$2.49 a Gallon!

mitt-pumping-his-own-gasSo declared the man on the other side of the gas pump last night. The amount represented at least a twenty cent increase from the day before. It was late, and although I am usually more diplomatic than this I responded, “Assassination is expensive!” He looked rather shocked, and I surmised that we didn’t share the same political perspective – or the same perspective on reality. I wished him well and put my hose away.

One of the key principles of Buddhism is known as dependent co-arising. It’s the idea that everything that happens is caused by a number of other factors. On a simple level, when you plant seeds in the ground in the spring they will need good soil, rain, and sunshine in the right amounts for the seed to grow. If you reverse the process, you can surmise that if you water good soil and the sun shines on it, if there is anything in the soil waiting to grow, it will. This is the origin of the weeds that cause people like me to stop gardening!

Whether we are national leaders or just trying to manage our lives, we need to recognize dog crappingthat everything we do has a kind of ripple effect and generates consequences. Let your dog crap on the neighbors lawn and the odds are you won’t have a friendly relationship with that neighbor. Parking your car in front of your neighbor’s garage will have the same effect. Grab women by their genitals and you might end up being President of the United States. These things don’t always make a whole lot of sense, but we do know without a doubt that since none of us lives in a vacuum, actions do have consequences – intended and otherwise.

Before we act, and before we support potential actions of our leaders, we should consider the realities of dependent co-arising. Oh, and gas at that same station today is $2.35, reminding us of another truth of Buddhism – Impermanence.

The End of Hate

I find it amazing that, in a civilized society, it would be necessary to write this post. Although we may at one time have been a civilized society, we have slipped off the mark in an orgy of selfishness that is the result of a profound distortion and perversion of rugged individualism.

The first time I wrote this post, about four hours before the second time, it was very different that the post you are about to read. Then I read something from Pema Chodron that made me see that I was way off base. I was going to tell you how we could stop people from hurting other people and stop the ignorance that caused hate. Those are good and noble goals I still endorse, but my thinking was all wrong.

hate-has-no-home-here-bumper-english-print-2-2Have you ever been forced to do something? As children we all were, or at the very least we were forced to not do something we wanted to do. How did you respond? You probably complied at the time, and then once whoever told you not to do the thing wasn’t looking you did it anyway. When I was young I heard Richard Prior tell a story about his uncle telling him, “Don’t ever eat a pussy, boy.” Richard admitted that as a result of that instruction he couldn’t wait to do precisely that! The truth is when I heard the story as a young teenager, I couldn’t wait to do the same thing – once I figured out what it was!

Can you see the irony in that when we want someone to stop doing something that hurts people our first instinct is to force them to stop? And can you see from your own experience just how ineffective that strategy is? Most of us have probably seen someone protesting war with an angry expression on their face. While we might not be able to articulate right away why that leaves us feeling uncomfortable, the fact is we are uncomfortable with the incongruence between a person’s behavior and their message. A parishioner of mine used to say, “that’s like screwing for chastity!”

If we want to change wht we see as negative behavior, in ourselves or in others, we needdalai_lama_10_15_2012 to understand why the behavior occurs. Maybe the person feels misunderstood, or ignored, or cheated, or that they have been the victim of injustice. Negative behavior and belief almost always originates because the actor feels hurt. The precise cause isn’t all that important when formulating a response.

I always shake my head when I hear people who have expressed admiration for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, or the Pope, or any of the great spiritual teachers turn around and advocate violent intervention or forcibly restraining people who do things with which they don’t agree. I’m not talking about someone who poses an immanent threat to the physical well being of another, they do need to be restrained. I’m talking about Republicans, or Democrats, or Protestants, or Catholics, or Chicago Bears fans, all of whom might be seen to have taken on an unreasonable belief that is detrimental to others, or in the case of Bears fans to themselves. I’m talking also about antisemites, bigots, racists, NRA members, abortion protesters, and any number of objectionable characters who act out in ways we find unacceptible. If you want to lock these people up or force them to do as you wish, you don’t really respect the spiritual leaders you claim to respect. You haven’t listened to them.

The only thing that heals emotional pain is love and acceptance. The only way I can heal you is to heal myself, too. We need to learn to avoid knee jerk reactions, to avoid criticizing the person of the other even when I disagree with their behavior, and to always look for way to reconcile and make the other person whole again. As the great Hindu master Neem Karoli Baba taught, never put anyone out of your heart. This take a tremendous amount of practice and patience. We better start right now!

No More Crusades

As I wrote the title of this post, it occurred to me that the word “crusade” has three uses in contemporary spiritual culture, and so my title might lead to some confusion. I’m not beyond using a little confusion to attract readers, so rather than change it I thought I might explain it.

black knightThe historical sense of “crusade” hearkens back to medieval times and the unfortunate wars undertaken by the Church in an attempt to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslin powers that held it. While there were a few jewels in the rough during these times, from a contemporary perspective they were horrific, genocidal undertakings by a Church more concerned with temporal power that spiritual concerns. These are not the crusades to which I refer.

Then there are crusades of the type that Billy Graham and others undertook. While thereCrusade-Cities-Featured isn’t anything wrong with this sort of crusade (if you’re into that sort of thing), I never have and never will set out on one.

The crusades to which I refer are the ones to right what’s wrong, to challenge the status quo, to get the [metaphorical] troops fired up to do [metaphorical] battle in the great arena of social justice. Mind you, I still believe in these crusades and I will still occasionally write about these topics, but not with the zeal of a younger man who perhaps foolishly believes he can change the world. These past few years have taught me that the world may well be fucked up beyond my ability to help it recover in an activist sort of way.

Many years ago when I worked as a field service engineer on diagnostic ultrasound equipment, a very insightful man named Dick Cline summed up the difference between sales and service people in this way. He said that when a sales person hears, “no,” they get excited and see it as a challenge. When a service person hears, “no,” they pack up their stuff and leave. As he spoke those words, I knew that I was a service person. I don’t like wasting a lot of time trying to convince people to do the right thing. I will happily identify the right thing, explain why it’s the right thing, and offer suggestions about how best to implement it. If you want to argue with me about why the wrong thing is the right thing, I’m just going to pack up my stuff and go home. There are other people who will be more than happy to fight the good fight, and I will leave it to them.

angry (1)Why? There are two reasons I feel this way. The first is that crusades simply don’t work in a country already profoundly divided and profoundly angry. The result is that campaigns and crusades end up preaching to the choir, reinforcing the views of those who already agree with the crusade but causing those with differing views to simply become more entrenched. The second is that, from a spiritual perspective, I feel our time is much better spent by trying to rebuild fractured relationships and thereby start a much needed healing process. That will in turn provide the foundation for the change that is needed. Of course, you can feel free to disagree – just don’t expect me to debate it with you.

Life in the big city

I happened on a young couple the other day. In front of their building were several shell casings accompanied by evidence markers, several police cars, and a liberal application of yellow crime scene tape. It was about eight-thirty in the morning and the police had been there a short time. The shooting happened at one in the morning. Trusting that the high-tech system that locates gun shots would locate the problem and not wanting to become a target themselves, nobody called the police in the middle of the night. Luckily for the intended victim, he was not in his car smoking weed (as is his practice) when the shooters came by looking shell casings and markersfor him, but his windows were so deeply tinted they thought he was inside. The weapon seems to have been a fully automatic 9mm.

The couple’s young son, whom the mother told me had a great sensitivity about what she called “energy shifts” in the neighborhood, had asked to sleep on the floor when they went to bed. After the shooting, they all moved to the floor, the intended victim’s car having been parked near their bedroom window. They know the target from seeing him in the neighborhood and said that, although they knew it was wrong to judge people by appearances, he seemed to be a shady character. They also said he was now lying low somewhere unknown, and hoped that the shooters wouldn’t return.

The mother shared with me that they had repeatedly moved to different parts of the city trying to avoid this sort of things, but everywhere they moved it seemed there were shootings nearby. The father recognized the police department evidence technician from seeing him at other shootings, and they exchanged greetings and pleasantries. This is what passes for normal in our cities, and the truth is that we always have more than enough money to fight wars but never enough money to address the issues in our cities. We need to be clear that is a choice, and that choice is negatively impacting our children – killing them, in fact – while our politicians prostitute themselves to the military hookerindustrial complex.

Meanwhile in Milwaukee politicians are announcing increased efforts to curb prostitution, doubtless in an attempt to clean up the city for the Democratic National Convention next year. After all, you can’t have the low rent prostitutes cluttering up the streets when the professional whores have their convention…

Looking Forward

As a people, we love looking back, but looking back is a mixed bag. The elderly love to reminisce, as I learned when I worked in long-term care. You cannot turn around in a long-term care facility without seeing a copy of a magazine dedicated to reminiscing! I have wondered if there is a hidden, archetypal truth in that folks with dementia tend to forget in reverse – the newer things first and the oldest things last.

looking backAs a trauma survivor, I have a problem in that trauma impacts memory. In layman’s terms, trauma is a terrible file clerk. Our trauma impacted brain essentially misfiles memories to make room for coping with the crisis at hand. Unless and until we address the impact of our trauma, it will seem to us that we don’t remember much about our past because our memories are hidden in the wrong file cabinet. As we go through the work of therapy, our memories gradually return because we have hired a new file clerk to sort through the tangled mess left by the trauma clerk. I know this to be true because I have experienced it.

For some of us, however, our memories and the past they represent become a prison. The door to our cell is unlocked and we are free to walk out, but we keep pulling it closed. I believe this happens because it is much easier to see ourselves as the enraged, offended party whose life circumstances are outside our control. The problem is that perspective, while perhaps necessary for a time as we come to understand how we got in the situation in which we find ourselves, becomes a self-imposed prison that limits and eventually destroys us. Many of us have seen the angry, red-faced protester screaming for peace, unable to move past their anger at past injustices to effectively work for the peace they deeply desire. looking forward

If we are going to be the change we want to see in the world, as Gandhi suggested, we are going to have to surrender our obsession with the past. To do that, we have to give up all hope of the past ever being different than it was. We can, and should, clearly state what was wrong about the past so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past in the future, but we cannot continue to dwell in the past if we are going to have a future. To do so is to leave that ineffective file clerk in charge of the office and continue to repeat the same mistakes, all the while mystified as to why nothing changes! There is a word for that letting go of the past, that choosing not to spend all of our time seeking to change what cannot be changed and demanding reparations that will never be paid. That word is forgiveness.

Discarding What’s Not True

Most of us, I would even venture to say all of us, have been told things about ourselves that are not true. Sometimes we were told these things due to an honest mistake. Other times people wanted to manipulate us or to get their way. Some of us have encountered evil personified, a person wanting to do damage to us for reasons that are not clear. Even if those reasons were clear, they would not be sufficient to justify what happened to us.

crazy-woman-angry-look-her-face-31397102The way out of this lies in the old adage that the truth will set you free. By asking ourselves some questions about what was said, we can begin to move through our pain toward healing. We might ask ourselves, “Is what was said true?” Even if we believed it was true at the time, from today’s perspective we may well see that what was said was not true. If it was true, we then should ask ourselves, “So what?” In other words, is this truth really something bad? In my case, I was repeatedly and drunkenly told that my problem was that I was a “goddamn adolescent.” In point of fact, I was an adolescent. The statement was true, but the rage and accusatory tone with which it was delivered was not justified by the truth that I was an adolescent. Neither were the seemingly endless hours it was repeated at full volume, with great regularity, for hours in a drunken rage at our family dinner table.

Often times we need the help of a trained counselor to help us with this work. We need to see that there was no substance to our “crimes,” and to stop believing the people accusing us were in any way right. I would even say we need to come to the place where we see no merit whatsoever in that person’s opinion so we can begin the hard work of deciding who we really are. It’s a long road, but it begins with the truth – which will set us free!

 

Civil Discourse

As anyone who has been even remotely aware of the current election cycle is only too aware, civil discourse seems to be a thing of the past in America. Gone are the days when we could agree to disagree and still be friends. The old joke about the note in the margin of Image result for angry discoursethe preacher’s sermon text (“point weak, pound pulpit here”) seems to have been adapted by the public at large. Somewhere along the way it became the case that volume is more important than facts or reasoning. This will only change if and when we decide to change it, and we must begin by changing ourselves.

We must be gentle with ourselves and others. That includes being gentle about what we allow ourselves to take in via the media. So-called “Reality TV” is nothing more that drivel that conditions us to believe that poor behavior is acceptable and entertaining. Stop watching it and it will go away. Never speak when angry. Consider what you are going to say before you say it and ask yourself the three big questions:

  1. Is it kind?
  2. Is it true?
  3. Is it necessary?

If you can’t answer all three questions with “yes,” don’t say it.

Save every email you write for at least an hour, then reread it. If you still think it meets the above three criteria, then push “send.” Don’t air your dirty laundry on social media, and don’t believe what you read on the Internet without finding external verification. Limit your television time, read books instead, and go for a walk. These few simple steps can make a very big difference!