Wednesday, January 18, 2017

LETTING GO

I had an interesting exchange yesterday on my Facebook page when a reader responded to the entry I had posted there as well as here, in the Buddha Diaries, expressing fear about the coming Tr*mp inauguration. Noting the title of my blog, he wrote that I could “obviously” not have been practicing meditation if I was experiencing the feelings I expressed. 

Well, he had a point. In my short essay, I had mentioned being “riddled with anxiety” and had confessed to “losing sleep” over the prospect of the chaos I foresaw.  But in fact I have been following my daily meditation practice, as I have done for now more than 20 years. I have not yet achieved perfection. As I see it, the purpose of the practice is not to get to a place where I no longer experience those human feelings, but rather to be able to observe them as they arise, to be aware, if possible, of their source, and then to let them go. In this sense my critic was right: if I’m riddled with anxiety and losing sleep, I’m obviously not letting go. 

The skill of letting go, as I practice meditation, consists in first observing what arises in the mind, whether thoughts, feelings, judgments or physical sensations; and then allowing them to dissipate by bringing the attention back gently to the breath. These things tend to come and go of their own accord, if we let them. The trouble starts when the mind begins to cling to them. That itch on the scalp, for instance, will surely disappear without my scratching it unless I happen to get hung up on it. The same with thoughts and feelings, which come and go like clouds.

So meditation does not teach me to ignore, condone or excuse what I see to be harmful actions in the world. Indeed, as I see it, my mind becomes a better and more focused instrument in observing the world about me as well as the world within. In addition, the wonderful practice of metta—sending out thoughts of compassion, and loving-kindness, particularly for those I dislike or distrust—allows me to process the most troublesome of my judgments, acknowledging the toxic habit of holding on to them and releasing the toxins by converting them, consciously, into goodwill. 




Writing, for me, is simply another way to release the stuff that bothers me. It’s another way of letting go. Yesterday, in my post lamenting the approaching elevation of a man I distrust to the most powerful position in the world, I was able to convert the unskillful feelings that threatened to do me inner harm into what I hope were skillful words. It’s my hope that my words allowed others to join me in that effort.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

TR*MP

I cannot remember ever having been so riddled with anxiety about the future of our country and the world. There has never been a comparable situation before this. We are on the eve of inaugurating a "president" of the United States--I use the scare quotes advisedly--whose unpreparedness for the office is monumental, who bursts with misplaced confidence in his own ill-advised and uninformed opinions, whose "policies" shift from day to day, if not from hour to hour, and whose mercurial temperament is a threat to everyone who dares oppose or criticize him.

Back in the day, when George W. Bush was first "elected" president of millions Americans by a vote of nine members of the Supreme Court, I was outraged; when he was re-elected after four years of disastrous leadership that included the rash, irrational and foolhardy decision to invade Iraq, I was dismayed and bewildered by the collective action of the American electorate. I stumbled into the blogosphere, in my bewilderment, and started "The Bush Diaries"--a blog in which I wrote a daily letter to the President, somewhat irreverent but not unkind in tone, to chronicle my discontent.

Now, today, I confess being beyond dismayed, beyond bewildered, beyond even outrage. As I say, I am riddled with anxiety. I lose sleep, imagining the chaos that Tr*mp can unleash upon the world. The thought of this man behind the desk in the Oval Office fills me with dismay. I find the prospect of his wife--God bless her, I have no quarrel with her--as the successor to Michele Obama unthinkable. I look at his plutocratic family and his plutocratic circle of advisers and I despair for those whose social circumstances differ from theirs and set them beyond their realm of comprehension, let alone compassion.

Tr*mp was not elected by the popular vote, but by an antiquated system that discounts the choice of an overwhelming majority of voters. His election was assured by the chicanery of a hostile foreign power and a cabal of those who hated his opponent. Before taking the oath, he has proved himself unworthy of the office in a multitude of ways, both personal and political. He has shown himself capable of truly despicable behavior, and utterly incapable of the responsible maturity required of what we take undue pride in calling"the leader of the free world."

And yet, though we all know this, though even his Republican Party must know this in their hearts... we are collectively elevating this unworthy man to a position of power unequalled in the world. If I believed in a God, I would be asking him to help us.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

NO MANDATE!

So... is it "Buddhist" to be apolitical? I found an interesting discussion of this troublesome question on another blog, No Zen in the West. The post included this quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Anyway, here is my own "political" thinking for the day:

NO MANDATE!

Enough! There is no mandate! Republican leaders must finally admit that their “president-elect” is irremediably compromised and unfit to set foot in the Oval Office. He has proved himself to be morally deficient and ethically challenged, a congenital and compulsive liar, an arrogant bully, with an ego so fragile it bursts out in childish fits of rage at the least provocation. He has shown himself to be shallow and willfully, proudly, shamefully ignorant. He was “elected” not with a mandate, but rather by a historical minority of American voters, with the connivance of a hostile foreign power.

There is no mandate, and Republican leadership must stop acting as though there were. No ramming through Senate hearings for cabinet nominations of people no more fit and no better prepared for their posts than the man who put their names forward. No gutting of a health bill that has saved many American lives and spared millions more the agony and insecurity of living without simple health insurance. No trashing of international climate agreements to save the planet from the disastrous consequences of man-made global warming. No shredding of sensible regulations that protect the environment from exploitation and citizens from corporate rapacity.

Enough! We must call on Republicans to acknowledge the truth that is evident to the vast majority of us: there is no mandate, and their leader is flawed beyond help or remedy. He is not deserving of their support, nor of ours. Before they act upon their agenda, they should listen carefully and pay heed to the priorities and preferences of the people they are elected to serve. Their arrogance and willful blindness to the irrefutable and dangerous unfitness for office of their “president-elect” is in stark contradiction to the patriotism they so piously profess. Their obstinate tone-deafness to the wishes of the majority of Americans is reprehensible beyond words.


Enough, people! Enough!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

WOMEN'S MARCH ON WASHINGTON

In October, 2010, Ellie and I made a pilgrimage to Washington DC to attend Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's "Rally to Restore Sanity." I wrote about the event on The Buddha Diaries, (and was quoted, amazingly, in a major article in the New York Review of Books!) My point essentially was that the two comedians mistook the potential response to their satirical idea: people like Ellie and myself, many thousands of us, showed up because we really were concerned--the word is not strong enough--about Republican obstructionism and the undue influence of such organizations as Tea Party and the NRA in our political life. Washington, it seemed to us, was not merely dysfunctional, it was becoming increasingly dominated by partisan fanatics.
The Stewart-Colbert event, as we experienced it, was absurdly under-reported in the media. The hundreds of thousands who showed up at that event represented a solid, reasonable part of the American electorate, who saw past the insanity and wanted to do something to protest, and perhaps correct it.
Now comes the January, 2017 Women's March on Washington, at a time when public action is even more urgently needed than it was in 2010. Back then, those few short years ago, even those of us who were disturbed enough to turn out for that rally could scarcely have imagined the depths to which the country would have sunk by now.
This time, however, Ellie and I are unable to make the journey back to Washington DC. We offer our enthusiastic support and admiration for those who can and will. This needs to be more than simply a large demonstration; it needs to constitute a message that even the tone-deaf Tr*mp and his team of extreme rightist billionaires cannot ignore.
Instead, Ellie and I will be sure to show up for the satellite event in Los Angeles. We urge every one of our like-minded friends, both on- and offline, no matter where in the country they may be, to put everything else aside on that one day and join us, and many millions of others, in this most important effort. Please do not allow others to do this work for you. You need to do it for yourself, and for a country that has put its very future in dire peril.

Monday, January 9, 2017

NOTHING TO SAY...

Nothing to say, nothing to do, nowhere to go... Why does my mind always want to treat this as a sickness, rather than a blessing? As the one who shall not be named says, Sad!
I posted this thought on my Facebook page this morning and was pleased with a response prompting me to think it through further...

It happens. I wake up with this feeling one morning, sometimes several mornings in a row. How to describe it? A sense of futility, of emptiness, of the pointlessness of it all. A total lack of motivation. A dreary sense of the sameness of each day... The feeling settles down around me like one of those damp English mists I knew so well in my younger days.  So maybe it's in the genes. Or maybe it's just the accumulation of years. Maybe I can attribute it to the social and political climate of these troubling times. No matter the "reason", it's a feeling that is unfamiliar and disturbing to me, but one that seems to arrive with increasing frequency these days.

Reason is of little help when it comes along. As Pascal wrote wisely, many years ago, "the heart has its reasons that reason cannot know." I look back on a privileged life, one that I would be churlish not to acknowledge as "successful" in so many ways. Through the years, I have achieved a certain mastery with my creative medium, words, and I am confident in using them. I am surrounded by those I love, and those who love me. I do not want for the material comforts life affords to us fortunate few--a source of furtive guilt, when I look out at the vast majority of the world's population. I "know" that the appropriate response to all these (many!) blessings in my life is gratitude. Reason would have me recognize that fact, and respond accordingly.

So why, as the comedian asked the horse, the long face? I suspect if the horse were able he'd say simply, Well, it happens. 

It happens. The great lesson is to be patient and observant when it does. To use the opportunity to take a careful, honest, unsparing look at the way the heart and mind are working at such moments; and to find a place a little bit apart, from which watch them having at it for however long they need to. It doesn't help to fight against them, to resist. It doesn't help to wallow in them either. It does help to stand back and watch, with vigilance. To repeat the words of this most valuable of mantras: This is not me, this is not mine, this is not who I am. To not, in other words, attach. Instead, to breathe. To slow down. To take the next breath observantly and with reverence, and to remind myself, in watching how it floods the body with a sense of timeless presence, how delicious a single breath can be.