Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Let's Hear It For the Cats

I recently saw a "Huffington Comedy" video that made me laugh like a two year old on crack. A montage of video clips culled from You Tube, it showed cats and dogs in their proverbial war - only this time it was the cats who intimidated the dogs.

Shot by homegrown videographers with pets of both the feline and canine species, time and again the dogs were too terrified to pass the family cat, whether it be on a stairwell, in a hallway, or through a doorway leading to another room. The cats were all about the same size but the dogs ranged in potency from large boxers to little dogs of indeterminate parentage. 

Every dog that has ever entered my house has gone after my beloved cats with a vengeance (even my very own beloved dog Jade, since passed on). Thus, the sight of a cat terrifying a dog - simply by its lounging about presence - evoked hilarity and a sense of poetic justice.

However, when I browsed through hundreds of comments on the "Huffington Comedy" site, I was horrified. Apparently, the world is full of cat haters that associate them with evil forces and arbiters of no good.

So for the sake of my furry friends that purr, I wish to say that if "...a dog is a man's best friend," then "...a cat is a human's best vibe checker."

So put that in your pipe and smoke it!


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Droplets from the Heart

Spoken by Garchen Rinpoche, a great Tibetan lama who was imprisoned by the Chinese for 20 years:

"In prison Khenpo Münsel Rinpoche taught me this. The extent of your realization will be known when you encounter difficult circumstances. You will not know the extent of your realization when things go well. 

When you find yourself in a troublesome situation, when you are in great pain, when an intense emotion arises, only then will you know where you are at with practice.

Adverse circumstances will reveal your hidden faults. If you are able to hold awareness unwaveringly during such a time, and thus if you are not carried away by the force of the emotion, it is a sign that you have gained experience in practice.

If you were to practice mindful awareness with great diligence for just a month, if you were to recognize even the slightest thought and not allow your mind to wander off into delusion for that time, even in such a short time you would witness great changes. 

Fierce afflictions would not faze you so much any more, because you would have gained personal experience in observing the illusory play. There is in fact just one remedy necessary--mindful awareness. It is the single sufficient remedy that transforms difficulties inside and out."

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ask and It Will Be Given

Imagine sitting on a hilltop overlooking a crystal clear lake; a gentle breeze moves through mountain grasses and rustles the tree leaves while a chorus of birds send their harmonies throughout a vast and cloudless sky. All troubling thoughts seem to dissolve into the peace of the Mother naturally, simply.

Then out of nowhere, storm clouds gather on the horizon. The gentle breeze morphs into a sharp, biting wind and the birds take flight; sweet songs replaced by the ominous rumbling of distant thunder. As if rooted to the ground by a mighty force of gravity, you cannot move, helpless as the storm rolls in and pelts the physical with cold rain.

If the mind follows these external conditions like a loyal dog with its master, then peace will be followed by misery. Longing for the sweet past will torment the mind as it resists the more challenging landscape.

Yet so many brave people of history have described riding out tormenting storms by maintaining an inner balance that never wavers despite external conditions. They live to appreciate the beneficence of life returning with renewed vigor.

For some people, this fortitude can be attributed to maintaining a hopeful vision; events would eventually change for the better, despite all outward appearances. Others say that their belief in God held them in good stead, and the mystics describe an ability to merge into a Light that delivers them from all worldly conditions.

Having a practice that builds a stable foundation for the mind is not a luxury, but an imperative. Each person has unique qualities that dictate his or her own path, but not a cookie-cutter solution. 

Regardless of one's belief system, a universal process is expressed in an ancient scripture:

 "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock, and it will be opened to you."

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Social Animal

Yesterday, three diverse family groups gathered for a Christmas Day lunch. In all three cases, one or more individuals comprising their nuclear families were not present for a specific reason - death, divorce, or relocation.

At one point or another during the afternoon hike, a key family member expressed that they had woken up depressed because their nuclear family was split apart this year. For all three groups, it was the first year of separation from the loved ones with whom they had been accustomed to being with for so many Christmas' of yesteryear.

In all three cases, the depression evaporated as we all gathered together with laughter, wine (or Martinellis) and great food.

What social scientists proclaim is indeed true. We are social animals. Our cultural and familial preferences actually come second; what comes first is being accepted into the company of warm and loving human beings.

The rest is icing on the cake.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Surprise!

Surprises are a double-edged sword. When an event reveals itself spontaneously - unpredictably - human reactions span the entire range of the emotional spectrum. Good surprises and bad surprises - which ones do we prefer?

Although the obvious answer is "good surprises," life often does not co-operate with our desire for an ever-upward spiral of unexpected wondrous events. Actually, the odds present a 50-50 scenario. What goes up must come down, and what goes down must come up (especially if you follow the stock market).

Preparing for the vagaries of life is one of the most important skills sets necessary for survival. Like a swimmer in the ocean, one must learn to navigate the waves. Floating as if the sea were calm when the intensity of the waves pick up courts disaster. Learning how to dive under them delivers triumphant results - even pride in knowing that there is a way to handle any challenge that presents itself.

Today is Christmas - a day that many adore and a day that many dread. So in the spirit of life itself, may we all navigate the ups and downs with aplomb and grace.



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Will the Real Santa Claus Please Stand Up?

Santa Claus, sometimes called "old Saint Nick," is a legend born of a Greek mystic between the 7th-8th Century. Saint Nicholas' gift-giving attributes arose from a story that he gave a sack of gold to a poor man whose daughters would have otherwise been sold into slavery but for this handsome dowery.

Saint Nicholas was described as "fiery and wiry," spending many years in prison as a persecuted Christian during the bad old days of the Roman Empire. 

Hold on. Fiery and wiry? Of course traditions, like language, evolve over time. Our jovial, obese Santa Claus of today might have put on an extra 100 pounds thanks to the prevalence of preservatives and transfats in our modern diet.

However, the real truth about Saint Nick's metamorphosus from gaunt, wrathful mystic to euphoric tubby lies in a more ironic twist of fate. The image of Santa Claus known to modern man had its genesis within the marketing department of Coca Cola circa 1920. An artist created Santa as he is known today with a can of Coke in his hand, and this image maintained its effervescent quality in Coke ads well into the 1960's. 

Pop culture has continued on with this depiction, surely a boon to the costume industry and many an actor in need of a gig around the holiday season.

So, children and adults beware. If you don't want to end up with a waistline like Santa (and rotten teeth to boot), quit drinking Coca Cola and imbibe pure water instead. But please do keep one of Santa's good qualities: give, give, give.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Three R's

In the olden days, the 3 R's stood for "reading, writing, and arithmetic," the foundational skills taught in school. This ditty did not bode well for American education, since "rithmatic" bastardizes the legitimacy of the King's English. Off to an inauspicious start perhaps, considering that American education now ranks 36th in the world of nations?

In a new tactic having to do with socialization, a community organization from the inner cities has adapted the 3 R's for a new cause. These letters stand for race, religion, and respect, an abbreviation born of a desire for better relations between the police and the people on their beat. 

Everyone knows that people of color are still targeted by police. Everyone knows that equality on paper has not translated to equality in real life. Everyone knows that  despite the election of a real African-American President, race relations have not forged ahead.

This morning, CNN featured a discussion between the not-so-brilliant anchorwoman Ashley Banfield and a respected community leader of the female persuasion. They discussed the wondrous new adaption of the 3 R's (race, religion, and respect) and how necessary it was to implement in order to improve relations between law enforcement and human beings.

Not too many things make my blood pressure rise, but this new acronym did the trick. First of all, what does race mean in this context? Instead of implying the oneness of all peoples, it underscores the differences.

Secondly, religion has been the scourge of humanity since Cain and Able had a little disagreement. And what religion is said community leader referring to? Given the bent of the American population, it probably means church a la Christianity. I can't imagine this woman urging her charges to read the Torah or the Koran, let along Lao Tsu or Confucius. Since love begins with an 'L', the more appropriate concept, it had to be scrapped in lieu of a less accurate term.

The word respect in this triumvirate is the most plausible one. No one can argue that respect is a vital key to good relations with anyone or anything, including Mother Earth. 

So with this grumpy analysis of a good intention gone wrong, how about the best 'R' word of all:

RECONCILIATION




Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lucky

Is there truth in a name? In the case of Lucky the cat, it seems so. People who take up residence in the Santa Monica Mountains know that cats are at high risk of becoming cat meat for the coyote and owl populations residing in those hills and dales.

Owls, predators of cats? Yes indeed. They may not have jaws but they have claws that lift cats to soaring heights and then release them, using gravity as the death weapon. Smokey disappeared after the hoot of an owl proclaimed victory. 

Sparkle left this earth trying to escape up a tree, unfortunately not fast enough for a threesome of coyotes. Her son Sugar was snagged right in our driveway by a lone coyote who simply snapped his neck with one mighty chomp.

Other pet cats met their fate for different reasons. Blue, the ever-wandering cat of the Russian Blue breed, got his comeuppance from an automobile one rainy night. Chase and Little Guy both disappeared at sunset - here one minute, gone the next. Something of mighty stealth got them.

Lacy, a gift from my ex-husband to our son, disappeared two years later on my wedding day to Michael. In this case, the ghosts of the past must have claimed her.

And then there was Lucky, a wonderful tuxedo cat of charming temperament. He was born in the hallway bookshelf  and died of old age (in cat years 116), right in front of the very spot where he was born.

Note to self: always name a being with an auspicious moniker whether it be bird, fish, fowl, a pet, or a human of precious birth.






Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Puzzle of Boundaries

Boundaries exist at all levels of life and they are either respected or violated. What defines a boundary is a somewhat mystical question: if we are all interdependent with no real beginning or end, then in a sense there is no such thing as a delineating line between entities.

Yet, in this relative world boundaries appear real and if crossed, trouble ensues. Bypassing the issue of political boundaries such as the town, the county line, the state, the country and the geographically birthed ones, not to speak of those artificially drawn by victors of war, consider the capsule called "self." 

The cause of disharmony or the ingrediants for harmony lie in this intangible psychological bundle of thoughts and emotions called "personal boundaries." And these so-called boundaries are dependent on subjective perception and common consensus. Thus, the complications and confusion.

One of the favorite places for boundary-deficient people is Alanon, where the missing boundaries of the non-addicted are called "co-dependence." Another favorite area where a demarcation is ignored: domestic violence and all crimes committed against an individual by another.

These are the more obvious ones, but when it gets down to subtle emotional issues and how to navigate through relationships to self and other, the dividing line gets more tricky. What is the difference between a person who shares all that they have and one who has a "mine" and "yours" mindset? Is one right and the other wrong?  In some cases sharing might be the salve that dissolves fear, while in other cases it would be healthier to say "no." Each instance depends on the particulars of an individual's patterns.

The only safety valve that prevents one from running over another's boundaries or having one's own dissolved: KINDNESS. Personal interactions may require mediation, discussion, reflection, therapy, or other tools, but even in the midst of negotiation, it is entirely possible to consider that "the others" or your "inner self" have a desire for happiness and peace.

An attitude of kindness does not imply being a doormat. It simply means that as you firmly draw boundaries, compassion and mindfulness help to grow a healthy detente.



Friday, December 19, 2014

The Ups and Downs of Interdependence

Interdependence, a foundational tenet of Buddhism, was not something the Buddha dreamed up - even if his realization and its articulation were key. A law of nature, it means that no one thing can exist without another set of factors contributing to its existence.

For example, we experience ourselves to be independent identities, captains in charge of our body-mind vessel, yet if one traces our existence on planet earth, its validity exists only as an intertwined phenomenon: egg met sperm, mother met father, and the karmic twists and turns that magnetized them together drift into infinity.

Segway to the world of cyberspace. "Houston, we have problem," to quote the line from a famous movie. Our virtual reality, which runs the world these days, seems to have an Achilles heel. The very technologies that have made our lives so convenient could also be the very thing to wreak havoc on the world as we know it.

The news media is all over the story of North Korea hacking into vital parts of our infrastructure. Not widely reported, they have also toyed with South Korea in a cat and mouse game that paralyzed ATMS, confused nuclear facilities and so on an so forth. 

How fitting! A thirty-something dictator groks that cyber-terrorism is so much more cool than those passé bombs, tanks, trucks and planes. With its labyrinth of interconnected portals, the internet proves a far greater weapon in our interdependent reality.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Anthony Bourdain's Downhill Spiral

Anthony Bourdain was once my favorite host/commentator/chef/ethnographer, even ranking as the subject of two glowing blogs during his previous season. Alas, as the kitchen television blared his new show in Sicily and the merry widow made dinner, his statements were such a turnoff that the god-of-truth-speaking fell off his pedestal.

For the appetizer, he touted that he was too depressed to stay sober (thanks to a dearth of live swimming food in the water) so he sashayed off to a café and proudly admitted that he was so smashed that he doesn't remember the evening shoot - dinner at the "chosen" restaurant. The Italian resteranteur who had dreamed of this break must have experienced a nightmare.

For the main course, Bourdain admitted deep shock from a second bad experience shooting a show in Italy. His desire: to lay on his hotel bed, watch porn, and take handfuls of prescription pills. Sadly, his hotel did not have a television although he probably travels with a stash of la la land drugs.

Strike two. All the thirty-somethings watching this show now have a really good role model. If Anthony can do it, so can....

And for dessert, Bourdain's facscinating description of how to grow a tasty pig was truly nuts. Of course it's good to know that swine fed on healthy foods and treated well make tastier flesh. But when he said that he would love to lift a gun to the head of one of these brilliant animals and off it, to then enjoy its meat, the umpire called, "Strike out."

Of course the rest of the show explained his pathetic state. Not having been invited to a dinner at his mother's house since 1972 and deprived of a grandma, he craves the wonderful world of cuisine where he neurosis can be fed a meal from doting fans.

OK, so the guy doesn't have to be a happy camper. He got famous for being a candid and refreshing television host. But like so many, it has turned his head and he has lost his way in the land of Hubris...the place where all fucked up famous people land.

Monday, December 15, 2014

True Justice

" I know the temptations to dehumanize and mistreat, even kill. My sergeant in Uganda knocked my arm away from a murderer's head who I was about to shoot after he and his gang had set fire to the village chief's compound and thrown the chief, his family and every living creature into the flames. I nearly became a murderer and then remembered that the cop's job is to apprehend a suspect. NEVER to judge, NEVER to punish. Everyone is innocent until proved guilty - human rights are what democracy and our civilization stand on. The USA today faces a massive human rights issue."

These words were written on my Facebook page, publicly, as a comment to the blog "Dick Cheney, War Criminal." I pondered them because after all, the cop who was about to shoot the murderous gang leader had no doubt as to his guilt, having witnessed the crimes against humanity firsthand. One might not find fault with an on-the-spot execution under such horrific conditions.

But then, would the punishment have fit the crime? Instant death to the criminal would be an easy solution; tidy, no need for jail cells or prisoner care. On the other hand, what better retribution than to lock the murderer up for life, give him a job within prison walls making clothes or weaving baskets for the homeless, and subject him to constant instruction in meditation, compassionate action, and a process whereby true remorse might germinate.

Bestowing upon an aggressor a conscience seems to be the best punishment of all, because then that person will have to suffer with the real repercussions of his heinous act.

This, I would call, "poetic justice."



 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Living Memory

I was recently introduced to a woman whose husband died of liver cancer at age 57, leaving her with four teen/college-aged children. A number of years had passed since his death, yet grief still wracked her on a daily basis.

She finally asked to see her spiritual teacher, one who is in such demand that private audiences are rare. To her surprise, he granted her a one hour interview. Her long-winded rush of emotional verbiage taxed my patience but finally, finally, she got to a point that fascinated and enlightened me.

Said teacher told her, "Your husband is a memory and he was even a memory when he was alive and with you."

In the sense that every perception of another is filtered through our own story of who we are and who we think they are, the whole relationship is a fictional play of ideas with a sprinkling of physical evidence.

In contemplating the deep meaning behind the guru's words, some bit of comfort siphoned off in my direction. It makes my own husband seem less absent and more alive in my mind - where he always lived in the first place.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Past Portal Pothole

The Past Portal Pothole is a spot in the time-space continuum where one can step into a corroded mental image and plunge into feelings of ruination. Hurled into this black hole, gravity grows heavier and heavier until one implodes into self-referenced despair and feelings of annhilitation.

This mistep into the portal of past time could be avoided with mindful awareness. But as with a riptide in the ocean after a hurricane, struggling against it courts diaster. In order to survive a descent into the dark portal of despair, relaxation holds the key to survival. Allowing oneself to flow with the momentum, its energy will abate and suddenly the outer reaches of the pothole come into view and one is flung into the open air of sunlight.

Watch the movie called "My Life" and know that for every Past Portal Pothole, there is a beginning, an end, and a new beginning.

 

 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Dick Cheney, War Criminal

With the public revelation of systematic torture by the C.I.A., a policy engineered by the Bush administration, something we already knew appeared in black and white (as in printed documents). Although George Junior has remained characteristically nonverbal, Dick, on the otherhand, has publically expressed no regrets.

This outright confession warms my heart. Theoretically, it means that he can be prosecuted for wanton violation of the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights - among other international laws pertaining to the humane treatment of prisoners.

Dick, in all senses of the word, had waxed rhapsodic about the new ticker that renewed his lease on life. No longer would he gasp his way through the woods toting his shotgun to take down a deer or duck or a friend. Oh joy!

It remains a total mystery that a man who can appreciate the heartache of sickness and the joy of good health and freedom NOT understand that others might want that too. Even more puzzling is that interrogators have substantially more successful outcomes when they befriend a prisoner. Torture apparently is a less effective method.

How about a national movement to indite the Dick so that he can spend the rest of his life behind bars enjoying his nice new heart?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Old Haunts

The Los Angeles suburb in which I rest my bones was envisaged in the early 1980's by developers of wealth and endless access to mega-bank loans. Spacious homes on square patches of lawn sprang up, and the American dream appeared almost overnight: a squeaky clean neighborhood with towheaded kids, SUV's, and pets galore; a vision realized by the lucky few of mostly caucasion persuasion.

The fickle hand of fate swept my favorite cousin into a nest right in the town where I grew up - a New York City suburb. Contrary to my west coast environs, almost nothing has changed in Mamaroneck, named for Chief Mamaroneck shortly after the white settlers obliterated him and his kind to live by this sheltered harbor of the Atlantic.

The same Miller's Toy Store, the same Strauch jewelry store, the same Mercurio's Italian deli to name but a few. These hangers on were landmarks of my childhood, fascinating the five year old who turned into the ten year old who turned into a 17 year old who left for college and never looked back.

And now for the strange part of this tale. No nostalgia gripped my soul, no longing to remeet the lovers and friends of yesteryear. I came back here wanting to feel something alive about my past but the memories had no charge, positive or negative. Actually, the positive experience was that my brain tissue was capable of calling up so much detail about the childhood haunts.

Then I reflected: this pilgrimage to the place of my youth held no energetic resonance. The girl that grew up here is not the same person anymore, nor will she even exist on the planet in 50 years. The only place I ever thrilled to was a monastery on a mountain top in Bhutan where a 14th century sage wrote down his wisdom in 26 volumes, to be handed down through the ages.

Blood ties bind us together in genetically programmed tribal nuances. Connections of spirit, energy, consciousness are our true heritage. And I suppose that the lucky ones find it right on their doorstep.


 



 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Who Is Looking Through Your Eyes?

When one has no destination, everywhere and anywhere is cool. Although this might seem like the plight of a homeless person or a lost soul, it can also be the mindset of complete and utter freedom.

"No destination" does not mean that a directional position cannot exist. You can take a plane from Los Angeles to Kathmandu, or New York to Cairo, and drop into an entirely different universe with a distinct mission to accomplish. But, in the words of St. Francis, "What you are looking for is looking out of your eyes."

The constancy of conscious awareness knows no place or time. The normal disruptions of the ego mind simply become moving dreams with ever-varying plots that have the same underlying theme - life itself.

Patience, equanimity, appreciation, mindfulness and acceptance are some of the rewards for simply being aware of awareness itself. In that mode, there is nowhere to go and nothing to do, yet it is the opposite of boredom. In this dance through life, every moment has a freshness, a presence, a vivid experience of nowness.



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Suitcase

Over the course of several decades, my placid husband routinely morphed into a growling bear when he had to lift my suitcase into or out from a car, train, bus, or baggage carousel. He simply didn't understand the concept that a woman might want to have a choice of outfits in a foreign location, since he felt perfectly fine throwing a few shirts and pairs of pants into his smaller and lighter bag. Accepting most of my behaviors with grace, he had the one flaw of refusing to embrace my penchant for overpacking.

I, on the other hand, would grow petulant that he continued to make a sour face year after year as he heaved said luggage about, occasionally with distinct distain.

Fast forward to my favorite topic, the news. If anyone has seen footage of millions of refugees streaming over desert landscapes, mountain passes, or winding their way through jungles - at best with a suitcase in hand but more often with the clothes on their back - one comes to appreciate the insanity of overabundance. 

What would you bring if you had to leave your home postehaste, perhaps never to return?





Monday, December 8, 2014

The All-Powerful

Various regions of the USA have distinctly different cultures, reflected in their architecture, regional accents, food, religions, and political views. (There is a reason why the map of the United States, now mostly all red, has been renamed "Dumbfuckistan" with all its tribal factions.)

When planning a trip to the Boston area to visit family, it never dawned on me that I was venturing into an entirely different milieu than Southern California until the ride from the airport to a lovely New England town.

Hundred-plus year old colonial houses lined the quaint suburb, and in a pre-Revolutionary War tradition, a single light in every window. In the olden days, these must have been candles in every window, perhaps to scare off the devil or provide a welcoming light to wayfarers. In 2014, they are little electric lights (hopefully LED) that have more than likely lost their original meaning but provide a stunningly peaceful ambiance.

A nippy walk through the winding roads of a seaside town provided this visitor the feeling of being a tourist in an enchanting land. Although I had been here before visiting family, the uniquely different atmosphere from the lower west coast gave me renewed joy.

Later in the evening when the little ones and the adults had turned in, the night owl was still hooting and hollering that she wanted to absorb still more of awake time. With no one to stop me, CNN was the station of choice.

As I watched CNN, lying on a couch with my feet propped up on pillows, the charm of a new culture fell away and I might as well have been in my SoCal living room -- the ubiquitous couch and television news amalgamized anything unique or beautiful into one world of similarity. Not Oneness, not global consciousness, but a bland pablum eaten by everyone with a TV and antennae.

Pick your poison. It might as well have been Fox News or some other local TV station drivel. In the meantime, the only solution, at least in my universe, is to download the golden light so that if we are to be "one," we are One.



Sunday, December 7, 2014

The End of the Line


My husband departed from the physical mid-2014. Five months later it dawned on me that preparing tax information for our stellar accountant would fall to me and me alone. Although bill paying and life-maintenance tasks were shared in our household, Michael was the Commander-in-Chief when it came to organizing our finances for the IRS to peruse. 

Mundane tasks have been difficult to complete since his passing (and before that too), so I decided to start in early lest the multifaceted details of our life fall into oblivion if things were rushed at the end time - April 15, 2015. My first resolve was to begin a new habit of recording written checks in the checkbook, as he did so meticulously. I always relied on mental calculations and online banking to guess our bank balance but now his motto - always to have a paper copy - haunted me. The need for tangible evidence in the face of death's intangibility?

By sheer happenstance I came upon his most recent checkbook today, which had been mixed in with other ones old and new. It was positively thrilling to discover that it started with January 1, 2014. I thumbed through the pages looking for tax-relevant information with bittersweet nostalgia: his handwriting, his reliable accuracy, his patience in attending to the drudgery of detail. 

And then I came to May 20, 2014. The entries stopped abruptly and then blank pages followed, one upon the other. May 20th was the day the doctor called us to deliver the news. Stage four cancer: incurable, rampant throughout his body, ravaging almost every sector of the physical.

Michael had been lucid and able to get around for another three-four weeks after this date when his checkbook entries ceased to be. Why, I wonder, did he stop the day he learned his fate?

Perhaps he realized something precious - that the dead would have no need for checkbooks or bank accounts. Unlike the ancient Egyptians, he knew he wasn't taking his material world with him. Perhaps he didn't want to waste one iota of his ebbing time on earth for what would soon be past. Perhaps he poured his entire will into the forward trajectory of his entrance into the next world.

Sweet Michael, you were so wise.