Alighting the Bus…

Every morning on the first run of the day

Jim jumped on the bus in a sprightly way,

Announcing. “I’m alighting the Bus.” With a

Grin and a satisfied “Good Morning!” he settled

Into the seat by the window and started to tell

Stories about his life, his day, his plans, regrets and

How things were on this day. Fifty years driving a

Big rig delivering big equipment to construction

Sites all over the USA. When young he was quite a

Dancer and could swing to any beat. I asked him

Once what he thought of the Rap sounds we heard in

Vallejo coming from cars. He said with relish, “I

Love it it! ’cause you can dance any style to it, and

I surely would if I could,” He had bright blue eyes was

Over eightyyears old and wavy white hair that his wife

Permed for him very month, so he could look clean, he said

It was important to him. One day, a beautiful bright Spring day,

We were coming back from the last stop in Vallejo where

I picked him up ( WALMART 3:50 p.m.) and we were alone on the bus,

Not unusual for that time of day, he was looking out the window

In a dreamy way and said “It was a day just like this and we were marching over a bridge in Okinawa and when I looked over the side a valley full of dead dead people piled up and a lot of them had their eyes open and looking at the sky, and I knew from that day on, I could never kill anything again.”

In my big bus driver mirror I watched Jim cry on a beautiful

Spring afternoon in California. He rode the bus almost every

Day, and one day, and the next six, I didn’t see him and

Then I heard, the week before, he sat in his living room late

In the evening and shot himself in the head with a .357 while

His wife of almost 50 years was in the bedroom. Spring is not

A happy time for everyone. He was so alive, then made a choice

That the pictures in his wallet of the rigs he drove all his working

Life, and his wife, and the perms, and Okinawan eyes, and with the

Music stopping, were all, too much? Or not enough? He’ll never know.

Adapting to conditions…

About a year ago I committed to a local program that brings Buddhist meditation and teachings into the large State Prison that is located in my community. It is the largest Prison in the State of Washington and like all such facilities has a huge infrastructure with many rules and conditions. After going to about 100 of these groups in the past year and a half, I had come up with an idea that it was good to come from the principle that I picked from a Dharma talk by Reverend Master Daizui, that there are many kinds of pickles on store shelves, but irregardless of their differences in brand or type, they all have one main thing in common, they taste like pickles, and Buddhist teachings are the same. So, I took this approach in looking at how to present a vast array of the basics and variations that are present in Buddhist teachings across the vast swath of cultures it has landed and developed in.

I decided to stick to core teachings of The Buddha; The Four Noble Truths; The Eightfold Path; the truth of Dukha, Anicca and Anatta (i.e. Suffering, Change and no abiding Self); and exploring some aspects that are rarely mentioned in a lot of American/Western Buddhist settings because many are lay oriented and guided, and tend to reach out to psychological language and proclivities when confronting the teachings regarding Karma, Rebirth. As well,  the fact that Buddhism is profoundly experiential in practice (Meditation), and that requires effort and practice or training. It’s not a belief system.

My personal experience regarding ‘change’ was enhanced by the simple facts of prison life, whoever comes to any of these meetings at the Prison and their various interest, commitment and intention levels, no group ever has the same people or numbers of them from week to week It depends a lot on what is actually happening in the Prison, or to the individual prisoner as regards their current state of incarceration. That can vary from obstacles like a general or specific Unit lock-down when prisoners can’t move out of their immediate Cells, Units or Areas, or have been transferred, or gotten a job, which are highly coveted and often superscede more ‘leisure’ activities like religious programs.

So, it dawned on me recently that I was in the Prison for three groups that for  various reasons were rather intense .The time spent in the midst of all that swirling Karma of confined/confiner usually requires a day after to allow ‘things’ to settle down within myself, and I was creating conflict within myself by having too much of a plan.

So, I’ve decided to just go with a one word topic each day for all the groups and bring small bit of Buddhist writing as a resource that prisoners can take with them to help as a reference point to what the general topic was. For instance, if the topic is “Anger”, there is sure to be good participation in discussion and various ways to present some useful tools to use with the on-going engagement of the actuality of anger arising, and its eventual passing. There are many verses and Sutras and useful teachings in written form that reference engaging with one’s feelings in much the same way we learn to engage with our ‘thinking’ processes. In daily anywhere and certainly in this setting, the subject of anger naturally leads to feelings, their arising and their passing, and how feelings point to our own Karma. How does one constructively engage with the simultaneous reality of the feeling of anger and its ephemeral non-substantial nature when we don’t act on it.

I’m learning, that one Big Subject suddenly has me at the door to another Big Subject, and the difficulty of not going too far  from the given topic into the allure of another, is difficult for me, since that actually addresses one of the core aspects of my own personal training, my own opining and talkativeness. So, this truly is a combined learning experience.Life is short. And, it is long. 

Like all things of actual value I seem to learn them slowly, by myself, with the risk of making mistakes, sometimes serially, and in no particular order.

I know. And, it is possible. Oh, well.

 

May I know what is good to know

May I say what is good to say

May I know what is good to do

May I do what is good to do.

If I err

May I know what is good to know

A spiral circles openly…

Past, Present, future and…

Here, where I am right now, wishing the past had been

different or at least responded to differently.

Here, where I see only swirling hopes for a future that has a

completion from the hopes that I have now, based on the

hopes of the past, which didn’t eventuate at all.

Here, where I am not seeing clearly, because of rush of the past and the

yearning for a future of some other way or other time.

Life is not composed of discreet segments,

nor a flow, nor blocks of experiences stacked together.

Life is not predicated on wishing,

wanting, hoping, nor striving.

Life is not a journey to some

destination or place or way of being.

It is not for my benefit

it is for the benefit of all others.

It is a swirl. Clockwise.

 

Six long quick years…

Six years ago my wife Linda died. We had thirty years together, about 28 of them married. When we decided to to cease dialysis for sudden onset of acute renal failure, she was told rather curtly by her PA, “Well, you’ve got 6 to 8 day to live” we were prepared. Or so we thought. She had spent a lifetime struggling with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and the last two years with the renal failure added, it had been a long haul for her physically.

We met in AA, she had a year sober when I walked through the doors of my early sobriety. She always like to say at the meetings that she waited a year for me in sobriety (an AA trope as regards early relationships for those new to sobriety) and then she pounced. That always got the laugh she expected for this good natured ribbing that is part of the culture at AA meetings.

With 6 to 8 days having been pronounced; a Buddhist Monk friend who lived just over the border in northern Idaho moved into our house. We had made all the arrangements some time in advance, she was prepared. Three weeks later he moved back to his temple, she lived another 15 months and had a few months of resurgence and a lot of time for spiritual flow. I think she died relatively peacefully, some mistakes in her care were made and I made some mistakes in my care for her. I was sitting beside her when she died while a nurse who was changing her catheter bag was telling about a close relative of his that had died while he was young. I almost interrupted him when I realized she had just passed, but he too was in an important part of his story.

All human stuff, but one always has regrets and a wish for things to just not have been so Human. Among all the positive things for her and myself, was to be able to spend so much time in conversation. It of course took on a different tone altogether within the situation, knowing that time was short; on the last Christmas day I realized I could no longer care for her. It was not physically possible to move her by myself from bed to toilet etc: So, we arranged for her to be just five minutes away in a care facility. It was a very small town we lived in that was filled with good hearts and kind people, what a blessing. Thank you, Tekoa, Washington; Jewel of the Palouse.

One of conversation dwelt on the realities of our union. Out of 30 years we had an aggregate total of about 2 years of bickering and ill-will; about 4 years of bliss, and all the rest was in the reasonable middle. We realized that was probably the national average. Not bad for a couple drunks who had done their best to throw their lives away in their early years.

I loved her. I love her. She was a good woman, a good friend, a good partner and a good hearted human being. What more could I have hope for?

Today is not empty. I was so fortunate to not throw my life away and to encounter such a good friend. May you be at peace my love.

Raindrops keep falling…

Raindrops falling on trees drop

Platform to platform, leaf to leaf

Then the ground, and drop slower,

Slower so they seep and enter. We

All rise in a way, platform to

Platform ever upward, slowing

Up as that, we seep and enter

The clouds embrace, so soft

So very soft and see clear

Mystery so ordinary. So very.

Some times the clouds come down,

Meet us or we rise to meet. Snow

Ice, fog, puddle, river, stream on

We go, changing and changing, yet

At heart true heart, we remain the 

Same. There is that which is Un-

Changing, were it not so, there

Would no be that which is 

Constantly changing.

I lean into

Structure and 

Melt.

 

Freedom of self…

Went again today to the local State Prison for one the small Buddhist groups that meets on a bi-weekly basis.

Today we talked a little about the Eightfold Path. I mentioned that my own experience of that included some years of my thinking  the first step of the Path (Right View/Understanding) seems to logically belong as the last of the Eight Steps, not the first. My presumption being that through taking the path, Right Understanding would develop last, over time, and be the culmination of all previous effort.

Today, I spoke about how the Right View now seems to be a logical first step by virtue of the fact that ‘Buddhism’ doesn’t ever ask me to believe in anything merely posited or proposed. From the very start, Right View enjoins me to question, to consider and to examine how to process my feelings, decisions, opinions, presumptions and assumptions and then, how I can use reasoning in order to approach the unknown through my personal observation and experience of my inner self.  The idea of Me. Is it reasonable?

I sense there are as many differences between reasonable and rational, as there are between meaning and purpose.

Not rational? ‘fraid not

Rational is something

I arrive at for my own little

comforts and understanding.

Rationalize is what I do when

I add 1 & 1 and get two.

Reason,

is when I see that there are

many other ways to get to 2.

And then over a period of

time I have to allow more

Ways to get to Three, than is 

comprehensible to me. So,

Holy Buddha, I take Refuge

in Thee. That’s a good start…

 

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