Tuesday, September 20, 2011

There are times when words fail me and the body steps in.

I'm sure it happens more than I know. As a mother, my facial expressions, hand gestures, or the way I walk potentially signal something to my family. These are actions that I don't always think about, let alone know what they are projecting onto me.

On the other hand, I totally stepped over a line when I literally put my hand over a fellow meditator's mouth as she kept talking and my other hand on her back after a meditation session.

I vaguely remember saying something about I love you, I am sorry, but I can't stand it anymore. My experience was at once painful, sorrowful, tender, and blinding.

Let's just say this was not skillful communication.

I was growing increasingly overwhelmed by a growing inability of people in this familiar group to practice what we were learning through meditation. They were talking about their own anxieties, problems, and the political divide. The 10th anniversary of 9-11 probably jacked everyone up with its missed opportunities or it could have been the failures of our leaders in an economy where our families are struggling. So many things were stirring in that room.

All this angst and division. I found it hard to sit with and let it arise and fall. But, I was trying.

Yet, it was our self-righteousness about shared political values that was disturbing me. We kept trying to make our point no matter if another was talking or to keep it going by recycling back to our usual points.

We had just finished our meditation practice with the idea that we bring that experience into our everyday lives. We were demonstrating our state of mind externally. The group mind was looking a little unsteady.

As I apologized to the person and the group for this outrageous breach of trust, I was asked to speak about this division. Basically, I said that I had no words at the moment except that at a recent Buddhist retreat on diversity, the experience of silence illuminated the value of living in the space beyond words, beyond the stories, and beyond our ideas of self.

A website about polarizing speech offers a history of the manipulation and misuse of words for ill. The following webpage offers the blogger's own story as to how she has came to understand Germany's path into darkness in the last century.

http://0320be2.netsolhost.com/blog1/?page_id=2 (Cut and paste web address into browser to read.)

My experience of the event was an attempt to lovingly and gently quiet my friend. While it wasn't a good feeling to break through the noise in this way, my hope is that we speak lovingly and carefully with each other to the best of our ability.

Afterwards, I wondered if this was more like taking a sword and cutting through the crap. It felt horrible. My friend is still unhappy with me. Things are not perfect. There was a rupture that needs attending to.

Perhaps, at that moment, my actions were the most compassionate thing I could do for my friend, the group, and my self. Because of a sense of responsibility to the group and past tendencies, I resisted walking out.

More importantly, it erased any illusion that somehow by meditating I am better than who I really am. It got me out of my head and into the world - warts and all.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

There is an old saying: Life is what you make of it.

When I think about my current situation and the general state of the world, I find there are times when platitudes are frustrating.

At a basic level, we can all understand another saying: If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

I once gave my then-toddler lemonade that was made for my diabetic grandfather. It was a hot summer day. She was thirsty. She loved the stuff and drank lots of it quickly. On the way home, she began to complain of a headache.

By the time we were home, she was very sick. Tylenol didn't touch the pain. Nothing seemed to work.

This was back in the days when our young family couldn't afford health insurance. I waited to see if her illnes was temporary or if we needed to go to the emergency room. This was the sickest I'd ever seen her and I was scared. She came out of it a few hours later. There is something unnerving about watching helplessly as your baby lies in the dark, not even wanting to be held because any movement hurt.

This was back in the 1980's when aspartame first came out. I now think that this was the toddler version of a full-blown migraine. We learned the hard way that she cannot tolerate aspartame. Soon afterwards, I learned that several other children in the family also could not tolerate aspartame. The government and corporate culture at the time were busy denying that there was any problem with this chemical sweetener.

With a family full of diabetics, our choices for sweetening lemonade was getting more restrictive.

What does this have to do with making lemonade out of lemons? In this case, not much on the face of it. Usually, this saying is used to help a person dealing with a difficult situation by encouraging them to make the best of it. But when the story is applied to a more nuanced, person-specific story, you can see the flaws.

Lemonade isn't just about taking lemons and squeezing them. Something is added. Hopefully, the sweetener is something that adds value to the bitter juice. In this case, it did not.

A friend recently watched a movie with other religious leaders in the community about the shared core values of the world's major religions. Afterwards, this friend stated his frustration with the movie's use of various religious texts being used as platitudes to, in his opinion, make everyone feel better while denying the power of religion to separate or demonize others.

As a preacher, he wanted everyone else to share his vision of not just the optimistic views of religion, but their problems. Years ago, I'd taken a workshop that helped me understand the importance of how religious texts could get used, manipulated or abused. So I could understand his desire.

My friend would like everyone to confront the wrongs that he sees and to act non-violently to stop aggression and greed. But the way he wanted to go about it was like picking a tender wound. I'm sure the other religious leaders at that movie felt like they have their hands full trying to be positive and holding together a loving, harmonious approach as they very carefully and bravely reach across interfaith lines.

I am sympathetic with his perspective. I'm tired of platitudes and the same old games that keep people spinning, but don't work on underlying problems. I see scriptures and religious text as ways of trying to grapple with important human issues and as guideposts for moral and ethical lessons. But the test for whether or not they are working for a particular situation for me is: Does this promote health and wellness (physically, cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually) in individuals and the community? Does it bring them into a deeper way of living a loving life?

This is where teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh come into the picture. His perspective is that it does no good for burned out people to engage in social concerns without first attending to oneself and cultivating their own peace of mind. It is the natural sweetness of compassion that gets overlooked by angry people and mobs.

Martin Luther King, Jr. appreciated Thich Nhat Hanh's perspective and nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 after being moved by the power of his work. Yet, it is King who has a statue that was unveiled this past week, a man who gave his life 40 years ago in the pursuit of equality and justice using non-violence. His own work was built on faith and a vision of something sweeter for all.

If I only could believe that life is what we all make of it, then I wouldn't have to concern myself about war, refugees, malnourished children, vulnerable adults, the sick, those in prison, people who have lost their homes, the mentally ill, and all the other problems of the world. Everyone could just make their own juice from their own lemons.

What seems like a simple act: making lemonade from lemons becomes quite the challenge when we use our hearts and minds to engage in the situation. How do we create something that is tolerated by and helpful to the person or people we intend to serve? How do we help quench a thirst that may be asking for our love and attention?

As people gear up for the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks next weekend, I pray that we listen to each other with the heart's ear no matter what the religious flavor is that we bring to the table. May we pour out our hearts' deepest desires, the desire of the Beloved that flows through us and into the world. May we taste the nectar that quenches all thirst.