Change is gonna come…

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
George Bernard Shaw

One thing being a Buddhist teaches you right off the bat is that everything in impermanent. That isn’t just about every one dying or everything ending – but mostly it’s about accepting the reality that everything in some way, space, or form will change.  Change isn’t a fact of life. Change is life.

In that spirit – the website, and social media platform is going through some changes.  I had hoped it would be a quick change but it has turned into a more evolutionary process.  Still – here’s what to expect soon.

The Blog (this page) will be a weekly blog about a current event.  News, entertainment, social issue – whatever. In taking inventory of my platform I realized the one thing I don’t do on ANY network is actually just talk about me and the world I live in. Politics, news and ideas don’t have an outlet in my digital footprint.  Now that TTB is taking all my Buddhist writing and Instagram is focusing my writing tips — the blog doesn’t really have a unique purpose – so now it does.  Look for a “What’s the Bottom Line of timely topics in Kellie’s World” coming soon.

TTB – My writing for The Tattooed Buddha has been a great experience and offered an outlet for my dharma teachings and thoughts.  I’ve falling behind on posting the links but will catch up on that and soon post the link of the week there.  You can see all my TTB writing here.

Writing Tips – My original plan was an article a week from the Heron’s Wing archives. But as I’ve read them – I realize some of them are dated or just not effective.  I also want to do more “teaching” and less “pontificating” about writing – so there will be some articles and there will also be writing exercises and tips.  The writing “truths” will be on my instagram account which gets updated several times a week. Coming Soon – a YouTube Channel for writing tips.

My author facebook page.  That has been another stickler for me because I write commissioned novels – meaning my books aren’t published under my name – so it’s not like I have fans (even though I have fans).  I”m changing that to a “day in a writer’s life” sort of experience with a post every day of what I did as a writer that day.

TTB Platform – The Bottom Line has a separate set of media accounts and will also be changing to streamline things – each day’s post will essentially be the same and run on Insta, FB, Twitter, and here.  Coming soon – a YouTube Channel.

So let’s review all the facets of my social media presence and what you can find where:

  1. Kellie Schorr Twitter – Daily thoughts, usually the same as instagram but more pithy. Sometimes a snarky comment about politics or life when I just can’t keep it in.
  2. Kellie Schorr Instagram – writing tipss
  3. Kellie Schorr Author Facebook – Day in the writer’s life
  4. The Bottom Line Blog – weekly commentary on the world around me.
  5. The Bottom Line – Memes, quotes, encouragements – same on FB, Insta, Twitter.
  6. Write Now! Blog – Writing tips, exercises, coaching and encouragement.
  7. The Tattooed Buddha – Dharma teachings, stories and thoughts.
  8. YouTube Channels – – project in the works

NOTE – Thursday is Rest Day.  Expect Nothing on Thursdays.

 

Right Now, It’s Like This

I’ve never visited any of the places Anthony Bourdain recommended. I never owned a Kate Spade purse. My palate is limited and my sense of style is best described as Mid-Life Lesbian at a Baseball Game.  Still, I lived in a world where Mr. Bourdain, by osmosis, gave everyone a sense of culinary pleasure and adventure. I lived in a world that popped with color and style as emerging female executives carried a sense of accomplishment and fun on a strap as they walked down the sidewalk. Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade had no personal influence on my life, and yet, I feel like I’ve lost so much in such a short time.  Suicide – it does that.   It’s not just about them; it’s about us, too.

Stop Fearing; Start Feeling

When anyone, particularly a famous person, takes his or her life, it doesn’t immediately bring out the “better angels of our nature” – in fact – we tend to knock those poor angels to the ground and trample them in a rush for information.

How did they do it?

Was there a note?

Was it her marriage?

Was he on drugs again?

Did they see a therapist?

Where was the family?

What was the last social media post?

Who did they leave behind?

What were the signs?

How did we miss the signs?

It’s not the suddenness of the loss that makes us so immediately ghoulish. It’s the fear – that unspeakable chill that jumps out from the lock box in the corner of our mind and makes us believe it could be us, or someone we love, next.  The feeling of cosmic helplessness when someone goes to work one day and takes their life the next is pervasive. We paw our way through the haystack of news reports grasping at straws for our comfort – hoping to discover depression, discord, confusion, things we don’t have in our world, so we can find the elusive needle that says, “It won’t be you” or “It won’t be your daughter.” It’s illusion, you know, that assurance. We seek it all the same.

A better way is to stop rummaging around for signs of protection, and actually let ourselves simply feel our loss, our world’s loss, and remember that loss can come to us, too.  Instead of running from the specter of death, it would serve us to kneel before it and cry, admitting how very much it hurts when someone, anyone, says goodbye.  Instead of the self-serving language of “going on” – it would benefit all of us if we just admitted such a death knocks us beyond reason.

In a world where it’s hard enough to deal with the demons we see every day, we are outmatched by the invisible, insidious, and internal forces that show us only shadow, often too late. If we spent less time ruminating on the “causes of their pain” and more time admitting to ourselves and out loud – our loss, our sorrow, and our fear, it would not make us weaker. We would be pulling ourselves together by the collective thread that is our humanity.

Right Now, It’s Like This

How do we process this? With up-to-the-moment, absolute honesty. The mantra I’ve used for a while now is one designed to bring me back to ground level from the illusion of constant optimism and or the vulnerability of admitted pain. It centers me on the most important moment – this moment – and the most important understanding – the reality in this moment.  The mantra has been so powerful that I had a bracelet custom made to remind myself frequently where I am and where my mind should be also.

 

It encompasses that great comfort of temporal awareness the teachers always remind us about. “If it is something bad, it will change.  If it is something good, it will change.” So, endure or rejoice, but be where you are, because it’s the only real place to be and it won’t be that way much longer.

For Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, they hit the “right now” moment all of us fear most, and they dealt with their pain using the only option they felt they had left. I don’t know why. It doesn’t matter why. I hurt for their hurt. I hurt for their choice. I hurt.  I can admit that, because I know I will not hurt forever. And I will ultimately remember their larger-than-life spirit and outrageous talent. I will play with my dogs, hug my wife, and write some words. All will be well. Still, I’ve been sad most of the day. Right now, it’s like this.

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.”

Save

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

 ~

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

The Street Where Truth Lives

When you see an announcement for a class from a Buddhist teacher with a fee (no matter how large or small) there are always three people you can count on to fill the comment section.

  1. The connectors – People who tag other people to check out the offering. Usually they don’t even bother to write a comment. They just splice the name in the comment section and assume that person knows what to do.
  2. The committers – “I am so there!” “Done!”  “Soooo exciting.”  You get the sense these folks cheer as the train pulls into the station even when it’s on time and running as expected. I love them.
  3. The critic – That person who has been exposed to just enough Buddhism (via temple, book or meditation app) to learn one thing. “I thought dharma was supposed to be given for FREE.”  That person.

There was a time, ancient of days, when that was the conventional wisdom and practice. However, in Eastern culture during that era teachers and the community had a well understood symbiotic relationship.  The community gave the teachers food, coin, land, and support. The teachers gave the community dharma, inspiration, and connection.  Whether it was a monk with a begging bowl accepting offerings, or a community supporting monasteries – it worked.  Western culture (particularly in the post-modern interwebs era) does not have that genetic encoding. For all of its worship of progress, the west has never been very good about financial support for teachers (secular or spiritual).  We toss them an apple on “teacher appreciation day” and give them just enough money for rent, food, and occasional movie night. So Buddhist teachers, like all the rest, have make a living, pay the webhost, dress themselves, and eat some veggies if they are going to teach.  That’s the way of it.

Personally, I’m not as concerned about dharma for dollars as I am that the dharma presented is grounded in felt sense, authenticity, and truth.  The money will take care of itself. If I can’t afford the $250 class ($225 early bird discount) I’m confident the wisdom in it will find me by another way.  Money, time, distance can all keep us from specific experiences, but they can’t keep us from dharma. That will never change.

The Search for Truth

The key is to intentionally walk down the street where truth lives. Dharma doesn’t necessarily mean “truth” – it means teachings, wisdom, an established path, new life inhaling timeless air to exhale timely thoughts.  At the core – when you boil it down, the foundational element is truth. Not “true” in a fiction-vs-non-fiction kind of way, or “true” in a canonized, “written on a scroll older than King Tut” kind of way. Truth – in an “everything in my being feels this to be real” kind of way.   

Last week – for free – I was reading a blog post when a piece of truth so sharp and vibrant rocketed down and struck me in the heart like an ancient warrior’s flaming arrow. Unlike the story of the Buddha, however, it didn’t turn into a lotus flower and fall beautifully at my feet. It pierced me to the core. I’m probably not going to be the same again. Well, hopefully not.

Fear Itself

In an article about two recent tragedies involving renown/beloved teachers in the larger Buddhist community, Susan Piver was teaching about the Teacher-Student relationship – its traditional roots and its place in modern times. See awesome article here.  Stressing the vulnerability and responsibility of both teachers and students (assuming both are capable adults) she gave the following advice.

“My advice is don’t scare easily, but do scare appropriately.”

It wasn’t the point of the post. It wasn’t the big take-away. It wasn’t even the topic sentence of the paragraph. It was just splayed out there with all the other words waiting for someone like me to come along just so it could cut them in two. That’s the thing no one tells you about truth. You are free to wander the streets looking for it, but make no mistake – it’s been lying in wait for you.

You see, I’m an extremely happy, grateful person with a good life – but when it comes to fear, I’m wired wrong. A chaotic, sometimes painful, childhood and rough transition into safe spaces left me with a backwards sense of fear.  On one hand, I fear relatively benign things:

  1. Driving in the city (any city).
  2. Being at a social event with strangers I didn’t expect to be there.
  3. Being overwhelmed by too many people (most people).
  4. The black snakes under our shed.

I skip events. I push off invitations. I make Cathy get the tools out of the shed.  None of these fears create overwhelming hardship or loss in my life, but they are there.

On the other hand – I have failed to be afraid of really important things.

  1. Leaving home early without parental support (or relationship) I had a brief period of homelessness where I lived in my car. I regard it was one of the best/worst times of my life.  It was, by all accounts, ill-advised.
  2. Supporting myself, and not doing a great job of it, I went through a few seasons of poverty where meals came from college dorm snack baskets, ketchup packet soup, and my super splurge – 39 cent Hamburger Stand. At my lowest economically, and in great pain, – I once extracted my own tooth. (note: Never do this. Never. Never. Never. 30 years and thousands of dollars later, I am still fixing the fallout).
  3. I drove a car for over a year that could not go into reverse. If I had to park somewhere I couldn’t pull through – I would have to get out and push it backwards. Later I drove a car with a split axle I had repaired by a shady garage. The front wheels both turned but not always at the same time. I only got rid of it when Cathy named it “Death Trap” and refused to ride in it.

I ignore medical symptoms (or try to cure myself), warning labels, expiration dates, and car warning lights. I’ve spend most of my life happily engaging in a “what can happen?” mindset then later listening to a doctor, therapist, or mechanic explain the “30 ways I could have died.”  Fortunately, in the yin yang of life, my wife has a very appropriate sense of fear and the skill to know when it’s time to see a doctor.  She prevents me from too much collective damage these days.   

Learn To Listen, Look to Learn

Each year I pick one topic to study deeply. Two years ago I studied what it means to live with an open heart. I began to share more of myself, my story, my joy with other people and listen to their stories as well.  This year I’ve been studying the “ Six Perfections” (Generosity, Discipline, Patience, Effort, Meditative concentration, Wisdom).  Yet – in all my studies – all my learning – intentional and accidental – I have never known what to do with my messed up sense of fear.

Until now.

I’ve written Susan’s advice on a post-it so I can contemplate it and let it open my heart-mind. I’ll let you know what happens.  How did I obtain this treasure I didn’t realize existed until I saw it shining like a new penny on a very crowded sidewalk?

  1. I was looking for something else, but I was looking.
  2. I was looking in a good place. Yes, yes, yes – wisdom is in the trees and your dog and the sounds of birds and the bottom of tea cups – but at some point – if you need to learn – an actual teacher is the place to go.
  3. I was willing to take what was given. It would have been so easy (and mentally convenient) to brush this off and say, “I’m doing great. I don’t need to think about that fear thing right now.”  Yet, I would have lost a chance to chart the course I’ve been longin
    g to sail most of my life.

Truth really is all around us. Even, and most especially, the street 

where you live.

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

  1. When you can pay – pay. When you can’t – don’t despair. There is always a way.
  2. Stop searching for the “big rock” of truth. Bridges are best made of small stones.
  3. What Susan said.

 

 

For More Information

There are a number of sources about dharma:

Good  Read:

Fundamental Dharma Teachings

Perspectives

Buddhism and Fear

By the Book

Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm

 ~

Fear and Love:

"There is no fear when you choose love. The more you choose love, the more love is in your life. It gets easier and easier."

 ~  Melissa Etheridge

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

 ~

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

 

The Words of a Friend

Mindfulness is all about clarity – so let’s just be clear:

I’m not a monastic.
I’m not a dharma scholar.
I’m not a certified meditation teacher.
I’ve never been to Nepal (I had to Google a map just to see where that was).
If I do a retreat or class that takes longer than a few hours, I require snacks.
I can’t tell if a word is from Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, or a Japanese restaurant menu.

I’m the woman lurking in the back of the class who arrives breathlessly, sits awkwardly, readjusts my position every other minute, and bites my lower lip because everyone else looks so pure and serious and I’m pretending that blotch of salad dressing on my shirt is a decorative lotus. You know, the one who leaves as soon as the teacher exits the room before anyone can talk to me. I’m not the guru who gives you calm advice in perfect grammar with a sweet smile and half-closed eyes. I’m the friend you go to lunch with after a session and ask, “Did you understand that part about…” At the same lunch, I’m likely to confess I couldn’t afford one of those pretty bead malas made of pricey gemstones so I’ve been using a candy necklace and I’m almost out of cherry flavored repetitions.

I’m an everyday Buddhist practitioner who struggles with schedules, insecurities, bad posture, and the feeling that every meditator on earth is better at this awakening thing than I am. Yet, I’m one of the most grounded, happy people you will ever meet. I’m just me. What you’ll discover through the website is that I’m also a little bit of you, too. Sorry about that.

My meditation practice is, at best, a cautionary tale. Within the chaotic borders of what it’s like to be a Buddhist or pursue mindfulness in a messy, challenging, real life I’ve found some lessons that are good for all of us to remember from time to time. Meditation and writing both start the same way – BOC - butt on chair (or, butt on cushion). That’s what I’m doing here – laying out the buffet of my ridiculous cushion crashing experiences and sharing the “bottom line” wisdom I’ve discovered along the way. I’ve also created some spaces for others to share their journey wisdom as well. I’m grateful to have you with me for the ride. Everything is better when we do it together.

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

1. It’s really okay to laugh with your spirituality. In fact, it’s necessary.
2. Wisdom belongs to none of us, and all of us. Give it, get it, go for it – whenever you can.
3. Sometimes you don’t need another class, or book, or celebrated teacher who lives a life far removed from your own. Sometimes, you just need a friend.