Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Where There Is Injury, Pardon

last week i became quite angry with a person who is in charge of an organization to which i belong.  after being out of town for almost three weeks, i felt that i should make a point to attend a meeting of this group.  i had missed several meetings while i was away, and i looked forward to seeing my friends who were also members, as well as participating in the organization's work.  when i showed up at the meeting place at the appointed time, i was greeted by a leader of the group who told me that the meeting had been cancelled because the paid head of the organization was out of town taking care of personal business.  a few other members had shown up, but most of the members had been informed either by email or in person that the meeting would not be taking place.

i was livid that i had wasted my time preparing for the meeting and traveling across town to attend, having arranged my day so that i would be free to attend, even though i had many other tasks that needed to be done at home.  i let the person who greeted me know how angry i was.   i reminded her that the paid employee who is in charge of this organization is often absent for personal reasons and frequently cancels meetings with little or no notice.  i said that i was tired of working in the organization when the paid staff member didn't seem to care whether the organization succeeded or failed, and i would not be returning to this group's meetings or continue my membership in the group.

i returned home and was angry for the rest of the evening.  when i awoke the next morning, i was upset with myself for giving in to anger and frustration and taking it out on another person, who simply was the messenger who told me about the meeting's cancellation.  i knew that i owed her an apology and as soon as it was late enough in the morning, i called her to apologize.  she was very gracious and said she understood how i felt.  she said she frequently felt the same way about the paid head of the organization, but she had known how this person conducted her business before taking the role she played in the group's leadership and had resigned herself to the salaried employee's frequent absences.  she told me that she hoped i would reconsider my decision to resign from the organization but understood if i persisted in my decision.

as i've thought about my outburst, i have been filled with regret for having allowed myself the luxury of becoming angry and taking my anger out on an innocent bystander, "shooting the messenger" so to speak.  as i've said the words of my morning meditation, i've been reminded of how i failed to put the words into practice.  each morning, i pledge myself not to become angry or speak badly of another, not to be rude, but in this instance i didn't live up to my words.  much of what i said and my action in resigning my membership in the organization is justified because of the leader's failure to take her paid position seriously and lead effectively, but the way in which i went about expressing myself was not justified.  i've done what i could to make amends, and i've renewed my determination to turn from anger and the actions that flow from it.  when i have the opportunity, i hope that i can express myself reasonably, dispassionately, and with kindness, while still conveying my reasons for leaving the group with honesty.

may we forgive ourselves when we fail to live up to our ideals.  may we realize that we all make mistakes.  may we learn from those mistakes and use them to reinforce the pledges we make to live ethically and with lovingkindness and compassion.  may our failings point us to a future in which we are less prone to anger and one that is not filled with regrets for expressing our feelings in an unhelpful way.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

We Fly Just Like Birds of a Feather

yesterday a cousin and her husband came to visit.  they live about five hours away and were in the area to visit one of his relatives as well.  this cousin and i were close as children.  she is about a year older than i am and grew up in the same town where my maternal grandparents lived, so when i went to visit my grandparents every summer, we spent lots of time together.  we would play canasta and monopoly with her friends, go swimming, and to the movie.  as we got older, we naturally grew apart.  though she was only a year older than me, she was two grades ahead of me in school, and in high school two grades is a lot.

she married when she was in her late teens, and after that i didn't see much of her.  she and her husband moved away and our times together as children became distant memories.  her husband began drinking and, after a few years of marriage, they divorced.  some time after that, she married her current husband.  still, i only saw her during family holiday celebrations and at funerals.  when her father, my mother's brother, became ill, i saw more of her as she came to visit her parents to help her mother with her father.  by that time we had moved to the town where her parents lived, the same town in which i had played with her as a child and where my mother and her brothers had grown up.

i was with her father in the hospital when he died.  my cousin and her mother had left for a few minutes to grab some lunch, and they were so thankful that i had been there so my uncle didn't die alone.  no one expected him to go so soon, though we all knew that he wouldn't leave the hospital this time.  for several years after that, my wife and i spent lots of time with my cousin's mother, since we lived in the same town and saw much more of my cousin, since she came with greater frequency to check on her mother.  because of seeing each other more often and because my wife and i had become such close friends with my aunt, my childhood friendship with my cousin was rekindled.

when we traveled, we often went through the town where she lives now, and we would stop by to visit as we passed through.  we've stayed in close contact, and now when we're together we love to reminisce about our time together as children and about our large extended family.  we had great christmas get-togethers at the home of my grandparents when all our aunts, uncles, and cousins would be there, and the three of us who are the oldest of the cousins have stayed in close contact over the past several years.

it amazes me that we still feel bound together by our shared memories and long for those times long ago when we were carefree children who spent long hours playing board games and pretend games, building tents under card tables and building forts in our grandparents' back yard.  we remember taking turns sitting on the ice cream freezer on a hot summer afternoon while our parents took turns cranking the freezer or gorging ourselves with watermelon while the juice ran down our chins and over our shirts or running through the sprinklers to cool off in those days before air conditioning.  in those days we all lived either in the same town or near enough for frequent visits.  i wouldn't take anything for these wonderful memories and the friendships i share with my cousin who visited us yesterday and the other cousin with whom we stay in contact, though we don't see him very often because he lives about 800 miles away from us.

seeing my cousin reminds me of the importance of family, and the lessons we learned as children about caring for one another within the family.  may we each value those special bonds that tie us together, bonds that stretch across generations and distances.  may we remember that we are tied to every living thing in much the same way, that all of us are part of a great family.  may we nurture those who surround us, whether related to them by blood or not.  may we see every person as our father, mother, brother, sister, child, aunt, uncle, and cousin, seeking to love each as if we had grown up together in a family relationship.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Once I Built A Tower to the Sun

while with my brother to address his health issues, i went out to visit some relatives in their new home in the retirement community where they now live.  while there, they took me on a tour of the housing development in which they live and of the small town of which it is a part.  the contrast between their area and the town itself was stark.  the "city-within-a-city" that is now their home is filled with beautiful homes with manicured lawns, walking and bike trails, an elaborate community center with indoor and outdoor pools and tennis courts.  once we left their area and went into the town proper, we saw a large county courthouse, a huge county jail, more bail bondsmen than i ever saw in one location, a few pretty historic buildings, a huge library (more about that later), and what seemed to be hundreds of squalid homes packed together on neglected streets.

as we drove past the homes of people who obviously lived in extreme poverty,  the husband of the couple that took me on the tour commented that "there were probably ten illegals living in every one of them" and later said, "you can see where all our tax money goes."  i was appalled that, rather than seeing the injustice that had consigned the town's original residents to such deplorable living conditions, he saw moochers living off government welfare and criminals who had entered the country by clandestine means, even though i had not seen a single hispanic person in the area.  his comments echo the thinking of so many in our country now: "i'm well off because i worked hard and am reaping the benefits of my hard work, while those who live in poverty choose to do so in order to collect money from the government--money they don't deserve."

the reality of the area that has produced this poverty is that this was a former cotton farming area, dominated by large plantations on which the ancestors of those who live in the town labored for low pay in order to enrich large landholders.  most likely, there was a large slave population before the civil war that fared little better after the war freed them.  the beautiful huge library was funded by and named after one of these wealthy families, as is a catholic community center in the poor part of town.  this family continues to hold much of the land surrounding the town, but they and others like them appear to have done little else to improve the living conditions that they created for most of the town's residents.

there is obviously a high rate of crime, given the size of the county jail and the plethora of bail bondsmen that surround it.  this is typical of many areas of our country, and those of us who live in more affluent areas forget that such situations still exist.  it is the product of our roots in condoning the vile practice of slavery that continues to stain our culture and our propensity for blaming the victims of our social system rather than recognizing the forces that made them victims.  we continue to ignore the growing income equality here at our peril.  a day of reckoning will come unless we take steps to address the situation soon, and i hope that we use the power of the ballot box to put people in office who see a vision of our nation as one in which all people should have the opportunity to pursue happiness and where none go hungry or live without proper shelter and medical care.

may we see our own culpability in the creation of the current state of affairs.  may we do what we can to set things right and to help those who are powerless.  may all of our people have access to the resources that are now controlled by a few.  may we treat all people with compassion and respect, recognizing that there are many of us who live well because others have been impoverished.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

One Great Fellowship of Love

this week i am away from home because my brother had a serious health setback at the end of last week and needed my sister and me to come help him.  i am staying at the home of another relative who is out of town this week, while my sister stays with my brother in his apartment.  both my sister and brother have had life-threatening, debilitating health issues over the past few years, but my sister has largely recovered, while the problems seem to keep piling on for my brother.

as i sit this morning, i think about the suffering my brother is experiencing.  at the time in his life when he should be able to relax in his retirement and enjoy life, he is fighting to keep going.  financial and health issues cause him constant suffering.  each time he seems to be emerging from one crisis, another occurs.  he finds obstacle after obstacle in his path, and there seems to be no way forward.  he is a good person, a kind person, a lover of animals, a rescuer of abandoned dogs.   what life has handed him is undeserved, but he perseveres, though he is sometimes overwhelmed as he was when struck by this latest series of difficulties.

perhaps the presence of my sister and i will help him in his struggle.  i know that my sister is a calming, stabilizing influence, and i know that his son, who has been working with all his might to maintain his work schedule, care for his own family, and help his father as much as possible is glad that he has some help for a couple of weeks.  having some assistance in negotiating the complications of the medical system, in doing some planning for his care, and in finding some solutions to the financial problems that major medical issues can bring may give my brother some hope that life will not always be this way for him.

it is hard to think rationally when there is so much irrationality in life.  to detach oneself from the emotional responses to situations like what my brother is facing so that one can establish priorities, tackle the pieces of the puzzle one at a time, and figure out what will work requires an approach that isn't easy to come by, but such detachment is necessary.  so as my sister deals with the emotions involved in these difficulties that my brother faces, perhaps his son and i can work to find a way forward that addresses the physical and financial parts of the situation with logic so that the end result is a better life for him.

after we've railed at the injustices of life, may we also see its beauty.  may we remember that suffering is our universal experience, but so is joy.  may we bond together to help each other, because we can't go it alone.  may we know that life was meant to be a communal experience, each of us helping those around us along the path.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Find the Frame Where We Are Freed

after thinking about the essentials of having confidence and taking refuge in the teachings of jesus in my last post, i've tried to think about the teachings of the buddha that are essential for me.  i'm reluctant to write about buddhist teachings because i have so much less experience with them, but what i've learned about siddhartha gautama and the teachings that grew from his life and practice have had great meaning for me over the past few years.  here is a brief summary of those teachings:

  • change is the only constant in life.
  • suffering is the universal experience of all persons.
  • the root causes of our suffering are our penchant for craving that which we do not have and clinging to that which we do have, believing that having more will bring greater happiness.  this belief is false.
  • compassion and lovingkindness are the source of true happiness.
  • we are all essentially the same.
  • we are not our thoughts.
  • we have the capacity to become more aware and to grow spiritually and intellectually.
  • life happens in the present, not in rationalization of the past or by imagining a perfect future.
  • the daily practice of meditation, of quieting the mind and focusing on the present, is essential for spiritual growth.
  • increasing our mindful attention to the present leads to a peaceful, happy, and purposeful life.

it is difficult to reduce any belief system to a few essentials, but these above and the summary of jesus' teachings that i made last week are the core of what is essential for me as i live my day-to-day life.  they are what i remind myself of at the start of each day and try to remember and practice throughout each day.

may each of us think deeply about what our most basic beliefs.  may our lives demonstrate our beliefs.  may we remember that love and acceptance of the impermanence of life are the keys to happiness.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

All That Is Not True

each day in my morning meditation, i say the phrase, "may i take refuge and place my trust in the teachings of jesus and the buddha."  part of my meditation for the past several days has been on just what the essential teachings of jesus are in which i should put my trust.  so today i will try to summarize those teachings.  i don't believe that jesus is God or even a supernatural being, but i do believe that he and the buddha are the two wisest men who have ever lived.  my thinking about jesus evolves, and the greatest mystery about him for me is his relationship to God.  as a christian, born into a christian family in a culture that is predominantly christian (though becoming less so), identifying as a christian is part of my identity.  i recognize that many christians wouldn't consider me one of their own because of my unorthodox beliefs, but i do consider myself to be a disciple of jesus and know of nothing else to call myself except "christian."

here are the teachings of jesus in which i take refuge and place my trust:

  • God is a god of love, not a god of punishment and vengeance.
  • all people are worthy of love, regardless of their race, religion, gender, and status in society.
  • our calling is to serve others.
  • we are charged with examining our own motives, not with judging the motives of others.
  • we must love without condition.
  • we should forgive easily and not harbor grudges.
  • how we live is more important than having faith in any supernatural being or subscribing to any religion.
  • the living of life in the here and now is what is essential, rather than following a set of rules to insure a happy life in a vague hereafter.
  • the needs of others are more important than a complicated system of beliefs.

this pretty much summarizes my thinking about jesus and the way i aspire to live.  no complex theology is needed, no creed must be subscribed to.  may i take refuge in and trust those teachings.  may each of us find our way to a life of service and lovingkindness.  may we live mindfully, examining our thoughts and the actions that flow from them in the light of their effect on others.  may we use our gift of reason, never accepting any teaching without putting it to the test.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Walking Along the Eightfold Path

on two recent occasions, i've made remarks to my wife that she took exception to, and she's reminded me of them several times since.  i didn't mean the remarks in a hurtful way.  one comment was made in jest, the other out of frustration with myself.  as i've thought about what i said, i've been reminded of how easily words slip out of our mouths with little thought beforehand.  when i spoke, i never considered how what i said might be taken by another person.  i meant no offense or harm, yet i caused both.  it would be easy to shift the fault to my wife, blaming her for taking umbrage needlessly.  yet it is i who is at fault for speaking without mindfulness.

we have a relative who seems to always be mindful when she speaks.  every word is weighed before it is uttered, but it is quite difficult to carry on a conversation with her.  she looks for implied meanings in every sentence she hears, then chooses her words carefully in reply.  this is mindful speech taken to an extreme, and it is painful to her partners in conversation, and, in fact, conversation with her is all but impossible.

how does one speak mindfully without becoming like our relative?  i think the basis for the right speech is to have a right heart.  before one reaches the third step in the eightfold path, there are first right view (or understanding) and next right intention.  from these two qualities, flows right speech, that speech which is never intended to cause harm and which takes into consideration the perception of the object of the speech.  it is the last of these that i failed to consider.  i was not thinking of how my remarks might be perceived by my wife when i spoke.  i know that the harm that i caused will be forgiven and forgotten, because my wife knows that it would be out of character for me to cause harm by my speech, but for the present the hurt is there, though unintended.

this is the wonderful thing about love, especially a love that has matured over more than fifty years.  we know the hearts of one another and have learned to tolerate, even appreciate, the irritating quirks of each other.  we have each ceased trying to control the other and learned to accept each other just as we are.  my wife knows that i would never intentionally harm her, and i know that i would never wish to cause her pain.  words once spoken can never be taken back, one can only apologize and feel remorse for the suffering they cause another.

may we speak mindfully, remembering that there are consequences that arise from our words.  may we know that the old saying, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," is patently false.  may we be aware that words can wound us deeply, and the hurt they cause can take longer to heal than a physical wound.  may our words arise from a heart filled with lovingkindness.  shalom.