Blur: Serial Fiction, Part 4

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“I want a drink of water!” said a little voice by the door and her mom’s boyfriend Bill pulled back his hand and jumped up from the side of the bed in a flash. “G’night, Michelle” he muttered and went out to help Tommy with his drink.

Thank god for little brothers, she thought, switching on the bedside lamp and rushing to shut the door. It wouldn’t help to lock it because the lock could be popped easily with one of those funny little keys in the junk drawer, or even an unbent paper clip.

The last few weeks had been a blur–hospital, funeral, relatives, refrigerator overflowing with food from strangers, missing school then throwing herself into schoolwork to miss the drama, and now dealing with Bill who was one weird dude. Kissed her on the lips when she said goodnight to them a few nights ago, hand on her shoulder, huge eye contact. He kept saying she should be a model, but then he was a freelance photographer. Or so he said.

What was with her mom anyway? Ever since Tommy was born she’d been like a different person. She’d pushed her dad away with yelling and crying and acting crazy until he left, and in the three years since she’d brought home a parade of guys. Bill was just the latest loser to walk through the front door and appear at breakfast after a few so-called dates.

She pushed her dresser in front of her door. It would probably fall over if he could push the door open, but at least she could wake up and get out of bed. She searched her room for a potential weapon if he ever ambushed her like that again. She picked up a big Mickey Mouse figurine from a trip to Disney World. It was made of heavy resin and she loved it dearly. Her dad had bought it for her before the word divorce had ever been spoken in her presence. It would hurt if she had to hit somebody with it. She moved it from the dresser to her night table.

She grabbed her cellphone and texted her friend Amanda. Maybe she could go over there after school and then spend the night. She tapped out a quick question and got an enthusiastic answer back immediately. So that was settled. Amanda would ask her mom and tell her in the morning, and she’d wait to text her mom at work. It was easier than dealing with her face to face. She stuffed a clean t-shirt and underwear in her backpack and started to feel better.

Sleep was nowhere to be found, no matter how long she lay in the bed, so finally she moved the dresser, listened in the hallway for sounds of life but heard nothing, and walked quietly into the kitchen. She found an opened package of Oreos. She was about to stuff some into the pocket of her robe, but thought better if it when she saw there was another unopened package behind it. So she took the whole opened package and hurried back with it to her room. After putting it in a drawer of her night table, she went back in and got a can of Diet Coke, just as her mom opened her door and walked into the kitchen.

“Michelle? Can’t sleep?”

“I was thirsty,” she said, grateful to have stashed the cookies already. Not that her mom would care if she ate them but she wanted to eat them in private. Her mom would probably pull out the milk and want to sit down with her for a late night snack and a talk.

“Well, okay, but at least take a caffeine-free can, so you can get to sleep.”

“Sure,” she said as she switched the can, and mumbling “goodnight,” she hurried back to her room before a conversation could start. That mother-daughter talk might be okay later, but tonight she wanted to keep her thoughts and feelings about her mom’s creepy boyfriend to herself. Her outrage smoldered white hot, and it made her feel strong. She wanted to keep it and nurture it and use it when the time was right.

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For the Daily Post

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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May We know How to Nourish the Seeds of Joy and Happiness in Ourselves

Loving kindness meditation includes aspiring for ourselves and all other beings to know how to nourish the seeds of joy and happiness in ourselves every day. Daily practice of seeing, recognizing and nourishing those seeds of joy is not only a pleasure but an obligation towards our well-being, just as eating, breathing and sleeping are equally important obligations. Oh sure, we can get along without nourishing our happiness, but as a wise one said, “man does not live by bread alone,” neither can we flourish without regular infusions of joy. How do we know how to nourish joy? I find that it is mindfulness to daily experience, even the smallest things and seemingly irrelevant events, that provides the seeds of joy. Once perceived and appreciated, and shared, the small things and brief events are ours to savor with joy. In the past few days, here are just some of the things and events that have brought me joy:

  • Watching a chipmunk eat piece after piece of a cut-up peach, filling his cheeks, running back somewhere in the underbrush, and returning for more
  • Seeing the white-tipped, bushy tail of a red fox as he lept in tall grass near my garden, as this beautiful drawing by irishishka portrays

    Red Fox Pounce by irishishka

  • Smelling a skunk under our window at night, the pungent aroma signalling some distress or confrontation but no indications of what by morning.

    Pepe Le Pew, courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

  • Hearing the amazing hooting of an owl in the middle of the night, and learning that it was a Great Horned Owl

    Great Horned Owl

  • Seeing wild raspberries near my garden Buddha

    Wild Raspberries

  • Seeing Spotted Touch-Me-Not near the raspberries

    Spotted Touch-Me-Not

  • Realizing that my anger can teach me something wonderful and useful, healing, peaceful and divine, by reading “The Poison Tree” by Judy Lief in the latest Shambhala Sun. Click here for a preview.

    “The Poison Tree” in Shambhala Sun

    What brings you joy today?

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Where is My Energy Directed?

Image courtesy of Randall T. Monk, www.TimelyGuidance.com

Image courtesy of Randall T. Monk, http://www.TimelyGuidance.com

Each day when I have come into awareness of myself and the path I desire to walk in following the principles set forth by the Buddha and reinforced many-fold by those who follow his teachings, I set the intention for that day. This is rarely as formal as it sounds, and that dawning into awareness for me may not arise until that first or second session of sitting in meditation, if at all.

Today I direct my energy toward Right Speech. Why this when there are seven other aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path? For me, today, as I aspire to be free from anger, afflictions, fear and anxiety, I recognize that my speech can spark anger in others. Then the passing back and forth of increasingly charged words can bring the anger into me.

I read today Thich Nhat Hanh’s wisdom from his book Anger, excerpted in a 2001 issue of Shambhala Sun:

When someone insults us or does something unkind to us, an internal formation is created in our consciousness. If you don’t know how to undo the internal knot and transform it, the knot will stay there for a long time. And the next time someone says something or does something to you of the same nature, that internal formation will grow stronger. As knots or blocks of pain in us, our internal formations have the power to push us, to dictate our behavior. (Loosening the Knots of Anger, Thich Nhat Hanh, Shambhala Sun, November 2001.)

As I read this passage, I thought of how others sometimes respond to my speech with anger. I can then surmise that these words, meant benignly, or so I like to believe when I utter them, are perceived as unkind or insulting. I am not responsible for issues on another person’s side of the equation that may color the tone of my speech to their ears. But when the response indicates a knot of anger has been formed, I must consider my role in forming it.

When we cast words about freely, much as a gardener broadcasts grass seeds across the ground, some neutral or benign words will fail to root in the other and others will root easily. Some of those that root will fall on the soil of assuming positive intent, and some will fall on the soil of painful expectations. When my neutral or benign words land on the soil of painful expectations, they are then, to that person, painful and knots form. The words spoken in harshness, be they retort, ridicule, blame, critical judgment or rage, are quite likely to form knots of anger in even those who usually assume positive intent, because the words do not resemble positive intent in any way.

While I cannot control how another receives my words, I have a responsibility, in aspiring to Right Speech, to choose them very carefully. Casting words about freely is rather careless. Hence, one of the directives of Right Speech is not speaking empty or useless words. For depth in this important matter, I refer the reader to the words of the Buddha as cited in Access to Insight:

Speak only the speech that neither torments self nor does harm to others. That speech is truly well spoken. Speak only endearing speech, speech that is welcomed. Speech when it brings no evil to others is pleasant.

— Sn 3.3

(“Right Speech: samma vaca“, edited by Access to Insight. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013,http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca4/samma-vaca/index.html .)

So after reading through this comprehensive essay on samma vaca I see that I best avoid raising inflammatory topics, pointing out another’s flaws, speaking of “lowly subjects” such as the evil human beings do, and attempt to stay on the “ten topics of proper conversation,” listed in the same Access to Insight treatise:

“There are these ten topics of [proper] conversation. Which ten? Talk on modesty, on contentment, on seclusion, on non-entanglement, on arousing persistence, on virtue, on concentration, on discernment, on release, and on the knowledge & vision of release. These are the ten topics of conversation. If you were to engage repeatedly in these ten topics of conversation, you would outshine even the sun & moon, so mighty, so powerful — to say nothing of the wanderers of other sects.”

— AN 10.69

So today, aspiring to Right Speech, I, who talk constantly and have since a very tender age, as my parents always said, must exercise awareness as I open my mouth to speak, to ask myself if these words need to be spoken, if they are kind, if they will do no harm. If I ask myself if the words I intend to speak may cause me to afflict myself or afflict another, and the answer is in the affirmative, I ought not utter them. If as I am speaking I ask myself these things, and the answer is in the affirmative, I ought to stop speaking them. And if I ask myself, after having spoken, whether these words bring affliction on myself or another, I must admit to it and determine to do better going forward.

This is a huge challenge! Avoiding frivolous and potentially harmful speech means somehow intercepting my thoughts, that are usually so easily verbalized before they are spoken, to examine them with care.

And today this is my practice.

Right Speech, courtesy of Buddha e lo Sciamano http://buddhatrieste.blogspot.com/2012/05/eightfold-path-right-speech-part1.html

Image courtesy of Buddha e lo Sciamano

Namaste

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Being the Change We Wish to See in the World

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As Mahatma Gandhi said to us, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” What does this mean? Figure out what you feel needs to change in your world and change yourself and your life with its thoughts, intentions and actions accordingly. For example, if we abhor the degrading of our environment, wreaking havoc with our climate, we do what we can to change it. We advocate for sustainable energy and recycle or reuse metal, glass, paper and plastic objects to avoid consigning them to the rising refuse piles on the planet, and we minmize buying products that waste our precious resources. Here in New York City many residents can now compost much of what once ended up in landfills. If we grieve the suffering of farmed animals in the factory production of meats, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products, we buy only humanely raised foods, or as some would deem to be even better, switch to vegan or vegetarian eating, easier to do today than ever. I know, because I have been a fat and sassy vegan for years with no harmful health effects. If we aim to live in a peaceful and conflict-free world, and to be free from anger in the Metta sense, we practice compassionate listening, and we resist the seductive lure of defensiveness and even of playing devil’s advocate, as well as avoiding blatant arguing, righteous indignation and ego-driven defiance. Of course, we may fall short repeatedly, but we can try again and learn over time to eliminate our knee-jerk and hair-trigger reactions to bombast, offensiveness, false accusations and rage, stepping aside to avoid engagement with the fire of that anger lest our own be ignited as well. Fiery anger spreads rapidly through the tinder-dry undergrowth of mindless existence, running along the ground, up tree trunks, onto roofs, and into untended hearts and minds.

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What is the path we are walking in our lives today? Are we part of the solution, or are we by our advocacy, silent assent or apathy being a part of the very problem we seek to change for the better? When we decide to no longer be a part of angry interactions, inflamed rhetoric, and the need to be right above all else, or the abuse of our fellow sentient beings and the world we share with them, we step onto the path of peace.

TNH beautiful path

Let us find and keep on the beautiful path of peace with every step. Naturally we will stray in our steps, especially at first, but we can with each moment of awareness step back where the peace is, where the love is, where the healing is.

Namaste

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Coping with Discomfort on the Fly

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When we decide that anger, and aggravation, irritation, frustration and similar states of inner discomfort, are no longer welcome in us, what happens when they arise?

What do we do, and how do we handle those feelings? First of all, these feelings are normal human states and happen to everyone. What matters most is how we react or respond to them.

As we can read in depth in The Noble Eightfold Path covered by American Buddhist Bhikkhu Bodhi, we can gravitate to one of two extremes wherein we tend to cope with those feelings: 1) giving in to them and allowing them full expression, and 2) repressing them and escaping their immediate influence. The first may feel great in the moment but creates unease, tension and dissatisfaction within us, the nervous system arousal we experience can be very addictive, and usually this behavior exacerbates or causes problems for us with others. Repressing the emotion only momentarily frees us from the interpersonal inflammation so that we can stay peaceful on the surface and in a state of denial that we are angry at all. The bolus of anger, hot and dangerous, sinks deeper into the psyche to cause damage down below our conscious awareness. When anger is submerged it creates vague distress, depression, anxiety, and apprehension, and these can lead us to self-medicate with addictive behaviors such as substance abuse, compulsive overeating, spending, and other efforts to relieve the anger we don’t even know we have.

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Walking the Noble Eightfold Path, also called the Middle Way by the Buddha, puts us at neither extreme but in the middle where we neither express the an ger nor repress it but face it and learn about it and let it go. In Metta meditation we aspire to learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving and delusion in ourselves. We learn to look at what inflames anger within us and see how we can better deal with it. We stop trying to run to or from that anger but sit with it. We let it teach us about ourselves. We welcome it as our teacher but we do not let it control our thoughts or drive our actions.

Recently we attended a community gathering. My husband went to secure our seats while I went to the refreshment area for a cup of tea. Someone I see rarely spotted me and gave me a happy greeting and big hug. But as I moved toward the hot water urn, she said something insulting about my husband, insinuating that if he wasn’t with me she’d be glad. I didn’t engage in that conversation, probably laughed nervously as I moved away. But I didn’t feel very good about it. I was trying to repress the anger. A few moments later I heard this same person tell my husband she had hoped he wouldn’t be at the gathering. He became angry and made a retort that I also tried not to experience. We sat and listened to the lecture, but I was very troubled by the anger I had tried to ignore in myself and by the anger my husband seemed to be feeling as he muttered about the exchange under his breath.

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This is how I dealt with this. I focused on my breathing, using the gatha “Breathing in I am calm, breathing out I smile.”  After a minute or two I had indeed calmed. I then wished the nine Metta aspirations of my daily practice for myself, then for my husband, and lastly for the individual who had provoked our discomfort. I was able to identify fear and anxiety in myself, and I explored my desire not to be in the middle between angry people  and my own indirect avoidance of the conflict without addressing it honestly. I knew this sudden attack had angered my husband, and I felt terrible for him. I also remembered that this person had a history of mental illness with frequent episodes of unwelcome hostility and impulsive blurting, and I wished for her to be free of that affliction. The lecture was a lengthy one, allowing me to get in about 20 minutes of sincere Metta before the gathering broke up. I chatted with others I hadn’t seen in a while, and the troublesome individual hung nearby. I attempted to pass to leave when she walked in front of me to hug me again. I stepped back slightly, and without anger or confrontation in my voice or in my heart, I simply said, “You insulted my husband.” The response was surprising. She stood staring at me for quite a while, silent. Then she said, “I live to insult husbands,” and moved away laughing as we left. I wish her healing, and I hope she can be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit. When we experience these blessed attributes, we do not attempt to hurt others with our words or our actions.

I am so grateful for my meditation practice and for the Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh from whom I have learned so much.

Mindful calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindful calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Namaste

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