The Basics of Goodness

What do Buddhists believe? When I’m asked that question there’s a flood of answers I could give ranging from 5 seconds (“We don’t believe, we practice.”) to 4 hours (“There was a man named Siddhartha…”).  The answer I give most of the time is this:

We believe that every being has basic goodness.

Basic goodness is the understanding that we all (yes, all) have a core of goodness as the central feature of our being.  This enrichment of good is the spark of life that takes hold before our first breath and will remain luminous after our body returns to dust. It is something we can connect with, reach into, and rely upon. Meditation is the park where we encounter it, walk with it, play on its swings, and learn at its feet.

The world may pull some of us away from this goodness. Emotional damage can drown out its voice. Our own confusion about who we are or what will make us happy builds walls around it and disconnects us. Yet, it remains – shiny and steady – until we return to it again. And again. And again.  Understanding that we as beings are basically good is the key to a happy life and a better world to live it in.  Want world peace? Basic goodness, baby.  The only problem is – sometimes it’s hard to believe.

Oh my goodness!

It’s easy to grasp the concept that each human being has a core that is basically good when you’re meditating on a cushion with a fully belly, a good job, shelter, and health insurance.  It’s tough to believe it when your memory becomes a slide-show of every cruel thought and action you’ve ever done – the harmful words, the vindictive plans, the lies, the apathy, the jealousy, the letting go, the pushing away. Although you realize many of those acts were reactions or driven by a personal need you did not fully understand, it’s still a stretch sometimes to know that good is the basis of all you are.  Let’s face it, we’re a mess.

Confirming our good nature as a species is even harder when you watch parents publically shame their children on Facebook to get enough “likes” to satisfy their ego. It’s a challenge when greed and corruption invade the government pervasively and the people who need an honest government the most are the ones used and lied to on a daily basis. It’s impossible when a young man kills 20 children and 7 other people at an elementary school, or a father murders his offspring so his ex-wife can’t get custody, or when terrorists fly planes full of innocent people into buildings filled with more innocent people – killing whole worlds in a moment.  Where was basic goodness during the Holocaust? Where was basic goodness when people with AIDS were told it was “God’s punishment” and denied care or compassion? Where was it when a Syrian child washed up on shore?

Where?

Where?

Where?

Where?

You’re going to need some courage to make this first important step to a happy, mindful life. It takes bravery to embrace your outrage, heal your self-inflicted bullet holes, and still stand in the world with an open heart and compassionate soul. Many of us are raised with messages of inadequacy, shame, or destruction coming from parents, teachers, or peers. Clipping those wires won’t happen overnight. Some people require therapeutic intervention just to point out which wires are the bad ones and help trace the power source. With time and intention, you can re-route your consciousness to see your beauty, your inherent value, and your goodness. The first step is to be willing to believe in your inherent worth. Then you can stand for those who cannot and should not stand alone.

There is a part of you that no abuse, no violation, no decision, no oppression, or no ambition can take away. It is indelible and indestructible. When you can’t see it, you’ll have to trust it’s there.  Trust is critical to reconnecting with your compassionate core. When you look for evidence of goodness in the world, and you trust you’ll find it, the picture comes into focus with a myriad of lenses.

Follow the waters of life

Follow the babbling brook that branches off the blood creeks of history and you’ll notice water finding its way over, around, or through the rocks. You’ll see:

The people who rise up and call out when it is in their best interest to sit down and look away.

The parents who shield children not their own.

The survivors. The lovers. The quiet reformers.

The men and women who did not survive but lived a stalwart story of their faith, their passion, and their dignity to the last moment.

The ones who would not give in.

The lights that did not go out.

The books that would not burn.

The dams that would not break.

When you look with clear eyes you will see unparalleled good outnumbering horrific evil exponentially. First, you have to believe there’s something worth seeing. Stopping and seeing is another way of saying “be mindful.”

Our potential to be delighted, to be generous, to be compassionate, and to be enlightened all point to the core of good that is our base state. As individuals we have an amazing capacity to change, learn, give and forgive. We get confused by hurts, needs, or cultural messages and we lose touch with the notion of all that is good within us.  But with a little courage and trust, we can reconnect with our primal, compassionate, good state of being.  We can make choices that come from kindness. We can stop questioning ourselves, and affirming our light in a still dark world. We can have confidence. We can have peace.

—–  The Bottom Line —–

  1. If you have trouble seeing the goodness in others, stop looking at them. Focus on your heart, your soul, your being. We won’t see in others until we believe it of ourselves.
  2. You don’t have to believe in basic goodness to have it or experience it. It isn’t going anywhere. It will wait for you.
  3. You’re good. Trust me on that.

 

The Introvert in Me Honors the Shut Up in You

Life used to be pretty sweet. I could go about my business happily enjoying alone time, Star Trek, and computer games while the people who loved me just said, “Oh, she’s not very social” and sent me nice notes about events I was invited to, but not expected to attend.  Then it happened.  Author Susan Cain’s groundbreaking book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was released. And the world didn’t stop talking.

Suddenly everyone was an introvert or knew an introvert and was compelled to talk to me about how they respected my need for solitude (often interrupting me while I was working, just to show me they understood I didn’t like to be disturbed).  My normally placid Facebook page was flooded with cutesy comics of “10 Ways to Love an Introvert,” along with notes saying “This is just like you!” And then, like that horror-filled scene in Jurassic Park where they look at the broken fences and realize velociraptors are freely roaming the island, playing chess and plotting to eat the children, a new animal emerged: the “extroverted introvert.”

Extroverted introverts are those wonderful folks full of energy, light, loud voices (and the willingness to use them) who think they might be introverted because they would rather “Netflix and chill (really just chill)” than join a flash mob singing “Thriller” at a Burger King.  They are so sure of their introversion they will talk to you in never-ending sentences about how much stress they feel out of their bubble, and that while they have the need to be constantly seen and surrounded by people, they are really very quiet in spirit. Just not in practice.

Personally, I think those of us who are actual introverts should sue Susan Cain for unwarranted exposure, defamation of quiet time, and disabling our pursuit of happiness. But, that would involve talking to lawyers, leaving the house, possible press coverage, and sitting in a room with people we don’t know. So, Susan Cain, please just go stand in a corner and think about what you did.

The Power of Shut Up

The problem isn’t that people aren’t as introverted as they want to be. It’s that most people can’t stand to be quiet when they are in a room (real or virtual) with another person. Learning to resist the urge for “pleasant conversation” or its horrible hillbilly cousin, “uncomfortable opinion spouting,” takes time and discipline. This is the information age where we reward talkers, typers, and those social “lean in” kind of people. How do those of us embedded in a system of constant communication learn to stop the chatter? By taking a spiritual adventure through the power of “shut up.”

Language is all around us. We don’t have to go to a party full of alcohol enhanced strangers to be talked up.  We don’t even have to leave the safe confines of our recliner. All we have to do was turn on a laptop, iPad or smartphone and…so much talking. Some of it from us.

In an era filled with free-falling verbiage, most of it untrue and damaging, my life became an epic journey in the jungle of other people’s communication. I devoured comment section weevils who eat the truth with alternative facts. I slayed fake news dragons, won reply wars, and laid down my weapons at the feet of “agree to disagree.” In short, like so many of us typing the good fight, I was exhausted.

I realized I needed to stop. I was going to hurt myself – or someone else – if I kept responding to all the people shouting around me.  I put down the phone, turned off the computer, and sat back to take a deep cleansing breath. I opened my eyes to discover the spell of silence. It was far more powerful than anything Harry Potter could conjure, and it filled me like cool spring water from the river of life. I wrapped my mind around the simple truth hidden in plain sight.

Personal peace doesn’t happen when other people stop talking. It happens when you do.

At first I was afraid. What would I do if I wasn’t communicating? Wouldn’t I cease to exist if I didn’t immediately add my voice to the fray? In our hectic 24-hour news cycle, if I listened to others and waited to form an intelligent, considered opinion – the topic would be over by the time I was ready to speak. What a loss! Still, I decided to give it a try. Stepping back to look and listen, I discovered there are some wonderful reasons to be iQuiet:

It lets you feel. Listening to what others have to say without thinking of what you want to say in response is one of the bravest, most revolutionary, things you can do. If you aren’t measuring their thoughts on the scale of right/wrong or looking for the weak link to break their logic, you will experience actual feelings about what they are telling you. The topic may make you sad or sentimental. The way they say it may bring up anger or happiness. There’s so much emotion going on in the silence. Feel it.

I know, I know…feelings? Sounds horrible. But once they start – even the unpleasant ones – you begin to change the way you see people and people begin to change the way you see. It’s worth it. I promise.

It makes you think. Most highly communicative folks like to believe they think a lot. The truth is – thinking isn’t the act of pondering something in your head while constantly re-confirming your own opinion. Thinking is taking in new data and adding or subtracting it from your mindset, leaving room for change and discovery along the way.Listening to someone else’s experience or ideas gives you building blocks for the castles of thought you want to live in.

I know, I know…that’s so much effort. Your new ability to understand, re-imagine, create and infuse your life with the world around you will give you wondrous insight.

It connects you. Buddhists believe that we have all the wisdom and knowledge of the world already inside of us. Thus when we encounter or hear something externally, the inner knowledge connects with its outer counterpart. That’s how we have those “ah-ha!” moments where we hear something new but we know instantly it is the truth – or at least – our truth.

I know, I know…other people, ew.  Yet, that is the basis of Namaste – the divine in me honors the divine in you. We are connected.

I can’t say I spend loads of time in the practice of “shut up.” But my rest here – listening to others, reading news from international perspectives, checking in with my own heart – before joining the commenting world – has been of benefit. Maybe, if I’m lucky, some of you will join me. Before we call out, speak truth, dialogue justice, and cry havoc – we can all sit down and shut up, together.

—– The Bottom Line —–

  1. You don’t have to reach the point of no return to begin to take care of yourself. Give yourself the gift of quiet sanity before you reach the end of the line. Unplug regularly.
  2. What you have to say is important, but what you have to learn should always take precedence.
  3. There is only one way to love an introvert. Love them (and, quietly pushing an occasional chocolate bar under their door is okay too).

 

Got the News Blues? Transcend the Plot

Want a sure way to rejected by every publisher ever?  Start your query letter with, “This is a character driven novel.” I guarantee you’ll be getting the “Thanks, but this is not for us” email before your tea gets cold.  Characters create feelings, give insight, and spur our desires, but in Western culture they don’t drive the story. Readers flock to plot driven stories because, let’s face it, we live in a plot driven world. Nowhere is this more evident than the daily news.

Every news story, 24/7, is some combination of “action,” “reaction,” or “the next act/reaction/implosion/explosion/backtrack/side-track/thing to get us all killed.” Day after day we endure countless assaults on our psyche with our fear center targeted as ground zero. When your day starts with, “What will happen if I lose my health insurance?” and you take a lunch break to ponder, “Is someone going to walk into my child’s school with a gun today?”  before watching where the bombs (literal and figurative) are falling while you cook dinner, it’s a sure bet peace of mind isn’t what you’ll be having for dessert. Petty lies, personality politics, devastating injustice, and this horrendous weather (Spring shouldn’t feel like December) – it’s all too much. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.

There seems to be two choices – shut yourself in a cave and learn nothing of the world, or continue to endure the daily carpet bombing of breaking news until the foundation shatters and you plummet into despair. Fortunately, there’s another choice – a chance to be aware, but not overwhelmed, involved but not consumed. Sit down, breathe deeply, and see the story through a different motivating lens. Transcend the plot.

We are taught in meditation that every single breath matters. Every inhale, every exhale, is another chance to take in courage and send out compassion, take in trouble and send out comfort, take in lies and send out truth. Like a tree that absorbs toxic gasses and releases oxygen, we can mindfully bring life, hope, and happiness back into our narrative – one breath at a time.

How it looks in my practice:

News:  The family of a burglar, who died after being stabbed while robbing a home, put up a memorial in front of the house where he was killed – only to have it torn down by angry neighbors supporting the elderly man who killed the burglar to protect his wife and home.

Transcend the plot:  Take out the judgement, the action, the labels.

Breath in:  A human being is dead; another human being was frightened and took a life. A family is in mourning. A neighborhood is angry.

Breath out:Peaceful passing to the next life for the man who is dead; healing and comfort to the homeowner who is damaged. Compassion for the ones who mourn.  Wisdom and patience for the ones who act in anger.

~

News:  President Trump announced the US, France and UK did a joint operation to bomb Syrian weapons factories after Syria was discovered to have used chemical weapons in an attack earlier this week. The possibility of Russian reprisal is feared.

Transcend the plot:  Take out the action, the personalities (yes, it’s hard to do), the fear of the unknown future.

Breath in:  A war torn area has seen death and destruction. There is so much suffering. Leaders are manifesting what they think is best for them or their country. Conflict is high. Fear is present.

Breath out: Compassion and kindness for the weary people of this land. Communication and collaboration to all leaders. Empowerment and support to those who can ease the suffering of the people and the land. An awareness that we are not separate from one another, no matter what the boundary lines say. Courage, fearlessness, life in this moment.

Once you step out of the plot, the world isn’t any less wounded, but you are more able to see past the illusions of partisan ideologies, privileged judgement, and mind-numbing frustrations to the single most important hopeful truth we hold: none of this rests on us alone; we are all in this together.

A good character may never sell your novel, but being a person who sees beyond plot – to truth – can make your story a better one every day.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

  1. The news is often a toxic ocean of fear. You can swim in it, but don’t drink the water.
  2. You cannot change what happens outside of you. You control what happens inside of you and what you bring out to the world around you.
  3. It’s not what they show you, but what you see, that matters.

Impermanence, Loss, and the Dark Sacred Night

“You lost, get over it.”  I’ve heard that. I’ve seen it on Republican friends’ facebook walls and in right leaning media since November 2016. It crops up every time there is a protest, a challenge, or a searing question about helter skelter way this country is being governed. I’ve been called the other stuff too - “Libtard”…“Snowflake”…Dummocrat (which is weird because I’m not a Democrat). The only phrase that has ever really bothered me is, “You lost, get over it.” Because they are right. I have lost something.

A Promise Broken

Agree or disagree, I was raised to hold certain positions with unquestioned respect:

My parents
My teachers
Police and Authority (judges, courts)
Helping Professionals (Doctors, Ambulance Drivers, etc.)
The President

My parents were not very political people, but they were both raised in the south and carried a sense of “southern values” when it came to patriotism and the office of the President.  I grew up in a home where I was not allowed to make jokes about the President (even when it was Ford), talk badly about the President, or suggest any harm or challenge to the President.  One night, when I was in high school, I came home late from a debate tournament and saw my mother watching Saturday Night Live do a pretty good send up of Ronald Reagan. She was cackling like an old hen.  She turned to me, pointed at the TV, and said, “This is very bad. They shouldn’t do this.”  Then, she went right on giggling.   Parents of teens - if they didn’t send mixed messages, they’d have no message at all.

The idea my parents taught me was that the Presidency was more than a person, more than an office, more than a title.  It was a promise. It was the promise America made to her citizens - to defend our constitution, protect our liberties, and represent us well.  It was the promise America made to the rest of the world - to exemplify democracy, to participate globally with responsibility and honor, and stand for human rights throughout the world.  It is a promise I believed. It is a promise I imagined eternal.  It is, without doubt, a promise broken.  

Now the same age as my parents were when they lectured me about respect for the President while Nixon signed the Anti-Ballistic Missle Treaty (potentially putting my father, a man who worked on ABM’s for a living, out of a job), I have said more damning, angry, and ugly things about the current office holder than I have any other person on earth.  I can’t even say I’m ashamed of my behavior - because I’m not.

What I am is afraid.

What I am is angry.

What I am is embarrassed for my country to be represented so poorly.

What I am is tired of seeing one lie after another get explained away or laughed off.

What I am is sad, so very sad, that the constitution three generations of my family fought to defend, is nothing but an afterthought (at best) and a snot-rag (at worst) to the person whose office it establishes.

Impermanence

I am feeling the impermanence of the ground I stand on. My Buddhist teachers remind me that encountering and reckoning with impermanence is a good thing. It is the path to enlightenment, and it teaches us to cherish each moment. The part they don’t always tell you? It hurts like hell.   

It’s not the loss of my respect for the Presidency that hurts. It’s the loss of a piece of my being that keeps me up at night (Well, technically I’m always up at night, but this is what I’m thinking about these days instead of Batman or Emma Thompson).  Being an American, even one who recognizes the failures of justice and inclusion in this nation, is part of being me. It’s something that I always counted on as part of my life. It’s something I held with affection, and gratitude.

When Cathy and I were married in Canada in 2005, we spoke openly that we were just doing it to solidify some rights until the US caught up with justice. In 2014, we got married in the US, because this is our country.  Now, it’s not just a fact my marriage may be revoked by this egocentric christo-facist nightmare, but a fact the country and what it has always offered - (freedom of speech, press, petition, religion, assembly) has been sold to a higher bidder for something as fleeting as a “win.”

It’s one thing to realize the tomato plant in the kitchen is impermanent and will someday die (especially if you forget to water it more than once). It’ s another to realize the moral, ideological foundation of your home is impermanent too.  I’m not enjoying this lesson. In fact, it probably fuels more of my real anger and sadness than any lie the White House tells or back-office deal congress makes. Those are the symptoms. Constitutional Decay is the disease. I am sick with it.

The Dark Sacred Night

“I see skies of blue and clouds of white

The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night

And I think to myself…

 what a wonderful world”

       Written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss

What do I do with these feelings, this fear, this disgust?  I am taught that the best way to deal with something impermanent is not to cling to it, but release it - to love every minute you can of it, and find every ounce of gratitude inside you for it - and let it go when and where it will.

I enjoy the freedoms I still have (I’ve been using that free speech one a lot these days), and I support the press, the communities, the path to justice as much as I can.  I am thankful for leaders who speak truth to power, and journalists and scholars working to preserve the history and intent of the constitution to give as much of its goodness to the next generation as possible.

I am slowly letting go of the hurt, but holding on to as much of me (and my eternal optimism) as I can.

I can’t count on my country to be free, just, equal, and whole.
I can count on myself to be free, just, give and love equally, and live as a whole person.

I cannot stop violence.
I will not be violent.

I cannot stop racism.
I will not knowingly engage in racism, and when I do through error or blind spot - I will be open to correction and education about it.  I will listen. I will learn.

I cannot respect the person who is currently President.
I cannot trust what he says.
I cannot hope he will get any better.

I will respect the person I am.
I will trust myself to do the best I can with what I have.
I will hope for the bright blessed day.
I will learn from this dark sacred night.

And, I say to myself, “what a wonderful world.”

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For More Information

Good  Read:

When Things Fall Apart

Perspectives

The Buddha's Politics

Sing with me:

What a Wonderful World

 ~

Right Anger:

Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.

Aristotle

Shall We Dance?

How awesome is my wife?  Walking in the house with arms full of groceries I said, “I accidentally offended a Christian woman while talking to the flowers at Kroger.” Cathy didn’t look up from the paper she was writing.  She wasn’t surprised about any of the phrases in that sentence. She simply nodded and said, “I’m sure she’ll survive.”  Just another Sunday I went skipping to the store with a song stuck in my head, offended religious people, and had a conversation with some lilies. No chiding. No worries. Nothin’ to see here. That’s an awesome wife.

Shall we Dance?

Of course, it helps that she’s been living in the chatty internal musical that is my life for a long time now. I have always talked out loud to everything around me.  When I park the car I pat the steering wheel and say, “Thank you.”  I talk to food I take out of the oven (“Don’t you look pretty?”), I talk to the dog water bowl (“Why you so empty?”), the television (“That was a great show, thanks.”), clothes going into the dryer (“It’s gonna be warm but you can handle it.”) and coming out (See, you look swell.”).  So, the talking to flowers part wasn’t a shock. The rest? Well, what do you expect when I’m allowed out of the house on a blistering Sunday afternoon in basketball shorts whistling musical theater numbers?  

It all started when I was in the kitchen making lunch with Briscoe the Beagle who was standing by in case things got crazy and food fell on the floor. After sidestepping around her a few times, I started singing “Shall We Dance” from The King and I. The earworm promptly got lodged in my cerebral cortex with the repeat button activated.  By the time I grabbed my keys and danced out the door, the volume was on silent but the song continued on.  Sing it with me:

Shall we dance?
On a bright cloud of music,
Shall we fly?
Shall we dance?
Shall we then say “goodnight” and mean “goodbye?”
Or perchance...
When the last little star has left the sky,
Shall we still be together with our arms around each other,
And shall you be my new romance?
On the clear understanding that this kind of thing can happen,
Shall we dance? Shall we dance?
Shall we dance?

  © 1951, Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers

Impressively, I remembered every word of the song. What did I forget?  That Mechanicsville (the nearest town with stores) is home to roughly 3 kabillion Christian churches which all release their congregants sometime around noon each Sunday.  It was one of the few ninety degree days we’ve had this summer, and I arrived at the store wearing shorts and a T-shirt, whistling softly with a list that included veggies for dinner, treats for beagles, and some fresh cut flowers to go beside the Buddha in our kitchen. 

Kroger was packed with over-dressed, word-weary, cranky people.  One woman pushed my cart out of her way while I was picking out flowers. Another man was angrily muttering and sticking his arm in front of me when I stopped in front of the apples to see if they were on list.  I didn’t complain. I got it. They were hot, they were tired, their “day of rest” was nowhere near peaceful, and there wasn’t enough room for anyone to breathe, think, or be.  No time for manners. No space for patience.  Here was this smiling, bouncing (my secret dancing looks a lot like I’m on an invisible pogo stick), heathen in shorts and sandals in the middle of things. It was all too much.

Somehow, I made it to my car in one piece.  A nice SUV with one of those PRAY bumper stickers was parked beside me. I opened the trunk, blocking my view from that side and obscuring a sharp-dressed dad, skirt and heels mom, and 2 middle-schoolers who were exiting their vehicle. At that moment, all I was thinking about (besides that song) was whether to put the cut flowers in the front seat with me or keep them in the back with the groceries.  I found a safe looking niche and nestled them in.

     “I know it’s hot in here, and there’s some scary water jugs, but it’s a short ride and I think you’ll do fine,” I said to the flowers. “You aren’t just any flowers. When you get home you will be an offering for the Buddha! You’ll sit right beside him. How awesome is that?” 

     “UGH!” The Christian woman said, loudly. It was my first inclination anyone was nearby. I put down the trunk to discover myself face-to-face with her.  She looked straight at me, her lips curled in disgust as she frowned. She had a cross around her neck. I had a mala dangling from my wrist. I smiled. She gave me a hissing sigh, rolled her eyes, then put her arm on the back of one of her kids and guided them hurriedly away as if the car may explode at any moment, burying her in lotus petals and compassion. 

Shall we then say “goodnight” and mean “goodbye”?

I would love to say I’m so thick-skinned and self-assured that her judgy rejection slid off me like cookies on a non-stick sheet. But it didn’t. I felt the sting.  Even when I started singing loudly on the way home I was covered in the residue of her derision. My good humor remained, but it was tempered with those feelings you get when you've been put on notice that you are outside of the lines.

I started thinking about the “Pray” on her car. Who did she pray for? Her kids, her friends, her marriage, for sure.  World peace, job security, sick relatives, and safe travel? Possibly. Would she pray for me?  Not likely. And if she did – would she pray for me to be happy, healthy and loved? No. If she did, she’d probably pray for me to change, to “see a light,” to become who she thought I should be. As it was, I’m reasonably sure I took up very little space in her consciousness once she voiced her opinion and guided her children away. I was thinking about her, but she had long since left me.  I thought, “Goodnight.”  She meant, from the moment she saw me, “Goodbye.”

In one moment of interaction we got to experience the truth about “tolerance” versus “acceptance.”  I see the “Teach Tolerance” bumper stickers a lot (and their more friendly cousin – Coexist). I hear the pleas and language of tolerance in many places, and it has always been as unsatisfying to me as cotton candy for dinner. Even "coexist" doesn’t provide long-term nourishment. I didn’t know why until I sorted through my feelings about this experience.

Tolerance means she didn’t stab me in the parking lot.  She didn’t call security to have me removed, or stop and force me to confess (she thinks) it is wrong to offer anything to Buddha.  She tolerated my presence for the few moments my circle met hers, non-verbally expressed her opinion, and left. We co-existed in that hot humid space. Not peacefully, not happily, but functionally.  

Or Perchance…

What would acceptance look like? In this briefest of moments, would it look like a smile?  A nod? A murmured “hello” as two strangers found themselves face to face?  At best, it would be a neutral space between us, with nothing but air and acknowledgement of another sentient being at close range. Acceptance would have offered her a chance to save energy. There wouldn't need to be display of displeasure. She wouldn’t have to draw a line between us. She wouldn’t need to scurry away. She could just be. Acceptance doesn't mean you approve. It means you understand the value of the person with you to make their own decisions about life/faith/being.

And then, the mirror turns just long enough to let me know she’s not the only one who could have saved some energy that day.  I am sad she doesn’t understand that flowers for my kitchen Buddha give us such joy and brighten the whole room; that we aren’t engaged in worshiping a false god. We aren’t worshiping anyone.  We are showing our gratitude for teachings that make our life better, and respect for the teacher. It’s not really different than taking an apple to the lady who leads your Sunday School class. And yet, I am aware she is also sad – in a mask of offense/anger – that I don’t recognize or follow her life-honored belief that Jesus is the only way and the only one. 

Truth is – I had the same feelings about her “Pray” bumper sticker as she had about my flowers.  I just waited to get in the car before rolling my eyes.  If acceptance is the lesson, I need to slot myself in the student’s seat, not behind the teacher’s desk. In fact, we all do. Acceptance – recognizing someone’s sovereignty of belief, and dignity of being – frees us from not only the walls built by judgment, but the energy spent on ill will, the time lost to replaying the episode, and the illusion that we are disconnected.  Acceptance allows us to remember we are all in this together.

That’s the difference.  Tolerance is a space you give to others.  Acceptance is a gift you give to yourself which allows you to see the ties between us, no matter how different we are.  Tolerance may spare you from discord but acceptance keeps you from being alone.  

Acceptance is an acquired behavior in our fractured world. Before it becomes a reflex, it will require some exercise, repetition, and reflection.  To be who you are in the world, and letting others be themselves as well, is a treasure way worth the effort.  I’m willing to try. How about you?

With the clear understanding that this kind of thing can happen,

Shall we dance?

Shall we dance?

Shall we dance?

For More Information

There are a number of sources about dharma:

Sing Along:

Shall We Dance

Perspectives

Interconnectedness

By the Book

The Leader's Way: Business, Buddhism and Happiness in an Interconnected World by HH Dalai Lama XIV

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Acceptance:

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."

Melody Beattie

Charity and Stone

I come from a long line of Tennessee hillbillies …er…Appalachian Americans. My grandparents on my father’s side, Charity Grace Rupard and William “Stone” Rupard, were subsistence farmers who owned land in a holler (hollow) in Laurel Bloomery, Tennessee.  Where’s that?  As my uncle Claude would say, “It’s right down the dirt road past the forge outside of town, which is a skip from the highway to Mountain City, oe’r the mountain from Johnson City, not far from Bristol.”  People generally started nodding recognition when he got to “Bristol” – but Claude talked like a country boy – so it took him nearly 5 minutes to get there.

Charity and Stone had eight children, of which my dad was the “last boy.” His little sister Carrie came three years after he did and stole “youngest” right out of his hands. Sandwiched between two girls - “Baby Carrie” (they called her that until she died in her 70’s) and Cettie, the oldest of the bunch, were 6 tall, blonde, strapping boys.  The small farm held plenty of work to keep those many hands busy and mouths fed.  They grew tobacco to generate income for the land taxes, and made just enough moonshine…er…home-crafted-corn-mash-drink…to make money for clothes and shoes (worn in winter only).  The rest of the farm, animals, and land existed just to feed them. My dad and two of his brothers left to fight in World War II. When the war ended the other two went back to the farm but my dad had begun a journey that would take him to another world – the “city life” (as they called it with no small amount of disgust…er…rightful concern).   

My experiences on the farm were summertime affairs where I’d be dropped off at Mamaw’s and my dad would go back to work and my mom would go visit “her people” (city folk!) for the summer months. Stone died the year before I was born, but Charity Grace ran her family, now grown and branched off into their own houses around the holler, with the memory of Stone’s iron will and her own brand of practical love.  Don’t think they were lazy summer days. They were filled with chores, and some chores, more chores, and just when I sat down at night and pulled out one of the books my mom packed for to read – guess what? Dishes needed done, laundry could use a “run through the ringer” (yes, she had one of those ringers with the crank that promised to flatten me like a flapjack if I wasn’t paying attention) and some chore called.  Only when my grandmother would tell me to “cut the light” (the word “light” had 3 syllables when she said it) would I get rest. I loved every minute there and I’d give almost anything I own to go back, if only for a sunny afternoon (with chores).

The Compassion Challenge

In Buddhism, we are taught a lot about compassion.  It is the heart of the Buddha; it is the passion of the practice.  It is our best selves, our real selves, and although time, tide, words, and wounds can make it hard to access, it is always there for us to reclaim.  But, what is it, really? Recently, someone challenged my ideas about compasion in a way that led me to do some meditative soul seeking.  I didn’t come up with many answers (cushion time is almost never about answers), but I realized everything I needed to understand about what compassion is (and what it is not) could be found in that little farmhouse built into the side of a mountain. 

Does compassion make sense?

Is it reasonable? Responsible?

Does compassion have boundaries?

Does compassion deny consequence, personal responsibility or natural law?

Is there only one “compassionate answer” to a situation?

Is compassion what you do or who you are?

 

The Middle Way to Compassion

Although I never met Stone, his legacy was branded into his children with surety and strength. He was, by all accounts, a good man, but a stern one. Rules were rules, and if you crossed them you paid the price.  If you broke it, you fixed it. If you couldn’t fix it, you figured out how to live without it.  No playing in the outhouse…er…external unisex potty facility, and no animals inside the house (that means you, barn cat!). I remember one time my Uncle Luther had a wounded bunny he was nursing back to health at his house down the way and he was whispering to me to come by so I could see it. My grandmother, whose supersonic hearing lasted well into her 90’s, entered the conversation with a bang.

“Lu, you know Stone didn’t cotton to animals in the house.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he said, and winked at me, pointing toward his home.

Later that night, I told my Uncle Claude about the bunny rescue.  Claude shook his head bit his lip like an errant school boy. “What’s Lu thinkin’? He knows Stone don’t allow no animals in the house.”

Now – these were two men, in their late 40’s with homes of their own, whose father had been dead for at least ten years, and they were still emotionally subject to his rules. However, when you think of what it must have taken to raise eight kids on a small farm with no government help, little social support, and lots of praying about the weather – his attitudes probably kept the family from starvation, ruin, or loss.

On the other side was Charity.  She could be just as strict, but she’d smile at you as soon as chide you, and if something left you feeling on the outs – she’d mistakenly cut an extra-large piece of cornbread just for you. When the day was settled, she’d sit on the porch or in the front room, listening to the radio and sewing quilts from cloth remnants everyone in the valley brought her. She had a sewing machine for repairing work pants and flannel shirts – but the quilts were a labor of love, hand sewn. When she’d finish a few she’d ask Luther or his wife to take them to the county fire department, in case someone lost their home to fire or flood and needed a warm blanket. Not long after her 90th birthday (she died at 96) someone from the fire department showed up on the farm one day and asked to take her picture. Seems they’d been keeping count. The last quilt she gave them was number 250. 

Let that sink in. A woman who had probably never handled more than a hundred dollars “cash money” in her whole life, hand-made 250 quilts for people with far more than she ever would have - in case they ever found themselves having less.

Reflecting on this couple who shed the seeds to me, the blurry view of compassion I’d been lamenting became much clearer to view.

Compassion is not the Action.

Compassion is not an act. Compassion is a fuel. Compassion is being with someone, putting yourself, as much as you can, in the space they are in - simply so you can stand beside them, hurting as they hurt, healing while they heal. That presence can create an action – you see someone hungry and experiencing the hunger with them, you feed them. Compassion may lead you to lobby for the rights of an oppressed community (that’s activism or advocacy). Compassion may lead you to give someone some money, food, or the dignity of seeing them when no one else does (that’s intervention or interaction). (For a neat article on that, see my friend Janet’s thoughts here: Seeing and Hearing with the Heart   ). Compassion may lead you to cry with another, implore on behalf on another, go the extra mile, or speak truth to power. Compassion is the fuel, not the destination (although like a generator, compassion often creates more compassion). Charity would say “Compassion cares, Action sews. Warmth happens.”

Compassion is not Codependence.

We are, to the ability that we are able, responsible for our own feelings, our own path, and our own wounds. Even if someone cruelly gave us those wounds – as adults, we become responsible to seek help, alliance, and healing.  Compassion does not take away our personal responsibility. It empowers us to discover it, and strengthens us to do the work, to endure and to find the strength to let others hold us and help us while we do it.  Compassion is not a shield that keeps the world away or makes everyone play nice in someone’s sandbox.  Compassion may fuel education, activism, social justice, to decrease suffering. However, compassion doesn’t beat up your assailant. Compassion holds your hand while you stand your ground or find safe harbor.  When people start thinking another person, group or community needs them, the line between compassion and codependence is dangerously blurry.  As Janet showed in her article mentioned above, compassion is about seeing people, hearing people, empowering people to their own goodness and ability --- not "fixing people" or taking away their ability to sustain or speak for themselves because you’ve decided to do it for them. Be a voice WITH people, not FOR communities. Buddhism teaches us we are interconnected, but we are not enmeshed.  Interdependent, not captive. Stone would say, “If you break it, or someone else breaks it, you fix it or endure without it until we can get it fixed– but I’ll stand right here while you do it and show you how to use the tools for repair. If I have a tool you don’t, I’ll lend it to you until you can get one of your own. Let’s work together on this.”

Compassion is not Control

Compassion is a connection with your basic goodness each person must make for themselves. You can’t shame other people into compassion. You can’t give people a list of do’s and don’ts and call it compassion. You can’t create positive good simply by exhibiting negative reactions. You can act out of your compassion and spread that good energy from person to person (in writing, we call that “show don’t tell”). You can do your work for the justice, systemic change, or healing resources that provide care and self-empowerment. You can strengthen the interconnected circle by sharing your compassionate love, care, and work. Part of compassion is understanding everyone is in a different place in life and allowing each person to arrive where they need to be in their time. Charity said, (many times in my life) “The same rain that grows the corn, drowns the rat, honey. Rain don’t change so you'll have to.” To which Stone would probably say, “It’s up to the rat, but I’d find higher ground.”

Compassion is helping and helpful; connecting and collective. It’s the fuel that takes us to happiness, and allows others to find the path to their happiness too. Compassion is seeing. Compassion is opening. Compassion is allowing. For me, after all the thinking, reminiscing, and cushion clarity, I have found the middle way in my thinking on compassion – it is reasonable, and it is magical; it is strong enough to support and flexible enough to allow; it is somewhere between Charity and Stone.

----- The Bottom Line -----

  1. Compassion is part of all of us. It's our choice how to reach it and what to do with it.
  2. Compassion is a fuel that will take you anywhere worth visiting.
  3. Compassion and action are like peanut butter and chocolate - you can have each one separately, but they are better together.

For More Information

There are a number of sources wisdom on Compassion:

Fast Read:

Compassion Vs. Codependency

More Depth

PsychCentral 

By the Book

Cultivating Compassion

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As for the country:

There is a city myth that country life was isolated and lonely; the truth is that farmers and their families then had a richer social life than they have now. They enjoyed a society organic, satisfying and whole, not mixed and thinned with the life of town, city and nation as it now is.

Rose Wilder Lane

 

Right Facebook

The prime directive of Buddhism is found in the Four Noble Truths – the beautifully bulleted, clear as a bell, seed of awakened wisdom that blossomed when Siddhārtha Gautama unfolded as The Buddha. Translated over time, language, media, and my simple minded approach to things -  it shakes out something like this:

  1. Every life has suffering.
  2. We suffer because we crave or cling to things that don’t last forever.
  3. There’s a way to stop suffering.
  4. The Noble Eightfold Path is the way.

And, of course, that list leads to…wait for it…another list! The Noble Eightfold Path reveals how we can put a block under the wheel of suffering and experience release from the constant cycle of rise and regret. The path is solid in structure and mammoth in depth of meaning, but here’s the short-attention-span version.

  1. Right View – Seeing the world the way it really is, not the way you want it to be.

  2. Right Intention – Understanding why you do what you do and making it a noble why.

  3. Right Action – Ensuring your actions don’t intentionally cause more suffering.

  4. Right Speech – Don’t deceive, confuse, accuse, or afflict with your communication.

  5. Right Livelihood – Making sure your lifework (career, stay-at-home parenting, volunteer occupation, garden growing – whatever) is honorable for your good and the good of others.

  6. Right Effort – Do things from the center of your practice – compassion. Even when it requires work or discipline, always compassion.

  7. Right Mindfulness – Be anchored is the immediacy of right now, not living in your head having imaginary conversations, making fantasy plans, or reviewing old slides.

  8. Right Concentration – Akin to meditation, it is focusing the mind on one thing. In meditation we often focus on the breath. In guided imagery we focus on one thought or affirmation. Training your mind to exclude the extraneous and stay on target will make you skillful and wise.

That sounds easy enough. With a little effort, and tossing my cell phone out the window, I should be completely free from suffering by dinner.  Well, until I flatter someone at work solely to get noticed, or spend my lunch fantasizing about how different my life would be if I had taken that one offer, or I snap at the clerk (who forgot to scan my member club card yet again) because I’m tense from too many projects at once. Wait…this is hard stuff. I’m gonna need a little more practice.

Okay, a lot of practice.

Alright…a lifetime of practice. 

If there’s any arena that would be a perfect place to roll out the Noble Eightfold Path and practice an end to needless suffering, it’s Facebook. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those “oh, I don’t do the Facebook” people. I love me some chaotic news feed articles and pictures of kittens taking over a big dog’s bed.  I enjoy casual chats about snowfall with my best friend from high school who now lives in Maine (she always wins). I like laughing at the cleverness of people with their silly comebacks and outrageous memes. I cry every time someone posts a video of a Nina Simone song (she will forever be my Priestess), and I cheer when I see a new car, a graduating senior, a baby’s first something, a vacation pic from a faraway place, or a check-in at the movie theater.

Floating in the fishbowl of posted delights, however, I have noticed someone needs to clean the tank. There’s so much algae forming on the walls. Vital political discussions have turned into angry name calling ideology wars. Religions clash and bully instead of listen and learn. Sincere cries for help are lost in an avalanche of bragging superiority and vengeful vague booking. Just when you think you’ve unfollowed the negative, up-thumbed the positive, and set the world to right, along comes a Gummy Drop game request, and you’re screaming for the death penalty. The recipes all have too much butter (yes, that IS possible!).

While we are meditating on our desire to cut the suffering and live in compassionate connection one another, what better place to take our practice than the linear, algorithmically fantastic blue and white world on our screens? It’s time for us to practice Right Facebook. How would we do that? The same way we do it in the big world – one bullet point at a time. There is a way to stop suffering on Facebook. The Noble Eightfold Path is the way.

  1. Right View – Know what you are seeing, not just what you’re looking at. Are the thirty political memes a minute just for fun, or are you being carpet bombed into a new way of thinking? Is the widow who keeps posting restaurant reviews interested in cuisine, or is she saying she’d like an offer to share a meal? Learn to see real from projection. Look with your mind and your heart.

  2. Right Intention – Questions to ask yourself (BEFORE the comment, post, or pic): Why am I doing this? Am I bragging or sharing? Am I discussing or dictating? Am I participating in culture or procuring more “likes” so I feel better about myself? Do I want to be on Facebook or do I need to be on Facebook?

  3. Right Action - Your feed reveals the world around you. Your posts reflect the world inside you. When you see a post you’re inclined to comment about, make sure you are adding to the common good, or at least addressing the obvious need for more cat pictures. I personally require three cat memes a day just to get out of bed.

  4. Right Speech – Is your comment rightful and true? Do you mean it? Do you mean to say it?

  5. Right Livelihood – If your job is not “professional Facebooker” (here’s a clue – it’s not) always be willing to do a check-up on your time and attention. How much is Facebook giving to your life and how much is it taking you away from the job/people who love you?

  6. Right Effort – Facebook can be such a powerful tool for compassionate interaction – from supporting worthy causes to providing a listening heart. Never forget, though, on Facebook you are not the consumer. You are the consumable. You’re the product being sold to advertisers. You can turn that to your advantage, but always ensure you are using the platform for good instead of the platform using you for something less than love.

  7. Right Mindfulness – Keep it now. Keep it real. I’ve heard many folks say Facebook friends are “imaginary” or “not really your friends” – but the truth is, behind every account is a person who wants to be safe, happy, healthy and at peace – just like you. Don’t forget that.

  8. Right Concentration – Focus. When you’re on Facebook be on Facebook, but when you are not, live your life as it unfolds. Don’t “set up” moments or do something simply so you can post it later. Don’t be so busy proving your life is amazing/important/thumbs-up-worthy that you stop living an authentic, amazing, important life.

Who knows, once you’re really good at this, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to follow your footprints down that path to a life free from suffering. If not, well – you’ll always have at least three invitations waiting for you to play Gummy Drop.

-----  The Bottom Line -----

  1. No matter what someone’s Facebook feed shows you, every life has suffering. No one is better. No one is worse. We are in this together.

  2. Every person makes choices – in the digital world, and in the real one. Make mindful ones.

  3. Seriously, those recipes have too much damn butter.

For More Information

There are a number of sources wisdom on the Noble Eightfold Path:

Fast Read:

Wikipedia 

More Depth

Tricycle Magazine

By the Book

Amazon

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As for butter:

 “If we give someone a piece of bread and butter, that's kindness, but if we put jelly or peanut butter on it, then it's Loving Kindness.”

   ~  Barbara Johnson