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

 

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.

California governor signs bill giving juvenile prisoners a second chance

This is a story so near and dear to my heart for a few reasons. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/09/30/california-governor-signs-bill-giving-juvenile-prisoners-second-chance/?test=latestnews

 

I worked in the juvenile and criminal justice systems in Chicago, as a social worker and a lawyer. I represented kids who killed. I represented some who were killed also but that isn’t what this is about. When I got to know my clients through my representation, I discovered that almost all of them were just kids, in bad situations with bad influences and lack of impulse control without a genuine recognition of the depths of the consequences which accompany criminal acts.

The scientific evidence is undisputed, http://www.hhs.gov/opa/familylife/tech_assistance/etraining/adolescent_brain/Development/prefrontal_cortex/

“With an immature prefrontal cortex, even if teens understand that something is dangerous, they may still go ahead and engage in the risky behavior”

Bottom line, kids are not adults. It is folly to treat them “as if” they are. Juvenile killers are not culpable in the same way that the criminal justice system anticipates and identifies criminal behavior.  Known to some by the legal Latin term, “mens rea” and more commonly as culpability, criminal behavior required not only the act but the evil heart. When juvenile gang members started committing more homicides in the 70s, a group of sociologists in Chicago predicted the coming of juvenile super-criminals in the 1980s. A young, teen-age criminal was being birthed into society who would act violently without conscience or reservation. It turns out that super-criminal never materialized but the criminal statutes were already in place in anticipation.

It is against the law to impose the death penalty on someone who does not understand the nature of the punishment. Thus we do not execute the insane, the retarded and the kids. But we are locking them up and throwing away the key. People change as they age. A kid will jump out the second story bedroom window to see how it feels. A young man will jump out of an airplane to see how it feels. A man in his thirties will ride his Harley fast in violation of the law and safety. A man in his forties generally thinks that jumping out of second floor windows is crazy. A fifty year old man does not see the point of paying to risk his life jumping out of airplanes. Hell no, no way. With age comes judgement.