Transitions

So if you know me it is no surprise that I am writing about transitions the day my pal Jerry died. But the subject is not really about Jerry but about me. I have been transitioning before your very eyes. Social media, specifically Facebook has been the playground you can see me play, fight, grow.

When this all started, I had issues and my issues had issues. I had skills but I had at least one specific deficit, dealing with pain. Jerry’s dying has given me an opportunity to see my own transformation. Sometimes I am directly connected to my shifts, at other times I find myself merely a keen observer.

Like everyone I know, I have suffered losses in my life. Family and friends die Colleagues die. Physical, psychological and emotional pain are often my constant companions. I have mad coping skills sometimes. I am seriously good in a crisis. Like everyone I know, I also must suffer through loss. It is inevitable.

What is weird to watch is a pronounced absence of a type of suffering which I experienced which I think was caused by two things. A lack of tools and spiritual ignorance. That type of suffering has evaporated. In its place, for now, is an acceptance of thoughts and feelings that previously went undetected, ignored or silenced.

While I find nothing positive about Jerry’s death other than a release from physical suffering, I do find that the journey has been with purpose. Jerry’s death in my life has brought about a willingness to be present with my feelings. I am willing to cry (while still thinking “if you make fun of me crying, I will kill you). I am willing to just be. I have demonstrated to myself and others that I can subjugate my anger and fears in order to be of maximum service to others. Subjugation, crying, acceptance, and being present were not concepts I was interested in exploring before.

Facebook creates this public arena for pain and suffering, joy and happiness and kids photos. In the past, if someone close to me had died, I knew instinctively to share. But I didn’t always know with whom. Or if I knew, either I couldn’t find said person to share with, or I waved off the idea. When my boarding school roommate died years after school was out, I felt quite alone because no one in my world knew him and I couldn’t find anyone that did. Eventually over the years, I heard from two people who went to that boarding school with us, and have reconnected. They helped me bring closure to losing my roommate some time back and now, today, they help me embrace my new loss.

Some of Jerry’s friends are my friends. Facebook has become an outlet for the community to grieve. I do not feel alone in the least. ( I will overeat today. Powerless to resist food when hurt.) Unlike the past where I felt a loss of this type was my loss, today I see it is a community’s loss. It is a loss to Jerry’s community and family as well as to my community and family. My friends who never knew Jerry are still sharing their intimate acquaintance with experiencing losing a loved one.  They are empathetic and sympathetic. If I made this about me it would also be about how shallow I could be.

I am uncertain of the value, especially in the long run of exposing ourselves on social media. But in this moment it is quite apparent to me that it is serving me constructively. This blog is a way to harness the thoughts and feelings that come in waves. And then the blog will post to Facebook. Then I think I shall revisit my pain in a healthy way in days ahead versus the neurotic coping I see in people who can only see their pain in a very small context.

Pain and suffering are not the only feelings that are arising. My friends and I share joy, passion and anger also. And in some slightly more mature way than before, I am here for all of it. Sometimes I gloss over Facebook posts about new boyfriends/girlfriends. I skim over hundreds of photos my daughter posts from Korea. And most recipes and book reports go unread. But many life events are noted. Many of those I reply to. Sometimes I even get the right feeling to match the event when I post. (Sometimes not)

So I post photos of my family, friends and I, having fun, surgery, passages and disasters. I sell and buy stuff from Facebook. This is not intended as a promo or an advocacy of the utility of Facebook. It is merely to observe that I am transitioning before your very social media eyes. But big shout out to 12 step recovery, meditation and Buddhism for facilitating the change for others to observe. By the way, if you scratch your head and think, “I don’t get it”, that’s cool too. If you think, “Bull, Facebook and social media are for sissies” or some such, I hear ya. I do not think I care that much what you think.

Today is my little brother Ricky’s birthday. I woulda forgot without the FB  reminder. I texted him a greeting as a result. Sometimes I give a birthday shout to mere acquaintances. It just seems reasonable since I was already at the computer and seems a nice thing to do. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers have been lost. Pets have died and I sent condolences to the owners. I am not half-bad at it and sometimes I say something which strikes a chord with someone in the midst of their own difficulties.

Meditation has shown me that feelings and thoughts arise, and they depart. I have no investment in managing or controlling when and how. I need not crumble in the face of great emotional pain. My feelings are simply appropriate and to be expected. My anger is especially interesting as I struggle to put it in perspective without nurturing resentments or feeling guilty. It is just anger I feel. I am not the anger. But it is only by observing these thoughts and feelings that I resist the time old tradition of acting as badly as I feel. Interesting to watch people I resent and know in my heart that most of what I feel is all about my choosing to feel that way. Just as I can choose to feel pain without embarrassment and joy without clinging, I can also let anger arise and leave without the need to exacerbate it.

I hope my growing up in public serves more than a voyeuristic moment for the observer. I hope it stimulates interest and action to spiritual pursuit. Maybe it will encourage the practice of metta.  Metta, loving-kindness meditation, is the simple practice of directing well-wishes towards other people, and all living beings. It would be reasonable to think, if Ken can do it, anyone can.

Jerry Cichon passed away today. He was like a brother. We traveled what was frequently and arduous and tortured spiritual journey together in AA and elsewhere. After the 3rd or 4th hour of talking our way up a mountain, you tend to go deeper, to connect deeper. The small talk is long out of the way and straight talk kicks in. I may have known Jerry better than even my oldest friends because Jerry was so raw when we met. I was his lawyer, friend and brother. He was my first new friend in my new sober lifestyle who died in such a way (cancer) that sometimes it felt like we faced it together. It was not sudden for Jerry. It was not without great suffering. But as with most things in his new sober life, Jerry saw it was an opportunity to practice his spiritual and religious beliefs. Circumstances preclude me from sharing with his family the many things he shared. Such a day may come. Jerry said to me in recent days that I was spiritual perfection. Imagine that. Even if it isn’t true, can one man say anything kinder to a pal?

Right Action for me, today, in this moment.

I had a chat with a friend this morning. The subject of truth-telling came up. I advised that since I took Buddhist vows I have not lied. The Buddhist vows or “precepts” are as follows

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami: I observe the precept of abstaining from the taking of life.

2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami: I observe the precept of abstaining from stealing or taking that which is not freely given.

3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami: I observe the precept of abstaining from sexual misconduct.

4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami: I observe the precept of abstaining from lying or gossip.

5. Suramerayamajjapamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami: I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants.

Since I declared my intention to practice Buddhism I have tried to adhere to these vows. I fail at times but not for lack of trying. Neither I nor anyone in my immediate family has purposely violated the first precept and so much as killed an insect since we formally took the precepts.

Why would a Jewish-American choose the practice of Buddhism? Why would a man with my history undertake any religious practice?  I heard the Buddhist pronouncement that life was suffering. As Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote “The search for a spiritual path is born out of suffering. It does not start with lights and ecstasy, but with the hard tacks of pain, disappointment, and confusion. However, for suffering to give birth to a genuine spiritual search, it must amount to more than something passively received from without. It has to trigger an inner realization, a perception which pierces through the facile complacency of our usual encounter with the world to glimpse the insecurity perpetually gaping underfoot. When this insight dawns, even if only momentarily, it can precipitate a profound personal crisis. It overturns accustomed goals and values, mocks our routine preoccupations, leaves old enjoyments stubbornly unsatisfying.”

I experienced this and now I confine myself to behaviors and undertakings which increase the likelihood of success without regret. That would be success without the accompanying dissatisfaction at having had to harm anyone financially, psychologically and emotionally. I live with those very type of regrets as relates to my 2 former spouses and anyone else who drew close enough to my flame to get burned.

It is 20 years ago today that I was wed to now ex-wife Laurie. I would have to look far and wide to find someone more deserving of  great kindness and happiness. Despite believing that, I let myself slowly drift from the straight and narrow and into a spiritual abyss which I did not escape from for many years. I can say with certainty that she gave me every opportunity and resource to live a normal rich and rewarding existence. She offered solid ground upon which love could thrive. So here is what I learned. I had demons which lurked, waiting always to undermine good choices. I had unresolved issues which were always waiting to manifest in my behaviors. I had mental-illness ready to unravel any progress I might exercise.

And but for 2 little girls, now my daughters, who needed me less than I needed them, I would have spun out. But God gave me strength of character to protect the weak and needy. While my attributes were inadequate to bring me salvation, my resolve to act honorably was resolute enough to bring me to a place of willingness to take the actions needed to protect them.

Thus is born the seeds of sobriety and Buddhism in my spirit.