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January 31, 2006


At least in my life, and probably the lives of others, meditation seems to be the Buddhist equivalent to sex. I notice myself talking and thinking about it a lot more than actually doing it.

January 27, 2006


Attending a Ngondro lesson the other night I learned about the ten non-virtuous actions known in Buddhism:

  • Killing
  • Stealing (taking that which does not belong to you)
  • Sexual Misconduct
  • Lying (intentional deception)
  • Divisive Speech
  • Harsh words
  • Idle Gossip (out of ignorance or attachment)
  • Covetousness
  • Ill will/Harmful Thought
  • Wrong view (any view that upholds no law of Karma/ causality.

Although they look similar, these are a bit different from the Christian/Jew/Muslim Ten Commandments. Sure, you can go to Hell as a result, but that is not guaranteed nor is it the end of the story.

What happens as a result of performing these actions depends on the influence of which poison you perform them in. If you do these things out of anger or hatred, you go to the Hell realm. However, if it is out of desire or jealousy, you wind up in the hungry ghost realm (where creatures have stomachs the size of mountains and mouths the size of the eye of a needle). Lastly, if you do these things out of ignorance, you win a trip to the animal realm – which is about what it looks like.

What intrigues me about this teaching is how well the macrocosm works with the micro. Even if you don’t believe in reincarnation these theories still have merit.

For example – say you lie because of hatred: What happens next? Does your hatred go away? Do your lies fix anything? Probably not, instead you find yourself in a world full of lies where lying is the only way to survive – sounds like hell to me.

However, what if you are lying because of desire? Does the lie satiate your desire or do you want something else next? By empowering this negative emotion you only give it room to grow until your desire for wealth, love, power, etc, consumes you and like a hungry ghost, you can never lie fast enough to quench your ever-growing thirst.

And lastly if you lie because of ignorance (perhaps to cover up your ignorance) do you ever really learn? If you keep lying (especially to yourself) you’ll never wake up and face the root of the problem.

And similarly I could pontificate about all the other actions – I suppose this is the result of reading too many novels, memoirs, and biographies.

January 19, 2006

The Waiting Game

Standing at the back, listening to the Wailin' Jennys, three ordinary looking women with extraordinary voices, I suddenly stopped. Granted I do that all the time – when I meditate, during my walk to work – today when I was biking home and absorbing the weak light emanating from the gray skies. However, just like Jack Kornfield promised, sometimes when we stop bits of wisdom poke through without us even trying. Not always, which is why we need to meditate, bike, and go to concerts – the more opportunity has a chance to knock, the more frequently it will.

During this pause I realized that this is IT. I have been in the “in-between-space? for a year and a half now. Life doesn’t start when I leave the country, it doesn’t wait until I live with my family and definitely not when I meet “Mr. right?. Life is being with right now, whether it is a Mr., a friend, a concert, or a job. This is tough to comprehend as a goal-oriented person in a goal-oriented culture with goal-oriented friends and family.

Life is going to awesome concerts for free because I volunteer, it is getting a bitchin’ personal tour of the Capital and learning a bit more Minnesota History (and politics), a sweet bike ride home on a warm gray day. Life is sharing a movie with two girlfriends and chuckling about naked-cowboys with wicked grins over free margaritas afterwards. It is going to the same job for the 350th time. It is finishing one book and starting another, trying to share the book, an awesome ginger jam, or a personal problem with friends. It is getting over old-loves and wondering about future ones. This is life. It will be the same whether I am in India, England or the Czech Republic.

Life is also feeling three steps behind all the time. As I pointed out earlier, it is Dukkha, the feeling of being out of place, of always missing a note or being slightly out of tune. It is the hopes and dreams that when I leave this planet I will leave the world a better place – perhaps I won’t get as much done as Eleanor Roosevelt did but if I am a happier person in the meantime I will be fine with this. Sigh… even after all the places I have been, all the adventures I have. None is ever more difficult than the present.

January 16, 2006

To Dream of Equality

Today is Martin Luther King Day. As someone pointed out, he is the only American to have his own day - the presidents all have to share one now. Yet, I feel it is good counterbalance for celebrating Columbus day.

So how does one celebrate? I just listened to his "I have a dream" speech, possibly for the first time. Frequently I hear snippets about how communist MLK was, or the power of his non-violent message. I catch quotes and references that make think I should research him more. As of yet, I haven't found the time.

So, since I can't write much about him. Instead let me confess, or reveal my racial history - the way race has affected me growing up.

There weren't many black people on the commune. At a young age I asked my father why. He explained that black people were currently fighting to gain much of the stuff that the privileged young hippies were giving up. I was always taught racism was bad, that you should never judge people by their appearances and especially not their sex or the color of their skin. Yet I was never taught how I should judge people. The sad fact is there are dangerous people out there and it is important to explain to children how to figure out who they are, as it is to explain how not to figure out who they are.

Years later in a factory a co-worker confessed he was racist. He seemed like a nice reasonable guy, so I expressed doubt. "If I saw a black man in a dark alley, I would be afraid" he explained. I laughed and replied "If I saw any man in a dark alley, I would be afraid." He never tried to prove that he was racist again.

Yet all this debate was cerebral. The fact was I never interacted with a person of color until I don't know when. Even if I wasn't racist, the South I grew up in was segregated enough that I never had a chance to prove it. It was also segregated enough that there were clear cultural differences between white and black people - when I worked at Waffle House, black people were twice as likely to order pork chops.

It wasn't until I lived in Costa Rica for a year that I felt what it was like to really shake racism. I was the minority there, surrounded by Spanish speakers with darker (but not black) skin than I. After a time, something shifted in me; I felt it again when I spent time in India, and then China. I have never been able to look at people of those races the same since. Suddenly all white people looked the same but I was able to differentiate skin tones, nose shapes, eye shape, and various other facial features in a way I never could before. Experience blew away all racial/cultural stereotypes. When I meet a person from these cultures, I no longer had a pre-set idea of how they would behave.

I always wanted to go to Africa, hoping for the same experience, to complete my skin color immersion. That hasn't happened, but bits of Africa have come to me. I work with several people from East Africa and we have a large customer base from there as well. I find I tend to assume now that most black people are African and I am right three fourths of the time. Though lately I am frequently surprised to hear them speak with a southern accent (Katrina victims).

Working in a grocery store, as a floor supervisor, I have had to face any traces of racism straight on. At first I over compensated and felt guilty anytime I thought someone of color was stealing. I would constantly question my motives and not watch the person well. However, as time went on, the cameras and other employees without my extra sensitivity sorted out who was a thief and who wasn't. I am sad to say that large portions of our perpetrators are black. This has less to do with race than the location of our store and the demographics of who is poor (which sadly, is related to race). It wasn't until a year of policing the store, kicking out several white people (including more than one little old lady) of all shapes and sizes, that I have been able to relax a bit more and trust my instincts, ignore the color of people's skin and instead ask more relevant questions: Is the customer uncomfortably aware of me watching them? Are they wearing large bulky clothes (perfect for hiding product in) or have open bags? I also look for odd behavior; a customer coming in several times without purchasing anything, several customers together being loud and boisterous, one customer trying to get my attention by complaining or being needy while his/her friend sneaks off. And of course, as experience has taught me, behaviors don't mean a customer is guilty.

This doesn't mean I never have to question my motives. That is part of life, part of trying to be awake aware and a better person. So, happy Martin Luther King Day. Before we can follow his dream of rising up and realizing our creed that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,? we need to be aware of when and how it isn’t so.

January 08, 2006

an extraordinary time

Thanks to The Daily Show I was introduced to the books of Doris Kearns Goodwin, a delightful historian. Reading No Ordinary Time about Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt during World War II has given me insight not just into American history but also into the psych of my grandparents. This tale takes place when my antecedents were around my age. The author points out that when Roosevelt died, he had been in office for thirteen years - the youth who voted him into office his last term were nine when he was first elected. One citizen recalls thinking the world was going to end when he died because she had never known another U.S. president. A friend pointed out that people who just came of voting age (21 at that time) when he was first elected, were in their mid-thirties by his last election; a totally different demographic.

Every time the book brings up the war, various strategies and battles, I keep thinking of my grandfather and his amazing memory. He was there. I wish I could speak to him about that more. I miss him. He would also give me perspective on all the other issues; the advancement of Eleanor into the hearts and minds of the people; the critics of the president (and yes, despite being re-elected four times, he still had critics). However, without my grandfather, Kearns Goodwin does a decent job. She humanizes the president; revealing his strengths and showing both his weaknesses (a desire to be loved by all, duplicitousness, health problems and acute denial of said health problems) and those of his most amazing wife (more insecurity, seriousness, and sensitivity that made it difficult for her to joke and have fun). All in all, a fascinating read about an extraordinary time.