Monday, November 30, 2020

THE CROWN

I have been wondering why it is that I dislike "The Crown" so much. I am not an ardent monarchist by any means, and it's clear from the history of the past thirty or so years that the family has been somewhat, um, dysfunctional. I think what disturbs me is the undisguisedly negative portrayal of people who are still living. As represented in this soap opera, they are universally unpleasant in their emotionally removed and snobbish contempt for their inferiors--and each other.  None of them so far as I can tell, is blessed with any redeeming qualities. People, even royals, are more complicated than this, and more deserving of our compassion. The characters in this voyeuristic blend of fact and fiction are too easy targets for scandal-mongering such as this.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

GETTYSBURG

We are taking care of our nine-year-old grandson while his Mom is taking a long weekend to visit her friend in Amsterdam. It's quite a challenge. Like many (most?) boys (?) his age, he is digital device addicted, and the hardest part is preventing him from spending every hour of the day with his nose inches from a screen. If it's not video games--Minesweeper is the current favorite--it's the inexhaustible supply of other YouTube videos, or other things too arcane for me to understand.

So this morning I racked my brains to think of something else at seven in the morning, and stumbled into an old memory of James Thurber stories. I thought they might amuse him. I read him "The Bear Who Could Let It Alone"--one of my favorites--along with "The Little Girl and the Wolf" and a couple of others. He was, let's say, mildly amused. 

It was "Birds and the Foxes", which ends up with a moral about "government for the birds, etc." that led us to the Gettysburg address. I thought it would be good for him to hear it, especially given our current political circumstance, so I called it up on the computer (what else!) and started to read those memorable words from the Gettysburg battlefield. 

I was unable to finish. I found myself in tears before we got to the last line, and I nudged him to finish the reading for me. I wondered why I had been so overcome, and I think it's perhaps because of the sheer, grand, powerful nobility of the words that Lincoln spoke, and because we live in such a different time, when such words from our practically illiterate president would be unthinkable. A time, too, when the great experience of American democracy is so threatened by a would-be tyrant and a political party that has proven unwilling to resist his autocratic wiles. 

So I wept as little Luka read that last line. Then he wanted to watch a funny cats video, and I surrendered.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

HANDS: GRASPING

Here we are, November 21st and I have been silent on The Buddha Diaries for more than a week. My mind has been preoccupied with the completion of a quite different piece of writing that I got engaged in. Now that it's completed, I'm feeling a sense of release and relief. 

I have also neglected the political observations that I've taken to posting on Facebook. I was brought up with a social and political conscience that will not permit me to ignore what's going in on the country and the world a time of political upheaval complicated by the ravages of a deadly pandemic. I consider myself fortunate to have my meditation practice to help me through these deeply troubled times. It continues to provide me with at least a spiritual and emotional refuge when they are most needed. I can't say that it frees me completely from the feelings of anxiety, grief and anger that beset most of us these days, but it does help me to maintain something of an even keel.

This morning's meditation found my attention focused on my hands. Our hands, I realized, function in two notable ways to cause us suffering: they grasp and cling. I decided to give my attention to each of those functions separately, to see where that might lead me--and possibly to share the results of my investigation with the neighborhood group that joins me for a sit each Wednesday.

First, then, grasping. This action is motivated by need, or imagined need. If I rest quietly in attention to the hands, I can feel it there; and if I'm able to identify it, I can perhaps succeed in letting go of it. 

There are many questions I can ask myself:

What is it that I need, or think I need? Love, attention, even adulation? Success? Recognition? Money? Food, drink, sex? With so many potential needs, it's perhaps sensible to concentrate on just one of them. If I pick only what appears to be the most pressing of them I can ask:

Whatever it is, do I really need it? Will it change my life in any significant way if I succeed in getting it?

Will it assure an increase in my happiness if I get it?

Will I be satisfied with what I get of it, or will I still need more? Will I ever have enough of it?

If I get it, will it prove harmful to myself, or others? Will my getting it deprive others of what they need? Are their needs greater than my own?

Any one of these questions would in itself deserve the full length of a meditation. That would be one way to approach the challenge, the long way: to sit in contemplation of each question in turn in a succession of meditative sessions. Another way to deal with it, however, would be simply to have all the questions in mind and to sit without asking them, to leave them tucked away in the back of my mind as I rest in attention to the actual, physical grasping hands and make the conscious effort to let them slip away through the fingertips. 

So that's the intention that came to me this morning as I sat. I have often paused to rest in attention to the hands in the past, observing the tightness in them and the tension that I hold there, so I think it's something worth paying more attention to, working with the hands slowly, day by day, experimenting in greater depth to see where that might lead me.  . 

It would be one way, perhaps, to address the hungry ghosts!

Thursday, November 12, 2020

ANNIVERSARY

 It was a special pleasure, yesterday evening, to celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary with a more than usually large number of members of the neighborhood meditation group that I started--I had to check this in my old email records to believe this!--in December five years ago. The theme for our sit: armistice, the cessation of hostilities and the wish for peace.

Ellie and I finally got married, appropriately, on Armistice Day in 1972, and toasted the occasion with our neighbors at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Yesterday afternoon, thought we no longer live right next door to them--thought we do still live on the same hill--we met with those same old friends for a glass of champagne in their back yard.

I posted a note about this on my Facebook timeline and received more congratulations than I could possibly have expected, some coming from friends with whom we have been out of touch for years; and many coming from close friends and family from whom we have been separated for a mere few months by this cruel pandemic. I have many reservations about Facebook--and indeed about all related social media--but there are benefits, too. I enjoy being able to say my piece, whether personal or in recent days mostly political, and knowing that my words have resonance. I hear back.

To celebrate after our sit with fellow meditators who have now become our friends--and in view of the dining restrictions imposed on us by the pandemic--we called out to order a pizza and a beetroot and cucumber salad. Which we enjoyed quietly at home with a glass of wine, under the watchful, envious gaze of Jake, the dog, who is not allowed to share our pizza--though he does think he deserves it. So it was, yes, a happy anniversary. Only two more, with luck, to fifty!

Monday, November 9, 2020

HOPE

I am breathing easier, this Monday morning, and my heart is lighter. I still have lingering fears about the state our democracy, with regrettably few Republicans following the example of Sen. Mitt Romney in offering their congratulations to the new president- and vice president-elect. The silence of these political hacks and hedge-betters serves to validate the conspiracy theories of a mass of Tr*mp supporters who are willing--eager, even--to believe that the election was stolen. 

They know better, these supposed leaders. This further evidence of their bad faith--if it were needed--is dispiriting, and bodes ill for the near-term future of the country. Should their intransigence this time be the echo of that when Obama was in office, the new president will be hard put to fulfill his campaign promise to reunite the country. He will be constrained to exercise his executive power for whatever he wishes to accomplish.

I take comfort in the knowledge that there will be a different, more experienced, more competent team working with him, dedicated not to the advancement of their own power or that of the president but to the needs and wishes of the American people. Gone will be the Attorney General who serves the whims of his apparent client-president; gone will be those other cabinet members, Mike Pompeo, Betsy DeVos, Wilbur Ross, Steve Mnuchin, so many of them with financial and ethical conflicts and personal agendas. And gone will be the spoiled, entitled Tr*mp clan, privileged by nepotism, who hold high offices, receive unearned salaries and are protected at the expense of the American people. Gone will be the poor, dour First Lady, so clearly, sadly, out of her depth in the position I suspect she never wanted to hold.

I do believe that Joe Biden will seek out and nominate the best and most qualified people he can find. I do believe they will act, with him, in the best interests of the country. I do believe they will be guided by facts, not fantasies; by science, not gut instincts; by the considered work of qualified public servants and intelligence officers, not by whims and personal interests. My hope is that their work will assure the people who were duped into idolizing the former president that competence, honesty, hard work and respect for decency and reason are what is needed for our recovery from the many crises that beset us.