Mr. Rogers, fire, and other Buddhist thoughts ~

I want to be more like Mr. Rogers. I want to be able to move beyond anger, my personal Buddhist mind poison. Known as kleshas to learned practitioners (and mind poisons to the rest of us), anger is what I’m both best at (wrathful compassion, addressed here & here, among other posts), and worst at (need I explain?).

Anger is like fire, my birth sign in both Eastern & Western zodiacs. I’m a fire sign, and a double fire dragon, for those of you who care about these things. As a child I wasn’t a fire starter, but I did (& still do) love a bonfire. Or embers in a fireplace. Fire is so very seductive: it warms us, and it’s so very beautiful, as well.

It’s useful, too. If controlled. Lately, as I cruise FB reading the heinous actions of our government, mine rages like a California wildfire. It certainly lacks control. I want to lash out, say hurtful things to people hurting those I love, tearing down things I love.

And so the universe (and sometimes my younger son) sends me reminders: a comic (my younger son), an article in a blog (the universe), other salient notes that rage really isn’t helpful. Again, think of the difference between boiling water for tea, and burning the entire field of tea leaves to ash. One comforts. One destroys. Some of the reminders are gentle — the lovely comic. Others? Well, let’s just say it’s payback when your FB thread erupts into hurtful rhetoric at someone you care about. You have to believe it’s (at the very least, partially) your responsibility.

I don’t have any easy fixes. I’m trying to remember to take healing breaths. I”m trying to exercise, to use up nervous energy. But I’m also sick, and dealing w/ the usual day2day minutiae: a beloved recovering from a serious bout of illness, a family member worried about insurance in this new travesty of assistance, a grandson battling the germs of learned immunity. Nothing so very out of the ordinary, but none of it pleasant.

Somewhere, I read that willpower is, like $$, something that can be wasted, or at least used up. I’ve been using mine to do things like eat more vegetables (admirable, but not soul-threatening!). Perhaps it’s time to turn from broccoli to Buddhist thought. Maybe, instead of focusing on what I eat, I should give more thought to what I say, and how I react. Meeting the hate of this current political wildfire with the soothing cool of tonglen. Breathing in the anger I feel, and holding it in my mind with all the anger of the dispossessed Americans — and others around the world. Then breathing out healing peace for all of us.

That’s my new plan, at least — one I have to recommit to at least several times a month!! So: here’s to a diet of less fire, and more of the fibre of life, what connects us and makes us human. Our fallible, lacerated, loving and lovable, human hearts.

wake up, America: juggling despair & privilege

wake up, America: juggling despair & privilege

Today I’m trying to juggle the despair I feel for the island of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands (which evacuated to Puerto Rico – did you know that?), with the happiness I felt all day yesterday as I sat w/ a dear friend & my family over a lovely brunch.

I have known since I was a very young child (8? 9?) that I’m privileged. Standing on one side of an iron gate to our villa, only blocks from the ambassador’s residence, I watched a young ViệtNamese woman – certainly not twice my age – tell me in the unmistakeable language of hands & eyes that her infant held close to her flat breasts was hungry. And she had no food. That was my first encounter w/ my own privilege.

These days, as friends & family from around the country drive or fly to visit us in our beautiful new home, w/wages they earn at secure jobs, I remember almost daily how rare this is for most of the world. Two of my three sisters have come to visit – one has come twice! The third is coming in two weeks. I live blocks from my healthy, well-fed grandsons & their parents. Tomorrow I will get in the car w/ my beloved daughter-in-law and go to a nearby pumpkin patch to gather pumpkins w/the four-year-old in our family. We have plenty of gas for such luxuries.

In Puerto Rico, there is no electricity. As a friend of a friend noted, this isn’t because the power is ‘out’: it’s because the lines are shredded. There won’t be power again until the infrastructure is rebuilt. Such an innocuous word, infrastructure: EVERY POWER LINE. EVERY water facility. Dams, and roads, and… 

I can’t get my heart around what my head knows. In my everyday life, I’m looking forward to my sister’s visit. Basking in the time I spent w/ a dear friend who was here for the weekend. Figuring out what I’ll fix for dinner tonight. Anticipating an elective medical procedure fully covered by (admittedly crappy, but still extant) insurance.

Puerto Rico

Courtesy CNN

But in this time of far too prevalent American refusal to care about our fellow Americans, I’m heartbroken for mothers, grandmothers, sisters. Women (& men) who have only the spectre of cholera to anticipate. The end of paychecks, because FEMA has commandeered all island fuel for hospitals. Meaning: noooo offices can open if they could otherwise. Hence, no $$. (You did realise that the currency of an American territory is dollars…??)

In this time of ‘fake news’ – so often perpetrated on us by our own government – I can’t forget that these other Americans, whose only ‘crime’ is being where a massive hurricane hit, are without food. Without water. Days away from a cholera epidemic. Living among the decaying remains of a thousand thousand drowned animals. A million million pieces of trash. Fecal matter floating in the water.

I hope that totally disgusted you. Because I know of no way, other than the words I’ve practiced using for decades, to wake America up. To outrage the status quo, so that we INSIST  our government do something more. And please: don’t insult my intelligence w/ the ‘big ocean’ crap. EUROPE is significantly farther away, but they’re already rebuilding. Us? Who cares about brown folks who REALLY probably aren’t even Americans. Well,l French president Macron does. In the ravaged Caribbean, he was there less than a week after the hurricane hit. Our inglorious leader (I can barely manage to think his name…)? More than two weeks LATER: 3+ weeks AFTER THE HURRICANE STRUCK.

The population of Puerto Rico is about the same as my home state, Oklahoma. And let me assure you: the majority of that state where I’ve lived for decades, where I was born, could care less about sending their $$ to a place almost half of them don’t even realise is American. After all, that’s true at the national level. And I don’t think Oklahoma is any better.

I can also assure you that Oklahoma (& its legislators, please note) would NOT be ‘okay’ with the treatment Puerto Rico is receiving if the state was devasted by a category 5 tornado, a phenomenon much like Hurricane Irma. If the entire state of Oklahoma lacked any hope of electricity for the next several months, and cholera was in the water, and the children of the state were doing w/out asthma inhalers, food, medical treatment, et al…? The state would be in arms. Quite literally, I assure you. Like the guys in Florida who shot at the incoming hurricane

Puerto Rico

Courtesy CNBC

I’m trying to moderate my visceral anger with my Buddhist tonglen. But truthfully? It’s almost impossible to breathe in my anger and breathe out peace. When (& if…) I succeed, it’s when I’m able to think of my anger as only a fraction — an infinitesimal nano-fraction of the 3.5 MILLION Americans — of the anger & fear felt by a thousand thousand parents, grandparents, siblings: … I breathe for them, hoping I can somehow take on their rage & grief.

What about you? How do you reconcile our privilege with the heart-shattering plight of Puerto Rico? I’d love to hear something I can actually do, besides just throw my privileged $$ at this horrific tragedy…

taking back the flag: a progressive rant for true patriotism ~

taking back the flag: a progressive rant for true patriotism ~

In the wake of the Fourth of July, I’ve been thinking. A LOT. Wrestling with a contemporary conundrum: just why (& when…?) progressives became stereotyped as not patriotic. Because it’s just not true.

But apparently, if you don’t support the neo-conservative platform(s) — unregulated guns & ammunition, Christian religion in public schools, charter schools supported by public funds, racial profiling, anti-immigration, sexism in health care, and more — you’re not patriotic. Please note: not being patriotic doesn’t seem to correlate w/not liking the president: we saw far more of that under Obama, from these same neocons, than we do from liberals & progressives with the current administration. Obama has the sad ‘glory’ of receiving the earliest death threats, as a junior senator running for president. He received at least as many death threats as G.W.Bush, whom neo-conservatives often insisted was the target of many liberal-backed conspiracies of assassination.

So it’s not simply that progressives don’t like #45. We don’t, but that didn’t seem to make the haters of the Obamas feel they were unpatriotic. No, it has to do w/something else, and I don’t know exactly what. But I want to make it very clear: the progressives & liberals I know are VERY patriotic. We are veterans, the children, wives, husbands, & parents of veterans who have given much for this country (unlike the current president’s family, none of whom have served, FYI). We believe in  the American dream — we just no longer believe it’s possible for most Americans. And we still cherish & hold dear fundamental Constitutional rights.

US Armed Forces sealsMy two sisters are veterans — one retired after a distinguished career in the Army, the other serving in the National Air Guard. My nephew is an Army vet. My father was an Army lifer, written up in history books for his contributions in WWII’s  Battle of the Bulge. My beloved is a ViệtNam vet, U.S. Marines, thank you. My uncles all served in WWII, or Korea. Or both, as my father did. So don’t even start on how progressives don’t ‘get’ veterans’ issues. We’re not the ones cutting benefits, or lying about the status of veteran hospitals.

I grew up overseas — from the time I was 8 years old until I graduated from high school. Then my beloved & I lived for 10 years in the Middle East. I am more aware of the privileges that accrue to an American citizen (especially a woman) than most Americans, I guarantee you. I can vote (and do, every election, for every issue). I can own property. I can work w/out permission from my family. I have a safe home, in a safe neighbourhood, and I can travel where I like (within limits not imposed by my citizenship, but by my concern for safety). I can worship (or not) as I please.

These are what I think of — these practical elements of American life — when folks say liberals aren’t patriotic. No, I don’t fly a flag. Why not? Because the folks I know who do hold none of the American values I cherish in common with me. They no longer believe in public education — they’re advocating for charters, many of which are based on Christian curriculum, in direct defiance of our amazing American Constitution (‘separation of church & state,’ remember?). They want to discriminate against those who look different and/or worship differently: I can’t tell you how often I’ve been horrified to hear someone talk trash about Muslims, then questioned them only to find they don’t even KNOW any Muslims. No, it’s what they heard on TV, or in church, for cryin’ out loud!! When did the Christianity of my mother, my father, my grandmother & the rest of my family become license to let fear trump the Good Samaritan’s compassion??

I grew up in a time when we had civics classes. And government classes. And our history classes included reading the formative documents of this country: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, JFK’s inaugural address, Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. Unlike the Trump supporters who thought NPR’s excerpts from the Declaration of Independence were ‘propaganda,’ I’m familiar w/ our country’s incredible written history. Not simply the parts that appeal to me. I understand there are divergent readings of the 2nd Amendment, for instance:US Constitution

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Conservatives see carte blanche for gun rights. Liberals want regulation, and feel this in no way compromises the 2nd Amendment. Progressives are often in-between, as Bernie Sanders has been in the past — some regulation, but not perhaps as much as other non-conservatives might desire. NO ONE in the progressive (or liberal) camp wants to take away guns. But that’s the myth, and it contributes to the ‘anti-Constitution/non-patriotic’ labels.

I’m also not ‘pro-abortion.’ I am, however, pro-choice. And please explain to me: how do you talk individual rights (bearing arms, for instance) & legislate another person’s body?? And how do you claim the title ‘pro-family’ when your party refuses to clothe, shelter, feed, or educate children? When you are cutting back on all support networks for mothers & children? When your idea of healthcare makes it very clear that children w/ disabilities (the very ones poor women might have decided they could not afford to care for medically) are not worth medical insurance? That’s patriotism???

I believe in so many of what I think of as ‘original American values’ (as do most of the liberals & progressives I know): the great outdoors free from pollution; clean air & water; the right to a good education; the right to walk without fear of being shot for the color of my skin (the shooting of Philandro Castile has shown us that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t apply to black men, not to mention the numerous unarmed victims of racial profiling); the right to a free press (which is, by the way, the FIRST Amendment), currently made a mockery of by the administration’s refusal to have cameras inside government offices; the separation of church & state (also in the 1st Amendment, and later clarified in an 1802 letter by President Thomas Jefferson). I could go on, but these are NOT what neoconservatives seem to mean when they speak of patriotism.

Conservative patriotism appears to have more to do w/exclusion than not. The current frenzy re: ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, for instance, is trumped up: The clause is added in 1948. It’s not original, & gained traction with the support of a Catholic (re: religious) order, the Knights of Columbus. It’s not, in other words, what I consider a legit test of ‘patriotism.’ It is, however, Christian. But there are thousands of Americans who are not. As of 2015, almost 6,000 American troops identified as Muslim, and there are reports of Muslims serving in the US Armed Forces as far back as the Revolutionary War. And yet my hometown wanted to ban Muslims from marching in the Veterans Day parade.

This is a lengthy post for a blog, I realize. But I am sick at heart to be labeled as ‘unpatriotic’ because I believe in the Bill of Rights. It’s like being called non-Christian because you live by the Beatitudes (preached by Jesus) instead of the Old Testament’s Leviticus (currently the ‘law’ in many Christian churches).

Personally? I am taking back MY flag, folks. I’m no longer going to sit silently (or even quietly, & maybe not politely!) when folks go off on progressives & liberals for their ‘non-patriotism.’ And I hope you won’t, either.

To unfriend or not…?

To unfriend or not…?

One of my sisters left her long-time FB account at least a month, maybe longer. She’s been on FB for years. A 2nd has muted several ‘friends’ & even family (as have I). While a third is cast-iron, and seems able to keep her sanity. Me? I recently unfriended — then refriended — my cousin. And yes: it was political: I unfriended him after he insulted one of my friends one too many times, ‘citing’ spurious ‘evidence’ from sources like Agent Orange (my current fave name for our ersatz president), Breitbart, and the worst of the alt-right idiots. Please note: my friend wasn’t blameless, but she didn’t start the ruckus. She simply took it to the next level.

And I can’t handle it.

It didn’t make me feel good to unfriend him; he’s family. But it did make me less angry than when he was constantly popping up in my feed saying crap that’s flat (verifiably) untrue.

Still, I felt like I’d failed as a Buddhist. I know we’re supposed to ‘listen’ to each other. But what if what someone is spouting is pure poison? Do I have to listen to Agent Orange (my beloved’s name for president #45) spew vitriol about the Women’s March I was so proud to walk in, with my niece & grand-niece? Do I have to accept it? What about his clueless ‘tariff’ on Mexican imports?? Or the Republican Congressman who said folks could pay for the prohibitively expensive Repub alternative to Affordable Care if they just didn’t buy iPhones?? I don’t have a simple Buddhist answer for this one…

I wish I had a nearby Buddhist teacher. The pagans & Wiccans have a word for me: solitary practitioner. I read Buddhist books, websites. Talk about Buddhism to anyone who will listen (some would probably rather not!). And bumble along, trying to live by this truth, and that precept. Mostly I couple tonglen with a sincere effort to be kind & practice compassion. It’s probably not enough, but it’s what I’m able to do at this point. And breathe, of course…

If someone reading this has useful insights, I’d love to hear them. Because I can’t believe it’s okay to ‘accept’ the hate masquerading these days as ‘give him a chance.’ I will NEVER give hate, intolerance, and evil pretending it’s ‘for our own good’ a chance. I don’t think THAT is good Buddhism, either. If you espouse hate, you don’t get my cooperation. Period. If racism is your way to ‘unite’ people — against someone different from you — I will call you on it. The very Buddhism that counsels me to be compassionate also grounds my social justice work.

I did, however, refriend my cousin. After all, he’s family. Besides — I’m off FB for Lent. I can deal with it in April, right? In the meantime, I’m serious: how are you dealing with these virulently polarised times? Any tips?

 

Buddhism, anger, & the deplorables ~

Buddhism, anger, & the deplorables ~

I’m of a generation that has seen much ‘owning’ of formerly negative names. My sons’ generation — those unfairly bashed MIllenials — used to say, that’s so gay. Not at our house, though. Now? It’s gay pride. And ‘queer’ used to be another homophobic slur. Now we have entire departments of queer studies at universities across the globe.

Same w/the motivation behind the current administration’s supporters trying to ‘own’ the term ‘deplorables.’ But you know what? It’s not the same thing. Not by a verrry long shot. To be gay, or queer, or is a descriptor. The judgment is attached by the insulter, not explicit in the word itself.

But deplorable is an intrinsically, BY DEFINITION, negative label. There can be nothing good inherent in the term. Sure, you can wear it as a badge of honour, as you can white privilege (yes, there are such folks). So let’s talk about what I mean when I say the current administration is deplorable.

We have a candidate for Secretary of Commerce who hired an undocumented immigrant for 7 years, then fired her when he was tapped for the position. In other words? We may well have a SoC who KNOWINGLY broke the law. And doesn’t care who knows it, as long as he gets his position.

We have a candidate for Secretary of Education who hates public education. Did you really hear that? The backbone of American democracy is public education. And she not only doesn’t support it, she doesn’t think disabled students are entitled to it, if it’s inconvenient for the school/state/whatever. REALLY? Either that, or (worse in my horrified opinion) she doesn’t even understand what the federal law says. She also doesn’t think all federal laws should be enforced…. Wow.

We have a head of the Environmental Protection Agency candidate who has sued it multiple times, as Attorney General for poor benighted Oklahoma. This one I know well. He’s not only not particularly smart, he HATES public lands, and wants to dismantle all federal protections. Talk about fox and henhouse: Scott Pruitt is about as deplorable as a non-criminal gets.

Secretary of HUD? Ben Carson, whose only qualification for the position seems to be he’s black & lived in an urban neighbourhood?? Attorney General? Jeff Sessions, whose longstanding racism & lack of support for women in domestic abuse situations is legendary.

The list is long. It doesn’t matter what I think of the President Elect (not much). The proof of his active dislike for American government is in his selection of appointees. What is even more deplorable, however, is that many of these men & women have, at the very least, significant conflicts of interest (as does the POE, just in case no one’s told you).

So yes, I think that’s all deplorable. It makes me angry at the same time it breaks my heart, to see this country so happy to disenfranchise its citizens, sell out our public lands, give free license to polluters, and all the rest of the varied anti-government agendas of these deplorable ersatz leaders. As for you wearing a Tshirt that says you’re proud to be part of this trainwreck? I don’t think that’s deplorable. I think it’s just incredibly sad. Right now, I’m spinning between incendiary anger (bad for a Buddhist!) and heartbreak. Trying to draw on lessons of compassion — even wrathful compassion!  — that will get me through this dark dark period. I won’t be watching the inauguration.