The Prison of Self…

I went yesterday into the large State Prison located in the community where I live, as part of a meditation group that is sponsored by a local group of good hearted folks, who are Buddhist-leaning and took on the project about 8 years ago. I have attended with these prison meditation groups on and off for most of the three years I’ve been living here. It’s been on and off because I was, and still am, somewhat conflicted about what  was being offered to the inmates at these meetings. My main quibble had to do with the fact that they are  called Buddhist even though  there was very little actual Buddhist teaching going on, It was more of what I have encountered in the American Buddhist world in general which is a hodge-podge of quasi-Buddhist, part new-age, feel-good pop psychology, and loads of personal opinions about what religion, philosophy, life style, and activities might be more or less grouped under that sort-of-Buddhist umbrella.

So, I have recommitted, to working with these good-hearted folks when I realized that this was indeed an opportunity for me to help, as well as having lots of opportunities for me to look at all of my own opinions and positions that I take in regard to the above activities, which appear in such great variaty in the American/Western Buddhist world.

My biggest problem is reining in my own talkativeness and enthusiasm while trying to encourage, over time, a structured approach and a sort of syllabus that follows and hopefully flows from some basic Buddhist teaching/concepts; i.e. TheFour Noble Truths, The Eightfold Path, The Precepts, Karma, Rebirth, and yes, meditation). Keeping in mind that each groups attendance varies depending on what is going on for the attendees in their prison life and what is going on in the Prison itself. Some days they are on Lock-down (no prisoner movement outside of their cells), or a Section is in a Lock-down that may have a lot of our attendees in it. Also, our “groups” vary in attendance from two to twenty on any given day, depending on a huge variety of conditions; such as actual interest in Buddhism, just getting out of one’s cell and willing do anything to get out for a change of scene, or a gathering of prison-gang elements to be able to exchange information or just meet quasi-socially. Also, there are quite a number of attendees who have cultural heritage of Buddhism and are pursuing or taking up afresh a part of their families history and so forth and of course just pure curiosity.

Another difficulty is that we see these groups, at best, twice a month and once annually for a half day “Buddha” celebration. The prison offers all sorts of religious activities, as attested by the various lockers for the groups at the prison Chapels, but Christian groups of every stripe are the dominant influence and they inform a lot of the policy decisions just by the numbers of attendees for their activities. It makes sense that little splinter groups have to scramble and try to fit in where they can.

Yet, within all that, it is an offering and there is a need and there is accommodation. So, how to proceed within the Actual, rather than some Ideal is really the “koan” encountered. Which reminds me that there are a lot of variation that attendees have experienced as Buddhist practice and teaching; so how be inclusive and relevant and at ease with all is one of the main concerns.

So, yesterday was day of three groups, one in the morning and two in the afternoon. The process of going from place to place within the prison is of course daunting in its own way, and then learning to keep adapting to the various cultures that exist within the prison, the administrators, the chaplains, the guards, the vast variety of prisoner cultures that it is good to be aware of ,and the general energy/karma that is omnipresent and especially noticeable, for me, the night and day after having spent about 6 hours there.   It certainly makes me aware and naturally brings up compassion for all the people involved in that system. Everyone that is in the prison for any extended period of time, prisoners, employees, volunteers and so forth; experience an astounding amount stress and frustration day-in day-out. And, I suspect the ways of dealing with it for all involved are not always skillful, in terms of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.

Sadly, that process as we experience it in U.S., is what it is, and won’t be changing anytime soon. And, to know that in most of the rest of the world it is even worse in terms of conditions, is even more sobering.

Then again, from a Buddhist point of view there is no problem, as such. It is just conditions within the world as constituted, and the resulting karma, working itself through. To be in the position to bring little bits of the Dharma into that setting is a pure gift and an honor.

The questions and small discussions that come up at group level, or as short side-conversations, are remarkable. More than a few of these seekers have an intuitive understanding that the Prison, as a place of Dharma practice, is no different than the prison of the ‘Self’ that we all have to become aware of, and learn to train within..

I’ll write a bit more about this adventure in the next few blatherings.

A great teacher of my

acquaintance spoke once of

the caged bird that does not

know the bottom has fallen

Off, because it flies up

to the top of the cage

looking for an escape

 

Between the Sun and Moon…

On State Hwy 82 in Northeast corner of Oregon, coming from Wallowa Buddhist Temple and heading for Walla Walla, WA. About 4-5 miles before Elgin, OR, I was riding into the setting Sun beyond the Blue Mountains which I would have to cross to get to Washington.

I looked into my rearview mirror and saw, above the Wallowa Mountains to my rear, that a 3/5th’s -moon had risen and was brightly reflecting the Sun. Both about the same distance above two separate small mountain ranges that sit about 40 miles apart, with me between them scooting along at 65 miles per hour.

Distance and time traveling, and milage being eaten by trusty truck heading me home. Moon and Sun greeting each other, or so it seemed to me and it isn’t ’til later I realize they see each other so often they probably don’t even bother to say hello. Maybe in the morning, but the morning where?

What I did discover though is something very important. Two things actually, one a deep insight into astronomy, the other something I never knew before about math. I know very little of either subject but because of the the unique situation of time and place and angles and speed and me with eyes and a rearview mirror, I found out this; There is more to the moon than meets the eye. We hear a lot about a Full-moon, A Half-moon, a Quarter-moon and No-moon. I discovered the 3/5th’s-moon.

I know it was all situational, but so was Columbus landing in the New World. Like him, I’m taking the credit. If not me who? If not then, when?

Then, there’s the Math Discovery.

One (1) is an even number! Therefore, all fractions are even numbers! Ha! Take that, all you teachers who flunked a certain German immigrant, repeatedly, in math and other subjects. I best be humble though, the Media is sure to get wind of this.

Anyway, it was a really nice moon and I enjoyed it while it lasted. Safely glancing, not staring. (65mph).

 

The Sun is there and the Moon is over there and

I am here heading there and came from over there

And looking for Nothing everywhere and, not Anywhere.

1st dream of the year…

I dreamt that I was losing control over situations that I used to manage without a thought; it got so bad that I lost all connection with that reality, within that dream.

Then I dreamt that I realized with great relief all my control and loss were about things that didn’t matter, not only in the big picture, but at all.

I awoke bemused and puzzled over a dream concerning nothing really important having mattered much. Then I remembered it was the first day of the New Year and I had committed to having a couple of real New Year’s resolutions concerning my spiritual path and training, all ready to go. But, I hadn’t even one.

Then I realized. That is, made real; the true meaning of that dream. Worry, fear, doubt and anxiety cannot exist simultaneously, let alone singly within a mind that is gathering itself home. Which, it seems also means that while gathering home, the mind lets loose. The mind at work is the mind distracted. Confusion depends upon distraction.

So, I’m not that confused any more, although I still forget stuff.

The waking day was spent handing out some money, having brunch with a good hearted friend who hasn’t realized her natural good heart fully and thus is prone to worry. My observation is that most people are a molecule thick membrane of pixie dust separated from care and freedom because of positions arrived at. Positions are the problem yet we all take them and believe we are bound by conditions outside of us. A pesky problem indeed. Somewhat like those trick problems posed in riddles where simple  plus and minus math computations are offered in posing the question, while the questions actual answer is not one of computation but seeing a problem clearly, directly.

You are the bus driver, at the first stop 3 passengers get off and 7 get on, at the next stop 5 get off and 3 get on, at the next stop 12 get on and 3 get off and the last stop 13 people get off and 4 got on, but 1 of those gets off because they changed their mind before the bus departed. How tall is the bus driver?

(You are the driver)

How can anyone sit still in the midst of a world of constant busyness and distraction?

(You are anyone)  First sit still ,and then you’ll see what the problem actually is.

My mind wanders…

Recently, last 6-7 months, my mind is really changing. Much more scattered and memory becoming more of a thing of the past, if you know what I mean. While I’m becoming even more loquacious than usual I’m also becoming more abrupt and short with people. So, not a good mix, as such.

However, there is a compensatory factor in that I’m going through some newish, although seeming so ordinary after the fact, spiritual awareness. That in itself is refreshing, but apparently not a big deal. It used to be a big deal. Currently it isn’t, it’s just ordinary.

One thing that is clarifying is that I can worry if I want to, but there isn’t much purpose or usefulness in long term worry, as such. I had always assumed it was at least a mildly fundamental aspect of general mentation. Now it seems merely functional and has some use.

It (worry) is a by-product and also a functional indicator more similar to the road-side billboard that alerts a traveler to something down the road that may be of use or interest. It’s an aspect of mental traveling, when I worry I’m on the road.

There are many by-products in the varieties of manufacturing anything, and most by-products are not useful unless they can be converted through a further process, into something usable.

My basic internal process seems to consist largely of my personal will going hand-in-hand with letting go (I know, image-wise that’s little outlandish, but I like it), and apparently some smallish effort is required.

The small effort of Letting

Go is  just Un-clenching the

Fist made by too much Will.

At that age where I…

So it seems I’m getting older, much less attentive and yet a bit more self-absorbed and un-inclined to suffer foolishness or its perpetrators gladly; yet I still perpetuate any number of foolish notions within myself simply out of habit. I contain more than a measure of that tricky obstinacy that some old people can carry off at times,with a bit of aplomb. Keeping in mind that most delusions are carried off with assurance, because we believe them and they are deeply habitual, thus not scrutinized.

The above seems to be generally applicable to most older folk, or younger ones for that matter. It seems we are born with some stories that we don’t know how to tell or incorporate comfortably, or even be aware of, yet we build lives around those stories.Whole, long stories. Long stories.

Similarly, we are not aware of our urinary function, except that it is unceasing; a constant recurring demand and a constant recurring relief. It seems so ordinary, like the Sun rising and setting, yet we do experience eclipses, and even though we know what all is their cause and explanation, we still respond to them in an almost mystical way. Nothing wrong with that. However, if my urinary function is compromised, someone (often a doctor), will explain causes and give me some medicine to deal with discomfort and make it better. Like Shamman (Shamen?), or priests in ancient times explained eclipses and made people feel better about them with an explanationand/or medicine. Since I’ve digressed a bit let me stretch it more and think in terms of us individually as just a structured, living, healthy, viable organism with consciousness

It’s my understanding that we don’t actually “breathe”, in the sense that it is a function of a personal will to remain upright and alive, (of course that does enter the picture during illness etc:). We tend not to breathe consciously. We breathe because when we exhale (dispelling inspiration that has turned almost poisonous), this causes a problem of air pressure, and that is a good problem because the air pressure outside of us is higher than the air pressure inside of us and that forces pressure stabilization, which we call inhaling. Our body is functioning as an air pressure valve, (even when we are brain “dead”), so that we have time to do other stuff and not worry about the next breath, unless it is a situation where one’s pressure regulator is compromised, then we see things from a different perspective. But when the air regulator is functioning we go on without concern and just live whatever life we’re in.

Eating, farting, pooping, peeing, reaching, grasping, letting go, walking, sitting, standing around, thinking great thoughts and miserable one’s, in the same breath wondering what the spread for 49’rs game is, and why I can’t put up with so-and-so, or want to such-and-such with so-and-so at some future time; please.

Whoops gotta take a pee! Now, where was I? Oh, yeah gotta make some coffee and think about exercising a little, wonder what that fucking noise outside is? A frog, this time of year? Hmmm! Now what was I gonna do?

In some sense I seem to be experiencing life within a very, very, very thin slice of the Universe conjured by this one Helmut; and because all of my decisions in this life have brought me to here, to this very place; there must be millions/billions, of other time-lines where I made other decisions and then other decisions, the outcomes of which are now being experienced by some other version of innumerably possible Helmut outcomes. And, they all end up dead. Yet, they’ve served and important function. They each have always had the same choice. Can I do better than I’m doing? For the good of all.

This world and

This life are pretty good.

I must be very careful in how I

See and decide on, the Things in

This Life. It is the only One I have.

Process,

Becoming,

Moment,

Here; and there is…

Can it teach the rocks and the trees…

After almost three months of discomfort that encompassed mental and physical pain, fear, doubt and worry in an astounding array,; I think I am on a smoother road.

I have often referenced one of my favorite quotes as being true wisdom and as such, has many levels. “I’ve never been really lost, but I’ve been bewildered a few times.” Daniel Boone.

I was totally bewildered, yet knew I was not lost, but rather had to cover some rough terrain to get my bearings again. And, so it went. The details are not relevant to the bloggy form, nor are they relevant in the sense of beautiful scenery experienced or horrible things seen.  (One does tend to have a keener memory of horrible things seen than beautiful things, but that is essentially determined by the state of ones “being”, while experiencing beauty or ugliness). What happened was this.

I saw, unfolding over time, a series of blind spots and mistaken apprehensions and some very painful true things regarding myself that were almost unbearable when first encountered, but, early one morning I saw them for what I had always said they were but had never known. They were teachings given to me through the activity, the universal life, of Compassion. I could see I had been turned away, looking over my shoulder, as I was walking backwards in the right direction.

In other words; right direction wrong way. Simple, easier, when one just faces in the direction of travel.

Nothing solved, no flag planted. That way!

Something got less difficult, not easier. There is a difference.

In the times when Lewis & Clark undertook their expedition of exploration. It was customary for parties heading out on long, presumably difficult journeys, to start the journey at noon on the first day. That way when they made camp for the first time they would find out what they had forgotten, or not planned for and send someone back to get what was lacking. So, it was just a short trip back for a few hours of well-trod trail to get what was necessary for rest of longer journey. There’s something about that which is a great teaching in any number of situations.

I offer merit to all who are traveling, or on a journey that may leave them vulnerable.

Homage to Ksitigarbha! The Earth-Store Bodhisatva (Jizo in Japanese), protector of the vulnerable: Women, children captive animals, travelers, prisoners and reality-challenged beings.

Melting pots…

A good day for all the good folks in D.C. Met area. The District of Columbia and its suburbs in Virginia and Maryland are a living example of a global melting pot of ideologies, races, ethnicities and mental capabilities.

One of the best examples of this are the Washington Nationals baseball team, World Champions of a game basically only played in one hemisphere of the world. They come from a variety of backgrounds. To me the most interesting factoid (I think), that two of the players for the Nationals are named after two of the sons of Hamilcar Barca, the famous Carthagenian General of the 1st Punic War. His sons were named Hannibal and Hasdrubal (Mago, was the name of the 3rd) and they fought the Romans (Latins), for supremacy of the Mediterranean. They were descendants of the Phoenicians, who thousands of years before Rome ruled through trade and war, like US, a vast territory and introduced a method of assigning repeatable sounds to create meaning through various combinations to the objects and things of the world. In the ancient world a “Lingua Phonetica”, was used across many cultures for trade.

They originally had 28 sounds and later the Greeks took those up and dropped two of them, leaving most of Western culture with the Phonetic (Phoenecian) alphabet.

So, here are two modern Hispanic (Latin) baseball players with names from ancient Carthagenian Generals, whose language was Punic. Rome destroyed all of Carthage, plowed it under with salt so nothing could grow there and killed all who spoke the Punic language, so I find it interesting that those names have cropped up in the 21st century through mostly Latin/Native ancestral lines.

Asdrubal Cabrera and Anibal Sanchez, are world champion baseball players and their first names go back over 6,000 years to the once mighty traders of the Mediterranean, Eastern and Norther Atlantic and Indian Oceans who brought language to the Greeks and much of the Mediterranean while the dominant (ish), Europeans were still learning how to sew furs together for warmth, so they could spread out since the ice age was still slowly receding northward.

I love seeing these patterns of how humans spread and evolved and converted those sound making capabilities into forming the various minds that process the information of the senses in quite different ways.

Each one insisting that their way of processing is the best. I think somewhere along the line we sort of dropped the ball.

Speaking of which, there’s the Nationals who dropped fewer balls, but had more “…bals” than the Astros (another name to conjure with:)