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The Time For Civil Political Discourse Has Sadly Vanished

I just remembered why I stopped responding to political pages ages ago: the trolls and nasty responders. It’s the thing I truly HATE about social media. People sit behind their computers and vent their rage at people they don’t know personally. It’s inhuman. I make it a practice never to post to those threads haphazardly/when I’m in a foul mood. I do my homework and make comments based on truisms (or at least, I check my facts on anything iffy before hitting “post’), although there’s always going to be a great degree of opinion when it comes to politics. That’s the nature of the beast.

Sooner or later, without fail, along comes some personal pot shot at me that has nothing whatsoever to do with my post. And since I’ve taught a course in rhetoric, I’m quick to remind these bullies of their dire logical fallacies. However, it seems every time I write on one of these threads something else happens too: I get a sizable number of “likes” from people who appreciate my opinion. Still, I find the foul-mouthed post slayers depressing and I quickly block those individuals. I’m not thinned skinned, but I do find that this particular election cycle has brought out some of the very worst in humanity. Or maybe I’m just seeing it clearly. Sadly, civil discourse seems to be an arcane formality now relegated to the distant past. I was on the debate team in high school, where we were often given resolutions to debate that we didn’t necessarily personally agree with. This was great practice in the art of civil discourse, because nobody on either team was ever personally affronted by the opposite teams’ opinions. At the end of a debate we’d all shake hands, drink coffee and introduce ourselves to one another. And always we’d remark, “great debate. And I really enjoyed your point about x…”

I Got Nothing

Ladies and Gentleman: the Days of Muskets and a “Well Regulated Militia” Are Far Behind Us

Muskets

 

When this terrible and senseless gun violence continues to occur, when the same old arguments get trotted out again and again about the “rights” of Americans that are guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitutionthe finer points of which gun rights activists NEVER seem to actually understand, nor do they they grasp the time period in which it was written; a time when the infantry used single shot muskets, which were incapable of killing multiple people with one shotI feel as though I am living in a third world country. A country where people do not feel safe in movie theaters or community colleges is not a safe country. Nor is it a First World country if we are governed by a Congress that allows this. And no, a “good guy” with a gun does not help the problem because, guess what? A gun is STILL a gun. And when pointed and shot with live ammunition at a human being (either a “good” or “bad” human being, which is still nothing more than arbitrary human definition) by another human being, that human being within the gun’s cross hairs will most likely die.

I teach at a community college, and this most recent spate of deaths, caused by one angry person’s gun, deeply angers, upsets, and unsettles me. We need to change the gun laws in this country. The current ones are ineffectual and protect nobody’s “freedoms.” It’s time for Congress to act and to stop pandering to the NRA. Congress brought down the tobacco industry once upon a time. Now it’s time to bring the NRA to its knees once and for all. It’s past time. Too many innocent people have died, and prayers do not bring dead people back to life. Prayers do NOT bring them back to the grieving families who have lost them. And that, I can promise you, is what these grieving families truly want! Simply put: prayers are NOT enough. Not nearly enough. Offering prayers is the same thing as offering a single Band-aid to someone with a gaping wound.

I agree with President Obama. This is not a political issue. It’s a public safety issue. But let’s make it a political issue if that’s what’s needed to change the horrible, nightmare-inducing reality of gun violence in the U.S.A.

In The End

In the end, I became a Buddhist years ago because only three things matter. I also had the profound experiences of having a Buddhist sherpa save my life 15 years ago (nearly at the cost of his own) and of meeting His Holiness The Dalai Lama in India a year later. I actually shook His Holiness’s hand and saw the reincarnation of his extreme compassion for myself. I will never forget it. However, I truly became a Buddhist because of this: Siddhartha Gautama, known to us as “The Buddha” (which means “The Enlightened One”), got it right. He understood the true nature of life. It’s a short journey, but Siddhartha knew how to make it count. That was his gift to us.

In the end only three things matter.

Calling Me Home

Calling Me Home

How well I remember the call that woke me out of a deep, restless, and dream-filled sleep. In those disturbing nocturnal visions, you were already slipping away. Sinking into a destiny that would soon define us all.

I could not have known then that your death was a lesson in impermanence, a mere tracing of the manifold losses that would soon follow; that for the next 13 years we would watch mummy sink into her own nightmare of shock therapy, antidepressants and psychiatric hospitals; that daddy would lurch off the deep end, soaked up in booze and the self-hatred that would mask itself as antipathy of everything within his hardened field of vision, that the solace he sought in blame, recriminations and justifications would ultimately shatter the paradigm by which he defined his life; that we would lose Sarah to a prolonged adolescent spring, a rebellion funneled through rage, until she disappeared into herself, finally rejecting me too, because I reminded her of them. I could not have known either that without you as the rudder in my life I would lose myself, collapsing into a lethargy and despair so austere that I would eventually cease to feel at all, existing only to think, shuddering and shrinking into the long darkness of the night, crying only when I was certain no one could see or hear me. Always the stoic, terrified of tears, of breaking open, of weakness. The shame of it. They had taught me well.

It is often said that when people face death they see their own lives flash before their eyes, but I never saw those fractured shards of my own mortality, even when I stared down death at 15,000 feet in the Himalayas, sick and hopeless and vomiting and wanting to die. No, I only felt peace and a willingness to surrender to the Long Sleep. But when you lay comatose in the ICU, it was your life—your precious, too-short, truncated life, a life you had claimed yourself—that flashed before me in a myriad of colors. Your face when you graduated Magna Cum Laude from Bowdoin, shaking the dean’s hand; as a child when you whispered in my ear at the dinner table, “I say to beats, BEAT IT,” united in solidarity against our mutually detested purple vegetable, or at Pineknot in the silly sun hat, cocking the croquet mallet jauntily back behind your head, ready to pound it down into the soft earth like a hammer.

My adoration and idol worship only caused more pain for you, only added to the suffocating burden you already endured. My singular desire while you lived was to lie on a chaise lounge, comfortable and sequestered in the protection of your shadow, watching and gaining strength from you as you nobly accomplished great feats. The adoration of a sister for her brother.

You didn’t ask to be anyone’s hero, to be the sole star radiating brilliantly in a lonely sky. We wanted you to be something for us rather than for yourself. An unfair request, yet you dedicated your life to answer it, allowed it to claim you even as it stole your glitter and dragged you down into its unfathomable depths. You strove to be something for them, a servant to wait upon their frustrated dreams, until those dreams pulled you under, deep into the tide of their unquenchable thirst.

Why should I hate them? Sometimes I think you did it because you hated them, couldn’t stand the hypocrisy. They met at Harvard, expected nothing less from you. Before that it was Oxford, Bowdoin and Smith, and afterwards Yale. I won’t blame them, won’t be the one to cast the first stone. It was expected for me to fail, but not you. They were the product of their generation, and we of ours.

Ah, the British Isles. As Rudyard Kipling wrote so famously, “There is a corner of a foreign field that is forever England.” It saved me. I retreated into it for the next five years, seeking refuge in endless cups of tea and British civility. The distance. Safe in my ancestral home. But even that couldn’t save me. I fell apart anyway, collapsed from exhaustion, spent and ruined, and presently, my light went out, and stayed extinguished for the next 20 years. There was nothing left.

What if someone had told me that it would take my own family to become untethered from the unbearable agony of your absence, and would I have believed them if they had? Could I have believed that I would need to give birth to my own son before I could grasp the endless depths of her grief—a sadness that would envelop her so completely that she would abandon her two surviving children, until she found her way back to us many years later?

I know now that you are still here, embedded deeply in my heart, the best part of me. At times I am delighted to realize how much I remind myself of you, either in a turn of phrase or sprinkling of ironic humor. I can see your red hair, hazel eyes and freckled white face mirrored back in my own reflection. I long for those few friends, far away, who understand and cherish that humor, and I adore them, fiercely and wholly, for in loving me, they love you too. And those are the times I like myself best. It is when I am aware that the undiminished part of you lives on in me.

I had lost my way, but I had not lost my voice, or the sound of their voices either—those angels circling overhead with their sonorous song of life, levitating high above the heavens in a place where our dreams lie sacred and suspended, where the past, present and future meld together as one. Their voices growing ever sweeter, ever nearer. This time calling my name, calling me Home.

My Twin Soul

Mary and Jack

 

A lot of emphasis is placed on the concept of the “soul mate,” or one’s ultimate romantic partner. It’s become almost cliché. There’s another soul connection that many people think is just another expression for the “soul mate.” The expression is that of “twin soul,” or “twin flame.” However, twin souls or “twin flames” are not doppelgängers of one’s most coveted romantic self. Instead, a “twin soul” is a person with whom one often shares both genetic and psychic material. Siblings can be “twin souls,” for instance.

My twin soul was named John Wenham Alden, but we called him “Jack.” He was my older brother by two and a half years. He was the person I most revered in life for his extreme brilliance and sense of humor, but also because we shared a symbiotic relationship. Again, the word “symbiotic” has become one that is often disparaged in our culture as akin to “codependent,” but that’s an erroneous and incorrect use of it. Rather, a “symbiotic” relationship is one that is *interdependent* in many deeply meaningful ways.

Jack died tragically 27 years ago. A part of my soul seemed to die the day he left me, and I had a very difficult time recovering from his loss for many, many years. Strangely, after my accident I had no memories for some five weeks. I don’t remember the fall from my horse, the trip to the hospital, or even my time in the ICU. Later on, I was discharged and we left for Albuquerque. I don’t remember that either. Finally, my first real memory arrived in the form of a dream. It was Jack. He looked exactly as I remembered him 27 years ago, when I was 22 and he was 24.

“Mareda,” he said (he always called me “Mareda”), “ignore these idiot naysayers who think you won’t survive. You WILL survive, because it isn’t your time to go. I was there when you fell and it wasn’t your time then either. However, your recoveryA lot of emphasis is placed on the concept of the “soul mate,” or one’s ultimate romantic partner. It’s become almost cliché. There’s another soul connection that many people think is just another expression for the “soul mate.” The expression is that of “twin soul,” or “twin flame.” However, twin souls or “twin flames” are not doppelgängers of one’s most coveted romantic self. Instead, a “twin soul” is a person with whom one often shares both genetic and psychic material. Siblings can be “twin souls,” for instance.

My twin soul was named John Wenham Alden, but we called him “Jack.” He was my older brother by two and a half years. He was the person I most revered in life for his extreme brilliance and sense of humor, but also because we shared a symbiotic relationship. Again, the word “symbiotic” has become one that is often disparaged in our culture as akin to “codependent,” but that’s an erroneous and incorrect use of it. Rather, a “symbiotic” relationship is one that is *interdependent* in many deeply meaningful ways.

Jack died tragically 27 years ago. A part of my soul seemed to die the day he left me, and I had a very difficult time recovering from his loss for many, many years. Strangely, after my accident I had no memories for some five weeks. I don’t remember the fall from my horse, the trip to the hospital, or even my time in the ICU. Later on, I was discharged and we left for Albuquerque. I don’t remember that either. Finally, my first real memory arrived in the form of a dream. It was Jack. He looked exactly as I remembered him 27 years ago, when I was 22 and he was 24.

“Mareda,” he said (he always called me “Mareda”), “ignore these idiot naysayers who think you won’t survive. You WILL survive, because it isn’t your time to go. I was there when you fell and it wasn’t your time then either. However, your recovery is up to YOU.”

“Some of these people don’t seem very convinced,” I said. “So I’ve tuned them out. Most of them think I’ve tuned out because I’ve had to go somewhere else.”
“This is the problem with living people,” Jack said, laughing his most endearing laugh. “They’re so attached to their egos. They believe what they think, so therefore…cogito ergo sum. Remember your Latin; you had three years of it. Now ignore these people. Do you hear me? IGNORE them.”

“And then what do I do?” I asked.

“That’s up to you. It’s all up to you,” he replied. “You know, one of the great things about being dead is that I’m not attached to my ego. I don’t need it anymore. So just do what I say and ignore the rest.”

From that day forward, I slowly and gradually became better. The fear left me, and I either blocked out the naysayers or confronted them directly. I even corrected and fired my speech therapists. I told one of them that she’d given me an *incorrect* English construction to try to enunciate. Next!

With my dear brother Jack at our grandparents’ house in Princeton, New Jersey. Just enjoying being together.

Our House

The never-ending saga of our unfinished house goes on and on (insert Celine Dion’s crescendo singing voice here), as we buckle down for yet another week of many at this odd “long term stay” motel in Albuquerque (hey, it’s close to Jamie’s school). This time the offenders aren’t New Mexico building folks, but rather, an inordinately ill-managed company of stair makers in Pennsylvania who, despite employing engineers and CAD operators, can’t seem to get the thing to scale. My husband has sent them better drawings than the ones they send us.

We can’t go with a traditional staircase because the second floor of our house is a loft. We’re installing a spiral staircase, which is a completely different animal, because a regular stair case would hog up far too much room in our beautifully tiled living room.

It’ll come as no surprise to most of my friends that I prefer the western U.S. and have fairly well retired permanently from living on the east coast again, except to visit. The last time I was in Pennsylvania was to work as a massage therapist at the “Tour de Toona” cycling race. It was a singularly miserable experience, and apart from cruising through the miles that separate the east from the west, I have not been back to that fair state since. I think that’s a good start. No offense, Pennsylvania! (Well, maybe a little…)

On Being a Liberal

Susan B. Anthony/Harriet Beecher Stowe, originally uploaded by feserc.

I must say that at times I grow tired of politics. I also grow tired of some of the petty, one-dimensional (partisan) discussions I see on Facebook and in other places. On the other hand, I’m a huge fan of political rhetoric and the way it has shaped our nation, and other nations. The more I study rhetoric the more I love the voices who stood for the disenfranchised. In my opinion those voices were and are liberal.

The word liberal, simply defined, is as follows: “Open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.” There’s nothing dirty or shameful in that, and there never will be.

It was Susan B. Anthony who cast aside traditional values to demand suffrage for women. She voted and it landed her in jail. She demanded to stay there so her case could go to the Supreme Court of the United States, but her lawyer bailed her out, much to her chagrin. Surely one of the great spirits to walk the earth.

Martin Luther King told of a dream in which we will all “…one day live in a nation where [we] will not be judged by the color of [our] skin, but by the content of [our] character,” at a time when segregation of minorities was accepted, particularly in the south of America. His expansive notion was a liberal notion.

FDR was a privileged American who chose liberal thought over easy affluence: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little,” said he. He too, was a liberal.

These are some of my heroes, and also the reason I’m proud to be a liberal–not a democrat. If we broaden our minds, the world will broaden also. In the end, this is not a political, or even intellectual paradigm.

It’s a matter of the heart.

Davy Jones & The Homecoming Queen



Davy Jones & The Homecoming Queen, originally uploaded by elefanterosado.

RIP Davy.

The Metta Bhavana

I have found the Metta Bhavana practice to be extraordinarily grounding this week. Loving Kindness truly is a journey into the heart of our essential selves. I imagine the pool near my heart fill to brimming with the sweet essence of pink Lotus flowers. The pool is the Unmanifested. The petals represent the incarnation of the Manifest.

I love the beautiful, mellifluous and extremely peaceful Irish accent of the voice on the guided meditations. The voice of Bodhipaksa. His voice is very transportative and has a tangible quality that helps me to form peaceful mental images—especially of the friend he asks us to envision and wish well.

I am finding this practice of Metta Bhavana to be fortuitous and timely, particularly this week. I’m coping with sadness and disillusion caused by the thoughtless and selfish actions of someone close to me, and this practice gives me an opportunity to give myself gentle attention and refrain from creating an ego or victim identity around the event. I felt as though—even though my mind wandered quite a bit—I was able to be guided back to a place of peace and tranquility during the practice. The most useful methods for me included the dropping of emotions into the pool near my heart, and imagining the image of a dear friend. In the first instance I imagined a friend who has been in my life for more than 20 years and who has shown great compassion during this difficult incident in my life. The second time I practiced I envisioned my older brother, who has been deceased for more than 20 years. He was a soul who suffered greatly in life. Now that he is part of the Unmanifested again, however, I was able to wish him peace and freedom from suffering in his new form, just as I had during his actual life. It felt good to send out my love to these individuals. During this difficult time I miss my brother especially, and wish I could seek his counsel.

Some angry thoughts did pass through my mind, though. I had some hard thoughts toward the person I feel betrayed by. Even in the midst of these harsh thoughts, though, I was able to recognize that my criticism is a result of my feelings toward this person rather than about the person him or herself. In the middle of the fictional illusion that we are all separate, isolated beings, it is possible through this practice to tell oneself gently: “Oh yes, that’s just the mind making up stories to entertain itself again.”

Years ago I received some meditation guidance from a counselor who also happened to be a practicing Buddhist. At that time my mind fought mightily against meditation. I’ll always remember one thing she said during her guidance: “Don’t hesitate to watch the stick float by in the river. Just don’t invite it in for tea.” These words have taken on a profound significance over the years. I understand now that “tea” is the practice, and that we are gently encouraged to watch our thoughts rather than indulge them and give them a separate and distinct identity. When we detach from our thoughts—which often involve criticism and judgment—we also detach from the illusion of our separate identity from the world. I’d say I experience this profound truth as satori at this point, yet I am still grateful for those ephemeral moments of truth.

The Metta allows me to smile at the stick and say gently: “Ah, you rascal. No tea for you today. I indulged you enough yesterday, and the day before. I’ll see you later, my devilish friend. Namaste.”

The Raisin Experiment

Dried Grapes on the Vine, raisin, originally uploaded by Otto Phokus.

I tried the raisin experiment today as part of my meditation class. It was an interesting experiment for me because I’m not a big fan of raisins, particularly in food such as cookies. However, it occurred to me that I had once upon a time liked raisins, so I plucked one out of my trail mix and spent some time observing it.

Looking at its wrinkled, diminutive form I was reminded of the Wheel of Life. All things are born into life and eventually die. A raisin starts out as a grape, wizens in the sun prematurely into old age before being consumed (death) by a human. I like the fact that a raisin has no particular attachment either to its life or death, which is the type of evolution I hope occurs for me along the Buddhist path. The peaks and valleys of the raisin remind me of the journey of life–that is to say that life is always a voyage rather than a destination. The indentations seem like many small roads, each one insubstantial in itself. In harmony with one another, however, they become a directed arc or pathway.

Once I popped the raisin inside my mouth I made a point of feeling all of the grooves (or paths) with my tongue. They felt more pronounced than I thought they’d be, as though they had a firm, yet flexible purpose. My raisin also tasted salty; a consequence of having been in the bag of trail mix. Yet the flavor was not unpleasant. When I bit into the raisin it seemed to explode into a different form which was flavorful and pleasant. The pathways and roads were gone and had taken on a new life. After I swallowed it, the experiment and the raisin both were gone, but I was left with the temporal memory. I was reminded that all things are temporal and eventually fade away. I was immediately grateful that the experiment reminded me of one of the great tenants of Buddhism. We may enjoy every experience, but if we don’t become attached to it, we will experience something far more profound, which is the fullness of the moment.

Perhaps I spend too much time theorizing on life’s experiences. This is where I hope to evolve–into knowing without so much thinking. However, whenever I have an experience that reminds me of the Dharma I am profoundly grateful. Just as I am always grateful when I experience the joy of pure Being.

Namaste.