An open heart? A heavy heart!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear fondest memories,

I participate in Facebook on various pages and groups. One is for my old neighborhood, in Chicago, Hyde Park. This weekend we had a long exchange about an issue important to me and it stimulated me to finish this dialogue I have been working on. I intended this for public consumption but it may be too personal to all but those that lived it. My previous blog posts have touched on many aspects of my youth and its indiscretions and failures. I fail sometimes to pay homage to the environment which I thrived and drowned in.

When I was 14, my family moved from an area in Chicago called South Shore to Hyde Park (HP) a neighborhood 10 minutes north. Kind of like moving from the Earth to Mars.

So for my first 14 years, I got used to anti-Semitism and racial animus in South Shore. There were white kids in my high school, known as “greasers” that hated Jews and Blacks. Jews were generally not friends with Blacks but there was rarely any hostilities between them.  Of course that is a shallow description but all that is needed for the moment. The South Shore high school was populated with the traditional cliques “popular” kids, nerds, athletes, etc. There was an additional cliquish element. Jewish high school fraternities and sororities which mimicked the Greek system. These were ranked by cool. The more popular attracted cooler kids and athletes. I joined a fraternity, Phi Omega Pi, (POPS). We were considered slightly cooler than kids who were unable to be admitted to and rejected from the fraternities. We met weekly, and had social activities like house parties and athletic leagues. I barely navigated the social chasm between my black friends and white friends.

And so it went until I was sent away to New Hampshire for educational rehabilitation. All fodder for more blogging someday.

When I landed upon the shores of Hyde Park, I found a new world. One of the first things I noticed was the presence of the counter-culture which would become known as the “60s” and hippies. The center of this culture seemed to reside on “57th Street”, in the shadow of the University of Chicago.

Shortly after we moved to HP, I ran away from home, again. It was the summer of 1968, I was 15. I was new to the neighborhood and did not know many kids. I had just finished my 3rd year of high school but my first year of a New Hampshire boarding school.

First order of business as a runaway was to seek shelter. I had heard if I went and hung out on 57th street, I would hear about “crash pads”, apartments where runaways would be welcome to sleep.

So I went there and hung out all that day and evening. None of the young people I asked  knew of a crash pad. It got late and people started going home. I had no where to go. I had a toothbrush and a few dollars. When the local restaurant locked its doors and the streets cleared, a guy about 4 years older than me named Arsene offered to let me crash at his parents’ home a block away. His parents were out of town and he and his friend Otis were going there. He let me sleep there until his family returned a few days later. By then I had met other kids and had got my bearings. We remained friends and I remain grateful for his intervention and invitation.

Strangely, I do not remember much about the summer after that. I do not know where I stayed or who I stayed with. But I did not go home. I did not go to the Democratic National Riots in Grant Park although it was a short train ride away.

As I integrated into my new hood, I enjoyed some of the differences. Nobody called me a dirty Jew anymore. Black kids and white kids mingled freely. Athletes were rarely held in the highest esteem. Some kids were notably smart without being picked on. Teens and young adults gravitated to this 57th street and shared food and marijuana. The summer of love greeted us. I grew my hair and dropped acid, LSD. I smoked a lot of pot. We walked a short ways to hang out on Lake Michigan and at the famed Museum of Science and Industry. Many of the young men and women were musical, math or science prodigies, gang members, writers and artists. It was by no means a community immune from the ravages of urban ills like racial and sexual violence, police misconduct and addiction. In fact, HP bordered three of the most poverty stricken areas in the United States.

Summer ended. It was time to go back to boarding school. I agreed to meet my mom and a suitcase at the corner by my now beloved 57th Street and go to the airport to go back to boarding school. The local kids were going back to school but I could not stay in Chicago as I was not enrolled in any local school. So I ended my days on the run and returned to Tilton School. That story ought to be good for some more blog posts.

Within hours of getting back to the school in Tilton NH. the hassle started. My long hair became an object of derision just as my being a Midwesterner had always been. I found some hip kids to pal around with but my fate was sealed quickly. I was expelled 3 weeks after school began and returned to Chicago.

The public high school near my parents was called Kenwood. Calling it a high school is a stretch. It was an old grade school which housed only freshmen, sophomore and junior year students. Gym class required we walk 4 blocks to the local YMCA and the lunch room was the auditorium. No lunch tables.

I turned 16 and a few months later I dropped out of school, left home and focused my time researching recreational drugs and their effect on a 16 year old white Jewish male. I shot heroin, sniffed glue and snorted coke and ingested barbiturates. I marched against the war, got arrested for pot and theft, advocated overthrowing the government and offing the Pigs (police). Lost my virginity, aided and abetted the Black Panther Party and was found to be mentally unfit for military service.

Also while I was 16, I met Tony James at a local church, by the University. Inside the church in a large room was a food service/coffee house, where anyone was welcome to buy a snack and sit and study, or hang out. Cheap, warm and welcomed, count me in. More on the church to follow.

Tony was on the run from home like me. We banded together to survive. We hung out till nighttime then slept wherever we could. Sometimes in church basements, friends apartments or the homes of adults that took pity on us. We dodged authorities and dealt drugs together. Tony had been in jail a few times already for theft and he introduced me to burglarizing homes.

We could be relied upon to have stolen stereos and marijuana to sell. I saved money and we got our own apartment and lived as outlaws. He was tall and black. I was short and white. We proclaimed, Mighty mighty Spade and Whitey. Some weekends we would travel the short distance to the famed blues lounges where Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters performed. We stood toe to toe against violent predators. But in the end, like so many youthful HP tales, it ended badly. He and his girlfriend ripped off my money and to hide his betrayal, he spread rumors intended to cause me physical harm.

Hyde Park was my most formative years. My time there was relatively short. I moved on to the north side when I was around 20 years old. My friends still lived in Hyde Park and I visited often but I was slowly pulling away. I did return in 1983 to assume the position of drug counselor to local adolescents for the BRASS Foundation and then as the manager/counselor of the alcohol and drug detox unit at the Hyde Park Hospital. I left again when I was accepted into law school in 1985.

All this to say that I carry the experience of Hyde Park in my blood and bones. It shaped my life indelibly. The rest of my life would be a testament to it. I became a social worker to disturbed adolescents because a local church helped me turn my life around. I became a lawyer because I knew the fear of being arrested at 17 for drugs and facing a lengthy prison sentence. I became an activist for legalization of marijuana, an environmentalist and a humanist. I worked as a drug counselor in the inner-city. The YMCA of Chicago hired me to work in a racially riven community to try and ameliorate and mitigate the ill effects of the racial hostilities there. (That did not work out well.)

I learned in HP that I would never be alone standing up to racial and economic inequality.  I saw that the inequality cut into the fabric of our society, schools, courts and jobs. I would never be silent or tolerate bullies. I saw the arising of consciousness and the deadening of souls from drugs.

I am still friends with most of my pals from that time and place. We continue to share compassion and empathy for other humans and animals. Sadly, many lived too fast and died too young. Hard drugs and alcohol decimated my posse. The survivors have a bond that remains unbroken after 50 plus years. We had Lake Michigan to play in and watch sunrises. The University of Chicago introduced us to smart kids from all around the planet and to score drugs from. I burgled and terrorized them. The university was a helluva source of jobs though. I got fired as a dishwasher there.

I know many people who go back to where they were raised and knock on the doors of old pals. I cannot do that. They died or they moved. One of the last of the originals, was an original. His name was Tony Roberts. He was the smartest, hottest mess I ever befriended. He was black, fat and the most prolific martial artistic I knew. He could talk the birds (and ladies) from the trees but he could not abandon a life of lies and fantasies that he surrounded himself with. He could be the epitome of the whole sub-culture of the over under-achievers that proliferated my teen age years. No persons were ever smarter and more talented and did less with their lives than my pals.

Although I have blogged about this institution before, a special word about the University Church for the Disciples of Christ. Also known by its coffee house name, The Blue Gargoyle. It is where I was to meet the seminarian/social worker Loel Callahan who would jump start my return to society. He modeled for me the path to what was to be my career in social work.

The church is where I met the original members of the University of Chicago’s Gay Lib and the Women’s Lib clubs, who came to the church for needed meeting space when the University turned them away as undesirables. I met the young students who became CADRE, the Chicago Area Draft Resistance, an important group of young men who opposed the Vietnam war. The inviting atmosphere was not lost on various black gangs who met and fought each other and really did spill blood inside and outside the church. Most important to me is that I was the first leader of the youth group which was comprised of a bunch of great big beautiful fuck ups, and not so fucked up. While turning me from a life of crime was like turning an aircraft carrier, the role I had in this program was the beginning.

I am about to return to the neighborhood and break bread with old pals. I have been doing this every year as long as I can remember. I don’t have high school reunions to go to, having never graduated, but I have my friends from the teen years in Hyde Park. We come from wherever we now live to celebrate our friendship, community and history.

I imagine every neighborhood has its great moments, good people and love. But for just a brief moment between 1968 and the mid 1970s, I was a part of one of the greatest cultural movements/experiments in history. I was in the right place and it must have been the right time. Simultaneously, I was in the wrong place and it must have been the wrong time.

The appropriate song….

 

 

 

 

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

Warning, the word I appears a bunch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come the solution!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who am I?

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

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

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

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

Probability of survival, low.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“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.

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

 

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.