Accepting Change…

I have found that equanimity is nowhere better forged than within the crucible of change. I have prayed about equanimity; meditated on it; and chanted for it; yet, every time I’d finally thought I’d acquired it, something changed. It took me awhile to learn to differentiate between ‘things’ remaining the same and my remaining the same, despite those things changing. It is only through the testing of the equanimity we believe we possess that we can truly come to own it. The smooth sailing of a sedentary existence can set us up for failure as quickly as a chaotic one. Ironically, it is only through sustaining change that we can measure ‘same-ness,’ or equanimity…

With everything and everyone constantly, and necessarily, in flux, there is no use or sense in my hanging my hat on some external ‘sameness.’ It is, instead, I who must learn to remain the same, in the sense of always being capable of sustaining the hits of a fluctuating existence. Unfortunately, it becomes that much harder when this view is not commonly shared. In situations where everyone is freaking out but we are not, though some might admire us, others resent our serenity and seek every opportunity to disrupt it. Many people simply assume that others must necessarily be repelled or attracted by certain occurrences in manners similar to their own. So, when our insecurities don’t match theirs, they interpret it to mean that there is something wrong or disingenuous about us…

In Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, “If,” he wrote:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise…”

Not only did he hit the nail on the head, he drove it straight and completely into the board; because you see, to conduct oneself with any type of equanimity in a freaked out world is, more often than not, to be taken for a fatalist, a pessimist, or a psychopath.

To neither “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” nor put all one’s eggs in one basket strikes me as the poetic GPS that helps guide us to that Middle Way. Nonetheless, since the day I emerged, stunned and screaming, from my mother’s womb, I’ve struggled with the dualistic, delusional dilemma of ‘how things are’ as opposed to ‘how things should be,’ instead of just accepting that in this conditioned existence, it is what it is because of what it was…

Some might call this a defeatist mode of thought, but in reality it is, ultimately, quite liberating because if we live as the Buddha prescribed, i.e., mindfully (in the moment), then with the past being ‘over’ and the future not yet a factor (much less a reality), from this moment forth, we truly are the “masters of our fates” and “captains of our souls”…

Namaste.

The Number One Killer of Women…

Since leaving my full-time position in 2011, I’ve made my living doing something which my mother (my mother!) once told me I was incapable: being spontaneous. So, I’d been working a rather long string of part-time, temporary positions. In a bid to enter the full-time workforce once again, I recently decided to reassess my skills, seek training where needed, and revise my resume. Several weeks ago, just one day after applying for a position, I received a phone call inviting me to interview for a full-time position (I interviewed the next day, got the job, and that is why I took a little time off from this blog). While preparing my interview outfit, I suddenly felt compelled to add my “Little Red Dress” pin, the symbol for the  Go Red For Women.org  campaign. This campaign is near and dear to my heart because unbeknownst to many, heart disease is the number one killer of women, and this campaign is dedicated to making sure that everyone knows it.

For women, the symptoms of heart disease are much subtler than for men. As a result, a women can be in the midst of a heart attack and have no idea. Often, by the time a woman decides to seek medical attention, it can be too late. Admittedly, though I was not sure how appropriate such a piece of jewelry was for a job interview; I placed the pin on my lapel, trusting that it was the right thing to do. Interestingly enough, it would be only a matter of hours before I discovered that it was, indeed, the right thing to have done.

After what seemed like a successful interview, I decided to celebrate by going to Starbuck’s and purchasing an Oprah Chai Tea Latte, which unlike Oprah, I could then ill-afford. And I further justified this splurging by reminding myself that every Oprah drink purchased provides a donation to the cause of education – and we all know how much Buddhists loves causes – and effects…

Now, this is where things got truly interesting. The line at Starbuck’s was so long, I nearly left the store, twice. And despite being in the part of the line that was inside the store, it would be over half an hour before I got my drink. So, I decided to engage with the woman standing next to me, but she was going through her handbag, and didn’t seem disposed to speaking at that moment. I instead decided to speak to the woman in front of me and said, “You must really need some coffee to go through this!” She laughed and said, “Yes, only true Starbuck’s aficionados need apply!” About ten minutes later, I again leaned forward and whispered in quick succession, “Dunkin’ Donuts! Dunkin’ Donuts! Dunkin’ Donuts!” Again, we shared a quick giggle, and she said it was a tempting thought. About two minutes later, I felt someone lightly tap my arm. I turned around, looked down, and it was the woman behind me who’d previously been busy going through her handbag. She was in her eighties; barely over five feet tall; and had one of the most beautiful, soulful faces I’d ever seen. With a wistful expression, she said, “I, too, have that pin” (referring to my Little Red Dress pin). And a bond was forged.

I mentioned how sad and shocking it was that so few people were aware of the danger of heart disease to women. She nodded and said, “I just lost my son, two months ago, to heart disease. He was 50. He literally just dropped dead.” After a brief second of initial shock, I told her how sorry I was for her loss and we just stood there, looking into each other’s faces for a few moments. After that silence, I again expressed my condolences and said I couldn’t imagine how she must feel. She thanked me and told me I was very kind. We continued to chat, but about other things – especially the slow-moving line. Eventually, I told her to stand in front of me, joking that though it didn’t get her much farther, she’d be that much closer to getting her drink. After she finally got to the front of the line, ordered her drink, and prepared to pay for it, I placed some money in the cashier’s hand saying I’d take care of it. My new acquaintance insisted that it wasn’t necessary, but I insisted that it was. I, myself, totally exhausted after my interview and from standing in line so long, had decided to forget about Oprah and, instead, get a drink with two shots of espresso just to give me the strength to walk out of the store. I couldn’t imagine how someone her age must have felt, standing for so long. She thanked me, saying “You didn’t have to do that!” I said, “You touched my heart.” She said, “You touched my heart, too!” and much to my surprise, reached up and asked for a hug. I hugged her as best I could while holding my handbag, briefcase, and a bag of recently purchased items.

Despite being so deeply moved by what this woman shared with me, the thing that impacted me most was the depth of her sadness – so raw, and so recent, and her obvious state of shock. I lost my father two years ago and still tear up whenever I think of him; so, I did understand, to a certain extent, the depth of her loss, but this was her child, not a parent. Truly, no normal mother expects or wants to outlive her children. And this was a woman who had obviously raised a son of whom she could be proud, and who felt that she could die a happy woman knowing that someone she loved, so deeply, was living a happy, productive life. Now, he was gone, literally in the blink of an eye, and it was she who was left behind, her own heart, though still beating, seemingly broken beyond repair. Yes, heart disease is the number one killer of women.

This, for me, was just one more reminder that life and death, so inextricably intertwined, must always be in our thoughts because strangely enough, it is death, alone, which makes us comprehend the value of life. Among ancient Buddhist practices, it was not uncommon for monks to sit on the roadside for days, observing the decomposition of the corpse of some unfortunate creature, as a form of meditation on the nature of death (impermancence). In fact, to this day, though much, much less common as I understand it, it is still possible to find malas (rosaries) made of bone, tailored for such meditations. There is probably no better reminder that in the end, our bodies, our vehicles in this life, are merely fertilizer.

According to the Buddha, to fear death is to be dead, already; yet, not to consider death, at all, leaves us just as lacking. Many of us live our lives as though endless tomorrows are promised; but nothing is promised. Nothing is forever. The only thing that never changes is change, itself. And whether we are “good” or “bad,” rich or poor, death will find us, and our loved ones, as well. This is why I strive to live each day as if it were my last (sometimes failing miserably). I want to consider the nature of my speech, my actions, and my thoughts. I actually like to keep in mind a verse from the Christian Bible, Phillipians 2:12, which says:

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

This reminds me both that I am solely responsible for my own actions and their effects in my life, as well as that I need to make a serious effort in this regard. Hopefully, my “fear and trembling” will not paralyze me, but instead, energize and motivate me. Thus loss, death being, perhaps, its greatest manifestation, is simply a part of life; and unlike most gifts, is something for which we all have to ‘pay.’ Part of ‘paying’ is understanding that the Universe taketh, and the Universe taketh away. It’s nothing personal, just the nature of life. We need to conscientiously contemplate this and make friends with the idea so we can stop pretending it just isn’t so. In the words of the Buddha: “Everything is changeable, everything appears and disappears; there is no blissful peace until one passes beyond the agony of life and death.”

Namaste.
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Related Reading:

Buddha’s Last Words (Mahaparinibbana Sutta) from Somewhere in Dhamma… (blog) Note: I found this post, dealing with the death of a parent, relevant to the discussion because of how beautifully it deals with ‘unexpected’ death from a Buddhist perspective.

Go Red for Women.org from American Heart Association (Website)

 

The Anatomy of a Head Game: When the “Fish” In A Barrel Are… People

“It’s as easy as shooting fish in a barrel…”–Anonymous
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Last year, I found myself in the position of being bullied. And I’m a middle-aged woman. I’d dealt with the situation, quite sanely, by reminding myself that I was not the only person being bullied by this man, and by remembering something that the Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön said:

“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”

Thinking along these lines has helped me to realize that sometimes, the only difference between my “goodness” and someone else’s “perversity” is only that I, unlike that person, am aware of the integral and overwhelming part that ignorance plays in each of our lives. And as I always like to emphasize, when I use the term ‘ignorance,’ I use it not in the common parlance of meaning “stupid” or “idiotic,” but rather in its truest sense. And for the Buddha, ignorance was, and is, the cause of all suffering…

To be ‘ignorant’ of something is to be ‘unaware of, unenlightened regarding, some issue or aspect of one’s existence, persona, or “reality.” And idiocy is not a necessary ingredient. I have, more than once, come to be truly appalled at my own actions, finding them to be based on what I can only refer to as ignorance of the most stultifying proportions (yes, the assumption here is that I am not an idiot), and it has been these types of realizations that have helped me to find compassion for people and situations where, previously, I had none.

The bullying I’d experienced was not physical, but rather verbal, with implied promises of physical violence. I eventually learned not to engage with this individual (which turned out to be an excellent strategy), thus depriving him both of any knowledge of how I truly felt about what he was doing, and any type of bearings for knowing how much further he needed to go before lighting my fuse, or even if it had already been lit.

Nonetheless, he still bothered me. I could feel myself tensing up every time I found myself in the same room with him. I was upset whenever he said anything to me because it was always foul, and I was upset when he didn’t say anything to me because I was anticipating that he would say something. Then, one day, as I walked by, I heard him say to a friend, as he stood, one foot up on the edge of a picnic table while smoking a cigarette, “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.” And they laughed.

Though I couldn’t honestly determine if that comment was directed towards me, I did realize that I had a problem because I’d taken it quite personally, anyway. I’d heard that expression, “…like shooting fish in a barrel,” at least a hundred times, but had never used it myself, or thought much about it. Generally, we take it to mean that if something is like “shooting fish in a barrel,” it’s easy. And I realized that I was, for lack of a better word, ‘easy.’ And whether he’d been referring to me or not, I was his “fish in a barrel,” his ‘captive audience,’ his ‘sure thing.’ He knew he’d riled me up on more than one occasion, and that he could do it again, whenever he wanted. So, I decided to do a little research on this popular expression.

Here’s what I found:

One of my favorite television shows is the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters; that is, if I had a television, I’d probably watch it on a regular basis. I discovered that the hosts of this popular show had actually dedicated an episode to testing the ease of shooting fish in a barrel. The hosts, Jamie and Adam, filled a barrel of water with 30 plastic fish. Using a shotgun, Jamie fired into the barrel, hitting only three of the fish, which is a 10 percent hit rate. What they were able to calculate, as a result of their experiment, is that the damage to real fish isn’t so much the bullets as the changes instituted to the fishes’ environment by those bullets. In other words:

“Fish are extremely sensitive to the slightest water pressure change thanks to a specialized organ they have called the lateral line, which detects water displacement, force and direction. When a bullet moving faster than the speed of sound strikes the water, it forms a high-pressure acoustic shockwave in front of it. The MythBusters calculated that a 9-millimeter gunshot delivers around 100 g-force units of pressure into the barrel.

Similar to how a loud noise can injure a person’s ear drum, such an intense pressure fluctuation from the ballistic shockwave would rupture the fishes’ blood vessels and mortally wound them, proving that you don’t even have to shoot a single fish to kill a barrel full of them.” –From MythBuster’s Database, Discovery.com

Again, this is all in view of the fact that while only hitting 10% of the fish, all will die…

So, how is this relevant to us as human beings? Well, it’s all about our physical, mental, and emotional environments. It’s also about our proximity to others, i.e., even if we’re concealed in “the crowd,” and it’s our neighbors taking the direct hits, those hits can still be fatal to us – and the ‘shooter’ not only counts on this, but also counts on our not knowing it. After learning of the latest Malaysia Air disaster of July 2014, the horror and revulsion we experienced was palpable and universal — except for the case of a few sick or tragically misguided individuals. We were all affected. And that’s how terrorists operate. Whether members of Al Qaeda, our workplace, or our personal living environment, their goal is to cause us to wake up in fear, and lie down in despair. When we are not actually experiencing harassment, bullying, or mortal threats, we are, instead, anticipating them. The fear and dread are, as they say, in the water…

So, we can pretend, as much as we like, that we’re not affected by what’s going on around us, by the bullets of hate and discord, but that doesn’t change the fact that human beings also have a type of special organ, similar to a fish’s lateral line, which detects violent “displacements” of what we generally consider to be the humanitarian norm. For a great many people, becoming invulnerable to such “displacements” would require something like the practice of substance abuse or the manifestation of psychopathy. As with fish, becoming invulnerable to our environment isn’t something we can do, naturally; but unlike fish, we can, nonetheless, examine, rethink, and reposition ourselves to better absorb “the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” (that’s Shakespeare, baby). And this starts with learning to sever our connections to our superficial environments by following some of the last advice the Buddha ever gave: “Be an island unto yourself.” Yes, the Buddha significantly differed with John Donne’s pronouncement that “no man is an island”…

When our feelings of safety and security depend on other people’s acceptance, good will, dependability, or decency, we are destined to be forever in search of the same, and consistently disappointed. Unfortunately, and in reality, everything is in flux. The only thing that never changes is change, itself. And we must include people among those “things,” as in the Tao Te Ching’s “ten thousand things.” So, though we eventually get what we want or need, someone is always rude enough to die, have a nervous breakdown, move to another country, or simply change their mind. And often, situations which seem interminable (particularly in an unpleasant way) are just about to change, if only we can “stick it out.”

Not playing the game is a good start to personal freedom, but understanding the forces, or g-force(s), if you will, that are pressing against us on every side is the only way to truly gauge our position in the battle of wits that is daily life. It simply isn’t enough to pretend that we are above it all, especially when we are literally stuck in that most unnatural of places, “…a fish in a barrel.”

And it is exactly this kind of being ‘stuck’ that the Four Noble Truths address:

  1. There is suffering…
  2. There is a cause to that suffering…
  3. There is a remedy to that suffering…
  4. And the remedy is…

Namaste.
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Related Reading:

Obliterating A Fish In A Barrel: MythBusters (A YouTube demonstration)

Is Shooting Fish In A Barrel Easy? from MythBusters Database (brief text explanation)

And Oh, yeah… The Four Noble Truths from About.com/Buddhism

Change Is the Only Constant

“What is truth?” – Pontius Pilate
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It is not uncommon for me to add a post to my blog and later wake up in the middle of the night thinking:

Oooooooh… I probably shouldn’t have said that!

OR

Mmmmmmmmm…. Maybe, I should have said this?

OR

Perhaps, I should have said  that,  this  way?

Examples of the aforementioned “if-onlys” are:

I recently wrote about a Lutheran minister who, some two decades ago, refused to shake my “little brown hand” after delivering his sermon on love, as we filed out of the sanctuary of his church. [Shouldn’t have?]

I recently published a post about chanting in which I neglected to share that I chant every day, and why (because of length-of-content limitations and not intending to write a ‘recruitment’ post). [Should have?]

As for the third example, there are simply too many examples from which to choose — and I’m sure there’s a better way to have said that…

I’m always struggling with how to say what can’t always be said, or rather, the inefficacy of words as a mode of expression. Part of this struggle is due to the element of impermanence, or change, or anicca, as it is referred to in Buddhism. As soon as I “capture,” write down, proclaim, or ascribe to a “truth,” something shifts or changes. Hence, my not at all original assertion, “Only change is constant.” So, what is “true” for me, now, might not be true for me tomorrow, or for you, ever. Even the search for “truth” appears to be little more than “grasping” and attachment…

Of course, it would help, greatly, if I had some kind of expertise in Buddha-hood, but then again, if I did have “expertise,” I probably wouldn’t be talking about this, much less blogging.

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about the work known as the Tao Te Ching; particularly, the first line of the first chapter. Derek Lin, on Taoism.net, has translated it as follows:

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.

Mind you, the word, “Tao,” translates as “way,” or “the way.” So, here, in another translation by T.W. Kingsmill (1899), we have:

The way that may be traversed is not the Eternal way.

Then there’s Ron Hogan’s “modern translation” (2002, 2004) which says:

If you can talk about it, it ain’t Tao.

So, however one says it, I can’t help but think, “What the hell am I doing trying to write about this ‘stuff?’” It can’t be captured. It can’t be “known.” And it’s substantive in the most in-substantial way possible…

Then, when I really want to get depressed, I think about the Buddha’s “Flower Sermon” also known as the Flower Sutra (not to be confused with the Flower Garland Sutra, which is considered to be the longest sutra in Mahayana Buddhism). The Flower Sermon’s roots, if you will, are in Zen or Ch’an Buddhism. In a nutshell, not long before the Buddha died, he met with his followers near a pond. Once they’d settled down, silently, he uprooted a lotus flower and presented it to them for inspection. One by one, they examined it, confused and trying to discern the Buddha’s meaning or intent. Apparently, the last disciple to whom the Buddha showed the flower, Mahakasyapa, alone understood the Buddha’s message. As he looked at the uprooted lotus flower in the Buddha’s hand, he began to laugh. The Buddha then handed the flower to Mahakasyapa, and it was he who became the Buddha’s successor. In accordance with the fact that this was not a “verbal” teaching, the sutra, itself, is very short. Apparently, as Lao Tzu said, “The way that can be spoken is not the eternal way.” So, currently, I can’t  hear  it, and can only imagine what Mahakasyapa, himself, heard…

Nonetheless, I just keep pluggin’ away… Perhaps, I should make this my “disclaimer” page?

 

Everything Must Change…

One of my favorite songs is “Everything Must Change,” written by Bernard Ighner. While I am grateful for the link I’ve provided about him, I must apologize. There is an amazing dearth of information on this talented singer, songwriter, and collaborator. I was both grateful and amused to discover that I’m not the only person having problems finding information about Mr. Ighner. I learned, here, that as of 2006, he was still alive, and that his given name is not Bernard, but Benard! Additionally, Ighner wrote, “Everything Must Change,” but credit for the lyrics has been attributed to everyone but Josie and the Pussycats.

“Everything Must Change” has been performed by a wide and notable variety of artists, including Barbara Streisand, Oleta Adams, Lou Rawls, Peggy Lee, Arthur Prysock, and Quincy Jones, whose performance is, perhaps, the most widely recognized. I am providing, for your enjoyment, one of my favorite renditions, by the late, great Nina Simone, complete with a photo montage.

I meditate, quite regularly, on this song. The melody is haunting, and the lyrics are a velvet hammer. I found comfort in it when my father passed; I hum it when I look in the mirror; and I treasure it as a reminder of one of the main foci of my Buddhist practice: Impermanence.

“Everything Must Change,” by Benard Ighner, as performed, live, by the late, great Nina Simone.

Namaste.