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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Your Weekly Diversion, Week 31

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Photo courtesy For Arts Sake Boutique

Week 31. Just when you don’t think things can’t get worse, all hell breaks loose and people die. Then the spin machine wobbles, spitting out more crazy, and causing many to scratch their heads nearly bald. As a Buddhist, I was asked recently by a reader of this blog if I hate the president. I’ve been taught, as you probably have, to hate bad actions but not the actor. I said no, but sometimes I know I say that I do, so troubled am I by his demeanor, utterances, actions and incitement to anger and violence. It’s a process.

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Sign available from Rustic Decorating

What should we do with our negative emotions felt towards other beings, especially public figures who seem to be sending our civilization and the world hurtling toward mutually assured destruction? I practice Metta meditation daily, and sometimes, not as often as I wish, I remember to send it toward Washington. I also have used the 12-Step practice of praying for those towards whom I feel resentment for two weeks, three if necessary, until the resentment eases. I offer thanks to the person who reminded me through that question that I have a spiritual obligation to exercise the practices I know. Both Tricycle magazine and Lion’s Roar have run features in the past eight months offering Buddhist perspectives on this very dilemma.

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So, first distraction right here! Do you know your Ayurvedic mind type? Check this out to learn more.

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Graphic courtesy of Devon Hosford

Organic or not? Fooducate explains that for the most part, organic is better.

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Gif from thund3rbolt at imgur.com

Smiles are very good for you. They’re great to see and great to get, and wonderful to give. Some say smiling is healing. Here’s an exercise from Karl Duffy that really works.

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Photo from stoffy/Reddit

Animals provide wonderful examples of joy in action. Portraits of dogs at the beach illustrate my point. And this video of a bunch of dogs, and a cat, enjoying a swim is exhilarating to see, and “Happy” by Pharrell makes the perfect sound track!

 

Namasté

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Your Weekly Diversion, Week 17

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Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

It’s hard to know where to begin this week. One’s consciousness can feel quite numbed and befuddled by current events, a sort of tennis match of Here! No, here! Head on swivel, rooting for the good guys, and annoyed, appalled by others.

Boy, do we need some diversions! I wish they all were more cheerful ones, but here’s what I have.

In a session this week a client and I discussed our concerns for the environment. I mentioned the Pacific Gyre Garbage Patch. Because this was unfamiliar to my client, I pulled up some images on my iPad and we discussed this (literally) growing phenomenon. Do you know about it? These images tell the tale.

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Image used with gratitude to h2odistributors.com

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Gyre illustration by Jacob Magraw-Mickelson

So what can we do? I’m sure you know the drill: Return – Reuse – Recycle. Try to do it with every bit of plastic that enters the home, not easy to do, and I have to say I still throw out cat litter in old plastic bags, and have other similar behaviors. But I believe it helps us to learn and know the consequences of our carelessness. We make regular trips to a recycling center in Pennsylvania, saving our items in big blue IKEA bags in the garage, because in our county recycling is still optional. In Florida our recycling is collected weekly at the curb by the county. We try to use and reuse every bag and container that makes it into our house before we recycle what we can. We take the plastic rings from 6-packs of seltzer and cut them so they can’t end up around a seal’s snout or turtle’s shell. I’m no paragon of environmental activism, but I try and I know you probably do as well. Just Google “pacific garbage gyre” and select “images”. What you see will sober the most profligate among us. Hopefully.

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Image courtesy of Hazelden Betty Ford 

An original manuscript of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book is coming up for auction, as this story in the New Yorker details. As a friend of Bill W, I found it quite informative. I’d wager that the Big Book has saved more lives and brought more into a state of spiritual awakening than all the finger wagging and booze-shaming ever did.

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Photo from Design Boom

I’d like to end on a note of serenity and beauty.  I found images of a new Buddhist shrine in China inspiring, and you can read the story here.

And here’s a little something from me to you (words from the book Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice by Thich Nhat Hanh):

 

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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The Joy of Aging

I’m not sure when it happened, but I have come to realize:

a) I’m not going to live forever

b) Getting older is okay, despite the obvious changes and challenges

c) I am starting to look like my mother when she got older, and earlier than she did

d) The sixties are definitely NOT the new forties, despite what we hear in the media

e) People don’t like to see you get older, especially your adult children

f) You really ARE what you eat, so choose it carefully (she wrote, scarfing down a vegan scone from Whole Foods)

So for a):

The Five Remembrances of the Buddha*

I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill-health.
There is no way to escape having ill-health.

I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love
are of the nature to change.
There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
My actions are the ground on which I stand.

The Five Remembrances text comes from The Upajjhatthana Sutta (“Subjects for Contemplation”), the word for discourse in Pali is sutta, and in sanskrit is sutra) and this version has been offered by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. He elaborates on it in the Mindfulness Bell.
For b) I am becoming increasingly accepting that there are physical, cognitive, emotional and even spiritual implications to my growing old. Among other things, these are appearance, flexibility and mobility, various thought processes, access to memories and learned facts, patience, frustrations, insights and awareness, and on and on.

For c) I look more as my mom did when she was many years older than I am now. She’d had work done, plus she only stopped coloring her hair at 80. I wear a ring she wore all my life until the day she died, and when I look at my hand, I see her hand with its lines, spots, scars and arthritic knuckles, all of which I now have myself.

For d) The sixties are the sixties, not the forties, no matter how we wish it so, and with them, despite heroic efforts to prevent them, come sagging, stiffness and pain, slower movement, delayed reactions and recollections, arthritis and pinched nerves, cataracts and thinning retinas, and on and on. True, we can color our gray hair and have all sorts of work done, but these interventions are temporary at best and usually obvious to the discerning eye. The plumped lips, to me, are grotesque, and I will not opt for them or any other kind of work.

Which do you see here? A young, fashionable and confident girl or an old, gnarled crone? The eye truly is in the beholder! And if we see old when we are young that’s distortion. And when we see young when we are truly old, that’s distortion too. And when we feel pathetic but we are still alive, living and loving and struggling, that too is a distortion. We are still here!

For e) Our loved ones, clients and friends may have issues with us discussing our age or, worse, showing it. When we stop covering our gray hair, it may freak out our children, as it did mine. Using a cane will create alarm in almost everyone you run into when you’re using it. Going without makeup for a quick trip to the post office and running into a well-turned-out friend can be a source of alarm for both of you.

For f) We really are what we eat. What we put in any machine affects how it runs, just as when we put the right fuel in the car or truck, we get the best performance out of its engine. If we feed our machine refined and highly processed foods, it won’t run as well as if we feed it plenty of whole fruits and vegetables (especially the dark green, leafy ones), whole grains and foods made from them, beans (especially black beans), and nuts; and the research shows that people who eat meats five times a month or less live longest).

Some research into longevity in the Blue Zones (places in the world with the greatest longevity) offers us some wisdom we can use, so I hope you’ll click on the link to read about it.

Yes, there are joys to aging. I’m game. Are you? We can do this!

Brothers and sisters in suffering, old age, sickness and death, by Ajahn Sumedho

This piece by Ajahn Sumedho resonated with me just as Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh remains in a French hospital having suffered a brain hemorrhage. Suffering, old age, sickness and death are unavoidable, but joy and mindfulness and wisdom are still there for us. Letting go of the fear of these things is very liberating when we are able to accomplish it. And this for me is as impermanent as is all else. Therefore a daily practice is the only way I have a shot at it!

May all beings be free from suffering, and may all beings be at ease. And may our beloved Thay continue to regain health and strength.

Buddhism now

Buddha image. British MuseumThe Buddha pointed to an existential truth. It’s about existence. Suffering (dukkha) is about our human existence. And the actual meaning of `exist’ is to `stand forth’. What stands forth for us in our lives is suffering, isn’t it? We suffer a lot. We have a lot of existential suffering on this journey that we’re involved in from birth to death. And this suffering is common to every human being. It’s not just certain ones — it’s not just the poor, or just men or just women, or just Europeans or Africans or Asians — it’s everyone from the beginning of the human race, and will be to the end of it. As long as there’s ignorance, there’s going to be suffering. So this is a common experience we all share. When we talk about suffering, we don’t say, `I believe in it,’ or `I don’t believe…

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Neither Staying nor Leaving

These beautiful images offer us the opportunity to realize we “inter-are.” We share the cycle of life with all living things, plants, animals and people. I hope you’ll enjoy the exquisite poem the author shares here reminding us we are all leaves of the same tree.

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appearing separate appearing to be separate

Joyfully walking the ‘hood
bright eyes engaging
any people
or nature
that would.

Keeping heads up
leaves smiled back.
But many people would not,
Perhaps in a complex
they are caught.

As meditators capable of seeing deeply
into the nature of things,
we recognize that all is
manifest from star-dust and energy.
If asked,
even leaves reveal this.
Yet glimpsing of today’s news
reveals endless messages
of separateness.

We’ve experienced
how feeling inferior,
superior or the same
often causes pain
in ourselves and others.
That these complexes
create cunning barriers,
to brotherhood, sisterhood
& our true nature
of interbeing
with all
on this beautiful
spinning, spaceball.

How peaceful
and harmoniously
leaves flutter, then lie together.
Wonderful and beautiful teachers.

difference & sameness difference & sameness

We are all
the leaves of one tree.
The time has come
for all
to live as one.
We are all the leaves of one tree. ~Plum…

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