Category Archives: compassion

I’m Not Okay.

I’ve been trying to stay silent about what’s been happening in Missouri.

Because I wasn’t there. Because I don’t know the facts. Because there seem to be no unbiased, perfect perspectives. Because the 18 year old who was shot and killed by police may have had a gun. May not have been totally innocent. 

But you know what? I’m not okay with this. I’m not okay with the idea that a black person has to be totally innocent for people to care they died. I’m not okay with police occupying a neighborhood. I’m not okay with a tank going down an American street.

I’m not okay with crime. I’m not okay with neighborhoods all but abandoned economically, educationally. 

I’m not okay with black people being killed by police who, more often than not, face little to no judicial or employment consequences for the death of a person. I’m not okay with cops fearing for their lives, and I’m not okay with the crimes that makes their jobs necessary. 

I’m not okay with poverty used as a means of controlling groups of people. I’m not okay with redlining, with segregated neighborhoods and schools, with communities who close schools and then open more prisons.

I’m not okay with for-profit prisons. 

I’m not okay with transgender people being murdered and the defense that “they tricked me” is still considered a legal excuse. I’m not okay with trans and LGBQ kids being kicked out of their homes, told they’re going to hell and will be damned, forced into conversion therapy, and rejected by the people whose love matters the most to them–their parents.

I’m not okay with any of this. 

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Filed under compassion, equality, GLBT rights, leadings, lgbt issues, ministry, oppression, racism

Fellowship

I remember watching in horror as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina unfolded. As adults and children were trapped inside that Superdome for days. People waving from the rooftops for help. Which did not come. I watched. I could do nothing else.

I watched as Trayvon Martin’s killer was deemed “not guilty”. I began to speak on facebook and with friends and family. I began to see the hard work of racial justice, as some friends reacted negatively to my posts and took to George Zimmerman’s defense. I began to read books like “The New Jim Crow” to educate myself on modern institutional racism, and I helped organize a discussion about “The New Jim Crow” at my Meeting. But mostly, I just watched.

I watched Eric Garner die on camera. “I can’t breathe”. I shared the video of his death and was immediately met with backlash from friends. “We don’t know the facts.” “Why are you so anti-cop?” I ended up deleting the video. I wasn’t ready yet. I was only ready to watch.

I watched as the story of Michael Brown’s final moments emerged. He had his hands up. He was unarmed. But no, he had a record! The cops said he was charging them! 

I watched as Black Lives Matter rose to prominence. And I began, slowly, to speak. To speak not in spite of those who disagreed with my posts, but because of them. I joined several facebook anti-racism groups and found the support I needed to keep speaking.

But I did not do anything but speak, read, and watch. I did not attend any rallies, though I wanted to. I had good reason to stay home: I’m disabled and have a weakened immune system, making being around large crowds potentially dangerous to my health… and, last fall, I was also recovering from ankle replacement surgery

I watched as Freddie Gray died from a “rough ride”. I watched as Baltimore, the city I go to for my joint surgeries, protested.  But I stayed home.

Then, last Thursday morning, I woke. I lay in bed reading the news about the Charleston white terrorist attack on the Emanuel AME church. The 9 people who were slaughtered after spending an hour with the killer talking about the Bible. The 5 year old girl who survived by playing dead. I couldn’t stop crying.

Watching was no longer enough. When I pulled myself out of bed and left my house that day, I drove past 4 black people and saw each of them: 2 teenage boys riding their bikes down my street, 1 black man riding his bike and looking at his phone at the same time a couple of miles from my house, and 1 older black man staring at his phone in shock, standing at the side of the road. Seeing them made me tear up again, and I struggled to stay calm enough to drive safely. I wanted to let them know that I saw them and was so sorry about what had happened. But while driving is not the time to reach out to people.

I live in a town that is 70% white and 20% black and still mostly segregated, the way most American communities are. When my husband and I were looking to purchase our first house 10 years ago, I made a point of finding a street that was not all-white, and that was harder than it should have been. My neighborhood is probably about half black; and one of my neighbors is a widowed black woman, who is surrounded on all other sides by houses owned by family members. I felt a great need to reach out to the black people who live in my town. And I also felt a great need to worship this Sunday, instead of staying home and resting; but I knew that if I attended my Quaker Meeting, my thoughts would be with Charleston’s Emanuel AME church. I wondered if there was an AME church near my home, and a quick Google search revealed one not 2 miles from my house. 

I gave myself up to discernment, trying to find what I was led to do. I did not want to intrude upon a community in their time of mourning. I did not want to make the parishioners feel fear in their house of worship. 

But the leading did not go away. So, Sunday morning, I left home to attend worship at my local AME church, accompanied by my husband. My intention in going was to show solidarity with them and to worship with them.

We arrived early, and the front doors of the church were locked. A black woman arrived and asked us if we were there for the service. She was warm, friendly, and inviting. We said we were, and she showed us the side door that was unlocked and explained that there was praise before the service started and that the youth group was leading this service.

We walked into the small church, two white people left alone in their sanctuary. We did not want to make a spectacle of ourselves by sitting in the front pews, but we were also aware that we didn’t want to appear we were hiding in the back, either. So we sat in the center pews, visible and vulnerable. The church was small and sparsely-decorated, but not bare like Quaker Meetinghouses tend to be or overly-lavish like the Catholic churches I attended growing up. Nearly empty, I felt like the church was waiting for its people to fill it and give it purpose.

We were alone for a good 20 minutes before the congregation began to filter in. Now I owe you readers an apology, because there is no way for me to accurately describe the worship we participated in.

There were several aspects of the service that surprised me. First, it was women-led. The Reverend was a black man, but his primary participation in the service was to deliver the sermon… which occurred more than 2 hours into the service. Three black women seemed to lead the service, and I truly appreciated the ministry they gave, both in their words and in their actions. One of the three was the woman who had greeted us so warmly when we were searching for a way inside the church earlier. Second, the music was… all-encompassing, yet not a distraction from worship, but a manifestation of it.

The longer the service went on, the more comfortable I felt. After the first of three hours, I began to feel a fellowship with the other worshipers and the kind of deep centering I’ve only felt before at Meeting for Worship. Like Meeting for Worship, the service felt Spirit-led: it was fluid and unpredictable, and there was space for the congregation to participate as they felt led.

There was some grief, but mostly joy. The sermon was about the first 10 verses of the 2nd chapter of Job, which I’ve read more than once, but the sermon the Reverend gave made me consider it in a whole new way. I was raised Catholic, and the overwhelming lesson I learned from Mass and CCD was that God and Jesus loved you, and that made them worthy of worship and praise because you were a sinner and not worthy of their love. This sermon instead asked us to take the place of Job, who is described as perfect and upright. It was about keeping faith, no matter what happened. It was about the pride, joy, and determination involved in doing so. It was about gratitude to God for waking up this morning, for being able to attend this service. It was about not knowing what could happen, who could walk in the church doors, but worshiping God all the same.

I am really not doing this service justice at all. It was communion—with God and with each other. It was authentic and seemed to allow each person there to be both true to and proud of themselves while at the same time encouraging them to be better than they were.

At some point during the service, I realized that fellowship with these people—true fellowship—could not happen during just one service. I need to return, if the congregation is comfortable with me doing so. I felt blessed to be there and grateful they welcomed me in.

It has been two days now since my attendance at the local AME church, and I am still… encompassed by it. I am still thinking about it. I am, surprisingly, missing it. I am eager to go back. While I have no intention of joining their church, I am hoping to become a regular visitor.

And next Sunday, I hope to attend Meeting for Worship and bask in that same “infinite ocean of light and love” through silence and vocal ministry instead of through the music and sound of last Sunday.

[EDIT: This post has also been published on Friends Journal.org and in the September 2015 print edition of Friends Journal.]

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Filed under catholicism, christianity, christians, compassion, different faiths, discernment, equality, leadings, racism, worship

We Can Do Better.

Let’s take this as a given, that the color of someone’s skin does not determine the content of their character. In other words, that the premise of racism is inherently false, and people cannot be accurately judged by their race.

Now consider the following facts:

These facts point to systemic racism in American institutions. If you deny that racism is still a problem in America, I challenge you to offer another explanation for these statistics.

In the aftermath of the recent Michael Brown shooting, I want to share the following thoughts. First, the protests happening now are not only about the death of Michael Brown. They’re about the statistics listed above, that people are tired of losing family members to violence simply because they happen to have the wrong skin color. Second, the comment that “Well, at least things are better now than they used to be.” White Americans, surely we can do better than slavery, segregation, Jim Crow? Surely we can do better than that!

So let’s do better. Let’s call out racism when we see it, in our personal interactions with people and in institutions. Let’s stop standing by and watching when African Americans get shafted. Let’s LISTEN when black people try to talk to us about their experiences with race in America and not express disbelief that maybe they don’t really know what their own experiences are.

Let’s educate ourselves. Let’s live with our eyes open, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. Because our discomfort is not comparable to the suffering our willful ignorance allows to occur.

So… let’s talk. Let’s listen to each other. Let’s be brave in our interactions, but not cruel. Most of all, let’s be willing to learn.

Let’s do better. Let’s be better.

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Love’s Fullest Potential

As you may have guessed from my lack of updates, this year has been very challenging. It has felt like a whirlwind. I’m still not sure I’ve had time yet to properly absorb Min’s loss, and the year has just marched right on. I don’t know where the time has gone.

In February, I had my right CMC thumb joint replaced, in a procedure called CMC arthoplasty. As joint surgeries go, this one was relatively simple and the recovery period was relatively painless and easy.

Emily (grey) cuddling with Snowcrash

Emily (grey) cuddling with Snowcrash

In March, I adopted Emily from Chesapeake Cats and Dogs, who had been there for nearly 5 years… with reason. That reason: she was (and still is) very, very shy and scared of most people. I chose to work with her 3 years ago and gained her trust, but even after living with us for 8 months, she’s still wary of my husband. And she came with unexpected health issues: she ended up needing most of her teeth pulled due to severe gum inflammation that was autoimmune in origin and was just diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease last week. By the summer, another joint of mine was dying; my right ankle was no longer functional, and I became unable to drive and was only able to walk by seriously limping and leaning on walls/furniture whenever possible.
Kosette, two days before being put down due to brain cancer

Kosette, two days before being put down due to brain cancer

Also in the summer, Kosette, our 17 year old cat with multiple health issues, suddenly changed. Come August, she no longer was acting like “our” Kosette. Uneven pupils prompted a vet appointment where the worst was confirmed: a brain tumor. On August 6th, we put her down, to prevent her from suffering from the increasing anxiety and confusion that were surely to come. My ankle replacement and bonus toe/metatarsal surgery scheduled for August 27th, we decided to adopt Ethel (again from Chesapeake Cats and Dogs) earlier than we would have otherwise.
Ethel enjoying a sunbeam, home at last.

Ethel enjoying a sunbeam, home at last.

Only 10 days or so after losing Kosette, we brought Ethel home. And just over a week later, I had ankle replacement (and bonus toe/metatarsal) surgery… which was by far the hardest joint surgery I’ve had, in terms of pain after and the recovery period. One month non-weight-bearing on my right foot when my left hip was due to be replaced in 2011 and is not capable of bearing any extra weight and my left wrist had been replaced in 2008 and couldn’t bear more than 10 pounds. I’m still not sure how I got through that month, but I did. And now the end is in sight with this surgery. I’m doing Physical Therapy; I can walk almost normally; I can drive. I’ve yet to start seriously belly dancing again, but I’m hoping to get back to that sometime this week. In addition, I’m a member of the board of directors at Chesapeake Cats and Dogs, and we’ve had a lot of struggles this year.

And that’s the summary of my life since losing Min this January.

Is it any wonder I feel adrift sometimes? That sometimes I still see Min or Kosette out of the corner of my eye? That I still feel like my mornings and days are too empty because I’m not spending ten minutes or more of every waking hour at home feeding (or attempting to feed) Kosette? That I wonder if I even had time to process losing my right ankle, to properly grieve the loss of a joint the way I’ve needed to in the past prior to joint surgeries?

To wonder where this year has gone. It feels like I just took a breath, and suddenly it’s almost Thanksgiving.

I have no regrets about anything that has happened this year. I just wish this year had happened over the course of 2 or 3 instead of just one. This has been one of the hardest years of my life thus far. But has it been a bad year?

No. Losing Min and losing Kosette were part of loving them. When I love a cat, I know that one day, that cat will die. And I make a choice every time that I will love this cat as much as I can for as long as I can and I will not hold back any love or affection out of fear of future pain. In a way, those final weeks approaching the end of a cat’s life have a sacred beauty all their own. The love fulfills its potential in those weeks. Do I love this cat enough to truly put their needs before my own? Is my love strong enough to let the cat go? I learn what my love is truly capable of in that moment, when my vet asks, “Are you sure? Are you ready?”, and I nod or say yes even as my whole being is screaming NO.

And then, I choose to love again. Because how could I not?

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White Privilege: Reflections after the George Zimmerman verdict

I’ve been thinking a lot about racism and white privilege since the George Zimmerman verdict. (I’m not going to call it the “Trayvon Martin” verdict, because Trayvon Martin wasn’t on trial.) I’ve been having lots of conversations about race issues on facebook, some of these conversations haven’t gone very well. But these have been some of my thoughts…


Some people have tried to make the point that because Zimmerman is Latino and not white, race wasn’t a factor in the trial.

Let me be brutally honest here. People don’t like to think of themselves as racists, so let me clear the air a bit.

I am racist. When I see a black man or teenager, for a split second, I’m suspicious. Then I become aware of that irrational suspicion and I let it go. In today’s America, where most of our arrested criminals are black (because most of the people arrested are black), it’s very hard not to be a racist. It takes a lot of effort and work.

We’re culturally trained to associate criminal behavior with black men.

If I saw George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, instinctively I would be suspicious of Trayvon first.

Look deeply and honestly within yourselves. Can you honestly say your first impression would be different?

And if not, then how can you claim this trial had nothing to do with race?


The term “privilege” has always bothered me, even though the ideas behind the terms like white privilege, ableist privilege, etc., make sense. And I just figured out why.

Privileges are something extra you get, like when you’re a kid and your parents tell you you can earn a privilege by doing a chore. And when we talk about white privilege, we’re talking about unearned privilege. We make our “privileges” a source of guilt. In other words, the fact that I can walk down a street alone at night without being shot for having my skin color making me appear “suspicious” is something I should feel bad about, that other people don’t have the same safe experiences.

But being able to walk down a street at night without being shot because your skin color makes you appear “suspicious” shouldn’t be a privilege. It should be the norm.

Being able to walk into a store and not having the manager tail you should be the norm. Being able to get a job based on your qualifications and not your skin color or sex or etc. should be the norm. Being able to live in any neighborhood you can afford without being given sham excuses about why you can’t live there should be the norm.

Everyone should be able to live the life a male, straight, white, able-bodied, etc. American can live.

The guilt involved in the discussions on white privilege I’ve read implies that the privilege itself–our experiences as white Americans–is the problem. We need to give up some of our privileges so those without them can live like we do.

No. I don’t want to walk down the street and be judged as if I were black. I want everyone to be able to walk down the street and not be judged because of their skin tone.

The goal is to improve people’s lives, not lessen some to improve others.

My “privileges” aren’t the problem. The problem is that they have somehow become extra benefits and not the normal experience of just being HUMAN.

So, white Americans, don’t feel guilty that you can walk home and not get shot like Trayvon. Don’t feel guilty for getting into that college or getting that job.

Feel empowered to work so that people who are being denied their human rights can have the same opportunities at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that you do.

Because ultimately, what we’re talking about are rights, not privileges.

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Maitri Practice on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

Today is the 98th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, what has been called the world’s first genocide. In fact, the term “genocide” was coined to describe the events in Ottoman Turkey in 1915 toward the Armenians.

Hitler admired the Genocide and used it to persuade Germany to begin its racial exterminations:

“Thus, for the time being only in the east, I put ready my Death’s Head units, with the order to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of the Polish race or language. Only thus will we gain the living space that we need. Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?”

Prior to 1915, there were over a million Armenians living in Ottoman Turkey. Over 800,000 Armenians were killed, and that’s the “conservative” estimate.

I’ve been doing the Buddhist practice of maitri/metta daily now for nearly two weeks. Today I chose to attempt wishing maitri/metta on Talaat Pasha as my fifth stage maitri/metta (this is the stage when you wish wellness on someone you hate or feel aversion towards). Talaat Pasha was the Director of the Interior of Ottoman Turkey during the Genocide. This is the man who bragged about the massacres of Armenians by exclaiming,

“The Armenian problem doesn’t exist anymore.”

He wasn’t the only man responsible for the Armenian Genocide—it’s doubtful whether he actually killed any Armenians himself—but he was instrumental in the organization of their deportation and mass slaughter.

As the time for wishing maitri/metta on Talaat Pasha approached, I felt increasing apprehension. When the time finally came, my body began to shudder and I felt my eyes water.

Talaat Pasha to me during this meditation was not an individual. Not really. After all, he died long ago. Anyone directly involved in the Genocide is almost certainly dead. So what was I doing, attempting to wish him well, happiness, and freedom from suffering?

How much suffering must one face to honestly—fervently—wish the extermination of an entire race of people? How much fear?

And today, as Turkey continues to deny that the “massacres” were a Genocide (they say the Armenians were collaborating with the Russians and that’s why they had to kill all of them), I wonder not only about the effect of an unrecognized Genocide on the race that was killed, but the effect of an unrecognized Genocide on the nation who still denies it. To have something so horrible in your past that you cannot even allow your citizens to openly discuss it (to call the Genocide a Genocide in Turkey is illegal; it’s a “crime against Turkishness”). To live in fear that perhaps one day you’ll be forced to name those actions “Genocide” and the result will be the partition of your country almost in half (Turkish Armenia in Ottoman Turkey was a significant part of the eastern-central geographical block).

So, to Talaat Pasha and all like him, to Armenians who still suffer from this Genocide, to Turks who still deny its reality:

May you be well. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering.

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My Center

We Quakers talk a lot about “finding our center”, “centering down”, etc. Ask a dozen Quakers what we mean by the term “center”, and you’ll likely get a dozen different answers, though many of the answers would likely mention God, the Holy Spirit, the Light Within, “that of God”…

But when I talk about the “center”, I’m talking about a real place. A place I go to at least twice a week and more if I can manage it. A place where I find joy, and love, and peace. A place where I know I’m needed and know without a doubt that this is where I’m called to be.

And that “center” isn’t my Quaker Meeting or my meditation group. That “center” is an adoption center at a local no-kill and cage-free feline (and canine) rescue called Chesapeake Cats and Dogs. I began volunteering at CCAD 4 years ago. My role was to help socialize the cats, and it’s a role I take seriously. If a cat is shy or skittish, I try to work with the cat, to help the cat understand that people aren’t a threat and that human affection is a good thing. But I also try to make sure that I find the time every time I’m there to pet every cat that needs it most.

And here comes the first challenge: in an adoption center that at times has housed over 60 cats at one time, how do I prioritize? How do I make sure that when I’m petting one cat, I’m not distracted by the dozens of other cats I want to find time for?

In short, how do I truly be present with each cat?

It’s just mindfulness meditation, in a different form. When I’m petting one cat, I’m just petting that one cat. I’m aware of the subtle body movements that indicate if I need to change my petting technique. I’m aware of the cat’s condition: has he or she lost weight? does he or she have any fleas or ticks? is he or she congested? What does the cat’s purr sound like? Are they any behavior changes, for better or worse, that I can notice? Are there other cats approaching that may make this cat feel defensive? And the only way I can answer these questions is by being with the cat, in the moment. And when I fail to stay in the moment, the cat always notices and reminds me to return to it.

There are always cats I don’t get to. When I leave, I make a mental note to make those cats a priority my next visit.

But there are also always cats I particularly look forward to. In a real way, some of these cats have become friends to me. Figuro, Snicker, Ethel, and Emily are the cats I’m most attached to. All of them have been at the center for more than a year; all of them except Ethel have been at the center for as long as I’ve been volunteering there. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I absolutely adore and love these cats.

Which brings me to the next challenge: how do I love and adore these cats without holding back any affection, but also without becoming attached? After all, I can’t adopt them all.

When I first began volunteering at the center, I would cry whenever a cat I’d grown to love would get adopted. It’s hard developing a relationship with an animal and then having to say goodbye, knowing that I would likely never see the cat again. I knew that this was our goal, that we wanted the cats to be adopted and never returned to the center, but it struck me as a loss each time. I asked the office manager, Debbie, how she dealt with this, knowing that she loves those cats even more than I do. She said something like, “It gets easier with time. There are some you’ll always miss and the goodbyes are always hard, but it gets easier.”

And it has. Slowly I’ve become able to feel joy when a cat is adopted instead of sorrow. Slowly I’ve learned how to love without attachment, but without holding back either. It’s not about me and what I’d like. It’s about what’s best for the cat.

And this brings me to the third challenge: how to cope with the death of a cat or kitten.

This doesn’t happen often (and certainly not for lack of care or veterinary treatment), but it does happen. It’s par for the course for any rescue, whether the rescue is a no-kill or not. Some cats and kittens we try to rescue will have health problems. And some of those health problems won’t be curable or even treatable. And sometimes, a kitten just wastes away and no one knows why.

There is no answer to this challenge. Only the opportunity to practice and to remember that nothing is solid and every one dies. All I can do is be sure that when I’m with each cat or kitten, I’m giving them my all: all my love, all my attention. Because there’s no guarantee with any of them that they’ll be there the next time I come in. Maybe they’ll be adopted before then, or maybe I’ve already noticed that this cat or kitten is going downhill and may no longer be alive when I next come in.

The answer to this challenge is in the answers to the other two. All I can do is all that I can do. There is nothing else.

My center may not be overtly religious or spiritual, but it’s a good teacher. When I forget to be mindful or become too attached or my ego starts parading about how important it is, these cats bring me back to center. They remind me of what’s important and what isn’t. They show me what real love looks like. They fill me with joy, happiness, love, and sometimes sorrow, despair, and sadness.

But through it all, I always return to my center. Because it’s where I’m meant to be.

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Practice: A Slogan Post

I pulled this slogan a few days ago and am only now getting around to writing this post, which is appropriate given what I’m planning on writing:

“If you can practice even when distracted, you are well-trained.”

I could delve into the teacher/guru-student structure that’s so central to Tibetan Buddhism, which is the tradition from which I get these slogans, but I think that’s not the real message to be had here.

I’ve received this slogan many, many times over the past few years, and I’ve always discounted it as one of the “boring, inapplicable” ones, like the ones that seem to be pontificating on what I usually discount as Buddhist dogma and philosophy that really doesn’t matter.

(Okay, let me explain that last part a bit: I graduated from a college that spends an awful lot of time and energy on philosophizing everything. By the end of it, I started wondering what, exactly, the point was of being able to define everything. Just because maybe the exact definition of, say, a table can’t be known–what’s the eidos of a table, for those of you schooled in Greek-geek-speak–doesn’t mean that we don’t recognize a table when we see it. So, a lot of Buddhist philosophizing about perception or the 51 mental states, etc., I have difficulty finding ways to apply to my life, probably because I’m coming at it from this particular lens. … This may be something I need to work on.)

Back to the slogan at hand. I always thought this slogan was about the ability to meditate through distractions, that, say, if I can meditate even though two kitties are wrestling on the bed behind me, then I’m “well-trained”.

Right, because the whole purpose of Buddhism is to learn how to meditate well.

Let me say that more clearly: the purpose of Buddhism is not to teach people how to meditate well. While meditation can be both a means and an end, it is not THE end of Buddhism. It’s only a means.

What is the end?

I realize I’m still relatively new to Buddhism, but the purpose of Buddhism seems pretty clear to me: to alleviate suffering. The path that Buddhism recommends to do so is meditation, which allows one to develop right understanding so that one’s actions can truly alleviate suffering. (How many times have we tried to do the right thing and found out later that we had a critical flaw in our understanding of what the problem was?)

There is what I’ll call a Quaker fable that relates to this slogan:

A first-time attender is sitting in Meeting for Worship, waiting for the service to begin. As the silence stretches into many minutes, the attender whispers to his neighbor, “When does the service begin?” The Quaker replies, “When the worship ends.”

The point of this slogan is that it’s not easy to practice Buddhism, to be alert and aware enough all of the time to skillfully act in ways that alleviate suffering. I often find myself feeling very compassionate and loving during meditation sessions. I’ll resolve that the next time my sister calls, even if she calls for no reason and more than once a day, I’m going to be truly present for her and give her whatever it is she’s needing from me. But how long does that resolve last?

I think you all can relate to my answer. It lasts until I hear her ring-tone on my cellphone, when annoyance and irritation replaces my intention of love and compassion.

Or when I sit in Meeting for Worship, steeping in that Divine Love that centers us as Quakers and enlivens us, thinking about all the ways I’m going to be better at following Him. I’m going to be more alert to leadings and less fearful. I’m going to be more trusting. I’m going to be more loving and compassionate (that is the main common thread for me between Quakerism and Buddhism: the desire to be loving and compassionate).

So, this slogan is not about becoming an expert in meditation after all. It’s about, as Quakers would say, “letting my life speak”. It’s about maintaining that feeling of love, compassion, and mindfulness after the meditation session is over. It’s about maintaining that connection to God outside of Meeting for Worship.

It’s about practicing.

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Held without Hope

I don’t know where they’ve taken me or why they won’t allow me to call Rob to tell him I’m okay. I don’t know if I am okay, but the thought of Rob worrying about where I am is unbearable. The facility I’m being forced to call home is large and institutional, with lots of plain white walls and green linoleum tiles. The phones are old rotary phones that are apparently more for decorations than use; no matter how many times I try to call Rob, the phone refuses to connect. There are perhaps one hundred women trapped here with me. Each of us has been given our own room, not out of respect for our privacy, but in an effort to keep us from forming bonds. We’re not allowed to talk to each other, even a brief “Hello” results in a reprimand from our supervisors.

It’s made clear to me from the beginning that I am not to be released, that my only chance lies in escape, an escape which necessitates my pretense of acceptance and contentment. The more one shows her unhappiness here, the more notice one receives from the supervisors. The only women who go relatively unnoticed here are the ones who have been broken into accepting that this is what their lives have become.

We are, in a sense, well-cared for. I’m given the medications necessary for controlling my Rheumatoid Arthritis, the food is nutritious; we have access to medical care as needed, fresh water, bathing facilities; we’re even given a job: every day, we make baskets.

But the truth is that we are being held here against our will and without the knowledge of our families. The agony of not only being separated from Rob and our cats, but imagining the despair he (and the cats) must be feeling is soul-crushing. Though I know my chance for escape relies on a content facade, the truth is that I cannot hide my despair. I worry that the only way I’ll be able to put on a content facade is when I’ve forgotten who I am and who I’ve left behind.

________________________________________

When I woke up, the despair of the dream smothered me into tears. My normal routine for dealing with nightmares is to remind myself that it was only a dream and wasn’t real. Yet as I tried to comfort myself, I was struck with a crushing realization: that my nightmare is a reality for so many people around the world.

For Palestinians held indefinitely in Israeli jails whose families are denied access or information. For Muslims who have been detained by our American government that professes freedom at the expense of the rights of those we deem unAmerican. For the illegal immigrants all around the world, who never know when they might be detained and if their families would know. For all of those who’ve been kidnapped from their homes or workplaces to be detained in jails because they had the courage to speak out against an oppressive government or militia.

This was only a nightmare for me. I was able to wake up from the dream, safe and sound in bed with Rob, our cats clustered around us. I was able to let the nightmare fade and move on with my life. But the knowledge that my nightmare is reality for some people broke me open.

After that dream, I can no longer ignore the suffering of those who are held without hope of release. It’s not about guilt or innocence. It’s about suffering.

If my nightmare shook you at all, I urge you to join me in supporting Amnesty International, an organization that fights for the rights of those detained without hope.

May everyone living my nightmare have the chance to wake up and start living again.

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Inherent Goodness

One of my favorite aspects of both of my religions is the belief in inherent goodness. This is the opposite of what I was taught as a Catholic growing up, which was the belief in Original Sin, man’s tendency towards wrongdoing and separation from God. I never really believed in the concept of original sin. After all, if God made us, then how could we be naturally bad?

As Quakers, we tend to believe that the “Kingdom of God” is available to us, right here, right now. It’s an internal, personal event, instead of the worldwide, external, apocalyptic event that many Christians view it as. We tend to believe that because everyone is a creation of God, we all have access to the Divine within, the “that of God within”. This is the theological foundation for our method of silent, waiting worship. We believe that everyone and anyone can commune directly with God*, no intermediary necessary. We believe that God can lead us; that if we pay attention, we can follow God’s will for us.

*(When I speak of God here, I am speaking of the Divine in general, no matter what name you may give it.)

This is a huge deal, and, in my mind, one of the most important aspects of Quakerism, if not the outright foundation. Other Christian denominations make the claim to be welcoming, but this Quaker faith in inherent goodness, in our innate ability to commune directly with God, in our ability to access that Seed within, makes us utterly unique and uniquely welcoming. “Come worship with us and commune with God!”

In Buddhism, too, there’s a belief in inherent goodness of people. This is usually named as our “inherent Buddha-nature” or “bodhichitta”. Any and all people have the potential to become Buddhas, or enlightened ones. We are encouraged to treat anyone we meet as a potential Buddha. By meditation and mindfulness, we can encourage the seed of bodhichitta to grow within us.

We are not inherently bad. We all have innate goodness within us. We just need to

“dig deep… carefully cast forth the loose Matter, and get down to the Rock, the sure Foundation, and there hearken to that Divine Voice which gives a clear and certain Sound.” (John Woolman)

Or come to realize that:

“Whatever good or useful things you want for yourself, others want them just as much. So just as you work hard at bringing about your own happiness and comfort, always work hard to others’ happiness and comfort, too. Just as you would try to avoid even the slightest suffering for yourself, strive too to prevent others having to suffer even the slightest harm. Just as you would feel pleased about our own well being and prosperity, rejoice from your heart when others are well and prosperous, too. In short, seeing no distinction between yourself and all living creatures of the three worlds, make it your sole mission to find ways of making every one of them happy, now and for all time.” – Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher

Notice that in both practices, there is an aspect of letting go of the primacy of self. What I mean here is that we need to let go of the idea that we are the most important person, the center of the universe. We need to let go of our self-centeredness. In Quakerism, we strive to let go of our self-centeredness so that God can become our center, so we can discern between our ego speaking and the “still, small voice” of the Divine. In Buddhism, we recognize that the foundation of compassion comes in the letting go of our attachment to our ego, to our self, because true compassion can only grow when we are no longer the center of our own universe.

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Filed under belief, buddhism, compassion, emptiness, quakerism, that of God