How Does the Wind Move Us?

The wind can storm, tornado, hurricane as well as breeze. It can frighten or comfort depending on what shape it takes, or we take in our response. It can also play tricks on our hearing.

 

I was walking up a portion of our rural road that is forested on both sides, and suddenly I heard and felt a roar of sound, like thunder, or like a massive truck was headed in my direction. I looked around and there was neither a truck nor a storm. All there was to see were the trees, some bending, moving in their own way, and the sky, a clouded blue. But what a sky it was. And those trees, so stiff and yet firmly rooted. And my attention now so awakened by their thunder.

 

A road can become a funnel for sound. When I served in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone,I lived in the bush off the unpaved main road. Between villages, huge trees covered the road on both sides. I could hear a truck coming from many miles away. Flagging down a lorry was the only way for anyone in the village to get a ride anywhere. So, if I was intent on going somewhere, I could go into my house, finish packing a bag, and walk leisurely out to the road in time to flag down the lorry for a ride.

 

Hearing, like smell, is a sense that spreads out on all sides. We can home in on a sound by moving our head. But unlike sight, which is mostly aimed directly in front of us, or touch and taste, hearing sweeps our entire 360-degree sensory environment.

 

Each part of the day has its own music. We hear the morning, for example, not just see it. In the spring and summer, birds, and in warm weather, cicadas welcome the rising sun. When I lived in Sierra Leone, as sunrise approached, the jungle awoke with an increasing volume and variety of sounds, culminating in a concert of insects, birds, possibly monkeys and other creatures. It felt like the earth itself was waking up, a mouth opening to speak. The dusk is another time the world clearly speaks to us. What does an eye or an ear opening and closing sound like? Is one sense a chorus for another or do different qualities of light have a specific sound component?

 

For some of us, yes. Synesthetes, for example, can see or feel sounds. A strong wind might be perceived as a specific color.  The word ‘synesthesia’ derives from the Greek meaning “to perceive together.” People who have the condition unite or switch sense modalities, hear color, or taste sound. The condition is rare, about one in 2,000 people share it. It is a biological condition, not a hallucination; it runs in families, and is more prevalent in women.

 

What is the weight of thunder? The shadow of a car horn? The taste of the words we speak?…

 

 

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

 

Finding Comfort Within: Flying Like A Bird or Setting Like the Sun

What brings you comfort?

 

It’s a wonderful sunny day. Despite the cold temperature, I open a bedroom window and take a breath. The air feels remarkable, clean and tasty. It’s been weeks since we’ve had a day like this.

 

Close your eyes partly or fully, or as much as you feel comfortable doing, take a nice breath in, and out, and taste the air. Just enjoy being nowhere but here for a moment. Then let come to mind a time you felt a deep sense of comfort. What was the situation? Where were you? Were you by yourself or with others? What were you doing? Notice what comfort means to you.

 

When I think about this question, I realize the answer has changed throughout my life. As a child, I remember walking my dog in the wooded area in our neighborhood. Sometimes, we’d take off on a run and all else would be forgotten. All that existed was us, running, together.

 

When I returned home during my college years, to visit my parents in New York City, I remember late nights, after everyone else was asleep and the city had quieted, my mother and I would sit and talk, openly, like at no other time.

 

When I first moved to Ithaca, my future wife and I lived with a group of people near a gorge and waterfall. When I’d go out and stare into that waterfall, I’d see first the flow of water. Then my perspective would shift to focus on one drop, one amongst the multitude, racing down, crashing, disappearing into the current of the creek. Any tension I had previously felt, any thoughts, would be washed away. I’d be left emotionally calm and mentally clear.

 

Now, after getting up and doing basic exercises and stretching, I love to sit with a book that inspires or challenges me. It is a grave mistake to think of reading as an automatic or passive activity that involves simply repeating in your mind someone else’s words. When you give reading your full attention you get to see the world with someone else’s eyes. And this new perspective illuminates depths missed in yourself.  Without a quality reading, the quality of the writing is never perceived. This is why holding a book can feel like holding a mystery or a treasure chest. Reading online or with a kindle doesn’t do that for me no matter the content. In fact, it turns me off.

 

Or writing⎼ I love to write stories, blogs, poems, etc. in the morning, when my mind is fresh. The words enable me to transform into other people, or to fly like a bird, to rain and snow and set like the sun or cuddle with a cat. Creativity can be so satisfying….

 

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

Recovering from the Trauma of DT and Creating A More Democratic Nation

When I listen to the news, I still find myself ready to cringe. We’ve grown used to one attack, one shock after another, continuing assaults on our lives or humanity. It’s been such a relief since President Biden was inaugurated. But the trauma of 4 years of DT, culminating with the domestic terrorist attack on January 6th and his escape from being prosecuted in the Senate for his role in inciting that attack will not go away easily.

 

This is partly because the threat is still here. The politics of hate is all still here. We face a domestic terrorist movement built on hate, lies and a grievance mentality that have walled off about one third or more of this nation from the truth. As Bill Moyers put it, “a democracy can die of too many lies.”

 

And we have a mutating virus that has killed over half a million people. Ken Burns said that we face three viruses: COVID-19, white supremacy, and misinformation.

 

An article by Jeremy Adam Smith from the Greater Good Science Center talks about how to recover from the trauma of the Trump years and the pandemic. These last four plus years have been extremely traumatic, especially 2020. What we face now is grief. We grieve not only the lives lost due to the virus and DT’s malignant mismanagement of it, but the loss of hope, sense of security, and the activities and contacts that sustained us. Many of us have lost our livelihood and home.

 

And we can’t simply let go of grief. Smith quotes psychologist Frederick Luskin, who said, “When we lose something, human beings have a natural reintegration process, which we call ‘grief.” We must integrate it, feel it, suffer it, and understand both the fact of the loss and how we feel about it.

 

We can ignore it for only a short time. We have gone through hell. “January 6 happened, and it can never unhappen. COVID-19 happened. At this writing, 466,000 Americans are dead, and they will never come back.“ “The research says that people who go through horrible experiences but keep it to themselves suffer more, not less.” Sharing the load with others can help lighten the load. Caring, compassion for ourselves and others will lighten the load.  Recognizing how the trauma has affected us can change so much for us all. But even more is needed, more ways of speaking.

 

The DT and GOP attack on our rights and freedom has been building since Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem.  Government is the problem.” Fareed Zakaria, in his book Ten Lessons for A Post-Pandemic World says anti-Federal feeling and distrust in centralized government is in the DNA of this nation and Reagan re-invigorated that sentiment. After all, the American Revolution was a revolt against a King.

 

But Reagan also re-invigorated a concentration of wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands. So his assault on government actually was a masked assault on democracy. It was an assault on the power of the people in favor of the power of the few, the rich. It was in favor of people who want to be kings⎼ or dictators. Or who want a dictator to rule.

 

This anti-federal feeling also led many people to not participate in government. In 2020, we had the highest rate of citizen participation in recent history, 66.7% of eligible voters voted in the presidential election. This was the best turnout since the early 1960s. That means that even in this most meaningful and contentious election, about one-third of adult Americans didn’t (or weren’t allowed to) vote⎼ or speak. According to the Pew Research Center, the U. S. is 30th out of 35 developed democratic nations in terms of the percentage of people who voted in recent years. Since voting is the primary voice of the people, we were censored by ourselves or our government.

 

Our representatives are supposed to represent the interests of all citizens, but they don’t always do that and we’re in trouble if we think of democracy as letting our representatives do all the governing for us. Nor can we allow the GOP to win by preventing us from voting. For example, the lawyers for the Arizona GOP in a Supreme Court case admitted recently that without suppressing the vote, they lose.

 

Many of us hope and/or expect President Biden will get pandemic relief passed, protect voting rights, re-build infrastructure, re-structure health care, free young (and older) people from overwhelming debt from schooling, end Global Warming⎼ and end the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, end the concentration of privilege and power in the white, rich and male (that has existed ever since, or before, our nation’s founding). Do we intend to hold him responsible if it all doesn’t happen, and quickly? Or hold democracy itself responsible? The GOP would love that.

 

On FB recently there was a meme saying, basically, “Why did we elect Biden if he can’t even get us a guaranteed minimum wage of $15 an hour?”  Why? We know why. Four years of DT is why. Just look at how Biden is managing the pandemic. Despite all the challenges, he is assuming responsibility, one thing DT never did, and doing it with compassion and competence, while recognizing the need to fight inequities in our health care system and government.

 

Biden is a president, not a dictator or wannabee dictator. To pass the New Deal, F. D. R. needed not only Congressional action but the support of the people. And in February the research firm SurverMonkey reported 72% of Americans supported not only pandemic relief but most of Biden’s recovery plan.

 

But as Fareed Zakaria pointed out, our legislative system only works when there’s a willingness amongst our representatives to work cooperatively and to compromise. This isn’t the situation today. The GOP have made cooperation almost impossible. 147 of the GOP in Congress voted to overturn the 2020 election and a few still refuse to recognize that Biden won. Some even assisted in or supported the 1/6/21 assault on our nation, assisted in an attempt at a coup. They are a coup itching to happen.

 

We are still recovering from DT and we need a break. But the forces lined against Biden are powerful and desperate. So, let’s support his efforts while pressuring him to foster policies that sincerely meet our needs. We have a new administration that is more inclined to listen to us and do what serves us, so let’s take advantage of this opportunity. Led by Black Lives Matter protests against the murder of George Floyd, racist policing, and the policies of DT, Americans created the biggest sustained protest movement in modern American history. Millions of voices together can help turn this system around.

 

As we take responsible action to change the state of the nation, to make calls to Congress and find other ways to speak, we consequently act to overcome the trauma of DT and change the state of our hearts and minds.

 

**This post was syndicated by the Good Men Project.

 

 

 

Amidst the Rubble, Flowers Grow

When we’re quarantined with one person, together day in and day out, what happens or can happen between us?

 

The pandemic, magnified by the negligence and mismanagement by the DT administration, has led to isolation and anxiety; it has cost almost one-half a million American lives and over 10 million jobs. It has upset the entire way millions of people live. And losing jobs, losing homes, losing in-person in-school instruction, for example, is not just an inconvenience. It is an unquestioned loss, of stability, of hope, and of income.

 

But can we, at least with our loved ones, re-imagine our time together? Many of us have already begun to do so. Our lives have been simplified. I’m retired and live with just my wife and pets and this is clearly true for me. Are we “stuck” together while quarantined from others? Or are we privileged? If we have less to do and fewer distractions, maybe we can get closer to those we live with instead of taking our fear out on each other. Frightening as it has often been, maybe we can learn to see ourselves and each other more directly and kindly.

 

D. E. Harding, in his book, On Having No Head: Zen and the Re-Discovery of the Obvious, proposes ways to directly encounter our true self. Many of us imagine we are our memories, habits, a self with a head and body standing at a distance and separate from what we see. But one day Harding saw himself differently. He was actually walking in the Himalayas, the sky and air absolutely clear, and suddenly “all mental chatter died down.” Just looking around was completely absorbing. He forgot who he was. Past and future disappeared.

 

And when he looked internally, where he thought his head should be, he instead saw the clear blue sky, the outward scene where his eyes were pointed. He realized he “had lost a head and gained a world.” Or where a head should be situated, he carried the mountains and sky.

 

Imagine looking through a tube, one eye on one end, and our spouse, best friend, lover looking in the other. Eye to eye. This is a startling way to lose a head and gain an intimacy. (The exercise was inspired by Harding but created by Richard Lang, who led workshops worldwide on Harding’s teachings. See the article in the Spring 2021 Tricycle Magazine by Michael Haederle.)

 

There are similar meditation exercises. In sitting position, face another person, eyes to eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Together.

 

What do we see when we look in the tube or we face another person directly?

 

Every morning when I get up, after I put on my pants, I go downstairs to look for my wife. 90% of the time she is up before me. I find her in the kitchen or den. And I greet her cheerfully. It’s a promise I make to myself. No matter how well or poorly I sleep I am happy to see her. “Good morning. How are you? How did you sleep? What a day this is!” Being happy with her, I am happy with myself.

 

It’s almost a ritual, or a song we sing to make our house a home. No matter who any of us live with ⎼ children, parents, friends ⎼ or we’re alone, we can adapt the lyrics to fit the situation. But as best we can, make the tune loving, so we wake up to what’s most important ⎼ the nourishment love and kindness give us…..

 

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

The Cold of Winter, the Heat of Summer, and our Neighbors are not Abstractions

It’s snowing again. It has snowed heavily for a day or two, lightly for over a week. More snow. More cold.

 

Yet, it’s beautiful. White flakes fill the sky. When the wind speaks, the flakes whip around, the air itself excited.

 

How can we look at the snow and simply enjoy it, see only the white flakes, and see no other time but this? Back in November, the first snowfall was exciting. I couldn’t help but let my eyes delight in it. But now?

 

The snow and cold is what we mean by winter. Winter is not just a date on a calendar and time not just an abstraction. Dogen Zenji, a 13th century Japanese Zen teacher said, in reference to spring, “The time we call spring blossoms directly as an existence called flowers.” The time we call winter falls directly as an existence called snow. If we don’t like the cold, we can’t suddenly decide to love it, but we can love the fact that we can feel. Then, although we won’t suddenly warm up, rip off our winter clothes and run naked in the snow, we can be naked in our response and dress accordingly.

 

When we feel something we don’t like or that threatens us or is hurtful, we turn away. This is crucial to our survival. And when the threat is ongoing, we might want to turn away from anything or everything that reminds us of the danger. This can give us needed relief whether we’re facing immediate danger, trauma, or a malignant political administration.

 

But also crucial is noticing⎼ are we protecting ourselves from the threat, or from feeling the threat? Or from both? It’s awful to fear our fear so much we can’t see clearly what frightens us. We then don’t take needed action. As much as we are able in each moment, we need to see clearly enough to act.

 

Even though it was cold and snowing, I shoveled the path from my house and then took a walk up our hill. It was tough going. My wife and I live on a fairly steep rural road. A neighbor, who I had gotten to know slightly since I started taking daily walks during the pandemic, was out shoveling. After greeting him, he said to me, “Where is global warming now?” I thought, at first, he said it as a joke, but then realized it was a barb. We had had discussions about the climate before.

 

He said natural events, like volcanic eruptions, magma and the clouds they cause are warming the earth, not humans. I replied that global warming did not mean there would no longer be snow or cold. It meant there has been a raise in average temperature all over the world and an increase in destructive weather events, all happening too fast for it to be explained by volcanoes or other non-human processes.

 

I realized he wasn’t really listening to me and, distressingly, I didn’t have all the facts at hand. So I tried what I thought was common sense. “Isn’t it logical that all the air pollution caused by human manufacturing, fossil fuel energy, etc. would cause problems? That the released gases like carbon dioxide would create a sort of hothouse effect over the earth? And that we bear most of the responsibility for this increase in global temperature?”

Vocanic eruptions

He didn’t seem to know or want to know anything about carbon dioxide. So we switched gears. I wished him a good day and continued on my walk, resolved to go online when I got home to update my knowledge of global warming….

 

To read the whole piece, go to The Good Men Project.

Stories of Crows and People

If We Knew How We Dug Holes in the World, Maybe We Wouldn’t Fall in So Often.

 

 

Two crows come to feed in the yard where my wife scatters food. They sometimes seem to be living metaphors or myths, so black, as they sit on a limb, they’re a hole in the canvas of the sky.

 

Instead of getting domesticated and rushing to the area when she feeds them, the crows come to the yard at unpredictable times, remain independent and constantly alert to us, not quite trusting. Even from inside the house, taking a photo of them is impossible. They know where we are. They are too smart to drop their guard for a payoff of a few seeds.

 

Maybe they don’t want us to observe them too closely, or they refuse to be captured even in a photographic image. Maybe they are just shy. Or maybe they know exactly the dual nature of human beings, how compassionate and yet dangerous we can be.

 

When they spot us inside the house with a camera, they quickly fly off, a mocking tone in their voice, “Not this time.”

 

These crows reflect back to us different shapes of ourselves, show us who is doing the watching as well as what is being observed. Anything can do this service for us, be a crow in this regard. The rain, the wind, thoughts and memories⎼ all crows and mirrors. Maybe we are the black hole. And if we recognize this, we can more easily step through the mirror, Alice Through the Looking Glass, not into Wonderland, but into what’s real in our perceptions. If we know how we dig holes in the world, maybe we won’t fall in so often.

 

In 1970 I was living in New York City. But despite having, at times, three jobs, I had no idea how to make a living. Every job threatened to demolish whatever understanding I had of myself.

 

One day, I was standing towards the front of the old Eighth Street Bookstore in the Village, in the psychology section. In the back were two older people, a man and a woman, dressed in clothes elegantly dark with age and possibly homelessness. The woman seemed almost regal, certainly dignified, the man more like a retired professor, his clothes not as rich and old as hers but equally distinctive. They were holding books in their hands while talking spiritedly. I moved closer, wanting to hear what they were saying. They were in the philosophy section discussing the French existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre. Their accents were Germanic.

 

Over the next few months, I ran into one or both members of this friendship at least three times. I don’t know if I should use the word ‘couple.’ One day, on 7th Avenue, she was alone, with a bowl in her hand, asking people for money. I was surprised to see her. If anyone tried to pretend she wasn’t there, or anyone obviously rich, she’d follow and berate them about how capitalism turns people blind. The third time I saw one or both of them was uptown at a lecture on Thoreau….

 

To read the whole post, please click on this link to The Good Men Project, where it was first published.

Mindfully Healing from Hurt and Feelings of Revenge

Teachers know just how traumatized both adults and children have felt this past year, with all of the political tension and ongoing COVID crisis. As we hope for a more positive year ahead, mindfulness can be the first step in letting go of pain, but it has to be used in a trusting space, with awareness of what we as teachers and our students might be facing.

 

A trauma is an incapacitating form of stress. Stress by itself can be helpful or harmful. But when it is deep and we can’t integrate or face it, it can become traumatic. The DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines a traumatic event as exposure to “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.”

 

In his book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness, David Treleaven makes clear that this exposure can come in many ways, from directly experiencing or witnessing a trauma or from learning about what happened to a relative, loved one or close friend. Children are especially vulnerable. One in four children in the U. S. have experienced physical abuse, one in five sexual. Then we add a pandemic, political instability, and oppression, whether it be sexism or violence directed at one’s gender identity, race or religion, etc. and we have a huge number of people who have suffered from trauma. We have not just a coronavirus pandemic but a pandemic of extreme emotions like hate and a craving for revenge.

 

Teach Compassion and Turn the Classroom into A Compassionate Learning Community:

 

Compassion can include but is more than empathy. It is close to kindness, with the added commitment to taking action to relieve the suffering of others as well as ourselves. It is one of humanity’s greatest strengths. And when it lives in us, the hurt lessens or disappears.  In fact, practicing compassion is a way to skillfully let go of any hurt. By acting with compassion, we walk a bigger road and rediscover our strength.

 

Having students research compassion can be a way for them to teach themselves the benefits. A wonderful resource is the Greater Good Science Center

 

Explore what emotion is and specifically what revenge is.

 

How do we as teachers explore negative or hostile feelings if they arise in class, either online or with in-person instruction, considering the time restraints, stress, degree of trauma, and unique circumstances we face today? [https://www.badassteacher.org/bats-blog/for-blended-teaching-its-not-just-the-covid-its-the-stress-by-dr-michael-flanagan]

 

A useful guideline especially on-line is be short and simple, with processing afterwards and weaving the practice into the subject matter of the day. Before introducing any type of meditation or visualization to our students, we must first practice several times by ourselves and then imagine how specific students would feel doing this type of practice. Provide choices in all aspects of practice, including postures, whether we keep our eyes open or closed, etc.

 

Start with asking questions to stimulate engagement and intellectual curiosity. What is emotion? Feeling? How do you know what you feel? Why have emotions? Work on increasing self-understanding and our ability to calm mind and body and focus through mindfulness. We strengthen ourselves and our students with visualizations, compassion, and other exercises, then apply those practices to better understand the person and situation that hurt us, and how to respond in the most healing fashion.

 

A student once asked me what to do about his “feeling” he needed to take revenge on a classmate. He obsessed over it. Young people can be especially vulnerable to this emotion, as they are so aware and sensitive to how others treat them

 

I told him that it was a difficult question, but like any emotion, the inner push or craving for revenge can seem like it is one humongous stone in our gut that we can’t handle. But it is not one thing and not just a feeling. It is composed of many components that can be broken down so we can handle them.

 

What is emotion? Daniel Siegel makes clear emotion is not just feeling. One purpose of emotion is to tag stimuli with value so we know how to think and act. There are phases in the process of constructing emotion. The first phase is jolting the system to pay attention, what he calls the “initial orienting response.” The second is “elaborative appraisal,” which includes labeling stimuli as good or bad, dangerous or pleasing. We begin to construct meaning and then prepare for action, to either approach or avoid something. This sets up the third step, when our experience differentiates further into categorical emotions like sadness, happiness, or fear. Memory and thoughts are added to feeling and sensation. Teaching about emotion, its uses and how it’s constructed is one of the most important subjects we could teach our students. In fact, it takes up most of my book on teaching compassionate critical thinking.

 

Revenge is a complex of emotions, like anger, hate, humiliation, fear and a sense of being threatened. According to Janne van Doorm, hate, anger, and desire for revenge are similar but have a different focus: “anger focuses on changing/restoring the unjust situation caused by another person, feelings of revenge focus on restoring the self, and hatred focuses on eliminating the hated person/group.” …

 

To read the whole article, please go to MindfulTeachers.Org.

Aging: Finding an Extra Set of Hands, or Added Muscle in Ourselves

Aging is a mystery we can’t solve no matter how much we might desire to do so. We just live it, if we’re lucky. Although it might not always feel so lucky.

 

But maybe, if we could hear the honest truth of how other people lived their aging, we might live our own more gracefully. Maybe. Or at least we would not feel isolated in ourselves.

 

So I’m now reading two very different books, Essays After Eighty by the American poet Laureate, Donald Hall, who lived 1928-2018, and The Selected Poems of Tu Fu, Expanded and Newly Translated, by David Hinton. Tu Fu lived from 712-770 C. E. and many consider him China’s greatest classical poet.

 

Hall’s writing feels very personal to me, partly because I took a creative writing class with him when I was in College. The class was engaging, challenging. At times afterwards, I contacted him to talk about my own writing or how to get published. And years later, he gave a talk at a nearby college and we reconnected. I was so surprised he remembered me.

 

We can hold such contradictory and frightening notions. We can both want to know, and yet, not know⎼ what will happen to us next week? Next year? When will we die? We can think of each decade as an actual thing, a door we pass through. “I’m thirty now…seventy, eighty, ninety.” But the door has only the solidity we give it. As Hidy Ochiai⎼ world renowned master and master teacher of the traditional Japanese martial arts, who is still teaching in his eighties and with whom I have studied for many years⎼ put it: “We’re not old. We’re just getting older.”

 

Hall says, “However alert we are, however much we think we know what will happen, antiquity remains an unknown, unanticipated galaxy. It is alien, and old people are a separate form of life.” And as we age, we enter and deconstruct that alien universe.

 

“My problem isn’t death but old age. I fret about my lack of balance, my buckling knee, my difficulty standing up and sitting down…. I sit daydreaming about what I might do next.”

 

Maybe we don’t worry often about death, but we feel it more and more, somewhere behind us and getting closer. Sometimes, we just stop, lost in thought about what to do next or whether we have already done all we need to do. We wonder how well we will be able to walk, get around. How independent. In the U. S., independence, vulnerability or lack of control is one of our greatest fears.

 

Yet so many of us say we don’t feel old. Even in our seventies, we imagine we’re thirty. I notice it is more difficult now to get up after doing floor exercises. One reason I work out daily is to stay as young in body and mind as I can, to stay limber, healthy. The aches I feel afterward are almost pleasurable, a reminder I am here….

 

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

A Holiday Wish: Ending the Deeper Dark

It’s snowing. Large flakes lazily fall. But in the distance, some light breaks through dark grey clouds.

 

News reports say tomorrow in the late afternoon, a snowstorm will develop. A large storm will be carrying over a foot of snow to the Northeast, maybe the biggest storm in the last few years.

 

Such storms generate great anticipation and emotion. Especially early in the season, there’s excitement along with trepidation. We wonder if the storm will really appear. Is the excitement, and danger, as real as we hope or fear? We often get so caught up in the human social world we forget the power of the universe that cradles us. Such storms can wake us up to this fact.

 

In normal years, we’d also wonder⎼ will schools be closed? This year everything is different. What will the effect of the snow be on remote learning? We will marvel at what nature can do, but many schools (and too many businesses) are already closed, at least to in-person attendance.

 

As we enter the darkest time of the year here in the northern hemisphere, we leave behind an even deeper darkness, a more intense cold. The pandemic, which is now killing more people per day than the 9/11 attacks, may by summer be ended due to vaccines and the policies of a new administration. The incitements to hate, violence, and attempted destruction of our voting system by the present President will be replaced with a true concern for others. For the last 4 years, DT has shown us what an utter lust for power can do to our nation, shown us the darkness and division that descends on people when a ruler is concerned only for himself.

 

But as we move toward the solstice and the darkest day of the year, we are moving also toward the spring. The winter reminds us we can endure and act.

 

I guess this is one reason I write blogs. It is a wish made physical and sent out into the universe to make explicit there is reason to hope, love, and care.

 

President-Elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated January 20th, although just saying it, making it real like that, excites yet scares me. I don’t want to jinx it….

 

**To read the whole piece, click on this link to The Good Men Project, where it was first published.

Happiness and Questioning: Replacing Malignance with Loving, Greed with Compassion, Ignorance with Insight

How can we have any sense of happiness in ourselves during a pandemic, when so many are sick, and we fear getting sick ourselves? And the nation, for another 47 days or so, is still led by someone most of us recognize as malignant, ignorant of the very idea of caring for the lives and well-being of others. When a nation is led by a person who speaks and acts as DT does, every day is an assault on our lives and our humanity⎼ on our sense of compassion, love, and beauty.

 

Or every day asks us how can we create, right now, a sense of strength and caring amidst the chaos and sickness? How can we, knowing what we know, find happiness in our lives? What can we do to liberate our heart instead of allowing a would-be oppressor to subvert it? What is the payoff and what is the price for not asking or answering such questions? There is a letting go, a release needed here that I haven’t yet found.

 

In the Winter 2020 Issue of Buddhadharma, the Practitioner’s Quarterly, Akincano Weber, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, talks about “Radical Attention,” the attention needed to touch the earth in a specific place, or a specific person or situation, and discern in it a universal truth. He talks about approaches, “life-hacks” that can help us do this, one of which is skillful questioning.

 

Think about questions. Did a question ever stick in your mind and you couldn’t let go of it? They can act as hypnotic suggestions. Ask the right question and you receive what? Attention. Your mind is directed, not just to some place, but possibly to the act of searching itself. Questions can focus the mind very narrowly, on one place, or on every place, the tree or the forest.

 

To answer a question we must leave behind any exclusive focus on self-concern or we never get to the object of concern itself. We must immerse ourselves in wherever the question takes us, live there so we can feel what that place is like, think from that perspective, and then move on. Such questioning can open us up to other practices which help us keep in our mind and heart the larger whole from which we are never separate.

 

Love, obviously, can also do this, switch us from “me” to “you,” self to other. I am sitting now with two of my cats and watch them sleeping. One of them, Milo, turns over, exposing his belly, and puts his front paws over his eyes. This gesture of his just floors me every time. The cats lie there, trusting me enough to be vulnerable. They want to be with me. Suddenly, I feel totally different. Because I love them, I feel loved in return. They mirror back to me my own feeling. Because I am open to them, they reveal myself to me….

 

To read the whole post, please click on this link to The Good Men Project, where it was published.