Sunday, November 4, 2018

Ode to the Rubberband

How many rubber bands are in circulation around the globe?

A common item found worldwide, the lowly rubberband is an overlooked, underestimated luxury item. Like all things, its origins come from Mother Earth. Whether born of a rubber tree or the synthetic type formed from crude oil, the ingredients must be mined, manufactured into rubber bands of all sizes and thicknesses, and distributed to the marketplace, whether it be a Walmart or a roadside vendor with a pushcart.

Their uses are multitudinous, among them being an item that holds the hair pulled back and firmly in place. Herein lies the nexus of my pondering mind.

A Californian with a thriving inner-hippy persona, my locks are always wild and free no matter what the occasion. However, upon arriving in Nepal for a task that requires outdoor activity, I found that the dirty, dusty and humid environment made my hair frizz into a halo resembling an elderly lion's mane. Then, prodigious sweat pouring from my pores dampened the hair into a matted mess. By the end of the first day here, my appearance was suggestive of a crazed woman who had been cast out.

Not choosing to be a case of mistaken identity, I combed my luggage for a rubber band to tame my hair into a bun, the kind of look that is the style of "mature" women in Nepal. Only one was to be found, binding together a packet of Wet Ones, truly a First World item for travelers.

The common rubber band, so often discarded without a thought, became a prized item. It was only then, with scarcity as the stimulus, did it dawn on me that these innocent little items, so taken for granted, are in fact a treasure to be treated with care, out of respect for Mother Earth and the human sweat and toil that brought them into being.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Little Girl by the Roadside

Do you often wonder why you do not act in a timely way to do something rewarding for self or others? Has hesitation or lack of conviction let an opportunity slip by?

A few days ago, I was in a car traveling over bumpy, dusty roads returning to Katmandu from a remote area of Nepal. It is a poor country, rural for the most part, and access to education or varied livelihoods is slim to none for the indigent.

In the distance, the figure of a small girl came into view, an apparition in a landscape with no dwellings or villages in sight. As the car neared, it became clear: she was holding four green-colored fruits for sale. She lifted her arms in a gesture of offering, beckoning the vehicle to stop, eyes aglow with a beguiling invitation to purchase the meager fare.

The two men in the front seat - a driver and a guide - were completely uninterested or unaware of her plight and the vehicle whizzed past as if she were a non-entity, a ghost, a nothing.

I wanted to stop and purchase all of her fruit, give her an extra donation, and allow her to rest instead of standing by the roadside amidst a whirling dust cloud kicked up by the car. I said, "Stop," but the two fellows were talking and didn't hear me.

And here is the moment of opportunity lost. Instead of loudly repeating my request, a hesitant inner voice decided it might annoy the driver, or he was too far past her and it would be inconvenient to back up. Thus, she was left behind.

I looked back to watch her arms lower. She simply stood, waiting, waiting, waiting, for the remote chance another car would come along with a more compassionate driver or passenger.

I will never forget the lovely smile, the eager eyes, the innocent, sweet look of a small child offering us sustenance in order that she might eat for the day. My heart hurts as the memory of her unsullied purity went unacknowledged.

If there is a lesson, it is this: ACT without hesitation or fear. From the smallest to the biggest of life's challenges, boldness and strength are required, lest an opportunity for the good passes us by.

Friday, September 7, 2018

When Snakes and Tigers Meet

The Op-Ed piece in the NY Times, "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration," penned by an anonymous insider, proves only one thing. When you put snakes and tigers together, there will be a dance to the death. Who will be the first to deliver the fatal blow?

However, the snake-tiger metaphor works only when their natural characteristics are anthropomorphized. These critters in the wild studiously avoid each other, lest an invasion of personal space creates fear-based reactions of unfortunate proportions.

Truth be told, "Crazytown" a.k.a the White House, defies description, a dream-like creation. The Executive Branch once resembled a reality born of an ordinary gestalt but has rapidly become a nightmare of global proportion. If Shakespeare were alive today, he would be burning the midnight soy candle to spin a drama of larger-than-lies proportion.

This giant of drama took his cues from empirical observation. Obviously, what was true then remains true now. The King is Mad.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tears for Obama

President Barak Obama is rated the most popular president in American history, topping Bill Clinton and Ronald Regan. In a country built on the backs of slaves, where racism is still rampant, this is a remarkable fact.

One thing stands out, however. Obama is not the descendant of slaves. His father was a free man from Kenya, an educated one at that, and his mother a white woman from the mid-west. His ancestral load does not include an embedded sense of injustice, pain, and the horror of human cruelty that is the genetic load of black people born in America. Perhaps this enabled him to enjoy a particular brand of self-worth, freeing him to reach for the stars - and get there.

Then why the tears? A recent news clip showed the Obamas walking onto a stage the night he was elected president.  Barack was holding hands with Michelle, each flanked by the two "First Daughters."  Although he might have the panache of an international man, the family were undeniably black Americans, whose lineage came directly through slaves. This is not to say they bore the external signs of this tragic lineage. Quite the opposite. They stood tall, proud, and self-assured. Nonetheless, the fact that there they stood must have seemed a miracle.

That TV visual evoked sobs rising from my chest and tears flowing from my eyes. What goodness had allowed these remarkable people to stand on that stage, triumphant and humble and proud? What nightmare has now hurled us 100 years backward after such a victory of the human spirit?

The past is gone but the future lies ahead. The cancer gripping out country must be defeated lest our democracy be deemed a failed experiment. We have to reclaim our goodness or else the prevailing winds will blow us away. It will require work but work we must.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Motivation is Everything!

 The common talk around town goes something like this:

"Why aren't the Democrats doing anything?"
"The Democrats have no message."
"Why don't the Democrats play dirty like the Republicans?"
"The Democrats need to be tougher."

And so on and so forth. Infinitesimal threads of karma birthed from the loins of infinity stretch out to arrive at this temporary juncture in the time-space continuum. Yet, it is beyond the scope of human intelligence and certainly my own mind to unravel the cosmic design that brings history to this point.

Origins aside, folks the likes of Ralph Reed and other neocons have had a grand plan to gradually overtake the system, vanquishing humanitarians who would work for equality and justice. As Alex Gibney, documentarian extraordinaire states, "...language is key to the militarized "take-no-prisoners" mindset of many movement conservatives. To them, politics is never about religion--or what's right or wrong--it's only about getting caught." And I might add, their politics are the means by which laws can be changed to line their coffers and enslave the majority.

While it is not in the purvue of this author to lay out the strategic longterm plans of the neocons, it has been their keen motivation over the last half century to erode the democratic system and replace it with an oligarchy. This finely honed goal, pursued with Biblical fervor, has out-maneuvered those whose views meander in a more benign direction. Not understanding the focused dedication of the neocons, the Democrats have stepped aside and in the process been stripped of their least for now.

The good news is that as the ship careens out of control, there is a fresh movement afoot to right the boat. This will take strong will, deep motivation, and righteous anger. We who would not act will taste the bitter fruit of inaction. There is a choice to be made. Pray to the all-that-is that we pull together and drive out the madness.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Post Traumatic Stress

Last night over a candlelight dinner with friends in a peaceful, upscale neighborhood, we reminisced about the day we met walking our 5-year-old girls into kindergarten on their first day of school. How sweet that over the years those little girls have grown into wonderful thirty-something women with grace, intelligence, and beauty. How heartening that they love to be with us, the parents, instead of seeing us a necessary chore. How special that our families have remained close and intact.

And then, of course, the conversation turned to the inhumane crisis as immigrant families from south of the border are torn apart when they reach "America," land of opportunity. How cruel this myth and even more devastating the reality.

Ten-twenty-thirty years from now we will have a population of thousands upon thousands of deeply traumatized children grown up to be adults with terrible scars. Like all dehumanized populations, many will thrive nonetheless, but the majority will live with nightmares of all varieties, coping as best they can with deeply inflicted wounds on the psyche. Families will also suffer the horrors thrust upon them as they experience the worst possible nightmare...losing their children at the hands of a fascistic police force called ICE.

Post-traumatic stress is a real and debilitating factor that makes this current state of affairs a toxic brew. Unless the evil doers -  45 and his minions - are stopped, we will have a failed experiment called the United States of America.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Dreams and Reality

My spectacular husband Michael died four years ago this month. We were together 24/7 for 30 years, working at home offices next to each other, always within earshot. I have dreamt about him a number of times but the one I had early this morning was the most fascinating of all.

In my dream, I dreamt that I was in bed asleep and dreaming. In my dream within a dream, I was imaging the presence of my husband sleeping next to me. In my dream within a dream, I thought to myself, I am only dreaming that he is here. He's not really here, he died. Then, in my dream within a dream, I woke up and realized that he wasn't just in my dream but he was really there and I was so delighted that he was actually still alive. Remember, this is when I woke up from the dream within the dream so my perception that he was really there was still what I was dreaming.

In that dream within a dream Michael and I had a typical good morning conversation about plans for the day when we were to get up, and indeed the dream continued throughout the day as we hurried through a busy life.

And then it all ended. I opened my eyes and was back in what we call reality; in this case, a sunny bedroom in Los Angeles with a large picture window looking out on a landscape that promised to heat up as the morning fog lifted.

A mystic or psychologist might be able to explain this clearly than me. Perhaps the dream was a longing for me to wake up and realize he is still here. And maybe it is so.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Anger and Compassion

I am facing a conundrum. When confronted with a situation that angers me, I default to my training as a Buddhist, mediator, and advocate of reconciliation versus retaliation. Thus, my voice remains in the range of normal speaking decibels, I try to put myself in the other person's shoes even if they aren't my size, and not express my dismay at the other's actions, words or perceptions.

This is all good if one does not want to start a family feud, lose a business partner, or on a grand scale start a snowball effect that creates chaos and unrest in every corner.

But herein lies the problem. Being rational with others does not address the irrational, subconscious aspect of myself that buries the anger. Apparently, buried or unreleased anger is not good for one's health. So how to let out the toxic steam that builds up and festers on the inside?

Of course, there are methods for exorcizing anger; having psychological tools is a good idea. Yet, in the end, the only workable solution is having compassion for self and others.

The proverbial words from the cross, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do," gets to the heart of the matter. If we were all steeped in sublime awareness and love, we would not hurt each other. We could not speak or act from a paranoid, ego-centered worldview. The problem is that we are not aware. We are not awake. And herein lies the rub.

Are we to hate each other or ourselves for our ignorance? That chastisement creates and perpetuates the cycle of doom. Can we force others or ourselves to wake up faster than the process would allow?

So while waiting for the light to illuminate the dark shadows, a little patience and compassion would go along way.

Have a better day.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Courage to Live

Normally, one thinks of courage in terms of facing a battle head on. It could be a soldier leading his men through known enemy territory; an explorer sailing off to prove the earth is round; a schoolmate stepping in to prevent a bully from victimizing another on the playground.

At the most basic level, it takes courage to live life. Every second of the 24-hour cycle we humans, birds, animals and all manner of beings wake up to face "time" with no guarantee that all will go well. In most cases, people who commit suicide have lost all courage to endure the vicissitudes of life and can't see a way forward to keep on keeping on. Blame it on Prozac, haywire brain chemistry or severe trauma, nonetheless the conclusion is, "Get me out of here."

According to the Stoics of ancient times:

“Remember that the door is open. Don’t be more cowardly than children, but just as they say, when the game is no longer fun for them, ‘I won’t play any more,’ you too, when things seem that way to you, say, ‘I won’t play any more,’ and leave, but if you remain, don’t complain.” (Discourses I.24.20)

It is easy to imagine how starving refugees, sex slaves, the severely ill or injured and so on and so forth might wake up having second thoughts about being on the planet. But what about those fortunate sentient beings who have shelter, food, clothing (or fur) and yes, even love, who wake up with dread of the coming day?

This is where the notion of courage enters. To face the unknown, which is one second later than now, a contemplative thought must enter the mind: change is inevitable, a continuum of bad to good - good to bad. Like a surfer riding the waves, the only way to keep one's equilibrium is to maintain balance. The secret is knowing that in between the extremes, there is a center point of neutrality wherein lies equanimity. Whether through meditation, yoga, prayer, therapy or all of the above, the imperative of the human being is to find a balance within a whirlwind of ever-changing circumstances.

If it were easy we would be eternally sunbathing in the oasis of our quiet minds. Since it seems that our inner and outer worlds don't always provide an idyllic picture, it is up to us to keep working on ourselves, always choosing to see clearly rather than allowing a dark shadow to cover our bliss.

is - mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.  

Friday, May 18, 2018

Man and Dog Under Bridge

While driving through a bridge underpass, I spotted a homeless man and his dog taking refuge from the blazing California sun in this fume-filled, gritty resting place. His complexion was grayed by a thin layer of dust, bony limbs crouching next to a bag of rags; most likely all he owned in this world.

Beside him stood his dog, tethered by a leash. This being was mid-size in stature; a mongrel but a pretty one that looked partially blonde lab and an unidentifiable breed that made him more delicate than the run of the mill lab.

The dog was having his dinner, calmly crunching on dry dog food pellets out of a shiny metal dog bowl. He looked as satisfied as any well-loved home pet eating his meal at 5:30 PM, the favored dinner hour of Americans. He looked like all dogs who are treated with care and consideration. not bothered by his unconventional place of dining. Yet, his owner was a homeless man who looked as if he had not eaten much in a number of months or years.

Sobs arose in my throat as I cut a sharp left onto the onramp of the 101 freeway, leaving behind two beings that would continue to live on in my imagination. The man had nothing in this world but his dog, who was eating with elegance, simplicity, and style. The compassion of that man and the kindly demeanor of the dog were more than I could bear.

How people live. How animals live. How we treat each other for better or for worse. An unfathomable riddle.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Looking for Love in War

When one becomes embroiled in a battle, whether it be a personal affair, a lawsuit, or an actual war, what is the cause for this eruption of disharmony?

At the most basic level, one could boil it down to a fear that one's needs are not being met, or that they are being threatened. Along with food, water and shelter, saftey is a key emotional and physical component that us humans -   and all creatures - require for a life well-lived.

While we all strive for harmony, it is conflicting perceptions that make us feel something will be taken from us if we do not fight to justify our position.

At the root of this miserable life-style lies the culprit: ego, that aspect of mind that spins a story and then commands its host (us) to do what the ego deems right and justified. Whatever opposes us also has an ego-driven story, spun from the bowels of deception as well. Thus, phantom fights phantom in an unreal world that appears so real.

Only when we become aware of that which drives the ego - that which can demystify "the story" and uncover the fear and its antidote love that lies hidden below - can we hit the source, the motherload, of all-that-is. Rich beyond all riches, the life source with never-ending solace and love. And then we rest in peace.

Between the Frying Pan and the Fire

When the first inklings of a pandemic started brewing in late January, I was in Bodgaya, India, the place where the historical Buddha attai...