with the acceptance of someone who has lived right? Pain is in resistance. My body is feeling the effects of aging. My financial fortune has evaporated. My mountain mentor committed suicide. I have few financial prospects and my daughters while wonderful are growing up and away. Affection is rare from these kids who once hugged and kissed me often.

Now the daughters are interested in things I have no interest in and vice versa. Their mom, Rachael and I divorced.  A 17 year life together gone in a matter of minutes.

Is it enough to strive to be good? Is it enough, even as you fall short in the eyes of those closest to you? When the grade-books come out for the semester in the class of life, will I get any points for effort or will it all be based on the final exam. I once thought I was willing to go to any lengths to be better. Sometimes, now, it is all I can do to not be worse. Despite going to bed early and early to rise, I have yet to be healthy, wealthy and wise. The good news is I am not unhealthy, poor and stupid.

Salvation is a fleeting possession. I want to acquire it but I don’t know if I am willing to give chase. It is a moving target which I should have hunted more rigorously when I was fleeter of foot and mind.

But at the end of the day, my belief system has at its core, that my best efforts are all that is required. And in my heart I have tried to be a good man, father, husband, friend, counselor and adversary. If I were told my time was up, the thing I would most regret is that I didn’t spend more time in acceptance of life on life’s terms. I would have had a lot more serious regrets if this same question had been asked of me years ago.

Please feel free to send me a copy of the test of life and the corresponding answer key. (How much harder than law school could it be?) It isn’t that I am looking to cheat. It is just that I want to see the correct answers so it will become clear if I passed or failed.