And so Merry Christmas……

I am using my holiday time to do more research on the Bible. I found James 1:26-27, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
 
This gave me pause and I wish to offer the following unsolicited advise. As the trump and his administration while away hours waiting for the border wall funding, I propose this time be used wisely to examine dangers facing our nation and beyond. I offer the following for your consideration.
 
October 28,2018, at least 60 deaths have been attributed to Hurricane Michael, including 45 in the United States and 15 in Central America. Hurricane Michael caused at least $14.58 billion in damages. There was damage to U.S. fighter jets with a replacement cost of approximately $6 billion at Tyndall Air Force Base, and at least $3.3 billion in insurance claims in the U.S. Losses to agriculture and timber alone exceeded $5 billion.
 
November, 2018, the Camp Fire caused at least 86 civilian deaths, injured 12 civilians and 5 firefighters, covered an area of 153,336 acres and destroyed 18,804 structures, with most of the damage occurring within the first four hours. As of November 19, insured damage was estimated to be $7.5–10 billion.
 
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 2018, while Sabbath services were being held, eleven people were shot dead and seven were wounded. It was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.
 
Another mass shooting took place on November 7, 2018, in Thousand Oaks, California, at the Borderline Bar and Grill, a country-western bar frequented by college students. Thirteen people were killed, including the shooter. Ten others were injured. Police identified the killer as a United States Marine Corps veteran.
 
None of these deaths can be attributed to immigrants, or colored folk or Democrats. Since you have time off from golf, I urge you to use your spare time to research and propose scientific solutions to the immediate problems we face as a nation.
Merry Christmas president trump. May the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future open your heart. May you lull yourself to sleep with a tome prepared by experts on national security. May the Hannities and Limbaughs and Laura Ingrahams be silent. Mr. President, celebrate the birth of Jesus tonight. May his voice be the loudest one you hear and his teachings guide you as you navigate us through our national crises. May you visit orphans and widows in their distress and not create them. 
Amen!

Jesus is the reason!

Jesus is the reason for the season! We talk about how many religious/ethnic celebrations occur this time of year. As if this is a holiday season for all. But in truth, it is not. It is Christmas time. This country would not come to a standstill for Hannukah or Kwanza etc. It comes to a halt to celebrate Christmas because Christians rule. They do!

I do not have an issue with Christians having their season(s). I understand that numerically they will control the political and social milieu of this country. I do appreciate that the Christians that created the constitution recognized and protected the rest of us from a theocracy (rule by religion). It makes my time here as a citizen much more acceptable because Jews have been run out of most countries we called home at one time. https://www.biblebelievers.org.au/expelled.htm

Makes it hard to get settled into your La-z-boy and smoke a cigar. In fact, I admit I have been vigilant and suspicious of the rise of anti-Semitism my whole life. I have been carrying a firearm a good part of my life in response to incidents which I experienced as early as grade school.

But back to Christmas. I enjoy the holiday season. I do not celebrate it but I enjoy it. People get happy, time off and gather together. That is nice. So, I believe Jesus is the reason for the season and that no other holiday could hold that sway over a national consciousness. Easter too. I recall getting Good Friday off in school although I did not know what Good Friday was. I remember the kids coming to school with ash on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday.  I even mimicked the gesture of “crossing” oneself  before undertaking a risky undertaking. I did so because I saw it so frequently amongst my peers and athletes on the field. ( I assume my parents would not have been keen to see that.) As you can probably tell, I lived and worked around a whole lot of Catholics. But I was the recipient of the love and assistance of ministers in the Lutheran and the Disciples of Christ churches. (Reverend Steve Swanson got me in the pews 2 years in a row for Midnight Mass. Reverend Loel Callahan turned me from a life of crime when my trajectory was prison bound.)

Dear Christians, I mean no harm when I say Happy Holiday. I was never trying to rob you of your holiday. I innocently was engaging in acting out gestures of holiday cheer in a neutral manner because I am not Christian. I did not boycott Christmas or spit on the Christmas tree. I did not bah humbug. It is simply not my holiday. I am not now nor have I ever been, a Christian. I do draw the line at a Christian government and I do so because I was taught from an early age that this was the foundation of our country. Freedom from and of religion. I was taught, in school, that I would have to allow all persons to worship as they see fit and in exchange I would be allowed to do the same. I was taught from a young age, and again in high school and college and then in law school, that their would be a separation of church and state and I could demand it, expect it, and enforce it. It was the “law of the Land”.

I am certainly no one to deny the birth, death or resurrection of Jesus because lord knows I know not. I believe that it is beautiful to think that this promise attributed to Jesus, shall forever be kept. “And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”  Jesus Christ
Today, my family donated food for families in need so that fewer may want at this time.  But I also recall that “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” Mother Teresa. Credit a Hindu swami with offering food for the soul with the following,  “Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.” Paramahansa Yogananda

Please, please, please, have a wonderful Christmas. May you be showered with gifts, food and love. I genuinely want this year to be your best year.

 

 

Why me?

My mom and I had many chats this summer when I visited her. For your information, she is 101 years old and that is relevant.

As happens less frequently, I ask her about some friend of hers. As the years passed, the answer was generally, the friend had died. This year she finally said, “they are all dead”. She means the friends from her youth, the friends of my parents I knew so well as I grew up, the friends she made in California where she lived part-time for 30 years, the friends she made at the retirement community she has lived in for 13 years. She means, they all died.

I asked her how she feels about that. She said, “why me?”.

I asked her if she meant that she felt guilty. She replied, “no, I just wonder, why me.”

Is death the end of suffering? I do not know anyone alive who does not suffer some. Buddha said desire and ignorance lie at the root of suffering. By desire, Buddhists refer to craving pleasure, material goods, and immortality, all of which are wants that can never be satisfied and desiring them can only bring suffering. Ignorance relates to not seeing the world as it actually is, especially the truth of impermanence.

Can we overcome our seeming human nature? Can we act in ways which are only wholesome and healthy, compassionate and kind? Or will our inclination/draw to unhealthy desire undermine our psychological and spiritual health.

The short comment from my mom sticks with me. Why me? Am I here to fulfill some purpose? Will I have regrets when I die? Should I practice meditation harder/longer? Should I be working pro bono for vets and immigrants? My friends are dying. Dear close friends are dead. Buddha taught that all things are impermanent. Nothing drives that home more than losing a loved one.

My mom is ready to die. Of that I am convinced. She did not live an active life. She was a housewife, mom, occasional golfer, card player, mahjong player and reader of many books and doer of crosswords. But that is no less remarkable than most folks I know.

Is hers a life well-lived? Will mine be more remarkable, more memorable or more fulfilling? Already I can ask, why me. Why are Susan, Gary, Jerry, Chuck and at least a dozen others dead and I am still here? Am I chosen? Lucky? Unlucky? Blessed?

I cannot afford to live to 101. I need to stay in the Now. If I do not know how I will die or when, I figure I better get busy answering, why me. I need to be in the moment, alive to the possibilities in this moment. That is a tall order but if I do not try, I will certainly not succeed. “Why me” is a question survivors ask. A question I think that can only be answered now. Insight meditation (Vipassana) is the only path I know to the big answers which arise in my emotional and spiritual quest.

I can say that I believe with certainty and despite my own inclinations, that the practice of compassion and kindness is a definite key to happiness and freedom from suffering. Beyond that I know not…….yet.

 

 

“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.

Mindful contemplation of feelings.

I study my mind constantly (via Buddhist insight meditation) to see what it will bring up. Of particular interest to me is the presence of sadness. Sadness can hit the accelerator on emotions like nothing else except anger. Anger is easy to spot and relatively easy to manage now. Sadness is more insidious and does not have as strong of a physical component as anger.
I feel sadness but it vibrates at such a low-frequency it can get entrenched before I spot it. And while I see anger in many people, I see a semblance of sadness in almost all people. There are many ways I have to combat the sensation of overwhelming melancholy, the most effective is to stay in the present moment. But I am amazed at the resilience and power of sadness even when it is pushed back on by the most effective tools I know.
So much of living triggers various manifestations of sad. No matter what I have loved, who I have loved or how I loved, impermanence visits every time in one way or another. All the feels good is impermanent. But so is all that is unpleasant.
I discovered years ago that the path out of pain and sadness was through it. No over, under, around. Just through. And on the other side of the discomfort is the recognition of the blessings contained therein.
May all persons be liberated from suffering and free from discomfort, fear, sadness, anger and harm. May all beings be at ease, tranquil and peaceful. This is the blessing I send to all sentient beings and is my path out of my own pain and suffering.

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.