Tuesday, May 26, 2020

But Far Beyond Forever

"may i think kindly of others.  may i not get angry or think badly of others."  these sentences, based on words of the dalai lama, are something i say every morning at the beginning of my meditation.  they remind me of words of jesus when he said that we should not attempt to remove a splinter from the eye of another when we have a timber in our own eyes.  he also said that we cause harm to ourselves for all time when we think unkindly of another, that we are to forgive others their wrongs towards us an infinite number of times, that we are to go beyond what is demanded of us in the service of others.  time and again, jesus tells us that the ways we treat others are in essence the way we treat him, that to be great is to be a servant.

one of my goals for the coming weeks is to reframe my thinking about others so that i look for their good qualities, rather than dwelling on their faults.  it is all too easy to think we are building ourselves up by thinking unkindly of others and comparing our strengths to their weaknesses.  there is good at the core of each of us, no matter how badly we behave.  remembering that this is so may help transform another while we change ourselves.

may we work to think kindly of others rather than thinking badly of them.  may we not waste our energies on anger that serves no purpose other than to cause harm.  may our love extend to the most unlovely.   may we be grateful to those who would harm us for giving us an opportunity to practice unconditional love and forgiveness.  shalom.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

A Short Pause

this week i am having a medical procedure and will have to postpone posting anything new to this blog.  perhaps later in the week i will be up to writing.  if not, i will skip posting until tuesday, may 26.  may we all be filled with lovingkindness and compassion, may we be well, may we may we be peaceful and at ease, may we be happy.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Bright as the Sun, Ever Love Glows

this week i want to write about cats and about one cat in particular.  my wife and i are great lovers of cats.  we like dogs, too.  at various times in our lives we have had dogs as part of our household, but dogs have not been a permanent part of our home while cats have.  as a child, my mother would never allow me to have a cat for a pet.  for some reason she had a dislike of cats and always preferred that we have a dog.  my wife, on the other hand, grew up with cats around.  i had always promised myself that i would have a cat when i became independent of my parents and had my own home, so when we moved into our first home after we married, my wife and i soon adopted a cat.  we've always had at least one cat ever since then, except for a period of about and year and a half when we lived in an apartment while i was going to graduate school.

right now we have three cats.  they moved with us when we left our home in the southern part of the state to move to our present home almost three years ago.  one is an older cat that we inherited from our son when we moved away and couldn't have a pet in the apartment he moved into.  another is a cat who adopted us when she was just transitioning from the kitten stage into an adult cat.  we discovered her living underneath our guest house in the back yard and were finally successful in luring out and up to our house with food, a process that took several weeks of gradually moving her food bowl closer and closer to our house.

the third cat, we adopted when he was a kitten.  some friends down the street, who are also cat lovers, had found him living in a flower bed in the park across from our home.  these neighbors had taken him to their house but were unable to get him to stay.  he kept returning to his flower-bed home in the park.  they suggested that we might have more success in moving him to our home.  he was a beautiful kitten but very wary of people.  we were able to capture him by bringing him food.  it took two attempts to get him to stay with us but we were ultimately able to persuade him to make his home with us.

because of his coloration, we named him "greyson."  he remained fearful of people but loved eating more than he feared us.  he never wanted us to pick him up or to pet him and remained aloof from us and the other cats, only joining them at meal times.  once, after he became a young adult, he disappeared for several days.  we were sure he was gone for good, but he reappeared at the cat's feeding spot one day with severe neck injuries.  he had to spend a couple of days in the "cat hospital" but survived his wounds, resuming his old pattern of independence when he came back to us, though he never again strayed from our back yard.

when we moved, we were afraid that we'd never get him to adapt to his new home.  we kept him and the other cats inside our garage for a couple of weeks before letting them out to explore their new territory.  shortly after we moved here, during the period of time when the cats were staying in the garage full time, he re-injured his neck somehow.  while he recovered, we kept him in our bedroom and adjoining bath.  we were amazed when he began to climb in bed with us at night and thank us by rubbing his forehead against our foreheads.  he'd never gotten close to us before, but it seemed that he was aware that we were doing our best to nurse him through his injuries and that he was grateful.  once his recovery was complete, he was ready to return to the garage with the other cats and became his old distant self.

on a couple of occasions, greyson vanished for short periods of time, but he always returned home.  he finally seemed to decide that his new yard and our garage was the best place to be and began to stay home all the time.  as he's become more accustomed to this new place and the patterns of life here, he's turned into a more personable cat.  he's no longer afraid of us.  we noticed the change when he began to rub against our legs when we'd go out with him on our back deck, the locale where he spends most days unless the weather is bad.  in the last several weeks, he's begun to jump up on one of the tables on the deck and insist that we pet him, something he'd never tolerate before.

we've been pleasantly surprised by the way he's evolved from a fearful cat to a more loving one.  we can only speculate about his life before he adopted us, but we've guessed that someone mistreated him as a kitten, making him afraid of people and reluctant to trust them.  we've worked hard to gain his trust and believe we've finally succeeded.  as i think about his transformation, i wonder about how much of the lesson of winning greyson over to us must apply to human beings as well.  surely, showing consistent, unconditional love towards another person must finally have an effect on even the most hardened among us.  perhaps that was what jesus was telling us when we said that we should turn the other cheek and go the extra mile.

may we learn to love unreasonably and without qualification.  may we have faith in the transforming power of love.  may we never give up on another human, despite the ill treatment we may receive from them.  may our hearts be so filled with love that there is no room for hate.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep

we still live in fear of being infected with the covid-19 virus, though there seem to be few infected here in the county where we live.  the rate of infection in our state is about two people in one hundred thousand, one of the lowest incidences in the country, but my wife and i are still trying to be very careful.  we continue to stay home except to go out for groceries and medicines or to take short drives to look at the scenery in the mountains nearby or visit my wife's sister and her husband.  we plan to continue to live this way for the foreseeable future even while our state and the states around us are easing their strictures to varying degrees.

in the midst of our fear, i was struck the other day as i did my walking meditation by how much there is to be thankful for, not the least of which is that my wife and i and all our close family are free of the virus.  i looked around at all the beautiful objects my wife has collected for our home over the years, many of which hold some fond memory for us, and was thankful for the happy memories that they evoke.  out of the window i could see the not-so-distant mountains and was grateful for the natural beauty that surrounds us.  i thought of our nice home and was thankful for the shelter it provides while so many are without permanent shelter.  i thought of my wife and the love we have shared for over fifty years and of the good times we continue to have.  i remembered our children and their situations.  they have work they can do from home, their income is sufficient to provide them with a high standard of living, and they are healthy, kind people, and for all those things i am filled with gratitude.  i was, and continue to be, overwhelmed by our good fortune.  we had some hand in creating it, but much of it is the result of happy chance, coming to us undeserved.

yes, i have much to be thankful for.  in the face of my blessings, there is little to fear so long as i use common sense.  life is good, indeed.  even if i were to come down with covid-19 or some other disease, i can still be filled with thanksgiving for all that life has been and continues to be.  to be surrounded by love and a degree of security is all one could wish for.  it is enough.

may each of us look for those things which bring us joy and give thanks for them.  may we see the wonderful opportunities that life affords us and seize them.  may we do whatever we can to make life better for those around us, giving of our energies and material wealth to help others.  may we not allow fear to rule our lives.  may love and compassion be foremost in our minds.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

O Joy That Seekest Me Through Pain

i don't often write about my past but a short quote from the dalai lama on my daily calendar and a book that i am reading, "letting go" by david hawkins, have caused me to feel the need to write this post.  on my calendar, the dalai lama said something like "you cannot correct the mistakes of the past; you can only refrain from making the same mistakes in the present."  but dr. hawkins' book is all about letting go of past mistakes by understanding their causes and letting go of the things that once led us down the wrong path and continue to cause us suffering in the present.  there is truth in both understandings, and, as is often the cause, two seemingly contradictory ideas can both have merit.  we cannot go back and undo past wrongs; at best, we can make amends, but often that is not possible.  what we can do is learn from our mistakes and work to stop ourselves from making them again.  i know from my own personal experience that the past continues to haunt me.  much of my present suffering is caused by my inability to correct past hurts and misjudgments.  as much as i wish to push them to the back of my mind and live in the present, they are there, and meditation seems to have a way of reminding me of them.

as i've meditated on the dalai lama's statement and on what i've learned so far from "letting go," i've been able to analyze much of what has caused me pain as i recall my past.  i now see that every misdeed in my past that is causing present suffering is related to my need for acceptance.  that need arises from my rejection by my father.  my father was not a bad man, and i know he loved me deeply, but in so many ways i was a disappointment to him.  i knew this from early on in my life.  when he wanted his firstborn son to develop a love for sports, and especially for baseball--a sport he was very talented in--i loved reading and music.  during the first few years of my life, he was absent much of the time as he drove two hours every day from our home to the business he managed.  later when we moved to the town where his business was located, he worked long hours, coming home exhausted without the energy to play with me.  i can still remember my mother telling him that he was neglecting me, that he needed to pay more attention to me.

as i pursued my own interests, i could see that he thought them inappropriate for a boy, and i suppose insisting on making my own way was a way of asserting my own personality, a sort of getting back at him for what seemed to a young boy as him ignoring me.  when my younger brother came into the picture, he was very different from me.  where i was quiet and obedient, he was rowdy and rebellious.  after he developed and then recovered from a life-threatening infection when he was about five, my father showered affection on him.  i can see now that this outpouring of love from a man who was normally withdrawn and undemonstrative stemmed from my father's relief at my brother's recovery, but his actions further pushed me away from my dad.

as i grew into adolescence, i longed from my father to love me as he loved my brother.  i worked hard to have perfect grades, to play the piano as perfectly as i could, to get involved in sports, if not by playing them, by working as a statistician for our school basketball teams.  i even tried out for the junior high basketball team, and the coach, a kind and sensitive man, saw how much it meant for me to be accepted by my friends who were good players, at least let me put on a suit and sit on the bench.  i knew, though, that my talents were not sufficient and after a year of bench-warming, i gave up playing for keeping records for all the ball teams at our small school.

by the time i reached high school, my father began to take more interest in my pursuits and encouraged me in them.  other adults in the community would tell me how my father bragged when i won some academic or musical honor, though he seldom told me himself that he was proud of me.  just knowing that he was present at my performances and seeing the smile on his face when i played well made me aware that he had finally accepted the fact that i was my own person.  i knew that, though i had not turned out as he would have wished, i was someone he could take pride in calling his son, and our relationship improved as i became a man, though i could never say that we were close in the way my younger brother and sister were close to him.

all through my life, i can see that i did things that caused harm to others in my desire to be accepted by authority figures in my life.  i tried to ingratiate myself with my superiors, often at the expense of undercutting others, even my dearest friends.  i can now see that my behavior stemmed from my desire to be loved and accepted by my father.  i don't blame him for my own mistakes.  as he became older and told me of his life growing up, i learned that his own father was absent most of the time, commuting to a distant business he owned and only coming home on weekends.  i learned that his young life had been a competition with his older brother for their father's affections, that, while his brother was the obedient and ingratiating son, my father felt pushed aside by his own father.  i could see that many of my dad's actions were patterned after those of his father, even while he resented and rebelled against him and his older brother.  it's very true that the sins of the parents are often visited on their children.  certain ways of being persist across generations until someone has the insight to break with them when they are harmful.

i hope that i have developed some of that insight.  from the lives of my own children, i know that they feel loved and accepted by me and that have grown into loving adults who have great compassion for others.  i was surprised recently when something i posted on facebook caused friends from my past to reach out and make comments that were surprising to me.  one wrote that my smile had made him and others so happy in high school.  another wrote that i was a "great guy."  a friend who had been close at one time, but for some reason that i never understood had cut off ties with me abruptly and without explanation many years ago, wrote kind comments that indicated a desire to rekindle our friendship.  suddenly i realized that i had magnified my mistakes in my own mind and that others had a very different picture of me than i had of myself.  that doesn't excuse the hurts i caused, but it does make me realize that those hurts may not have been as great as i imagined them to be.  my suffering has been out of proportion to the misdeeds i committed, and i am beginning to let go of that pain.

this has been a longer post than is normal for me.  i've said some things that i need to say and the writing of them has been cathartic.  may we each be able to let go of the suffering that the past causes us.  may we forgive those whose actions have prompted our suffering, even though it is our perceptions, not their actions, that has caused us to suffer.  may we try to understand ourselves and others, realizing that we all suffer together and have need for healing.  may we extend compassion and love to ourselves as well as to others.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll

i continue to follow news of the effects of the covid-19 virus on our country and the world.  i watch as deaths and infections increase but i watch, too, as news of hard-won recoveries take place.  i see the horror in care homes for the elderly as large numbers of these vulnerable older people die, separated from their loved ones who often don't learn of their illnesses or deaths for some time.  now we are witnessing the lunacy of protestors demanding an end to the restrictions that are helping to keep us safe, people who seem to believe that their "liberties" are being taken away and who think that going back to work is more important than life itself.  their ire is fueled by right-wing groups, supported it seems by wealthy backers who aren't making enough money while many sectors of the economy are dormant and by a president who talks out of both sides of his mouth, encouraging the protests while claiming to back the governors who have ordered the safety measures that are being protested against.

our lack of direction and the failures of the federal government to deal with our present situation have been a great worry to me.  for weeks i have felt a general sense of anxiety and unease.  i have come to the conclusion that there is no point in worrying about these larger matters that i cannot change or influence.  i am trying to spend time recognizing my state of mind so that i can let it go.  after all, the only thing i can do is to take steps to keep myself safe and to work with my wife so that we both can stay as healthy as possible.  one of the good things that has come of our spending more time together and at home is the enjoyment of joint pursuits: doing work around the house, playing games, and spending more time in conversation.  we have both been surprised that we haven't gotten on each others' nerves as much as we thought we would and at how compatible and happy we are with each other.  another couple that we are close to seem to have had the opposite experience.  it hurts us to see them squabbling and complaining about each other.  we are thankful that our experience has been so different.

there are other results of this time of suffering that have been beneficial.  we have been in touch with friends that we haven't spoken to for some time.  we have seen many acts of kindness in our community and in the world at large.  we've been more appreciative of the beauty of the natural world around us.  certainly, we long to travel, to go to movies and concerts, to see our friends from church, and to go out to eat.  those opportunities will return, and we will take advantage of their return when we feel it is safe for us to do so.  until then, there are these other compensations that i hope we will continue to enjoy after the current restrictions are no longer necessary.

may each of us find peace in the midst of this period of adversity.  may we do what we can to stay safe and to help those we love stay healthy.  may we be thankful for this opportunity to examine what is most important in life, even as we are surrounded by illness and death.  may we reflect on those things that bring us joy now and in a future that is less restrictive once this virus is better understood and less threatening.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Sweet Compassion of Your Face

i cannot escape thoughts of the effects of covid-19 on our lives.  the absence of interaction with others outside my home, missing out on movies and concerts, not being able to go out to eat--all of these have left a hole in my life that is painful.  yet there is much to be thankful for:  my wife and i and our children are virus-free so far, there are only three confirmed cases of the virus in our county and just over one thousand in our state, the one person that we know who is infected appears to be recovering slowly in a hospital, our income is intact and our children can work from home.  reminding myself of this helps to ease the fear of this scourge and the pain of isolation.

it seems that the price we are paying as a society is slowing the spread of the virus, though for many that price is terrible.  what must it be like to have the worry of providing the necessities of life for oneself and one's family without a steady income on top of the toll of social isolation and anxiety about infection!  now we hear the drumbeat of those who argue that the devastation closing down large swaths of the economy is too great, that we must begin easing the restrictions various levels of government have imposed to keep us safe.  this past week, i was astounded to hear a close friend say that the media is making too much of this pandemic.  he went to say that many of those who have died from the disease had other terminal illnesses that would have killed them anyway, so their deaths should not be counted in the total of deaths from the virus.  i immediately knew that fox news was the source of his words, as he echoed a comment by bill o'reilly on a recent program on that network when the commentator said that many of those who had died from the virus were on their last legs anyway and so we shouldn't be too upset by their deaths.  i was troubled by my friend's criticism of the media and his indifference to the suffering of those who have died and that of their families.  these are the attitudes of those who clamor for opening up the economy and easing many of the restrictions that have slowed the progression of infection.  they believe that financial well-being is more important that life itself.  what is life worth if all around others are suffering and dying so that we have more money in our pockets?  can't we bear some inconvenience and help each other out financially in order to allow more people to live through this?

one of the functions of government is to sustain us in times like these.  it seems that there is agreement across party lines on this one issue, that it is the function of those in power to provide a lifeline to those in need during this time.  if the executive branch of the federal government can soon figure out how to distribute the appropriations congress has passed, there should be income arriving in the hands of those who need it so desperately.  maybe that will get us through this so that we can arrive at a point where it is safe to end the business closings and people can return to work.  being too hasty to restart the economy is not the answer to our problem; doing this will only compound our dilemma.

may we stay the course until we reach the end of this terrible time.  may we put people ahead of monetary gain.  may we reach out to one another in whatever ways we can while using good judgment to keep ourselves safe.  may those who are making great sacrifices and putting their lives at risk to care for the sick have the equipment they need.  may we learn from the mistakes we have made in the early stages of this pandemic so that these lapses are not repeated.  may we support one another rather than tearing others down.  may we be filled with love and compassion and may we be well.  shalom.