Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A little philosophical rambling

As for the title of this post ... I know that's what you come here for, is to hear some philosophical musings, no matter how far-out and fanciful they may be, right?

On my Mind & Life podcast, the topic of this one being physics (circa 2007), the participants were diving into a discussion of the tension between two ideas: the concept of causality (which is central to Buddhism, and I would suggest, all religious practice), versus the randomness that has been demonstrated to occur at the quantum level.

Buddhists believe that nothing can occur apart from so-called causes and conditions. This is a reference to the famous term, "karma." If you think about this belief, it's reminiscent of Old Testament references to natural disasters or diseases or other suffering being the result of human sinfulness. I don't know what causes Buddhists ascribe to things like natural disasters and disease, but they firmly believe that everything that happens is linked in a cause-and-effect cycle. Perhaps this is also described by "Samsara," the world that we are captured in, with its endless cycles of suffering. Thus, this philosophy declares that everything is relational. Nothing can occur by itself, without influencing or being influenced by something else. What does this imply for human "free will" as opposed to predestination?

However, quantum physics demonstrates that there are times when the action of a quantum particle is perfectly random. It cannot be predicted, because there is no pattern that emerges. This seems to fit in more closely with certain aspects of the human experience. For example, there are many possible life paths for each of us. Do you feel that your future could be predicted, the result only of causes and conditions? Or is there an element of seeming randomness to it? It certainly seems that misfortunes are often not due to causes and conditions, at least not any that could be controlled by people. What did people do to deserve the tsunami that struck Asia, or any other great natural disaster? I am no doubt grossly oversimplifying the concept here -- the Buddhist idea is that there are causes and results for each of these phenomena, and they could almost be predicted, that nothing that occurs is a random or unrelated event.

If randomness exists, it challenges the traditional notion of God. Where is God if things are happening that cannot be predicted, that were never created to happen in a certain way? This is what Einstein protested against when he said, "God does not play dice." But maybe God does? It also implies that there is no objective, constant reality ... no absolute truth ... no universal code of ethics ... nothing that can be known with total certainty, ever. Chaos! Confusion!

What is intriguing is the duality of these ideas, causality and randomness -- they both ring true, though they are contradictory. It makes life much more interesting to have both concepts in operation, rather than one or the other. And apparently, quantum physicists embrace duality as ardently as any philosopher. I'm not sure I am using the term duality correctly, because it could refer to a black/white view (either/or) of the world, which is the opposite of what I am describing -- rather, both/and, or many/and.

On a personal note, I am the embodiment of a dual-natured person, or someone with a multifaceted personality, perhaps? I think everyone is this way. We are all jewels, with many sides! Here in my blog posts, my alter ego speaks out, and I often am amazed at what comes out. It seems to have so little to do with my actual life! It's like remembering dreams, and wondering where they came from, and who thought of them. They can be quite alien to the nice, neat identity we like to give ourselves.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Aack! Don't read the prior entry

I'm not quite going to delete it, but ... just too damn depressing!

Christmas was very nice, by the way. We have teenage boys, so the thrill has waned, somewhat, with the passage of time ... though Andrew still gets hyped up about gifts. (I think Austin does too, he just feels like he can't say it since he's all grown up at 16 now)

I was at the point of being sick and tired of the Christmas music. And yet, when I woke up on the 26th to discover it wasn't being played anymore ... what a sad letdown that was. New Year's isn't even here yet! Our Christmas tree is still up! Let the magic continue, a few more days at least.

Andrew enjoys unwrapping, to the point that I always wrap some of the most mundane gifts and place them in stockings and around the tree. Possibly winning the prize in the least significant, yet wrapped, department were the $1 boxes of caramel corn under the tree. Then there was also the beef jerky, a favorite of Andrew's. I even wrapped all the gift cards, separately, some disguised in boxes with a random book to weigh them down.

There was a theme going with Austin's gifts this year, as with Dwaine's. For Dwaine, it was lots (and lots) of brightly colored Mexican ceramic animals in acrobatic poses, ready to crawl and slither all over the backyard pergola. For Austin, about six wrapped packages were actually a set of tools and a nice bag to store them in. So it was, ooh! aah! Another set of tools! Which is it this time -- a set of wrenches, or ... a set of something else? (Sorry, I can't even think of other tool set names, I am so mechanically useless.) Then -- wow! Is that a lizard, or a frog? Oh, another frog! (for Dwaine's gifts)

I've been nursing a cold this past week, so that was my excuse to totally stay out of the kitchen. Not hard, because Dwaine has become quite the master chef of late, especially with regard to holiday meals. For Thanksgiving, I made a sweet potato pie and green bean casserole (Fresh green beans, so it wasn't just a matter of can-of-this and can-of-that!). He made everything else, including a lemon meringue pie that unfortunately was runny. That recipe, his mom's, needs tweaking.

So for Christmas, we had a giant roast beast, mashed potatoes (a holiday staple), green beans from Bill Miller's, and various accompaniments brought by family members. Really, it was quite a simple meal. There were 10 of us this year, including Dwaine's friends from work, Doug and Kat, so a fairly small crowd.

My birthday is next week. I think we'll go to the Magic Time Machine, since we only went once when the boys were small. The kids (both of them) went to the zoo with me last week. That was quite a coup -- two teenage boys, even the 16-year-old, at the zoo! We all loved it and shared fond memories of all the times we had gone before. The boys had a lovely time baiting some fish, feeding them fish pellets right over the giant open mouth of a hungry alligator snapping turtle.We were there about 20 minutes, and Andrew did not want to leave until the turtle caught a fish. So he was overjoyed when suddenly, its giant jaw clamped shut and it clenched down hard on one of the largest fish! It was just too gross for me to watch, once I saw chunks of fish floating to the surface from the muddied depths. The boys watched for a while, giving me detailed updates because they know how squeamish I am.

Tax season is right around the corner, and 45-50 hour workweeks! Jan. 15 through April 15, then it will be over. Actually, in the world of public accounting, this is quite reasonable compared to 70-plus hour workweeks, year-round. But still, for someone who worked part-time for many years, it will be an adjustment. I think I'm ready.

The trouble with a great spiritual book

I have gotten to the point in reading the Dalai Lama's memoir where I am having a problem typical of me when reading such a book, that calls us all to greater social action. I start feeling incredibly guilty and depressed and have to put the book down.

He mentions places in the U.S. where people live in crowded cities but do not know one another, and  care for their pets more than fellow human beings. Well, this general sentiment applies equally in rural areas to people like my family, and it was painful to read and recognize myself in his statement.

I do have a longing to do more good in this world. More what? I know that any "worthy" endeavor may sound great on the surface, but the devil is in the details, isn't he? I am spending these several hours a week as a volunteer treasurer at church, but it does not feel like the type of social action I crave. I would like to make a direct impact on the least, the lost, the left behind, especially those who live elsewhere! -- Because their condition is so much more dire than the poor face here. I am disappointed that my local church does not do more outreach.

It's easy to talk about this desire to help others. Chances are, I won't do anything to concretely enact it, just be here in my fat and happy super-sized-everything American life and feel the occasional twinge of guilt.

One thing we can all do is to stay on the path of social responsibility. That's the least we can do. It means multiplying our actions by thousands, millions, and then examining what the global impact is. Do we take actions to conserve energy, reuse and recycle, buy locally and organic, eat less meat? Is your work socially responsible or at least neutral? Did you build a new home like we did, or reuse a home? How many trees have been chopped down around your home, how many planted? Then, do you shop at big-box stores, and how are they doing as far as social responsibility? Perhaps the biggest question: How do you spend your money and time? Do you think about the consequences of the daily choices you make?

Aack! This is my Bill-the-cat response to many of the above questions. I don't have good answers.

Actually, the company I love to hate, Walmart, finally seems to be improving after years of providing the lowest cost, at any cost. It seems to be making a real effort to take a more sustainable path. Social responsibility has made it onto Walmart's radar screen. Check out the area of their website devoted to it: Walmart Sustainability Report 2010. Now, let's not forget that this could also be viewed in a similar light to the "green" initiatives of big O&G companies and the health-conscious initiatives of tobacco companies -- inotherwords, with a cynical eye. But if Walmart decides that consumers are demanding more sustainable policies, and implements them, this could be a game-changer.

Enough ranting for one blog post! Signing out to return to my oh-so-safe life in a big warm house, stocked with too much food, with three cars, away from poverty and disease and war, etc. etc.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mind and life

Flipping through the "next blog" this evening, about 8 of the 10 I saw were hard-core Christian blogs. I find this frightening, and I'm a Christian. Not hard-core, though. Some were actually spewing about all the evil things happening in our world today. Like, preaching, fire-and-brimstone stuff. Wow. The people who talk like this are the ones who make war in the name of their god.

I am reading the Wu Li book and the Dalai Lama's book side by side, and certain utterances in one book eerily echo the other. Let's see if I can find an example that struck me.


Here is a quote from physicist (I assume) Henry Stapp: "If the attitude of quantum mechanics is correct ... then there is not substantive physical world, in the usual sense of this term. The conclusion here is not the weak conclusion that there may not be a substantive physical world but rather that there definitely is not a substantive physical world."

So far, so good.

Now, the Dalai Lama: "Buddhist analysis of reality concurs with the conclusions of quantum physics, according to which particles of matter are real while still being devoid of ultimate solidity. Similarly, in Buddhism the phenomena that exist in interdependence are empty of intrinsic, autonomous existence."

So what does this mean for you and me? It seems to imply strongly that the everyday tangles we get so caught up in are not just unimportant; they are quite likely nonexistent. The products of overactive imaginations.

The absence of absolute physical reality reminds me, in a way, of the book of Ecclesiastes, where the writer laments a life spent striving after wisdom and ultimate meaning that has yet to be discovered. "Vanity! All is vanity!" The writer says, then concludes we should go about our days working and deriving satisfaction from that.

I sense the writer of Ecclesiastes is still not satisfied, and I also finish reading with an unanswered longing. There is a joyfulness that is also needed. Joy, and a curious mind that tries to empty itself of preconceptions, continuously experiencing the world as a new and glorious creation (which it is).


I discovered another Mind and Life series on quantum physics, which has been of great interest to His Holiness. These periodic gatherings are attended by Buddhists and scientists in a collaborative effort to learn and enrich the practice of each side by carefully studying the other. Indeed, science seems to need a dimension of spirituality and ethics at this point if it is to continue to progress. I almost think the deeply spiritual practitioners are way ahead of the scientists, though they cannot express everything they have discovered, nor prove it. But can the scientists really prove their discoveries? It's all dependent on human observation. Nothing has been recorded in human history absent a human being recording it, based on his or her own observation. So all the seeming objectivity of scientific pursuit is a nice mirage.

I'm not siding with the creationists or the willfully ignorant who seem to be so afraid to use their minds. Lord, no!  But I'm saying nothing is black and white. Everything remains open to debate. Great minds cherish the opportunity to question everything!

By the way, Carol's latest post title -- "Endless Shock and Awe" about the way Christmas just sneaks up every year -- reminded me of a comic Dwaine showed me today. I didn't get it, he had to explain it to me. There are a bunch of people running around, arms up, hollering and screaming like it's the end of the world or something. In the midst, a long-haired hermit is walking around, waving a sign saying, "Calm down. Things will work out." But what threw me, I swear, was the description. It said "Modern-day iconoclast" and I got all hung up on that.


That running-around-crazy feeling is the feeling I have every Christmas season, as well! I have discovered that part of the reason is because it's my month to renew my CPA license, since it's my birthday month. And every year, I receive the renewal form from the state board and it's always a big surprise -- I need more CPE (continuing education)! Last year, I had to take 4 hours of ethics, so that I could become a more ethical person. So I found myself, a couple of weeks before Christmas, cramming my way through an online class so I could still be a CPA.

This year, I outdid myself. Although I already took 42 hours of CPE, it turns out I need a whopping 38 more hours. Holy crap!!! That was my reaction, when it finally sank in that the number 38 had meaning, and wasn't just a big ole typo. I won't bore you with the details, except to say I apparently shorted myself the prior two years and have to pay for it now.

So guess what I am going to be doing on my days off next week? Luckily, I am very good at cramming and taking tests with only days to spare. I have some experience in this area. Still, the unreal, insubstantial person that is Julie was very upset about this seemingly real problem when it happened. Luckily, she was soon able to brush it off with the existential knowledge that this whole life is nothing but a figment of our imagination.

Did I post this picture yet? I thought it was such a gorgeous picture that I've got a 5x7 of it hanging in my office. I have this big wall and have to put something interesting up there. My diploma's next.

It wasn't this exact photo; the other was more centered. Anyhow, this one gets the basic idea across. This was on a bridge overlooking the River Walk on my dad's birthday.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dream

I have a rare opportunity to tell about the dreams I had last night. Usually, I don't remember, or they are only fragments.

In one dream, my husband, younger son, and I were finding bombs and planning to detonate them so they would not hurt other people. The only problem was that we would have to sacrifice ourselves to do so (kind of like a suicide bomber, but we would be the only ones to die). Our dog, Mimi, was with us, and she would die, too, because she always wanted to be right with us. We found about three or four small, black, square, unimpressive-looking plastic little devices around a house (not ours) that would explode easily when triggered. We were hurrying to go outside and lie down with them and set them off before Dwaine's sister arrived. If anyone else got there, they wouldn't understand why we were doing this and would try to talk us out of it or prevent us from doing it.

I was imagining what the end would be like. We would all lie down together, next to each other on a grassy pasture, and place these little devices on our bodies. Mimi would lie down on top of one of us. We would not be able to survive, and death would be instantaneous. Not too shabby, really. It wasn't a horrifying thought.

Frankly, I'm with the rest of the people here -- I have no idea what we were up to, either. Austin probably was absent because he's absent so much from our actual lives, being a 16-year-old with transportation.

In the next dream, the Dalai Lama visited me at  a house that was my house, but it was not this one. He stayed for quite a while, and I was rushing around to prepare a meal for him, and burning parts of it, feeling very frustrated because I didn't have enough help. (Totally the Martha story from the Bible!) His amazing presence lingered long after he left, and I was sitting where he had sat on the sofa, longing for him. In fact, I was becoming very upset because he was gone, and realized I was engaging in unhealthy clinging.

Then in another part of the dream, I was feeling this deep sense of loss. It dawned on me that it was because my dad had died -- or was going to die. I was searching for a letter he had written to me.

Then in the dream, I was able to visit with my dad while he was still alive (which he is), and treat him as the precious treasure he is, before he died and left me. He was out on the porch of the house, watching a beautiful slow rain that was pouring down outside and blowing and misting in on the porch, too, so that everything was wet. It was the most amazing sight, watching the rain. Here at the brink of another drought, I long for rain and new life. I don't remember me and Dad talking about anything in particular, just being together and watching the rain.

I think all these threads are about death and impermanence. I'm no suicide bomber. I have no crazy visions of saving the world by dying myself, and if I did, I know my family would definitely not go along with it! I think the dreams were ways of imagining losing the ones closest to me, and how that would be.

Of course, we are all heading toward our death. Or perhaps I should say, birth and death are inevitable and will take place, are taking place, and have taken place in the lives of all sentient beings. The Buddhists think the moment of death can be a moment of enormous spiritual significance and transformation. I don't fully understand their beliefs, but they are interested in scientifically monitoring the time of death of some of the great spiritual masters, who have already in a sense mastered the movement into death.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Family night out

We had a great afternoon/evening today and a reunion of my immediate family -- my sister and my dad, whose birthday it was. My sister came in on a business trip for work; she always takes the weekend before or after to visit with us. She decided she wanted to surprise Dad for his birthday, and he was! We all saw the Nutcracker, performed by Ballet San Antonio and the San Antonio Symphony, and then went to Rivercenter Mall and later to Paesano's.

My sister and mother-in-law wanted to go shopping after the show, so I stayed behind with Dad (who was not interested) at a table in the food court, overlooking the Riverwalk. He and I had a very nice discussion about my trip abroad as an exchange student when I was 15, parenting teenagers, the economic ramifications of our relationship with China, the threat of nuclear warheads, whether we should have dropped the second atomic bomb on Japan, and more. My dad is a smart man, and I'd forgotten how enjoyable it could be to talk with him.

I have really enjoyable discussions now with both my boys that are also wide-ranging. It's something I really enjoy about our relationship.

One of the highlights of the evening was after dinner, when a spontaneous napkin-origami activity unfolded at our table. (Get it? Unfolded?) Austin started folding his napkin into a pattern, quickly followed by his brother, Grandma Han, my sister, and even a little by Dwaine, who Cynthia calls "the rebel." I knew better than to attempt something like what they were doing, and sat back and watched, as did my dad.

I could tell my dad wanted to get impatient (because that is such a habit with him), but we were all drawn into the moment.Cyndi made an authentic restaurant-quality napkin arrangement that stood on its own. Austin made something he called a hang glider that I thought looked like a stingray. It was impressive on the table but decidedly limp in flight. Andrew made his own special creations which were, hmm, indescribable. My sister also made the cloth equivalent of the finger puzzle you make from a square piece of paper, place on your fingers, and then fold them back and forth and someone chooses a color, then a side, etc., to come out to an answer that unfolds from the paper. I know it has a name, help me! As they designed, we talked, and laughed. At dinnertime, I discovered that my dad thought the Jackass movies are a riot. Though he claims to not have watched them all.

I've learned to nurture these moments when they come, because they are rare. Who would think that folding napkins together could be something meaningful? It was an unplanned hiccup in the day's events, a moment of creative joy mapped out in napkin designs. I don't know that the waiters at the restaurant appreciated it (the tables looked full by then), but we did.

Also, during dinner, my sister asked out of the blue if I try to eat mindfully. (I think I was the last one eating at that point.) Her question caught me doing my usual, mindless chowing down, though perhaps chewing slowly at least! I thought it was great that she asked me at that moment, and that she attempts to practice this habit herself. I love that I have several friends who want to talk to me about being more in the present moment and more mindful.

My sister also asked if I would enjoy it if she got me a magazine subscription for Christmas to "The Sun," not knowing that I had ever heard of it. Another coincidence -- my friend Michele just recently introduced me to this lovely, literary magazine, saying she thought I would like it, and after receiving a second issue from her, I decided I would like to get a subscription. I just hadn't gotten around to it. This is an example of my sister and my friend exhibiting mindfulness in their actions, by deliberately choosing to support a publication that reflects their deeply held values about life. Here is the link to The Sun if you want to see what it is.

As my sister (who is a vegetarian) mentioned, she has a T-shirt that says, "Eat like you give a damn!" Well, do everything that way! Live like you give a damn.

I have no napkin-folding pictures, but let me share some others.
Me and sis with the birthday boy and his wife, Han (If you wonder about my dad's expression, he later mentioned that he hadn't had any coffee all day, so we went on an emergency coffee run. We are serious caffeine people.)
Here's mi familia at the dinner table. At the time of this picture, it is pre-dinner and the napkins are wrapped around the silverware (serviceable, but far from aesthetic).

Here's my son's latest fun project, a website he is making: ready-set-stop.com
I feel that I should post a number of disclaimers here ... it's a teenage boy's idea of a wonderful website, I don't think there is anything blatantly illegal on it (though quite likely immoral), and yes we are fairly permissive about computer use and the Internet, though I am constantly debating myself about whether to change course and severely restrict this evil entity from our household and become Amish once and for all, and oh -- back to website warnings, be careful what you click on. I haven't looked it over in great detail. I do like the joke about the perfect man and the perfect woman (scroll down to view).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sharing the energy

I don't have much energy of my own today ... been fighting off something since before Thanksgiving, so my goal this evening is basically to get to bed.

But I want to share a blog post that my friend Kiley wrote. He always gets to me with his descriptions of homeless meditation. I derive great meaning from reading the blogs of others as often as I can, especially Carol over at Sardines in a Can because she always makes me laugh.

Here is an excerpt from Kiley's post (He is a Buddhist, by the way):

“There is a suffering that leads to the end of suffering, and a suffering that leads to more suffering. If you are afraid to face the first kind of suffering, you will surely continue to the face the second.”

Another jewel:

"Buddhism teaches that the difference between Heaven and Hell is only point of view, our perception of things." Amen! I say. Heaven and Hell are states of mind and soul, not places.

So I have to wonder, in comparison, how I got stuck doing this church office treasurer stuff and what good it really is accomplishing in the world. I'm not sure that serving on the Finance Committee is helping anyone, really. However, I also know it is not good to measure ourselves according to others, because we are all meant to follow different paths.

Anyhow, here is a link to the full posting:
http://community.tricycle.com/profiles/blogs/description-of-teaching

Thank you, Kiley, for sharing your abundant compassion with all us twerps out here! By the way, have you ever had the experience of a book picking you -- it finds you and latches on and refuses to let go? He describes that experience in his blog post. That's what happened with my physics book I am reading. I was browsing in an old, quaint bookstore in some small town around San Antonio, and discovered it, and it beckoned to me. Those are the best kind of books! My friend Karen has also recommended some truly life-altering books to me, mainly "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck.

Or, have you ever had this experience -- started laughing uncontrollably, simply because someone else is? I just did, because Andrew was laughing and couldn't stop and it was contagious. I still don't know what we were laughing about, but it felt great. One good solid belly-laugh a day (or more), preferably at something really silly and mundane.

I think I'm getting giddy, or is this feeling delirium? I really need to head for bed.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Teenage boys

Is there a rule that says only one blog post a day? Oh well then.

I keep telling Andrew that if he were an elephant, the matriarch of the herd would be booting him out around now to go be himself out in the wild, like all young bull elephants. He responds to this by smiling and head-butting me. All forms of physical affection these days involve some degree of pain with him. It's worth it, though.

The male elephants roam alone, whereas the females form the herds and nurture the young. This is perhaps why I sometimes feel so alone in my home, surrounded by men (and two young men).

My husband needs me. It's the existential problem of the day. To clarify, he needs me now.

Inner peace, and physics

I would like to spend just a moment to extoll the virtues of physical labor. There is something deeply satisfying and peaceful about doing yardwork on a gorgeous day such as today. Gathering leaves and taking them to the compost. The only part of my self that was not enthralled with this task was my whole sinus cavity, which has been aggravated all week, so I just gave it a good nasal rinse afterwards and some more medication.

I say this as someone who does not do manual labor for a living. It might lose a touch of its sheen if it was a hours and hours-long daily grind, or if it was required for my personal survival. It wouldn't be so glamorous or such a nice break in that case. So, no, I don't wish to go back to the days when everyone had to put in a bunch of hard work from dawn till dusk. No thanks!

It is strange how, the more leisure time we have, the more we seem to lose our way spiritually, or get bored, or long for something .... else. I guess people have always been in the longing business. I can understand people longing for a relief to grinding labor, disease, violence, poverty, etc. But relief from the relative richness of the middle-class doldrums here? You can see it all around, in the types of diversions people create for themselves. I was surrounded by it in the Galleria. Who in the world has need of all that stuff? How does it enrich the world? I don't get it.

Just what do you people want that you don't already have?!! Bunch of greedy, unthankful, rotten Americans. That's the thought I admit I have. Ooh, I certainly don't mean YOU, my faithful reader. I'm talking about those other people out there. Look at them all. Bunch of whining losers.

So, if I am confessing all, I really think that of myself, too, at times. What more could I want than this amazing life that has been given to me, with all its possibilities? But still, I have desires and cravings. Caffeine! And other things, too.

I'm reading one of those books that has been waiting for me on the shelf, "The Dancing Wu Li Masters (An Overview of the New Physics)" by Gary Zukav. The premise of this book is to discuss physics while leaving out all the heavy math and technical terms that make it indecipherable to you and me. A nonphysicist wrote it.

It's not a particularly current book, published in the late '70s, I think, but many of the greatest advances in physics happened just after the turn of the last century, and some of Newton's theories (who goes back to the 1600s sometime) were not undone till still later than that. Science plods along at a pace that can seem quite ponderous.

What fascinates me about science is the whole idea that we can be objective and objectively measure anything, even while trapped in this human form and using only the evidence of our poor, limited, and even faulty senses. This book has not disappointed me in expounding on that very dilemma. The "new" quantum physics seems to conclude that there is no objective reality that is not altered by our perception of it.

That dovetails nicely with my own sensibilities. We can never be mere observers of this world around us. We are constantly participants, completely enmeshed in it, and our experiences are inseparable from our reality. It's common sense, really. We can't have the perspective of God, or a higher power, or a bystander. We are each stuck in these carbon-based lifeforms, and cannot separate ourselves from all the rest of creation. (Does that word, creation, strongly imply a creator? I guess it does.)

Another aspect of quantum physics, one of many I find fascinating, is what Einstein described as "spooky action at a distance." The idea that quanta react to far-flung phenomena instantaneously, that perhaps either space or time, or both, are illusory. Or how about this? -- the thought that we are all energy bundles, that mass and energy are essentially interchangeable, and we are all intimately connected by forces we may be unaware of. And how do you distinguish organic matter that lives from other energy forms, if we are all constructed of atoms? How do you assign a higher moral value to humanity than to any other thing in the universe, really? Lots to contemplate.

Quick, how many living things do you see in this picture? "Lots." Yeah.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The trip

Straight to the pictures today. Can you guess where we went?
 Missing from this pic is Andrew, who is taking it.
The famous -- that should say infamous -- Mud Show. We had never seen it before. Each muddy man had half the audience rooting for him to "win." Though I was expecting a brawl in the mud pit, and that never happened. This show was one of our favorites, especially when each muddy man ran into the audience to kiss an innocent bystander (sitter) from the opposing side. Sometimes a man, other times a woman. The actors made great use of improv.
 There's Andrew. Can't say what is dangling between his legs.
 Some of the miscellaneous strangely attired folks.You couldn't tell who the paid staff were and who was coming in dressed the part.
We finished the day by watching belly dancers. Gorgeous! The boys missed this one; their loss.

So that was none other than the Texas Renaissance Festival. I think the boys were finally old enough to understand, appreciate, enjoy, revel in, participate in, etc., the bawdy humor, which is rampant at the Ren. Fest. In past years, it really bothered me, but now that my kids are so far on the path to adulthood, it fit right in. It's right where they are just now, in fact! I remember being a teenager.

Preceding our daylong visit there, we went to the Galleria and its ice rink. Very nice shops, quite pricey. At a few, I wanted to ask if there was a charge to touch the merchandise. Other than food, I bought a face mask to wear at night for around $12.

Apparently, my boys have been living in a cave all these years and have never (NEVER) been ice skating before. (This could have something to do with living in South Texas, except there is/was an ice rink in San Antonio for many years. I'll have to see if it is still there.) They loved it, once they got the hang of it. I remember skating in a homemade ice rink in our back yard when we lived up north. I think it was a little bumpy, but I was a young kid and didn't mind.

Another experience we'd like to take the boys for, which has been out of the price range hitherto, is skiing. Perhaps next winter.

Friday, November 19, 2010

We're going somewhere! Sometime!

I feel like Dick Cheney ... my family is travelling to an undisclosed location, sometime that I cannot disclose at the present moment with precision! And I am sooo excited and looking forward to it. Maybe I'll post some pictures at some later time. It's not going to be long, and not to any glamorous place like Maui (where my dad is) or Tanzania (where my boss went), but it's a change of pace anyway.

I'm just happy to have a little break from this full-time work stuff. I could use a different word at the end there, but I'm not generally the cursing type. How does everybody do this working 40+ hours a week, anyhow? I'm ready to move to France and the 32-hour workweek. My butt is aching from sitting for 8 hours at work and 1-1/2 hours on the daily commute!

Enough whining. Life is too short to spend any time whining about the choices I have made, especially given what other people elsewhere have to contend with!

Here is my lovely sis and hubby on our fabulous trip to Washington, D.C., in front of a garden on the mall.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Being loving and being cold

From reading my blog here, you might think that I am just the most drippingly loving, sentimental person, and I would just drape myself around you (or anyone else) and just radiate pure love if we ever met. That would be completely wrong.

First, I've never been a super huggy person. Though, with certain people, I'm glad to make an exception. I taught children's Sunday school for years, and I never really got around to hugging the kids very much. I remember an older lady who had taught children's Sunday school for, like, decades at St. Andrew's UMC. She actually did radiate love and compassion, and every child got a hug, every day, coming into her class (probably leaving, too). This would have been early elementary, the age my kids were back then. So maybe I have to wait until I'm of a certain age to soften up and mellow out? Nah. I'll still be prickly, just a prickly old lady instead of a middle-aged one.

I can be prickly if you step into my comfort zone out in public and I don't know you; if I am on the phone with you, and I don't find you are being particularly helpful when you should be, and I suspect you either don't know or don't care enough to solve my problem; and so on.

Today, I was eating my lunch at a public picnic table by one of the branch libraries in San Antonio, which happens to be right down the road from where I work. I was eating my lunch, enjoying the perfectly beautiful day, lounging in the sunshine like a kitty. Bothering no one, and no one was bothering me. ... Until ...

Along comes a perfect stranger, some guy, and plops down on the bench just across from me! There is just the one picnic table. However, this is a little too close for me to accommodate gracefully. I say doubtfully, "Hello." He replies in kind and then sorta does this weird little wave that does not endear me to him. Since he seemed to appear from out of nowhere, I asked where he came from. Then had to specify, I mean, did he drive or walk over? He walked. He has a backpack and a mug he drinks from, and wears sunglasses.

Several moments of awkward silence follow, where I attempt to eat my lunch nonchalantly. Just pretending this stranger is not two feet away from me, sharing a table. He goes on to say that he walks over to this library almost every day to use the computers there. I say something very brief along the lines of, "Oh." More silence. Then, thankfully, he gets up and goes to say hello to someone else who has just exited the library. Apparently he gets the message that his presence at MY picnic table has been less than welcome, and doesn't return. I guess I need to take a sign with me in the future: Sorry, this table is taken. Get your own table, sit in your car till I'm done, but don't try to sit down here.

So, I recall this in a lighthearted way, but part of me feels bad that I have to act so distant and cold. What horrible thing could happen if I were friendly to this person? So maybe he could try to overpower and kidnap me and do many unmentionables -- which he wouldn't attempt if I just acted cold enough? That doesn't make sense.

Somehow, I have been conditioned, as a lady who is physically attractive, that I have to be really careful not to send the wrong signals out to strange men. So instead, I make them feel really awkward and uncomfortable until they leave. That just doesn't seem like a compassionate way to act. Perhaps not even that logical. I don't even give someone a chance to act inappropriately before I throw the ice wall up. But, on the other side, this guy was strange. Yeah. So maybe it was my gut instinct telling me how to behave, and you don't want to ignore your gut feelings about any situation that crops up. We'll go with that conclusion.
Yikes! Look at that strange man standing with my son! (On the metro platform outside of D.C.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My spiritual journey

I bow to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who just wrote a book with the same title as my blog! Dare I say, "Great minds think alike!" I would love to read it some day. It is supposedly very readable, not too erudite, and talks about how he was identified as the Dalai Lama as a young child.

I have to say that as some aspects of my life unfold, I look around and say, how did I get here, anyhow? When did the path turn in this direction? I must have been daydreaming again! I am treasurer again for next year at church, not sure what that entails (because I have said I won't have time to do all the bookkeeping), and I accepted the position without being officially invited or told! This is a natural fit for me, but it's quite a change of direction from teaching children's Sunday school for many years.

Here is my secret dream, but I don't see how it will ever happen in this lifetime. I want to go to someplace beautiful and temperate in Africa and help teach the children. I don't mean as a missionary, but as a teacher. Maybe Rwanda. It would be a big change in my life, I know. Part of me longs to leave behind this false prosperity of being a rich American and go where people are living right on the edge of poverty and loss all the time, and experience the plain joy of living alongside them in that risky way. Every accomplishment would be so meaningful in such a context. I am surely glamorizing the idea of living "the simple life," I know. But I have at least become disabused of the idea that I could go over and "help" these people. I think I would be the one to benefit most of all.

This vision of a what-if life gelled quite recently, when I was reading several articles in the Heifer Project magazine, and looking online to learn more about Tanzania (where my boss is going on vacation to watch the wild animal migration, around Kilimanjaro). I read about the Maasai people of northern Tanzania and the desperate straits they have found themselves in after years of drought, and how the Heifer Project helped them transition from raising cattle to camels, which produce nutritious milk and are much more suited to a desert climate. This desert climate is something new, as older Maasai people remember eating a very meat-based diet in their youth. Now, they survive on watered-down camel milk and porridge, about 800 calories a day. Changing the basis of their culture from raising livestock to camels was radical and very brave, and necessary for their survival.


I don't think I could go live with people who are surviving on 800 calories a day. (For one thing, I'd be consuming some of their tiny allotment of food.) I need someplace where food is more abundant. How's that for priorities!


One of the great revelations I have had is that of all the issues facing people, access to education is the keystone. If young people and particularly women have access to a nonreligious-based education, then they can help solve the problems of the part of the world where they have grown up. I say "nonreligious" because it must be education, not indoctrination. Reading "Three Cups of Tea" was transformative.

Also, a podcast I listened to and an article I read both were describing a movement to start small entrepreneurial efforts in third-world areas with very limited resources, similar to the micro-loan idea that won a Nobel prize recently. The idea is that it's better to give poor people choices in a marketplace, rather than a handout, because they can then have input into what they actually need and find useful. There are companies popping up that offer low-cost sources of clean air and energy, for example, in places like India.

Here are my own bushmen at a Missions baseball game earlier this fall. Why do they always make faces like this when I'm snapping their pic? Because they love me soooo much.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The miracle of our lives

Share with me in this miraculous moment, dear reader. Here you are, sitting someplace on Earth (I presume), having the time, the interest, the technological wherewithal, and the literacy level to read this blog post. Do you know just how lucky you are? You and I are both human (again, I presume!), sharing an advanced level of awareness and intense interest about our surroundings. And here we are together, sharing something in common, at least for this blink of time -- that unique communion of thought that the written word enables.

How blessed we are, living as humans in this modern age of amazing changes and invention! How fortunate we are to live in these times, when there is so much potential for human creativity to solve global problems. The life expectancy keeps going up; immunizations have vanquished many terrible illnesses; technology and its capabilities are exploding, as are scientific discoveries; and the world has become much more globally aware than ever before. There is potential for greatness here. I am choosing to emphasize the positive, the possibility for human accomplishment. Surely there are terrible problems to conquer, many of them created by humans, but not all. Tragedies will never end, because we will never be able to control or stop everything that causes human misery. But we can always control our attitude, so long as our mental faculties are intact.

Being aware that your life is a miracle, a great gift, is wonderfully motivating. It makes even the dullest-seeming moment just sparkle with energy. The ordinary problems of daily life are so unimportant when viewed from the perspective of the big scheme of things. The enormous energy of life-force is coursing through everything that lives.

So celebrate with me! A toast, to you, to me, to every person and every sentient being across the universe.
May the force be with you! Me and hubby at a Star Wars concert, before I cut off and donated my hair. Before I got a fair trade purse from Nepal, too. Let me know what small, wonderful miracles you have pulled off in your life.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Called to write

Sorry I've been gone so long! Working full-time is a lot of work, ha ha. 

I feel that part of my daily ministry is supposed to be to write. I don't know when I am supposed to do this in my life (perhaps in lieu of sleeping, such as now). But acknowledging the call is the first step, right?

I was talking with some "church" ladies tonight, and we were able to have a meaningful spiritual discussion, not always a sure thing when dealing with people who are Christian with a capital "C," if you know what I mean. I was able to share my witness to a couple of these women, that you can't distinguish between people based on what brand of faith they appear to have, if any. Jesus went out in search of people who were lost and needed help. He met them where they were, and his ministry was not to aid Christians. If anything, it was the opposite of that.He wasn't saving people for heaven, he was saving them from everything that was holding them back -- the life situations preventing them from living a full life and sharing that vitality with others. We shouldn't save ourselves for heaven, either.

Here are a few things I brought up for discussion once our ladies' group had dwindled to an intimate threesome tonight. Following God's direction seems to call for sacrifice. How much? Of what? To continue with this thought, does this mean we are supposed to sacrifice our own personal happiness, or simply selfishness -- and how do you let go of selfish desires but remain happy? What is a selfish desire, anyhow? Is my need to exercise daily a selfish desire? I feel the need to call on my friend Buddha to help here.

God seemingly demands so much, but perhaps it's not that hard. Maybe doing God's will means the attempt to have a daily walk side-by-side with God, present in the midst of every moment of life. How amazing it would be, for example, to go through an entire day and show every person compassion!

And now, for something completely different. If you have not seen "Dead Man Walking," I think it was a profoundly spiritual movie about the essence of humanity and deeply moving. It is about a young man who has participated in the brutal murder of a young couple, and who is on death row. Seemingly by chance, he writes to a nun begging for help in his appeals process, and she (Sister Helen Prejean) eventually becomes his spiritual adviser. This role eventually leads her to become one of the foremost advocates to abolish the death penalty, which she continues to this day.

The spiritual aspect of the movie was its resounding message that no act committed by a person bars them from the possibility for redemption, nor can it cast them out from the fellowship of humanity. Put another way, grace remains accessible to everyone, in all circumstances. It is never denied, not even to a person who has committed particularly heinous crimes.

One thing I appreciated about the movie was its relentless attempt to keep all perspectives in view and never to minimize the horror of the crime that this person on death row committed. It often returned to play out the crime in all its horror and inhumanity, so that terrible night was in full view throughout the movie, never to be forgotten. Just as the people who were murdered were dead, forevermore, never to be brought back, and also never to be forgotten.


Time for some pictures to break the monotony. Above, my new 'do and Andrew's cute picture of it! He wasn't standing on a chair, either. He did have the camera somewhat above his head, but also, he's getting tall!

 This is Austin and the youth praise band of our church, currently with the obscure name, "Being There." Don't ask, I don't know the story behind that name. There was a movie by that name featuring Peter Sellers as a mentally challenged individual who became president of the U.S. and fit right in. Not sure if there's a connection there.

Here's the band, with my other son front and center just below the stand, playing the marimba. (Austin is somewhere in the background, marching.) I am concerned that I am spelling the name of Andrew's instrument wrong. If so, mea culpa and forgive me.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A little food for thought

I'm tired ... it's been a long week, lots of church meetings and first week at the new job! So I won't stay long.

Here's a little brain teaser from an economics podcast I just finished that was discussing work. Used to be, not that long ago, that work was considered work, and marriages were for practical reasons as much as anything else. In fact, lots of jobs were physically grinding and even dangerous in the recent past, even this past century.

Now, in the modern world, everything seems to be about Jefferson's famous words in the Declaration of Independence: "the pursuit of happiness." (Superficially, this sounds Buddhist, but I think the results from pursuing happiness can be anything but.) Work is supposed to cause deep personal happiness and fulfillment, and ditto for marriage. High expectations, indeed!

Now that we have an expectation of finding happiness and fulfillment in our work and our marriages, has that expectation caused an increase in actual happiness, or not? Or would it perhaps be better to start with a realistic view -- namely, work is work; marriage brings many conveniences with it, and is about much more than romantic love. Then the happiness could blossom on its own, without being  fruitlessly pursued as an end in itself.

I don't know, this suddenly sounds like a dull blog entry; kind of like how my mind is when I'm tired. So let me at least post a couple of pretty pictures!
Now here's a happy memory, or maybe I should say a very meaningful one -- touring the  World War II and other magnificent monuments in Washington, D.C., this summer.


Here's me in my crazy blue hat with Austin, Andrew, and Dwaine, in front of the U.S. Capitol. Dwaine is apparently wearing a mac.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The moral dilemma

Before I start my main topic, I must mention that Andrew, my ninth-grader, should be in Drama Club! He just needs some encouragement from someone besides Mother Dearest. I was barred from photographing him in his latest getup, though he did go strut his stuff at our local convenience store (to the gaping amazement of several onlookers). Perhaps his big bro got some photographic evidence to use in future blackmail schemes, but not I ... because he knew I would immediately come here, to the big wide world of cyberspace, and post them!

Here is the origin of today's discussion that follows:
http://www.mindandlife.org/conf09.dharamsala.html

The Mind & Life Institute was formed to organize a series of in-depth discussions between scientists and the Dalai Lama to inform and enlighten practitioners of both approaches to reality. I have been listening to a lengthy podcast of this particular conference linked above, called "Attention, Memory and the Mind: A Synergy of Psychological, Neuroscientific, and Contemplative Perspectives." Wordy, but don't be intimidated. It's fascinating stuff about how little we actually know about what we thought we knew! And how we could possibly find out more.

It seems that most, if not all cultures, when framing a moral reference, create the classic "moral dilemma" tale that goes something like this: You are on a platform, above an approaching train. Someone is standing beside you. You see that five people are unsuspectingly in the path of the oncoming train below. You don't have time to warn them or do anything but decide: Do you push this other person, who is much larger than you and would stop the train, to his/her death to save the five people below? Do you do nothing?  (When during the Mind-Life seminar, the teller had to explain that the bystander was much larger, so that you couldn't simply sacrifice yourself, it was met with uproarious laughter.)

Let's see if I can recall the Dalai Lama's version. One thousand people are on a ship in the middle of the ocean. One is a (vicious and apparently, very efficient) murderer who has decided to slaughter every other person on the ship. (Parenthetical addition mine) There is nowhere for anyone to escape. Do you, having knowledge of the planned massacre, kill the murderer to save the other 999 people? Or not?

The Dalai Lama explained it like this: If you kill the one, to save the many, you create a much smaller negative karma than the one killing the 999. But, he stressed, you must have a pure heart and compassionate intentions, and then nearly anything is permissable. (This is reminiscent to me of Paul's teaching that what is sin to one is not to another.)

Of course, logic begs to differ with this conclusion. Think about the premises of each tale more thoroughly. How does the person who must make a choice possess omniscience with regard to future events? Life is uncertain. It's impossible to predict with certainty what will happen in the next moment, much less a series of events that will lead to a particular outcome. That's the main reason I believe we are barred from "playing God."

Only the most wise and knowledgeable person should dare to harm another in the name of the greater good. Not me! Additionally, I don't believe there are any examples of a holy person doing something wicked for the purpose of helping many more others. So, I believe this fable, though compelling, relies on a false premise (perfect foreknowledge) that could not occur in real life.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Where is God?

"In what activities do you notice the presence of God?" I am paraphrasing a question asked by our new pastor at a recent house meeting. I think he specifically referenced activities at church.

This meeting was not held in someone's home but in the pastor's office, as a convenience, with childcare so that those with younger children could attend. The pastor is ambitious, wanting every person in the church to participate in these house meetings.

Our younger son went along at our insistence, but he was equally insistent -- adamant -- that he shouldn't be there, and he acted the part of the sulky teenager throughout. (Don't tell him I said that. I tremble even writing it here.) So he proved himself right.

Austin was home sick, an illness that dragged on throughout last week until I finally took him in Friday and got him on antibiotics. Not surprisingly, Andrew woke up with a sore throat this morning. Austin thinks it's psychosomatic, though. If big brother is sick, I must be too. So I sent him out to mow and weedeat with his brother. That will test his theory that he's sick, I guess! (Austin toughed it out every day at school, with killer weightroom sessions, followed by long hours of band practice, some in the pouring rain, till he spiked a fever -- again -- Thursday night after feeling sick the previous weekend.)

I'm sipping on some tea that advertises, "calma la garganta irritada," right now. With me, it's hard to know if it's a real sore throat or just the usual reflux.

Anyhow, the pastor kept asking, kept asking. It almost feels like when you are in a classroom, and many people have given an answer, but the teacher keeps asking the same question and you realize you're all wrong. Though that wasn't it, really. The pastor did have a secret purpose, which I think I understand, and I bow to my reader to divine what that was.

You know me, I could have filled the empty space with reams of answers, but I didn't think that would be appropriate. I was listening to hear what would be said. In fact, not too much. I said, "VBS!" That's where I really see God working in the lives of others and especially in children, and that is very exciting.

But where do I notice God's presence? Where? The more interesting question might be, where do I/we as humanity not take notice of God's presence, because those are the areas and places that need more work.

God permeates all existence, he is continously streaming and flowing through every aspect of daily life, and once someone's eyes are opened to the brilliance of this work, it makes every day so amazing and miraculous. I say this as a Buddhist, not just as a Christian.* It's like the Bible verse: Pray continually. Be in a prayerful/meditative/mindful attitude at all times, because that is where you can gladly lose track of yourself, your petty worries and your tiny life with all its miniscule problems, and touch eternity.

The awakened life is precious, indeed! It requires a lot of work, and mindfulness, to be in that awakened state. It is an ongoing practice. There are numerous distractions, and the excitable mind (any mind, actually) will latch onto all of them. I say "excitable" because that describes my mind so well.

*Note: Sorry if it is beyond human understanding that I could be both Buddhist and Christian, because it truly blows my mind too. If I had more time to observe the world's religions, I would probably be an "everything." I embrace the many ways that people find to worship and pray. I find them deeply meaningful and important. If a religious practice includes compassion, devotion, and reverence, count me in.

I finally remembered how to download pictures from our "new" camera I got for Mother's Day, and downloaded the 438 pictures just now! (I had forgotten I had a cable tucked away and forgotten in a drawer.) I would say about half the pictures are of two churches in Washington, D.C., that my husband was extremely impressed by. Like this one from the National Cathedral, where a wedding was under way and we got to hear the organ:  

And this one from the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hijacking grace

I am wondering why mainstream Christian churches have hijacked the notion of grace and disallowed its accessibility to human beings who are following a faith path but do not identify themselves as Christian. The church has restricted access to grace to those asserting that they are Christians. Is this an instinct for self-preservation? Is this what Jesus intended?

I believe that part of the decline of church attendance is that it has become unappealing for those of differing views, and difficult for people with broad world views. Too many churches are an exclusive club, emphasizing who is excluded from "salvation" and "grace," and I don't think that is what Jesus intended or envisioned. He reached out to people who had been left behind and stigmatized by mainstream society. The problem is that there were no Christians at the time of Christ -- zero, zilch, nada. So which people of those that Jesus encountered would be most like modern-day Christians? Would it be the apostles, or the Pharisees? There aren't a lot of choices.

Maybe a better question is, what group do modern-day Christians emulate, Jesus's apostles, or the Pharisees?

Please re-read the parable of the sheep and the goats if you are a practicing Christian. "When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink, Lord? Or when did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" The King will reply, "Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me." (Matthew 25:excerpted from 37-40, NIV Adventure Bible) You mean, these saved people didn't even recognize their savior? Had they not called on him by name? Apparently not.

These people who have served the Lord with these good works are in the kingdom of heaven. I was going to say they were "granted access" but that implies a pearly-gate style security system, and the kingdom of heaven is way beyond that limitation!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Grace!

Grace -- got it? Gotta have it!

I realized that this word may be misused by "Christians" who want to identify those who are so-called saved vs. those who aren't. My friend Michele sounded suspicious today when she asked me to clarify what I meant by the word grace. She is a homeschooler who is not doing so for religious reasons. When she goes to homeschooling co-ops, the assumption around here is that everyone is a devout, church-going Christian. She wanted to wear a T-shirt saying something like "Pagan Homeschooler" to put everyone on notice not to make that assumption!

Interestingly, she comes from a deep rootedness and background in Christianity. She attended seminary, along with her husband. But she cannot embrace any church right now.

Even without wearing a pagan T-shirt, she was recently found out by a preacher's wife, who casually asked where she was going to church. The wife then spent a couple of hours "evangelizing" to her. To the effect: I'm saved, and you're not! Don't you feel terrible about that? You need to profess your faith in Jesus to save your eternal soul! (These aren't the specific words used, but the sentiment.) Gee whiz, makes me want to go sign up to join the loons so I can go into the world and judge others too!

It's amazing how Good News gets perverted into "Good News for me, Bad News for you!" by so many so-called Christians out there.

So, my concept of grace ... It's the connection that people have to something higher than themselves, the awareness of their deep interdependence on other life here on earth, and their responsibility to that life. It's the knowledge that we are not alone; that our lives have purpose; and that we are here to accomplish good and improve the world. This connection to a higher power enables people to overcome great adversity, not through each one's own strength but by connecting to that larger source of energy that runs through each person, but belongs to none.

I'm trying to use the broadest language here to include people of many religious backgrounds and faiths, or people who do not share the language of a particular religion.

Many people have not accepted grace, a gift freely given, but one that must be earnestly desired and sought out, and recognized as even being possible. Not all people will let themselves off the hook enough to accept grace. It takes effort to accept grace and all its radical implications. It requires letting go of some part of egocentrism and past mistakes, and a willingness to become a new creation. Sorta continuous self-improvement. Making oneself a new wineskin, to accept the new wine of Christ's teachings. Or Buddha's, or some other higher power's!!

Many people are suffering, and many people are causing suffering for themselves and others. I do believe that accepting grace is a way to transform that suffering -- to end what is unproductive, and to use what is productive to achieve positive changes. Somehow, it doesn't seem like suffering when there is a purpose. It becomes something like childbirth. There is still labor, and it can hurt (a whole lot). But there is a goal in mind, and it is glorious and more than worth the temporary discomfort.

I, personally, have been transformed through grace. I have been able to release many burdens to God and really let go of things that would otherwise cause me long-lasting anger, resentment, frustration, etc. God, I thank you so much that you show me a better path, a higher way to live that allows me to leave behind concerns that are not important.

I see grace most in my relationships with others. How I can personally dislike someone, but yet realize that I am called to love them, and act on that knowledge!

How I can let go of my clinging to my children, for the most part, and understand that this teenage time will pass. Every day will hold endless new revelations, but our bond is strong and, I believe, everlasting. Nothing -- not angels, not demons, not principalities, .... -- will separate my children from my love! This echoes the Bible verse that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus. There they are, my darlings! (Back in the spring. I asked them to pose for a lovely picture with the bluebonnets, and they did.)

How I can love my husband anew, every single day, even if he does not always act in a way that I would like or prefer! I'm trying to recall where we took this picture. Rack Room, a shoe store! We were trying out the new camera.

How opportunities arise, and situations present themselves, so that my prayers for discernment and to do God's will are indeed answered. Not in the way I expected. Not always in the way I wanted, either! I am sometimes quite a reluctant servant.

Maybe most importantly ... Grace allows me to shine my light before the world with less fear, and more understanding of who I am, and whose I am. Hopefully, I encourage others to do the same.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

New life! And an ode to Hair

My life is blossoming in many directions right now. I am starting a new full-time job in San Antonio soon that will really challenge my mind and give me opportunities to grow in my profession! The "agape letters" I referred to a number of posts back were letters of recommendation from supervisors who were all also friends.

I am posting excerpts here from an e-mail communication I had with a new friend, someone who reached out to me about my postings here. Thank you, God, for friends! I would post her replies, but I don't know if she would want that.


A Conversation with a Friend

"I enjoyed our meeting and I can never have too many thoughtful and thought-provoking friends to share experiences with. I feel I have only a precious few people who accept me as I am, and can offer feedback without being judgmental!

I think it’s quite common these days to grow up outside the church. Perhaps living in South Texas, it seems different, but I would say my kids, who are faithful church-goers, are an exception, particularly in the public school setting. I guess many of the other deeply religious people are home-schooling!

I don’t remember feeling left out of religion, growing up. We live in a pretty secular society, and the separation of church and state does help protect children of different backgrounds from being judged in that way. I always was drawn to God and curious about him/her, and mad at him/her quite often. So I never was really an atheist because I always had a running commentary with God from a young age, and was always wondering why this divine, all-powerful creator had allowed so much violence and evil to happen. And sadness and despair.

I’m not sure why some people have such a strong – instinctive – sense of God, and others do not. And why me, of all people, with relatively unbelieving parents? I don’t know.

On the sin issue, I see my own sin ever more clearly as I grow spiritually. I don’t think we are complete in ourselves, and capable of becoming outward-focused, without an awareness of something much larger than our own little existence. I still believe in sin, and evil is undeniably real. I also believe in an evil power that opposes God, not just random evil but an organizer behind the scenes, in some sense. Evil is quite powerful, though not as powerful as being bathed in the light of creation and love. It’s a mistake to underestimate it. It can be quite draining, when encountered in the personality of other people. I’m sure you have met those people who cause chaos, drama, and conflict to swirl around them. It’s rather exhausting to figure out how to resist it. We have some people like that at our church right now, and it has caused a lot of strife and division.

I do enjoy talking about and exploring many aspects of spirituality, and I would welcome that. I also wonder about the idea of grace. To me, this sort of means that some people get it – have grace – and some people are stuck in suffering and struggle. For example, some alcoholics can overcome their disability, and others cannot. Some people use adversity to grow stronger and wiser, and others are destroyed by it. I always long to pass along what grace I feel I have received in my life, but yet it seems almost impossible to give it to another person; just as I can’t give them the faith that I am blessed with."

That was all a combination from two separate e-mails. We are meeting again soon at The Foundry, a environmentally conscious coffeehouse near downtown San Antonio, recommended by my friend.

Hair -- the Musical; the Movie; and My Life

Yes, it's ironic that I, a person blessed with multitudes of hair myself, should adore this movie! (I never saw the musical that preceded it.) I believe that I went to see this movie in the theater when it was first released. I know I saw it with my mom. More and more, I see her influence in such a positive way throughout my entire way of being -- my thirst for knowledge, my openness to many ideas, my constant desire to pass along life lessons to my children.

So, the fact that my mom took me to see this movie when I was about 13 years old is very telling in itself.

This movie was a pivot point for me, an absolutely life-changing experience. There was life before Hair -- not too exciting -- and life after Hair, with a brand-new sense of freedom and possibility, the radical message of peace, the pervasive sexuality, the anti-establishment humor, the wonderful music and choreography. I have carried all those gifts in my deepest being ever since.

When I sat down to watch Hair again, this time to encourage my kids to watch it, it was as though I had just seen it quite recently. (Sidebar: Usually, my specific memory of experiences and people is embarrassingly poor. My past is quite a fog in many ways. It could be an excess of mental chatter; it could be that I was protecting myself from certain emotional blows in my childhood, and the forgetfulness became such an ingrained habit that I had trouble retraining myself. It could be that it's just my ingrained personality. One of my sons is just the same. Anyhow, I am the perfect candidate in need of mindfulness of the present moment, because it's something that is quite lacking in my usual nature.)

I remembered every character from Hair in vivid detail. Most of all, the one I adored for his raw sexual power, his gentle humor, and also his strong message of peace in a violent world, "Berger" (Treat Williams). This movie was a game-changer for me.

I must, must, MUST get the Hair soundtrack. How on earth have I survived so long without it? It is right up there with Jesus Christ, Superstar -- that's the music I listened to while in labor!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pivot point

I am a ballerina. Long, thin, graceful. I see the world from en pointe, and it is all beautiful. Everything is transformed by the light of love. Or some such nonsense.

I have to go re-listen to a lovely podcast I just finished, "Healing." It had many elegant and memorable quotations. To paraphrase one: The possibility of enlightenment is in everything. That's not it. Oh, bother! But it basically said, in a more articulate and aesthetically pleasing way, that the path to enlightenment is in every human experience. It's all fodder for the mill.

Now I am at a pivot point, a moment of decision and momentous change. The type of dance I have done since 1994, the birthday of my oldest child, is not what I will do in the future. I sense this time is important to "my destiny." (I am a child of Star Wars: I always hear an echo of Luke Skywalker's father in that word, when he says in his raspy voice, "It is your destiny." You know who I mean.)

So, how do I feel? Tired, mainly. There's this emotional roller coaster thing going on. Actually, that's pretty normal for me, I guess! It's more triggered by my kids, when they turn away from Mom and Dad and don't want to be around us anymore. These feelings arise, and my work is to feel them and move on. I'm getting more proficient at that. It also means I am laughing, and crying, in rather close proximity. Some of both, just about every day.

I'm too tired to even make much sense here. But it's only 8:30, too early for bed. Mental sludge.

The miracle of it all is, tomorrow is a new day, and I will feel much better and more alert! Especially since I found my favorite new hot tea. It's called "Awake" and it's got to be the strongest, most potent black tea on the market. It's possibly banned as a controlled substance in other countries that are more health-conscious than we are. (After all, we still allow carcinogens like artificial food colorings in our food.)

"Awake." My eyelids expand just thinking about it. It's the closest thing to coffee I can manage right now. I was buying the H-E-B brand tea (which is proliferating on the store shelves), but it was so weak and watery, especially after I drowned it in milk as is my wont, that I found myself brewing 2 bags at a time to make one decent, full-strength cup of tea. Sorta like a junkie has to double up on fixes after a while, I guess.

My official line in the sand is still "1 cup of coffee a week"* (*10 oz.), but somehow I slipped in one extra last week. It was a hectic week, and I deserved it. And now I'm thinking that if I can perfect my mental relaxation technique, I can stop reflux symptoms just with the amazing strength of my willpower, and can drink increased quantities of coffee! That's the ultimate goal. That, and getting off reflux meds permanently. It remains to be seen if I can do both.

See, with the proton-pump inhibitor meds (Aciphex, Nexium, etc.), you can't just quit cold turkey. That was my mistake before. It causes a rebound effect of excess acid production, just the thing we reflux-sufferers do not need. So my general practitioner doctor suggested, very sensibly, that I gradually move to lower doses of a similar medicine. So now I'm still on a prescription med that is not as strong as that purple pill I had been popping. After a few months, she (the doctor) will ease me down to something that is even weaker, until -- voila! -- I'm medicine free. That's the plan, anyway.

Signing off, I remain ever faithfully yours, dear reader.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The state of my life and mind

Here's a short excerpt of what's been happening in my mind and life lately: Aaaaargh!! Mental and physical overload! I need to have a mental breakdown so I can get some rest! (Thanks, Carol, Sardines in a Can, for this idea.)

My life is in a state of flux right now. I don't like it one bit.

I have never welcomed change with open arms. Change, baby, how long has it been since I saw you last? A few minutes ago? Well, welcome, to my best, best friend! Come give me a wet sloppy kiss!

My kids are growing up, especially my elder, and it hurts. It is a physical pain to see him needing us less, wanting us even less than that. My kids are in band camp and physically absent for much of the day. I miss them.

I have been in the midst of a potential career change, and it's stressful too. Time-consuming, and stressful.

I volunteered to be the treasurer at church because there was a desperate need for a capable person. I felt God dragged me into this position, kicking and screaming all the way, because I really felt I had no choice but to take this on right now. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't see any other way to respond.

Me, me, me! That's guaranteed to cause stress and frustration as well, too much self-focus. But it is hard to avoid when a major life change forces us to re-examine our goals and dreams.

I have to be flexible right now. Fluid, graceful, swaying with the winds like a willow. Self-forgiving. Outward-focused, even with inner turmoil. A sense of humor is a lifeline. It sure ain't easy.

I am listening to a fascinating Mind-Life seminar that took place, I believe, in 2007, between the Dalai Lama and a number of scientists from different disciplines. About the nature of consciousness and attention, and what Buddhist practice (vs. religion) contributes, and what science contributes, and where there may be overlap or agreement. It was an ambitious experiment to bring such diverse groups together to communicate. There are language and cultural barriers that are plain even from a casual listening to the dialogue. The Dalai Lama has a fascination with all things scientific, and Buddhism has 2,500 years (?) of history in honing the development of focused attention through various meditation practices.

This seminar tests the limits of sensory perception and reminds me that everything we perceive is fallible. Therefore, it's quite tricky to get absolute scientific validation of any phenomenon. There almost enters an element of faith; that we trust our vision or other senses, if it concurs with what is perceived by others, to give us a reasonably accurate estimation of physical reality. Physical reality is not directly observable, because everything passes through the filter of mind and thought, and is changed by such, to a truly amazing degree. It happens so rapid-fire that we miss all the labeling and preconceptions that overlay what we are perceiving. Think about the miracle of reading these words! What a mental accomplishment that is, to recall and identify not only every letter, but many combinations in many words, without obvious effort.

I had a complaint from a perfect stranger about changing my blog URL, making it even more invisible than it already was! (I had posted a comment to his blog about a month back and he was trying to click-through to my blog.) So I'm attempting to "restore factory settings" and change it back. I hope you're happy!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Impermanence

"Impermanence!" This is how Lama Tsulku Tsori Rinpoche awakes in the morning, not with coffee! I imagine his mind instantly sharpens at the thought that another day  is here, full of surprises.

I find his observation to be incredibly pertinent to my life right now. The most obvious reason is that my doctor has said I should give up coffee.Yes, I need to replace it with something, but impermanence ... how can I say ... it just doesn't have that same aroma, the first delicious swallow. I don't have any idea how impermanence tastes at all. I guess it would taste different every day, right?

The second reason for his statement's relevance to me is that impermanence is very noticeable in my life right now. You know how sometimes the changes that life is full of seem to not happen for a while? Or not quickly enough? Or not the way you were imagining? Sometimes, life seems too sluggish and you long for something to happen. Anything, almost.

But then you look at your children, and they look almost grown up. It's almost embarrassing to see them naked getting into or out of the shower, although you gave birth to them and wiped their bottoms when they were little.

Then you also realize that now IS the time for major life changes, much as you (I) may hate change. I, personally, have this standing policy: If change must happen, it should be something that I have  created. It should never be a surprise! And never, never, should it be a change where I have to let go of a loved one.

Yeah, that's not working out for me so well right now.

As a mom, I have a number of possible reactions to seeing my kids need me less and less. One, is deep, wrenching, anguish and hot tears that swell my face, for a while. I may do this in the dark when "going to sleep" ahead of the rest of my family.

I tried that one a couple of times, and now, a few weeks later, I have to say it was quite refreshing. Not at the time, though.

If you feel something deeply, don't push it away. Feel it, express it, and move on!

Going to the chiropractor ... hope to be back before a pleasant night out with some ladies from church. Yes, I have a life besides my children and family. Working on it, anyhow.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Meeting a lama!

I met Lama Tsulku Tsori Rinpoche yesterday. What a great blessing! I feel such an infusion of positive energy, and this is just the time I needed it. There are some difficult, painful things happening in my life and within my church (which happens to be Christian) right now, and he gave me such a boost. I felt as peaceful as I have ever felt in my life. Perfect peace! This will be so important to remember when my mind gets stirred up about something, and my emotions, which happens every day!

I really felt a great letdown when I was leaving. The first impulse was to think, well, back to my regular life with all its problems. Nothing has changed. Or has it? Yes, I feel a profound effect from my encounter with this sacred person.

I remember feeling that way when I would go to Catholic church Mass with my best friend, Pam, and her family, when I was in high school. I loved the connection with this deep beauty and divinity in church, and the way people would come together for worship. There, all things were possible. But I would return home, to my family's broken relationships and disconnections from one another, and it would all seem even sadder. I couldn't keep that loving spirit going, I was not strong enough.

Well, I in myself am still not strong enough to keep the love going. However, I can tap into the amazing power of two beautiful communities now. One, being the Father-Son-Holy Spirit community of faith; the other, the Sangha (beloved community) of the Buddha (also called the triple jewels -- don't ask me to explain, because I don't know what it refers to, but it sounds beautiful).

Lama Tsulku Rinpoche was less than pleased, it seemed, that I identify myself as a Christian. Or, at least, he was quite clear that he did not want me to consider taking refuge vows while identifying myself as a Christian. He said this would be too confusing to the human mind, to have two such different traditions. That is all good because it's too soon for me to decide about refuge vows. Even though, I must say, I do take refuge in the Buddha, in the Dharma, and in the Sangha, already! That is a perfect word for what the practice brings to me. However, I really need to study it more diligently before I could truly claim it as my own.

Of course, I must credit great wisdom to the lama's statement that I must choose one way or the other. However, I had the immediate impulse to argue with him! Imagine, me arguing with a great lama, what a travesty that would be. Besides, one I had just met. I clamped my mouth shut, with difficulty, and let my mind just absorb that the information I had just heard was not what my mind had anticipated, nor desired.

Upon reflection -- I am aware that as ignorant as I am of Buddhism, it might be that this great lama, who I honor for being at a much higher spiritual level than I -- that he similarly has a level of ignorance of Christianity, which is clearly not his path. He showed a stern side when he said, Buddhists do not go knocking on any doors, trying to convert anyone. (Unlike Christians.)

Yes, that is true, and the evangelistic aspect of my faith bothers me, as well. It seems a perversion of the unconditional love that Jesus preached. How can you unconditionally love if you believe that someone requires conversion to just the same views as you, or else they are in error and you are correct? They automatically fall in standing below you then. And look at all the awful things the Christian churches have done, and continue to do, in the world! It is shameful and embarrassing. Yes, they also do good works. Well, thank God for that, eh? It hardly seems to make up for all the terrible evils that have been perpetrated through the centuries in the name of the Church.

It seems that Buddhism is a more selective society, although many people are born into it. People in the west must choose it, and it is not a broad cross-section of humanity here the way Christian churches tend to be.

You can see my heart is still divided over my two great loves, Christianity and Buddhism. But I am feeling a path taking shape that gives me great peace. I do not need to feel a conflict with the two, because I do not believe there is a true conflict. I believe the two paths converge. It is a beautiful mystery, I know. It is like comparing human beings, comparing Christianity and Buddhism. We all are unique and have our beautiful traditions. We also have human failings and warts that tend to creep into our religious practice, no matter how hard we try to keep them out. But we humans are part of one family, as diverse as it is. Our religions share a foundation in this human family, so I believe they have far more in common than some would wish to believe.

I continue to choose the path of unity, while honoring our diverse human natures and our separate expressions of religious practice. May all beings find happiness! God bless Lama Tsulku Tsori Rinpoche and keep him in good health, able to continue his great works spreading peace and hope throughout the world.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The addicted mind

I recently read a post by a fellow blogger who was struggling to stop smoking. I don't know how it is going because he vowed to quit forever quite recently. I give kudos to anyone who is trying to change a bad habit. What did Mark Twain say about this? You stop a bad habit by dragging it down the stairs, one step at a time, not tossing it out forever.

I am trying to quit drinking coffee for the umpteenth time because it's not good for my reflux. Intellectually, I know this. Emotionally, I don't know if I can live without coffee! It's one of the small, intense joys of my life. I have a FB friend who spent about a month posting status reports relating to coffee --- the aroma, the gotta-have-it quality, all kinds of creative plays on coffee and caffeine. She & I have a lot in common!

The mind is quite persistent about continuing a bad habit. There is an obvious explanation: those things we do frequently become hardwired into the brain. A neural shortcut develops over time. This also may explain chronic pain. Even if the original physical complaint no longer exists, the body may still feel phantom pain that is quite real in the way it is experienced. This can be an explanation for chronic back pain or headaches or other pains that do not respond to treatment.

The mind is quite devious at getting what it wants, when it comes to perpetuating a bad habit. It will coax, taunt, and throw a tantrum. It will start negotiating to undermine your resolution. If you want to quit something "forever," the mind will whisper -- forever -- that's a really, really long time. And it's so drastic. Do you really need to do something that drastic?

Then it starts the rationalizing. The little lies. Which are different from big lies, only in that they haven't grown up yet.

Will it ruin you to have just one more (whatever it is) or make it an occasional treat? What would be wrong with that? Why would you want to deprive yourself completely of something that has been such an ingrained part of your life, not to mention something that's given you pleasure and joy, things that aren't exactly abundant in this world? You can control it. You can have one exception, enjoy it, then go back to abstinence.

And then there are the triggers, the times when you normally would be indulging. For me, it's early in the morning and about 3 pm. At work, these are the times when I smell the coffee brewing and get a strong urge to enjoy some. Strong, nearly overwhelming. And really, what harm is there in just 2 cups of coffee a day? Two measly cups. That's all my mind asks. Over and over, during times when I feel strong, and at times when I am caving in and impulsive.

My doctor asked what size cups of coffee I drank -- she said she felt it was important to distinguish. 8 ounces? Or a Bill Miller tea bucket size? Details, my mind whispers. She's being so picky.

It just takes one impulsive slip to fall off that wagon of abstinence. It seems like falling off is so much easier than climbing back on the durn thing. And you barely feel the pain of failing. The pain, in many cases, is deferred -- maybe later, when you come down with cancer or other health problem; maybe never. Don't you like to gamble? It makes life more exciting.

The pleasure? That's NOW, baby. Get it while you can. Quick! Don't think about it. Don't over-analyze.

So people say that quitting smoking is the hardest, hardest thing to do. I'm just glad I never started.What a lucky break that was with parents who both smoked. But I've got to tell all those people who think that quitting smoking is the toughest -- I'll give them a run for their money with me and coffee.

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