Monday, June 29, 2009

Honest Scrap Award

Delwyn awarded me the “Honest Scrap” award with a request to write 10 honest things about myself.

OK. Let’s start with this. I have learned that what I say or write can have impacts larger than I imagine.

Because of this awareness, I practice “wise speech” to the best of my limited ability. It’s hard.
  1. In all honesty, I have to restrain the impulse at times to shade the truth. Whenever I catch myself in the act of speaking falsely, I correct myself.
  2. I fight the impulse to omit important facts with intent to deceive. When I catch myself intending to deceive someone this way, I either tell it like it is or I simply restrain myself from talking.
  3. I think carefully now when deciding what to say and—just as important—what NOT to say.
  4. The impulse to engage in gossip persists. When it’s really hard to keep my mouth closed, I push up my tongue—HARD—up against the roof of my mouth. I keep pushing until the urge to say something harmful fades away sufficiently that I can relax my tongue.
  5. I sometimes engage in idle chatter. A great deal of what I say is just that old wind bag, Mr. Ego, talking.
  6. I swear at home, sometimes, especially if there’s no one to hear my oaths but my cat.
  7. I communicate better when I concentrate on listening. If I can manage to keep what I have to say to a minimum, my words have more effect.
  8. I have a hard time keeping dark theories (conspiracy and doomsday) to myself. I annoy people when I get going on these topics, so I try to keep my mouth closed. Whatever "preaching" I've done on these topics has, as far as I know, converted no one. This sort of speech is worse than halitosis.

And, that’s 8, not 10, honest things about me. To continue would be idle chatter.

Compassion bigger than all the anger and fear

It's helpful to remember how much we share with every form of life here on earth: we all come into being, we all want to be happy; we all must die. We depend on other life for our very breath, for our food, for our happiness. Each of us is just one strand in the web of life, connected to every other. This is a truth that, sadly, we tend to forget.

So here I have one more selection from Jack's book to share. This selection appears in Chapter 15 titled "Many Brothers and Sisters." It starts with a story about how sometimes we can feel really alienated from our brothers and sisters and how just one person can help us remember we're all members of life's family, even bugs.

Several years after the Los Angeles riots/insurrection of 1993, I [Jack Kornfield] joined together with Malidoma Somé, Luis Rodriguez, and Michael Meade to begin a series of multicultural retreats to address the difficult dialogue on race. In one retreat a hundred men from the black and Latino communities of Watts and East Los Angeles joined with white participants for teachings, story-telling, truth speaking, and healing rituals. The retreats drew on communal practices from the ancient traditions of West Africa, Native America, and the Buddhist elders to attempt to create a common ground for understanding. It was a fiery and passionate week.

One of the most heated moments came when a white man told how frightened he had become for his family when the Los Angeles riots/insurrection came within two miles of his home. He was so frightened that he had gone out and bought a gun for protection, he said. Several African-American men instantly bolted from their seats to confront him. “Who are you going to kill with that gun?” one man said. Another shouted, “You talk about fear. If you want to be afraid, brother, you better look in the mirror. Look who invented the machine gun, the land mine. Look at the owners of gun factories. Look at who built nuclear weapons and then used them. Look at who shipped twenty million people to this country as slaves, who fought the biggest wars in the last thousand years, who colonized the world. You want to be afraid, look at white people. You better sell that gun, man.”

Several white men rose to support the man with the gun and began shouting back about defense for individuals. Other black men argued louder. The tension was building. We wondered if we could keep the room from exploding.

Finally Ralph Steele, a six-foot-two African American Buddhist teacher stood up. In his voice we could hear the soft echoes of the South Carolina Gullah language of his childhood.

“I live in rural New Mexico where everyone has guns for hunting and protection, but I don’t have one. When I was in Vietnam I saw enough shooting to last a lifetime. We would go out on patrol or into the villages and every day somebody would get shot, sometimes your best friend. We would get to a new area and people there would move and some of the guys would get spooked and start shooting. Later we found we shot women and children. There were some human beings in our company who liked shooting other human beings, even women and children. We didn’t know what to do with them. It was my life for two years.

You don’t want a gun. It doesn’t matter who you are, you don’t want a gun. You don’t want the dreams, the nightmares that come from using a gun. You don’t even want the memory of a gun in your hand. You’ve got to live a lifetime with that.”

Ralph finished speaking and stood quietly, looking around. All the other men sat down. He had spoken without anger or defensiveness, with a compassion bigger than all the anger and fear in the room. We were silent for a while.

By listening with the heart, by giving voice to the truth of compassion, one person an turn the energy of conflict back toward peace.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry Part 2

Cultivating patience can really transform our world. Patience is a gift we can give to ourselves and to everyone we meet.

This story, from Chapter 15 of Jack's book, comes to mind when I stand in line at the grocery store. It helps me enjoy those moments of waiting.

...A military officer ... studying meditation in a class for stress reduction ... [was] in a supermarket. It was a crowded evening, the lines were long, and the woman carrying a child in front of him had just one item but would not get into the express line. The officer, whose habit was impatience, began to get annoyed with her. It got worse when she got to the checkout stand and she and the clerk started cooing over the baby. The woman even handed the child to the clerk.

He began to tense up, his anger building at the thought of how selfish she was. But because he had just come from his class, he noticed what he was doing to himself and began to breathe more softly and relax. He even noticed that it was a cute baby. By the time he got to the clerk he had let go enough to say, “That was a cute boy.” “Oh thank you. That was my baby,” she replied. “You see. my husband was in the air force but he died last year in a plane crash. Now my mother takes care of my boy and brings him in once a day so I can see him.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry Part 1

Summer brings time for reading. I've already read three books this summer that I want to share with you. Today is the first of a short series of posts about this book by Jack Kornfield.

I picked up this book at the Spirit Rock bookstore when I took part in Jack's recent daylong retreat. I picked it up and almost couldn't put it down. Jack's books—like his talks—share stories told among the top teachers in that realm. I'll share a few in Mindful Heart over the next few posts.

To begin, here is a story culled from Chapter 14, "Honoring Family Karma" which concerns how family life offers lay practitioners countless opportunities for spiritual realization.

This story comes from a spiritual teacher in the Catholic tradition:

As a young Catholic I was inspired by the saints. I had always wanted to do things like work with Mother Teresa in India, but most of my life has not been so glamorous. After college I became a teacher in an elementary school And then my mother had a stroke and I had to drop out of teaching and help her for two years: bathe her, care for her bedsores, cook, pay the bills, run the house. At times I wanted to complete these responsibilities and get back to my spiritual life. Then one morning it dawned on me—I was doing the work of Mother Teresa, and I was doing it in my own home.

With mindful awareness ordinary tasks done in the service of others can become holy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Violinist

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up, to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year-old boy. His mother tugged him along—hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

Who is he?

The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with his 1713 Stradivarius violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats averaged $100 each.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Support Group

Jack Kornfield led a daylong Insight Meditation retreat at Spirit Rock yesterday. In addition to the meditation instructions he offered, Jack shared several heartwarming stories.

This one was written by Fran Peavey. I hope you'll enjoy her story as much as I did:

"One day I was walking through the Stanford University campus with a friend when I saw a crowd of people with cameras and video equipment on a little hillside. They were clustered around a pair of chimpanzees–a male running loose and a female on a chain about twenty-five feet long. It turned out the male was from Marine World and the female was being studied for something or other at Stanford. The spectators were scientists and publicity people trying to get them to mate.

"The male was eager. He grunted and grabbed the female’s chain and tugged. She whimpered and backed away. He pulled again. She pulled back. Watching the chimps’ faces, I began to feel sympathy for the female.

"Suddenly the female chimp yanked her chain out of the male’s grasp. To my amazement, she walked through the crowd, straight over to me, and took my hand. Then she led me across the circle to the only other two women in the crowd, and she joined hands with one of them. The three of us stood together in a circle. I remember the feeling of that rough palm against mine. The little chimp had recognized us and reached out across all the years of evolution to form her own support group."

—Fran Peavey

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Walls As Membranes

I finished my last post, “Giving Up an Addiction,” and shut down my computer. I was late and had to hurry to get ready for a gathering of friends. We were meeting see photographs of a trip to India and Bali that one of us took last winter.

I got my projector out of storage so my friend could display her pictures on a wall. I went to our local grocery store, Fircrest Market, to buy some 3-bean salad, my contribution to the potluck dinner that we would share before the show. As I drove up the hill to where she lives, I confess that I felt smug self-satisfaction that I would invest the next few hours in actual face-to-face friendships.

I said hello to our host and went to work connecting the wires from her computer to my projector. All went well. (With technology, how often does that happen?) On time now, I breathed a sigh of relief and settled into a comfortable chair and waited for the rest of our group to arrive.

First to arrive was Christian. A mischievous glint in his eye hinted he had something provocative to say. “So, how are you doing on overcoming your addiction?”

The post had been up less than two hours! Already I was face-to-face with a blog reader eager to put the lie to my musings about the gulf between virtual and actual reality.

And I know that some members of my family (not my wife, though!), my spiritual community, my neighborhood community, my friends, and school community—all of whom I meet in actual life—read my blog from time to time. The wall between virtual reality and actual reality is actually a membrane. Like most walls.


So, as this post evidences, I will continue to write.

Thank you, all my “virtual” friends for your thoughtful comments on yesterday’s post. I thought I would respond to them here:

If I were in your neighborhood, I would be honored to come to your barbecue. I am glad to know my blogs have helped you have a better real day. The practice of gratitude—a practice I continue to do, though not online, for it seems smug—does offer real benefits. I find comfort when I re-frame my mind to hold what’s good in our wonderful world.

I thank you for your comment. I am sure that we would enjoy a walk together and that I would learn a lot about the plants and animals that we passed along the way.

It’s all about balance. You alluded to a quality of blogging that I am uncomfortable with: the competitiveness (is that what it is?) of having lots of people follow your blog and leave very brief comments. It sometimes feels like a popularity contest mixed in with “if I leave a comment on your blog, I expect you leave a comment on mine.” Mixed in with that is an unspoken feeling of, “I’ve got more followers-visits-comments than you.” Is it just me?

If you ever come to California, I hope we can find a way for the four of us to share a walk. Your blog is a gem.

Sarah Lulu,
Your blog, too, is one I’ve come to treasure for its openness, honesty, vulnerability, and faith. I remembered your post about meeting an online friend in the 3-D world, and I think that’s great. I know it happens, as my vignette today tells. As with others, if you ever do make it to San Francisco, let me know. We’d enjoy some tears and laughter, I’m sure.

Thank you for your thoughtful remarks. You make good points about how when the focus of blogging is on sharing ideas as opposed to collecting online friends blogging can have real value. Your blog serves as a good model for idea-driven content. And, as you say, if the by-product of the intellectual discourse is friendship, well, that’s wonderful.

I very much enjoy your blog, and continue to be astounded by the many overlaps in our lives: like you I enjoy going sailing, kayaking, cycling, reading, playing music and having regular contact with family and friends in a variety of social contexts. Not to mention having been born in 1951 and enjoying a career invested in the education of young children.

As with all the above, Alden, if you ever get to California, look me up. I’ll see to it that you get an actual sailboat ride on the San Francisco Bay!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Giving Up an Addiction

The California Buckeyes are blooming! I love them!

Mark over at Butler and Bagman wrote yesterday about how blogging can feel addictive. His sentiments resonated with me.

I'd like to add this observation:

I’ve observed that blogging creates a sense of connection and community with people we've never met, and, let's admit it, folks, probably never will meet. I've met some wonderful, wonderful, people online, and I will continue to look in on their blogs and feel warm and fuzzy about them. However....

Not one of your blogging friends is likely to visit you in the hospital, come to your birthday party, go hiking with you, or have you over for dinner Saturday night.

Because blogging does not satisfy our actual need for social contact, it gets addictive. Much as M&Ms get addictive because they seem to provide nourishment without actually providing much beyond but empty calories. Much as alcohol gets addictive by seeming to provide relief from our troubles while actually increasing them.

I heard a supposedly true story of a blogger in NYC. He had more than 800 followers in New York and was a blogger of note online.

He spent so much time with his computer that his real friends gave up on him. Who can blame them? How much fun is a guy who’s so glued to his screen that he doesn’t have time for dinner with friends, to take a walk, etc.?

Our blogging hero got lonely and decided to invite all 800+ of his online friends to a real party. He sent out an online e-vite, rented a hall, got a caterer, whole thing.

On the night of the party, only one person showed up.

Blogging gave him a whole bunch of virtual friends, but only one actual friend.


As for this blogger, I'm not going to give up blogging entirely. From time to time, when I have something worth sharing, I may find my way to the keyboard.

I will, however, discontinue my efforts to post regularly.

I intend to live my life in actual, not virtual, reality.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Society of Friends

Starting in July, the Society of Friends of the Buddha will discuss selections from Jack Kornfield's Teachings of the Buddha, (Revised and Expanded edition) pictured above. It's published by Shambhala.

You can purchase this book from Many Rivers Books and Tea and also from the Spirit Rock Bookstore.

(Please note: There's another version of this book—same author and title—that is smaller and has a red cover, the Pocket edition. This red non-revised and unexpanded version is NOT the version we will use.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Open to Disappointment

"When there's a big disappointment, we don't know if that's the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure."

—Pema Chödrön