Sunday, September 28, 2008

Rant #1

David and Goliath or China & USA vs the Earth

1. Picture the well-known image of the earth as seen from space with the
three hands of a clock superimposed upon it and it is 11:40 PM ( the hands
are the blades of a wind turbine) and below it the footprints of my boys,
Cole and Skyler with a larger C, carbon, encircling this world view and the
number 6 below it all.

2. Fear and loathing at the edge of the abyss of Gorge Bush's asshole
can be seen well now because the truth is a flashlight as big as the
sun. This administration and those that preceded it since Ronny the
Raygunner ramped up the deficit are now asking for and are receiving a
blank check to bail out the GOP in the name of the 1934 Gold Act. This
week they propose to spend 1.3 trillion (read a growing 11.3 trillion deficit)
and it will become 54 trillion soon. They privatized wealth with Phil Gramm
the ultimate "whiner" and his cohorts McPain and McImpailem. My sons
Cole Waters Lloyd and Skyler Danton Lloyd and their classmates will be
expected to pay for this with inflated dollars worth pennies on the dollar.

3. The world's CO2 balance hit the tipping point last week and the Arctic
polar ice cap might melt completely next summer because the military
industrial complex has burned down the biosphere in the name of
capitalism. The generals are pointing their blood-stained fingers to
"OTHERS" when asked which one is to be held accountable.

4. There is no shovel big enough to dig away the bullshit that has piled
up at the door of the oval office and if there were there's no place enormous
enough to contain it while it rots away our trust. "RUST NEVER SLEEPS"
and this administration is as corrosive as battery acid on a doorknob.

5. What kind of poultice can absorb the pathetic lies of Dick, Gorge
and his minions other than a bonfire of gigantic proportions in the
oven of deceit formed by adobes made of their excreta. A great magnifying
glass should be aimed at the furnace powered by the "sun's dawning light"
if our flag is still there.

6. Rovian Machiavellian tunes are being played at the funeral of the
GOP on a violin bowed by Gorge's shaking hands and drops of his
panicking sweat fall on the trembling strings while Rome burns and
Iraqi children starve on a soup made of empty promises of salvation
in the name of a Democracy dripping with foreign debt.

You are in my thoughts when I say to others that it is in "AMERICA THE
STOLEN" that we live!

Very truly my dear friend we are in a pickle jar full of vile piss and
cucumbers grown by the greediest rascals this beautiful world has ever
known. I hope that an old POW who has been in the governments
employ since he was a boy and a creationist den mother with a
moose gun who can see Russia through her scopes have just enough
time to place all their toes and fingers up enough of the appropriate
openings to shut up and look in the oil slick to see the dim light of truth,
then shut up and go home to their respective shelters!

Gary Lloyd
Los Angeles, CA
USA 2008
Artist and father

Rant #2

I’m a U.S. citizen who can’t take it anymore. I live in a state of gut-churning rage every day, and I am not alone. It’s gotten so bad that I’m hoping to wake up one morning to the news that McCain is dead of cancer, and Sarah Palin has been run over by a snowmobile. This is a terrible state to be in, and it began with Bush stealing the election, the complicit acts of the Supreme Court that allowed it, and I don’t need to tell you what has gone on since then. I am a disenfranchised citizen. I am in a state of constant affront over the political process. And, I cannot fathom how anyone with a thimbleful of common sense can support John McCain and Sarah Palin if they don’t want a repeat of the last eight years. But this is the problem: people do. And I see no good reason, not one.

How do people get like this? No grasp of the emotional factors that drive their judgment, for one thing. Poor critical thinking skills. From where I stand, and it’s not a friendly place, support of Palin can only be a product of denial. Denial is the engine that fuels emotional and intellectual ignorance and makes an insecure public vulnerable to manipulation. Denial always favors fiction over truth, because truth always challenges our beliefs. And while the emotional tolerance for that scenario may be low for all of us, it is close to nil for the fearful and poorly informed. This is no surprise. It's also no surprise, either, that it's core to most Republican thinking and policymaking; it's the sand under the so-called conservative foundation. Republican operatives exploit every aspect of illiteracy. Is it because denial makes them as emotionally challenged as their hoped-for constituents? As right-wing politicos pray, and then prey upon the weakness in the American character that turns us infantile in the face of fictional notions of righteous authority above and outside ourselves, do they also praise their God for the perverse cynicism that makes this possible, or are they so far gone that they can’t see the harm they do?

Democrats are far from perfect, and also responsible for the pain we’re in, but they are not an army of bold-faced liars. Progressive thinking has always been more tolerant of differences. Maybe it's time to end that tolerance, since peace is neither understood, nor valued by ultra right wing types. Maybe it's time to get tough. Maybe it's time to use force in every legitimate way possible to make the religious/political right wing accountable for the damage they've done and continue to do. Maybe it’s time to create laws that allow us to throw polluted Justices off the Supreme Court and prosecute Presidents who get us into unjust wars and enhance their executive privilege at the expense of the Constitution.

For decades now, the media has eroded the boundary between substance and appearance, on TV especially where news is entertainment and “reality” shows are king. Can we no longer tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t? Have we created a mob of mindless consumers so undermined by the every-seven-minutes advertising assault on sustainable thinking that the ability to create honest values out of real facts no longer exists? McCain/Palin supporters don't seem to get even the most basic of differences. They’re like anorexics looking into the mirror--what they see isn’t there, but they believe it is. Does a social form of mental disease explain why they can't see through the lies, distortions, manipulations, disinformation, misrepresentations or whatever else McCain’s tactics call forth from its Rove-infested cellar? Or are they gung ho for the whole package? Have deceit and delusion so become the American way of life that we no longer care about making informed decisions for the common good? It's been terrifying to watch the disintegration of democracy over the last eight years fueled by reactionary attitudes. It provokes despair to witness the relentless dumbing down of the average person to the point where education and intelligence and critical thinking are no longer respected, but are spat upon as form of "elitism."

Who do these right-wing bullies think the founders of our democratic (and now failing) experiment were? One of the "guys"?! Like Rush Limbaugh or Rupert Murdoch? Like Bush? Cheney or Rove? All of them are despicable failures as guardians of freedom and democracy. No, our founders were extraordinary, gifted men, despite their flaws. They read books (what a concept!). They thought deeply about generations down the road. They cared, and not about wealth. They actually knew the meaning of things. They knew HOW to think, how to mix heart and mind, which is why we HAVE a Constitution and a Bill of Rights.

Hello? Can you imagine today's administration and most (not all) the greedy prevaricating eunuchs in Congress coming up with the Constitution? They can't find their way out of the toilet. They are the toilet, mired as they are in a morass of their own making. Instead of standing up for principles that took a revolution to create, they wallow in the greased vat of collective delusion that passes for contemporary American culture, and applaud the duplicitous front men serving propaganda machines like Fox News. They make the crap and then spin it into a confection of diluted sound bites, defying us to call it what it is. This is not just pathetic; it's disastrous. It's beyond sad; it's tragedy happening before our eyes. It gave us Bush. It's turning us into a fascist nation. I want to weep.

All of it comes down with such self-righteousness, dressed up as it is in the fake “spiritual” garb that’s always been used to hide misogyny and the covert dislike of children. A so-called "pro-lifer" like Palin, for instance, won’t admit that it’s not life she worships--the actual life of a mother and child--but the fantasy of life. And what is that, but a concept manufactured to keep women and children poor, and dependent on a so-called “authority” that feels threatened by another’s freely chosen well being? Palin has no respect or concern for what living life means for someone else. The magical fetus trumps all, but on what authority? Hers? An ancient text’s, written by men? How does an unwanted child’s suffering become irrelevant, or the agony of an ill-equipped mother who must care for it become less important than a fetus--who, if born, will depend upon her? Morphing cells are sacred but breathing humans are not? This is cynical and arrogant. But "pro-life" is not about caring any more than it’s about life; it’s pious hypocrisy. It’s about lying in the face of facts. It’s about people like McCain and Palin who strut their moral insufficiencies inside a fetal bubble of deception, avoiding questions because serious inquiry is “hostile.” It's about the fear that drives the need to control someone else's experience. This is totalitarianism, and it’s rising in the United States, wrapped in a flag, just as it did in Nazi Germany. Imagine for a moment the dinner tables of the early '30s where "good” Germans sliced their wurst and politely declined to discuss the fate of their Jewish colleagues, burying their heads in a trough of rationalized prejudice until it was too late. Is this where we are today: “no way am I votin’ for a nigger,” or “did’ya hear? Obama is the anti-Christ”?

People like McCain/Palin who want to control the intimate lives of others are dishonest thinkers. They hide from the truth that they have neither cultivated, nor paid the dues that generate personal moral authority. Such authority is not automatically conferred in a prison camp, despite what torture may teach about one’s tolerance for mental and physical suffering, any more than it is conferred in a jail, or our inmates would be our wisest citizens. You don’t find it in an airplane flying over the snowpack shooting helpless wolves that can’t escape your gunsight. Personal moral authority comes from challenging the things that are hardest to see: one’s cultural upbringing and the unexamined family ties that bind, much of which has been brain washing since birth--a brain washing that is designed to convince the child that it can't/mustn't judge for itself, that to do that is to think outside the box, which is a dangerous and seditious act. People who do not question these things do not live authentic moral lives; they live fearful and vicarious ones, dependent upon someone else's “powerful voice” to guide them, whether it comes from a Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Mormon, military, political, or whatever infantilizing belief system that satisfies our perpetual need to find illusory comfort in the face of stark universal realities, like death and our cosmic unimportance. Who wants to tolerate the possibility that we may only be important to ourselves, and that our survival might depend on understanding this? People who can't live without being told what to do or how to think can’t tell truth from fiction. They remain undeveloped children. They can’t see that their breath is enough to clear a space in the world. Fear drives them to legislate others, because they know nothing about what it takes to successfully govern themselves. They have never learned how take the measure of personal weakness and shame, which is the only road to compassion and empathy. They are the U.S. version of the Taliban, and they are in our midst. Yes, I am judging them. They are dangerous; they are emotionally and intellectually dishonest, and they need to be stopped.

A person like Sarah Palin who goes so far as to punish the woman victimized by rape or incest by demanding that she bear a child who carries the marks of those acts is not a competent nor a compassionate thinker. To remove the option of choice from such a victim is to victimize her twice and then to victimize the child forced to be born. Is this a leader we want? Do we want HER finger on the trigger? A retrograde female who rejects all the evidence that proves evolution and disproves the wishful thinking that drives creationism? Who is she going to listen to when she denies science while living the effects of its proofs every day as she downloads messages from a satellite or turns on the lights? God? This is the banal and self-serving argument of religious right freaks who are no strangers to grandiosity. Yeah, we know what God wants! Sure we do. Think Bush. We’re going to support a woman who claims she'll break the glass ceiling while she bans books and charges her town's rape victims for their rape tests at $1000 a pop? What sort of woman is this? Not a woman for women--or for children. But totalitarian minds know no gender, and they like to hide out inside ignorant and fearful crowds. They avoid public scrutiny, because the emperor's new clothes are no clothes at all.

Break the ceiling?! How can you break a ceiling if it’s been dropped into your food dish? But Palin is no pitbull. At least dogs have heart and can hunt without a gun. She's the lipstick. She's the dangerous superficial flash that McCain grabbed to shore up his failing campaign, and any woman (or man) who falls for that irresponsible scam deserves exactly what he or she will inevitably get. Trouble is it will also get my children and yours. She cares so much about hers that she risked her pregnancy for 24 hours before stemming a leak in her amniotic sac--if that’s her child at all (care to take a DNA test, Sarah, to quell speculation?). Yep, sweet Sarah is on the up and up and surely has a lot to teach us. She lied about it, poor thing, but she did get the road built to nowhere for $29 million. And what about nasty Putin rearing his head in the airspace over Alaska? The damage he could do! I mean, who can question her foreign policy credentials what with Russia on one side of Alaska and Canada on the other? Yep, no way around it, Sarah Palin is the pick of the kitty litter. With a little voodoo and laying on of hands, who knows how far she’ll go—maybe straight out of town, like her witch hunting pastor’s last victim. We could get lucky.

A vote for McCain/Palin is a vote against the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It’s pissing on the graves of those who fought to establish and preserve democracy: Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, and every serviceman in the two World Wars, not to mention those who were unnecessarily lost in the unjust wars of Vietnam, and now Iraq. To vote for dishonest and incompetent thinkers is a cynical breach of respect. It not only dishonors the dead, but it dishonors those who will die tomorrow, next week, next month, until this disgraceful war is brought to an end. The only way forward is to swallow our false pride and admit how ignorant we have been, how wrong, and how much work lies ahead to make things right. A vote for McCain/Palin will not take us down that road; it will put our nation and the world at even greater risk.

Are we up to the task of emotional realignment, or are we so far gone as a people that we can only behave as victims of our upbringing and our disintegrating culture? Will our choice be marked by a willful and shameful lack of awareness based on denial? Or, do we have the collective internal strength to ask the hard questions and take on the painful answers?

The McCain/Palin vote is a vote for self-destruction, for the abandonment of children generations out who will suffer the consequences, and the ruin of a nation. One can only hope that the American people will come to see this, and choose to leave their sexist/racist illiterate hearts outside the polling booth.

Rant #3

My friend Carly forwarded this one from Matt Taibbi, writing in the latest Rolling Stone.


"Here's the thing about Americans. You can send their kids off by
the thousands to get their balls blown off in foreign lands for no
reason at all, saddle them with billions in debt year after
congressional year while they spend their winters cheerfully
watching game shows and football, pull the rug out from under their
mortgages, and leave them living off their credit cards and their
Wal-Mart salaries while you move their jobs to China and Bangalore.

"And none of it matters, so long as you remember a few months before
Election Day to offer them a two-bit caricature culled from some
cutting-room-floor episode of Roseanne as part of your presidential
ticket. And if she's a good enough likeness of a loudmouthed Middle
American archetype, as Sarah Palin is, John Q. Public will drop his
giant sized bag of Doritos in gratitude, wipe the sizzlin' picante
dust from his lips and rush to the booth to vote for her. Not
because it makes sense, or because it has a chance of improving his
life or anyone else's, but simply because it appeals to the
low-humming narcissism that substitutes for his personality, because
that image on TV reminds him of the mean brainless slob he sees in
the mirror every morning.

"Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern
United States. As a representative of our political system, she's a
new low in reptilian villainy, the ultimate cynical masterwork of
puppeteers like Karl Rove. But more than that, she is a horrifying
symbol of how little we ask for in return for the total surrender of
our political power. Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she's the
tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the
lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV
– and this country is going to eat her up, cheering every step of
the way. All because most Americans no longer have the energy to do
anything but lie back and allow ourselves to be jacked off by the
calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call
a nation."

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Accidental Dharma of Teaching

Gary at Buddha Space writes:

Being a teacher gives many opportunities for what might be called accidental Dharma to arise. Every time one stands in front of a class of students, whether they are adults, teenagers, primary children or kindergarten kids, the chances are that if something will go wrong, it will. One might think that only the more mature children and adults have the wit to catch on to one’s lesser errors, but that’s simply not the case. Little kids can be surprisingly perceptive at sniffing out a teacher’s foul up; once, I instructed some preschoolers on how to say the date in English, only to be told I was one day out!

Being an English language teacher holds its own dangers for mistakes to occur. Misspelling a word on a board as one is rushing to write out several sentences as quickly as possible will nearly always be spotted by some pupil or another, who takes the greatest pleasure in interrogating the teacher over the slip up. The way to get around this is to make light of it, even thanking or rewarding the student for their efforts. Students seem to appreciate a teacher with a sense of humor who’s able to laugh at his or her own mistakes. I recall teaching the use of ‘an’ before words beginning with a vowel, and then in the next lesson saying, “A apple”! (Something I’m prone to do – I don’t know if this is typical of the Southwest English dialect that I speak or whether it’s just me!)

Dropping things, asking questions from the wrong part of a text book, (involuntary) blowing off, tripping up, and forgetting to use some kind of mouth freshener are all mistakes that can result in ritual humiliation for the proud teacher. But here’s the thing about all this: I love it! All these accidents can be vehicles to travel the distance between teacher and student, making the teacher appear more human, and thereby more friendly and more accessible.

Accidental Dharma can be the best kind of Dharma: natural, of the cuff, unexpected, challenging and in the end transforming. It can turn a boring lesson into an entertaining one, it can reveal hidden perceptiveness in the most surprising students, and it can improve the teaching techniques of many a teacher. That a man who was once so shy he couldn’t speak in front of more than three people at a time now relishes in making a fool of himself in front of a class of giggling pupils is testament to this.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Left Brain, Right Brain

Talk about gifts wrapped in shit! Here's one for the ages. In case readers missed it, I'd truly recommend clicking on this link to Jill Bolte Taylor's TED talk about her stroke, and the extraordinary gift she received as a result. It's an 18-minute video, but WELL WORTH the investment of time.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Out of the Ashes...

Thanks to Conceição for sending me this link to a Yad Vashem site which tells the holocaust story of Irena Sendler for Accidental Dharma. A true inspiration...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Scar Tissue

With thanks to Angela at Reality Testing

About twelve years ago, when I first began speaking in coherent sentences about my childhood, someone very wise suggested that there would come a day when I would realize that my mother really did do her best to parent me well. I nearly ripped this person's face off then, and I might have, had I any money to pay my bail.

But, I remember his words today because this is what I know: he was right, and the day has come.

It occured to me long ago that I didn't have to take my parents' treatment of me personally. I used to struggle with this, because they treated my sister so differently. She was not abused less--just differently--and as a result of this, I came to see my abuse as something that was cooked up special, just for me, because clearly, there was something particularly unpleasant about the fact of my existence.

Abuse makes narcissists of us all, you know. When Anne Lammot referred to herself as the "piece of shit that the world revolves around" I totally related. This is what happens when people take time out of their regularly scheduled lives to pound the crap out of you in any way physical, psychological, or sexual. You begin to think you are different and somehow special. Special in a not-so-good-way, but special nonetheless. It's taken almost four decades now, but I'm beginning to understand that I wasn't special. I was just there.

"You know," my father once told me, "dogs are just like kids. You always ruin your first one."

My father owned show dogs. They always finished first. Internationally.

As you might imagine, this little adage of his really used to bother me quite a bit, given the fact that I was his first-born. Now, I see it as his only admission of guilt. His only attempt to take responsibility. My father hates himself for what he did to me when I was young. This is why he stopped looking at me eventually. It's why he stopped treating me like his daughter.

It was nothing that I did. It was what he did.

And when my mother began silencing me? Locking me away? Tearing me down? Threatening to leave?

It was still all about what he did.

I'll bet she couldn't handle "taking care of me." She couldn't bear to look at me. I know this.

But none of that was my fault. I just represented a truth she couldn't bear to witness.

The abuse was really nothing personal. I was instrument, that's all, and anyone who might have been born to them in my place or time would have received the same treatment. I don't think it was my fault (as much) anymore, and I certainly don't think that I deserved any of it. In a sick sort of way, it was all just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When children are young, they are often warned that lying begets lying. I can remember my mother telling me how one lie leads to another. I've shared this insight with my own girls. I'm sure that some of you have done the same. But when I think of the history of my family, the truth of that wisdom just takes my breath away. The destruction of my family truly began with one small lie.

My father crossed over a line that he should not have crossed over when I was very young. And one small untruth was told in order to conceal the facts. This lie gave birth to other lies, and they provided a distance between himself and my mother where continued abuse could unfold. By the time my mother was beyond denial, so much had happened that protecting me would have subjected her to an incredible amount of judgment and quite possibly, legal ramifications.

So, she did what she could to make it better: she taught me how to lie to myself, and she put a wedge between my father and I. And then she gave him another baby, so he could start fresh again. Clean slate.

You only ruin the first one.

I see how it happened, now, and it doesn't hurt nearly as much as it used to.

And Wendy--what you said--I know that this is true.

I think I'm at that point of letting go now, and there is sadness in that. I know that many of you understand this. Everyone has grief, and that's where I'm at.

I am so grateful to be walking forward, toward my bright, shiny future. I really am. It's just that every so often, I look back over my shoulder, hoping beyond hope that the mom I wanted might be there, and every time I do this, my heart still breaks a little when I realize that she isn't. I don't know how long I'll do this. Maybe forever. That would be okay. She's my mom. And he's my dad. But that's the stuff of another post.

Here is the real tragedy that I have yet to overcome: she hides from me and from the truth because she doesn't think I would ever forgive her. She is destroying herself bit by bit every single day because she hates herself for what she has done and for what she has failed to do.

All I ever needed was to know for certain that she would do the right thing now. But the fact is, my mother can't do what's right. She won't do what's right. She has remained an accomplice for all of these years, turning a blind eye when my father hurt me, and turning a blind eye when he went on to hurt God only knows how many other people. So she sits in silence with her self-loathing and goes about the business of slowly killing herself.

And because of this, she'll never know that I forgave her long ago.

So, this is sad.

But you know what? Sad is okay. Sad is way better than crazy any day.

And I'm so grateful for the fact that some of you know precisely what I mean.

Thank you.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sir Jeffrey Underfoot, Lord of the Wind

Thanks for this wonderful story to Rebecca
at Pixels From the Edge

Near the corner of 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard, there used to be a small family-owned pet shop. They carried the usual supplies, as well as tropical fish, small reptiles, birds and hamsters. Occasionally, they also had kittens or puppies that someone needed to give away. The deal was that the animal was free, as long as you purchased thirty dollars worth of supplies for it. Christopher loved to visit that store. For him it was a mini trip to the zoo.

One Saturday in the middle of October 2003, Christopher and I were out running errands. The sun was playing peekaboo with the clouds, and there was a chilly wind blowing. I don't remember what we had set out to accomplish, but Chris asked whether we could stop in the pet store. We we were there a few days earlier, and there was a litter of kittens cavorting in an over sized cage. When we went back that Saturday, all but one of the kittens had been adopted. The last remaining kitten was fairly large for his age, vocal and very playful. We heard him long before we saw him.

The kitten that was left was gray and white, with a half pink, half black nose, bright green eyes and a half mustache. He practically climbed through the cage to make sure our hands could reach him to pet him, and be nibbled on. Christopher immediately thought this poor guy was lonely for his buddies, as did I. He looked up at me with bright wide eyes and asked, "Mom, can we keep him?" Now, I knew that my husband would have a conniption if I brought home an animal without asking him. He had said under no uncertain terms that he did NOT want another animal in the house. We had 3 cats at that time already. So naturally, I gathered up thirty dollars worth of supplies for our new kitten and walked him home.

Brian was faced with a new adorable kitten, and a son who desperately wanted to keep him. It was an unfair situation I put him in, to be sure. Actually, it was unfair to both my son and my husband. But I am a sucker for a small, lonesome animal and large round 8 year old eyes. My son promised to not only take care of the new cat, but all 3 others as well, taking over feeding, watering and scooping the cat boxes. For the most part, Christopher has honored the deal for all 4 years that we have had this kitty.

We named the new kitten Sir Jeffrey Underfoot, Lord of the Wind. He is Jeffrey, because that is what Christopher chose. Underfoot because he has a foot fetish, and will trip you while he does figure eights between your legs as you walk down the hall. Lord of the Wind because he was a farter. We call him Jeffrey for short. Or UnderFOOT when we are nearly felled. He is a big, dumb affectionate beast. At nearly 20 pounds, he dwarfs our two remaining cats (the third one died two years ago, of old age). He wants to be a lap cat, happily kneading the flesh of anyone who pets him. He is persistent, too. It doesn't matter how many times you push him off, he will jump back up to your lap for some loving.

The one problem we encountered with Jeffrey is that he sometimes peed on the furniture. It wasn't the first time we encountered this behavior. Tilly, a cat we adopted just before Christopher was conceived, would pee on his stuff. She was really not happy to share mommy with a baby. But, eventually, she stopped. I think Jeffrey smelled Tilly's marking and wanted to make sure everyone knew HE was alpha in our household. Cats, unlike dogs, do not recognize humans as alpha. We wound up disposing of two pieces of furniture because of Jeffrey. We thought that if we removed his, and Tilly's old marking places, we would solve the problem once and for all. Apparently, we were wrong: two weeks ago, Jeffrey peed on the couch. He also peed on my bed. And Christopher's bed.

Brian has always believed that if you rub a cat's nose in his own urine while smacking his butt, you will train the animal that the behavior is unacceptable. That I disagree has always been immaterial. When Jeffrey peed on our bed, with me in it, I stopped him, and tossed him unceremoniously out of our room. I was incensed, to say the least. When Jeffrey peed on the couch, Brian was outraged, in full fury. Did you know that anger can be contagious? That you can take on and amplify your partner's anger? Or maybe it is that you become angry at the source of your partner's anger. In that instance I helped my husband capture and punish Jeffrey. Thank God this was far from my son's sight.

We, at that point, resolved to surrender the cat to a no kill shelter. We told Christopher what was happening and why, packed up the cat, and wound up driving him all over town for the entire morning. No room at any shelter for an adult male cat. We took the cat back home, purchased some keep away stuff, and decided to cover the couch with a plastic drop cloth every time we leave the house.

Last Sunday, a week later after we tried and failed to surrender him, we noticed Jeffrey wasn't moving. At all. He was breathing, but he could not move. I saw him literally drag himself out of the bathroom to the hallway just outside the bathroom door. It was heart wrenching. We were terrified that we caused Jeffrey some injury that just then became manifest. We picked Chris up from his buddy's house where he had had an overnight, and trundled off to the vet. The vet painted a very grim picture for us, without providing a definitive diagnosis. Basically told us we could spend all the money, and still wind up having to put Jeffrey to sleep. He recommended that we bring him to the Humane Society of New York for more affordable treatment. Christopher was inconsolable. He begged us not to put his cat to sleep. We promised to do whatever we could, but if Jeffrey was suffering, and that suffering could not be abated, we would have to put him down.

The vet at the Humane Society whisked Jeffrey away, saying, "He's blocked!" Urinary blockage is fairly common in male cats. I have never had a cat that suffered it, but knew several people who had cats that did, and they all had to be put to sleep. I was not overly hopeful, as the vet took blood, and told us that his blockage had damaged his kidneys, and he had built up a near fatal level of several toxins. But we did admit him, a catheter was inserted to drain his bladder, and IV inserted to rehydrate him, and flush the toxins out. We took a much relieved child out of school to visit his cat on Monday afternoon. Jeffrey purred when we pet him, curled his hands in a kneading motion. Even sat up a little for a drink of water. Today, he had his urinary catheter removed, and if he pees on his own, we can take him home to complete his convalescence. If he cannot, we face some difficult and expensive choices.

I can't begin to express my heartbreak at Jeffrey's predicament and my own appalling lack of compassion. Most likely, that last week of urinating in inappropriate places was just the symptoms of Jeffrey's impending condition. I am ashamed of myself for treating him so harshly. I truly don't like what I became in dealing with this situation. I lost my empathy. I allowed anger to feed anger. I was mean, more probably cruel. I generally don't allow such unbridled anger to overtake me to the point that I commit acts for which I am forever scarred with shame. I have lost control on a few occasions, both with my son and with my pets, and remembering any one of those occasions makes me cringe.

I truly hope that Jeffrey fully recovers, and that we have a second chance with him. He is a wonderful, loving animal. I know that he will forgive me, as his memory of the event is probably limited. It will take much more time for me to forgive myself, as well as to find and heal the place from which such poisonous anger originates.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Drive through the Park

Thanks, again, to Gary
at Forest Wisdom

Traveling about a modern city one can be excused for thinking that we live in chaotic and heartless times, with people driven by their out of control desires. Just an every day activity such as driving around a provincial city like Ubon, here in Thailand, can be a hair-raising experience. Drivers cut each other up as they speed to wherever it is that their hankerings lead them, others overtake on the inside lane, or park in the middle of the road, unwilling to take the time to find a safe parking space.

It’s not only on the roads of Northeast Thailand that present day restlessness shoves us into various levels of conflict: all over the globe people push in front of each other rather than wait in queues, and impatience makes us lose our temper when service isn’t quite as fast as we’d like. Moreover, desire leads us to seek out the best paid jobs (rather than the most satisfying); ‘face’ means trying to get a newer car than the neighbors, or talking into the latest cell phone, just to look ‘cool’. Desire upon desire.

What drives this desire to be the ‘best’, the most attractive, the richest, and the most famous? Buddhism shows us that desire (tanha) has its root in ignorance (avijja). Ignorance towards the way things are, the Dhamma, allows attachments to develop regarding our self-image, our perceived place in society. So many of us rate our worth not by the good or wholesome qualities that we can display, such as kindness, compassion, empathy, generosity, or love, but by how powerful, sexy, or wealthy we are seen to be. As a species, humanity lives without wisdom.

All pretty depressing, really. But, wait, these are just words, thoughts, and feelings. The same ignorance that causes identification with our desires is the same lack of insight that creates sorrow around them. We need to apply a little wisdom to our lives: the wisdom of the Buddha.

The Buddha taught us to pay attention to our thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and sensations. He showed us that being aware of the way it is, we can understand life better and live happier lives, reducing the amount of suffering that we cause ourselves and each other. Part of seeing the way things are is to have understanding of others. Simply saying that they’re being ignorant and dismissing them as stupid fools won’t help them or us, and it’s being incredibly unwise, for we are all subject to the same effects of ignorance and desire – it’s just a matter of degree. As Venerable Gunavuddho at the International Forest Monastery said to me recently, we should cultivate compassion towards those whose wisdom is little. (And that includes ourselves!)

So, driving around Ubon with the wife, I can be aware of the selfish behavior of many of the drivers, whilst paying attention to my responses to their actions, as well as watching the sometimes irate reactions of my wife to dangerous driving. Seeing the ego-driven attachment to ‘saving face’, which in some ways is more obvious here in Thailand than in my home country of England, I can be understanding and non-judgmental. And even with myself, when I respond to selfish behavior with aversion, I can take a back seat and just watch, allowing negative emotions to arise, exist, and fall away without acting upon them. This way is the Way of the Buddha, using insight to get to the root cause of our nescient actions, and let go of them. Traveling through Ubon is then akin to a drive through the park…or the forest.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Backward Compatible

Thanks to Paul
at When This Is, That Is

A few weeks ago I wrote about a slew of problems that hounded my computer and caused me a great deal of grief. I described my trials here only after I had everything running smoothly again. That smooth sailing didn’t last more than a day or two and things got progressively worse. Never mind the details. I solved the problems by erasing my hard drive and reinstalling the operating system and all of my other files. I had to do this more than once, also for reasons not necessary to explain. I’m happy to report, however, that it’s been a week since I’ve had to restart my computer - something I had been doing several times a day. Of course this had a tremendous impact on my productivity, such as it is. I quickly fell behind in lots of areas, because my computer is not just something I play with in my spare time. It’s an integral part of my work. Therefore, it’s an integral part of my life.

A computer is nothing more than a tool. It’s a means to an end. A cabinetmaker needs good tools, as do chefs and tailors and mechanics. The tools of those trades are easily - though expensively - replaced. So are computers, for that matter. But they are different from other tools.

What makes the computer different is its ability to store information. It’s the information - the data - that is important. I am very careful - obsessive, maybe - about backing up my files. Not just the files I’ve created over the years, but my entire system, onto a bootable external hard drive. In spite of the fact that it took a lot of time to reinstall everything onto an empty hard drive (more than once, remember), it took relatively little time to restore the order in which I am accustomed to work. Today it’s as though nothing had happened.

There was a moment, though, just before I pressed the button marked “Erase and Install,” that I had a flood of doubts about ever getting back to normal. What if I my external drive suffered a mechanical failure or somehow became unreadable before I was able to transfer what was on it? What would happen if I lost all of my personal and professional data? Reconstruction, were it even possible - or desirable, would take years.

In the computing world there is the term “backward compatible.” A new version of software may or may not read files created in a previous version. If it does, the new version is backward compatible. The same is true for computers and their operating systems. If there is no backward compatibility, then what?

Which brings me to the real point here. Am I backward compatible? I’ve often thought about what it would be like to have a lifestyle that did not include the abundant technology and its related gadgetry I enjoy. In some ways I yearn for simplicity. But what would my life be like were I to lose everything - data or otherwise?

What about societies? Sometimes we (older ones) may use the phrase “back in the horse-and-buggy days” to describe conditions of long ago. What if very suddenly - without the years it would take for the industrialized population prepare and adapt - we ran out of oil for good? Cars and buses and trucks would not run. Not a single airplane would fly. Would there be a sudden market for strong and reliable horses and well-built buggies? Would we travel from continent to continent in tall ships tacking against the wind? Are we backward compatible?

Renunciation and non attachment are fundamental to Buddhism, but these are voluntary acts. I realize that many many people have lost everything through one misfortune or another and have survived. Some may even be happier for it.

But what would I actually do to carry on were I to lose all of my data, or my home, or my family, or my health? It’s a question I can can answer only when the need arises.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Posted by Peter

Oh, great.  I have just dropped my Prius off at Toyota for service and have stopped by at Denny's for a bite to eat, just assuming somehow I can get online by wireless magic, but the magic doesn't work.  Then the computer crashes.  I'm not kidding.  It's a MacBook, it shouldn't crash, right?  But it does.  I keep getting a screen that tells me that my "Spotlight" isn't working and should I report it or ignore it.  I try ignoring, but it keeps coming back.  And soon I can get anything to move at all.  A real crash.

I read my New York Times instead.  I go to pick up the Toyota.  I drive back home and try the laptop here.  No luck.  I get on the telephone to Apple Care.  Some forty-five minutes later, still no satisfaction.  They suggest re-installing Leopard, which I installed only a couple of weeks ago.  It will take, oh, a couple of hours...  I am fortunate to have my desktop to work on!

The gift?  I had started writing a piece about last night's election results for The Buddha Diaries earlier in the morning.  I was kind of pissed about it.  No, I was very pissed.  It came out in the form of something very like a whine.  I realized this in the time it took to get back to the entry that I had intended to post over breakfast.  Time to re-read it, make a discerning judgment, realize that it sounded, well, whiny... And time to think about how I might do some gentle rewrites to say what I wanted to without the indignation.  I think that what I eventually posted was much better for the pause.

The lesson: pause, take a breath and, if necessary, rewrite.  Thanks, laptop!  

Monday, February 25, 2008

Gray Hairs & the Dhamma

Posted by Gary
at Forest Wisdom

The other day, my wife let out a wail whilst peering in the mirror. She was upset at the sight of gray hairs mixed in with the usual black color of her locks. Paew (that’s her name) was genuinely shocked and disturbed by the gray hairs reflected in the mirror. Today, I went to the hairdressers and had a trim. As I looked down at the hair falling from my head, the majority of it seemed to be gray, rather than brown. This has been part of a process that’s been going on for a number of years now, as each time I have my hair cut, it appears a higher percentage of the hairs removed are gray not brown.

Reflecting on the aging process over a period of time helps one to accept the fact that one isn’t getting any younger. It’s a natural aspect of life that all phenomena deteriorate with time: even million year old wine won’t be a vintage! And it’s not just living beings that wither with time: looking at the ruins of Angkor Wat, the Coliseum, or the Sphinx, it can be seen how they all are subject to the same forces that whiten our hair over the years. Everything is impermanent (anicca).

Getting shocked, depressed, or resentful over this process of aging is ultimately pointless, if not understandable. None of us want to get old, to have gray hair or lose it altogether. No one desires wrinkled skin, aching bones, and the loss of memories. But, if we live long enough, we’ll see most or all of these conditions arise, and many more that I haven’t mentioned here.

So, what to do? Use the graying head, the wrinkling skin, the forgetful mind as objects for reflection, so that insight into the way the world is may grow in us. This is the way of Dhamma. To notice the facts of existence in both one’s self and the world at large, and to accept them, rather than judge them as being good or bad is the path of wisdom. Sure enough, getting old isn’t something that humans usually enjoy or think is great, but every gray or white hair that appears is a sign to wake up to the way of things and accept it. In that acceptance lies the path to the deathless state that never ages.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Freeway Frustration

Posted by Peter Clothier

It's a while since I made an entry myself in Accidental Dharma.  I do read everything that's posted here, and always enjoy the chance to learn from those who send their stories in.  I'm always ready for more...

In the meantime, I had cause to think about the site on the freeway yesterday, headed back to Los Angeles from Laguna Beach.  I had anticipated a relatively easy drive.  It was a holiday, after all, Presidents' Day, so I thought there would be less traffic and we'd get home in a breeze.  No such luck.  Two accidents ahead of us--one with a motorcycle down in the middle lanes, another collision involving, it seemed, three cars--assured interminable delays.  What should have been a one-hour drive turned into two.

I'm not good behind the wheel, I admit it.  I am by nature somewhat less than patient--as my wife, Ellie, will attest--and traffic is the single greatest stimulus to that impatient side of my temperament.  I fume.  I flatter myself that I do it less now than I used to, and that my meditation practice has served to improve my language somewhat (think Right Speech!), but I do still tend to allow my frustration to surface via the mouth.  I have been known to, well, swear...

Now for the gift.  I give myself good marks for yesterday.  I exercised remarkable equanimity, given the provocation.  I watched for the impatience to arise and was impressed when it did not.  True, I was in no particular hurry to get home, and things might have turned out very differently if I had arranged for, say, an appointment in the afternoon.  But even so, I am happy to give credit where it's due.  It seems that I actually have changed, a bit.  And it was a pleasure to observe it.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Openness on the Forest Path

Posted by Gary
at Forest Wisdom

Recently, I wrote about a conflict with a colleague at the school where we work. (See below: ‘Anger on the Forest Path.’) Mishearing something I said, he snapped and shouted at me using foul language, to which I responded in kind, caught off guard, as it were. I’ve had a couple of weeks to reflect on the incident in the light of the Dhamma, and have realized that self-view (sakkaya-ditthi) played a big role in my initial response to my angry workmate.

I reacted in a state of partial shock and indignation at being verbally accosted: thinking that I knew myself, I felt that Gary didn’t deserve the harsh treatment that he received. This led to nearly two weeks of silence between us, despite the fact that we sit next to each other in the English teachers’ office. All the while I’ve been reflecting on my response to my fellow teacher, pondering how I could’ve handled the situation better.

One thing that I realized was that I grasped at my self-image as a friendly Buddhist that had never said or done anything to offend this guy, therefore undeserving of his verbal onslaught. But, is this self-perception accurate? And even if it is, is it worth clinging to as an absolute truth about myself? Overall, I am an amiable kind of chap, but my dry sense of humor sometimes runs the risk of offending those that don’t understand it. As to clinging to this view of myself, I’m not so sure that that is so wise, however. For, when that image is attacked or contradicted, I’m left feeling unsure of who I am, and open to reacting in an uncharacteristic way. What’s more, considering the ever-changing nature of all things, including this thing called Gary, it’s not always going to be true, putting pressure on myself to live up to an ideal that’s sometimes unattainable.

The late, great forest monk Luang Poo Chah noted that usually people close up when they encounter something or someone disagreeable, such as when we’re criticized. He suggested that when we’re criticized we should open up to the experience, as maybe there’s some truth in what’s being said too us. Intelligent people don’t take offence at criticism, but reflect on it to see if it’s true, and if it is, work to improve ourselves. Responding from the position of awareness, rather than identifying with the viewpoint of self (sakkaya-ditthi), we stand a better chance of using such situations for the development of wisdom, as opposed to simply perpetuating ill-feeling of misunderstanding.

As a footnote, my colleague and I have tentatively begun talking to one another again, being careful not to say anything potentially inflammatory. Opening up to my workmate from the position of awareness, rather than as ‘Gary the Buddhist,’ I’m open to his humanity, both positive and negative. In this state of spaciousness, I can give him the space to be himself, including those aspects that I might not approve of. And in doing so, I actually become a better Buddhist, without clinging to any self-image of myself as such. This is also more compassionate towards myself, as I’m no longer under the pressure to act (and appear) as some perfect Buddhist; just recognizing that whatever’s the case right now is good enough.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Anger on the Forest Path

Posted by Gary
at Forest Wisdom

This week I had a sobering experience at work: I lost it with one of my colleagues. I made a quip to one work mate but a second teacher thought I was talking about him, and objected by shouting and swearing at me. I tried explaining that I was simply joking in reference to the floods that had occurred that morning in Ubon, but to no avail. The enraged fellow continued to bellow foul language at me, and I snapped. I stood up and confronted him nose to nose, and waited for his response; he didn’t react violently, but still didn’t refrain from issuing obscenities. So, I let him have it…verbally, that is!

In no uncertain terms I told him to back down and grow up. I swore at him, telling him to go somewhere alone and shout at himself, and that if he didn’t apologize foe his poor behavior by the end of the day, he’d be ‘screwed’ (or another word to that affect!). No apology was forth coming. This colleague is renowned for his hot temper, so I should have used more wisdom in my dealing with him in this volatile situation. To my regret, I didn’t.

I’m not into putting my (illusory) self down, however. Things happen in life, not always in line with how we’d like them to, and that includes the complicated workings of our minds. Emotions, memories, opinions, and convictions can get all mixed up and work against each other, exploding into the world. Even great Buddhist monks, famous for their peaceful wisdom can sometimes fall victim to their own wayward egos - at least in the earlier part of their monastic careers. Take the following story of Luang Por Sumedho, for example.

Way back when Ajahn Sumedho was still a young monk, he was practicing strict vegetarianism, which is not easy in Northeast Thailand where so much food contains meat and fish products. Despite this, Ajahn Sumedho was generally looked after well, and received decent enough vegetarian food on most days. One day, however, when he was helping to dish out the food to the other monks, another monk got to the vegetarian food first and proceeded to give Ajahn Sumedho a very small portion. Knowing that the monk knew that he was vegetarian, when Luang Por Sumedho gave out the rather strong fermented fish sauce, he splashed it all over the other monk’s food, making it nearly inedible! Ajahn Sumedho has commented that it’s just as well that there are strict rules proscribing violence between Buddhist monks!

Learning from our mistakes is an important part of walking the forest path of wisdom, and sometimes we’ll wander off the straight and narrow. Finding our way back to the path, and making our way through life’s forest can be enriched in the long run by the understanding that grows out of realizing the limitations (and breaking points) of the mind. Hopefully, the incident with my work colleague will prove to be one of those occasions, and not a prelude to a teacher’s boxing match!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Good and Normal...

Posted by John Torcello

He is one of my true friends.

He was born to a set of parents who, as a family, selflessly provided and loved him and his sister; parents who, in their youth, tasted the negative effects of American politics, McCarthyism, in their lives; his mother died an untimely, early death from cancer. A very intelligent sister, who, in her teenage years, began exhibiting 'odd' behavior; resulting in her being diagnosed as schizophrenic. Parents, who, in their love, worked to care for his sister privately in order to avoid the 'stigma' they had felt of 'the mob' mentality and what it would mean for her life.

My friend's wife, facing her employer's imminent bankruptcy...was diagnosed with cancer too. Fearing she could/would not be hired elsewhere, would not be be able to get health coverage because of her pre-existing condition.

His wife had an illegitimate daughter; the biological father absent from his step-daughter's entire life. His wife’s ailing mother lived with them too. They endured together, loved and cared for one another; lived their lives as a family.

The step-daughter married a boy. The two of them living together with my friend, his wife and his wife’s live-in ailing mother. The daughter’s husband was found to abuse drugs, had a gambling habit; and stole from the company, where my friend’s wife had found him a job; he was prosecuted, jailed and ultimately divorced from their daughter.

His wife died from the effects of the cancer and from depression from the situation in which she was leaving her family, her world. My friend was left with supporting and caring for his wife’s aging and ailing mother...He did his best; projecting an image of strength; attempting, I thought, to display to everyone that things continued to be ‘good and normal’.


My friend finds himself, today, living with his elderly, but physically healthy, dad; a dad suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's....They are ‘pals’; he is with his dad 24+ hours a day...patiently having the same conversations with him over and over again...

Recently, my friend's sister, innocently walked into a hospital emergency room with an empty jar. She told the doctors there were ‘bugs’ in the jar and in her hair. She was admitted, with no recourse, to their mental care unit...My friend now visits his sister each day; bringing his dad along too. She hugs her dad; calls him ‘daddy’; but, he doesn’t seem to know her or her situation. She will most likely be institutionalized for the rest of her life.

I do not think this is the situation my friend...his parents, his wife, step-daughter, their son-in-law, his wife's mother or his surviving father...had envisioned for themselves; yet, it is their story; albeit a drastically shortened version of it...All they wanted, I think, was a 'good and normal' life.


This weekend, my friend, and his dad will be coming over to our house for dinner and spending an evening together.

My friend looks forward to the meal, the break from hours upon hours of being with his dad in his current condition and the chance to watch a movie, be served, share in good food, some laughs and conversation...

My friend doesn’t whine about his situation. It just is...He accepts it...He once wrote to me about an argumentative situation we faced:
”Regarding our conflict...I would like to say; yes it took a while for me to get past thought I was doing something wrong and there was no room in your mind for what I thought about my own situation and how to live with it.”

By the standards of ‘good and normal’, most, including myself, would judge my friend as an unhappy fellow finding himself in terrible situations. My friend, however, would not recognize their judgment. He just does what he thinks is the ‘right’ thing to do - day after day - going from what they might consider to be horrible or unbearable; one circumstance to another...

My friend does not believe in a god. His life, his actions, his purpose; his life lived and experienced is probably more ‘saintly’ than anyone I know...He is one who cares for others, who lives compassionately; in spite of my, or others, perceptions and judgment of the appearance that his life has been anything but 'good and normal'.
He has faced a lot of 'shit'. Because of my friend, I’ve come to understand the true nature of living life for the benefit of others. His life doesn’t rely on appearances or just ‘is’...found in the experience of now and in the absolute of emptiness...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sneezing Dhamma

From Gary
at Forest Wisdom

Today I have a cold. It’s not a terrible, debilitating one, when one can’t get up because there’s no fuel in the tank, and it obviously isn’t preventing me from doing stuff such as working on my computer. Yet, it is unpleasant. In Buddhist terms, it’s revealing that life is dukkha, (unsatisfactory, imperfect, suffering). This isn’t an excuse to wallow in my own little corner of self-pity, however, bemoaning my fate and cursing the gods for this affliction. As well as being an example of dukkha, it is also impermanent (anicca) by its very nature; it will not last.
Ajahn Sumedho has commented that having a cold can be an opportunity for reflection, for developing some wisdom. As he’s said, colds happen to us as a result of being born as a human, and that contemplating thus is reflecting on the way things are (Dhamma). Such a consideration is not a judgment, nor is it blaming anyone for giving one a cold – it’s not taking it personally.
Luang Por Sumedho has made an insightful observation here, that current experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant, is a chance to awaken to reality, to Dhamma. So, as I sit here with the usual symptoms of the common cold, reflecting how it’s part and parcel of being human, I’m becoming awake to the fact that every time I sneeze, it’s an opportunity to consider the Dhamma, rather than simply complaining about it. Achoo!

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Treasure

by Peter Clothier
The Buddha Diaries
(Cardozo picked this one out for me, going through the Buddha Diaries archives... It was first posted February 20, 2007.)

I broke a treasure this morning. My daily routine is to come upstairs after my morning meditation (our bedroom, in this house, is on the lower level) and make a pot of tea to bring down for us both to enjoy in bed as we watch the morning news. This morning, in the process of assembling things on the tray, I reached for the sweetener and knocked its container off the shelf to the floor. The container in question was the smallest in a set of three ceramic "Made in Japan" cannisters--a gift, Ellie reminded me later--from a friend who had been a house guest in our home at a difficult moment in her life. We have a whole collection of these things, accumulated during our swap-meet days, but this one was of a particularly attractive, post-deco design and had been much used and loved.

I was feeling a bit sad and guilty, then, when I broke the news to Ellie. I could take the event, I suppose, as an object-lesson in non-attachment: no matter how much we treasure them, things come and go in our lives and it's best not to attach too much significance to their arrival--or their loss. This was a small thing, indeed. There are much bigger, much more important things we are called upon to relinquish--up to and including the very bodies in which we spend our lives!--so I can't feel too sorry for myself over the loss of what is clearly no more than a trinket, no matter how beautiful we thought it. It's important, though, to take note of that twinge of sadness and regret over something so small, and realize how easily we do become attached.

My choice, though, is to look at it also from another point of view. What caused the loss was a moment of inattention on my part--a lapse that only became significant when its result became apparent. There's something bigger at stake here. In the course of my morning sit, I had become more than usually aware of extra weight I carry around with me with a discomfort that I am normally able to ignore. I know that this, too, is just another result of inattention, the mindless consumption of unneeded food and drink for no better reason than emotional consolation. Since I have been thinking a good deal about karma these past few days, in both conscious and, I'm sure, unconscious ways, I began to see plausible connections between past actions and my present predicament.

The uncomfortable truth is that I do not need to explore my past lives--if such there were--to find examples of the kind of unskillful, harm-producing actions that could result in my need for emotional comfort today. No need, here, for personal confessions. The nature of those past actions matters less than the realization that they could have resulted in those things about myself that I find less than appealing today and would like to change. To wit, for one, that extra weight I carry around with me to my discomfort and to the detriment of my health.

The realization, of course, is a good deal easier than the choice to become more mindful, more attentive to what I put into my body. Wisdom is cheap. Those things I love, to which I have become attached--my extra glass of wine, my pre-dinner snacks, my post-dinner desserts--seem to mean more to me than health and balance in my life. The good news is that this is not one of those things that can't be changed, that can be addressed only with equanimity. But I guess that's the bad news, too, because it makes it my responsibility to change. It's not that I don't know what's good for me. No. It's that I persist in making choices for the bad. As countless others have discovered before me, there is no diet in the world that can adequately solve this dilemma for me. There are only quick, all-too-ephemeral fixes that create the illusion of a solution. It's the inner work that needs to be done, and that's the hard part.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


from Lori

Choice. It seems like such a simple word...and yet how many times have we made the wrong one?

My husband and I just had a really crazy holiday season. You see, I work in film as an Art Director and he works as a Journalist for a London based News Agency. Two important points you'll see later, as we started off the holidays in rather good spirits until the impact of those two worlds came crashing down on us. Firstly, anyone who works in the film industry right now KNOWS the impact of the writer's strike. While I support them 100% --along with everyone else I know in the business--we are all taking a personal financial loss right now because of it, as there isn't any work, as productions have literally stopped (especially as I am a Union member). Add to that my husband works for a company that pays once a month (normal practice in Europe)...on the 24th to be exact. So while our spirits were high for a great holiday season, our pocket book had been stretched to the limit. Suffice to say, my unemployment benefits and his once a month pay leads to pretty tight life right now, but we're surviving...until there was a mix up with his pay in December (long story short, two people thought the other was wiring the money in the accounting dept.--a problem that could of been easily remedied in any other month then December with an email or call--except in December they shut down the office for the last two weeks of the month!) Imagine our surprise at this new development when we realized what had happened. In a matter of a week our holiday spirit turned from joy to annoyance realizing where that left us. Unfortunately, we suddenly found ourselves in quite a bad head space, only to be made worse when we realized that nothing could be remedied until after the new year. Merry Christmas indeed!

When we regaled our new situation to family and friends, we were quite surprised by the response. Firstly every single person that we told offered to loan us money to get us through the season. We did not take the offers, but it was really quite nice to realize how many people cared about us and wanted to make our holiday better. I would like to point out that when this happened we told people out of shock and bewilderment at how our holiday had changed, there was no other agenda, so having the out pouring of care and wanting to help we suddenly realized that our holiday was better this year then any other year previous, THAT was what the holiday spirit was all about! Secondly, I am also a painter and previous to this happening, I had been in negotiations for two months on the sale of one of my works with a friend; suddenly he purchased the work without knowing the situation. One door closes, another opens, as it were...It is not often that we get such a lesson.

So how does choice come into all of this? When we realized how we really were blessed with the holiday spirit, we made a conscious CHOICE to make sure that we kept that wonderful feeling going. We decided that EVERYDAY we would look for something GOOD that happened...just one good thing (that is not much)! I know it seems so trite and yet that one good thing has had an amazing transformation on our lives. Everyday something good happens! We even laugh at the end of the day as we sum up that goodness. All because we made the choice to look for something good in our daily life. Try it, challenge yourself to acknowledge one good thing a day...suddenly things don't seem so bad when you add them up! Choose goodness.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Metta in the Classroom

From Gary
at Forest Wisdom

Sometimes you have to be tough in the classroom. When the kids are getting over-excited and jumping around, screaming at the top of their voices, pussyfooting about with nice gentle words just won’t calm them down. They’ll learn nothing. Pretty much every lesson I have to raise my voice well above its usual volume to get heard at some point, often several times in a lesson! But at other times, an openness to what’s beneath the surface can mean an entirely different approach.

Today, while teaching primary students (aged five to six years), I had to instruct them to color the pictures in their workbooks more beautifully, as some of them were rushing it somewhat and producing pretty ugly work! One such student is a lad that’s particularly prone to losing focus and getting sidetracked (what five year old isn’t like this to some degree or another?). I told him to color more carefully, and moved on to the next student, accessing their writing and coloring. A few moments later, the young boy mentioned above was furiously rubbing away at his workbook with his erasure, tears rolling down his face, and almost growling. I wondered what to do: shouting at him to behave was an option, so was ignoring him, but he seemed nearly out of control and was clearly of concern to his neighboring classmates.

I stayed open, clearing the mind of any prejudgments as to what was going on. The kids around him tried to explain what was up with him, but my Thai isn’t good enough to understand the nuances of five year old babbling in Siamese (or Lao!). I could see he was really upset, so I took the softly, softly approach, gently patting him on the shoulder and saying, “Mai pen rai, look, mai pen rai,” which in English is, “Never mind, child, never mind.” I could see that he was frustrated that his efforts at coloring hadn’t gone so well, and the pencil marks had spread well beyond the confines of the images he was trying to color. Picking up one of his pencils, I colored the parts that he’d missed, creating a (slightly) more attractive image, and told him that it was okay and that he could still make a beautiful picture. This calmed him down, and I left him to it as other children were demanding my attention by this point. Looking back, I could see that the lad was now happily coloring with renewed enthusiasm, and not a tear in sight.

Sometimes you have to be tough in the classroom. That’s for sure. But at other times, a little metta (loving-kindness) will suffice, defusing a volatile situation and creating an atmosphere more conducive to a young mind’s growth. (It also leaves a warm, ‘fuzzy’ feeling in the heart that says, “Ah, that was nice!”)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Studying Happiness

From Will at

Over ten years ago, I went on a two week meditation retreat on the subject of metta – the basic positive emotion talked about in Buddhism. For the first few days, I sat there in silent meditation hating every moment of it, gritting my teeth, trying to crank out this positive emotion, getting frustrated with myself for my failure, cursing the whole business. This metta I was supposed to be feeling and wasn’t seemed heavy, a kind of burden or a duty. I struggled with it for days on end. Then, towards the end of the first week, something changed. I went into the meditation hall, sat on those accursed cushions, and took a deep breath. “What do I want most?” I asked myself.

The answer was one that Aristotle would have recognised. Happiness. Then it became clear to me. Metta was the most obvious and straightforward thing in the world. It was really astonishingly simple. Of course I wanted to experience positive emotions. What, after all, could be better? What more satisfying way of spending one’s time than bringing into being the thing that, when it came down to it, I cherished most. And not just for myself, because that made no sense at all. Happiness could not be hoarded or grasped on to as a possession. I wanted happiness not for myself, but for all. And as soon as this became clear, I experienced it. Happiness. Positive emotion. Well-wishing. Relief.

Of course I forget these things. Sometimes I find myself entangled in webs of my own making, webs of ill will and frustration and gloom. But it is for this reason that I find reflecting and studying happiness so valuable. It is for this reason that I still on some mornings sit down practice metta meditation. And it is for this reason that I am looking forward, so very much, to the explorations and investigations of the following few weeks.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Rain Brings Joy

Child's Play
From Gary
at Forest Wisdom

Today, my wife and I received a good measure of wisdom from our son Big and his cousins Pecko and Naen. Having planned to go out to the local park with the kids, the weather did what it does so well here in Thailand; it suddenly began pouring down with rain. All our plans of going to the park and playing in the cool early evening were dashed in the rain.
The children weren’t distraught by this turn of events, however. They didn’t complain or mope around the house, bemoaning the rainy season. They ran out into it and started splashing around having a real fun time. This is typical of Thai kids, who like their adult counterparts, love to have fun (สนุก ‘sanuk’).
What a joy to watch them running around in the rain, taking impromptu showers under the house’s water overflows, and throwing water at each other as if it were Thai New Year! (In April, during the traditional New Year festivities, Thais chuck water at everyone, bar royals and monks.)
My wife Paew commented how uncluttered the kids’ minds were with concerns over spoilt plans, and how living in the moment helped them to make the most out of their circumstances. There’s a lesson here for all of us adults who identify with our preferences and plans, suffering when things don’t go our way.
Utilizing the kids’ enthusiastic attitude to the wet weather, Paew got them to clean the front yard as part of their child’s play. Big, Pecko and Naen didn’t appear to mind this at all, happily washing and brushing the ground in the same joyous manner that they’d being playing moments before. It was lovely to watch their enthusiasm, while getting the yard cleaned at the same time. Later, we rewarded them with ice creams for their not-so-hard work.

Anger Tortures

From Khengsiong
at Goodwill 101

I was meditating with a group of people. Someone walked in, making quite a bit of noise. I lost my focus, and was irritated. "This is disturbing! Who's this guy?" I thought.

Then, I recalled something I read many years ago: Do not torture yourself for the wrongdoings of others.

Yes, that is right! Why should I torture myself? Quietly, I told myself to forgive that person and re-focused on my brea

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Wounded Heart

Here's another beautiful GWIS from Bill Harryman at Integral Options Cafe. We have his permission to republish it here:

Opening a Wounded Heart

About two and half years ago, I received a card in the mail from an ex-girlfriend, the first woman I had ever really loved. We had spent six intense and challenging years together beginning in college -- when I was 23 and she was 19. At the time the card came, I wasn't prepared to open my heart to that period of my life, the pain seemed to intense to welcome back into my consciousness. I blogged about it at the time.

Even then, after all the time that had passed, I still blamed her for hurting me and couldn't really accept that she probably wasn't the same person she was when we were together (just as I am not the same person, either). Even more, however, I blamed myself for all the ways I hurt her and broke her young and tender heart.

But blame is destructive. Neither of us intended to hurt the other. We were young, wounded, and simply did the best we could at the time -- and no matter how much we wish it otherwise, it happened. It can't be undone. And there was nothing, in retrospect, that we could have done differently.

Looking back now, I think the experience, as painful and filled with regrets as it was, propelled each of us to become better, healthier people. This is one of those dharma gifts that comes wrapped in shit. So often in life, the painful experiences are the ones that help us grow, that force us beneath the wounding to discover the true compassionate nature of who we are -- if we are willing to face the pain.

Last week, I decided to reconnect with her, initially just to request a poetry submission for Elegant Thorn Review. She recently completed her master's degree in writing and has had a chapbook published. One of the things we shared was poetry, and I always knew she would become a successful poet.

Sometimes we make a choice without quite knowing what will come of it. She isn't the young woman I knew -- but it turns out that she is the adult woman I always thought she might become. Maybe being married has helped her find her way, or maybe she did it through her poetry, which like mine, is always a mirror to the content of her psyche. However she found her way, I'm so glad that she is happy.

Even in the brief exchange of emails we've had, the decision to contact her has opened a deep well of grief. I didn't expect that. I thought that I had moved through those feelings in therapy a few years ago. But still the waves wash over me. What has changed, though, is that I don't feel the need to escape them -- I can sit here in the surf and let the feelings come and go with whatever natural rhythm dictates these things.

Sitting with grief has always been hard for me, but the more I do so, the more I can literally feel my heart soften, open, return to its tender nature. I didn't expect this gift to come out my decision to know her again.


From Lindsey
Lindsey in Lawrence

My hamster Harry died this evening.

Yes I know, rodents die. However, you have to understand that the only pet I've ever lost was my schnauzer Bridget and we had to put her down shortly before her 16th birthday (though I was convinced she was going to live forever).

Harry took ill a few days ago, and thanks to some extensive Googling by my boyfriend Mark, we realized he must have contracted a strain of e. coli from the broccoli he enjoyed so very very much. By the time we realized what was going on it was really too late to do anything. His death wasn't particularly pretty for either of us, as I helplessly watched him get sicker and sicker and finally succumb to the illness this evening.

It's so hard for me to watch any living being suffer, yet alone my first hamster that was a birthday present from Mark. Perhaps what is plaguing me the most about this situation is that I gave him the broccoli that wound up making him so sick. As a pet owner I was responsible for his health and well-being and I feel like I failed.

As I was cleaning out his cage, crying and bleaching the hell out of anything he could have possibly come in contact with, I realized how poorly I was dealing with the perfect example of impermanence that had been presented to me. I'm not a stranger to change- moving all through my childhood, transferring colleges, moving to Lawrence, starting grad school…etc….but my life has been blissfully untouched by death.

My "gift wrapped in shit" (or in this case wrapped in a dead hamster) is twofold. First, Harry's death has reminded me of the impermanence of life, of everything. I'm going to get old and one-day die, and the same is going to happen to my loved ones. What is important is living fully in every moment, eating every piece of delicious broccoli mindfully, loving to my full capacity.

Secondly, I need to realize that what I think is "good" or "right" for an individual might not actually be in their best interest. My intention was not to kill Harry with the broccoli, but rather to try and make things a little happier for an adorable little rodent. In this case what I thought was so good turned out to be the exact opposite. I need to approach the people (and animals) in my life with deeper understanding and compassion instead of simply seeking to make them happy in the short term.

Who knew a hamster could teach me so much?

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Gift from Illness

From William Harryman
Integral Options Cafe

Back in 2002, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Uterine cancer. Ninety percent fatal. She was 72 years old, tired, and ready to rest. She didn't want to fight it.

After I was about the age of five, she and I had not been close. She was the person who cooked, cleaned, and did laundry. Little more. For a variety of complicated reasons, I never expected anything more than that. She was my "mother," but I never really thought of her as a "real" person. The same way many children and parents never see each other as who they really are, but as the roles they play in the family dynamic.

I called her many times while she was in the hospital, since I was unable to get to where she lived. My partner at the time, Kira, also spoke with her. Somehow, during these conversations, she decided to live. And she did. The cancer was removed, the chemo and radiation worked, and she went into remission.

The realization of her impending death changed how I looked at her. I saw her as a person for the first time in my life, weird as that may sound. I thought about how she had become the person she was, the strength she must have needed to survive the life she experienced, the ways she had loved me when I didn't in any way deserve it.

She had three more years before the cancer returned and claimed her life in 2005. During that time I was gifted with the opportunity to know her, really know her, for the first time in my life. I can't imagine a better gift. Finally getting to know her changed me in profound ways. It's too bad that for so many of us, it takes a crisis to see things as they really are.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Over Christmas, my ISP flaked. For one whole day, no access to the Web! No blogging! No email! Disaster! PANIC...!

Ah, but...the gift: time NOT to write. Time to reflect. And the gift, via reflection: the understanding that I don't HAVE to write. The world doesn't end if I don't. I survive...

photo credit

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


With thanks to Khengsiong at Goodwill101

I was overwhelmed with anxiety and depression when I heard the dreaded "C" word – my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer.

I realized that, even after years of meditation, I still couldn’t cope with fear, the fear of losing my loved ones.

It also shows that the practice of meditation alone is insufficient. We still need to have Right Understanding, the understanding of anicca (impermanence) and dukkha (unsatisfactory).

Fortunately, my mom was diagnosed at the early stage of cancer, and she is recovering after undergoing a surgery to remove the tumor.