Sunday, February 28, 2010

Standoff at the OK futon

So, remind me to write about politicians and respect, or lack thereof, some other time (my original topic). I got carried away with this story and I'm outta time!

I was meditating this afternoon when my pets had a standoff.

I say "meditating" so casually, as though it's a daily practice. No, lately, the only other time I meditate is when I visit my lovely Buddhist friends to practice with them.

I found myself unexpectedly home without kids or husband, when my younger son finished a school project and went off across the street to play with a friend. So I said, ah-ha! Really, this is the perfect opportunity to spend 20 minutes sitting. No excuses!

While I was sitting, the animals came in to see what I was doing. I suspect Scout would have flown in, except he is confined in a cage. Oh, I think the cat was actually already there in her usual spot, on a cushion on the futon, and she woke up to see why I was in that room. (Highly unusual.)

Got carried away with the flash there. Anyhow, so she jumped down to see if I might be actually interested in feeding her. From her point of view, that is my sole purpose in life, and I do a fairly rotten job of it. She's an old, quite plump cat, and this is her life: sleep/eat. eat/sleep. With certain necessaries somewhere in between. Her name is Bakpak, because when Austin was a toddler, that was one of his early words. I think she finally gave up and went to the laundry room, just to make sure the food hadn't come down from the shelf on its own.

Then I heard and sensed a burst of energy in the room -- a jingling dog tag, and a certain lively bustle. Mimi, our robustly proportioned chihuahua. As my husband says, she's big-boned. She had to come over and sniff around me and make me laugh. Then she looked around for a place to settle for a while, since this was now obviously the room of choice. I heard her trying to clamber up on the futon. She eventually succeeded, and spied the cat's queenly cushion, recently vacated. (At this point I was watching. A little break from the meditating bit.) She carefully sniffed all around it, and looked around. No cat in view.


In the above picture, Mimi is in her usual spot, when we're home, on top of the sofa in the living room (different room).

Then Mimi did what I've never seen her do before: she hopped up on the cushion, which was doubtless radiating warmth, turned several times, and settled herself there. This cushion must have special qualities, she was perhaps thinking to herself. Could it even be better than my bed? And -- the cat won't attack me, not with my mistress in the room!

So then, it got interesting. I had resumed my eyes closed, motionless, and heard the cat quietly return. The sound of licking alerted me. So now I had to watch the rest of the show.

The cat soon decided to return to her favorite spot, walked over, and jumped up -- almost onto Mimi herself. At this point, I started giggling.

Then began a stare-off. The cat sat very close to her cushion (well, she had to -- all that fluff had to go somewhere). She sat, and she stared at Mimi. Mimi looked in the general direction of the cat. You know you're in trouble when your cat stares at you. My giggling, meanwhile, was becoming louder -- I was snorting with laughter -- and was distracting the animals from their standoff.

It didn't take long. Mimi conceded as gracefully as she could, and relinquished the cushion. She went over to the other side of the futon, where there was no soft, warm cushion, and sat down, looking a little sad.

Here's the futon (Austin's guitar seems to have found a home there) and the cat in her rightful spot:

Our cat does not have a confrontational personality, or it could have turned ugly. I know I'll never see the cat pull a similar stunt and settle herself on Mimi's bed. But that sure would be funny to imagine.

So I must say my meditative session proved very fruitful. Since this entry was just begging for pictures, I took the time to load them! I hope you're happy! (It was a lot of work.)

Friday, February 26, 2010

What are we?

What are human beings made of, made of?
What are human beings made of?
Not sugar and spice and everything nice, that's not what human beings are made of.
Not snips and snails and puppy-dog tails, either.
(Did I butcher that old children's rhyme?)

I am fascinated by the paradox of human nature. Philosophers and deep religious thinkers can't even decide if we are, at our core, good or evil! That seems pretty basic. So what the heck are we? Are we fashioned of spirit, or clay? Are we more built of innocence, like children, or do we harbor hatred, and fight and kill one another physically or with words?

How can any beautiful baby grow up to hate and murder? (Even if it was an ugly baby!)

My husband and I were present for a council meeting at our church this week. Now, let me say, I am not a person who thrives by serving on committees. When I finally understood that, I quickly shed one of my two committee positions at church. (The other I'll remain on till I am no longer a children's Sunday school teacher.) I feel much more comfortable in a room full of children, where the conflicts are smaller, and resolution is always close at hand. Everything is possible, dealing with children. They are so open to all ideas, and changing rapidly.

Anyhow, Dwaine and I were not on the committee, but Dwaine was there to report on his role as a liaison between the church and a group that has been using its facilities. This has been a flashpoint for a growing amount of conflict recently.

It was interesting to see different facets of people's personalities. The word "facets" reminds me of the lovely dimensions of diamonds, and people all have a lovely side of them -- or at least potential for that great beauty of soul. But everyone also has a side that is so ugly and violent. It's a shock to discover how close it is to the surface, in most. It's our light side and our shadow side. No matter how enlightened we may become, if we are still human, we still have a shadow side to contend with. It is possible to comprehend that darkness better, and draw it into the light more, but it never totally disappears.

So, even the people I most admire have a dark side, and my husband was describing that quality to me in someone who I think of as being such a loving, caring person. What! That person, too, a human being? Warts and all?

Meantime, my husband took on a truly thankless job in a way that was sacrificial in its giving. I am so proud of him. Plus, I was going to cook a meal for someone at work who needed it, and he did it for me! He really had a gold-star week.

The criticism our female pastor has attracted makes me wonder. There are highly idealistic standards in place for any religious leader. Are the expectations even more unrealistic if that person is a woman, and stereotyped as nurturing and "mothering" already? This is something that all women in positions of authority have to contend with. There are certain styles of male leadership that are so advantageous, such as making decisions without being too swayed by feelings and emotion, in yourself or other people.

Once this outside group leaves, the conflict swirling around at church will be directed inward, once again. That will be interesting. I think most all churches operate with some amount of drama, always. Just like all groups involving people!

This is a hard, important lesson: Feelings can be felt without being acted upon. It's good to place them on a shelf and back away, decide what this feeling is and why it's there, before acting on it. To say, this feeling -- and me -- are two separate entities. Feelings may not reflect reality. Often, feelings come straight from the ego. Wounded, worrying, fearful. Not noble qualities.

So, my son Austin says I'm a "pessimist." Hmmm. Is there a FB poll? Determine your personality type -- or better yet, ask your friends to decide. Ouch!

Last evening, Andrew and I shared a fit of riotous, uncontrolled laughter -- in the middle school library. (The best place for such an outburst!) Afterwards, he said, "Mom, I think you really needed that laugh." I have such smart kids!

Yes, I'm intense. (Perhaps you've noticed? Naah.) But a pessimist? I think I've come a long way in seeing beauty all over the place. I have the word "Hope" hanging up on my office wall to remind me never to lose it. And, I have a great sense of humor! (I think so, anyway.) I think my sons get their sense of humor from me. Well, maybe Dwaine played a small part. Maybe.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Meditation on the precepts

The five Buddhist precepts should sound quite familiar. Let's see if I remember them all:
No killing
No lying
No stealing
No sexual misconduct
No taking of intoxicating substances

Whew! So, I feel like I am such a pro with regard to these, except for the last one (if you count caffeine). But it's interesting, because they are so deceptively easy, but when you really get deeper into walking the path, you see choices that are quite interesting and create whole worlds of gray areas.

I listened to the podcast about no lying today while I was enjoying an easy, relaxed 25-minute jog. I feel like the deepest essence of my being is to be honest and open. However, certain questions arise. What if you withhold part of yourself from certain people because you know those parts could create conflict? Is this lying?

I know that I have an issue with conflict avoidance. I felt like I grew up in a miniature battle zone of my parents' creation -- rightly or wrongly, this is how I felt as a child. So now, I find it quite painful to confront someone directly in an emotionally charged situation. It really converted me strongly to the cause of peace. But peace is not genuine when it ignores differences and disagreement. It is not permanent if it tries to smooth over problems without addressing them.

Is it honest that I behave differently or speak differently around different people? I find myself matching people's ways of speaking, dialects, their vocabulary levels when I speak with different people. Is this being true to myself?

Gil gave a good example of how honesty quickly becomes a gray area. His young son was asking him what he thought of baseball, and Gil said he liked it. However, Gil was aware that he would give a different answer to an adult. He said his son loves baseball, and his answer was nuanced by that knowledge.

So when is withholding information perhaps not the same as lying? What if the information withheld would cause someone pain or discouragement? What if withholding information would save a life? For example, Rahab hid the Israeli spies and deliberately misdirected the soldiers seeking their lives, in the Old Testament (Torah). She saved their lives. Did she do so by breaking a precept or commandment? You shall not bear false witness, is the Judeo-Christian version.

I am struggling with how to share my notion of faith with my Disciple Bible class. Maybe part of the problem is I am unsure how to express my ideas. Writing them is much easier, for me, than speaking them to a potentially hostile audience. Of course, my hesitation also contains a heavy dose of the instinct for self-preservation!

I believe that the faith of those who strive to be more spiritual is genuine, regardless of whether the person bears the name of Christian or Buddhist or Jew or Hindu or Muslim. I believe that all these paths, when they are taken in love, lead to the same God, and that God embraces all these efforts to become closer to Him and grow in love. Now, I'm not going to embrace every new-age idea or sect or cult, etc., but I believe that God created us to be very diverse in the way we worship Him.

I know there are logical problems with my point of view. For one thing, Buddhists do not believe in "God." They do share many other beliefs in common with the Judeo-Christian view, but they don't emphasize dogma the way that Jews and Christians do.

Then there are Christ's own words that no one comes to the Father except through him, and so on. If you are not for me, you are against me. (But also, he said, if they are not against me, they are for me.) There are a number of places where Christ exhorts his disciples to tell others about himself and thus achieve salvation. Those who do not have faith in Jesus will go to Hell, it seems. Many Christians take these verses as permission to judge who is going to heaven, and who is not, and they are not shy about saying that people of other religions are hosed.

I believe that every time people create partitions and divisions among themselves and claim that their religion is "right" and all others "wrong" -- every time, Satan rejoices, for his purposes are being achieved. He has succeeded in distracting people from seeking God with their full hearts. Instead, they are evaluating the quality of other people's faith and judging it as lacking. In rushes pride and a host of other sins. They are saying, in essence, the pearly gates are open to me, and those who believe the way I do, but they are closed to you. What a egocentric view! Unfortunately, it is reinforced by many statements that Jesus made. He wasn't perfectly clear. I have to wonder if the early Christians were into self-preservation when they were recording the scriptures. No one will ever know.

Buddhism has a brilliant solution for all the problems involved in arguing out these points using human logic. Buddhists realize that we are not able to see the true nature of reality while captives in our human body. Paul made a similar comment when he said, "Now we see in a mirror, darkly. Then we will see face to face." Buddhists say, our beliefs are not the most important thing in our lives, because they are all warped by our egocentrism. Our actions, and our being mindfully present in each moment, trump all belief systems. All belief systems are going to be warped by our limited point of view, but we can learn to exist in a fully awakened state, and in that sense, we meet reality directly from moment to moment, in a way that is essentially inexpressible.

I know this is a mystical reply and does not satisfy those who want specific answers to all their questions, or who want a clear user's manual of life to follow.

Logically speaking, my beliefs are equally as valid as yours. We are both on equal footing, both human. My intuitive grasp of faith is just as legitimate as yours. Perhaps some beliefs can be proven empirically, here on earth, but the biggest questions are unprovable. Where do we come from, before we are born, and where do we go after death? Is there a God, and what is the nature of God?

Even those theories that have been proven scientifically are not necessarily universal. Do they apply throughout the universe? Did they apply from the beginning, and will they apply in the end? How do you prove that?

All holy scriptures were written by human beings. They were divinely inspired, but they still contain the essential flaw of the limited human perspective. Can we see what happened at the creation of the universe, or what will happen in billions of years? Do we have unlimited knowledge? Do any of us have more direct access to the divine than anyone else?

The point is this: Lots of questions. Few answers. We should all strive to be more loving and more forgiving of others who also seek, and less dogmatic.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My fitness journey, continued

So I want to share a little more about my path toward personal fitness and good nutrition. (Incidentally, I am expounding after eating 2 giant pieces of stuffed-crust Pizza Hut pizza tonight. If temptation is before me ...)

My love for fitness, like everything else, has been a journey with sometimes slow progress. I have enjoyed walking for years, and working out with weights too. Walking would mean maybe 30 minutes at a time, several times a week. Nothing too fanatical.

I've gradually become more intentional, not to say fanatical, about working out nearly every day. It just feels too good to skip. It is such a stress reliever. Sometimes, I admit, it "hurts so good." But then those endorphins kick in, and I have to smile. That's what discipline is all about, working through the discomfort to reach a higher level. That's what it takes to achieve excellence in any area of life.

And, you probably figured out, I'm completely human and not consistent in doing the healthy thing. I love sweets and snacks.

I have been able to increase the amount of fruits and veggies I eat, now getting more than 5 a day. That takes planning ahead. I pack about 2 fruits and 1-2 vegetables for lunch and snacks every day, and I have replaced servings of grains (the old base of the outdated food pyramid) with fruits or veggies. I do love to snack on fresh fruit. Apples, bananas, pears, anything in season, even part of an orange (even though my stomach doesn't always handle the acid well). Veggies become more convenient when I take frozen or fresh-cut portions to eat with lunch. I love salads, but usually don't have time to make those for lunch. I eat them often with dinner.

Did you know that the new recommendation from American Heart Assoc., due to soaring obesity rates, is for women to eat just 6-1/2 teaspoons of added sugar/sweetener a day? Of course, men get more. About 10 tsp. daily -- how generous! Each teaspoon is 4 grams, so if you are noshing on yogurt or oatmeal or the like, you can look at the grams of added sugar to get an idea of how many teaspoons you're putting away. This goes for added sugar only, not naturally occurring sugars in fruits, etc. Watch those drinks, especially. Thank God I am not a big soda fan.

I've already decided that some things that are sweetened, like yogurt, are too sugary, so I buy plain and sweeten it lightly. Usually, I add protein shake powder to yogurt to get closer to getting half my body weight in grams of protein, which is recommended to maintain muscle mass. That's a pretty amazing amount of daily protein, by the way.

No matter how far I've come, there are still setbacks. The experienced "athlete" just is able to take them in stride, because they have had them before and know they are temporary. Today, I added 5 more minutes to my longest run, making it 40 minutes. It shouldn't have been a problem, but my body decided that it was. A problem. That I've had before, after running. I'm just so grateful that Dwaine took the kids to scouts tonight so I could relax for a while.

I've always thought that there should be a balance between exercise and the rest of life, meaning that workouts should not leave me so physically exhausted that I can't enjoy a normal day. People who are doing heavy-duty training can use so much energy on their workouts that there may be little left for everything else, and I think that's when it goes too far. I also don't want to ruin my knees. My left knee still swells, makes lots of little noises, and hurts if I bend it all the way. And that's running 75 minutes last week, mostly at a slow pace. (i.e., very little)

Here's a final thought that I find inspiring. You are part of a continuum of humanity, in every ability and skill you have. There is always someone in front of you who is ahead of you, and someone behind you. These people who are nearby can be great sources of inspiration for you to maintain and improve your skills. You see someone a little ahead and think, I could do that with just a little more effort!

Someone behind may make you remember how that felt, and may also motivate you to keep from being overtaken. Or it may be, if it's someone younger than me who is struggling, I want to be overtaken so they can feel a sense of accomplishment. (Look! I just passed that middle-aged lady!!) That actually happened at last year's Power of Pink, and I was thrilled (secretly) that the young person marshaled his strength to pull ahead of lil-ole-me at the finish.

No matter how good you are, you're probably never going to be the best -- or the worst. You are part of a host of people who are all working with a common purpose. This is a great truth that runners are lucky enough to experience first-hand at races. What a thrill it is to be in that pack of sweaty, striving humanity!

Don't you want to be part of a group that is getting better and stronger?

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