Offering Gratitude…

I went out to feed the ranch cats this morning; Pancake, Waffle, Flapjack and The Other Feral Cat, Quattro. Then got some water for them, 25 degrees this morning. Since its Thanksgiving, I gave them an extra treat, a small portion of high end soft cat food.

Much ravenous scarffing ensued.

Got beautiful Thanksgiving note from Friend which prompted me to think of Thanks Giving.

For the latter part of our years together, Linda and I would sort of huddle down at home and try to make the Day one of introspection leavened with food and football and, often some Holy Day tree trimming using many Christian symbols in honor of the basis for the upcoming celebration, also quite a few homemade Buddhist-related decorations in honor of the Tradition within which we practice(d). The beginning of the Holy Day season for us was offering gratitude for the life we had been given, a second time, freely.

One day at a time.

My friend’s message stirred a memory of one of the many turning points in my life. They’ve all been positive, but often I couldn’t see that at the time of the turning of the wheel within.

During the Winter/Spring of 1982 I was living as a homeless drunk on the streets of San Francisco. It was one of the wettest Winters on record for S.F., and it was the logical conclusion of a wild, careless and reckless life, that did have some high points and a modicum of success in worldly ways, as well as a strong undercurrent of spiritual longing. All subsumed into a life of selfish behavior that injured and hurt many people, including myself.

One morning that Winter, I was standing in line on Golden Gate Avenue, ostensibly to get into St. Anthony’s Dining Room which was one of the compassionate outreach programs within the City (Glide Memorial, another), that helped the homeless and destitute. At that time the culture of street people was a little different than todays’, mostly in numbers and latitude by authorities. There was an astounding amount of help available.

I was not aware of it, as such, because I had given up and didn’t really care about much of anything. At that point I was sleeping on layers of cardboard on the concrete side ramp entrance to Commerce High School on Van Ness Ave. and was often cold and wet, always dirty and begging for enough money for Short Dogs (Round pint bottles) of Thunderbird wine and Pall Mall cigarettes. I had lost interest in food and was standing in the breakfast line at St. Anthony’s mostly to bump into one of my wino cronies who may have a morning bottle of wine tucked into his sleeve.

As I was in line during a slight drizzle a Seagull, on a parapet above me, let loose with a glob of poop that hit me on the shoulder. (Splat! Not a pigeon, for sure.) I had a moment of clarity. I turned into the doorway I was standing next to and opened the door into a small office staffed by four ladies at desks, who looked up slightly startled, but not worried (after all they worked for St. Anthony’s and may even have been nuns associated with the church, they had a certain quality), who asked politely if I needed help.

I said, ” I don’t want to do this anymore, how can I get out of it?” That may not be an accurate quote, but that was certainly the gist of it and as brief as whatever I did say.

One of the ladies, started writing on a half sheet of paper and said, “Go to the Ozonam Center on Howard St.(I think), and give this note to Lucy (I think)”.

I found it and saw it was a cavernous room filled with about a hundred “street people”, there was a counter where coffee was offered along with a tray of donuts cut in quarters (to feed the multitude), and guy standing behind a bowl of loose tobacco and a stack of cigarette papers. He was there to see that people didn’t take too much and deprive others, and also to roll a cigarette for you if you were too shaky; and I was. There was a sort of corral in the center which contained a desk with some small cabinets, several chairs, and a small white haired woman, somewhere in her fifties or sixties, with a nose that had been broken at least once. Lucy. This is the moment I recognized later as the beginning of a new life.

She did an “Intake” interview with me, it was only in retrospect years later, as my sobriety and meditation practice started to deepen, that the import of the process that day became clear to me.

Lucy, had been a street person, incarcerated and generally knocked about in life but had been sober for some time and ran this drop-in center for street people, (Run by the good folks of the St. Vincent dePaul Society) with a combination of iron will, compassion, and respect accorded to her by the clientele because she had once been exactly like them. I once saw her stop a slashing knife-fight in progress across the room, by shouting and telling the two men cutting each other, to drop their knives and go outside and wait for the ambulance. They didn’t drop their knives, but they stopped and went outside, separately.

She had strength based on composure, not merely will.

She did the paperwork on me and explained that if I wanted to, I could stay overnight in a bed if I took a shower;  that during the rest of the day and night I could have all the chicken soup and sandwiches I wanted and in the morning, would be transported to the “Sally” (Salvation Army Adult Rehab Program), if I wished.

As she did the paperwork she asked me where I slept. I said “On the ramp at Commerce High.” She wrote NKA on her document, I asked her what that meant; she said “No Known Address”. That was my first awakening to my reality at that point. I had become a person who lived nowhere and there was a group of letters to describe my condition. A bit further on she said, “How old a man are you?” I had to stop to try and think and count on my fingers and guess 35. It was only much later I realized the deep impact that question had on me. That impact had to do with the compassion and respect she accorded me by asking how old a “man” I was. I had stopped thinking of myself in that way. If she had said ‘How old a “wino”, “bum”, or “fuck-up” are you?’ I wouldn’t have winced.

Her using the word man, shifted something inside me.

I left the next morning and came back at least a half dozen times more and she was always kind and gave me vitamin pills on my way out.

It was to be about another year and a half before I finally could accept (still grudgingly and with negativity) all the help that was being offered to me and managed to get sober and stay sober (and clean) on the 21st of June 1983.

Because of that little initial, yet vast, experience and all the help freely given to me by so many kindhearted and compassionate people, I am able to be in a little cabin in a  remote area of Oregon, living on a small horse ranch ensconced for the Winter to do a retreat and hunker down for a period of time to see what directions the Spring and Summer point out to me. Thirty-four years after I was prepared to die on the streets of the City because of despair and just plain old giving up.

The practice of Zen Buddhism along with other life changing “Programs”, has given me a modicum of peace and arising joy that surpasses any quest for happiness and self-satisfaction that I ever pursued. In that process I married a woman who was also doing the sobriety/drug recovery journey and we had 28 years together (4-5 of them terrific; 3-4 very difficult; and rest in between. In other words, the national average. She passed almost three years ago and I miss her in that bitter/sweet way we accommodate all realities that are just hard to bear initially,  and I continue to make mistakes based on ignorance and erroneous views.

Yet, I continue as a human, as a man. One who most days does his best.

Zen Motto:      Hope for the best. Expect nothing. Do the Possible.

 

 

 

when the going gets uncomfortable the uncomfortable look within…

The person I voted for did not win the election. OK. Now what?

Now I get to live the American/Human qualities of tolerance, acceptance, wait-and-see,

honorable behavior and speech, dignity, and courage in the face of situations that

challenge my cherished opinions and beliefs. I don’t have to drop those beliefs but I do have to examine my opinions. If I don’t examine the deeper aspects of my beliefs I can become the things I dis-approve of.

I have many friends and many people who I respect and regard highly as honorable, that hold different political, cultural and religious beliefs from I own. This is the time to find the bonds that hold us in friendship and build within that close personal space the room to examine the situation as it is, not how I wish it were, and work constructively to see where our hearts and minds meet and go forward from there; which is here.

I am responsible to accept life as it is and do my BEST to allow peace within and seek peace in the world. Constructively. A great challenge at times.

I see Europe in 1945; rubble and despair. Look what humans have done in the wake of outright total war, they built peaceful and vibrant social democracies. We have a few divisions and may not all agree, but we have a lot better place to go forward from than the Europeans or Japanese or Chinese (half the world actually), had at the end of WWll.

So, we actually have a bright future if we are willing to practice what we preach.

Coming together, helping, being loving and kind, and staying true to ourselves.

Very doable. I say.

Good morning, another day…

As I go to bed the election is still not decided.  Tomorrow morning, usually around 2-2:30 a.m, I’ll climb down the loft ladder in the cabin I’m currently renting in northeast corner of Oregon and I will come to this computer and find out who our next President is.

Whoever it is, approximately half the people in this country won’t be happy; I have no way of knowing whether that’s good or bad but I do have a feeling that this is a tipping point for out nation our culture our society, such as they are, and there is no way to predict where it will all go, how we will react or respond individually, or as various groups and interests. I think I’m kind of glad that I’m 69 years old though.

We all agree that change is inevitable, but are never enthusiastic when something we’re comfortable with, or about; changes. We don’t like it.

Tonight I say this is a terrific opportunity to stop and examine why we, individually, let ourselves be pushed and pulled hither and yon emotionally and psychologically by things we have no control over.

We feel powerless, yet we abrogate our own freedoms and powers by not choosing this whole political/social unrest we’re feeling, as a teaching moment for all of us; as individuals and as the much talked about culture, that we’re supposed to be part of.

This is a moment in time we can put to use for own good. I think many people won’t because to look at oneself is very difficult.

 

The Buddha said that the 3 Great Difficulties were, in ascending order of difficulty:

  1. To see that there is a problem (i.e. a difficult thing to see and understand, typically within).
  2. To see and address the cause of it (i.e. actual cause and conditions, and our part in them).
  3. To keep working on a solution to problem (gentle long term persistence).

So, it may be good, this morning, no matter which side of the “Problem” we wake up to, to examine closely over time with calmness and intelligence, what the actual causes and conditions of the problem are.

Then, to see how best to address these problems and conditions and, individually, see what we can do to constructively change the conditions within where the problems live and thrive.

And then, to keep working on and towards the change within ourselves.

Parts turned and Part turns…

Part 1 it turned out…

Small slice of baseball heaven, 6th game of the World Series 7-2;  good chance for a 7th game and I’ll be on the road in a hotel tomorrow night and that means TV. And, that means I get to watch it. Cubs vs. Indians. It feels like a good balance in the Universe of Baseball.

A good balance in our small part of it is provided by one of the most simple processes in nature, photosynthesis which is also a live example of interdependence and a metaphor for spiritual growth.

A seed that lands on the ground needs Sun, water, food (Suitable conditions), to open and simultaneously take root and grow upward. It begins to root, takes up water and nutrients like nitrogen, and grows toward the Sun for heat and light to convert CO2 into oxygen. The CO2 is gathered in at night and like all things medicinal can be poisonous if taken in too great a dose. It uses that potential poison gas, and water, to produce sugar and oxygen. Sugar is food and oxygen is life for all us animals and many chemical processes.

So, the most crucial interdependence takes place at the simples level. Without a plant sprouting and developing a leaf structure, we would not have developed or been able to keep living and producing more of us; which is true of most life on earth. Oxygen=Vitality.

We breathe in Oxygen and breathe out CO2, the same as most life. We help each other to live, thrive and survive. Viva life! I say.

PART 2 it turns out…

The world has changed completely. It several days since I started this post and the Chicago Cubs are World Champions. I suspect its been in the news just about everywhere. In a few zillion light years it will have reached across the Universe and it will be time for a repeat, or, they’ll do it again sooner.

Anyway, as I remember what I was getting at in above ramble was that interdependence takes place at the deepest levels. The Elemental level. That also includes DNA and karma, one begets/changes the other. I love the double helix.

So, in the human realm we suffer from the three poisons of greed, hate and delusion. These are the living spiritual equivalent  of CO2. When I practice meditation and the precepts, I am acting like the simple life forms (plants) and converting that CO2 into usable, effective and vital Oxygen. Through the simple process of sitting still and changing views of old patterns and habits I help convert the greed, hate and delusion into generosity and loving-kindness and wisdom. Just like a plant converts Co2 into oxygen.

Here’s the actual point for me to keep in mind. I am not the process. I help a natural process by trying to sit still within the conditions of life. I can only be willing, intend,    and then attempt and then, try again, and again, etc.

The plant is not the process, it is the condition within which the process shows itself.

Plants sprout and grow

 It is what comes natural

They cannot think on it.

Because I can think

I can see and feel that.

Something needs help

My help

Which I can give. Still

Over and over until

That which needed it

Can give and will and…