We Are Always in Conversation with the Life that Surrounds and Sustains Us

The world is constantly in conversation, talking with itself, or maybe singing to itself.

 

As I stood in the front yard this morning, gypsy moths by the hundreds fluttered around our trees in the yard. Sunlight bounced off their brownish wings, a blue jay was flying between the moths, leaves dancing with wind, while a car crunched the gravel on the road and a crow cried out. I disliked what the moths represented, the oak, maple, and apple trees stripped bare of leaves. But at that moment, all was different. The air itself felt alive and was speaking.

 

Peter Doobinin, in his book, Skillful Pleasure: The Buddha’s Path for Developing Skillful Pleasure, describes how we can use thought to improve thinking. When we are working on a complex task, or we have an appointment later in the day, we talk ourselves through it or to it. We remind ourselves what we need to do or what time we need to leave our home in order to arrive on time. Likewise, when practicing mindfulness, or maybe anytime, we can remind ourselves to arrive right here, now, to be present, to fully focus on whatever task we undertake, or be aware of the quality of our breathing.

 

For example, before a meeting, or engaging in an important conversation, we might remind ourselves to first stop, take three conscious, deeper breaths. Notice how fast or slow, deep or shallow are our breaths, then our thoughts. Notice how we feel before engaging with others.

 

We use thought not only to arrive on time or complete a task but to construct an idea of ourselves, or an identity. We plan our future, select labels for our character, write mental reviews of past actions as if we were writing a review of a movie or play. Thoughts can pop up so easily.

 

In Buddhism, thought is considered the sixth primary form of consciousness, or sense consciousness, following sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch/feeling; it is closely tied to sense experience. So we need to remember that a thought has a different quality than direct perception. It can weigh a great deal emotionally. It can block or expand our viewpoint, aid or obscure the senses in discerning how completely tied we are to the universe. But when isolated from the senses, thought colors are less brilliant than that of bird wings, flowers, or a sunset.

 

Bruce Chatwin, in his book The Songlines, takes us to the Outback to learn about the First Nation People of Australia and the creator beings who sang the world into existence; song being the original language of people. The original songs are called songlines, or dreaming tracks, and mark the routes followed by creator-beings as they carved the earth during the Dreamtime, or time of creation.

 

But dreaming tracks are not solely about the past. They mark both a where and a when, a time and all time, or the continuous process linking the Aboriginal people to the land and heavens.

According to Wikipedia, a knowledgeable person even today can navigate vast distances, cross deserts and mountains, by singing and following the directions in the songline.

 

In this way, maybe we sing a songline to reach ourselves, or sing ourselves into existence through song.

 

Two metaphors, songs and conversations, or songs as conversations and vice versa. I don’t know which is more apt. We hear the universe singing; we hear the universe in conversation all the time but maybe don’t know exactly what we’re listening to….

 

*To read the whole post, please use this link to The Good Men Project, who published the piece.

 

 

The Skill We Most Want to Learn is Intimacy

It is so easy to lose sight of what originally inspired us to do what we do. We can focus more on how others might think of us, what material goods we might gain, or what grade or prize we might earn. And then we forget the meaning in what we’re doing and lose contact with the truth in ourselves.

 

When learning a skill or studying subject, we can forget the joy of learning itself, or the joy in doing something skillfully. When we use a cellphone or other device during a meal or movie, we can lose the pleasure in eating or engagement with the movie. Or if we read the news on our phones or write or text as we take a walk, we can forget the joy of walking, forget to notice the birds, trees or people around us or the feel of our steps on the earth.

 

Even with meditation, we can get caught up in goals that meditation might advance, like increasing focus, improving health, finding intellectual answers, or reducing stress. By centering on these goals, they become impossible to achieve. We lose the meditation itself.

 

If we meditate, for example, to get an answer to a problem, then as soon as a possible answer pops into our head we might stop meditating in order to write it down. Or if we meditate to reduce stress, what happens if, during a meditation, we realize our heartbeat is speeding up, or notice tension in our body?

 

Instead of treating the stress as part of the meditation, as an opportunity to learn from it, we might try to hide or end it. And the stress gets worse. Our mind becomes the act of hiding and we think of ourselves as unable to face what we feel.

 

Sometimes, we do need to distance ourselves from a painful memory or moment or switch our object of focus. And we need to respect that need, especially after 18 months or so of a pandemic and four years of DT anxiety. We can use different strategies to help us let go of tension and fear. When meditating we can focus on our feet on the floor instead of the breath in our chest, or on the sounds outdoors instead of thoughts indoors.

 

As Peter Doobinin describes it in his book, Skillful Pleasure: The Buddha’s Path for Developing Skillful Pleasure, we can use thinking to strengthen thinking. Instead of trying to stop all thought, we can use it skillfully to feed awareness instead of distraction and to keep alert. if we get caught in a thought, for example, we can step back, and note what is happening. We can say to ourselves, “in” as we inhale, “out” as we exhale. (If you are not experienced with meditation or mindfulness, please read or listen to the book to get the full practice.)

 

The breath goes through stages: the beginning, middle, and end of the inhalation, a pause; then the same with the exhalation. We can ask ourselves where we feel comfort inside us, or what is the quality of the breath⎼ rough or smooth, fast or slow, etc. If they don’t go by too quickly, we can observe which stages are more easeful, comfortable. By noticing, we feed awareness and allow the body to regulate itself. We discover the pleasure in the breath. We might notice, for example, an ease and comfort in the pause and in the middle of a longer, softer exhalation. And then the comfort can spread….

 

To read the whole piece, p-lease go to The Good Men Project

A July 4th Question: How Do We Feed and Care for Democracy, So It Feeds and Cares for Us?

It is July 4th and I have these questions for myself: how courageous am I? What must I do, what must we do, to make this democracy work?

 

We celebrate today our independence from monarchy and autocracy. We say we celebrate the birth of democracy, or at least the quest for democracy in this place, in this time; a quest for a home where we might have, as the founders later described it in the Declaration of Independence, the right for all to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Or in the pledge, we say “with liberty and justice for all.” In 1776, these grand statements were not even close to reality. Only white, male landowners could vote. But how courageous would I be in advancing that reality, that quest for democracy for all?

 

Yesterday, I was listening to an NPR podcast, This American Life, about the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The movement was being torn down, suppressed, demonstrators jailed, or worse. But they went ahead anyway. The quest is worldwide and ongoing.

 

In the US in 2020, following the murder by police of George Floyd, in Minneapolis where he was killed, in Louisville, St. Louis, Austin, Seattle, Portland, New York, Washington, D. C.⎼ all through the U. S. and the world, protests were held. The protests I attended were peaceful.

 

2020 was a year when the federal government itself had become the greatest threat to democracy itself, and we had the most protests in our history. Black Lives Matter became the biggest protest movement in our history, mostly peaceful protests, calling for justice for George Floyd and other black people. There were also demonstrations calling for equity in education, for protecting the environment, protecting school children from guns or immigrant children from being separated from their parents, for protecting our humanity, voting rights, civil rights, the rule of law, etc. This is one way to care for democracy.

 

Peaceful protests were met by a President who fueled the flames, sent in armed forces and created even more chaos. DT tried to blame much of the violence we saw in 2020, and the beginning of 2021, on BLM, or on non-existent “anti-Fascist” groups, while he was the person most fueling violence. Yet, the BLM protests went on despite threats against them.

 

This morning, I was reading the summer issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Guide. There was an article by Kaira Jewel Lingo titled “How Equanimity Powers Love.” She quoted a poem by Vietnamese Buddhist teacher and activist Thich Nhat Hanh. During the war in Vietnam, Thich was seen as a traitor by both the North and South Vietnamese armies. Yet, he demonstrated, spoke out anyway against the killing and destruction.

 

He wrote a poem, “Recommendation”⎼

 

“Promise me… Even as they strike you down

With a mountain of hatred and violence…

Remember…

The only thing worthy of you is compassion…”

 

The article also quotes Martin Luther King, Jr’s essay “Loving Your Enemies” ⎼ “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.”

 

And then there were the wars fought, the Civil War, World War I and II.

 

I don’t know if I have the strength for such courage, equanimity, or love. I know I will resist the start of a war. And I know I lack the capacity to ignore what the followers of DT, the GOP, are doing now to deny us voting rights, to deny our humanity, deny the science of global warming as they did COVID-19. To lie about their coup attempt on Jan. 6, or their drive to turn the many colors of this nation to one color. Or to turn back the clock, to turn this nation back to an autocracy, maybe a worse autocracy even than the one against which we fought a revolution.

 

On July 4th, isn’t this the question we should be asking ourselves? What does democracy mean to me, or require from me? It is clearly not something at a distance from us.

 

Maybe in the past, maybe before DT and the pandemic, we let this question fall to the back of our minds and hearts. But now, we all know its central place in our lives. We know democracy is not simply a holiday we celebrate one day in July and one day in November. It is a form of relationship, or something living we are part of, that is constantly changing and constantly in need of care.

 

How do we feed and care for it, so it feeds and cares for us?

 

*This post was syndicated by The Good Men Project. Feel free to take look.

When Joy Is Hidden in the Very Air We Breathe

Have you ever had this feeling that right outside the bedroom window, on the other side of a surface you’ve touched, like the bedsheet, or a stone in the garden⎼ like a voice carried in the wind that you can’t quite make out, there is an insight, a joy waiting, hidden right there? And all you had to do is breathe a little more deeply, shift your perspective a hairsbreadth, and you’d see it in whatever is felt, hear it in whatever is touched?

 

This isn’t a hope you have but something else.

 

I feel this almost every morning when I wake up, if I don’t rush off or I’m not too angry or depressed by the pandemic or the GOP. Right behind my last dream, sitting next to the stiffness in my back, there is this sense, this urge or yearning to look deeply at the red bee balm in the garden, the yellow daylilies, the cats that lie near my feet.

 

When I took a walk yesterday, I tried to remember a time in my life when something hidden was suddenly revealed, or a work of art created itself with my hands. Something dramatic, that I hadn’t already shared with people; but nothing came to me. At first.

 

There are many examples provided by famous visual artists, athletes, poets, and composers. Zen teacher David Loy provides many in his book The World Is Made of Stories. He quotes the artist Escher talking about his drawing taking on a life of its own. The composer Stravinsky hearing music compose itself; he didn’t do it. The writer Borges saying, “I don’t write what I want… I don’t choose my subjects or plots. I have to stand back and receive them in a passive moment.” The poet Blake talking about poems coming to him almost against his will.

 

I am retired now, but the memory of my years teaching soon came to mind. Many times in the classroom the right way to reach a student or right answer to a question just appeared, flowed from my mouth spontaneously, unplanned. Painfully, not all the time.

 

Too many times, especially when I was inexperienced, the right response to a student often eluded me. But over the last few years of working, the number of wonderful moments were multiplied, when I was well prepared yet open, trusting the students and trusting myself. I also practiced mindfulness regularly in some classes.

 

As I was walking back home, down the steep rural hill, suddenly through the trees there was a view that went on for miles. It was only a peek, a break in the trees visible for a few steps when the road turned just right. I stared for a moment, absorbed, gleeful.

 

And a thought popped into my head. The reason I might touch a surface and a new reality whisper to me was because that is exactly what happens sometimes. We touch the hand of a lover and suddenly there aren’t two separate people anymore. There is only the touch. We quiet our minds, even though our hearts might be jumping wildly, and a new reality is born. We touch and are touched simultaneously, love and are loved….

 

*To read the whole post, please click on this link to the Good Men Project, which published it.

The GOP Are Not Just Trying to Suppress the Vote. They Are Trying to Control the Count.

When DT took office in 2017, the novel 1984 by George Orwell became a popular read. With DT in the White House, the fictional portrait of our future was moving closer to becoming reality. The GOP are, today, trying to keep that movement alive.

 

As journalist George Packer wrote in The Atlantic in 2019: “The week of DT’s inauguration, when the president’s adviser Kellyanne Conway justified his false crowd estimate by using the phrase alternative facts, the novel returned to the best-seller lists. A theatrical adaptation was rushed to Broadway. The vocabulary of Newspeak went viral. An authoritarian president who stood the term fake news on its head, who once said, ‘What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,’ has given 1984 a whole new life.”

 

And it is so blatant. The GOP are not a political party as we have known such for most of our history. They are more like a camp of oligarchic terrorists, employing techniques used by Fascists and other authoritarian regimes, and excoriated in 1984, to attempt a slow-moving coup, whose aim is the destruction of voting rights and constitutional democracy, and the creation of a one-party state.

 

In the novel, the threat of invasion by other nations was used to maintain a state of permanent emergency, create a totalitarian regime, and control all aspects of life, even people’s thoughts. In our nation, for four plus years DT tried to keep us in constant shock, not through lies about invasions by other countries but lies about almost everything, for example, about invasions of immigrants, even children of color. They used doublethink, and newspeak to portray what could reveal truths or save lives, like masks, and turn them into assaults on community and freedom.

 

Many GOP claim to value freedom, but the only freedom they value is to agree with them. They attack, try to frighten, basically try to unperson those who oppose them (Liz Cheney, Jay Raffensperger, Marie Yovanovitch, and Democrats) or who they want to hide, deny and show no empathy for their suffering (thousands who died from COVID-19). And then there’s DT’s Big Brother DOJ illegally seizing emails of Democrats and their staff.

 

Political strategist David Plouffe said on MSNBC last week, “They`re not hiding what they`re doing. …they`re not only trying to make it harder to register to vote, they want to change …who gets to decide who wins elections….” “[T]his is existential. If you think that this Republican won`t go to the …furthest extremes to hold on to power, to steal power, to deny voters their franchise, I don`t know what you`re watching.”

 

The New York Times reports that, for example, the GOP in Georgia are eliminating people of color, especially Democrats of color, from local election boards. In Arizona, not only did they create an audit of the 2020 vote based on a false narrative; they also introduced a bill to strip the Democratic Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs, of her authority over election lawsuits, for her term in office only.

 

The aim of the GOP is to control not only the teaching of history but how each moment is remembered. They continue the “Big Lie,” to divide the nation and falsely claim DT was the winner of the 2020 election despite losing by 7 million plus votes, despite having no evidence and losing in any court where they tried to fraudulently claim the election was fraudulent. Doublespeak. They try to steal an election by claiming democrats are trying to steal it.

 

Many GOP are still denying the reality of the Jan. 6 attempt to steal the election, even though millions saw it happen on live tv. GOP Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said federal law enforcement was “harassing peaceful patriots.” And Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., added: “It was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others.”

 

But we know about the lies. We know the GOP are trying to create their own version of a Ministry of Truth so we the people cannot get accurate information, and not only about January 6.  During the DT administration, they hid information on the coronavirus, which led to possibly thousands of deaths, and on global warming, which threatens all our lives.

 

Historian Kellie Carter Jackson wrote in the Atlantic that, as of last Thursday, Juneteenth is now a national holiday, which honors the “history and memory of emancipation, liberation, and advancement” of Black People in this country. Yet the GOP in control of the legislatures of many states are trying to hide the history of slavery while banning the teaching of critical race theory, despite the fact that no public schools now teach it, and ban curricula focused on the lasting effects of slavery and racism.

 

On June 16, NPR had a wonderful program on the Alamo, revealing not only that Texas was born out of a movement to protect slavery. But even today, the Governor wants to make sure no one knows it.

 

The aim of the GOP is to make daily life so burdensome to most Americans that we go along just to survive. They have shifted the tax burden, for example, so the rich now pay such a small percentage of their earnings in taxes. When the rich and corporations pay less, the cost to the rest of us goes up⎼ the costs for education, health insurance, electricity, bridges, roads, water, protection from pandemics, etc. will all rise.

 

Once we lose the vote, and constitutional protections, the right to speak out, and protest, the right to a fair trial, can be eliminated. The GOP could also more freely sell off or mis-use our natural resources, land, air, water to sate their greed, ignore the effects of such use on the health of citizens, and ignore increasing natural disasters from climate change.

 

Now, with a Democratic administration, we have the opportunity to pressure Congress to protect the vote. Let’s take it. Speak out. Join about 70 groups and hundreds of activists working to get a voting rights bill like the For the People Act made into law. The GOP won’t even allow the bill to be debated in the Senate and will use the filibuster to stop it from being passed. Call Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Urge them to honor their oath to protect the constitution, get rid of the filibuster, and stop the GOP attempt at a coup to end democracy⎼ stop them from making their fiction our reality.

 

*You can also read this post on The Good Men Project, which syndicated it.

 

One Gift of the Arts is Help Us See with A Diversity of Eyes

It all started one night after getting totally engrossed in viewing Japanese woodblock prints, particularly the night scenes by Kawase Hasui. Hasui was one of Japan’s most prominent and prolific printmakers who died in 1957. He created landscapes that beautifully merged humans⎼ their homes, boats, shrines, castles, and temples⎼ into the land around them.

 

I was looking through several paintings and when one stood out, I’d wonder why that was so. I’d imagine myself in the depicted scene or sit with the mood the print and my seeing of the print created.

 

One night scene was of the Chuson-ji Temple, in the town of Hiraizumi, Japan. A long series of wide steps leads up through trees to the temple. There is moonlight and a bright star, but no moon. I allowed myself to slow down, stop rushing, and just linger on the scene, to sort of let my eyes feel the steps so I could walk up them and reach the building itself.

 

Then I’d close my eyes and let the scene rest inside me, before opening them again to allow whatever new details I had noticed enter the picture. By touching in this mindful way, we are touched; we feel what we see. The artwork has more dimension. I learned this practice at a retreat organized by psychotherapist Lawrence Leshan, and by The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation, by Frederick Franck.

 

After doing this for a few hours, I drove into town to buy groceries. Along the way, the scenery took on a totally new quality. The homes surrounded by trees, the lights amidst the dark, the moon over the hillside⎼ one minute, the scene around me was the physical road and trees. The next, a beautiful portrait of the same.

 

A few days later, in the daytime, a similar experience occurred. As I walked up the rural road where I live, I saw as I might normally see⎼ light breaking through the hillside forest roof and bouncing off the leaves of the trees ⎼ and then as Hasui might paint it. By viewing the art, my eyes were tuned to beauty; I now had two sets of eyes, two ways of seeing.

 

Hasui seemed fascinated with how not just art was a creation, but vision itself. He was almost too prolific. He painted the same scene in different times of day and different seasons. There are at least three renditions of the Chuson-ji Temple, for example⎼ one at night, one on a spring day, another in the snow. But what we see in each painting is one moment; we see each instant as a once in a lifetime event.

 

We can see how everything changes or is change itself. Henri Bergson, a French philosopher, said: “Reality is flowing.  This does not mean that everything moves, changes, and becomes; science and common experience tell us that.  It means movement, becoming, change is everything there is, there is nothing else.  There are no things that move and change and become; everything is movement, is change.”

 

The beautiful red temples Hasui painted were not just an external scene he perceived but an element of the artist, his history and mood, the time of day, the weather and quality of light, the remnants of the past in the present. We are not a being locked in a wall of skin, but one movement in a universe dancing itself into being….

 

**To see the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

No More Hate: We Have A Choice About What Kind of Person We Will Be

Do you know the term ‘grok’? It was invented by author Robert Heinlein, and made its first appearance in 1961 in his science fiction novel, A Stranger In A Strange Land. If you don’t know the word, maybe add it to your vocabulary. It means to really understand something or someone, to empathize, merge with another person, idea, place, or thing so deeply you know them or it from the inside. It would be wonderful to grok something or someone, don’t you think? Or maybe certain somethings or someone, anyway?

 

I’m a straight white male. I don’t grok what it might mean to be Black in America today. I don’t grok what it might mean to be a female, either, or any gender other than mine. Or maybe what it would mean to be anyone other than me, now. Grokking ‘me’ is difficult enough.

 

But I was thinking about racism, especially since today, June 1st, is one hundred years after the Tulsa race massacre of June 1, 1921. When racist hate exploded into mobs of white people burning homes and buildings, killing black people, men, women, children, maybe as many as 300 people, shooting them, setting them aflame, bombing them, Americans bombing Americans just 3 years after World War I. And those in the mob were never held responsible. The people who had the institutional power to do so took part in or supported and turned their heads and hearts away. This is too disturbing to grok, but maybe I need to.

 

I wrote a blog recently about how hate, greed, and ignorance, what Buddhism calls the 3 poisons, cause suffering. Suffering is not the same as pain, but your response to it. For example, interpreting stomach pain as indigestion hurts so much less than thinking you have COVID-19, or cancer.

 

The poisons create a vacuum inside us, a vacuum that can be so encompassing you lose understanding for what you yearn or lust for. You focus on what you want from or how you can use other people. They become dehumanized to you, and you to yourself.

 

Racism may be hard to define but most likely includes hate and misinformation institutionalized⎼ taught, enforced, inflicted on people by legal proceedings, media, education, economics, politics, etc. According to Dismantling Racism (dRworks), it includes many factors, like race prejudice and systemic discrimination to preserve white power, depriving BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities of an equal and just place in society.

 

Hating is not only anger or aggression but a compulsion to hurt. We’ve seen this too often over the last five years, or forever. It shoves people and reality, especially the reality of who people are as individuals, away from you. And it is addictive. You blame who or what you hate for your hate. And for your pain. Pain you might not have initially created but certainly augmented by projecting onto this other person or group the power to cause your suffering. You feel diminished. And you imagine by hating you regain power; you harm them or try to diminish them back. But you carry the hate. So, you hate yourself. The more you hate others, the more you hurt, the more you hate. A spiral of addiction.

 

And this can spread easily and harm everyone you meet. Hate is the denial of compassion, of love, of humanity⎼ of grokking. When you see hate in someone’s face, it is hard not to fear the ill-will is directed at you. So, there’s fear, too. And ignorance. The only community it fosters is a communion of fear, hate, and ignorance. It undermines all other community.

 

When I was a teenager, my family lived in a suburb of New York City. One Sunday afternoon, I was walking my dog up the block and saw a friend. We stopped outside his house to talk. A car full of white teens also stopped, in the street near us. We were Jewish. They were Catholic. I don’t remember how I knew this or if I just presumed it⎼ or if they yelled something at us. There had been several incidents at the time of harassment of Jewish people by Catholics. But my dog suddenly barked. A gun was raised and pointed out the window at us and fired.

 

I don’t know if they meant to kill us. My friend and I jumped more than ducked. It happened too fast for us; we were not used to hate coming from guns. And it was hate. Neither of us was hit, although one bullet did break through a window of the house, just missing my friend’s younger brother. We were lucky. So many others before and since, of so many communities of people, were not. Just consider all the violence over the last five years (or forever) against people who are Black, or Asian, Indigenous, other People of Color, and LGBTQIA, etc.⎼ for example, of Black Americans shot by police for being Black while simply walking (Michael Brown), driving (Duante Wright), asleep at home (Breonna Taylor), or being a child playing (Tamir Rice).

 

Hate can destroy society. We must take action to stop it, neither let ourselves be infected nor forget. We stop it by studying and teaching history. And by learning to better grok ourselves and others, better grok both what supports racism and other forms of hate and what counters it⎼ or what turns us to the better angels of our nature. To compassion. We are capable of both hate and compassion. We have choices about what kind of people we will be. And we can’t allow anyone or anything to convince us otherwise.

 

 

*Here are additional resources to learn about and teach history and stop hate:

Facing History and Ourselves,

The 1619 Project,

Native Knowledge 360,

Asian Americans K-12 Education Curriculum,

The Zinn Education Project.

Others:

USvshate.org,

Anti-Defamation League

Confronting White Nationalism in Schools

SPLC: Hate in Schools

Learning For Justice

Science for the Greater Good: Science Based Practices for Kinder Happier Schools

 

**This blog was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

The Party of Hungry Ghosts: What Reveals the Origins of Our Thirst So We Find the Water that Fulfills Us

The political situation we are in today reminds me of a frightening dream I had as a teenager. I was outside, at night, on a mist-filled city street and felt something calling to me. I didn’t know what it was, but I followed it anyway to an old storefront, the kind with a door set between two showcase windows, which were empty of everything but darkness. The door was partly open, so I stepped inside.

 

The dark and emptiness continued inside the front room. But the call grew stronger as I walked. I followed it to an even darker back room where I could feel but could not see. And the room was not empty. The call was ringing in my mind, emerging from one corner filled with what I thought were people standing eerily still. I approached one, then another, tentatively reaching out to identify them. They were not breathing, not alive. I started searching more frantically, to find the source, the being, the life that was calling out for me.

 

And then I felt it, there, before me. A powerful, child-sized mannequin with a voice. But it had no head.

 

Teenagers can easily feel a type of solipsism, a fear that they are alone, isolated, or afraid that what they feel, no one else feels. That they are, in a way, the only human, or only human like them. Their need calls out for them, but they fear no one will be there when they respond, so they don’t. Adults can, of course, feel something similar. It is too easy to lose touch with the rest of the world.

 

Zen teacher Katsuki Sekida, in his classic book Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy, said we suffer when we don’t understand the reflecting action of consciousness. Although the world is always whole, never divided, we don’t always experience it that way. We first sense the world, then have thoughts about or reflect on what we sense, then reflect on reflections.

 

This goes on moment after moment. We reflect on what has already gone and can mistake the reflection for the reality. Consequently, we are always rushing to catch up. The reflection can be powerful; but it is so much smaller than the total reality that gave birth to it.

 

Out of such thoughts self-consciousness is born. Self-consciousness can mean “aware of oneself” or distant from oneself and uneasy about it. We separate the object of awareness from the act of being-aware and create this distinct being, with specific characteristics and history who has thoughts. We fashion an ego and then try to pin it down, give it life, and maintain it, but we can’t. Because it’s an apparition. It’s more like a suit of clothes we put on than the body that wears them.

 

One of the key battles of human history is to feel the life of the world, the life that resides in all of us. To feel that the world is alive, not dead ⎼ not a machine, not just dead matter. So much of the world breathes and feels. We struggle as a species to even feel the reality of others and thus to come alive to the reality of ourselves….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

Reading for Pleasure and Independence of Mind

Reading is one of my favorite activities. Reading fiction can be a way to relax as well as leave our concerns behind and step into someone else’s world. Non-fiction books and essays can inform, challenge, and inspire us. Reading, especially in book length and depth, expands our vocabulary and gives us an opportunity to perceive the mind being itself, as knowing itself. We read and, as with imaginative, creative, or critical thinking, experience the power within us to know, visualize and illuminate the world from the inside out.

 

Sometimes, we can’t discern what we think or feel until we hear or read someone else’s words and then feel a kinship or opposition. We read a paragraph and it’s like suddenly discovering a great canyon in the ground never seen before or recognizing, as if for the first time, how the earth floats in the infinite ocean called sky. In the beauty of another’s speech our own becomes known and beautiful. We find communion.

 

What do we do when we read to turn marks on a page into insights? How do we step out of ourselves, so we hear another? How can we read so we’re not simply working to confirm what we already believe but instead deepen both our understanding and our lives? How do we get ourselves in a similar mindset as the author, so we hear them in a kindred way as they listened for us?

 

In the Summer, 2021 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review there’s a review written by Matthew Abrahams of professor and journalist George Saunder’s book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life. Saunders wrote: “To study the way we read is to study how the mind works… the part of the mind that reads a story is also the part that reads the world…” In this I realized a kindred longing, to study how I read as a practice in studying myself. If I could read words and notice when my attention drifted or sank into an ocean of ruminations, depths normally hidden might be revealed.

 

Saunders said, “each time a writer returns to the story, it is as a different version of themselves.” That is both the excitement and challenge of re-writing. Likewise, each time we re-read a paragraph, it is as a different reader. We see more or see differently. We are more open to others and treat differences as essential nutrients in growing ourselves.

 

When we are about to read, we can pause, take a few breaths, and clear space in our minds for something new to enter. We can keep a pen and paper next to us, so we can converse with what we hear. We can repeat to ourselves each word we read, especially words that stand out or confuse us, and notice what arises inside us, what echoes in our breath, our thoughts, and our feelings.

 

We can ask why the author said what they did. What evidence or reasons did they have? What are the implications of their theory or point of view?…

 

**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

Treating Each Chance to Vote as Our Only Chance to Vote: When to Remember, When to Forget

We want to forget the painful, the frightening, the disturbing, or usually we do. Sometimes, we hold on to what hurts as if the immediate pain could stave off what lies deeper. Sometimes, we just don’t know what to do.

 

And sometimes, we can’t forget for other reasons. It has seeped too far into who we think we are. Or the pain or discomfort helps us act, so we think we can’t allow ourselves to forget. But how do we learn from pain without hurting ourselves even more, and without making ourselves sick? Sickened, yes. But not sick.

 

Many of us so want to forget DT. It has been an amazing relief to not see his face or hear his ravings on tv. But we can’t forget the crimes he committed or the vulnerabilities he exposed in democracy. He and his GOP supporters are doing all they can to force themselves back into the headlines, to get us to focus on our fear of him returning to power instead of the desperation in his efforts to manipulate media and politics to prevent arrest. The list of possible crimes he has committed and possible criminal and civil litigation is extensive.  It is largely up to us to determine how and what we remember.

 

For example, he is planning to re-start MAGA rallies. His GOP never let the “Big Lie” die and are doing all they can to resuscitate it. We remember how DT tried to steal the election from President Joe Biden by falsely claiming the Democrats had stolen it. Most of us saw this live on tv. To distract us further, he and his GOP minions spouted disinformation from Russians claiming Democrats were in the employ of communists.

 

Now, the GOP are saying the insurrection attempt on January 6th never happened. On May 12, during a House Oversight Committee Hearing, GOP Representative Andrew Clyde said “the House floor was never breached.” “To call it an insurrection is in my opinion a bald-faced lie,” he continued. “If you didn’t know that TV footage was a video from January the sixth, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”

 

He, with the support of most of the GOP, are attempting to turn the “Big Lie” into an ugly reality. Remember, the goal of “The Lie” was to crown DT as the Savior-King and deny political power to the majority of Americans⎼ deny the right to protest and the vote. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, in 47 state legislatures, the GOP have introduced 361 bills to restrict and suppress voting, despite no evidence of voting fraud.

 

Of course, they tried this before, just minutes after it happened. They feel they have created an unscalable propaganda wall and their followers will never try to scale that wall and hear, remember, or believe the truth. And they try to eliminate anyone who stands in their way. Remember how they treated conservative Liz Cheney for speaking truthfully about January 6th or how they tried to intimidate Democrats and other government officials.

 

But we remember that if the GOP win, we lose. No justice, no peace….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.