Your Weekly Diversion, Week 33

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Image from the Medicine Owl

The Medicine Owl website tells us that in astrology the number 33 is a Master Number, the “teacher of teachers”:

33 is the number of ‘teacher of teachers’. It is a number that calls for service to humanity. It is a highly dedicated vibration, and people who carry this master number in their charts, have chosen a life of service to others. This means some sacrificing of personal goals and ideals for the greater good of man is required. When the number 33 individuals fully accept and step into their mission, they can overwrite other challenging aspects of their birth chart. That is the power of this number.

At this particular time in our human history, this time in which you and I and all around us are aware of such suffering from Hurricane Harvey and flooding in Houston, Texas, Louisiana and the whole region, service to humanity is certainly called for! I urge each of those who read this blog post today to do what you can for the cause, and I suspect you already have.

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You can donate to the Salvation Army here

We discussed how we would contribute, and we ended up donating to the Salvation Army, for long held family gratitude. Back in the day, my mother-in-law, may she Rest In Peace, got a job with the telephone company in New York, and when it was learned that she was Jewish, she was fired. This was devastating to her and the family on so many levels. After this awful event, she was hired by the Salvation Army, and we have a photo in the attic of her in full Army regalia ringing a bell on a street corner. We hold them in highest esteem because of this loving inclusiveness.

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Today’s diversions are first of the green variety. Household cleaning agents are often toxic, noxious or just plain lousy for us to smell and use. Today the Vitamin Shoppe sent an email giving some cleaning solutions we can make from nontoxic household items most of us already have. Then I looked up my favorite line of commercially available cleaning products on the Environmental Working Group. I learned they are mostly okay. Check out yours.

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One thing I learned there is that Dr Bronner’s Castile Soap is totally safe. It can be used for just about every cleaning task you have, personal, household and even animal. I intend to try it in a load of laundry this weekend, and follow their directions to add a cup of white vinegar (I’ve had a gallon from the dollar store forever) to the rinse cycle to soften the clothes. Here’s their page of cleaning solutions.

For your listening enjoyment, here is Sisana singing “Africa” and here is a link to a recent BBC feature about the young South African musician who once was homeless and destitute. It all fits together today, doesn’t it?

 

Namasté

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Your Weekly Diversion, Week 30

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Photo courtesy of Julia Webb, flickr.com

This is Week 30 of my chronicle of changing times, except I’m not really doing that, just offering a brief general observation, followed by interesting diversions to edify my readers, as they have edified me.

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Sylvia Boorstein, photo from onbeing.org

This week’s observation: as we are stunned by the “fire and fury” and “locked and loaded” off the cuff blurts spewed Eastward and globally to our collective potential peril, it helped me to read what Karl Duffy posted this morning on his daily Mindful Balance blog, a quote from esteemed Buddhist teacher and psychologist, Sylvia Boorstein, starting with this:

The line from the Dhammapada, a compilation of sayings attributed to the Buddha, that seems the best expression of wisdom, is: “Anyone who understands impermanence, ceases to be contentious.”

Impermanence means that whatever is going on right now will change, for better or for worse or in some other way we cannot foresee. So being freaked out by the crazy machinations of any world leader, East or West, is a waste of the limited precious moments of this life. Click on the link above and read what Sylvia Boorstein says about it.

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Having a home to call one’s own, be it transitional, rented or owned, is deemed essential to a healthy life. If you have land you can use, even if you don’t own that land, this house can be brought to the site and “built” in under 10 minutes. The company, Ten Fold Engineering maintains that a foundation is not required, just stable ground, and when the structure is towed away, it need leave no trace. The structure can even be completely off the grid. While not available for most of us yet, it’s an example of what can be done. The structures can be stacked and connected to form multiunit dwellings.

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Photo from calfinder.com

Homelessness is a serious problem in the United States. Over half a million individuals were counted as homeless in 2015, as this site details. They do report that the number of homeless people has declined, although my working in New York suggested otherwise. For more modest examples of housing one can build out of materials often seen as “trash” check out Calfinder, the videos here or Relax Shacks for plans and tons more information.

Another challenge can be having a home but no longer having access to one’s usual faculties if dementia robs one of speech. But, it’s not always as gone as it seems.

Let’s just remember, we are only one call away for someone who needs us, as Charlie Puth sings. Let us hope that they remember, too.

Check out this video on YouTube:

 

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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