Tuesday, August 15, 2017

THE OGRE

A most extraordinary experience last night--or rather, very early this morning. I thought to be awoken by a tap on the shoulder and, upon opening my eyes, to have been confronted, ultra close-up, with the huge, untidily bearded face of a hideous, angry ogre. The experience must have been a dream, of course, but it felt nothing like a dream--more like a three-dimensional hologram, disconnected from any dream narrative. It was so frightening that I yelled aloud, "Oh, my God," waking Ellie in the bed next to me.

What could be the explanation for this apparition? If not for the untidy beard and the scraggly grey hair, I might have said Trump--who is as scary an apparition as haunts the world right now. I think I share the persistent sense of impending doom with many of my fellow Americans. It's not necessarily the doom of nuclear war, though that is indeed a frightening possibility. It's more the sense of everything around us spinning out of control in the social-political world, in the incompetent hands of an ill-mannered, bellicose ogre.

It was perhaps this creature who came to visit me in the early hours.

Monday, August 14, 2017

MEDITATION

I had the opportunity to sit with my old friend and teacher Than Geoff (Thanissaro Bhikkhu)  yesterday, for the first time in months. I presume to call him "friend" because it feels that way to me, but in truth he is the abbot of the Metta monastery in Valley Center, California, and a distinguished scholar and teacher in the Buddhist world.

Anyway, it was a pleasure to sit with him! And as usual with Than Geoff I learned a lot. I learned a lot, first, by simply listening to his guidance during the first half hour of the hour's meditation. Having started my own small group up in Los Angeles, I have been offering guidance myself, modeled of course on what I have learned from him over the years. Listening attentively to his guidance with that history in mind, I was conscious of how slowly and calmly he proceeded, allowing generous lengths of space and silence in between each instruction; and how non-obtrusive he managed to be, somehow backing away into that silence after each instruction to allow for its completion. Hard to describe...

During the question and answer session following the sit, he answered one questioner, concerned with the noise of daily life, with the suggestion to avoid the internet, newspapers, the television. I engaged him a bit on this: is it not our responsibility, I asked, as lay citizens, to be concerned for the welfare of those around us? And does that not necessitate the kind of information that we get from just those sources? Than Geoff seemed to agree, but suggested--you guessed it!--moderation. We have had conversations of this kind in the past: I grew up--as readers of these pages will know--with an Anglican minister father who preached social conscience to his flock as well as to his son, and sometimes got in trouble for it: the pulpit, some of his parishioners objected, was no place for politics. Would that some of the Christian communities in this country today might voice the same objection!

I have long nursed this inner conflict, between quietism and engagement. Engagement has usually won out... but in a quiet way. Hence my blogs. The first one was The Bush Diaries, a quiet form of engagement, in which I could speak my mind about national and world affairs, but in the shelter of the blogosphere. It morphed into The Buddha Diaries, in which I have been writing now since 2008, nearly ten years. It's a place that offers me the opportunity to look within, as well as to look without--a medium that suits me well, and I'm grateful for it.

I exchanged a few more personal words with Than Geoff at the end of yesterday's session. He inquired kindly after Ellie, and expressed sympathy for the sciatic pain she has been experiencing. And I took the opportunity to express my gratitude for the practice I have learned from him. A truly positive addiction in my life, it has served me well, for now more than twenty years. What a gift! And what a blessing!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

JAW-JAW...

... is better than war-war, Churchill is reported to have said. That seems NOT to be the strategy of the man currently performing the role of "president" in our currently--I cannot bring myself to refer to him as President, and it still jars me every time I hear him addressed or referred to in that way. I wish the media would just call him "Trump"--a name that somehow fits his brassy bellicosity and his irremediable vulgarity.

Perhaps I will prove mistaken--I sincerely hope not--but I'm unable to summon the belief that the flap over North Korea with end in military conflict. I cling to the conviction that Trump will be contained by wiser heads than his. Other observers with far more prominent platforms than my own have noted the mirror-image relationship between the two boastful and belligerent man-childs who are driving this crisis, toying heedlessly with the prospect of many millions killed and a world contaminated with residual radiation.

Are two overblown egos enough to make this happen? The schoolyard taunts from the man on our side of the confrontation might satisfy his giant sense of self-regard, but who knows about the other guy? What kind of constraint are his generals able to exercise? From what little I understand from media reports, his rule is absolute. Those who dare challenge his least whim are unlikely to survive for long enough to save him from himself.

By all means, it's an intractable situation, and one that previous presidents have been unable to resolve. Kim plays his card shrewdly. He has been able to turn the history of US hostility to his--and his father's and grandfather's--regime to his advantage, and Trump's rhetoric enables him to justify his rampant paranoia to a people conditioned by decades of propaganda. What is needed is clearly more jaw-jaw, if necessary with the US backing away from unconditional insistence on Kim giving up the single wild card that he holds. From his point of view, would he not be a fool to do it?

Meanwhile, we can do no harm with the metta practice--sending thoughts of goodwill to these two men, both of whom make it so hard to do so. If we cannot bring ourselves to do it for them, then we should do it for the sake of the world, which would be a better place if they were able to step outside their egos and contemplate, instead, the welfare of their people. So, in the spirit of the Buddhist divine attitudes: may they find true happiness in their lives. (Because... if they were truly happy, would they be behaving as they do?)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

THE PATH OF TOTALITY...

... I love the phrase. It speaks to me of more than the path of the solar eclipse, due to cross the nation on 21 August. It speaks, somehow, of total commitment or resolve in the broader, philosophical sense. And perhaps too of the human condition itself: like it or not, we are all on the path of totality in our lives, from the moment of birth until the hour of death. That's the sum of it.

But it resonates particularly at this moment, with the solar eclipse looming in less than two weeks. From the first moment I started to read about it, I was hooked. From everything I heard and read, it seemed like such an awe-some event, something absolutely not-to-be-missed if it was in any way possible to get to the path of totality. Partial would not be enough. It would be, well, partial. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to be there.

I had an idea. Knowing that Ellie's cousin David and his wife--good friends down here in Orange County--have a place somewhere up there in Idaho, and knowing that the path of totality crossed the state, I wrote to him to ask for suggestions and was rewarded with a generous invitation to stay a few nights with them.

Such excitement! I began to research ways of getting there and soon found that airlines were pretty much booked around the time of the eclipse. I could still get tickets going north... but there was nothing coming back within reasonable time. I thought about flying in to Boise, a couple of hours' drive away--which would have been possible, except that there were no longer any rental cars available. We finally decided simply to get in our own car and make the 15-hour drive, with a stop halfway at a motel in Ely, Nevada.

Amazing! I'm hoping that by arriving three or four days before the eclipse we'll miss the worst of the northbound traffic. But who knows? Seems like everyone and his mother wants to see the show. I know that I won't have the opportunity again in my lifetime, so it feels right to seize the moment. I'm sure there's something to be learned. There always is...

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

NEW BLOGS

I'd be delighted if readers of the Buddha Diaries would click on over to one (or both!) of the other two blogs I'm juggling at the moment. The Rohrabacher Letters has been going for some time now: I formed the intention, back in January, to write a near-daily letter to my extreme right-wing representative in Congress, Dana Rohrabacher. I may have mentioned before that Ellie and I changed our registration to our Laguna Beach address some years ago: our Los Angeles district is safely Democratic--represented currently by Adam Schiff, so we felt out votes would count for more down here in staunchly Republican Orange County. Following the Tr*mp inauguration--I can't bear to use his name!--I wondered what I could do to be an active and responsible citizen, and came up with the idea of writing letters. They are all personally thought-out and written, hand-signed and hand-addressed to the congressman's office, and address any issue appropriate to the day. Thus far,I have received three or four responses--all boilerplate Republican talking points. I write about that today.

The other blog is A Diet of Choice. I started this blog back in 2008, with the best of intentions. A long time ago (in 1986) I tried "choice" as a way to give up smoking cigarettes. I had been smoking since the age of 13, and for the past ten years had been trying to give up. I had tried everything, from hypnotism to patches. Nothing worked. After a few days, I'd be back at it. Then a friend suggested something different: instead of telling myself constantly, "mustn't, shouldn't," try finding a few good reasons to "choose not to." I did. It worked. I have not smoked a cigarette since that time.

I started putting on weight perhaps fifteen years ago. My youthful weight was around 145 pounds. By the year 2000 it was up to 180 plus. In the next decade it had increased to 190, often as high as 192. Aside from the aesthetics of the protruding belly and the vanity of physical appearance, I felt uncomfortable with the weight. I was sleeping less well, and woke up feeling bloated. And my occasional resolve to "do something about it" met with occasional success and constant relapse. Recognizing that the addiction was not unlike that to smoking cigarettes, I thought to try "a diet of choice."

My resolve, evidently, was not strong enough. The blog lasted into 2009, but was soon abandoned, along with any serious, lasting effort to lose the weight. Finally fed up with myself for succumbing to the addiction to both food and drink, I thought back, a few days ago, and remembered the blog. So I have restarted it. It's simple, really. Writing, along with meditation, is my way of being conscious about what's happening in my life, and I tend to eat and drink more than I should out of sheer unconsciousness. I do it because it's there, in front of me, and it serves to calm my anxieties and soothe whatever pain I might be feeling somewhere below the level of consciousness.

So, please join me, if interested. As always, I'd be happy to have you with me on the journey.