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.

An open heart? A heavy heart!

I been trying to write this post. I have the feelings clear but have struggled days/hours for words. I discovered over the years that I had a secret from myself. Something strange happens to me constantly. I have an issue with empathy or in my case, maybe over empathy.

Years ago, when I was small, I knew a psychological and emotional pain deep down. I was afraid of my dad, of other kids, and of teachers. So early on I began to empathize with suffering. Around the age of 17, I began to fill out physically. And then I began to fight back. But it was mostly psychological.

If I see a dead animal by the side of the road, I imagine their death and I pray it was swift and painless. I see so many dead squirrels and rabbits on my bike rides. Also armadillos, and opossums. I hit an animal on the highway in Missouri at 70 mph and it messed up my mind for hours.

When I see films of animals in the wild being killed I feel empathy and pain (and change the channel). As a lawyer, when I lost clients’ cases I felt empathy and pain. If they went to prison, I tell you it felt like a part of me went too.

The world is now experiencing a series of crises. And I have trouble on a daily basis with the consternation and frustration that I am losing the world I seek to occupy. In its stead there is an ambiance of fear, anger and open hostility towards the values and communities that I hold dear.

I am not aligned with conservative values and ideology. But I never harbored such hostility towards the actions and speech of the conservative leaders. At the helm, is now Trump.

I have spent the past 10 years doing the Buddhist practice of generating loving/kindness, and the development of compassion. I made tremendous progress in the way I thought and acted. I learned to pause when agitated. I learned to think before I retaliated. Retaliated for some offense that often was merely my perception and not reality.

I do not hurt any living beings intentionally. I do not feel superior rights to the animal kingdom. I have not earned the right to practice dominion over the earth and all beings contained therein. I do not believe that my need for gasoline means I can justify or support the military actions against oil states. It can get murky at times. Do I have an open heart for terrorists, child abusers, opioid manufacturers?

The Buddhas did not seem to be too troubled by the bad actor. They would continue to have compassion for the evil, mean-spirited, the greedy and the profane. I am no Buddha but I can aspire to be like one.

I do not know how long I will aspire to an open heart. I was on a good run until recent political events. But the Buddhist vows I took, which I take seriously are as follows

To refrain taking life
To refrain from stealing, taking that which has not been freely given
To refrain from sexual misconduct
To refrain from lies or false speech and To refrain from taking intoxicating substances.

Buddhism is a very moral practice as is 12 steps. The Buddhist meditation is to develop wisdom and reflect on loving kindness which is designed to develop compassion.  I am committed to grow in a moral and compassionate manner. Very much like other moral dictates found in religions.

What is your practice? Are you Christian? Jewish? Do you Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  Do you ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

Do you exclude foreigners as “non-neighbors”? Do you exclude homosexuals? Do you exclude criminals?   “When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.”

Are you truly on the path? Do you know the path? 

The LORD said to Moses Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.

 Each of you revere your mother and father, and keep my sabbaths. I, the LORD, am your God. Do not turn aside to idols, nor make molten gods for yourselves. I, the LORD, am your God.

When you sacrifice your communion sacrifice to the LORD, you shall sacrifice it so that it is acceptable on your behalf. It must be eaten on the day of your sacrifice or on the following day. Whatever is left over until the third day shall be burned in fire. If any of it is eaten on the third day, it will be a desecrated offering and not be accepted; whoever eats of it then shall bear the penalty for having profaned what is sacred to the LORD. Such a one shall be cut off from the people.

 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.

Likewise, you shall not pick your vineyard bare, nor gather up the grapes that have fallen. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the LORD, am your God.

 You shall not steal. You shall not deceive or speak falsely to one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name, thus profaning the name of your God.i I am the LORD. You shall not exploit your neighbor. You shall not commit robbery. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your laborer. You shall not insult the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am the LORD.

You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your neighbor justly. You shall not go about spreading slander among your people; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the LORD.

 You shall not hate any of your kindred in your heart. Reprove your neighbor openly so that you do not incur sin because of that person.

Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Keep my statutes: do not breed any of your domestic animals with others of a different species; do not sow a field of yours with two different kinds of seed; and do not put on a garment woven with two different kinds of thread.

 If a man has sexual relations with a female slave who has been acquired by another man but has not yet been redeemed or given her freedom, an investigation shall be made. They shall not be put to death, because she has not been freed.   The man shall bring to the entrance of the tent of meeting as his reparation to the LORD a ram as a reparation offering.   With the ram of the reparation offering the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the wrong the man has committed, so that he will be forgiven for the wrong he has committed.

When you come into the land and plant any fruit tree there, first look upon its fruit as if it were uncircumcised. For three years, it shall be uncircumcised for you; it may not be eaten.    In the fourth year, however, all of its fruit shall be dedicated to the LORD in joyous celebration. Not until the fifth year may you eat its fruit, to increase the yield for you. I, the LORD, am your God.

Do not eat anything with the blood still in it. Do not recite charms or practice soothsaying. Do not clip your hair at the temples, nor spoil the edges of your beard. Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves. I am the LORD.  You shall not degrade your daughter by making a prostitute of her; otherwise the land will prostitute itself and become full of lewdness. Keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary. I am the LORD.  

Do not turn to ghosts or consult spirits, by which you will be defiled. I, the LORD, am your God. Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the old, and fear your God. I am the LORD.

Do not act dishonestly in using measures of length or weight or capacity. You shall have a true scale and true weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Be careful, then, to observe all my statutes and decrees. I am the LORD.

Look up Leviticus 19:9–18: if you need verification. Examine the 5 Book of Moses

I close as usual with blessings for all. May all beings be free from all harm. May all being live their lives free from danger and may they be safe and comfortable,  Free from disease, disaster and pain. May all who have physical and/or mental limitations be aided by those who do not.  May all who are lonely find companions. May those in areas of great turmoil, famine and terror find peace and comfort and may those who create conflict and suffering be transformed.

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.

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.

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.

 

“What can ever equal the memory of being young together?” ― Michael Stein, In the Age of Love

“Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.” Tennessee Williams
If memory serves me well, I was born a baby on the South Side of Chicago. I admit I tend to recall trauma better than the “good” times. Around 5th or 6th grade, I discovered the presence of prejudice. I found I was an object of religious hatred in my neighborhood followed by couple of years later by racial hostilities. More on that in a later blog.
When I was 15, we moved a mere 10 minutes away to Hyde Park (HP), home of the University of Chicago. It was a community which, I was surprised to find, was not consumed with religious and racial animus. I arrived just in time to join the emerging drug culture. (Drugs and fellowship did dull my trauma.)
Shortly after my family moved to HP I became a runaway living on the streets. The street in front of a local coffee house, the Medici, seemed to be ground zero for the hippie generation on Chicago’s south side just as Old Town served the north side. It was not uncommon for me to arrive there and hangout from lunch-time to police-gonna-arrest-me-for-curfew time.
I thought that everyone who smoked pot, dropped LSD and was cool hung out or visited 57th Street where the Medici was located then. I acquired another peer group around the same time. A handful of newly met friends were more, or at least as, immersed in crime as drugs. My choice of crimes was burglary, taught to me by one of my new pals.
Many of the kids I met in HP were already old friends with each other, having gone to grade schools together. I never went to grade school in HP as I relocated from South Shore after 2 years of high school. I actually arrived in HP after my expulsion from boarding school and briefly attended the local high school which was really a dismal former grade school. I dropped out almost as quickly. In any case I was a late arrival to the scene and labored to purge my already heightened paranoia of the religious and racial hostilities I had come to expect.  
Annually I return to the scene of the crime called the teen years. A handful of pals gather to meet and catch each other up to date. This week, I posted to a Hyde Park Facebook page that I would be visiting from Texas soon and maybe we do a get together. The group has a few thousand members and folks I do not know chimed in. My first reaction was
I mentioned that I know a core of “classic” Hyde Parkers but few beyond that circle. (I define classic HPer as one who grew up in the late 60-early 70s).
I now discover there are clearly many “classics” who never frequented 57th, who were likely just as cool as my pals. Being 66 years old, I find it challenging to connect to new people. But I find a delight into connecting with the semi-stranger with whom I share the bond of being a teen in HP.
I have lived in many places and visited far more. Only a handful of times have I found people sharing a fondness for their old hood as strong as that shared fondness for Hyde Park. There is a strong streak of pride at growing up in a diverse community which housed mediocrity and brilliance side by side in a contented drug stupor.
Like many, I grew up and left the hood. I returned for a couple of years as a drug counselor but my clients were either younger than or older than my age group.
So if there is a neighborhood get together, I may be in the presence of many persons this summer who I never met and will only share the bond of growing up in the same time and place together. I am confident of the bond which ties us together as much or more as I would find in a school reunion.
God willing no one will recall that I was the person who burglarized their parent’s home or sold them a weak grade of marijuana. Pot was not as reliably good back in those days. I myself smoked many a joint which may have been half oregano.
Anyways to the title of this blog. I consistently have affection for my early disturbed, traumatic upbringing and all the players who participated. Maybe this year, I will introduce the memories of those who were not really there in person but were there in fellowship because they will have strolled the same streets, entered the same churches and dodged the same police. In other words, when I go back to the old hood, I will be open to the universe of strangers and the camaraderie of shared adolescence.

When I was young.

I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a very nice house. My dad owned his own company and we were not rich but we were well-off.

When I was 14 and in my second year of high school I met Marv Kirchler who remains my friend 52 years later. We used to roam the south side in his father’s Dodge Coronet. This was just one of many dangerous acts I did as Marv took years to polish his driver safety skills. Marv is older than me by 2 or 3 years and had a drivers license long before I could even apply for one.

From time to time, Marv and I would walk at night from my house to the end of the block, to the corner of 71st and Jeffrey.  There was a tavern right on that corner. In preparation for going there, we would buy a big bottle of root beer, grab our drum sticks and off we went. Marv and I shared an interest in drumming.

The root beer would stay in a brown paper bag like a wino carries around his bottle of wine. Marv and I would stand outside the tavern and watch through the tall plate glass window the live jazz combos on stage. The drummer would be right in front of us, with a stand up bass player to his side. And a keyboard or guitar in front.We would take turns drumming along on the red brick exterior under the glare of the early Mercury vapor lights. Inside, the patrons and performers were almost all African-American.

Jazz drumming is such a simple/complex, beautiful art. The drum set was comprised of a snare, bass, and a tom tom, with a high hat,  2 cymbals and maybe a floor tom. Nothing like the drum sets in popular rock bands that had lots of accouterments.

Marv and I were joyfully mimicking the Black musical culture around us. We listened to the Monkees and the Temptations. Janis Joplin and Diana Ross. What a marvelous environment.

About my pal, Marv was born on the other side of the tracks from me. Blue collar family. His dad was gruff, with a gravely voice and a drum set he played when he was not working at a printing press. Marv’s mother was the salt of the fucking earth who never turned me away when I showed up on her doorstep, under-age and fleeing the brutality of my own upscale home.

Growing up on the south side had such benefits. Marv lived in a classic white area which harbored many families tainted by anti-Semitism and racism. But rough and tumble young Marvin was more likely to attack a long-haired hippie than a black boy.

We had a third pal, Kerry. We shared 3 characteristics. We were Jewish, middle-class and smart. Together we transitioned from typical high school kids to early members of the pot smoking milieu.

When high school ended, Kerry went to college, Marv became a political operative and I became a criminal. Kerry fell in love, dropped out and moved to California. Marvin won elections for people and I became a social worker.

52 years later, I have never heard my 2 friends utter words of hatred towards others because of their religion, race or sexual orientation. (I hated Palestinians for years but I already blogged about the incident and how that happened.) I attribute that too the cultural diversity we embraced as young lads.

When I was young and molding and modeling behavior, I was lucky enough to be exposed to a world which was smart, colorful, diverse, violent and then more diverse. I could walk a few blocks and visit friends who were Black, Irish, Polish, Italian, Middle Eastern and more. Some were wealthy, some poor. A short drive away was the University of Chicago, home to the children of world renowned physicists, psychiatrists and scientists of every type.

The pizza parlor, barber shop, movie theater, bowling alley, produce store, supermarket, the aforementioned tavern and hardware store were within a block or two of my home.

What would I be like if I had been raised in a more homogeneous world, lacking in diversity instead of a world filled with rich characters of every ilk. The commuter train at the end of our street would take me to the heart of downtown Chicago in 30 minutes.  Lake Michigan was an easy 2 mile walk. Bonus, when I was 18 years old my father gave me a job working on demolishing buildings/flop houses on Chicago’s Skid Row where resided the largest collection of men, marginalized by poverty, alcoholism and drug addiction ever assembled in the Midwestern United States.

My early world included swimming at the Jewish country club at 10, bar mitzvah at 13, standing on a street corner, imagining I was the second drummer in a jazz combo at 14, school dropout at 16 and facing 6-15 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections when I was 17.

 

Itchycoo Park  where, It’s all too beautiful.

I’d like to go there now with you
You can miss out school – Won’t that be cool
Why go to learn the words of fools?
What will we do there? – We’ll get high
What will we touch there? – We’ll touch the sky
But why the tears there? I’ll tell you why
It’s all too beautiful, It’s all too beautiful
It’s all too beautiful, It’s all too beautiful

And the Animals singing

“When I was young
It was more important
Pain more painful
Laughter much louder
Yeah, when I was young”

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

“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.

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

Is lonely a result of being alone?

I rode past a community pool today. The children were having fun. It took me back to a time where I could be happy despite my environment..

When I was young my family had enough money to live well. We had a family business that provided a good income for my father. We lived in a nice house and in the summer we went to a country club where I played in the pool. I loved the pool and had fun despite the fact that I went to sleep at night fantasizing killing my father because he beat me regularly.

What does family of origin have to do with the adult quality of life. No one knows for sure. No one knows what makes relationships work. (Does not prevent “experts” from saying they do).

But I was damaged. I knew hate better than love. I knew anger better than compassion. I lived like a caged animal, looking for an opportunity to escape. My psyche was damaged. Probably no more so than most kids but more than some. I made early decisions intended to survive. Then as I became a teen I made decisions intended to thrive in dysfunctional arenas, like the criminal subculture.

I did not have the ability to see that my behavior was driven by this very damaged psyche and soul. I was dangerous to myself and others the same way an injured animal can be dangerous. I could not fill the hole in my soul and I had no idea how loneliness played a part in all of it. I am a very social animal. But my social circle even now finds me most comfortable amongst the denizens of the night.

 

Now, I frequently sit quietly in meditation , carefully watching this thing that I have which generates thoughts. I treat it like a circus performance. I am amused that I once performed in all 3 rings, simultaneously and mindlessly. The most prominent performance I give is that of Victim. It is a place from which no healing or growth can be had. I would blame everything but my own thoughts for my misfortune. In truth, I suffer because I think and I suffer because I do not get the outcome I desired. Who stood in the way of my success which I have so clearly defined? The answer is, it is always me and it is always about my defining success.

I mention love and relationships a lot in my writings because in my travels as a counselor and human being, it seems that people identify loneliness as the most significant source of emotional and psychological pain. And like everyone else, it has plagued me greatly at times.

Everybody has their path. Some smoother, some rougher. I am, like you are, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. You can never really know me and I can never really know you. But I will keep showing up to try to know you better and I will work hard to let you see me better. This will stimulate a community which has spiritual underpinnings and can help me to not feel so lonely and help me to feel lonely.

May you be blessed and know that all things, including loneliness are impermanent.  May all that you miss, you not need. May all that you need, you will have.

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.

“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.

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.