Reasons for Hope

A welcome respite

from hurricane news and our once feeble but increasingly robust preparations, such as they are, was this lovely story about crows.
https://www.thedodo.com/in-the-wild/crows-bring-gifts-to-kind-woman

Toggling between our tribal news channel and the Weather Channel, the level of anxiety in our household grows exponentially. We submitted our application weeks ago for our county’s Special Needs Shelter (they stress they are to be seen as a “shelter of last resort”), and I called to confirm with relief that we’re in their system and learned where to go, with Daisy, if they call to tell us to evacuate. We both qualify as special needs since I must sleep no further than six and a half feet from the electronic machine that reads my heart monitor every night, and our other challenges make qualifying a no-brainer. Our shelter will be set up in a high school gym, and I have our Go Bags packed for ourselves and our cat. Can you figure out whose is whose?

Publix was out of water when we got there today, so we went to CVS and found plenty. Now we have big two cases of bottled water in one car and one case in the other. Obviously I can’t drive both cars, so when/if we get the order to evacuate, we’ll stash one car in the garage, probably the smaller one, and take the other to the shelter. I’m trying to stay abreast of the items we’ve been told to have on hand. As of now we’ve got the aforementioned water, full tanks of gas, batteries, non-perishable foods, and now, a solar USB charger. Best Buy was sold out of the affordable models when I checked yesterday, so I found one on Amazon and, I kid you not, it came this afternoon! It was already charged and even has a fancy light that can flash the SOS code, strobe, and beam a steady light, dim or blinding. All for less than $50! Tucked that puppy in my Go Bag. It’s really quite spectacular.

Wishing you all a lovely Labor Day weekend. If we cook out on the grill in coming days, let’s hope it’s not because we had to use all the meat in the freezer. And please do send some positive vibes our way. Our Sunshine State could really use them!

Thus Have I Read

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An American flag and photograph of the Buddha are prominently displayed in the barracks of the Portland Livestock Exposition Building, where Japanese Americans were interned. May 31, 1942 | Photograph courtesy The Oregonian / Barcroft Media

This morning I read an article in the Tricycle magazine and found it so forceful, I wanted to assure more people read it. That’s where you come in, and hopefully you’ll direct your friends and followers to check it out as well. For immediate, present moment relevance, just notice the crib in the above photograph.

At this time in our nation’s history when children as young as infants are being separated from parents at our southern border and held in tent encampments and other dreary facilities, we need to remember where this country has been. We may have thought we had moved beyond the paranoid ideation leading to the ensiling of the different, or alien, other. Au contraire. Here we are. We are being led by an individual who hawks lies and hatred purchased wholesale by the incurious and the uninformed. That there are so many of them appalls and frightens me. So, as Duncan Ryuken Williams quotes Nyogen Senzaki in this Tricycle piece,

The Buddha taught that identity is neither permanent nor disconnected from the realities of other identities. From this vantage point, America is a nation that is always dynamically evolving—a nation of becoming, its composition and character constantly transformed by migrations from many corners of the world, its promise made manifest not by an assertion of a singular or supremacist racial and religious identity, but by the recognition of the interconnected realities of a complex of peoples, cultures, and religions that enrich everyone.

Namasté,

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Your Weekly Diversion, Year 2, Week 1

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Starting the second year of this blog, I’m thinking about where we stand. What does that mean? Where I stand is where I am in this moment, sitting in the living room looking out on the small lake to our west, while my husband watches football. Where do we stand as a country? Boy, I wish I really knew. Yesterday people in Hawaii were scared out of their wits when an imminent ballistic missile attack alert came over cellphones, TV broadcasts and from outdoor speakers. It took a full 38 minutes for the official push announcement to come through on cellphones that it was a false alarm. 38 minutes! People were running around like crazy, some even lowering their kids down the manholes of storm drains.

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Photo from Pinterest

Most of us baby boomers can recall the Cold War air raid drills in the 1950s and early 1960s where we had to crouch under our desks with our hands over our heads, preparing for the possibility of nuclear attack. Many still harbor vestiges of those early fears of being attacked by a missile with a nuclear warhead. We learned as we got older that hiding under a desk would have done nothing to prevent our extreme injury or annihilation, as the entire industrialized world knew after Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Some of us wondered when the bomb was going to get us, and how old we would be when it did. Some families actually built bomb shelters in their back yards. It was a thing. I knew a kid whose family had one. Did you?

Most parents and working adults today have no such memories and only know the recent feud the so-called leader of the free world has been fomenting with North Korea as a potentially imminent threat. No “duck and cover” drills for them. Yet out of fear and chaos yesterday, little kids were dropped by their parents into storm drains! Given that Hawaii is closer to North Korea than the US mainland, within reach of their missiles, and that Pearl Harbor was the site of a deadly attack on Hawaii, this preventable false alarm seems especially cruel.

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Drawing from moziru.com

Now that I’ve scared you, tweaking that old nuclear specter from your unconscious yet again, let’s get diverted! This may seem counterintuitive, but to be relieved of  the torment of this fear, you are going to have to look at it. As a psychologist, I know this from professional as well as personal experience, and although it’s not necessarily easy, doing it really helps. Experiencing fear is a form of suffering. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has said that rather than running from our suffering, we can hold it as we would a crying child and we will suffer less. You can read more about this in his book No Mud, No Lotus. Here is an excerpt from Goodreads:

The function of mindfulness is, first, to recognize the suffering and then to take care of the suffering. The work of mindfulness is first to recognize the suffering and second to embrace it. A mother taking care of a crying baby naturally will take the child into her arms without suppressing, judging it, or ignoring the crying. Mindfulness is like that mother, recognizing and embracing suffering without judgement.

So the practice is not to fight or suppress the feeling, but rather to cradle it with a lot of tenderness. When a mother embraces her child, that energy of tenderness begins to penetrate into the body of the child. Even if the mother doesn’t understand at first why the child is suffering and she needs some time to find out what the difficulty is, just her act of taking the child into her arms with tenderness can already bring relief. If we can recognize and cradle the suffering while we breathe mindfully, there is relief already.

― Thich Nhat Hanh, No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering

So let’s imagine for a moment the fear evoked by that scary reaper, or descending nuclear annihilation or fire of death or whatever you will.  As you allow yourself to think of this fear, see if you can pinpoint what are you actually afraid of.  Is it pain? Death? Nonexistence? Separation from loved ones? Seeing loved ones hurt or dead? Losing your possessions? Living under tyranny or despotism? Okay, if you know what fear thoughts of a nuclear attack evokes, imagine you can hold it in your arms. Give your fear loving, caring attention. Don’t try to silence it with a mood-changing substance or activity. Just sit with it, if even for only a minute. Breathe deeply as you hold your fear. Breathe in with awareness, and breathe out with gratitude. You might do it for a few minutes longer, but only if you want to and feel you can. Now take a couple of deep, cleansing breaths and go do something else. Good for you!

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Photo from quartz.com

Another diversion for you, more interesting than that first one, I suspect. Former Army soldier Chelsea Manning has decided to run for the US Senate in the state of Maryland as a Democrat. This will pit her against veteran Democrat Senator Ben Cardin, a tough slog due to his strong role fighting for progressive issues and taking on Russian interference in the recent presidential election. Chelsea may not win, but she’s definitely showing her mettle. This Guardian story elaborates and includes her YouTube video.

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Something more fun, you ask? Okay, there’s a new bar in Brooklyn called “Kick Axe” where drinkers can throw axes at a target! Wheee! Can’t wait! Um…

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Photo from #catpusic on Pinterest

More? Love inspiring kitty stories? Me too! Meet a cute black and white cat named Pusic.

Since the prospect of nuclear war arguably spawned some of the best the folk music of the 1960’s, let’s not forget that “The Times They are A’Changin” then and now. And since we heard this anthem from composer Bob Dylan earlier, now we can enjoy Simon and Garfunkel covering it.

 

Namasté

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They are Everywhere

UPDATE: I just reread this post after more than two years. It merits sharing again, especially in this new, frightening climate of political extremism and the threat of diminishing entitlements for those who need them most. — Shielagh 2/23/17

They are everywhere. 

The Four Noble Truths: – The truth of suffering – The truth of the origin of suffering – The truth of the end of suffering – The truth of the path to the end of suffering

 

I cannot help but see how they suffer. I am not sure what the blessing is in suffering through homelessness and hopelessness. I see them on the subway, asking for money, food, Metrocards, help, hope. I see them sleeping in corners and in doorways, laid out awkwardly across subway platform benches that are uncomfortably partitioned for four. I see them at the end of subway cars, sleeping or pretending to sleep, surrounded by bulging bags of their things, some with a plastic hospital bracelet on one wrist. Flip flops in winter, dirty feet in slippers or worn-out shoes, sometimes in wooden surgical boots. Reddened, swollen ankles blotched and shiny with edema. Often and more now than before, I see well-groomed men sitting behind polite cardboard signs asking for compassion, for a hand up, bus fare home, a meal, as they read a book or magazine, avoiding eye contact. Groups of grimy kids sleeping on cardboard with dogs or cats, their cardboard signs asking for money for food or a hotel room before the next storm hits. I see the long, matted blond dreadlocks about begrimed, drawn faces of kids young enough to be my grandchildren, skateboards under arms and sleeping bags and backpacks weighing them down as they move from place to place, rousted by police or in search of something much needed right then. I see the African hair, wild and long, grizzled into shaggy beards framing dark, dusty faces. I’ve seen men and women, in couples and alone, sleeping against buildings in midmorning in mummy bags or bedrolls, their things in bags about them, the smell of old urine strong by the nearby broken payphone enclosure. Once I looked up from my own thoughts to see an old woman defecating into a plastic bag between the bike rack and the litter can by a busy intersection downtown. I didn’t want to see. I felt her suffering, a reality that seemed to say, there is nowhere else for me to go.

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

Homeless man on the F train

I see the bloody socks, the bandaged hands, the haunted faces, the vacant eyes. I see the plastic rosary beads around scrawny necks, the cigarettes, the brown-bagged cans and bottles, the battered paper coffee cups hopeful for change. I hear the  guitarist on the subway platform singing a Neil Young song as tenderly and tunefully as Neil himself. I watch as passersby waiting for their train or heading towards the stairs drop a dollar into the guitar case, or hurry by unaware of the fragile life of the man behind the instrument. I have seen him for at least ten years now. He no longer has teeth. I have given many dollar bills over those years. Once he stood near the stairs crying and asking if anyone could help him get new guitar strings before the music store closed, saying someone had damaged his guitar at the hospital. I gave him a five and told another woman who stopped, looking worried, that he sings as beautifully as Neil Young. He was too upset to respond and kept weeping. There is something very broken in him now, because between his haunting songs he sometime yells and screams at no one in particular about world injustices, thoughtless people, all the “motherfuckers” and “assholes,” whoever and wherever they may be. I am sure he suffers greatly.

I hear the crazy rants, the anger, the fear, the hopelessness, and see the dirt, the empty eyes, the pathos written all over the faces. I used to tell myself they were students in a sociology class, running experiments to see how others react to homelessness, poverty, need and hopelessness.  It’s been a very long time since I comforted myself with that fantasy. I know there are police patrols and pairs of homeless workers who travel these streets to see who needs help, but many withdraw from them and are not seen. When winter comes and rough weather prevails, vans traverse our streets with workers trying to get homeless men and women into shelters for the night. Places they’d rather die than go, mostly. Addictions, experiences being robbed, histories of abuse, compounded fear and layers of hopelessness scare them away from shelter and often from helping hands up and out of their despair. Such suffering.

I hear the pleas on the subway cars as we rattle between Manhattan and Brooklyn, from the tall man in fatigues asking, “Can you help a homeless Veteran?” From a small dark-eyed woman with a large child on her hip, both with doleful expressions, who stands in front of each passenger holding a sign that says, “I am deaf and mute. We need food. Can you help us?” And the young woman with several children in tow, repeating the length of the car, “My house burned down, we have nothing. My children and I are homeless, can you help?” Sometimes while the person is traversing the car, an announcement comes over the loudspeaker reminding us that it is against the law to solicit on the subway. “Ladies and gentlemen soliciting money in the subway is illegal,” it drones. Ignore the suffering, it suggests. Others will see to it.

I don’t always, but I’ve offered what I can, a Metrocard with a few trips left on it, a little money, a protein bar, a sandwich, dog or cat food for a homeless person’s animal companion. And when money or food or something else is offered, they nod and sometimes say, “Thank you.” “God bless you.” “You are very kind.” And when nothing is offered and they stand at the doors as the train comes to a stop, I’ve heard, “You folks have a good day now.” “Hope you never know how hard this is,” and “God bless you.”  And then there was the weather-beaten old woman I once offered a plastic container of holiday cookies that I’d planned to share at the office. She screamed at me incomprehensibly and batted away my offering with as much force and rage as if I’d pulled a knife.

They tear at my heartstrings, and their suffering fills me with fear from depths unknown, fear of destitution and homelessness, fear of extreme isolation and loneliness, fear of rejection, fear of untreated mental illness, fear of surrender to hopelessness, fear of losing faith in my ability to manage, fear of losing the belief I will be taken care of if ever I cannot take care of myself, fear of giving up and giving in to addiction, fear of illness and parasites and dirt. Fear of growing into very old age alone and defenseless, of outliving savings. And my practice has taught me that it is out of fear that aversion grows. Every day I aspire to be free from aversion, attachment and indifference. I am learning to see past fear and into fellow beings, beings whose lives are as transitory as my own, to see their suffering, to have compassion, and to remember that within each of them learning and growing and karma are also taking place.

So I read every single day, and recite aloud most days, the Buddhist text of the Metta Sutta. I often read it in the morning during my subway ride. My version says, “Let none deceive another or despise any being in any state,” to despise no beings–none, to have loving kindness for all, no matter how small or great, no matter the circumstances. To love each being, human and otherwise, “freed from hatred and ill-will,” to love them all dearly, as a mother loves her only child. How difficult this is to do, and yet how important it is to try.

And today this is my practice.

Namaste

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