Joining the UUCA

14 08 2011

It has been quiet here for the last little while, but I have not abandoned this space or the intent I have for it. Sometimes, though, you’ve got to stop talking about things and just do them. I have been trying to find my way along this path that I set for myself. That has led to a decision to join the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta. I have been going to services there on and off for a few months. I am really impressed by the people and by their commitment to progressive social change, social justice, inclusiveness and many of the other things that I hold dear. They’re good people. If all goes as planned, I’ll officially become a member next Sunday. That will include a ceremony and some specific commitments on my part to this community. I am fighting a lifetime of not being a joiner, though, in doing this. Every Sunday I don’t want to go when I get up. Every time that I fight through that and go, I’m glad I went. There is a zen meditation group that meets for an hour before the summer service or also for an hour before the early service in the rest of the year. There’s a small community of buddhists in the congregation and that tradition is well respected. One of the hymns in the service today was a breath meditation exercise put to music.

This is a harder time for me than when I was writing a lot this winter and spring. I see the fruits of this practice every day, but the kind of ecstatic experiences that drove me further and further into it for a while are no longer happening. That’s common, I hear. That’s part of why I think having a community of good people is so important for me. You need to have other people to lean on. I have experienced a lot of sadness in the last couple of months. That sadness has gotten in the way of my practice at times. In the longer term,  I think the sadness is a good motivator for practice, though. This world is never going to be what we want it to be. The grasping and wanting for things that we believe will make us happy tends to have the opposite effect. It is wanting things to be different than they are that hurts. I really want to be able to accept things as they are. That doesn’t mean being passive in life, but it does mean understanding that you will fail and that’s okay. It means understanding what is beyond your control, even if those things are extremely important to you.


Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong | Video on

17 05 2011

Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong | Video on

I watched the video of this TED talk on Saturday and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. The whole thing is really worth watching and it’s only 18 minutes. The part that really kept coming back to me was a comment she attributes to Ira Glass from an interview she did with him. He says that the staff of the show jokes that the “crypto theme” of all This American Life episodes is “I thought this one thing was gonna happen and something else happened instead”.

What struck me as soon as I heard those words is that this is pretty much life in a nutshell.

A moment

30 04 2011

Tomorrow I fly to another city for work. I’ll be gone a couple of days. I have a fear of flying. The fear is not that complicated. It consists of two big parts. One is quite close to universal. I don’t want to die. When things go really wrong in airplanes, you die more often than not. Depending on the manner in which things go wrong, you may die a very unpleasant death surrounded by a couple hundred screaming, panicking others. As fears go, it’s neither more or less rational than most others. The other half of it is that I don’t like not being in control. I’d probably feel much better about flying if I could take the controls. You combine the two and it’s a fairly potent fear.

In the day or two prior to a flight, my general anxiety, irritability, and fear levels tend to go up. I can counter it somewhat by being mindful of it, by not letting my brain spin out horror stories. I went to the grocery earlier today. I was in a fairly mindful state when I went in, but as I wandered through the store, I kind of dazed out a bit. I rounded a corner going from one aisle to the next. It’s a tight corner because the counter for the pharmacy is at this particular corner. As I did that, I saw an older man with a twisted leg tumble from his knees to the floor, then try to use a cane to prop himself up. I saw a younger, but still much older than me woman pushing a wheel chair behind him. I was shocked and concerned. Then I saw that a basket of groceries was in the wheel chair. He had not fallen from it.

The older man started to get up, but fell again. I felt myself cringe and pull back in fear or repulsion.  I watched as the guy made one more attempt to his feet and the older woman apologized for blocking me and then said that his mind wasn’t all there. Then it struck me that I could find a way to help. I didn’ think it was wise to try to help the older man directly. If his mind is not all there and he’s at all agitated by a stranger getting in his face, that could end badly. I stopped and slowed myself. I breathed. I looked for a moment where I could help. It found me.  I could tell that the woman wanted him back in the chair. As the woman moved to help the guy get all the way to his feet, I asked if I could help hold the basket. She said yes. I took the basket from the chair. It was heavy. She helped the guy into the chair. She apologized again for blocking me as this was happening. I told her not to worry, that I was in no hurry. As the guy sat in the chair, he reached for the basket. The woman said “you can hold it in your lap”. I helped him take it from me and get it settled in his lap. Then I moved on.

I didn’t do anything heroic or even all that commendable. I’m not looking for a pat on the back. There were people in front of me having a problem and I helped them. I hope, though, that it made their day a little easier. For me, the instantaneous reaction to seeing the old man go sprawling onto the floor in front of me was the same reaction to having to fly. I saw the inevitable deterioration and death, the loss of control or the illusion of control that lies ahead of all of us. Now, perhaps obviously, I didn’t instantly contextualize and verbalize it to myself like that, but I know what that feeling is. It would have been easy to give in to that feeling and turn and go the other way. Or, perhaps to just wait there and let them take care of it. I’m glad I didn’t do either of those things.

Well, that happened

22 03 2011

Internet memes never really die. I still see occasional “All ur base” jokes. They have different kinds of lives, though. Some rise slowly over time like a wave that finally crashes down on pop culture before largely receding. Some show up out of nowhere, are briefly everywhere, and then more or less disappear. A few transcend mere memehood and become something more, some part of our ongoing cultural consciousness, at least for some segment of the population. I kind of hope that “well, that happened” becomes one of those latter types. Admittedly, it is often used as a punchline to cheap jokes and such, but there’s something about the inherent acceptance of things as they are in it that I really like. That happened. You can’t change it. It’s obvious that it was weird or unpleasant, but just let it go.

I have had a weird month to six weeks or so. I think I’ve done or said a few things that might have been a little off putting to some people.  I thought about blaming it on the Super Moon. I still might. 🙂  Hell, it might be the Super Moon’s fault for all I know. I think I’m just going to look back at my frame of mind from the last few weeks with “Well, that happened” as the guiding attitude. I’ll just keep attempting to do better going forward.

Is it a path?

12 03 2011

People who follow a meditation focused approach to their spirituality often refer to it as a “path”. That is such a common way of characterizing it that it took me a moment to think of some other way to phrase it. I don’t know whether it is our way of understanding the word “path” that is flawed or if the analogy itself is, but I don’t think it is adequate.  In a park or a nature preserve, you might find a path that meanders its way through a circle that takes you back to where you started. Generally, however, there is a notion of linear progress implied in the word. We start in one place and ultimately end up at a destination. I don’t know that this is true when it comes to spirituality. I find that I often end up back at the same places, re-learning the same lessons in different contexts. I will make progress and then I will falter. I will be dedicated and reap the benefits of that dedication, then I will lapse. I will know something with such powerful force that it seems to permeate my every thought and reaction for a while. Then my life will take me through something and I will see that had I remembered that which I once knew so powerfully, I might well have avoided some great amount of pain and strife.

Over the last two weeks, my meditation has been spotty. It has probably averaged just a bit more than every other day. I am about to go workout and then come back to this apartment and meditate. It is Saturday morning and my last meditation was Wednesday night. Over the last few days, I have lost whatever equanimity I am normally able to maintain. With that, my moods have been erratic. If I had been out and among people more, perhaps my behavior would have been, too. Certainly, the various ways, by phone and by internet that I communicate with my friends and family has borne witness to this.  I’m going to re-learn and re-apply some lessons now, or at the least, I hope to be able to do that. I suppose we’ll see. I’m sure at some point, I’ll be right back here writing another post that is very similar to this one. For now, I’m going to try to cut myself the same slack that I try to cut other people. No blaming, no shaming, I will let my failings over the last couple of weeks go and just endeavor to do better going forward.

more to consider

7 03 2011

I said I thought I knew what the correct answer to my last question was. I ran across this little bit from Gil Fronsdal and it certainly seems relevant,  thought I’m not sure which side of the argument it comes down on:

Giving a brief sermon, the Abbess (of a Buddhist monastery) once said, “A hot furnace does not need to be heated. A loving heart does not need to be loved. Being loving is more important than being loved.”

If the point is to be awake and present in the here and now, then certainly those memories and imaginings are harmful. Yet, in the introduction to the piece that this bit is in, he says that part of the value of the stories derives from your ability to imagine yourself in the circumstances and situations described in the stories. If those memories or imaginings bring you to a loving place and one without self pity or a feeling of loss or regret, aren’t they a tool toward cultivating a loving, open heart?

Pondering this

5 03 2011

I have found myself pondering these words with a question:

when she says the words
you long to hear
to everyone
to no one
to the aether

Pretend they’re for you
if that makes you feel better
You’re everyone
You’re no one.
You’re the aether

What if a dream makes you happy? Is it okay to live in that dream if not having it be your reality doesn’t bring you down? What if it brings you down sometimes, but not as often or as much as it makes you happy? If you remember or imagine your head on her shoulder, the feel of her hands, the myriad bits of color in her eyes and how they combine to form an impression and that’s enough, do you really do yourself a service to remember how it really is? I know the ‘correct’ answer, but is it the right one?