Monday, July 30, 2012

Life and dying

From a long discourse on the dying process (relevant because of my dad):

"The magic of human contact"

"One of the most effective salves for the fear of dying is the presence of other human beings. It is not necessarily what a person may say or do, but their very presence that makes the difference. We often feel at a loss for words when faced with tragedy, but sometimes saying nothing at all has the best effect. ... There is something truly magical about one human being simply "being there" for another. Never underestimate the power of your being."

That's what I needed to hear. I often think that going to see my dad is more and more an exercise in futility. He spends most of his time sleeping, and we talk about such banal things. We don't seem to be any closer than we ever were! It's always been difficult to feel close to my dad. However, I have noticed that he still has a wonderful sense of humor, and it's great when he uses it.

This brochure on the dying process goes on to speak of the soul's immortality, of meeting up again with loved ones who have gone before, when going through the dying process. It's quite interesting.

I sometimes feel like I was thrust into a life where I don't really belong. I'm not really from here. I am an alien! It is so hard to find intimacy and a meeting of souls with all the barriers that arise with being human. I feel so sad and lonely sometimes. But those are just feelings, and they have a right to exist as much as I do. I have to believe that other people also feel the way I do, and go on to do great things for others just the same.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

On change

I started a conversation on Facebook recently that I find interesting, on "changing others." Organizations like AA have adopted the attitude that it is "wrong" and "bad" to deliberately try to change others, that this is a dysfunctional and selfish behavior.

Maybe I'm talking about something completely different. But what I observe is that we humans are like a mass of charged particles, zooming around, colliding into one another all the time. We are constantly changing others -- redirecting them as a result of a random or deliberate collision, whether of ideas or something more physical. Even hermits that go up to a mountain to live a separate life are still alive and aware, and their spirits remain intertwined with all "sentient beings" (as the Buddhists like to say).

To say we can't or should not change others is irrelevant to the fact that we do, all the time. Anyone who has been a parent or teacher must have noticed his or her enormous power to change other human lives. When you think about watershed moments in your own life, many of them involve the influence of other people who were extremely important to you. Most people point to their parents or certain teachers as having the strongest influence over their lives. Some of these influences were positive, while others may be perceived as very negative.

I have noticed that the greatest teachers among us -- Jesus, Buddha, and many others who aren't regarded as the foundation of an entire religion -- set out in a very deliberate manner to exhort others to change. You may regard Christianity and Buddhism as fundamentally different. It would appear that Christians want to evangelize all others to think exactly the same way, whereas Buddhists want others to achieve freedom from suffering by changing the way they think (just how to do so is an individual journey). However, if you investigate the way Jesus lived, he did not talk about a detailed theology or belief system that he wanted others to follow. Rather, he said, "Follow me." He also told individuals to turn away from their sin. He also cautioned against focusing on the sinfulness of others: "First remove the beam from your own eye so that you can see clearly to remove the speck from your neighbor's."

Jesus did not lay out a rigid pattern of belief, but a transformative way of living. "I have come so that they may have life, and have it more abundantly," he said. I have to conclude that Christians who enjoy imposing a rigid belief system on others have not gotten the fundamental message of the savior they claim to follow!

I don't think that Buddha and Jesus were on different paths at all. They both lived by example, and had disciples who tried to walk in their steps. They both spoke of dying to self, and the need to undergo a radical rebirth as a transformed creation. Does any of this sound like it might require some personal change somewhere along the way?

Change is such a "constant" and inevitable part of living. You can't escape it, even for a moment. Even if you don't wish to acknowledge it, we are each changing all the time. We are also so interconnected that we cannot change in isolation. If I change myself, I can't help but also change others.

It seems like one of life's most sacred tasks is to be more intentional about how I change, and how I change others. Instead of this being a more or less random occurrence just depending on my mood and what I happen to be doing when I meet other people, love requires that I become much more aware of the way that I am changing, and how that affects all the rest of this amazing and wonderful planet.

When I change myself, I also transform the world. There is no "I" and no "other." There only is. If I am transformed, I must help others who are also transforming. There is no way to avoid it.

So what does this have to do with the pop-culture idea that trying to change others is always a misguided and bad idea? That's where I am getting lost. I do see other people trying to impose a certain viewpoint (i.e., political) on others, and getting very frustrated when they don't convince everyone of the correctness of their views. Part of the problem with our political discourse seems to be that everyone's goal is to make others believe the same things as they do. So, when I speak of transformation, I don't mean becoming more liberal, or more of a Democrat, or any other label for human points of view. If anything, those things become like a memory of things that have been outgrown. I used to identify myself as a liberal, or a Democrat. Do I still have points of view? Yes, I haven't achieved such a level of no-self that I have left all my opinions behind permanently. But I am starting to see that these are bound to my existence here as an individual human being, part of my "Julie" self but not part of my larger spirit. Somehow, all these particular beliefs and points of view are no longer important when I become a part of all creation.

Behavior is more important than belief, although often a certain belief is what leads to certain behaviors. I think where the human mind gets into trouble is when it insists on thinking in a limited, dualistic way. Right-wrong, good-bad, black-white.

Anyhow, I'm still working out all these things. If you get to Nirvana/the kingdom of heaven before me, come back and help me get there, please! Help me change!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Returned from one trip, on another

My family returned home this weekend after a one-week trip to Disney World in Orlando. Our visit was timed to occur during what was probably the most busy week of the entire year at that park! (That is, the week encompassing the 4th of July.) We were amazed, stunned even, to witness the volume of people moving through the 4 theme parks during the 5 days we visited. (Those parks are Epcot Center, my favorite; Animal Kingdom; Hollywood Studios, formerly Disney-MGM Studios, the kids' favorite; and Magic Kingdom). What's amazing about that old Disney magic is that we still were able to have a great time, for the most part.

The most serious bottleneck was at the Magic Kingdom. Not much magic was happening the first day we attempted to visit; the lines were long and quickly growing longer. There was even a long wait for "It's a Small World!" I told my hubby that people were simply trying to get in a line where they would be out of the sun and possibly exposed to some air-conditioning somewhere along the way. Any ride would do at that point -- for the same reason, Andrew and I ducked into the Tiki Room to hear some animatronic birds chirp. (Actually, the music was quite elegant, if dated.)

Though not as hot as here in South Texas, the weather was still rather brutally hot. It only rained one afternoon, which was a welcome respite from the humid heat of the other days we were there. During our stay, we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary at Boma Restaurant in the Animal Kingdom lodge, which is one of the really outstanding culinary choices that the World offers (most are at World Showcase in Epcot Center). I gained a few pounds. Oh, forgot the many exclamation marks after 25 years married!! Surely I'm not that old. (I'm not -- I married young!)

Both of our kids were in tow. The last couple of days, they got tired and we returned them to the hotel room before driving back for more Disney insanity -- er, fun and lines for rides. It was good to have them both on vacation with us for perhaps the last time in a while, and we only had one serious argument with our (currently unruly) eldest son.

My husband has become a Disney fanatic. He was salivating over the thought of one day working for Disney. Which job seemed much less important than the idea of merely working for this legendary company. He could be a monorail guide, or a waiter raking in $25-and-up tips per table, or even a ride operator. It all looked so fun from our side of the aisle.

My take on Disney -- the theme parks are trying hard to keep up with the latest technology. There's still a significant "cool" factor to many of the rides. However, they have so much money sunk in rides that seemed, to me, to be outdated. My personal preference, still, would be going to visit a state or national park, or traveling out of the country. Those things may wait until we are less encumbered with teenage kids!

What Dwaine loves best about the whole Disney experience is their extreme emphasis on customer service, something that seems to be sorely lacking at many companies. Most of the employees, even the rank-and-file, were unfailingly helpful and pleasant. Many of them showed some special talent at talking with people, or in their general level of enthusiasm. For instance, our guide on the Jungle Cruise was good enough to be a contender in stand-up comedy, in my opinion -- and he was going a mile a minute on an extremely hot and humid afternoon, when most of the guests on the boat wore a dazed expression as the heat sucked out every last drop of energy from their limp bodies.

I am happy to report that I rode almost every roller coaster, even though I can report to you with complete confidence that Julie still hates roller coasters! I decided to go outside my comfort zone in this one small area. The result? Well, they were all pretty miserable. What I did was compare the whole experience to getting chemotherapy. In that light, I had to conclude that a few minutes of terror couldn't (quite) match what cancer patients have to go through. Actually, the Mission: Space, which involved a G-force blastoff simulation created by rapid spinning (imagine being inside a centrifuge), caused the greatest feeling of nausea, so the comparison turned out to be apt. (Read on to understand why chemo might be on my mind right now.) On the Rockin Roller Coaster (which I have never ridden before), I pretended I was Austin, who loves roller coasters. I imagined how he would be feeling during the 5G-force acceleration, the bottomless dives, the jolting turns and endless spirals. It got me out of my own small fearful self for a moment, and allowed me to relax a bit in the face of apparent doom. Is that what roller coasters are supposed to do? Allow us to face our fears and feel we can master them, or at least survive? (I don't get it, you see.)

The trip I'm on now is a journey of a whole different sort, with Dad. His illness has taken a turn for the worse, and it looks like rough times ahead.

He is taking chemo once weekly, hopefully for 4 weeks. He's had 2 doses so far. Then we'll see what comes next. We took our family vacation (with me on standby to return if needed) just a few days after he got the diagnosis, and just after chemo round one. It adds an almost unbearable sweetness to life, somehow, to see how brief -- how fragile -- it really is.

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