The heart should not be a lonely hunter.

I did not intend to craft a bummer blog today but I write what I write and share what I share. I let the market place decide worthiness.

Thai Buddhist monks (Theravada) are not vegetarian. In large measure they cannot choose their diet as they are expected to eat what is offered by lay people whether it be meat or fish head in oil. But the expectation is that neither lay persons or monks will cause harm unnecessarily. My sensitivity to my environment in conjunction with the concept of “engaged Buddhism” has led me to work that much harder on behalf of the earth and all its occupants.

In my Buddhist practice, we send blessings and compassion to all sentient beings (metta). If you ever had a pet, you know sentience. Sentience is defined as “able to experience feelings,” “responsive to or conscious of sense impressions,” and “capable of feeling things through physical senses.” Sentient beings experience wanted emotions like happiness, joy, and gratitude, and unwanted emotions in the form of pain, suffering, and grief. Do not be someone who hurts sentient beings through ignorance, neglect, intention or negligence.

Every time I eat meat or fowl I recognize there is a food chain that I am part of but my participation is multiplied by the indifference of our society and its marketing of food products. So I minimize my non-vegetable consumption, which by the way always pays off in better health, less expense and enhanced awareness of my environment. Most of you think that is bullshit which probably means like me, you do not want to be inconvenienced or are unwilling to disrupt your taste buds. Equally disturbing to me are persons who own animals but are indifferent to their animals’ discomfort or suffering. Show up for life being the best sentient being you can be and have empathy for all other sentient beings.

Do not merely “not kill needlessly” but to the best of your ability, protect all beings. Hold in your heart that we are fortunate to be able to actively express our discomfort and suffering. If we get hit by a vehicle they will send an ambulance to help us. Not so for the thousands of critters struck last night for whom only death will bring an end to their suffering.

My bubble is crowded with the suffering of others. Empathy is an attribute that I value but it is the foundation of so much of my discomfort and suffering. It is why I do not practice law. I could not handle watching my clients sentenced to confinement in a system which only held the promise of punishment without the offer of rehabilitation, education or reformation.

Like we say in Alcoholics Anonymous, No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. … We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.

“Why, if it weren’t for this ‘internal illumination’ [i.e., sentience] the world would be nothing but a pile of dirt!”
― Albert Einstein

An open heart? A heavy heart!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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?

To all living beings

When I drive or bike why do I stare at objects in the road which appear to be animals that may have been run over. I am drawn to the sight to verify what I often think. Frequently it is just a pile of leaves or debris. Sometimes it is a dead squirrel or rabbit, cat etc. And my reaction is always the same. I am pained by the sight and then I say a silent prayer that it died quickly and painlessly. But I cannot explain why I even look closely to see what it is that seems to be laying in the street.

So while I was biking Sunday, I pondered this ritual of mine. It stimulated me to think how I desire to have all living being be free from suffering. I pray that all living beings be free from all forms of suffering. I pray that no living thing live or die in fear. I pray that there is a power in the universe which will protect sufferers such that their physical or mental anguish will be mitigated by the higher power.

I cannot imagine the suffering someone like the 3 women in captivity by Ariel Castro. How much suffering is associated with being held captive, no one knowing where you are and never knowing if you will ever be freed. Or what is it like to be  Jaycee Dugard, the abducted girl who was held captive for 18 years.

I especially hurt for kids lost, kidnapped, ill or injured who have not developed the coping skills of someone much older. Defenseless! Is God there to provide some relief from untold fear and suffering?

And then how about the men and women who just struggle every day to make a living and support themselves and family. Never having enough to be comfortable. Always fearful of losing a job, having an auto repair or a medical expense which creates anxiety about being able to pay the rent or utilities. I pray for them too.

I pray for people who have emotional, psychological, mental or physical handicaps that result in their isolation and seclusion from others. Living alone with their illness, alone without family or friends to comfort them or assist them.

I wonder how to support my country against its “enemies”. Often those that wish us harm are those we harmed. I didn’t start it. I didn’t wish it. I do not want young Americans placed in harms way and I do not want them to suffer further upon their return because of my aversion to inject our country into these armed-conflicts. So I pray for our troops and I pray for our enemies.

I pray for those in prisons and I pray for those who imprison. I pray for the wage slave and the corporate plantation owners. I pray for the prey and I pray for the predator. Once I start on a course of compassion and loving kindness for any as described by the Buddha, I find little freedom to not pray for all. My willingness to be selective in my compassion has dissipated and now I am compelled to include all. Evil is no less deserving of my prayers than goodness. Sinners no less than saints.

I can’t explain how I got here. It started with a spark of love which was always in me. It was enough to make me an advocate for those I felt needed an advocate. It was enough to make me believe in and act on behalf of street kids, gang-bangers and drug addicts. But not enough love was left for the persecutors, bullies and predators. What I had left over was a lot of judgement.

My policy statement was found in Ezekiel 25:17 And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.” 

Now age and maturation fueled by the practice of Buddhism and Metta (loving/kindness) has broadened the group which I classified as deserving and diminished the group who were undeserving.

I am difficult. Easy to anger, quick to fight. I do not tolerate any threats, physical or other of any sort against me. I will resort to verbal or physical violence if prodded. I prefer to be kind but I am not hesitant to show anger. I wish it were not so, but until future progress, I think we can safely say this is where I reside. But despite all the violence and difficulties, love grows through practice. Compassion is slowly demanding more of a seat at the table. Equal time is now given to the practice of metta and I always include the reflection on loving/kindness before I end a meditation.

I don’t know why I stare at the crash. But at least I pray for the well-being of the victims. And I know that this practice of mine is good and wholesome. And I know that if everyone were practicing metta, that the world would be a better place. I don’t need someone to tell me that. I don’t need to see it. I just know its truth.

What is the measure of a right life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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