Difficult Times (an ode to my sister)

The following is a disjointed, rambling stream of conscious blog written in the early early hours of the day. I am jet-lagged and sleep deprived but I persist.

Half political, half sentimental follows.
I was on Facebook overnight unable to sleep and bored. It occurred to me how comforting that my sister hates trump. My whole family actually hates him. But my younger of two sisters I refer to has been the back-up matriarch of our family with her demand for control, her attention to detail and her love and affection. It is a bonus and I love that she is not only an extraordinary care-taker but frequently surpasses me, on social media, expressing her total disdain for trump and her admiration for progressive values.

I am the baby of a family of 4 siblings. I have had my challenges with each of my 2 sisters and one brother. I considered resigning from my family of origin at one time but ultimately decided that I belonged.

It is helpful that this sister has been the glue which was needed as my parents aged and died. I have seen memes for family members to show appreciation for each other but my sister deserves more than a meme.

When our parents pass it often leaves us children, despite being grown, feeling vulnerable and abandoned. It is my gift to be a member of a family that has a core of affection and cohesion which sheltered me from the ill-effects of parental loss.

I am mentioning this because I know so many families now torn by politics and many more who fight with each other over the late-life care and passing of their parents. My family has successfully navigated the loss of both parents and the election of trump. Two potential family crises.

My sister Karen was the rock during my mom’s final health crisis. I am spared long term guilt, about being a son so distant, about my mom’s care because my sister was ever attentive and present. I was constantly assured my mom was in good hands getting the best care.

I am the only tattooed, drug addict, gun toting Buddhist in my family. But no matter how strange and far I stray from my origins, I have never been shunned/rejected by my family. Sadly so many of my peers have not been so lucky.

Values are important to me. My 3 siblings all have humanistic, progressive values at their core. We don’t fight over gay rights or universal access to health care or civil rights for all. (They hate guns but none of us is as rabid as we used to be on the subject)
I don’t envy those that come home to visit a household airing Fox News.

May all families know the affection and respect of shared values. May all families navigate the loss of parents with dignity and love for each other. May all splintered families find healing when the dust of politics settles.

Mom’s first birthday away.

I am not prone to melancholy. I am generally even keel. But today is the first time my mom is not around on a September 13th to wish her happy birthday. Today I am reminded that it took me too long to become the son she could be proud of. It took me too long to see the chaos and difficulties I imposed on my family especially back in the old days with jails, addiction and academic and economic failures..
I have no reason to fear going to jail again but I will fear that my mom is not around to bail me out. Because she is the only person I could trust to help me out of any jam. I rarely asked but she never failed.
I never fucked up enough for her to give up. She could be indifferent and aloof emotionally to family and friends. Why? I do not know. But she physically tried to protect me from bodily harm and tried to put herself between me and my father the one time when he seemed to have lost control while disciplining me.
My dad could be violent but the only time he put a hand on my mom was that day And that same day I tried to kill him. Yes, I mean that on that day when I was 10, I made an full on attempt to poison him. 
I never doubted from that day that if he got physical with her again, I would do him great bodily harm. But that was the only time he touched her in anger and we never had to find out if I could improve my plan.
I am in full-on melancholy that I made so many apologies and amends to so many people over the years and it never occurred to me to do the same for her. Yes, I changed and acted better and was a better son. But it would have taken many more years of right behavior to have begun to make up for what I put my mom through. Not just as a kid but with my divorces, money problems, fights with family members in front of her and more.
From early grade school my mom had to visit school teachers and listen to the myriad of complaints about my lack of scholastic accomplishments and my behavioral issues. She heard it all but all she seemed to remember from it was the part where they said I was smart and she did not dwell, at least openly, about what a shame my behavior was.
Nothing prepared my mom for taking me, when I was 17, to the Cook County felony courthouse and watching as the judge admonished us that I was facing 6 to 15 years in prison. What was she to think as the plainclothes Chicago Police officers warned her on the way out of the courthouse that I was living amongst a criminal element that would get me killed or result in further charges.
Imagine having a teen-age son who only comes home when he is physically broken with mono and has no place left to go. And imagine that shortly after you get him health care and bring him back to good health, he disappears back into the streets.
Yea, I owed. I will always owe.
Remember To Sir With Love. Some lyrics,
“And as I leave I know that I am leaving my best friend
A friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong
That’s a lot to learn, but what can I give you in return?
If you wanted the moon I would try to make a start
But I would rather you let me give my heart “
The melancholy is impermanent. It will fade. More often I will remember my mom’s last 5 days and how she looked so pretty to me. I will recall how I would talk to her early each day after the caretaker left and my sister had not yet arrived, I would speak to her. She was already in a drug stupor when I arrived so we did not converse. But in case she could hear me, I talked to her. I like to assume that somewhere in that drug addled mind she heard love from me and my sisters.
I tell you that she died the perfect death. She was getting good medical care. Her kids were with her. Her granddaughter was laying beside her and she just stopped breathing. It was a month ago.
The point is not that I suck at being a son or that I dwell in recriminations. The point is that when my best caretaker died, then did I have to face my fear of living without a security blanket. Now I know that when I am called to be an adult I am, more than ever, keenly aware of how much of a child I still am. The narrative about me as a son should highlight that when I stroll down memory lane, there will always be ample evidence that I am one of the lucky ones who got a mom who will always be remembered with great love and affection, because she earned it.

Adoption and where does love come from?

I do not have an answer by the way. But I think it a good question. I just came home from watching a movie called Instant Family with Mark Walhberg. It is about foster care and adoption and many of the problems associated with it. The movie is good in that it depicted areas of the foster care and adoption system and the obstacles.

I applied to be a single adoptive parent when I was in my late 30s. I attended an adoption fair, as depicted in the film, and I consulted with the hosting staff. The host, Illinios Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) would only allow a single male to adopt an older male child. When I met the caseworker, a black woman, she recoiled when I told her I was open to a child of any race. The caseworker would not consider letting me adopt a child of color. It was a distressing event because you walk around this area with all these foster kids running around. Almost all were children of color. Most were cute as a button, even the older ones. Older kids in the system are designated HTP, hard to place. Families usually want to adopt infants or very young kids.

After I complained about the case worker’s attitude on race pairing, the DCFS assigned me to a private agency called Lutheran Welfare Services where they assured me I would get better assistance in my pursuit. Wrong. While they had no issue that they openly shared with me about race matching, they had little experience with single parent/older child matches. Fail!

A few years later, my second wife Laurie and I became foster parents to a an 11 year old boy I was appointed to represent in the juvenile courts in Chicago. He was convicted of some thefts and was ordered removed from his chaotic home in the public housing projects which proliferate the south side. Because he was under 13, he could not be incarcerated so he was remanded to DCFS for foster care.

When the court orders a child removed and placed with the state, in Chicago, the first step is a group home. Bad, bad situation with kids of all ages and issues. I liked Danny although he was very quiet. He looked quite innocent, despite his history of stealing, and I assumed he was overwhelmed to be caught up in the juvenile criminal court. I asked the court to place him in my home until a suitable foster family could be found. This cannot normally be done because neither I nor my home was licensed for foster care.  The judge thought I might be crazy so he took me into chambers to determine if I knew what I was doing, could I provide an appropriate and safe home. Then he ordered the DCFS to immediately put Danny in my home. until a foster family could be found.

Danny had mental health and developmental issues. A wonderful boy who was a good thief and a bad student. But he adjusted well to our home. He was with us about a year before they found his first race appropriate home. He remained in the system in one placement or another for a number of years. Such a long story for another time.

He was eventually returned to his mom’s home, which by the way, was still chaotic. While he lived with us, we pursued becoming licensed foster parents but the system was so ineffective we were never licensed despite taking the classes and submitting to background and home checks. I lost track of him about 24 years ago, but I continuously search for him.

My then fiance, Laurie, was not crazy about me bringing a foster kid home before she and I had actually moved in together or got married. She complained once, that I recall, and never again. She was a wonderful foster mom to Danny. I loved that while Danny could not read, she read to him most nights before he went to bed.

On a side note, Danny escaped from some other placements when he was 13. He fled back to his family of origin. His oldest sister called me to please take him into my home again before he gets killed.  He was running the streets, selling crack cocaine and had ripped off the drug dealer twice who was fronting him the crack. Great stories about the rescue for another time.

So many of us want to help. We want to love and provide a healthy environment for children. The film, Instant Family, was hokey and over the top at times but in large measure depicted the crazy chaotic feelings of foster children, foster parents, and the challenges of foster care. There is a story thread depicting how the family reunification policy which guides the courts can result in a mixed, often bad result. And no exploration of the foster care system is complete without showing how some foster families treat the kids like a business.  It was a tear-jerker at times for sure.

DCFS creates profiles for online kid shopping where you can view hundreds of kids who are available for adoption or foster placement. You read their profile, see their photos and then are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem.

I did finally adopt two daughters. raised them and perhaps failed them. Loved them and sheltered them. Not sure by any measure that I am a good parent, but I know these two quotes are true.

We should not be asking who this child belongs to, but who belongs to this child.     

James L. Gritter

Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone, but still miraculously my own. Never forget for a single minute, you didn’t grow under my heart but in it.     

Fleur Conkling Heyliger

 

 

“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.

 

“Must be” cause “must ain’t” don’t sound right

Warning. I am not at risk of self-harm or suicidal but I want to use harsh terms and serious language about my state of mind. I am as universally screwy as everyone I know. Just different. Here is my screwy. Here is my must be, because anything else would be untrue.

I am not good with failure. It sends me into a tailspin. But the one that has always given me the most difficulty is failure in relationships. And that is a misnomer. I doubt I failed so much as recognized the relationships failed. The relationship was not meant to be because of personality, emotions and/or history that could not be overcome.

But if I invested my heart and affection into the relationship, I define it within me, that hidden self thing, as “my” failure. Sometimes I went to great lengths to try and fix it. Sometimes I could shrug it off and move on readily.

Old age and circumstances have conspired the last few years to puncture my defenses and leave me feeling defeated after relations failed. I conjure up numerous personal demons to explain why I failed. But note, even if I had no real role in a failed relationship, even if I blame the other person, I still find a way to blame me. I might tell myself that I should have seen failings sooner. Or, I should have never given my heart and made myself vulnerable.

This attachment to the outcome of important relationships is the primary source of suffering for me over the years. I suffer from a deep-seated insecurity that I do not have the skill to be in relationships. Believing I do not deserve to be in a good relationship, the belief that I am a warrior and destroyer not a lover and a healer.

The insecurity eats at me. It erodes my sense of well-being. It pushes me deeper into social isolation and when I need others the most, I repel from reaching out. (Ultimately I reach out but I am exhausted from the effort.)

I have years as a student of the mind and emotions. I know the truth. But I can rarely harness my knowledge of the nature of life to mitigate the bad, bad feelings. Sometimes I want to die. Not kill myself. Just die, not cope anymore, stop showing up for life….escape. Other times I want to bury myself in pleasure. Sex, drugs, and play should help the situation.

At my age, these avoidance techniques do not even bring temporary relief anymore. Nope, I have no recourse but to navigate the choppy waters of my self-inflicted torment. I tread water as I am awash in waves of melancholy. I have all the skill and knowledge anybody needs to successfully move on. I have not the ability to avoid or escape that drowning feeling, of feeling really really bad. I always seem to have a period where I struggle daily, hourly, against feelings of doom and gloom. The world sucks, I suck and you suck.

When you hurt I know just what to say to you. I use my experience and knowledge to guide you to safety. But when I hurt, my emotions interfere with any attempt to return to a place of equanimity.

But I do have the coping skills. I do not expect to die over bad feelings. I know my wounds are self-inflicted. I am aware that how you treat me should not dictate how I treat myself. I have wisdom, compassion and yes, affection and love. Despite years of trying to pummel the vulnerability out of myself, toughen up, I will eventually surrender to the pain that is an inevitable result of giving access to my affection.

All things are impermanent. Someday, you will not be here to read this or I will not be here to write it. Everyone I know who has not passed, will pass. With each passing there will be sorrow and pain. Sometimes I bounce back like a rubber ball and sometimes I hit like a raw egg.

Your concern, love, empathy are so helpful. But at the end of the day, the only way I have found out of pain, is through the pain. I let it in and feel it. I hold it up to the light and see its power and its source. I use pain as a meditation object sometimes. It is called mindful contemplation of feelings. Allowing it to reside within me, but refusing to let it take root, I think, “this too shall pass”.

But damn man, I hate the hours spent in self-reflection, self-pity and self. Gosh, I hate feeling locked up inside, unable to express the full extent of my sorrows. I hate the unguarded moments where anger, greed and hatred run rampant, and I disdain making the effort to nurture love and compassion. I hate that some of my closest confidants who I shared my personal issues with, have died and taken years of trust, sharing and memories with them.

As always I offer to end my blogs with blessings. May all beings be happy, safe and free. It feels a little better to go to a place of loving kindness.                                                            People in Alcoholics Anonymous taught me this lovely (St. Francis) prayer which I think serves to take me out of self and makes me focus on being of service. Focusing on the needs of others is like the release valve when the pressure of depression builds.

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace;
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

How it was I came to self-destruct.

I write a lot about relationships without writing about my relationships. It is my most significant challenge emotionally to navigate my love of others without resort to excessive joy and affection, shame, recriminations, anxiety, and the gamut of emotions I experience. It is just a complete list of why I drank and drugged myself half to death.
Every time I slipped underwater and drowned myself in drugs, it was because I did not having coping skills when hurt or angered in a romantic relationship. Every time.
The very things that made me regress then, make me grow now. I have a new skill set. I have learned to examine my participation in every interaction I have with people, especially lovers. Sadness leads to knowledge about myself. Anger leads to knowledge about myself. Joy and affection lead me to knowledge about myself. It is not only the bad that I must be wary of. The good times inevitably create the attachment which leads to suffering as I chase after more good times.
What a blessing to find that I am fully capable of participating in my life during good times and bad times without resorting to drugs to enhance or diminish my feelings. This is a gift derived from sobriety followed by mindfulness. These are two practices which put me on the path that leads to wisdom.
These things I deserve but did not earn. I got lucky. So many people destroy their lives and the lives of loved ones because they have no skill and no capacity to recognize their thoughts and emotions are self-inflicted wounds. I myself have always been and surely will always be a wounded healer.
Thank you to those of you that keep me close. You surround me and remind me to stay in the middle of the herd, where the predators can not pick me off when I feel weak. Good friends are much cheaper than drugs and alcohol.
I acknowledge I am the recipient of these blessings and wish they be shared with all living beings. May the merit I accrue through good acts be acquired for the benefit of all who know anger, hurt and suffering. May all beings be free from all harm and know peace and comfort. I wish these things because I believe what The Buddha taught, that we must accompany wisdom with four qualities of love: Friendliness, Compassion, Appreciative Joy for others and Serenity.

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

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.

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.

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 pal, Chuck Horn memorial

If you didn’t know Chuck and you have come across this writing, excuse me. Chuck died suddenly. Just shy of 60 years of age, he had struggled with addiction for several years.  He died while actively participating in 12 step recovery. Likely he died of causes related to his health.  I am to speak at the memorial for him today. In anticipation I wrote of him and for him….

I assume that Chuck skated into heaven, Valhalla etc. without a glitch. But there is a possibility that there were obstacles to Chuck’s passage. Like most people Chuck had a flawed character. The most prominent flaw was his proclivity for substance abuse. In his addiction he harbored thoughts and feelings that were negative and destructive. These thoughts ate at his core and caused many a day to be spent in darkness, abiding only his demons. When these demons of darkness descended upon him, he surrendered to his defects of character. However, we would not be here if addiction summed up Chuck’s life.
What really characterized Chuck was his propensity to care for, provide for and stand by people in need. Even people who were in better straits than Chuck were treated to his grace and his generosity. No one was beneath him and no one undeserving of his affection and charity. People who I would never have lifted a hand to help because I saw no value in them, he would reach out to. In the depths of his addiction he would take time out to offer solace and sustenance. It was a remarkable thing to see and hear.
We spoke for hours about justice and kindness. We spoke about spiritual bankruptcy and the consequences. We spoke about life’s trials and tribulations. Life’s joys and life’s disappointments. He wanted to be pure. He deeply desired to be free of his resentments all the while nurturing them and strengthening them. He manifested powerlessness in every breath. Honesty eluded him and then slammed him against the wall.
We are gathered and in doing so present the argument, the defense that demands that Chuck is entitled to admission to the finest club the afterlife has to offer. The evidence of his actions in the balance persuades us to stand by, advocate for and remember our friend.
I traveled with Chuck, ate meals and meditated with him. He was no less a student of spiritual health than the Buddhist monks I lived with. What he lacked was discipline. What he lacked was focus. What was missing was the mental toughness that once came so readily to him when he was young. Of late he fought to reclaim memory, physical acuity and compassion. He battled to forgive and to be forgiven. Thus did his condition rob him of the ability to shine spiritually.
I sit in AA meetings and I hear various dead persons quoted ad infinitum for their wise homilies and aphorisms. Chuck will not be remembered thusly. His good words resonated in the moment but he wasn’t around long enough to be touted as an AA guru. But to the lives he touched, he will be remembered as a man with a strong moral compass and backbone who but for his addiction would have loomed far taller than his height restricted.
Chuck was born into a large family of 5 siblings. He often talked about how he didn’t need or have lots of friends in his early years because his family was full of kids. His mom is often described by Chuck and siblings as a rageaholic. His father as a solid hard-working man of the middle class. Chuck would excel in sports in high school and always lamented that he had to leave his high school in Amarillo, where he had friends and respect, to attend school elsewhere. He returned to Amarillo his last year but never seems to have recouped the status he felt he occupied in his earlier years. His college life was memorable for him. He loved to tell me what a great school Richland Community college was. He loved its diversity and campus life. Then it was onto U T where he created some bonds that would waver but endure the rest of his life. Sometimes described as a genius oftentimes described as a rascal, Chuck entertained and befuddled everyone in his world.
Nancy and he met early on but didn’t marry until later in life. While they didn’t have kids, they had dogs. The home would never be considered full unless there were their dogs yipping and leaping about.
When Chuck finally got sober his one certain daily task was to care for the dogs. And this he did with diligence. He knew that his wife Nanci would not abide his neglecting the dogs the same way he neglected himself. And he loved Nanci. He feared she would realize she was better off without him and leave. He fretted that his life would be empty without her. But like most people who drink and/or drug he couldn’t stop the train once it left the station. He could not help disappointing loved ones as his addiction gave no quarter. A masterful liar in the beginning, Nanci says he finally gave up the lies and just resigned himself to being an addict. Henceforth, when I met him, he would confess, upon interrogation, to his slips. I was amazed that he could relapse at night and be at a meeting the next morning. I was stunned that he could have nothing left in his addiction, no friends, money or health and yet return there after fellowshipping each morning with us. Why were we not enough to keep him sober? Who is this man to frustrate my every attempt to carry the message? Equally important is why did I bother after repeatedly babysitting him through his detoxification?
Chuck lured his loved ones back with a hug and a puppy dog face. And his sincere remorse after each slip and the guilt he expressed made me stay the course. It kept Nanci by his side. It drew everyone here to his side despite the frustration and anger we felt with each failure.
Unlike many addicts though Chuck had a distinguishing feature about him. In the depths of his addiction, despite self-will run riot, he never forgot the less fortunate and he was always willing to help a friend. When I was an addict I never had time for anyone outside my immediate family. I stayed cloistered. But Chuck would always make the offer. I would say to him, you worthless asshole, what can you do to help me. You cannot help yourself. And he would hang his head and say half apologetically, I know, but I’ll do what I can”.

And in this way did we find ourselves driving to Tucson to see my family and detox Chuck. He was by my side 18 hours a day. Trying to help and getting berated at every turn because his idea of helping was most people’s idea of hindering. He wanted to help perfectly and in so doing was a nuisance. Paralyzed by his wannabe perfection, we would throw our hands up and take the task back from Chuck. His addicted mind could not perform what his heart so wanted to do. I offered him every resource, tool, and support that I could think of and muster. He was a drowning man who could not be certain enough he wanted to live to grab the life raft. He flailed about in the water. I would get mouthfuls of splashed water trying to reach him. I would swear off trying and then swim again towards him for one more attempt.
We were both tired of his struggle. He begged me not to give up on him. I threatened to kill him for his own good. If not for Nanci and his love for her I think he and I could have reached an agreement to finish him off.
So we drove back to Dallas from Tucson. Another 17 hour ride, 1000 miles with only ourselves for companionship. He lamented how everyone near and dear to him had fucked him over. How many times I heard this lament I cannot say. But this time I spoke with conviction and heart. I told him to stop! I told him to listen to me with every fiber of his body. And I related to him that I had been put in his life by God to help him. That I was his messenger and that God could not be any louder or any clearer. That God wanted him to let go of his resentments because they were killing him.
I believe in Karma. I believe as Buddhists do, that everyone and everything comes into our life as a result of cause and effect. I met Chuck because our lives dictated it. We needed each other. I needed to be taught patience and tolerance. I needed to be reminded of the power of unconditional love. He needed someone who would amplify the message that he had been told many times but couldn’t hear. My voice broke through the background noise of Chuck’s addiction. But for Nanci though, Chuck would have slipped and died in the abyss before I ever met him. But for her steadfastness and relentless love for Chuck he could not have mustered enough concern or esteem for himself to stay alive much less thrive. All of us here who offered a hand to Chuck would never have had the opportunity if not for Nanci. He just didn’t care enough about himself to have made the effort. The care and concern he showed all of us would never have shown through his craziness if he didn’t have Nanci at home waiting with love and compassion for his sick soul.
I do not expect to ever meet another person like Chuck in my life. I know everyone feels unique and I am sure you are. But Chuck will resonate with me always. I will revere him as my teacher. I will curse his untimely demise. I will lament the briefness of his sobriety. I will always celebrate his humor and presence. I will miss him at meetings, breakfast, on the road, at the dozen movies and the myriad of other places we ventured like Hamm’s Peach orchard. His seat will always be empty at the twice weekly meditation. His car will always be missing in his parking spot. But he will never be missing in my heart.
Thus do I say to the powers that be, God or Gods, to the gatekeepers of the heavens, my friend shall proceed unimpeded into your care! He has earned his place in a way few ever will. The content of his character even in the midst of great illness qualifies him for the status reserved for the deserving. His presence with his family and friends has come to an end. Let him now reside in the sunshine of God’s everlasting love.
I imagined Chuck sharing this Irish prayer with us
Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free!
I follow the plan God laid for me.
I saw His face, I heard His call,
I took His hand and left it all…
I could not stay another day,
To love, to laugh, to work or play;
Tasks left undone must stay that way.
And if my parting has left a void,
Then fill it with remembered joy.
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss…
Ah yes, these things I, too, shall miss.
My life’s been full, I’ve savoured much:
Good times, good friends, a loved-one’s touch.
Perhaps my time seemed all too brief—
Don’t shorten yours with undue grief.
Be not burdened with tears of sorrow,
Enjoy the sunshine of the morrow.

And may we pray for Chuck Horn
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

And for those he left behind
May God give you…
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend like Chuck to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.

To all living beings

When I drive or bike why do I stare at objects in the road which appear to be animals that may have been run over. I am drawn to the sight to verify what I often think. Frequently it is just a pile of leaves or debris. Sometimes it is a dead squirrel or rabbit, cat etc. And my reaction is always the same. I am pained by the sight and then I say a silent prayer that it died quickly and painlessly. But I cannot explain why I even look closely to see what it is that seems to be laying in the street.

So while I was biking Sunday, I pondered this ritual of mine. It stimulated me to think how I desire to have all living being be free from suffering. I pray that all living beings be free from all forms of suffering. I pray that no living thing live or die in fear. I pray that there is a power in the universe which will protect sufferers such that their physical or mental anguish will be mitigated by the higher power.

I cannot imagine the suffering someone like the 3 women in captivity by Ariel Castro. How much suffering is associated with being held captive, no one knowing where you are and never knowing if you will ever be freed. Or what is it like to be  Jaycee Dugard, the abducted girl who was held captive for 18 years.

I especially hurt for kids lost, kidnapped, ill or injured who have not developed the coping skills of someone much older. Defenseless! Is God there to provide some relief from untold fear and suffering?

And then how about the men and women who just struggle every day to make a living and support themselves and family. Never having enough to be comfortable. Always fearful of losing a job, having an auto repair or a medical expense which creates anxiety about being able to pay the rent or utilities. I pray for them too.

I pray for people who have emotional, psychological, mental or physical handicaps that result in their isolation and seclusion from others. Living alone with their illness, alone without family or friends to comfort them or assist them.

I wonder how to support my country against its “enemies”. Often those that wish us harm are those we harmed. I didn’t start it. I didn’t wish it. I do not want young Americans placed in harms way and I do not want them to suffer further upon their return because of my aversion to inject our country into these armed-conflicts. So I pray for our troops and I pray for our enemies.

I pray for those in prisons and I pray for those who imprison. I pray for the wage slave and the corporate plantation owners. I pray for the prey and I pray for the predator. Once I start on a course of compassion and loving kindness for any as described by the Buddha, I find little freedom to not pray for all. My willingness to be selective in my compassion has dissipated and now I am compelled to include all. Evil is no less deserving of my prayers than goodness. Sinners no less than saints.

I can’t explain how I got here. It started with a spark of love which was always in me. It was enough to make me an advocate for those I felt needed an advocate. It was enough to make me believe in and act on behalf of street kids, gang-bangers and drug addicts. But not enough love was left for the persecutors, bullies and predators. What I had left over was a lot of judgement.

My policy statement was found in Ezekiel 25:17 And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.” 

Now age and maturation fueled by the practice of Buddhism and Metta (loving/kindness) has broadened the group which I classified as deserving and diminished the group who were undeserving.

I am difficult. Easy to anger, quick to fight. I do not tolerate any threats, physical or other of any sort against me. I will resort to verbal or physical violence if prodded. I prefer to be kind but I am not hesitant to show anger. I wish it were not so, but until future progress, I think we can safely say this is where I reside. But despite all the violence and difficulties, love grows through practice. Compassion is slowly demanding more of a seat at the table. Equal time is now given to the practice of metta and I always include the reflection on loving/kindness before I end a meditation.

I don’t know why I stare at the crash. But at least I pray for the well-being of the victims. And I know that this practice of mine is good and wholesome. And I know that if everyone were practicing metta, that the world would be a better place. I don’t need someone to tell me that. I don’t need to see it. I just know its truth.

Kill or be killed?

I grew up strange. I despised violence and I reveled in it. I was beaten regularly but not severely by my father. My middle-class neighborhood turned less middle class at some point in my grade school days. Along came bullies meting out violence to the small and defenseless.

Why was I bullied. I was small, for my age and for my grade. I was 12 when I graduated grade school. I was a mouthy kid. I couldn’t fight physically, at all. But I never went down without a verbal barrage. I learned to manipulate the streets to accommodate my desire to live free or die. Others chose to get off the streets when it became unsafe. Go do homework.

Not me. With almost no friends or protection I sauntered to the local playground and watched from outside the fence. The tough kids and the athletes moving freely. I stood apart, locked in fear.

Maturity or something resembling that put my skills to work making pals. On every side of the fences. Gang kids, high school fraternity pals, Jews, Black, Ricans, but not Irish or Italian. The Catholics were bad news for me. Christ killer they said.

I learned to act tough. I learned to adapt. I learned to thrive on violence. I hung with criminals. I became a criminal. A burglar, a thief, a dealer. I threatened people and I was threatened. I was arrested. Repeatedly. And I prepped for prison. Simultaneously, I joined in the love, peace and drugs movement. I dropped LSD and grooved to Jefferson Airplane. I marched against the Vietnam War. I was called up to serve and I dodged the immoral war and refused to kill in the name of peace. The sergeant at the draft board took a look at me and said “we need tough guys like you in Nam”. The cop on the beat said I looked like a felon. Subsequently I was convicted of unlawfully carrying a handgun in Chicago.

Then I became a social worker specializing in street gangs. I buried about 13 kids in 3 years who were homicide victims and perpetrators.  Social worker to the very emotionally disturbed and I preached peace. I denied violence as a credible response to conditions. Then, I worked the next 2 years with kids enmeshed in a race war on the far south side of Chicago. I was attacked by both sides and took some physical licks to the head in the process. And I preached peace and preached against violence as a solution.

I became a drug counselor in Woodlawn. A hard-core inner-city community. I made home visits and prayed I wouldn’t get beaten or killed….again. A community infested with various black street gangs whose reputation for violence was well earned.

Then I became a criminal defense lawyer. Always in the streets with my clients. Always aware of the threat of violence being all around.

Eventually, I became a gun range owner and seller of firearms. I became real good with a gun. I taught the proper and legal use of deadly force. I taught the application of violence to certain conditions. And I preached peace and denied violence as a proper rsponse to conditions.

I am lost. I have violence and aggression permeating my thoughts. I have lived in acceptance of violence for years, even when I preached against it. I defended the users of violence when I was their social worker, lawyer and friend. I made friends with violence even as I chastized its application.

Now I am too old to protect myself physically. I have injuries. I have lost strength and muscle tone. I could not prevail against threats to my well-being. But with a gun, I can dominate situations that a weaker man would lose. I have the mind-set and the skill set to apply deadly force when I think it prudent. All the while unconvinced that it should ever be prudent if I were to mind my manners, stay out of conflicts, avoid making eye contact with aggressors and practice my Buddhist precepts and meditation.

Kill or be killed? I don’t know exactly how I got here nor how this will turn out. I accept that exposure to violence has left me damaged. I recognize I am eager to live by peaceful principles. I know I have to work at it. But soon I will be teaching and selling guns again. I do so without much reservation. I know I am a good teacher and a good pistolero. This battle has not been decided yet.