I rested on my laurels, turned out it was a cactus.

Everybody, without exception has struggled with relationships. That would include family, friends, lovers and colleagues, et al. Some relationships seem to evolve easily but all hit bumps on the road. Some relationships are a struggle from the beginning but we need to manage them and accommodate them because of circumstances.
 
I have days where I am in love with everyone I meet. My words flow smoothly and freely and none are offended. Other days I reflect on and wonder, what the hell happened?. Who are these people and why are they , “mad”, “disappointed” “hostile” with me.
 
I can let human interactions dictate how I feel about myself. I am constantly examining how, what and why did I do, say or act in a certain way. Was it right? Selfish? Judgmental? Kind? Compassionate? You get what I am saying.
 
I know I am a good person but I also know I am capable of insensitivity, cruelty and obliviousness to the feelings of others. I know cause they often tell me so. But I am none of those behaviors purposely. So it is imperative that I do a self-inventory, daily to see how I am behaving, growing, or stagnating. Then you hear me write about coping fatigue. Meaning I am tired of examining my actions and motives. I just want to show up and let life unfold without effort.
 
But when I meditate and sit mindfully, I see clearly, it is my circus and they are my monkeys. Without vigilance I can be exasperating and difficult to the very people I cherish or seek positive interactions with.
 
IT is not enough to be smart and sensible. “Compassion and wisdom need to function together, combined with skillfulness, tolerance and patience. If we give ourselves the time and space to really observe our own thoughts and actions, good can come about. We give ourselves and others a lot of space in which to function properly; rather than act selfishly, we act selflessly.” VENERABLE KHANDRO RINPOCHE
 
I am tired of coping, seriously. I tire of going to meditation, the gym, AA meetings, and bike rides in the hellacious heat. But the reward is a healthier spiritual, emotional and physical life. Relationships can adversely affect or compliment this life and the effort to improve them is valuable and necessary.

What would Buddha do? Would Buddha kick your ass?

I seem to befuddle a number of you about how I self-identify as a Buddhist and a gangster (figuratively not literally). In fact, that is the tip of the yin yang universe I identify with. I also consider myself a warrior and a healer, a superficial intellect, a brilliantly poor student, and more. I have made peace with my inclinations and intentions which are almost always guided by principles of kindness/compassion and fairness.
 
I have no illusions about where I have been and where I am now. I do not practice Buddhism with an intention to become an enlightened being, escape suffering and find Nirvana. I practice Buddhism because I found it to be what I needed. I tested the practices especially meditation and I found them reliable and effective in alleviating the causes of my difficulties which are mostly self-inflicted and psychological. Sometimes it is also effective to bark and bite a motherfucker when triggered. May not be as socially acceptable but I can make it work for me.
 
Those friends closest to me report that I am generally more calm and patient since I began meditating. I am also older and less physically intimidating than I used to be. But I am sincere when you hear me say that I will fuck someone up.
 
The monks knew this about me when they allowed me to ordain and live among them. They had no illusions about my propensity for aggression and even violence. But to wrap myself in the saffron robes of a monk was like wrapping oneself in a reverse bomb suit used to protect a bomb removal expert. I found the robes contained the explosion within. It did not extinguish my ability to wage war but it surely ameliorated it. And although I am no longer living as a monk and I do not wear the robes, the effect was undeniably positive and enduring. It will take many more years before I will have as much experience in meditation as I do in martial arts. I can rely upon muscle memory when I draw my handgun. It takes far more effort to sit and eat mindfully.
I have an extensive vocabulary to convey hostility. The language of peace often leaves me speechless. I admit, love and peace do not need an extensive vocabulary.  But to be very clear, I am not without the tools of skillful speech. I safely navigated the inner-city for many years without being harmed or harming anyone. When I worked with street gangs, the kids responded well to the verbal deescalation techniques that I used. In fact they reacted far better than the myriad of mean drunks I have had to neutralize.
If you know me and are waiting for me to reside in a perpetual state of calm, then you are a believer in miracles, not conversions.  I have no plans to walk on water or levitate in this lifetime. What seems to be a safe bet is that I will keep practicing Buddhism, lawyering, fatherhood, 12 steps and bicycling.
“It is better to be a warrior tending to his garden than a gardener in a war.” Chinese proverb

I don’t even know who I am not. (I grow slower than grass. Much slower.)

Warning, the word I appears a bunch!

Relationships! I could write the book, “How to not have relationships”.

Laurie and I divorced years ago. Occasionally I will write her some explanation, apology or indictment of our brief history as husband and wife. Each letter supposed it was more insightful than the preceding ones. On my side, I send letters to people as the spirit moves me, so as to explain and/or pardon my behavior that I look back on with regrets. I get very few letters from old flames. Nobody feels compelled to explain their lack of bad behavior.

I am always vulnerable and still fall prey to the need for affection, respect, and acceptance. When I do not get what I want I manufacture petty resentments and righteous indignation. I seem to have two options, to be victim or victor.

Writing a blog is a dicey proposition. It brings into play this concern/need for acceptance. When I blog, I will sometimes hear a kind word about my writings and experience the satisfaction of sharing and being heard. I cannot express how much effort is needed to produce clear written expressions. Unlike in social media where I whip out some quick post,  I need long hard hours of producing drafts and thinking hard, asking myself, what will be understood by the reader. Upon publication, if I think I failed or no one read it, I turn on myself.

This idea of being a victim came up many years ago. I saw my inclination to characterize myself as a victim when I did an Alcoholics Anonymous 4th Step self-inventory 37 years ago. Malady identified, treated, case solved and closed. Not so fast buster. Seems the remedy was not a cure, merely remission.

I do not consciously pursue to be a victim or the victor. I am much too dignified and sensitive to allow myself to wallow in self-pity or arrogance. I believe that! But in truth my ability to see me clearly is always clouded. It is the nature of reality, my mind, that there are inherent barriers to self-knowledge.

Last week I had lunch with Ginny, a dear friend. She said I often speak like a victim, ruminating and resentful over old matters. I realize I have talked this way for so long I do not hear it. I do not harbor all the pettiness that springs from my lips. But I am so used to a way of speech, acerbic, biting and aggressive that I hardly hear myself. Despite years of personal efforts at reformation and rehabilitation I have barely put a dent in my speech. I am still more comfortable with a lifetime of verbal aggression than a few years of practicing skillful, compassionate tones. If I let my mind drift, I slip into old ways that can only be described as mindless.

I was born into insecurity and fear. I survived at a cost. The antidote was to become larger and tougher than my tormentors. In the process I locked into many risky behaviors that were maladjusted but seemed to serve me well. Gangs, crimes, drugs, sex, etc.

Addiction was just one of the outcomes of my lifestyle choices. The basic text of Narcotics Anonymous says,  “The spiritual part of our addiction is our total self-centeredness. ……..Denial, substitution, rationalization, justification, distrust of others, guilt, embarrassment, dereliction, degradation, isolation, and loss of control are all results of our disease.” I add a touch of arrogance, a cupful of insecurity and a smidgen of hostility.

I do not blame addiction for my lack of social grace. I know many people who have never taken a mood altering substance that fit the above description. Self-centered and selfish is not limited to addicts.

The Buddha described people as “asleep”. When Prince Siddhartha became enlightened, he was there-after referred to as Buddha. Buddha means ‘Awakened One’, someone who has awakened from the sleep of ignorance and sees things as they really are. The obstacles to awakening are,

  1. greed
  2. hate
  3. delusion
  4. conceit
  5. wrong views
  6. doubt
  7. lethargy
  8. restlessness
  9. shamelessness
  10. recklessness

I am lucky. Because of my addiction to drugs, in my attempts to mature I have invited and been aided and abetted by others. My village is populated with friends and mentors who tend to be smart, spiritual and giving. They see my defects and my corrects from a perspective I just do not have. In exchange for giving honesty, I get honesty.

The moment I think I got it, I don’t got it. “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”– Plato

“Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making.”
― Alcoholics Anonymous,

Come the solution!

“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation “some fact of my life” unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.”
― Alcoholics Anonymous,

The Buddhist path comes to a similar albeit more invigorating conclusion. My years of 12 step and Buddhism have been like mentally mixing nitro and glycerin.

So here is what I think about my relationships today. After many years of self-reflection. I can glimpse the depth and breadth of my spiritual malady. My spirituality is not about religion or God, neither of which I have much of a relationship with. My salvation lies in my ability to just be kind and allow myself to be completely confused and disconcerted by life without needing to “fix” my life. In the past I looked everywhere, inside and out for answers but found nothing of value contained therein. In that void though, within myself, there is storage enough for every bad feeling I have ever felt. I can be consistently uncomfortable without blame or bitterness. Mindful meditation opens me up to the awareness that reflecting on loving kindness is a practical practice. I am kind in heart if not yet in language.

My salvation lies in surrounding myself with humble, smart, sensitive people who care enough to share with me but not enable me. Slowly they have shown me in the past couple of years that if one is not naturally sweet and kind, then make the fucking effort to be so. Buddha teaches that by being kind to others I am being kind to myself.

Imagine as described in Alcoholics Anonymous….”My inability to accept the harsh realities of life had resulted in a disillusioned cynic, clothed in a protective armor against the world’s misunderstanding. That armor had turned into prison walls, locking me in loneliness—and fear. All I had left was an iron determination to live my own life in spite of the alien world—and here I was, an inwardly frightened, outwardly defiant person, who desperately needed a prop to keep going.”

What I find stunning about my own life is how much I resemble a disillusioned cynic despite my effort to improve. I have been a sick puppy yet I was and continue to be a good person who always tried to be fair, honest and kind. A man who protected the weak, stood for his truth and truly hated injustice. I never, ever intend to be mean without provocation.  I continually trusted others despite the resulting, recurring losses of material and spiritual possessions. Give freely, take sparingly.

Anyways back to my original point. All the years of introspection and confession to my ex-wife and suddenly I do not believe any of it. Not lies. Just ignorance. Oh, some of what I shared was surely accurate and it was all well-intentioned, but it was always an attempt at a depth which the more I plumb the more I realize how over my head I am.

What it must be like to have been married to, or dated a man who carried a gun religiously. Who tolerated no slight from friend or stranger. What is it like to share space with a man who battles passionately every injustice he sees as the passion burns him out from the inside? How do you feel loved by someone who dismisses your feelings as he rescues the next cat or kid or both the day before your wedding.

I am so gratified that sometimes my mouth speaks what my heart feels. I wish I could always be more skillful and mindful in my speech.

The good news is that writing a blog regularly, teaching meditation and going to 12 step meetings is like working out and riding a bike. It results in a mental and emotional aerobic type capacity to keep carrying me up the mountain. So from up here it is uphill all the way, but now when I look back, I see a beautiful vista of where I have been. I am learning not to judge it, me or you. This vessel I call me, has an infinite capacity for memories of pain and pleasure. The idea that I cannot keep going is nothing more than a fleeting although frequent thought.

I think I have written my last epistle to my ex. I have exhausted both of our abilities to have these exchanges. It could never be nearly as revealing as I imagined. And she reads my blog sometimes so she can hear about it with everyone else.

“I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.
All seems beautiful to me.
Whoever denies me, it shall not trouble me;
Whoever accepts me, he or she shall be blessed, and shall bless me.”
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Who am I?

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

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

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

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

Probability of survival, low.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The time I spend trying to be certain of the solidity of things and thoughts the more suffering I have. When I bathe in the uncertainty of everything including myself, while it is bewildering, it is liberating. When I sit a look closely, there is nothing I can cling to with certainty. I was asked to challenge myself as to where my thoughts began and where the went when they left. I was challenged by my teachers to show that my thoughts and emotions were mine to possess by adhering to happy thoughts and pleasant emotions. I accepted the challenge and discovered I could not successfully cling to my thoughts or emotions.

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

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

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

 

The enemy within.

It was back in 2002. I had become aware that someone was trying to kill me. It was scary because they knew my every move. No matter what I did it became clear to me that I was flirting with disaster. Someone had it in for me in a big way and they weren’t going to stop till they had destroyed me.
I hired a private investigator and asked him to figure out who was ruining my professional and social life. Weeks passed by before he contacted me to arrange a meet.
He arrived at the appointed time and said he knew who was gunning for me and he could produce him on a moments notice. He held a 8×10 manila envelope and proffered it to me. He warned me that before I opened it I should know it would be unpleasant when the culprit was revealed.
I grabbed the envelope and tore it open hastily. I was eager to see who cared enough to ruin me. There were several photos to view. But clearly the investigator was being amusing or stupid for all the photos were of me. Me at the office and at bars and around town.
I looked at him with narrowed eyes. What was this all about.
He said his investigation was thorough and correct. He then went into a discourse on what he observed and analyzed. He explained how he had to engage some mental health experts to assist in his conclusions. He handed me another envelope with a report by a psychologist who had reviewed the evidence. It said I exhibited signs of a narcissistic personality with depression and ADD. It asserted I was perpetually sabotaging my life by my choices of friends, work, and women.
I sat down and began to read slowly and carefully. The evidence was compelling. I realized that I was reading the truth but that the truth had always escaped my detection. No one can victimize me more thoroughly than me. This was a killer who knew my every move and every thought and feeling. This was an enemy I could never defeat with the weapons I had. I needed something more. I realized that  I was a sitting target, in the cross-hairs of my bad choices to drink, drug and let my self-will run riot.  Maybe someday I will write in detail about the all the ways I was destroying me.
For the next 5 years I wavered between wanting me to make a clean shot to my head and end it, and cleaning up the remnants of my life. I took a geographical cure and moved to Arizona. Within months I found that my self had followed me, got access to my wallet and binged on drugs and alcohol. I planned that bullet to the head but before I could execute my plan, I found a space where my nemesis was disarmed.
Something was about to change.
More will be revealed.

A Perfect Flaw.

I have so many flaws. I am so perfectly human and so perfectly flawed. But I would prefer at times to be oblivious to my flaws. I cannot complain about who I am since I do make the effort to be the best me. But like all people, I have limitations on just how much I can handle and how much I can transform.
I want to be home living in Chicago near my family and old friends. But I cannot tolerate the weather and the traffic. I try. I cannot. I also want to be the great trial lawyer I could have been. But I couldn’t/cannot take the heartache and the heartbreak.
I want to be sweet and kind. But I harbor so many demons that if I do not remain vigilant I will speak with intent to hurt and destroy. If I feel pushed I will resort to psychological, emotional or physical aggression. In response, I have spent years befriending, changing and purging my demons by; remaining drug free, meditating and emulating the prayer of St. Francis.
I wish I could rest on my laurels. I wish I believed in a higher power that would remove my flaws and my pain. I have coping fatigue.
I want to go back and win all my legal cases. I want my fortune returned to me. I want my daughters to have a happier childhood.
I want my friends, Jerry, and Gary, Susan and Johnny to un-die. I want to dial their numbers and hear their voices. I want their counsel and empathy.
I want a magic wand to wave when I hurt, am sad or lonely which will magically and instantly transform my emotions to better feel joyful appreciation of your success and friendship. As E. B. White said, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
I am certain most of the people I have met in my life want the same things. But it is my aches I feel. I am a wounded healer and an injured warrior. I am you, just as you are me. I just do not feel you like I feel me. I do not mean to be indifferent, I just do not always have the concentration to focus on what you want to tell me. You deserve my attention, compassion and focus when you share with me.
My experiences cause me to repel from certain encounters but also propel me to the uncertain future. I crashed my bike last year on the Des Plaines River Trail north of Chicago. I was alone, hurt, the wind knocked out of me. I just did not want to move and decided for the first time in such a moment to just lay there until someone would ride by and help me up. No one came by and eventually I got up and rode another 70 miles. That is my life. I want to be helped by outside forces but no one can fix the broken parts of me. Only I can. I have learned to love me, my flaws and this moment. I have learned that I am neither the giant of my dreams nor the dwarf of my fears. Like I said, I am perfectly flawed and in the quiet moments of Buddhist insight meditation, that is the wisdom I found

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.

Am I on the path less traveled?

In Buddhist practice we study the Dhamma or as it is pronounced in some lineages, Dharma. The teachings of the Buddha are said to lead to enlightenment, which  is liberation from suffering/happiness.

The Buddha asserted what we call, the 4 noble truths.

Buddhism’s four truths are called noble because they liberate us from suffering. They are the Buddha’s basic teaching.

1. Suffering

Life always involves suffering, in obvious and subtle forms. Even when things seem good.

2. The Cause of Suffering

The cause of suffering is craving and fundamental ignorance. We attach to things and all things that exist are impermanent.

3. The End of Suffering

Suffering can end because our awakened mind is always available to us.

4. The Path

By living ethically, practicing meditation, and developing wisdom, we can take the same journey to enlightenment and freedom from suffering that the buddhas (awakened ones) do. We too can wake up. This path is the 8 Fold Path.

THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH

  1. Right understanding
  2. Right thought
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

Having put that out there, I want to make a point. My nature causes me to suffer. Human nature leads me to suffering. We will suffer. We will hurt. We will fall ill, lose loved ones, fail at love, harm others unintentionally, etc. If we practice an ethical and compassionate life we can often mitigate our suffering but if you are participating in this thing called life, things will happen.

Our untrained, unmindful thoughts are usually leading to disaster. But mindfulness does not end suffering. The 8 Fold Path is not the end of suffering.

Monks train constantly to think, speak and act mindfully. They practice mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. Monks eliminate most of the distractions and attachments which cause suffering or limit happiness. These same attachments for a lay person lead to great joy at times, great suffering at others.

I do not chase enlightenment but instead simply try to live in the moment. I can do many things Buddhist monks can do. I can chant in the Pali language, recite the blessings, study the scriptures and teachings, go without jewelry, and more. But I live in the world, seeking companionship, friendship, financial security and love. I enjoy pleasure, accept pain. I try to not resist a change of circumstances or fortune, especially one that is unwelcome or unpleasant. Rather, I have a dedication to the development mindfulness and skill, wisdom and compassion. I do not expect the elimination of difficulties or attachments. I have learned to moderate and mitigate suffering and to navigate the type of difficulties that can rob a person of peace.

The past few years have been littered with difficulties and blessings. I would have been crushed under the weight of my own insecurities, fears and low self-esteem. But now I recognize that I am not my thoughts and feelings. They are the story I generally tell myself but which I can alter and improve upon by acting in a skillful, wholesome and kind manner.

Monastic life has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that it is a simpler life generally without the complications and the challenge of paying rent, buying food and clothing and raising daughters. I would if I could but I cannot I know. I can live more simply but I will always be encumbered by the responsibilities and distractions of a non-monastic life. It beats the old way though by a significant margin. It is a life of service, free from intoxicants and a recognition that I can be in the moment when all my fears and insecurities are pulling me back to the pain of the past or anxiety of the future.

“If you just walk with me
And let me walk with you
I’m on a journey
I don’t wanna walk alone”    Pearl Jam.

 

“Trust God. Clean house. Help others.”

Dr. Bob’s famed summary of the A.A. program and way of life? “Trust God. Clean house. Help others.”
Another way Alcoholics Anonymous has had of stating its foundation is “unity, service and recovery”. I have expanded these to all parts of my life, in and out of AA.

Will our future as a country be one of expansion, tolerance and progress, or one of intolerance anger and fear. If I did not have AA I would probably be engaged in a battle for my soul because I enjoy Facebook but it is just not a place to keep up on the comings and goings of my friends and the world anymore. More and more it brings an onslaught of hate and intolerance. Righteous indignation!!

Then today this appeared on my Facebook timeline.
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” ― Isaac Asimov
The truth which runs through that quote frightens me. There have been mass purges of people based on their education. Historically, countries like Cambodia and Turkey, Russia and more have purged the educated, and of course many countries have purged Jews who were generally well-educated. I don’t know of any country which killed people based solely on their lack of education.
The present president has a large segment of our population that keeps trumpeting about purging elements of our society (including liberals). I am too old and too well armed to suffer the worst but the move towards a more tolerant, open and progressive society seems to have been halted at best and regressed significantly at worst.
How could this be in a nation which prides itself on its adherence to Judeo-Christian principles and the Golden Rule?
A large number of people are using Facebook to proclaim knowledge and understanding of important issues based on reading Internet articles which have no truth or even a semblance of truth contained therein. It is as if people are now proud to not have studied hard, read well and engaged in appropriate discourse with other knowledgeable persons. These folks seem to discard the notion that they need skillful teachers because these folks are either too lazy to resume their education or are entrenched in a false belief that these short articles found in cursory glances at the Internet equal knowledge. I confess, I did poorly in school and I dropped out at a young age. But from a very young age my father made me read books and more books. And I listened to everything the teachers said in class. But I didn’t do homework. Hated it. Short attention span. So, I got bad grades.
But being well read is the reason I could navigate law school when I lacked a standard high school or college education. What I mean is, I could read, understand and analyze what I read. If I were were to defend you in court the way some of you defend your political positions, you would fire me or sue me for incompetent representation, and rightfully so. You expect me to show up in court and present your case with skill based on knowledge and facts. You do not need to go to law school to choose a political candidate or choose your value system. But why do you feel free to publish memes that are lies and damnable lies? Why is the standard of choosing our politicians boil down to an adherence to anger and ignorance? It takes open-mindedness to navigate the Internet skillfully. We need a political revolution in this country. We need to loosen the strangle hold that moneyed interests have in our system. But a political revolution without genuine spiritual principles to guide it was called under Mao Zedong, the Cultural Revolution. China underwent a spasm of violence in support of said revolution.
To increase the likelihood of building a greater America and stronger society we may need to look to our adherence to spiritual principles. AA and Buddhism are paths to spiritual progress and liberation from self-will. There are others. I was ready when I arrived at these disciplines to do; the study, the homework and what the teachers who were knowledgeable told me to do. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. We hope.

When the heart weeps for what it has lost, the soul laughs for what it has found. ~ Sufi aphorism ~

It would be hard if you were not there to know the changes. There were changes constantly going on, physical, mental, psychological and spiritual. I was meditating today and had a flashback. I have had it before but not while meditating. I was 13-14 years old. There was an overnight party at a rented cabin by the beach. The party was all high-schoolers of various ages. I was the youngest.

My “friends” at the time were proud to act like animals. On this occasion they decided to vandalize the cabin. I cannot recall but there were probably 3 of us who did this. The older guys must not have said anything to stop us. As I discovered the joy of destruction, I went wild. I do not know how much damage others did but I broke everything breakable. Furniture! We pulled out dresser drawers and broke the wood bottoms. Destroyed chairs. Broke the plasterboard walls, kicked through doors, whatever.

No one ever reprimanded me, that I recall. I believe our club got a bill for the damage but I do not remember anyone telling me what a fuck up I was.

As I had this memory come back to me during meditation it hit me so hard I opened my eyes and my heart was beating fast. I wanted to undo what I had done. I was so ashamed. I never had the good sense to be fully ashamed before. I did apologize to my date about 20 years later but never to the cabin owners.

I grew up to be a good person. I did many fine things for many people. But when I was young I did many bad things to people and property. I broke into dozens of residences and stole their belongings. Some days I would steal anything not locked down in stores and homes. I spent hours quietly unglazing and taking windows out of buildings so I could get in. I manipulated door locks with screw drivers and knives to get in where I did not belong.

I would walk down the street and try every car door late at night to see if a car was unlocked so I could steal what was inside. I jumped through the window of an empty police car one time and stole everything that was loose on the front seat.

I pick-pocketed students in school for their drug stashes. I would eat in restaurants and stay for hours and would eventually order a second meal but only pay one of the checks. And then steal the toilet paper out of the restaurant bathroom for my apartment. I enjoyed my reputation as a thief and a thug.

Of course I was victimized plenty also. A kid on the streets gets exploited as much as he hustles others. People stole from me, assaulted me, tried to use me sexually. I dropped out of high school so there were plenty of hours to get in trouble.

Years have gone by. I have been through so many phases, changes and transitions. Drug addiction, recovery, addiction again and recovery again, marriages and divorces. I got an education , became a social worker, lawyer, teacher, counselor, friend, husband, father and more. Each phase, every twist and turn carried change.

But nothing has been as transformative as mindful meditation accompanied by the practice of loving/kindness. I do not just change, I am change. I do not just grow, I am the growth. I see change unfolding in the quiet moments of reflection. I see the past with clarity and without excuse or praise. I see the moment without justification or reservation and I only ask for absolution from the world on these rare occasions.

I am a better person than I have ever been. I will be better as time goes by. But in this moment I am able to be the better parent, son, husband, friend, customer, driver etc. All the changes before were mechanical in contrast. They happened because they were necessary to stay off drugs or get through school or do my job or stop pain or derive pleasure. But in Vipassana (Insight) meditation as taught in Buddhism by my teachers, I change organically because I simply want to be better. I want to operate free from any motive other than to just be a best me.

I am absorbed in social media and I have to constantly expend effort to write mindfully and skillfully so that I adhere to a morality which I embrace. It is so challenging. What a great tool Facebook has been for me to grow. Nary a day, an hour goes by on Facebook where I am not presented with the chance to practice vigilance, restraint of pen and tongue, and yes, restraint of knife and gun.

I show up each day for life. I have no reason to avert the gaze of others. I need no reason to reach for a kind word to share. To be the best me is possible in this moment for no reason other than it is the rightest thing I can do. I am nice when I can be because in the quiet moments of meditation, I saw the source of all my suffering and I wanted to be free from it. My life was non-stop attachment and desire to what I thought I needed or wanted and my life was one long painful event which pain I interrupted by moments of service to others. I was petty and resentful. And meditation exposed how corrupting my thoughts were and how my own thoughts put distance between me and happiness. In this revelation lived my liberation. I was the cause of all my suffering.

I hope to inspire others to create the change they need to be free from suffering. I intend to use the time remaining to be useful. I can feel the physical unraveling in my body they call impermanence. It is liberating to not have to escape aging and to be aging. I do not have to flee death, I am, like all beings, dying. I am a long way from where I would like to be in terms of behavior, but my soul does laugh for what it has found.

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly. – Buddha

 

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.

What is the measure of a right life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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