Your Weekly Diversion, Week 2

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Howdy, ya’ll. Well, we’ve made it through another week of  crazy news and stressful circumstances, so here’s what I’ve been noting down this week for you to enjoy or learn from.

First you might be interested in the latest from Martin & Company. Back in the 70s I knew a guy who worked there, and he told me employees got to make their own guitar.

Now, did you know that President Barack Obama published three (3) scholarly articles in esteemed journals this month alone? Me neither, and I’ve scanned them, and they’re pretty impressive. No other sitting president has done this, I believe. Boy, do I miss him!

It looks like any official efforts by the United States to stem climate change aren’t going to happen in the next four years, but as I posted last week, Forbes Magazine published this great article telling us what each of us can do, so let’s do our part. By the way, check out how many scientists have decided to run for office since January 20, 2017. Cool, right?

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Photo by Troy Dillard, courtesy of Lion’s Roar

As a Buddhist, I am very grateful that my people turned out in women’s marches all over the world last Saturday. Check this out. That’s the very cool abbot Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara of the Village Zendo in the pussy hat, which you’ll see when you scroll through the article.

And I want to leave you with your feet tapping and your heart soaring so let’s hear it for the indomitable Carole King who re-released this for the Women’s March she attended in the Northern Tier. She offers this song, “One Small Voice” to us all free to stream and download.

 

Namasté

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Innovations and Learning Every Day

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On January 1, 2017 the NBC News app Breaking News closed down. I checked it several times daily for the latest news and updates on current events. Okay, I checked it compulsively! So when it went away, what to do? I chose to get apps from BlogLovin‘, Flipboard and the venerable BBC. Sure, I do still read news stories, but now I’m perusing sone great blogs and learning new things. All 3 apps invite you to select areas of personal interest so what you see is curated for you. Always stashing promising recipes on Pinterest, I’m pinning cool-sounding recipes like crazy from blogs I never would have seen before.

In this new year, so much new information and many new things abound, as blogs I’m visiting this year so far prove out. I’ve read about:

  • Cai Guo Qiang, a New York artist, has produced some incredible daytime pyrotechnics displays utilizing not just gunpowder but organic vegetable dyes with fantastic results. The photo headlining this blogpost today features “Remembrance” from a Shanghai performance. Learn about a Netflix documentary on Cai here.
  • On Craft Gawker, I found a free, sweet sleeping fox painting by Hungarian artist Panka to use for wallpaper on my iPad and iPhones.
  • I love foaming hand soaps, but they get used up so fast. But wait, you can refill them yourself! I learned how to do it here, using any delicious-scented hand soap of your choice. It took Goo Gone to fully remove the label, but worth it.
  • An innovative new hairdryer (Dyson) that promises great results for around $400. Probably good but just too costly. When hairdressers start using them in my salon, I’ll think about it.
  • A new countertop cooking device called an Instant Pot that serves as rice cooker, slow cooker, steamer and pressure cooker (and even more). Not sure about this one yet. I still remember my mother’s beets-on-the-ceiling story.
  • Mindful Eating as a blending of Buddhist mindfulness and therapeutic treatment of compulsive overeating. Definitely something to implement this year. (Mindfully drinking a very tasty cherry, lemon, grape spirulina Vanilla Vinyasa smoothie as I write.)
  • What I should put in my gym bag. This is a very useful post that I’ll start to implement for Monday’s gym workout.
  • The five dirtiest things you touch every day. Yikes! Who knew that virtually 100% of shopping cart handles have E. coli!

I’d love to hear which apps and blogs you, my much-appreciated readers and subscribers, recommend! Please comment here so we can all learn. Thank you!

Namasté

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Why Buddhists Should be Vegetarian

As a Buddhist and imperfect vegan who more accurately fits the definition of vegetarian, this post offers much food for thought, if you’ll pardon the unfortunate cliché, and the comments that follow are every bit as thought provoking and helpful in their way as the author’s most excellent writing on the subject. Let us all reason together, explore, discuss, evolve and change for the better. May we try each day to live Metta, or loving kindness, to the very best of our imperfect ability. Namasté, Sonnische/Shielagh

Sujato’s Blog

The Buddha ate meat. This is a fairly well attested fact. The issue of vegetarianism is addressed a few times in the Suttas, notably the Jivaka Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya. The Buddha consistently affirmed that monastics were permitted to eat meat, as long as it was not killed intentionally for them. There are numerous passages in the Vinaya that refer to the Buddha or the monastics eating meat, and meat is regularly mentioned as one of the standard foods.

For these reasons, the standard position in Theravada Buddhism is that there is no ethical problem with eating meat. If you want to be vegetarian, that is a purely optional choice. Most Theravadins, whether lay or monastic, eat meat, and claim to be acting within the ethical guidelines of the Buddha’s teachings.

This position sits squarely within a straightforward application of the law of kamma, understood as intention. Eating meat…

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Revisiting Compassionate Listening

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In the two years since I first published a post on compassionate listening, I’ve had many opportunities, both personally and professionally, to experience how very essential to our wellbeing and our relationships compassionate listening truly is.

Whether our listening involves another person face to face, on the phone, or via text or email, or just watching a speaker on TV, we can miss a lot if we aren’t giving what we hear (or consume electronically) our full attention. True wisdom mandates we really attend to the other person openly, empathically and with kindness.

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I have encountered two more potential impediments to compassionate listening and both relate to aging that I experience in my work as a psychologist practicing psychotherapy. Because I’m now a Medicare provider in an area with fewer such providers, my psychotherapy practice embraces more older men and women than ever before. As I and those around me get older I’ve had many personal experiences with these listening impediments as well.

The first impediment is impaired hearing in which the listener mishears or fails to hear all our words and “fills in” what they think we said, sometimes getting it very wrong. Later someone one tells us emphatically that we said thus and so, perhaps something very contrary to our intent or even tragically so, creating a conflict we must now try to resolve, a potential distraction to the potentially sensitive work at hand. It can be extremely frustrating to both speaker and listener for the communication to break down simply because one or both parties can’t hear as well as they think they do. While it can be amusing, as the photo below illustrates, usually communication failure due to hearing problems is far from funny. It’s embarrassing and frustrating and interferes with friendly interactions.

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The second impediment is the increasingly frequent word-finding difficulty most older people experience. We all do this from time to time, and as we get older it happens with greater frequency. Speakers may pause as they search for certain words or familiar phrases, creating gaps in the narrative. A frustrated listener might quickly offer suggestions, and this can be perceived as a failure to respect the speaker’s competency or autonomy.

Another variation on the word-finding phenomenon is the speaker reaching into his or her vast vocabulary database, as it were, and pulling out a similar but incorrect word. image The similarity may be sound (e.g. tractor for factor). It may be the way the word begins or ends (shrimp for sharp), or relate in some other way we cannot fathom as the speaker struggles to get a point across. The listener then wonders what this is supposed to mean and may ask. The annoyed or frustrated response may follow, “You know what I mean!” Perhaps we do, but what if we don’t?

Compassionate listening involves seeing and feeling the struggle that others are experiencing and giving them time and space to find their way. If they grow silent with overwhelm or discouragement, or say, “Forget it!” we might ask, “Want me to try to help you with what you’re trying to say?” If they ask us to suggest a word, we should do so, but with the tentative deference suggesting we leave it to them to confirm or reject our suggestion. I find it helps to offer something like, “I’m having trouble hearing what you’re trying to say. My fault. Would you please try again?”

As we ourselves get older we probably will do the same sometimes. Our compassion for others with these difficulties will help us be compassionate towards ourselves if we fumble to express ourselves so that our listener understands. And if we have developed compassion towards ourselves by practicing Metta, or loving kindness, in our meditation practice as well as our daily interactions, we will naturally feel more compassion as we listen.

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Namasté

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Daruma or Bodhidharma: Early Zen Master

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This craggy early Zen Master, known as Daruma in Japan and Bodhidarma elsewhere in the Buddhist world, has been immortalized by Zen scholar Hakuin.

Learn more about the gifted monastic artist who painted Daruma and other Buddhist figures many times during his 15 years of artistic expression in this post at Buddhism Now https://buddhismnow.com/2016/05/01/the-sound-of-one-hand-paintings-and-calligraphy-by-zen-master-hakuin/

In the accompanying video at Buddhism Now and produced by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), curator Rob Singer gives the background and context of the artist Hakuin.

Namasté

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Milkweed in October

All photos mine, taken with iPhone 6.

All photos mine, taken with iPhone 6.

Autumn has descended upon us virtually overnight with her reds and yellows, browns and orange leaves among the green. The garden is on its last legs, the tomatoes picked and sitting on the windowsill to ripen. Only the exuberant parsley and leggy basil remain. I’ve filled jars with both to enjoy their green abundance and aroma, and to make picking a few leaves here and there a breeze.

On my way back from our community garden the other day I came upon a field of milkweed, their snowy fluff catching my eye among the greens and autumn colors.

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I knew little about milkweed (Asclepius syriaca), mostly that the sap of the immature pod is white and milky in appearance. I just referred to Wikipedia on the subject and read that monarch butterfly larvae feed solely on milkweed and therefore monarch populations in a given area depend upon the abundance of milkweed plants within it. The silky floss is so soft to the touch, even with the flat brown seeds to which it is attached. As I approached the field, I saw bits of fluff in the air.

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Up here on the Pocono Plateau milkweed is ubiquitous, on the roadsides and in fields. The ones pictured here grow along a leachfield for the community’s water management. And now I know why several varieties of monarchs are so abundant here as well!

How interesting it is to me that humans have found little use for these plants, despite considerable effort to eat the green pod, use the sap or exploit their floss and wood fibers for industry. The Wikipedia article says that Euell Gibbons found a way to eat them and that native Americans have used their fiber for textiles.

The miracle of nature is so present here in this amazing plant. A particular species of insect, the monarch butterfly, relies on this particular plant family for its survival. The flowers are pollinated by a variety of insects, and when the dried pods split open the wind catches and elevates the fluff and makes sure the seeds scatter far and wide.

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Mindfulness practice trains us to see and explore all that we encounter for its purpose and intent. We do not always understand what we see, but as nature unfolds before us and we are fortunate enough to learn about it, the world makes more sense to us. The milkweed, a plant of no remarkable beauty until fall, with its knobby pods, serves a vital role in the ecology of our planet. Having met and savored its beauty up close this week, I will never take it for granted in same way again.

Namasté

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Nine-eleven Fourteen Years On

Cityscape, by Michael Leu, etching from the collection of the author.

Cityscape, by Michael J. Leu, etching from the collection of the author.

September 12, 2001

Brooklyn, New York

Yesterday our world changed and our lives will never be the same again. Yesterday at 8:46 a.m., while I was driving to my Manhattan office, just yards away from entering the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, I looked up at the twin towers of the World Trade Center. What I saw will be burned in my memory forever. I saw the North Tower explode into a fireball, with confetti-like showers of shattered glass glinting in the sun across the blue sky around the buildings. Plumes of black smoke began pouring out. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I looked to the people in the cars around me, and no one else seemed aware of it. I had 880-News Radio on, and they were not speaking of it. I tried to call 911 but couldn’t get through. I called (my friend and colleague) and told him what I was seeing. By then I was going into the tunnel, unable to leave the queue in which I found myself. As I proceeded with painstaking slowness, often dead-stopped, I listened to Don Imus on the radio and CBS radio also. About 20 minutes after the first explosion, which I now knew was the impact of an airplane, I learned another plane had crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Before I emerged from the tunnel into the now-war zone of lower Manhattan, I also heard President Bush speaking of the crisis for the first time.

When I emerged, I saw both towers flaming and spewing clouds of black and gray smoke. All traffic was diverted to downtown, emergency vehicles and MTA heavy equipment blocking all routes north. Unable to get to my office, which I would have done if permitted, I got on the FDR heading toward the Brooklyn Bridge. There were very few vehicles on the FDR, and most were pulled over by the side of the road, their occupants standing together, cameras trained on the WTC towers, which were still burning furiously. I opened my window and shared a sentiment of shock and dismay with a man standing by his car. Car radios were all on 1010-WINS, as was my own at that moment, the doors open and the sound of the news briefs and unfolding events in the air. I got on the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. Traffic was very heavy and slow onto the bridge. I saw masses of people streaming north and east, away from the Financial District. As I listened to unfolding events, I learned that the South Tower had collapsed and wasn’t there anymore. Suddenly people began running onto the roadway where I was, running furiously away from a large, billowing white cloud rolling from Ground Zero towards me. I had to use my wipers to remove the ashes and dust that began to accumulate on my windshield. I put on my fog lights and headlights as my car and those people around me became enveloped in a thick dust cloud. We crept onto the bridge. Pedestrians clogged the center walkway, and I had seen probably thousands walking across the bridge to Brooklyn before my view was really obliterated. As I crept across, pedestrians hurried along the paved roadway, too, and at times they seemed to engage angrily with drivers ahead of me, but I was not aware of why. At one point, a car came at our queue head on, speeding the wrong way towards Manhattan, filled with men who looked like plain-clothed police.

When I got to the Brooklyn side of the East River, I stayed on surface streets and laboriously wended my way home. I parked my ash-covered car in my parking garage, and tried to find out about (my husband). His brother didn’t answer. I knew he was in the field, working the New York City primary election. I didn’t know which borough he had gone to, and I was worried. I called my mother to tell her I was okay. She had been beside herself with worry and had tried to call but all circuits had been busy, she said.

I finally got through to my husband’s boss who said he had heard from him and he was in Brooklyn. As we spoke, he came through the door to our apartment. I have never been so glad to see anyone in my life. We have been together since, attending meetings and calling friends and family. He has been unable to reach anyone in his organization. I can’t get to my office because no one is permitted below 14th Street in Manhattan, and my office is between 12th and 13th Streets. I have called my patients. As far as I know, they are all okay.

Today I made arrangements to stay with my husband wherever I go, and to meet (a close friend) at a meeting. We’ll have lunch together. I also left my name and phone numbers with two local hospitals in the event that my services as a clinical psychologist are requested. I have heard that the volunteer response to this act of war has been incredible. (Our son) and I spoke last night. He has his own challenges now, but he was relieved to know we are safe here.

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September 11, 2015

Brooklyn, New York

Today I elected to pull a long-ignored journal from its place in my office armoire at home, thinking I would read what I wrote about my experiences on 9/11/2001. It’s interesting to me to read what I believe are discrepancies with what actually happened, but then perhaps those details that feel real and true now are the discrepancies from what actually occurred. For example, my recollection is that I looked up and saw a gaping hole in the North Tower with flames pouring out and sparking shards of glass, which we later learned were mostly papers floating out from the offices that had been blown open and were now on fire. For days afterward we found some of these papers, singed or intact, on our lawn in Brooklyn. My recollection now is of compulsively calling my mother while I was in the tunnel, but unable to get through. I believe I was in there over an hour listening to eyewitness accounts of what was going on above. I carried a cellphone and had for several years, but my husband did not, so I never tried to call him, not knowing where I’d find him that day.

Photo courtesy of Bay Ridge Phantom, 2006

Photo courtesy of Bay Ridge Phantom, 2006

A year or so later I published a professional paper, “Impact of the World Trade Center Disaster on a Manhattan Psychotherapy Practice” and gave my impressions of that day from my experience and from the perspectives of my patients. Reading it later I cringed at how patriotic it seemed, but such were those very overwhelming days. I don’t mean to suggest that loving one’s country is in any way undesirable. But in the months and years after 9/11/2001, love of country seemed often to be co-opted by some for political gain, or fearmongering, or whipping up war fever.

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We drove across the Brooklyn Bridge today, just blocks north of the memorial events downtown. The traffic was brutal what with closed streets to accommodate the dignitaries and the grieving survivors of that awful day. Our city now is vibrant and still ever on the build. Cranes abound as new skyscrapers arise, and parking spaces are harder and harder to come by in Park Slope.

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The best thing about the news today that I sampled on my iPhone as we traveled to the country for the weekend was the photo of a group of 14-year-olds on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, all born on September 11, 2001, wearing t-shirts reading Hope, and Unity, and Kindness. Life goes on, and that we must never forget, even though we eventually will die, as will all those we love, but this is as it should be. Impermanence is an oft denied reality of life as we know it. The shock of knowing it so starkly as we did that day knocked us sideways. I conclude this post with a version of the Buddhist Metta Sutta, adapted from that offered by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice (2011, Parallax Press):

May each of you be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit.

May you safe and free from injury.

May you be free from anger, fear, afflictions and anxiety.

May you learn to look at yourselves with the eyes of understanding and love.

May you be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in yourselves.

May you learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving and delusion in yourselves.

May you know how to nourish the seeds of joy in yourselves every day.

May you be able to live fresh, solid and free.

May you be free from attachment and aversion but not be indifferent.

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Savoring the Bounty of Summer

This has been an interesting summer here on the Pocono Plateau of northeastern Pennsylvania. The first few weekends were washouts, dashing hopes for long awaited tennis events and swimming plans. The woods became more dense with lush leafy growth of shrubs and trees. I have read this is due to higher levels of carbon dioxide produced by warmer climate. In previous summers one could see through the trees in the back yard to streetlights beyond but not so this year.

Our garden Buddha sits atop the remains of an old stone foundation wall, and it has been necessary to cut back the berry canes and other shrubs around it several times this year.

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We also have seen no fireflies here or in New York this summer. I haven’t seen any news stories to address this in 2015, but apparently light pollution is a major factor. When the night is bright, fireflies fail to see one another in their usual mating courtship and therefore produce no offspring the following year.

In addition to the lush vegetation we see all around us, our small plot in the community garden is a tangle of tomato abundance and exuberant Italian parsley and fragrant basil. The parsley is an essential for summer green smoothies, offset nicely by ginger root, fruit and other healthy additions, depending on one’s tastes and what is available. We’ve made piña colada mojito smoothies, minus the spirits but tangy and delicious all the same.

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These Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes are ready to pick when the bottom is purply-red and the top still green, and frequently cracked as well.

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Sliced, these Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes are dark red with a purple tinge. They are delicious!

Savoring summer’s bounty has been a very happy experience this year, as has casting our meditative eyes on our lovely Buddha, surrounded by the lush woodsy growth, ferns, clover and the potted begonia that has flourished without any care as it celebrates its honored place.

A lotus for you,

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