jakebe: (Buddhism)

There's this idea in Buddhism about the Noble Eightfold Path -- after you've taken every step along the path, what comes next? You've attained Right View and Intention, Right Speech and Action and Livelihood, Right Effort and Mindfulness and Concentration. Where do you go from there?

You attain Right View after that.

Like the wheel of karma, the Noble Eightfold Path is also a circle; reaching one spoke of the wheel brings you to the place where you can reach the next one. There is no completion, even after you attain enlightenment; there is only the work of realization of the present. One of the reasons I identify with Zen Buddhism so strongly is its acknowledgement that perfection is an illusion. Being alive is a constant balancing act, maintaining your stance while rolling with whatever bumps and turns ripple through the wheel.

It also reinforces the concept of interconnectedness. One thing leads to another, leads to another, leads to another. In this way, one act -- however small -- sends ripples through the wheel of your life that shape everything that comes after it. This is really what karma is; the awareness of the consequences of your actions, large and small, predicted and unintended.

So: my dear husband Ryan has been in Japan for nearly two weeks. He's been planning this trip for months, and I'm tremendously excited to have him back with me so I can hear about his experience and see the places he's visited. I also miss him terribly. For the past two weeks, I've lived as a bachelor -- it's just been me and my rabbit Puckles, watching TV and eating whatever we felt like sprawled out together in bed.

Except not really. The home we share is in a condominium complex that scheduled a fumigation for the weekend after he left, which meant that I would have to get everything ready for that. All of our food and medicine had to be double bagged in special material in order to avoid contamination. And I would have to clean up as much as I could, because there's no way I'm going to let strangers know just what kind of things we let slide in our household.

The work was more intensive than I expected, so it meant many late nights. I don't sleep well without Ryan anyway, so that meant trying to snatch just a little more rest well after the alarm went off. That meant being unable to meditate and ease into the day before work, which meant that I arrived at the office tired, harried and rootless. That meant being less resilient to stress, which there was plenty of last week. And that meant coming back home with my willpower depleted, my brain fried and unable to rest because there was more preparation to do. Which meant more late nights…

You get the idea. For the past two weeks I slipped into a cycle where I had all but abandoned the self-care mechanisms I had been building for a while, and the effect was dramatic. My mood plummeted, my anxiety skyrocketed and my coping mechanisms disappeared. All from staying up too late.

Except, of course, not really. The contradiction here is that I made a series of choices that put me into that cycle. I could have made more efficient use of my time, or gotten up early anyway to make the best of so little sleep. I could have asked for more help with getting the apartment together before that weekend. I could have simply sacrificed precision (I couldn't ignore the opportunity to throw away expired food and medicine) for time. Each choice I made along the way nudged me a little more firmly into that cycle, until momentum made it easy to remain there.

And once you're there, you feel stuck. Life doesn't pause for you to get your head on straight; there was still work and fumigation and everything else. Taking the time to put in the effort to get yourself off of a bad path can be difficult to find, but at a certain point it's necessary. You have to stop and take a breath.

This past weekend I managed to slow down enough to consider the choices I make. I went to bed earlier, caught up on sleep, re-established my meditation practice, and took the mindfulness I gained off the bench and into the rest of the day. I'm in a better place mentally and emotionally, but I'm still recovering. Pausing and changing momentum is still energy that must be expended. I believe I'm applying Right Concentration now, making a concerted effort to make sure the changes I make today stick.

Eventually, I'll get to a place where I can work on attaining the Right View.
jakebe: (Mythology)
I’m sure you know this story. One evening, an elder sits down with his son. The son had been getting into trouble because he had problems with anger and lashing out, so the elder tells him a quick fable. “There are two wolves fighting inside of each and every one of us,” he says. “One of them is everything that is evil within us – anger, envy, sorrow, greed. The other is everything that is good – joy, compassion, peace and kindness. Though one may gain the upper hand for a time, the other is never truly defeated. They are fighting for the nourishment that only you can provide them.”

The son thought about this for a while, then asked. “OK. Which one of them wins?”

“The one you feed,” the elder says.

I think about this story a lot. As a Zen Buddhist, I see karma as simply the kind of environment we create for ourselves; we can only control our actions, and it’s important that we understand the effect of our actions on the people and places around us. It’s important to me that I bring comfort, contentment and connection to the places I’m in, because those are the kind of spaces that attract me. If I’m going to make the kind of world I would want to live in, I need to put in the work. So I try hard to find common ground with the people I’m with, to make them feel comfortable enough that we can work through our differences, to make them feel connected enough that they won’t fear me rejecting them for a disagreement. I don’t always succeed, but that’s the aim. That’s the kind of person I want to be.

But here’s something else. I self-identify as a social justice warrior. I know that’s a loaded label; most of the time it’s used by people who mean it as an insult. The narrative for social justice warriors is one of immediate, unthinking and overwhelming anger against anything that could be viewed as remotely offensive. If you say something politically incorrect, then the social justice warriors will grab their pitchforks and come after you. They’re the thought police of the internet.

I take on that moniker because I believe in the causes championed by many who’ve been derided as such. I occupy many different intersecting minority spaces, being gay, black, non-Christian and coping with chronic mental illnesses. I know what it’s like to move through a world that hasn’t been built for you, and I’ve experienced on a day-to-day basis what it’s like to have your existence questioned, dismissed or belittled. I’ve also experienced how occupying many privileged spaces has made my life easier in many respects; I’m a cisgender male, I’m able-bodied, I’m reasonably educated, have medical insurance and a support network. My illnesses aren’t so severe that I can’t function in modern society. There are people who have more fundamental challenges than I do.

So I fight for them, and I fight for the people who are dealing with the same challenges I do. I believe in a world where we clearly see, understand and accept the unique challenges and burdens of our fellow human beings. I believe we ought to live in a society that provides them with whatever they need to be healthy, happy and whole. I believe in fighting for a shift in our consciousness around these issues; it’s not enough that I personally believe these things – we as a civilization must address the needs of our most vulnerable and powerless. We must make sure they can be connected to the fabric of society just as well as those of us who don’t need additional considerations. I’m willing to work to make sure that happens, however I can.

This is a mindset I’ve come by recently, to be sure. As a progressive, it’s sort of my job to continually test and reshape my understanding of how the world works, my place in it, and how society should function. I absorb new information and ideas about the human experience, including the really fundamental concepts that we often take for granted. My views have evolved from where they were one year ago, and hopefully they’ll have improved still further a year from now. Change is a constant in so many ways, and that must be embraced.

However, I understand why so many of us in progressive spaces have the reputations we do. We’re passionate, we can be uncompromising, and we’re fierce believers in our way of life. For so many of us, especially as minorities, the ability to organize into a community and speak in a way we can be heard is very new. The power that affords us is intoxicating, and we’re still learning how to wield it responsibly. But for the first time we can say that the frequent targeting, incarceration, abuse and murder of our black men, women and children is unacceptable. We can say that it’s unacceptable for our transgender men and women to be forced through a parade of humiliating ordeals just to “prove” their gender to people who have no business policing that concept. We can say that each and every one of us occupy space of privilege as well as under-privileged spaces, and it’s important for us to recognize that and accept what it means. What’s more, when we say it loudly enough, forcefully enough, people have no choice but to hear us. We have the power to force a conversation about these issues, and we need to because otherwise the vulnerable among us will continue to suffer and die at the hands of a society that’s only interested in keeping things exactly as they are.

If you’re not a part of these spaces, or you don’t hold the same views about society, privilege and our individual responsibilities to our community, then it may seem like I’m forcing you to talk about ideas that don’t make sense. When you ask (or demand) that I explain these ideas in a way that makes sense to you and I respond with “It’s not my job to educate you” or a dismissal of that request, it can be tremendously frustrating. When you tell me that you don’t agree or explain your position and I respond by shouting down your ideas or making personal attacks and moral judgements, it can be enraging and only encourage you to dig in your heels. I understand that.

It’s taken me some time to reconcile my identity as a Zen Buddhist with my identity as a social justice warrior. Spending time in activist spaces, I see how so many of them have become hornet’s nests of anger and frustration. For so many of us, this is a life-and-death struggle. For so many of us, people like Michael Brown and Freddie Gray (remember them?) don’t happen in a vacuum. They’re not aberrations or miscarriages of justice. They’re the end result of a system working as designed.

So many of us in progressive circles are afraid about what happens to us when someone decides that our differences will not be accepted. As a black man, will I be harassed by the police while I’m driving? As a gay man, will I be targeted for expressing love towards my husband in public? As a non-Christian, hearing the rhetoric in our politics about anyone who doesn’t go to church is disheartening. And these are anxieties I carry with my all day, every day.

We’re tired of being afraid. We’re tired of living in a world where speaking up means being shouted down or dismissed. We’re tired of feeling like we have to justify our existence. And that fear, fatigue and anger has reached a point where it’s simply taken over these spaces.

I understand why that has happened, and I hope other people do too. But…at this point it feels like we’re feeding the wrong wolf. We’ve given ourselves over to this anger and it means that we’ve become unable to actually affect change. When someone comes to us trying to understand why we say or do the things we say or do, it’s an opportunity to actually explain our position, to connect with someone else, to actually act on our principles and change the world. When we shut that person down with “It’s not my job” or anger, then we’ve missed that change. The disconnection deepens; that person becomes unable to speak with us because they don’t want to be subjected to that anger again.

Not every situation in which we’re asked to explain our position is an opportunity, and I know that too. But I’ve seen too many people turned away at the gate of our spaces because anger and dismissal is our default response. A lot of us have come to see the world as a more hostile place then it is, and we respond accordingly. We’ve fed the dark wolf until it has overpowered our better nature.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve come to the decision that this cycle has to stop somewhere. We can’t keep alienating those who disagree with us, and we can’t keep shouting down the people who haven’t arrived to the exact same conclusions we have. If we expect to change the world, we have to change the minds of the people living there. And we can’t do that with the tone of the conversation we’ve been having in and around these topics.

Inevitably, this opinion is going to be called “tone policing” or “concern trolling” because I’m more interested in the tone of the conversation than the subject. Since I’ve owned the social justice warrior moniker, I’ll go ahead and own the label of tone policing too. Fine, I’m advocating that we consider our tone. You know why? BECAUSE OUR TONE IS IMPORTANT.

The emotions that we deal with as minorities are certainly valid. It’s OK to be angry. It’s OK to be tired. And it’s OK to be afraid. There is a lot that’s wrong with the world we live in, and we’ve been fighting the same battles for a very long time. Sometimes, it’s even OK to let that anger fuel our actions; we can rise up and state in no uncertain terms that we will not tolerate unfair or extreme treatment from a power structure that is supposed to protect us from it.

However, different situations call for different actions, regardless of our emotional state. It’s important to consider what we want out of our conversations. Are we hoping to express ourselves in a way that gets someone to see the world the way we do? If that’s the case, what’s the best way to do that? Making someone feel bad about what they believe rarely changes their mind, from my experience. Making them feel kinship with you stands a much better chance. It can be more difficult, and a lot more frustrating, but ultimately it’s much more effective.

Explaining why a certain statement or action is offensive requires patience and compassion. If we truly want the behavior to cease, then we must get the person engaging in it to understand what’s wrong with it and what would be a better course of action. People aren’t willing to examine themselves if they feel attacked; they close themselves off as a protective measure. In order to soften habits, we must allow them to be vulnerable. We must respect that vulnerability and treat it gently. That is difficult, if not impossible to do when you’re angry. So we must find a way to temper that anger.

I understand where the anger of progressives comes from; in many ways, I share it. But I also realize that I must remain vigilant against the effect of that anger. I don’t want to feed the wrong wolf, because that pulls me away from the person I would like to be, which pulls me away from the world I would like to create. I do my best to feed my compassion, my joy, my kindness by acting on those emotions, even when it’s difficult. Especially when it’s difficult.

I think in order for social justice warriors to be effective in combat, we’re going to need to start doing the same.
jakebe: (Default)
Last Wednesday I went to the Kannon Do Zen Centre up in Mountain View to hear Natalie Goldberg speak. A friend had invited me to see her, and when do you get a chance to actually meet the writer of Writing Down The Bones? Of course, I had to go.
It was a bit of a shock to see the Zen Centre right there in the middle of Mountain View, just a small way from downtown. The grounds were immaculate, the neighborhood was quiet, and everything there was geared towards one purpose -- the practice of Zen and the encouragement of mindfulness. I was really impressed with it, and introduced to a community of practitioners who were all striving for the same thing.
We meditated first. My friend asked if I wanted to sit in a chair, and I told him I would probably be able to hang on a cushion. That turned out to be a big mistake. I meditate on a seiza bench at home; it's basically a tiny little bench meant to hold your butt up off of your heels when you're kneeling. I'm way too inflexible for half-lotus, and I'm pretty sure I'd break my legs if I tried full-lotus. (I'm still marvelling that anyone can manage that pose. It's like they have cartoon noodle legs). Sitting seiza, though, is not the best without some sort of barrier between your rear and your heels. If you're not tiny (and I am not), then it doesn't take long for your lower legs to fall asleep. After that, any shift you make will send a horde of angry ants skittering from your ankle to your kneecap.
At first I could hang, but the second half of the meditation session was pure agony. I shifted out of seiza, awkwardly tried the half-lotus before I gave that up too, and just sort of ended up hugging my knees and resting my chin on my legs. It's a horribly undignified way to meditate, but nothing brings you into the present moment quite like shame.
After meditation, there was a brief chant. I had never experienced anything like it before! We chanted the "Great Wisdom Beyond Wisdom Heart Sutra," which is this:
Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva when deeply practicing prajna paramita clearly saw that all five aggregates are empty and thus relieved all suffering. Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness, emptiness itself form. Sensations, perceptions, formations, and consciousness are also like this. Shariputra, all dharmas are marked by emptiness; they neither arise nor cease, are neither defiled nor pure, neither increase nor decrease. Therefore, given emptiness, there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no formation, or consciousness; no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of sight…no realm of mind consciousness. There is neither ignorance nor extinction of ignorance…neither old age and death, nor extinction of old age and death; no suffering, no cause, no cessation, no path; no knowledge and no attainment. With nothing to attain a bodhisattva relies on prajna paramita and thus the mind is without hindrance. Without hindrance, there is no fear. Far beyond all inverted views, one realizes nirvana. All buddhas of past, present, and future rely on prajna paramita and thereby attain unsurpassed, complete, perfect enlightenment. Therefore, know the prajna paramita as the great miraculous mantra, the great bright mantra, the supreme mantra, the incomparable mantra, which removes all suffering and is true, not false. Therefore we proclaim the prajna paramita mantra, the mantra that says “Gate gate paragate parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!”
Something came over me in the recitation of this sutra. It felt like something came unlocked, this idea that there is nothing to attain because whatever we could strive for is illusory; and once you realize that, the very idea of holding on to something -- or scrambling to achieve it -- just doesn't hold any weight. When you realize that, fear simply leaves you.
Fear is something I struggle with all the time. The past couple of weeks have shown me that I'm a very tightly wound person. I'm terrified of making mistakes. It frightens me to talk about something that means a lot to me and have it dismissed or rejected. I hate the idea of stretching myself out, of being in a place where I'm not certain. But that's where life is; and as much as you strive for the comfort of knowing exactly where you are and what you're doing, you will actually spend very little time there. That comfort, that stability, is illusory and impermanent; attaching so much of my emotional energy to it is a thing that causes me suffering.
Natalie spoke, after chanting and a period of silent reflection while a few associates navigated through technical difficulties. She talked about living in (and hating) Palo Alto, and how it taught her to be careful what you hate because so much energy goes into that act. She talked about being diagnosed with cancer and how it stopped her writing cold but channeled her creative output into painting. Her work there was interesting; warm, vibrant yet serene, touched by her New Mexico lifestyle while still capturing pieces of the setting she was in. Her self-portraits were the most interesting, capturing the fear, worry and sadness she couldn't express in words.
I was impressed mostly by the softness with which she lived her life. She was very gentle with her words and her tone, as if she knew that she didn't need to use pressure to get at the truth she was trying to communicate. There was a deep and abiding acceptance in everything she did, even when she spoke about the cancer that had frightened her so. That discomfort was something she knew intimately and embraced just as much as everything else.
Silicon Valley is not a place that lends itself to that softness. It's a fast-paced, high-powered world, and it's not conducive to slow and ponderous attention to one thing. It's difficult to know how to attain that soft and gentle attitude. The current teacher of Kannon Do, Les Kaye, wrote Zen At Work and actually worked at IBM for 30 years before becoming a Zen teacher. I think he understands the unique challenge of marrying Zen practice to the tech sector, which is pretty neat.
The intimacy and care with which the community of Kannon Do related to the space and with one another is something I'll remember for a long time. There are a number of things within my calendar right now, so I'm not sure if it'll be possible right now to attend services regularly. It's definitely something I will make time for, however. Just being there for one warm summer evening gave me an awful lot to chew over, and for that I'm grateful.
jakebe: (Politics)
Learning how to navigate the minefield of work in corporate America has been a fascinating learning process. I'm learning a lot more about how to deal with a wide variety of different personalities with different goals, while still trying to get things done. It's frustrating, confusing, but ultimately I've learned that I'm really interested in it. I try to bring in a Zen mindset by reminding myself that the person I'm speaking with has their own perspective, and they've arrived where they have through a set of circumstances and decisions that make sense to them. If a behavior is baffling or illogical to me, I try to remind myself that it's only because I don't have the information that they do. Even if someone has a bad reason for doing something, it's still a *reason*. Most people try to do the best they can with what they have. You have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Still, there are a lot of times where I find myself digging in my heels on something. I'm a bit of an idealist, which is one of the worst things you can be when you're in a position of working with others to get things done. I get it into my head that there's a certain way things should be, based on my limited perspective and experience, and I'll draw a line in the sand. Once that happens, my coworkers are no longer individuals with their own ideas; they're obstructions between me and my goal. They're not people who have the same desire to be understood that I do. They're deficient because they don't hold the same values that I do. It's hard to pinpoint exactly where a coworker stops being a collaborator and starts being an enemy, but that turning point is a subtle but fundamental shift. That perception inhabits everything you do from that point on.

In the day-to-day business of making sure my job gets done, it's easy for me to get so close to my perspective that it basically overcomes my way of thinking. I'm almost positive that this is something that happens to everyone: you believe a few things that should be fundamental, objectively true, and you're baffled that anyone else could think differently. What's best for the department/company/nation/planet is obvious, so much so that anyone who disagrees must simply not be looking out for the best interests of the collective you're thinking about.

It's a short jump from the personal to the political, here. It's easy to think that our fellow citizens across the aisle must not have America's best interests at heart because, well, how could they? For Republicans, it must seem that liberals just want to bankrupt the country giving everyone free rides. Maybe to them, programs like the ACA (and Medicare, and Social Security before that) only contributes to a culture of entitlement that leads to a lazy, soft-working society. And to folks like me, Republicans seem like heartless assholes who are only concerned about themselves and have no sense of compassion or responsibility to the society we're all engaged in.

I'm perfectly willing to admit the biases I have due to the limits of my perspective and personality. It's difficult to remember just how subjective a lot of my "objective truths" are. I think the one of the basic problems in our society, political and otherwise, is the lack of ability to step outside yourself and remember that the person at cross purposes with you is actually just like you; you have the same goals, but vastly different perspectives on what those goals look like and how to get there. If we could understand what those goals look like to someone else, maybe we could stand a better chance at communicating with them and coming to some sort of compromise that gets us both closer to where we want to be.

I'll be trying to recenter my perspective at work to remember that my coworkers are collaborators, not enemies. Maybe there's a way to make my perspective known and understood, and reach out to make sure I understand theirs, too. Once we know what we're looking at, we can start talking about how to get where we both want to be.
jakebe: (Buddhism)
It's taken me a very long time to understand what meditation is for. When I first started to practice, I assumed that the time I'd spend on the bench was in preparation for something else. By sitting down and counting my breath (one-in-out-two-in-out) my brain was being molded in a way that would manifest elsewhere. I assumed that meditation was a ritual, and that like most magic it would work in ways I wasn't looking for, that it would surprise me with its effectiveness when I needed it to. An incredibly stressful situation would arise, and suddenly I would get through it with grace, focus and clarity without knowing how it happened. One day, just like Neo in The Matrix, my eyes would open and I would simply see everything for what it is. Instead of lines of code, I would see another person, sharing the same air that I was, wanting the same things I did, no different from me at all. I'd put in the time, and there would be a reward later, a mysterious effect disconnected from its cause by time and thought.

That's a completely shitty idea. I know that now, of course, but I didn't then. It took me a few years of sporadic meditation to understand that meditation isn't a preparation for anything. It's an act, it's *doing*, and that you're expected to take the focus and awareness you cultivate on the bench and carry it with you through your day. Meditation isn't a ritual that pays dividends down the line -- it's the beginner's version of how Buddhists are expected to move through life itself.

It can't start out any easier. You simply sit down, and pay attention. The ideal thing is to pay attention to whatever is happening in the moment without attaching to it; when you attach to it, the thought carries you away from the present along a stream of associated thoughts and moods. When that happens, let it go, then return to where you are. It takes practice to maintain that presence, but the idea is that when you do you find yourself responding to what arises in a much more centered way. And the bench isn't the only place where this happens. Meditation is a practice you can cultivate wherever you are, whatever you're doing.

That's one of the things I've been trying to focus on recently. My meditation practice is as spotty as ever, I'm afraid (I've never been one to develop good habits), but even when I don't manage to sit on the bench I've been trying to really pay attention to what I'm doing when I do it. If I catch myself getting stressed at work, I take a moment to step back from that emotion, figure it out and move on. It really helps when you're dealing with anxious or angry customers I've found; instead of taking a remark or behavior and being carried away by it, I can try to anchor myself and focus on a need that's being expressed.

And that's a huge deal to me. I come from a long life of depression, which is a pretty self-centered condition to have. You get used to thinking in circles around yourself; everything comes back to you, how you're deficient in some way, how no one could ever love you, so forth and so on. Even managing it, it's difficult to learn to step outside of yourself if you don't work for it. That's what meditation does for me; it provides me a way to step outside of myself, simply by being active in my awareness and focusing on my surroundings, other people, or feelings as they arise and fade. That helps me relate to people better, it helps me solve problems more quickly and easily, and it helps me to understand people and their perspectives without warping it through my own.

One of the reasons I'm talking about this is to try and explain my perspective in the hopes of encouraging people to explain theirs. Meditation helps me quite a bit, but I know a lot of people really aren't into it. I'm curious about what other folks think about it -- is it useful to you, if you practice regularly? Did you try it for a while, but find no good use for it? What do you do instead, if you have something that centers you? How does it work?

I think it's important to have a way to remember the things that are important for you, no matter who you are and what you believe. Meditation is mine. What's yours?
jakebe: (Meditation)
I picked up this book from Dainin Katagiri several years ago, because the title just leapt out and grabbed me so strongly. You have to say something: Manifesting Zen Insight. It was a pretty big dilemma for me at the time, and it's an issue that continues to dog me to this day. What in the world could I possibly say about Buddhism? If I couldn't explain myself to the people around me, have I really learned anything? If someone were to try and pick my brain about my beliefs on the spot, chances are I'd end up tongue-tied and frustrated. What makes sense to me intrinsically becomes this baffling and weak train of logic if I try to put it in words.

But as I get older I realize the vast importance of speaking and acting on the things you've learned. It's not enough to go up to the mountain and stare at a wall until you've reached enlightenment. It's definitely a good thing, to go into a hermitage, to find your personal connection with the divine in your own way. But every once in a while, you have to come back down. You have to talk about what you know, what you don't, and how each of those pieces make you who you are. Discussion is just as important as silence. Action is just as important as sitting. In order to truly understand a lesson you think you know, you have to find out how it translates from being an idea to being an action. If your spirituality doesn't change how you act, if it doesn't make you more engaged in the world around you, in my opinion it's failing to do its job.

Earlier this year I was asked to help with the Spirituality track at Further Confusion 2010. It's always been one of my favorite things about FC, so I accepted. It's really exciting to be able to take care of this conversation, and what I hope to do is give people a forum to voice how their spirituality has changed them and driven them to act on the principles of their faith. I know that the current political climate has made this a really unattractive idea, and especially in the furry fandom spirituality hasn't enjoyed the best reputation (*especially* if you're Christian), but I think it's important for us to have a dialogue about how faith can be a tool for something positive.

We don't have to agree about where our spirituality takes us, and we probably never will. But I think it is important for us to realize where we're coming from, and to know how we differ and where we agree. Tolerance and respect don't come from being completely segregated. I think that people of all backgrounds can mingle and even debate with respect. That's what I would love for the Spirituality track to help accomplish.

Right now there isn't much that's solidified, but I would love it if we could find someone to speak about Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Atheism...all with an eye towards a furry bent, of course. I would also love to put together some sort of Sunday morning interfaith service, a spirituality round-table, and other panels designed to encourage dialogue among differing views. If you or someone you know would be interested in helping with this, please let me know. It would be great to hear from you!

Ultimately, spiritual people far too often feel like their faith is something that should only be intimate, that it has no place in the social sphere. I think it's important for us to be mindful of people who have no place for it in their lives, but at the same time I think it's time for us to speak up, not just in words, but in deed. The time has come to say something.
jakebe: (Zen)
I haven't posted an awful lot about Buddhism recently. Well, to be fair, I haven't posted a lot about anything recently. I think I've gotten to a point in my life where I'm more interested in living than talking about living -- sitting back to reflect is something that I've done in excess in the past, and I feel like it's kept me from actually doing the things that I've wanted to do.

I'm on something of an even keel now, though, so it's a good time to try and strike some kind of a balance. Living's well and good, but if you don't stop to check yourself out every now and again, how do you know if you're where you want to be? So for the next little while, this journal will be a way for me to stop and check up on what I'm doing, how I'm progressing with things that are important to me. Since Buddhism is a fairly central component in how I see myself, it only makes sense to start here.

That being said, I haven't read a Zen book in ages. This might sound arrogant, but I just don't think I need to. It's not that I've become enlightened (I'm not, by any stretch) or that there's nothing in the wisdom of masters old and new to take home with you (because there certainly is), but right now I feel the most important thing is to answer the call of immediacy in my life. No matter where I am, no matter what I'm doing, it's most important to be fully engaged in it. It feels easier and more natural for me to do this if I don't have the words of someone else in my head egging me on to do it.

This, I feel, is what all the old master are pointing you towards anyway. All of the poetry and wisdom and brilliant metaphors and shocking acts are for this very purpose, to wake you up, to put you in your own two feet, here and now. Doing this means more than being in your own head: it means stepping outside it to really see other people and understand what might be motivating them.

There's this arc in the Sandman comics that has stuck with me ever since I read it. In it, there's this blond Barbie girl (literally, that's her name) who starts out as this vapid stereotype, but as the arc goes on you see there's this entire world inside of her, with its own symbols and struggles that threaten to tear her apart or make her whole. One of the lessons you take from it is that every single person on this planet has that same condition. They're only one person, but they're also an entire world. You can never distill a reason for someone's action down to a single cause. There are multitudes of factors here. Being present means understanding that, navigating this ocean that resides in everyone you meet, determining the best course for interacting with them. It's not necessarily something you can think about. But it is something you can do.

Anyway, I have a lot to learn still when it comes to this. But I'm learning by experience instead of books. The zazen -- which is the heart of all Zen practice -- is still rocky, but I've learned to take the idea off the meditation bench and into my life. When I feel myself daunted by the blank page, I take a deep breath, and I type the first word, and then the next. When I feel myself getting frustrated or hurt, or wanting to withdraw from whoever I'm with, I take a deep breath, I place myself where I am, and I try to make the best of the situation. This is what zazen does for you; this is why you sit. And personally, I'd rather not sit and practice everywhere then only practice on the bench and forget about it when I step out of the door.

Spirituality is useless if you try to compartmentalize it. It has to permeate your entire life. You have to look at your relationships, your job, your exercise with the same mindset you use for your practice, or else it's doing you no good. You have to take the divine and put it in ever filthy corner of your life. You *must* make the spiritual vulgar. This, I believe, is what the masters say. And I just want to practice what they preach.
jakebe: (Zen)
I was invited to host a Buddhism panel at Further Confusion this year; it'll be taking place on Saturday at 5 pm, if you're interested. I'm kind of excited about the opportunity, but mostly nervous. It's been a while since I've done any kind of public speaking (in fact, I think my stand-up show at Oklacon 2004 was the last time) and this is the first time ever I've really talked about Buddhism or spirituality in front of people.

It's hard not to feel inadequate about the whole endeavor. When you get up to speak about a subject, it's not unreasonable to be expected to know what you're talking about. Do I really know enough about Buddhism to teach even the basics to a room full of people? Who am I to be speaking about this with any kind of authority? It's difficult to just see this panel for what it is: the chance to maybe help some people find a system of dealing with life that works for them. Nothing more, nothing less. I'm trying to get out of my own way about this.

The panel will be divided into three parts, or at least that's the plan. The first part will be a brief introduction to Buddhism and Zen -- where it came from, how it developed, the basic tenets and how practice works. The second part will deal with practicing Zen online -- how to be mindful when you're dealing with other people, how to be balanced with online habits, and a small spaz about Zen Master Raven, this great book by Robert Aitken. The last third will be question and answer, and, if time permits, a small five-minute zazen session for people to get a taste of meditation.

The second part is the one I'm having the most trouble with. I'm having a difficult time anticipating what sort of issues people might need to have discussed. This is where I could really use some help from you guys out there. :) What sort of questions would you want to ask about Buddhism and how it applies to online behavior? What sort of questions would you want to ask during the final section? Anything would be helpful.

Despite my shaky nerves, I'm really looking forward to seeing a bunch of you guys at the con later this month!
jakebe: (Default)
Time: 35 minutes
Distance: 3.15 miles
Speed: 6.3 mph
Calories: 322

I do believe this is a new record for me; my goal of steadily working up to 4 miles a session is progressing nicely. :D Today I did the usual five-minute warm-up, then ran at 5.5 for five minutes, worked up to 6.0 for 18 minutes, then back down to 5.5 for 5 minutes followed by a two-minute cool down. The walking belt on the treadmill is ancient, though, so it doesn't actually get to 6.0 until you set it to 6.3, and then steadily ramps up past it once you get really moving. For most of the workout I was cruising along at 6.1/6.2, with occasional bursts to top super-speed!

Does anyone actually read these exercise reports? ;)

I could have gone for longer; I added the soundtracks to Hairspray and "Once More With Feeling," and cruised for most of that. Alas, my old nemesis chafing reared its ugly head. Hopefully I will be good for Friday.

Anyway, I am very grateful for Buddhism. It sounds like a copout, but it's true. It's hard to imagine what I would be like without the discovery of Zen, though something tells me I might have wandered that way anyway without giving it a name. Zen has taught me discipline, focus, the fine art of balance and how to properly mix the divine with the vulgar. Everything is sacred. Nothing is sacred.

Now, it's off to watch stuff.


Nov. 13th, 2007 09:46 am
jakebe: (Default)
I keep skipping days! I'm a poor blogger. :)

Ah well, hopefully two posts will make up for the absence. I'm thankful for miniature golf. There's a small story behind this.

Yesterday Ryan and I got to hang out a bit with [livejournal.com profile] codyvfrost, who's a very cool and surprising guy. :) We played two rounds of mini-golf at the Golfland Arcade down on El Camino, and had the customary good time! Mini-golf is one of my favorite things because it's such a great Zen exercise; you have to keep your focus on the present if you want to sink the hole. You can't let previous bad or good holes affect the shot you're making right at that moment. Just because you got a hole-in-one last time doesn't mean you're going to ace the next one (a fact that was made painfully apparent to me several times yesterday), and one good hole can turn your entire game around. One step at a time, one shot at a time, one hole at a time. Play it and move on.

I did fairly well, all things considered, though it took me a little while to get into the groove. I blame the cold, and Vince's Pomeranian Growl(tm). Afterwards we had dinner with a few other local folks, and more good times were had by all. The end!

Right now I'm hiding in the lunch room after a stressful morning of shipping things and people asking all manner of weird questions at me. Also, people not listening when I tell them the procedure to get their things done quickly. Blah, I say! It's all right though, because right now I have a delicious PBJ sandwich. Play the hole, and move along.
jakebe: (Default)
Today is February 2nd. It's also the Snow Moon, Groundhog Day (Puxatawney Phil says we're having an early spring this year!), a Zen mindfulness day (or is that tomorrow?) and someone's birthday, somewhere.

With a day this jam-packed with holidays, it's a wonder everything's not shut down and we're all at home eating cake.

Be that as it may, today is also another late day at work for me; I'm filling in for a coworker who wants to spend his Friday night to party. I wouldn't normally mind, but after recent treatment and another paycheck without my promised raise, I'm a little bit disgruntled. I'll be spending my off time catching up on phone calls and e-mails, doing a little bit of writing, and shopping for groceries. Also, meditating.

2006 was both a great and a bad year in many ways. I'm feeling a lot more...myself now than I have at any time since high school, mostly because I just trust that the people around me care enough about me to let me be annoying if I have to, or accept things they may not take too seriously. A lot of the damage around my high school and college years is finally being re-opened and healed, and all that rest and recovery in Arkansas is coming into fruition now. Now that I have time to sit back and reflect a bit on things, I can honestly say I'm just...grateful to know everyone I know. You folks have been such awesome friends to me, it's amazing. I feel blessed to have known everyone I've known. *binkies!*

In other news, I'm already extremely interested in the 2008 presidential elections, if for no other reason than the Democrats have fielded two very strong candidates who'd make history if they got the nomination: Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama. I think sending Clinton to run in 08 would be a mistake, mostly because she's too polarizing even among her own base to make a very strong candidate. She's been handling herself well enough so far, but by the time the general election rolled around, you'd have to wonder how she would come off against, say, Guiliani. Besides, I'm not sure I entirely agree with her politics. Obama is a lot more likable (which, unfortunately, is almost the most important thing in a candidate these days), but I also dig his politics a lot more. He's the only one I've heard of who seriously considers implementing universal health care any time soon.

Anyway, [livejournal.com profile] toob pointed me to this article about Obama's potential problem with race, and the issues with our prejudices and attitudes about blacks in this country. As Senator Biden's comments suggest, white America isn't lumping us all together as ignorant, lazy, watermelon-eating scoundrels any more, but the view has been replaced by something almost as troubling -- "good Blacks" vs. "bad Blacks." There's also this perception that the black community turns on its own when one of its members, say, starts to speak proper English, wear clothes that fit, and start hanging out with members outside its minority. We tend to look up to people like 50 Cent or P. Diddy or even Al Sharpton because they represent the 'real black America,' while folks like Obama are really just sell-outs and Uncle Toms that are useless because they aren't talking about reparations or keeping it real.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Intelligent, 'real' black people are all over the community. They're not being ostracized from it (though admittedly some of them are), they're being a part of it. A lot of whether or not a black person is ultimately accepted or not, I think, depends on how strong his devotion to his community is. "Keeping it real" isn't talking about what you think the state of black America is on some news broadcast (I'm looking at you, Sharpton), it's living in your community. Facing the problems, doing something about them...going out to the broader world, but always with the knowledge that you'll return to help out the people whom you've always known. It's pretty much not forgetting where you came from, and really listening to the people you represent. Honestly, Obama does that. Folks like Sharpton and Fiddy don't. And I really believe the black community recognizes that.

But then, what do I know? I left the community for college almost ten years ago, almost never to return. My RaceCard(tm) has been canceled and cut. :)

And finally, the the strongest statement yet by the scientific community that global climate change is man-made, and serious. How many people still want to debate this?
jakebe: (Aborigine/Shamanism)
I noticed that a woman whose LiveJournal I read regularly defriended me recently, presumably for popping off about my dissatisfaction with my run-ins with totemist groups (or "weres," or whatever they're calling themselves these days), my admitted baby-newishness when it comes to seriously considering my relationship with Rabbit, or just because my journal isn't the most interesting thing to read. :) We admittedly don't interact much, even in each other's spaces, though I do love reading what she has to say. Anyways, best wishes to her and I'm sure we'll run into each other again. Apologies to her or anyone else I might have offended or disappointed.

Anyway, zazen is...zazen. :) It's a bit like riding a bicycle; when you pick it up again after an extended period away you find yourself falling into the practice easily and comfortably. The sitting gets easier very quickly, and the focus you cultivate gets easier to carry with you throughout the day. Even on days when I don't sit (and I have to admit to dropping the ball here a few times), it's easier to just be mindful of what I'm doing from moment-to-moment. It's a very cool thing to feel like you're living your practice from breath to breath, at work, at Taco Bell, in the shower, even watching television...

This combines with my writing to make me feel like...I have a better handle on who I am and how I tend to express myself. I can look at myself objectively, chuckle at myself when I'm being empty-headed, or afraid and insecure. Walking into work one morning this week it struck me how afraid I am, of everything, all the time. It also hit me how Rabbit has been gently nudging me toward recognizing how pervasive that fear has come to be, and how to begin the long and arduous work of untying all the knots that I've been developing through just being scared all the time.

I've been through an awful lot in life. Not as much as some, but a lot of bad stuff has happened to me. I've survived it, and I can be proud of that, but I didn't survive it intact. This probably happens with most people who have to deal with any sort of trauma in their lives; you find a way to cope, but not without taking a few lumps and scars. To make sure you don't have to go through that intense pain again, you deaden yourself against its source. Gradually we lose interest in new things, anything from taking a different route to work to taking a trip to a country we've never been to. We stick with the familiar because it makes us feel comfortable and safe. While there's nothing wrong with that *really*, we get accustomed to that comfort and start reacting badly towards anything will take us out of that, for good or bad. By the time we're adults we've closed ourselves to anything that deviates from the normal, cutting off most of the world for the narrow part that makes us comfortable. I do believe this is why people tend to grow more conservative when they get older. :) And this, I realize, is where I'm heading.

I don't think that my fear-based lifestyle is something unique to someone with my background or experience. It happens to everyone, all the time, in different ways. When you realize this, that most everyone around you does a lot of the things they do out of fear, it changes the world you look at the world. You're able to let a lot of people off the hook; people aren't assholes, they're just frightened.

Rabbit teaches this. He also teaches what to do with this fear; not to move around it, or hide it, or ignore it. He teaches you how to deal with the fear directly, to befriend it. Without learning this (even before I knew this was what I was learning), I doubt I could have made the move to California, or start awakening to so many other things now that I'm here. It feels like I'm waking up to the world entire after taking a big nap. :)

I realize this quite possibly sounds excessively New Age. Well, fine. Perhaps. But this is where I am right now. There are a lot of scary things in the world, and in my life, even, that I feel more equipped to deal with now than I would have been, say, a year ago.

There's a book called After the Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield, that describes the path of the spiritual, all the way up to encounters with satori and enlightenment. His idea is to chronicle what happens afterwards; how do Zen masters deal with unruly teenagers and people cutting them off in traffic? Believe it or not, enlightenment is some magical spiritual stasis that people remained locked into; you may have all the grace and wisdom of the Buddha, but you still might want to curse out that jerk who took the last parking spot.

The first part of the book details the spiritual journey, from those initial callings to quest for...answers, or comfort, or truth-with-a-capital-T. At some point, your search for meaning in the world at large reflects back into a search for *your* nature. And, as you peel the layers you've covered yourself with, you'll find grief, fear, anger, regret and sorrow over things you thought very long buried, according to Kornfield. This has been largely my experience with my practice; no matter what I keep coming back to the same issues with my birth mother, my adopted mother and father, old boyfriends, friends, teachers, mentors, people I respected, people who slighted me, turning over incidents time and time again, re-opening wounds so they can be properly tended to. It's a process.

Anyway, a lot of folks asked about what Rabbit is 'for', and that's what I think. That's the kind of work I've been doing with him. As for whether Rabbit is really a spirit guide or just a convenient subconscious construct, I'm still not sure. It helps, is all I know.

Wonder Boy

Dec. 15th, 2006 07:12 am
jakebe: (zen-coyote)
Last night I dreamed I was an eight-foot squirrel, with dreadlocks. I kept forgetting how big I was until I would go walking in the hallways of this school/mall/condominium thing and my ears would touch the ceiling, and my paws would make a lot of noise whenever I tromped through. It was...admittedly strange, but kind of nice.

This morning I can't get Tenacious D out of my head. Maybe they're connected, maybe not.

So, sports. One of the things that have been fascinating me lately about them is how...fundamentally ingrained they seem to be. No one knows why people dig sports, but people have always dug sports. The Romans, the Greeks, the Mesopotamians(!)...you can go back before written histories to ancient tribes that just learned the trick of hunting and gathering, and chances are there's some kind of sport that has been handed for generations. A crude, city-wide version of soccer is rumored to have been played in the jungles of South America, lacrosse is said to have been invented by ancient Native American tribes. Whatever our reasons for playing sports, they're fundamentally attached to who we are as people.

There's got to be an anthropologically-oriented paper or study about it somewhere, right? Perhaps a history of sport as it relates to human culture. The best reason for our attraction to sports so far (and this is pure conjecture) is it once taught us how to be in shape, how to have quick reflexes in both mind and body, how to run and jump and throw. Rabbits chase each other, wolves wrestle and practice their takedowns, we throw and kick balls around.

As we started to gather into larger communities, our sports grew larger and more complex as well. We started incorporating strategy and group mentality in our play; each person had a specific function that helped the team as a whole work as a machine. This mental state could carry over into conflicts with other tribes and city-states quite well.

So are the sports of today the last remaining marks of a vestigial need in human society? We don't need to learn how to kick and throw quite as much as we did back when it was a matter of survival, and we don't engage in very personal battle almost at all. Maybe the reason these things are blown up as much as they are today is we need to pay an homage to the time that sport was merely preparation for something useful or more noble. Or maybe sport is just something fun that's gotten way out of hand. Research continues...

I've started zazen again. Roughly 18 - 20 minutes every day, at home or work. I'm thinking it might be a good idea to sit again in the evenings just before bed; it's a good way to let go of the stresses of the day before I sleep, and hopefully it will help with the bruxing. Mostly, though, I've been missing my spiritual practice, and now that things have finally settled down after the move, it's time to pick it up again.

There's also the matter of working more closely with Rabbit. I haven't been paying much attention to the totemic side of things for a while now; there were a few things that happened with Raven that just dropped me out entirely. Things have been steadily getting better for some time, but now I'm getting the feeling that my practice needs some kind of shape. I can't quite exist in the vague any more; it's simply unsatisfying.

The problem here is I don't have a clear idea of where to even start, possibly because I'm not sure how totemism fits into my world-view. Is Rabbit some part of my subconscious given shape so that self-discipline is cuter and more fuzzy? Is it an actual spirit? Where does it come from? What does it want? How does our relationship work? I know how we tend to work, and it goes well for us, but is this 'typical'? Is there a book I should be reading for proper care and maintenance of my spirit animal?

I'm always very reluctant to talk about this to people, because most folks who are likewise into totemism are very quick to look down on people who are young and earnest, and who don't already have the "I got MY shit together" posture down. Most of the groups I've tentatively approached have this n00b-hating vibe that really rubs me raw. If you don't know, who are you supposed to ask? Most other folks will give you (at the very best) odd looks if you broach the subject. "Excuse me, I'd like to learn how to be a better friend to my invisible rabbit. Can you help me?" That type of stuff doesn't fly very well, even in a Unitarian Universalist church.

Then again, perhaps this frustration with the 'right' group is telling me I really should be pursuing this on a solitary level. Find what works for me, and develop from there. And above all, don't be so afraid of doing the 'wrong thing' that I'm paralyzed and can't experiment. The worst thing that could happen is running into a dead end, and then it's only a matter of tracking back and finding a different way to achieve the same effect.

Hmm. Research continues, here, too.

South Side

Feb. 13th, 2006 05:46 pm
jakebe: (Skunk!)
Hey! Here's the flip side to the Johari meme that's been going around. If you said kind things about me through Johari, first of all thanks. ;) Secondly, go and tell me what I should probably work on. Trust me, I'll appreciate it! Even if I have to sulk about it sometime later.

The weekend was interesting. Friday night I was in Cy's Werewolf: the Apocalypse game, which is presumably going on hiatus because one of our esteemed players (Jim, a.k.a. Todd/"The Toby") has to take on a second job. This was the last game we had to set things right for a while, so we took the opportunity and ran with it.

I could say a lot about it, but it's probably best reserved for Smiley Dan's LiveJournal. Now that there's a hiatus I'll have a bit of time to catch up on it. I think I'm going to just be open with everything and have full disclosure, because I really just...eh, don't want to mess with trying to find ways to talk about everything without...you know, blowing the cover that Dan's supposed to have in the WoD. Hopefully we can disconnect the LiveJournal from the game proper so that repercussions won't fall on the party's collective head.

Anyway, because of the wonderfulness that is Storyteller combat (and the fact that everyone was blowing Rage like candy for extra actions), the game lasted until 5:30 in the morning...with me needing to go to work at 9. Didn't get any sleep, went in to work, and was a zombie from 2 p.m. to the time I got to go to bed sometime Saturday evening. I really would rather not repeat an instance like that, if it's all the same.

Sunday I just hung around on-line; Virginia gave me my Valentine's Day present, which was really sweet of her. :) It's a...Tao Stones meditation set. Two sets of eight stones, one made of wood, the other made of rock, and you pull one from each to get your fortune. Really neat, though the ultimate results are kind of weird. I'm not sure I agree with the opinions ("truths" if you will) expressed in the book, but it's fun to think about anyway.

Then there was Odis' Gummi Bear game on Sunday evening. After three weeks, I'm finally starting to come around and have fun with it. The benevolent slant is coming a lot easier and with that major hurdle out of the way I can start having fun with my character trait. All it takes is learning the 'secret handshake' of you know, no killing under any circumstances. Last night, all of us put our heads together, came up with a non-violent plan for the immediate problem and with our unique skill sets we executed it *perfectly*. Well, near-perfectly. There's something about getting together, coming up with a fairly complex plan of action, and watching everything fall into place. It's just...joyous. :) There really does need to be a lot more co-operation between players like this in D+D games, in general.

Also, we've...'adopted' a poor runaway kid who thinks he's a squirrel. This is a long story in and of itself, but it doesn't seem like there's a lot we can do about it...except maybe find a 'baleful polymorph' spell to, you know, actually *make* him a squirrel. The human body, as simliar to monkeys and apes as it is, really isn't meant for climbing and cracking acorns. ;)

Good lord, I'm such a geek.

So, I've got a dental appointment with a Dr. Henderson for Wednesday at 10 a.m. for a second opinion. The check will only cost $45 as long as I can get the x-ray from Dr. Beavers, and then we'll see what's what and go from there. I'm expecting fillings to be a bit less (Henderson uses porcelain also), but if they're not I'll have to bite the bullet and go with Beavers. Either way, I think I'll be able to get the most pressing stuff done with my tax return. *keeps his fingers crossed* I've been pretty good about flossing (about four times a week) and using the flouride rinse, so hey... My gums have stopped bleeding which is definitely a good thing.

I've made a menu for the week! Tonight, I'll be making pasta with red sauce, chicken and corn. I've got mushrooms and peppers and onions, along with spices, to experiment with making my own red sauce (using canned tomato sauce as a base), and I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out. I'm planning to add oregano and pepper and basil to it so far...any recommendations for other good spices to add?

Let's see; ah, there's a Zen meditation group meeting tonight at a church near work. I've been there a few times and I like the crowd all right, but my boss has joined recently and the group's gotten a fair bit bigger since I last went there. I'm curious to see what kind of sangha's developed (if any). The fellow who leads it is a guy named Jack; he wrote a lot of Sunset gardening books in his day and travels extensively. He's pretty much atheist Zen, which works just fine because he focuses more on the "Zen" and less on the "Buddhism." I'll have to explain the quotes later, because I still have work to do.

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