Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Two Roads Diverged

"contentment" is a word that has many different connotations.  when we are content, do we accept immoral, hurtful actions as being ok if we are not the perpetrators or victims of those actions?  do we believe that all persons must be content with their lives, even if they lack the basic necessities of life?  do we think that those who live under oppressive governments should be content with their lack of freedom?  certainly, contentment with such conditions would be a faulty way of thinking.

so, the question becomes, how do we address the mistreatment of others, abject poverty, and oppression while experiencing contentment?  perhaps, we should think of inner contentment as our goal, while cultivating the ability to see things as they are.  if we can see that those who injure others, those who cause others to lack the basic necessities, those who lust for power and for wealth beyond what is needed for sustaining life are living lives of great suffering, then we are able to have compassion for them, just as we do for those who are their victims.  as we work to alleviate the suffering of those victims, we are also working to alleviate the suffering of those we often think of as the perpetrators of evil.

the lack of contentment manifests itself in small ways, too.  for instance, last saturday my wife and i both had made plans to accomplish some tasks outside while the temperature was still cool.  we wanted to finish our work and retreat inside before the heat of the day arrived and to spend the rest of the day relaxing.  to that end, my wife began her work, which was more physically demanding than mine, while i prepared breakfast for us.  when i went out to call her to breakfast, i discovered a friend had seen her working outside and stopped to visit, interrupting her work.  he lingered, and the day didn't work out the way we planned it.

all during the remainder of the day we lamented how our plans had gone awry.  by the time we were able to return to our yard work, it was hot outside.  my project had to be abandoned altogether, as i helped my wife finish hers, since she was already in the middle of it.  nothing else for the rest of the day seemed to work out as we had hoped, and we arrived at the evening feeling anything but contentment.

as we reflected on our day and our frustrations, we realized that our feelings were natural, but if we wished to enjoy what little time remained before bedtime, we could accept our feelings of discontent with how the day had gone and then let go of those feelings as we relaxed into the few hours we had left.  as soon as we talked ourselves to that conclusion, we were content--though our ideal day did not happen, the problem was that we expected an ideal day.  now our plan was to accept the remainder of the day and enjoy what came our way as we relaxed in our den.

how often we allow ourselves to suffer, when all that is needed is to cultivate an accepting attitude about what the day brings us!  how much better it is to be content to enjoy each moment as it comes and to let go of the stories we tell ourselves about what should be.  my prayer for each of us is that true contentment will be our experience at least some of the time as we work to live skillfully!  shalom.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?

we sometimes act and speak in anger before we realize it and then regret what we've done.  i know i fail to live skillfully in this way, perhaps less frequently now than i might have earlier in my life.  for example, a few days ago, i had a sharp exchange with one who is dear to me.  i was already experiencing irritation with this dear one because my friend kept reminding me of tasks not completed after i had worked very hard that day.  my desire was to let go of thinking of more work and to allow my mind and body to relax, to spend some time in quiet, abandoning all conscious thoughts.  my friend just wasn't going to allow that to happen.  finally my friend insisted on having my attention despite the fact that i kept saying, "just a moment, just a moment."  when i turned my attention to this loved one, it was too late--the anger was apparent in both of us.

as i reflected back on this exchange, i realized that i behaved in a way that failed to show lovingkindness to my friend who is not as far along on the path as i.  certainly there was fault in both of our thinking and actions, but i was so intent on my own needs that i forgot my early morning commitment to think kindly toward others, to refrain from anger, and not to think badly of others.  i had forgotten that love is not irritable or resentful, and i showed neither love for myself nor for my friend.

continuing to meditate on my feelings as i looked back, i accepted that my emotions were natural.  my shortcoming was not the emotions i felt, but rather my neglect of looking at them mindfully.  i did not allow myself to see the need in my friend, as i was so intent on what i perceived to be my own need.  so the question is, "do i continue to beat myself up for my errors?"  my conclusion is that i should not, but i should discipline my mind to see things as they really are, to have an intention to act on thing as they really are, to speak only after analyzing what is really taking place, and to make the effort to mindfully act in lovingkindness.  in short, to walk along the path instead of clinging to my own thoughts.

my prayer for myself and you today is that we will allow our minds to focus on what is true, not on the stories our minds are telling us about our condition.  may our actions be based on rational analysis, accepting our emotions that run contrary to that analysis without allowing those emotions to cause us to act in anger and irritability.  may lovingkindness be our overriding desire.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I'll Be Satisfied As Long . . .

do you sometimes find yourself thinking, "i wish he (she) wouldn't behave in that way!  if only [this person] would do as i think best, life would be so much more pleasant," or something along those lines?  i know i do.  lately i've been catching myself as i think such thoughts and asking myself why i would wish someone i care about deeply to behave in a way that is not of their choosing but my own.  what does that say about my desire to control others, to have life on my own terms even if it means changing another's behavior in ways that are not in keeping with that person's own nature?

as i catch myself willing a friend to stop behaving or speaking in ways that are irritating to me, i realize that the thought is about me, not them.  instead, how much more loving it would be of me to accept my friend and realize that friendship is not a matter of control or expecting another to do as i wish.  if we (i) act in lovingkindness toward others, we let go of the need to control and to eliminate that which rubs us the wrong way and instead appreciate the overriding sense of joy found in being in the presence of one we dearly love.

maybe what is needed when we catch ourselves wanting to control another is to accept that we are feeling irritation and say to ourselves honestly that we are irritated and that's ok, but our irritation has nothing to do with the apparent source of the irritation.  instead, it has to do with what's going on in our own heads.  why should we allow the expression of someone else's personality to irritate us?  instead, let's celebrate our differences and realize that, if we were able to control others so that irritation at another's beavior were eliminated, the world would be a duller, less enjoyable place.

my prayer for myself and for others today is that we give ourselves permission to experience irritation and that we accept that our irritation is more about ourselves than it is about what we perceive to be the source of the irritation.  may we live lives that rejoice in ourselves and others as we are and give ourselves permission to experience life fully with lovingkindness and compassion.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

As We Forgive Our Debtors

i have a dear friend who grew up in a home where she and her sisters were abused by their father.  their abuse was both physcial and mental, though there was no sexual abuse.  their father beat them with leather belts, with water hoses, with automobile fan belts.  they were thrown to the ground and kicked.  one sister tells of being beaten for begging her father to quit spanking an infant sister because the baby was crying.  they lived in constant feat that a minor, or imagined, infraction would result in some horrific punishment.  this abuse affected each sister differently.  the oldest has deep resentments of the younger sisters, because as the oldest she believes she suffered most.  another sister refused to discipline her children in any way because she feared turning into an abuser like her father.  another sister harbored deep resentments toward her mother because the mother never tried to stop the abuse.  the fourth sister was able to forgive her father, though the hurting child inside her sometimes emerges, and she becomes a "control freak" to create an environment where she feels safe.

it is difficult to have compassion for such a father, but as i've listened to descriptions of this man, i can see a person who was hurting deeply while he was inflicting such pain on his children.  he grew up in a home ruled by a mother who was constantly on the lookout for "sinful" behavior, a home in which the father regarded his children as little more than farm laborers and who had deepseated hatred of anyone who was of a different religion or race.  one of the children in this home died of heat stroke working in the fields because she was not allowed to stop working until she had completed her assigned tasks.

later in life, the father of my friend suffered a severe head injury while working in a manufacturing plant.  in those days, there were no laws to protect workers from unsafe conditions, and his employer felt no responsibility for the injury.  the attitude of the factory owner, who was known in the community as a devout christian man, was that a worker's carelessness must be the cause of any injury, and since the worker had caused his own injury, he was on his own--no medical care, no sick leave pay, no job.

by all accounts, my friend's father was never the same after this injury, and he took out his anger on whatever vulnerable creature was handy, be it a child or a farm animal.  the story is told of him beating the family dog to death in front of his daughters because the dog, on his orders, had attacked a cow at which the man had become angry when the cow became obstinate.  what a profound impact that must have had on the daughters as they witnessed what their father was capable of when he was provoked.

what is amazing to me is that while each of the daughter carries deep scars from their childhood, all have become successful adults.  they have treated their children with kindness, and the pattern of abuse that began at least two generations earlier stopped with them.  three of the daughters have great difficulty relating to their husbands, frequently berating and criticizing them, and such behavior is not surprising.  the fourth daughter, my friend, who has been able to reach a sort of forgiveness towards her abusing father and passive mother, has the most loving relationship with her spouse, who she describes as her best friend.

when i see how she conducts her life, i am convinced of the power of forgiveness and the need to understand how the behavior of others is often the result of how they were treated as children.  i stand amazed that, little by little over the passing years, my friend has worked to come to terms with the unspeakable horror of her childhood.  while there are times when the old hurts surface, they have become less and less frequent, and love has become stronger than the hatred she may never be able to rid herself of.

my prayer today is that each of us learns the power of forgiveness to heal, that we are able to be forgiving and kind toward ourselves and others, and that we will look beyond the cruel actions of others to try and understand the motivations that are at the root of such cruelty.  shalom.