So, I got a FB message from my cousin in NYC today. She was feeling all sad due to the fact that it’s Yom Kippur and all (Day of Atonement in the Jewish tradition), and that, combined with fasting all day, can lead a person to feeling more than just a bit down at the mouth, if you pardon the expression.
In her message are her thoughts and feelings about times gone by where she wishes now, that she had behaved better - in life and in relationship. She wished she’d been nicer, more - you know, all those things we want in relationship, golden rule behavior and so on.
So…since she and I grew up basically in the same tradition, and since I became a Buddhist about seven or eight years ago, and because I love her, I found myself suddenly ruminating about this holiday and wanting to write something which might help reduce her suffering. And that led to me writing this right now as an offering to others out there, Jewish or not, who wrestle with suffering and making mistakes and wondering what the hell to do about it. (As a note, I’m all in favor of appropriating and celebrating any tradition’s holidays or festival days, if they suit you and provide some benefit for yourself and others.)
So, here I am thinking about Yom Kippur, through a more Buddhist lens, or rather more correctly, through this Buddhist’s lens. I make no bones about being any sort of expert on Buddhism, the mind or suffering. In fact, my own grasp on the peregrinations of my own mind are quite rudimentary at best and I still suffer from the usual stuff as much as the next person.
Anyway, I think of Yom Kippur as a welcome chance to pause and reflect. A time for making changes to modes of thinking, speaking or acting which have produced harm in the past. I used to beat myself up about it and wallow in all the occasions I could dredge up, which showed, no - which proved - what a shitty daughter, friend, wife etc. I’d been in the past year. In fact why stop there, let’s go back to when I was five! But who is helped by that? Many years of this dredging and wallowing, and I could still be a total pill, to quote my brother. I wasn’t making the kinds of changes that could have made a difference. I wasn’t acquiring any wisdom or insights.
I know, because I’ve experienced it, that there can be a culture within some Jewish communities (by which I mean families or larger groups) for self-flagellation, transforming the practices of Yom Kippur so they become more hair-shirt Catholic in nature. But I don’t think that’s helpful for anyone and only makes the observant person feel bad without producing something new and wonderful for the future.
Of course, you and I and everyone else out there sometimes mis-step. And sometimes we do it really badly and people get hurt. But rather than dragging those mis-steps around with us, maybe we could just use the simple act of acknowledging them, penetrating them to understand what happened (cause and effect) apologizing as needed, and then releasing them like the many balls of fluff, soap bubbles, or flashes of lightning that they are? Then we might bring our intention for mindfully doing it, living our lives together differently, with a heart/mind poised for benefit in the next moments, next times; this seems more positive and more beneficial.
The past is over - all that we own, is what we think, say or do right here and now. And that right now? It’s a gift, isn’ it? Which, to dredge up yet another staple of ruminations like this, that is the obvious and homely cliché, that is why we call it, the present.
I wish everyone a good Yom Kippur, to every being out there, seen and unseen, large and small, known and unknown; I wish for us to swim together in this river of life called right now, mindfully, our hearts and minds dedicated not to creating harm but rather to being of benefit for ourselves, for all of us.
He used his chest voice. Even over the phone, she could hear the rumble, sure and solid as a freight train, running deep into the night.
One thing’s for sure, there’s a whole world out there, worlds within worlds and mostly, we don’t want to know nothing about them. We want to stay inside our houses, behind the nice little gates we’ve erected, cuddled up to our illusions, like a campfire in the backyard. But it’s the shadows of those campfires you have to watch out for. Flickering black and orange, what’s light and what’s dark? Who knows where something begins and ends, what’s good and what’s evil or how the two are tied together like twins.
Well, okay four things…
1. Not having to rush off anywhere
3. The NY Times on the couch (windows open breeze blowing through the windows)
4. The Pilsen Community Farmer’s Market right behind our apartment (Local vegg, artisanal cheeses, vegan tamales, an amazing baker, all organic stuff, friends - and, oh, lots of dogs.) If you,live in the area you should come to this market. Today there’s even a free health fair!
I’m offering another writing class at Powell’s Books UIC next Thursday (6-8:30pm) Writers of all stripes welcome. We’ll play with using images as writing prompts and focusing on action. Hope you can join us. Register now. Limited class size.
"Bodhi means being awake, and sattva means a living being, so bodhisattva means an awakened being. All of us are sometimes bodhisattvas, and sometimes not." (Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding)
So,today, let’s try together to be awake enough not to cling to what we think we know is the truth so that when truth comes “knocking at our door,” we will be able to open up the door and let it in.
Our willingness to transcend our old “knowledge” will allow us to pursue a path of ongoing development, from moment to moment and our knowledge, wisdom, compassion - our understanding of reality can flow like water penetrating everything. Nothing will be able to block this.
With water, many good wise trees may grow.
Fiction Writing Workshop - $20.00 Class
What story have you been itching to tell but just haven’t found your way to the page yet? Whether you have an idea already or just the irresistible urge to write, this fun, generative workshop will help get you started.
We’ll start by talking a little bit about story structure in a way that will help you see where the bones of your own story are to be found. By examining examples from masters of the craft from a variety of media and published examples, we’ll quickly transition to getting you started on your own writing. This class is for anyone who wants to write but could use a little boost getting started. Everyone will leave with a story under way.
You will leave with new understanding of structure, character and action that will help you keep your story moving forward.
Thursday, Aug 01 2013<br/>
For More Class information or to Sign Up - http://bit.ly/1a1ksES
Listen to the Cat of Truth
Hey there y’all…you know it’s true. Everyone’s got a tale to tell. We humans are natural born (wait for it…) story tellers (not killers). We’ve been doing it since the dawn of time; sitting round the campfire while we’re waiting for the yak to roast and the kale chips to get crunchy, we swap stories.
Then we invented writing and things suddenly got wonky. RIght? Someone had the great idea that we could preserve these tales for others to enjoy later or elsewhere (…once words got portable. Thank you Gutenberg!) Thus was born a not very welcome companion to the invention of the written story, by now he’s an old monster - a bad ole bastard; we call him, Writer’s Block.
While there are several reasons why a person might get blocked, there are lots of ways out of his trap. Roland Merullo writes about this beautifully in his excellent book, Demon’s of the Blank Page. It can happen to any of us whether we’re brand new to the writing game or been at it for ages.
So, if I may suggest it, maybe you might enroll in my writing workshop Aug. 1 at Powell’s Books on the UIC campus. It’s at 6-8:30pm and all you need is a notebook, something to write with and the willingness to show up, put your butt in the chair and have some fun.
This will be the first of many workshops and while this one will be a sort of workshop sampler, future classes will tackle specific topics each week. And while the location for this year long series isn’t something I can announce yet, I can tell you - you’re going to love the space.
This is my invitation to you to come and try it out. Please share with friends. It’s always more fun to go on an adventure together. The first class is only $20. And you know you already spend more than that on Monsters or Rockstars or coffee. Don’t you? Why yes you do…confession time!
It’s early but not as early as it was when I first awoke today while the light was still not up in the sky. Yesterday the heat and humidity were so much that outside it was literally steaming. And usually I hate the heat but I tried to just know it, be amazed that air and water and temperature could combine this way, producing a liquid, breathable soup. So now this morning, up early and after sitting, I look forward to the chance to ride my bike through the swimmy, shimmering air to teach a brand new class in critical thinking.
I know what the usual prescription is for this class and feel today that compared to the miracle of mindfulness of simple air and coffee and reading a good book and feeling the air coming and going in and out of the nose, that all those prescriptions are tepid at best, they make the mind feel dull and lost.
I think we should sit and breathe and become aware that we are together in the classroom for some purpose and like Dave Wallace suggests, know how precious it is that we have the chance to make choices as to what we pay attention to. We can focus on the sordid and miserable, on how hot and impossibly sticky it is and feel the great injustice being done to us by the weather.
Or we could embrace it all, let it rain down and decide to read great essays and talk about what they mean and wonder at the power of words (as my new friend Meg did yesterday,) and become increasingly aware of the the possibility that all this, this world and our experience of it, our very cells and emotions and mind are all changing moment by moment, are all causes and effects both. We can practice letting go of our desires, our opinions, our certainty that we are the centers of this movie we call our lives, the center of the very universe and let go of our hold on all of it and practice seeing it for what it really is - a vast river of of motion.
Knowing this we can investigate what we think, see how it leads to action and speaking. We can know all this and measure what we do. We are all the Lorenz butterfly flapping our wings against the thick summer air, the cool air conditioned stillness of classrooms or what ever work we are all engaged in whether inside or outside, with a car or a bus or a shovel or a pencil and in a great shift ask ourselves, each other, “how can I be of benefit today?”