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 how to teach meditation.  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 then 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. Buddhist teachers challenged me to find where my thoughts began and where they went when they left. I can not. I was challenged by my teachers to prove that my thoughts and emotions were mine to own/control by adhering only to happy thoughts and pleasant emotions. I accepted the challenge and discovered I could not successfully cling to my thoughts or emotions. None of us can.

“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 closes me off to the sunlight of the spirit, creates the illusion it protects me and yet subverts me when I only wish to love. Breathing in I am mindful I am breathing in. I practice in meditation to be aware of the physical sensation of the breath, in and out. When I am fully mindful, meditating,  the sediment of mindlessness settles. There is then a clarity which I never had of this moment and all the pain of yesterday and the anxiety of tomorrow is dissolved. I am free to love my family and friends and even strangers without the rubbish of judgment and opinions I love attaching to.

The practice of meditation and loving kindness can be a source of suffering.

I hate this empathy thing. I drove across country recently. I could not help but notice many cows in fields on extremely hot days without shelter. I ruminated that a mammal is left to fend without shelter. Wild animals can seek shelter. But these cows could do nothing. They were fenced in, no cover in view. Other cows were in fields with trees or structures and they were all gathered out of the sun, to escape the heat. Domesticated mammals are often in the hands of  persons who are indifferent to the animal’s comfort or worse exposed to torture.

I find I suffer at these observations. I want to do something. I want to mitigate, ameliorate or prevent the neglect and/or abuse of all living things. I cannot prevent harm to all living things. But do I in some way contribute. Do I create a market place that makes the raising and selling of animals desirable/profitable? Should I worry about the other animals like horses and livestock which are equally helpless? Should I lobby for domesticated animals to have access to food and shelter? Should I advocate to criminalize the farmer who forgoes the cost of providing such? Could our economy tolerate the elimination of meat and chicken consumption and the reliance of so many on the industry.

I do not have answers. I do not even purport to judge consumers. I just want to stop my own suffering by mitigating my contribution to this marketplace. My time eating meat may be coming to an end soon.

Pets are equally helpless. On Facebook this week alone, there was a video of a dog being gleefully hung by a teenage boy. The next day a photo appeared of a dog who had had fireworks placed in his mouth and detonated by another teen. Should I do more to alleviate the suffering of homeless cats and dogs? Is it not enough that I care for 2 rescue cats?

Sometimes I even worry that being a U.S. citizen means I contribute to the suffering of untold numbers of humans worldwide. I have no desire to surrender or denounce my citizenship. But maybe I should do more about resisting the military/industrial complex.

Again, no answers. Just questions today.

“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.

 

 

“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

Bicycling is so much more

So let me tell you a few things about biking. Now the obvious, good exercise. Low cost investment generally, but maybe not in my case. Low maintenance costs though.

Here are some benefits folks do not realize. Biking is far more intimate than being in a car. I am constantly engaged with my environment. Cars often wave to me (or curse me). I wave or smile to drivers, bikers, walkers, runners and just everyone.

Biking I hear and smell everything. I hear so many birds, lawnmowers and blowers, car engines, kids, wind, water, dogs barking and more. I smell foliage, exhaust, dead animals, mulch, cut grass, and more.

I see every crack, hole, imperfection in the street and sidewalks. I see flowers grow, creeks run, creeks run dry, kids laugh/cry, faces, fishermen, bridges and animals like opossum, squirrels, bunnies, mice, rats, skunks and more.

I feel good. I do not take medication for heart, blood pressure, cholesterol or anything else. I smile more in an hour on the bike than hours in my car.

It takes commitment. It means discomfort when very hot or very cold. More sweating and showers. It requires my attention, skill and mindfulness. I learned to enjoy my own company and exploring my world. I am at peace with the environment and all celestial beings. I can carry whatever I need to enjoy my ride. Water, food, clothes, caffeine, tools, money, keys and more., if need be.

Biking is so much more

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.

Am I on the path less traveled?

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

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

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

1. Suffering

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

2. The Cause of Suffering

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

3. The End of Suffering

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

4. The Path

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

THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mindful contemplation of feelings.

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

“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 happened when you were not looking?

The first time I was jumped on (outside the home) was 2nd grade. I do seem to have been in more fights than most of my peers. It often had to do with my mouth and my unwillingness to back up. Growing up on the south side I was attacked, robbed, beaten and chased on innumerable occasions. I left South Shore at age 14 and moved to Hyde Park. The instances of violence directed at me or near me, continued countless times. The problem was magnified when I left home at age 15/16 and lived wherever I could find that night to lay my head.

When people are aghast that I am armed all the time or that I am hyper-vigilant, I in turn become aghast that they are aghast. If my father had never struck me often and regularly, I probably still would have gotten PTSD. \

I was robbed or attacked my first day of high school, my first day at my third high school and the first day of my fourth high school. I was attacked in a preparatory boarding school (second high school) in New Hampshire.

I do not recall initiating attacks but I could be having selective amnesia. I certainly learned to live amongst predators. I had many friends who were quite capable of launching a violent attack but I do not recall us ever starting the fight.

As I slide into old age, I do not feel safer. I do feel more resigned to the universe, impermanence and death. So I am a hybrid of ideas, experiences and education. I am violence tinged with metta/loving kindness. Or perhaps it is metta tinged with violence.

I don’t know if I would have wanted it otherwise. I have no idea if I would have done many of the good things I did as a social worker or a lawyer if I had been raised in a more peaceful arena. I do not know if I would have been motivated, experienced or concerned enough to have provided the advocacy that I was able to provide clients. Having my experiences as a kid, as a defendant and as a loudmouth made me more empathic than others who lacked my background.

Time takes time. What is, is. What was, was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Are we all connected to each other?

In 2012 Tricycle magazine interviewed author Paul Hawken about the Occupy movement and other uprisings. It resonates that we have Trump, Sanders and Black Lives Matter occurring in like manner now. I believe what he said about the political rebellion then is apropos to what is happening now.

“The movement is part of humanity’s immune response to ecological degradation, political corruption, and economic destruction. There is a biological quality to the full sweep of humanity confronting its shadow. The upwelling of awareness and compassion—and anger and frustration—is different from anything humanity has done before because we are connected in a way that has never occurred. This is terra nova. We know something is happening, but we don’t know what it is, as Bob Dylan once wrote. What the Occupy movement cannot do is prevent the bankruptcy of the U.S., Japan, China, and much of Europe, which is where we are but which we have so far deferred by financial contortions. We have created the delusion of economic growth and well-being by creating unpayable debts to the future, whether they are financial debts, the debt of resource depletion, or the debt of structural poverty, and the Occupy movement is holding up a mirror to a political-financial system that is manifestly unfair and is causing incalculable damage to the world, whether it be by bank bailouts or the Athabasca tar sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

“What confuses the media and draws scorn is that there are so many issues at play and that there is no they there. Critics do not see how seemingly disparate issues are connected and linked. We have to be careful to not let our understanding about Occupy come from the very institutions that need to be occupied, among which are corporate media.”

Buddhist practices in many ways demand an examination of life events in large measure to determine the morality and our relationship to said events. What intention do we create through mindful effort to address our response to events. Detachment or engagement, suppression or rebellion? What can we bring to every moment which is mindful and skillful and in line with our personal truths which we arrive at through effort, examination and meditation. Are you in or out. Do you see the peril predicted? What is happening now is what has been happening for a while.

Hawken also cited the following.  “The formation in England of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787 was the first time citizens organized themselves on behalf of people whom they would never know or from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit. The motives of abolitionists confused the establishment. The prevailing wisdom was that people organized for social change only to protect or serve their own interests. An altruistic mass movement didn’t make sense in the latter part of the 18th century. Today, everywhere in the world except North Korea, there are civil society organizations that do this and it is considered normal. This represents a great awakening in humankind, the likes of which had not previously occurred. It is largely invisible to us, or is so taken for granted that we cannot see a miracle is happening. Occupy is deservedly nabbing the headlines, but we should remember that there are over one million organizations in the world addressing the salient issues of our time with respect to social justice and the environment.”

Is there hope? “The questions I ask myself are: Why am I here? Why have billions of beings, including me, come to Earth at this time? Which delusions prevent me from being fully human and humane? What is joy? Are my words, actions, and work helpful to others? Do I have any control over the future (an easy but an important question)? Do I love the way things are right now? If not, why not? Am I grateful for the privilege of living in these extraordinary times? What is my intention?”

 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will ……

I have made up my mind who I am going to vote for. My friends have made up their minds also. We can publish all the facts, rumors and innuendo available, but no one now is changing. Unless it is extreme (like David Duke blaming Jews for Melania’s speech) I will refrain from posting for or against the candidates. I am not attached to my candidate. I am supportive but I will survive in any case. We are slowly becoming a third world country. Our economy is failing the poor. Our police are openly targeted. Our police are frequently abusive. Our capacity for productivity has diminished and we rely upon exports for many of our needs. Our population is breaking into tribal like groups based on territory, race, religion ideology, politics, etc. Our agricultural productivity is threatened by climate changes.
 
Instead of worrying about God in or out of government and schools, and worrying about what color Iphone case you want, I suggest you worry about race relations, the disintegration of our primary and secondary educational system and about the inability of millions of Americans to thrive economically in an increasingly hostile financial environment for our aging and unemployed population.
 
The seeds of revolution and disintegration of society as we have come to know it looms greater every day. Wake up. It is not the absence of God or religion It is economics. Hungry people are angry people. Ignorant people are angry. It is not a shortage of God. It is a shortage of wealth and opportunity which will plague us into thrid world status. Then back the Blue will be meaningless. Lawless will be commonplace. Look around.
 
We disenfranchised men of color and poor whites by incarcerating them at the fastest and largest rate of any country in the world. We are not the most criminal country. We are the most punitive. Then when we release these prisoners without training and resources they soon find that rehabilitation and reformation and integration back into our society is near impossible. They won’t vote, cannot work and they use what they have to get what they need. That requires immersion back into the criminal subculture.

Then we have our returning soldiers (again often drawn from our underclass), many who are mentally unstable and now are choosing to use their skills to kill cops rather than become one. The cost of mental instability to our economy and safety is immeasurable but I guarantee it will be astronomical.
Follow the bouncing ball. The wealthiest are dividing us by race and religion. They permit police misconduct because it perpetuates the agenda of emasculating and disenfranchising opposition. There is no shortage of scapegoats. Every year they want to magnify our anger and fears. It is paralysis by fear. We elect the angry guy. He justifies our worst emotions and gives permission to persecute and prosecute our most recent enemy. Why in the last 30 years have we had some group or another, who never imperiled us, become the focus of our fear? Do you even remember when all of the sudden you found out the illegal Mexicans were no longer a source of cheap labor but the new thieves, rapists and drug dealers? Do you remember when the Middle East shifted from being out there somewhere to being here? (It was September 11, 2001.) Do you know why we were suddenly incapable of having peace with Muslims? Did you follow our military incursions into the middle east which preceded our being targeted at home. Did you see the carnage in the middle east brought about by the years of shock and awe which we unleashed in the middle east?
 
If you wish to make reference to the Bible, make this the foundation of your studies. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Galatians 6:7

The practice of meditation and loving kindness can be a source of suffering.

I hate this empathy thing. I drove across country recently. I could not help but notice many cows in fields on extremely hot days without shelter. I ruminated that a mammal is left to fend without shelter. Wild animals can seek shelter. But these cows could do nothing. They were fenced in, no cover in view. Other cows were in fields with trees or structures and they were all gathered out of the sun, to escape the heat. Domesticated mammals are often in the hands of  persons who are indifferent to the animal’s comfort or worse exposed to torture.

I find I suffer at these observations. I want to do something. I want to mitigate, ameliorate or prevent the neglect and/or abuse of all living things. I cannot prevent harm to all living things. But do I in some way contribute. Do I create a market place that makes the raising and selling of animals desirable/profitable? Should I worry about the other animals like horses and livestock which are equally helpless? Should I lobby for domesticated animals to have access to food and shelter? Should I advocate to criminalize the farmer who forgoes the cost of providing such? Could our economy tolerate the elimination of meat and chicken consumption and the reliance of so many on the industry.

I do not have answers. I do not even purport to judge consumers. I just want to stop my own suffering by mitigating my contribution to this marketplace. My time eating meat may be coming to an end soon.

Pets are equally helpless. On Facebook this week alone, there was a video of a dog being gleefully hung by a teenage boy. The next day a photo appeared of a dog who had had fireworks placed in his mouth and detonated by another teen. Should I do more to alleviate the suffering of homeless cats and dogs? Is it not enough that I care for 2 rescue cats?

Sometimes I even worry that being a U.S. citizen means I contribute to the suffering of untold numbers of humans worldwide. I have no desire to surrender or denounce my citizenship. But maybe I should do more about resisting the military/industrial complex.

Again, no answers. Just questions today.

Renunciation (or what I didn’t get for dinner)

Renunciation is an act or instance of relinquishing, abandoning, repudiating, or  sacrificing something, as a right, title, person, or ambition. Renunciation is often  used to describe the act of a monk or nun going forth into a homeless life to be liberated from lust.

As you know, over 5 years ago, I was ordained as a novice Buddhist monk and resided in a temple/monastery for over 4 months. I had many apprehensions going into this challenge. I had never cut off my hair and eyebrows. I had never gone without dinner and monks do not eat after the midday. I had never resided in a community where I was the oldest person with the least amount of authority. I had never vowed to make no physical contact with a female. These are all part of the monastic lifestyle.

I have never been able to fully explain how I went from what was at times  an extraordinarily hedonistic lifestyle to monk. The transition was quite gradual but it is incredible that it took place at all. My primary guide was Ajahn Sarayut (ajahn being a honorific for monastic teacher), a monk from Thailand living in Tucson Arizona. We met through his meditation group on Meetup.com.

After attending his monthly 90 minute meditations at the local library, I asked to be given more comprehensive training in meditation. And Ajahn asked me to guide him in hiking the local mountain trails.

For the next year I imagine we hiked about 3 times weekly. Always meditating. And we always had hours of conversation. What do you talk about to a monk? We had no common life experiences in the physical realm. No cultural similarities. As a matter of fact, language was often a barrier to communication. At least Ajahn had studied English or we would never have spoken since I do not know Thai.

I can tell you that the inclination is to discuss Buddhism when you spend hours with a Buddhist monk. And so we did, up and down the mountains and in dozens of emails which I wrote at night as my brain demanded more information. Simultaneously, I read dozens of books, journals and magazines on the subject. Then one day I decided that I would be Buddhist and I would take the vows associated with declaring oneself a Buddhist.

Here they are in Pali and English.

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.                                                                                                                          2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.                                                                                                                       3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.                                                                                                                                  4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from lying or gossiping.                                                                                                                                    5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

I look back now at my “adventure” in spiritual growth. I marvel that the least of renunciations caused me much distress. I so fear/feared being hungry at night that I ate gluttonously at each lunch. It has taken me years to examine why the deprivation of food is so difficult. I am an overeater, that I know. But fear and anxiety about a meal…why?

The idea of self-imposed austerity is somewhat alien to my upbringing. If you can afford it, then eat it, wear it, drive it…own it. Austerity is generally for persons of limited means. While I am not rich, anymore, I can afford to eat. I can even afford to go on some spiritual retreats without having to renounce the life of a lay-person and become a monk. There has to be perceived value in the monastic lifestyle or why bother. In my case I saw it as a vehicle to diminish the fire of anger which burned constantly in me. I was incapable of putting out the flames of self-righteousness on my own. I was expert at rationalization, justification and resistance to change which were the barriers to a calmer life.

In the monastic life I had more time and occasion to reflect on my thoughts and actions. I was not distracted for hours upon hours by music, television telephone. I had my laptop and phone, but the emphasis was on practicing a quiet, contemplative  lifestyle. Mindfulness was emphasized. If you eat, then eat. If you walk, then walk. If you drive, you drive. I was urged to do things and speak skillfully. I was encouraged to examine my actions for their intent and effect. Most visitors to the temple spoke Thai so small talk was kept to a minimum.

Cloistered with and managed by lifelong Buddhist monks was weird but simple. No one ever really asked me to do something I did not or could not do., yet I found these simple commands of the monastic life difficult. Ludicrous at times. But slowly, having nothing else to do, I began to engage the world more mindfully.

One of the primary functions of monastic renunciation of so many aspects of ordinary life is to facilitate an inner transformation. Mindful meditation jump-started the process of seeing (awakening) to the truth. The truth being that most things I relied upon for happiness or caused me sadness were not true causes. Gil Fronsdal, a Buddhist writer says “Renunciation is often difficult. Grappling with the power of desire, attachments, and fear may require great personal struggle. But that struggle yields many benefits. We develop the inner strength to overcome temptation and compulsion. We don’t have to live with the suffering and contraction that come with clinging. Clinging can be exhausting; letting go is restful. We may taste the luminous mind of freedom, which is hidden when clinging is present. And, last but not least, we are more available to work for the welfare of others.”

I had an epiphany after 3 months. I was and had always been in the throes of thought patterns that demanded I create and nurture resentments. Nothing was fully exempt from my manufacturing of disdain and resentments. But suddenly in one of my morning meditations, I saw clearly that I was the source of my problem and a solution. Rather than try to teach the monks how to behave in my Anglo-culture, as I had been doing dutifully, I would simply offer myself to be of service. It was a seismic shift which could be felt by the ajahns I lived with. My new mantra became “what can I do to help today?” My old mantra had been more like, “how can I teach you today?”

It is coming up on 5 years since I returned to my family and the life of a lay-person. Hardly a day goes by that my experience does not directly impact my thoughts and behavior. I still joke mindlessly at times, but I rarely act mindlessly and unskillfully.  I wish most people not be as hard-headed as I am about their spiritual growth. But my experience with people leads me to believe that most people are very much resistant to genuine change of a spiritual nature. It requires renunciation not of lust but of comfort. It requires practice in observing the mind, primarily through meditation. Spiritual progress has not come about by judging or interpreting the actions of others, but in keeping the focus and solution on myself.

Soon I will face the prospect of returning temporarily to the monastic life. I am still attached to my hair and dinner. These two things alone lead me to believe my work is far from over. Meantime, I ride my bike and teach. These things are powerful spiritual motors. I have been able to ride them to new destinations previously inaccessible.