Category Archives: practice

“Meet Others on Equal Ground”: A Slogan Post

I started my day by reviewing comments I’d made on a facebook friend’s post to see if I’d been contributing to anti-blackness (anti-blackness is a more nuanced term for prejudice against people with dark skin; this term includes concepts of racism and colorism). The discussion was a challenging one; this friend was calling out white Jewish people who attempt to deny their prejudice against black people by saying they’re not white, they’re Jewish. This friend is black and had been hurt by pale-skinned Jewish people in the past.

This kind of conversation has many layers of prejudice that can be in play at any time. As someone involved in “social justice work”, when I come to a conversation, how do I “meet others on equal ground”?

To me, this means I need to be aware of the privileges I bring to any interaction and try to limit the effects of those privileges. 

My ethnicity is half Armenian and half European, but I have white privilege, which is why I’ve started openly identifying as white online. My dad’s family’s culture may not always be white American, but in interactions with the public, in general, I am given the benefit of white privilege. So, in conversations with black people, I try to “check” my white privilege. What does this mean? What does “checking your privilege” mean? It means that I do my best to make sure I’m not coming from a place of assumed superiority in interactions. It means I’m willing to listen and let them lead the conversation. It means, in short, doing what I can to reduce the effects of my privilege for this conversation by not claiming the power white people generally have in interactions with black people. It means doing my best to meet them on equal ground while being aware that society has done its best to prevent that ground from being equal. 

That’s one example. Another privilege I have is neurotypical privilege. This is something I am still learning about. But in interactions with autistic people, I try to give them the space to control the interaction. Or at least accept that my perception of a social interaction may be vastly different than theirs, and that theirs is no less valid than mine.

This leads me to another aspect of meeting others on equal ground: the acceptance of their truth as real, even if their truth is completely different than my own experiences. On another blog, I wrote about how disabled people are often questioned and doubted about the validity of our experiences as disabled people. About how “I believe you” can be life-changing for us to hear, because we exist in a constant challenge to prove our health conditions are real (particularly those of us with conditions that primarily affect women, such as fibromyalgia). 

This need for lived experiences to be believed is not unique to disabled people, however; as this article shows, black people also are routinely doubted and questioned when they share their lived experiences of racism. I believe that any marginalized/oppressed group will have similar experiences; that when a marginalized group tries to explain how their marginalization affects their lives, that people who aren’t part of the group, who have no experiences that match those, will tend to express skepticism.

This is also a way of the non-oppressed group to exert its control. “Oh, racism is over, thus we white people don’t need to change anything or do anything differently because you black people are just exaggerating.” “Oh, your pain can’t be that bad. I’d kill myself if I had to live your life.” “There are gay couples in TV and movies now; what do you mean representation is still a problem?” “Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, so clearly transgender people are now accepted by society.”

Etc. Denying the experiences of an oppressed group can be a method of abuse called gas-lighting

We need to listen. We need to be sure we’re not contributing to oppression in our interactions with people who are oppressed (and oppressed people, we are not blameless here; just because we’re oppressed in one way doesn’t mean we can’t participate in the oppression of other groups). “Meeting others on equal ground” may not always be possible. We may have internalized prejudices, or they may (yup, oppressed people often end up believing the stereotypes about their group; disabled people can have internal ableism, etc.). We may not be able to fully equalize the ground we’re meeting on; in fact, chances are, in a meeting between an oppressed person and a member of the oppressing group, we won’t be able to reduce the effects of our privilege enough to have it be a fully equal conversation.

But the first step has to be listening. It has to be believing the “other”, whoever that “other” may be, when they tell us about their life experiences that are different than ours. (For example, if a black person is telling a white person about a negative interaction they’ve had with police, that the white person’s positive interactions with the police does not negate the black person’s experiences or mean that they are seeing racism where there isn’t any. It means that they, as a black person, have had a difference experience than the white person has. That experience is no less valid just because that person is black while we are white.)

We need to accept that being aware of differences is not the same thing as being prejudiced. Because those differences matter, and the differences are not what’s bad–it’s the discrimination and oppression that is. And if we aren’t aware of this, we may never have the opportunity to meet someone from a different social group on truly equal ground.

“Meet others on equal ground”. When the ground that society has laid out isn’t equal, how do our interactions support or lessen this inequality? In what ways do we deny the truth of others different than us? In what ways are we supporting and empowering others? In what ways are we failing?

As a Quaker and a Buddhist, today’s slogan is a challenge, and one I know I need to keep working on. 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under buddhism, discernment, equality, oppression, practice, racism, slogans, speak and listen with love

“That of God”: Letting Go of Fear

Most of the time I spend at Chesapeake Cats and Dogs is spent interacting not with people, but with cats. My main function is what’s called “socializing”; that is, I give cats attention—pet them, pick them up, hold them, and so on. The goal of this is often said to be making the cats more adoptable. And I do hope that my interactions with the cats ends up with them being more adoptable.

But that’s not what I’m trying to do, exactly. My goal, what is behind how I interact with the cats, is to let the cats grow into who they truly are. What this means in particular for many cats is that I try to encourage them to be comfortable enough around people that they enjoy affection instead of fear it. This depends on trust and respect. The cat has to learn to trust me (and hopefully once they learn to trust me, they’ll extend that idea to other people), and to get the cat to trust me, I have to respect its limits. Respecting a cat’s limits doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes do something that pushes its limits (otherwise a shy cat would never learn to be petted, for example), but that when I do push its limits, I’m aware that that’s what I’m doing and I let the cat dictate how long this uncomfortable interaction continues. And when the cat has learned that he or she can trust me, then the transformation begins: she or he starts relaxing into interactions instead of tensing. Purring happens. Greeting me when I walk into the adoption center begins to happen.

Ultimately, it’s about teaching the cat how not to be afraid. I don’t believe there are any “mean” cats; I believe that when cats aren’t afraid, they’re loving and affectionate. But this isn’t a natural state for cats when they interact with people. It’s something they have to learn or be taught. And the older the cat is when this learning begins, the more fear there is to overcome.

In short, what I’m doing is seeing and answering “that of God” in these cats. And they appreciate it.

And I’ve been thinking that this is how I’d like to interact with people, too; to interact with other people in such a way that they know they have nothing to fear from me, so they can become who they truly are. Because people, like cats, aren’t born learning how to interact with people. It’s something we have to learn. And sometimes that process of learning gets tainted with fear and we forget who we are, at our core.

We’re like cats, I think: when we’re afraid, we lash out. And when we’re with someone who knows us—truly knows us—we blossom. Can we learn to see each other how God sees us? Can I learn how to answer “that of God” in people as well as cats?

I hope so.

1 Comment

Filed under cats, daily life, God, inspirations, love, practice, quakerism, speak and listen with love, that of God

Bi-religious Duality

There’s often an underlying tension when one professes to be a member of two religions. There’s the constant challenge of “Well, how can you be both X and Y?” And often one avoids answering the question by either outright ignoring it or starting a long convoluted explanation about how even though these two religions seem to have differences, they’re really not all that different when all is said and done.

Except sure they are, or you wouldn’t find it necessary to be part of both. You would be satisfied with one religion and wouldn’t feel the need to have two.

I am both Quaker and Buddhist. These two religions do have some similar beliefs—Quaker’s “that of God” is comparable to Buddhism’s bodhichitta or the idea that anyone can find enlightenment, not just monks—and some similar practices—when I sit in Meeting for Worship or for meditation, physically I am doing the same thing—but Quakerism is not Buddhism and Buddhism is not Quakerism. Nor should they be!

In this post, I’m going to focus on one of the most important theological differences I find between Buddhism and Quakerism. Now given the wide diversity of beliefs in both Buddhism and Quakerism, this post is going to involve lots of generalities and is just my understanding of what are the foundations of both religions, regardless of whether all Buddhists and all Quakers currently believe in these foundations or not.

This foundational difference is the concept of God. In Buddhism, there is no God, at least not in the personal, creative (as in, creator of the Universe) sense. The universe and all its inhabitants are, ultimately, ruled by karma, the law of cause and effect. In this sense, Buddhism is very scientific: because this happened, this then came to be, and so on. Pema Chödröm has this to say about the belief in a personal God, the kind of God who actually cares about you as an individual and interacts in the world:

“The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God… Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us… Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.”

Quakerism, on the other hand, has a foundational belief in the existence of a personal God. We sit in Meeting for Worship waiting to be Moved by Him (or Her or It or Whatever), and if we are so Moved, we stand and share the message. We believe that one can be Led. We have clearness committees to test Leadings. Now whether all Quakers today would agree that a personal God exists, we clearly believe that there is Something that has the ability to lead us. We believe in Something that can call us to an action or an inaction. We believe all can have a personal relationship with this Something without the need of a priest or outward sacraments.

Now whether Quakers today would name this Something God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Light Within, Allah, Nature, or Our Inner Goodness, this belief is not one that is found—as far as I know—within Buddhism.

The belief that I can be led—personally—by the Something seems at odds with the Buddhist belief in karma. How does a Something that can interact with me personally fit in with the Buddhist understanding of the universe as a mechanism of karma? How does that work?

It doesn’t seem to work, to be honest. Buddhist and Quaker dogma aren’t the same. They are inherently different. They come from different foundations: Quakerism is founded upon the idea of a Creator God, specifically the God of Jesus, that is accessible to all people; while Buddhism is founded upon the idea that anyone, despite current caste and past karma, can become enlightened and free from this world of suffering by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path. Quakerism in a sense encourages the individual—one has a personal relationship with God, one can be led—while Buddhism discourages the individual—the idea of a Self is ultimately a delusion. And if that is true, then how can something that doesn’t truly exist be led?

Wow, I am really over-simplifying and generalizing, aren’t I?

But what it comes down to is that practicing Quakerism and practicing Buddhism works for me—experimentally—as George Fox would say. The Buddhist practice of meditation—the maitri/metta I talked about in my last post; the mindfulness of breathing, of pain, of sound, of Being—works for me. The Quaker practice of waiting upon the Light works for me. How can I deny that I have been Led? Can I look back upon the ministry I’ve given in Meetings for Worship and dismiss the heart-pounding, body trembling that inspired me to stand and speak?

And yet, I can’t deny that there are serious differences between the two religions, and that these differences in some cases seem to be contradictory.

And so I am forced to stand in the Center, between what seems to be two choices, and wait in the tension.

Because what it comes down is that I believe more in experience than in notions. And that is something that both Buddha and George Fox would agree with.

2 Comments

Filed under belief, buddhism, different faiths, discernment, faith, leadings, practice, quakerism, statement of faith, that of God, universalism

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under buddhism, compassion, cultural integrity, human rights, oppression, practice

Mindful, Thankful, *Wonder-full* Eating

It all began so mundanely. It was the beginning of October, and my husband picked up an intestinal bug…
(Warning: there will be talk about diarrhea in this post. There’s no way around it. But there won’t be details.)
… and then passed it on to me. After 10 days of being sick with this intestinal bug, I woke up one morning suddenly feeling better.

Except the diarrhea continued, though the frequency and other… characteristics changed. Days passed and the frequency increased. I tried the BRAT diet. I tried all starches. I tried extra fiber, acidophilous pills, yogurt. I figured maybe the IBS I’d had for years was just all out of whack from the bug and I’d get better. Except I didn’t get better—I got worse. And I began to feel very, very unwell and weak. After a week of increasing diarrhea, I returned to my Primary Care Doctor, who was quite concerned and mentioned sending me to the hospital if he couldn’t get me an appointment with a GI doctor that day. The GI doctor I saw was helpful, but couldn’t know what was wrong without a plethora of tests, which I proceeded to get done. In the meantime, while I was waiting for the test results, the diarrhea continued.

It didn’t matter what I ate. The more I ate, the more frequently I had to use the bathroom. I was drinking as much as I could stomach to stave off dehydration, but it wasn’t the loss of fluids that worried me. It was the loss of energy. I felt like my life was being drained out of me each time I used the toilet. I began having trouble functioning. It became hard to walk. I lost 8 pounds in 3 weeks, even though I was eating as much as I could and drinking bottles of Gatorade every day. One night, at 3:30AM, stuck on the toilet, a thought came to me: “What if I just never eat again? Then the diarrhea would stop.” Reason kicked in and I realized that wasn’t a viable option, but it did occur to me that I could stop eating solid foods for a time, by switching to Boost or Ensure.

I sent my husband out that day to purchase Boost or Ensure and switched to an all-liquid diet for several days. And the frequency of the diarrhea finally began to lessen. More importantly, I started feeling stronger, like I was actually absorbing nutrition from what I was consuming instead of just losing it to the toilet. When the test results began coming in and confirmed it wasn’t any sort of infection causing the diarrhea, my GI gave me a drug called Lomotil, which further reduced the frequency of my diarrhea and allowed me the confidence to start leaving the house again… though I always was aware of where the nearest bathroom was. I was still unable to eat solid foods, however, as the pain and diarrhea would ratchet up in intensity whenever I tried.

3 weeks later—the day before Thanksgiving, with only occasional tastes of bland solids like saltines and small bits of pasta in chicken or beef broth, I was finally diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is an Inflammatory Bowel Disease, like Ulcerative Colitis. Like my Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, it’s an autoimmune disease, meaning my immune system had now decided to attack my intestines in addition to my joints. I was started on a drug called Pentasa, which worked very quickly.

427732_10152007668786996_618973844_nThanksgiving Dinner arrived. I was determined not to be drinking Ensure at Thanksgiving dinner. How can I possibly describe the sensation of eating that piece of turkey, that piece of kielbasa, that cranberry sauce…? It was bliss. Pure, unadulterated bliss. Eyes out-of-focus, nothing-else-in-the-world, bliss. I spent a good 10 minutes nibbling on that piece of kielbasa, savoring the zest of the spices, the juiciness of the meat, the tang of the bitterness from the sauerkraut it was cooked in… And that turkey, that turkey that my husband had cooked and basted for hours, with that gravy and homemade cranberry sauce mixed in with it. I nearly cried out of sheer joy.

Thanksgiving Dinner was the start of my reintroduction to solid foods. With Crohn’s disease, anything can be a trigger, causing an increase in pain or diarrhea. This meant that I had to introduce one new ingredient (including spices) back into my diet at a time. The next several weeks led me on an exploration of solid foods. I still relied on Ensure for more than half of my daily nutrition, and whenever I found a new trigger, I would switch back to an all-liquid diet for two days to give my intestines time to calm down. By Christmas, I was beginning to have a clear understanding of what my intestines could and couldn’t tolerate.

The tale should have ended here, with my Crohn’s understood and my triggers mostly discovered. But my body—my teacher, my guru—has a wicked sense of humor and wasn’t done challenging my relationship with food.

It was the 1st week of January. I had just finished recovering from the flu and was finishing a preventative course of antibiotics when I began having diarrhea again. This time, the diarrhea was different and came with a very high level of urgency. I couldn’t leave the house. Lomotil was completely ineffective. I immediately switched back to an all-liquid diet, but it had no effect. The GI doctor on call over the weekend put me on Flagyl (in case the antibiotics had given me the infamous C-difficile bacterial infection) and told me to increase my Prednisone dose to 20mg a day. These measures helped moderately, but not enough. I switched to all-liquids, but it seemed like even the Ensure was causing the pain to increase. By the end of the 2nd week of January, I was beginning to have a lot of pain right below my right rib cage. By Sunday, January 13th, the pain was severe enough that I was regularly screaming out in pain.

I am not the kind of person to scream at pain. I have a very high pain tolerance. But this pain was unlike any I’d ever experienced. It throbbed on the pain scale at a 9 and then the spasms would make that 9 seem insignificant. Concerned, my husband contacted my GI, who told me that it was likely my Crohn’s responding to a new trigger food and to take some of my left-over hip replacement surgery pain medications.

That Monday, January 14th, I woke up to the same level of pain. I struggled to care for our 5 cats, but gave up in the middle of their breakfast. I just couldn’t continue on like this any longer. I contacted my husband and told him he had to come home. Now. Thankfully, he did. Once he arrived home, we planned on taking me to the emergency room. As I was getting ready to go, I began feeling very nauseated. I ran to the bathroom, swallowed the vomit… and had to shout for my husband to help me down to the floor.

“I can’t do this any more. Call an ambulance.”

One ambulance ride, 12 hours waiting for a room on a stretcher in the hallway of the emergency room triage area (luckily right next to a bathroom), several tests later, I was finally given a diagnosis:

Pancreatitis.

Usually caused by severe alcoholism or gallstones. Neither of which were applicable to me.

I spent 3 days NPO—nothing by mouth but ice chips—and was started on IV fluids, pain killers, and 15mg of IV steroids every 6 hours. By Tuesday afternoon, I was feeling much better. The pain was still very much present, but it wasn’t at all comparable to the pain I’d been in.

And being in the hospital began to have an unintended effect on me: because I wasn’t feeling up to doing anything and was constantly being interrupted, I spent most of my time sitting and waiting. Just sitting, just waiting. Mindfully. I’ve always wanted to attend a Buddhist retreat and been unable to because of my health challenges, and now it felt like my health had finally allowed me to go on the retreat I’d always wanted to attend.

Thursday morning, I was allowed clear fluids: apple juice, chicken broth, jello. I’m normally not a fan of apple juice, and I’d have enough chicken broth in November to last me a life-time, but after 3 days of ice chips? They. were. fantastic.

Two days later, I was released from the hospital, with a tentative diagnosis of Autoimmune Pancreatitis (because my immune system is one hell of an over-achiever!). This diagnosis came with significant dietary restrictions, especially for the days immediately following my hospital release:

  • Low sugar.
  • No protein.
  • No fat, especially saturated.
  • VERY small amounts of food.

Those first few days, I starved. Literally. I had gained 22 pounds of water weight from all the IV fluids from the hospital, which dropped off in 2 days, but after that water weight was lost, I kept losing. I would lose about 2 pounds a day, because I was unable to eat. The smallest amount of food would cause an increase in pancreatic pain.

But the 40mg of Prednisone was working, and I slowly began to increase my daily intake of calories. I slowly began to tolerate small amounts of protein, sugars, and unsaturated fats.

With Autoimmmune Pancreatitis being a chronic condition, I will continue to be limited in how much I can eat at once, especially how much saturated fat my pancreas can tolerate. My new diet is 4 300-400 calorie meals a day (plus 1 or 2 100 or so calorie snacks), with no more than 3g of saturated fat in any one meal. And I will likely have to avoid all red meat, at least in any significant quantity, for the rest of my life.

A recent dinner: Linguini with chicken sausage, tomato sauce with basil and oregano, and green peppers

A recent dinner: Linguini with chicken sausage, tomato sauce with basil and oregano, and green peppers

But eating… Eating has become sacred to me. Each bite of solid food is a joy. And I am eating all solids now. The Prednisone has soothed my intestines so that I no longer have to rely on Ensures for half of my daily calories. (Ironically, Ensures are actually very hard on a pancreas, because they’re high in protein, sugar, and have a gram of saturated fat, so I will need to use these with caution in the future.) Even eating such bland foods as Cheerios has become a delight. I am so thankful to be able to eat. And dinners have become such a journey! What will I try tonight? What new levels of protein or saturated fat can my pancreas now tolerate?

For years, I tried to lose weight and find a way to eat more mindfully. I wouldn’t have chosen to lose the weight this way or to learn how to eat mindfully by losing the ability to eat for several days, but I’m grateful to my body for this gift.

Eating—having the ability to eat, having access to food—is a gift. It’s a precious gift, one too many people in this world don’t have.

When I eat now, it’s with a sense of wonder. May I never forget.


PS: Another unintended effect of my hospital stay is that I’ve resumed my daily sitting meditation practice. I got into the habit of sitting and waiting, and I’ve enjoyed continuing that now that I’m home and getting well.

4 Comments

Filed under daily life, health, mindfulness, pain, physical pain, practice, sacraments

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.

2 Comments

Filed under cats, compassion, daily life, death, ego, emptiness, gratitude, impermanence, inspirations, love, mindfulness, practice

Outreach: A Monthly Query Post

Queries taken from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s “Faith & Practice”. The current month’s Query can be read in full here.

  • How do I ground myself in the understandings of my faith? Am I clear about my beliefs? How do I prepare myself to share my faith and beliefs with others?

    There are many ways I try to ground myself in the understandings of my faith. I try to constantly be mindful of my motivations behind actions and alert to any leadings I may be given. I attempt to allow love and compassion to be my primary motivation behind all actions and always question whether the way in which I behaved lived up to that motivation, and if not, then what got in the way.

    I’m not certain that I’m clear about my beliefs, not in the theological, dogmatic sense. I’m in general no longer very interested in arguing about dogma, or “notions”, as George Fox would say. My faith is what it is, and limiting it to words that may serve to divide me from others doesn’t interest me. So… I suppose that yes, I am clear about my beliefs.

    The primary way I try to share my faith and beliefs with others is through my behavior. If I’m not acting from a grounding in love and compassion; if my behavior towards another violates my Testiomonies of Simplicity, Integrity, Peace, and Equality, or violates their Testimonies; if I’m more closed than open, then I am not living up to my faith. I’m always open and available to talk about my faith with any who ask, and I don’t avoid discussing it in conversation if the subject comes up. I don’t really prepare to share my faith in any different way than I prepare to live it.

  • Does my manner of life as a Friend attract others to our religious society?

    I hope so, but I can’t be sure.

  • Do I seize opportunities to tell others about the Religious Society of Friends and invite them to worship with us?

    Yes. If way opens in a conversation, I don’t hesitate to talk about my Meeting and why I love our way of worship.

  • Is my manner with visitors and attenders to our Meeting one of welcome?

    … Probably not. I often feel rushed during Hospitality to leave as quickly as possible, because my husband drives me to Meeting for Worship and is often waiting in the car to drive me home. I don’t like ending conversations prematurely, so I often avoid starting them.

  • What opportunities have I taken to know people from different religious and cultural backgrounds, to worship with them, and to work with them on common concerns?

    I don’t limit myself to only working or being around those like me. If I feel led and way opens, I will worship with someone whose faith is different from mine.

  • What opportunities have I taken to know, to work, and to worship with Friends outside of my own Meeting?

    Other than online, I haven’t had many opportunities to worship with Friends outside of my Monthly Meeting. But I do communicate with Friends on facebook and find their virtual friendship helpful. I enjoy reading about how their faith shapes their lives and love being challenged by them.

Leave a comment

Filed under belief, daily life, leadings, meeting for worship, practice

The Dance of the Ego

I’m turning 30 tomorrow.

This bears repeating: I’m turning 30 tomorrow. And my ego has been out in full force over the last few weeks.

First, I had this idea of what I wanted my “big day” to be like. I don’t always have birthday parties, but I definitely wanted one for this year. And I wanted it to be a large party, for me, with 8-9 people. I wanted to get everything on my wishlist (only 23 items, how hard can that be, really?).

The wrinkle began over a month ago, when a good friend of mine told me she couldn’t make it. That wrinkle grew quite a bit, with most of the people I invited saying they already had other plans.

Then my in-laws seemed to forget that my birthday was approaching. Last year, I didn’t get the traditional birthday dinner; they chose to celebrate my birthday on Mother’s Day and picked up fried chicken (which doesn’t agree with my intestines, let’s just leave it at that) for dinner. The chocolate cream pie, while homemade, was made with Splenda, which also doesn’t agree with my intestines. Let’s just say it was kind of a… crappy birthday meal. So, I’ve been a bit anxious about whether this year I’d actually get a birthday dinner that I could really enjoy.

As the weekends passed without any mention of my upcoming birthday or questions about what food I may want for my birthday dinner, I began to get more anxious.

Did it matter that my father-in-law’s mother was in the process of dying and succumbed to death two weeks ago?

It should have, and I knew that it should have, but I’m ashamed to say that it didn’t really matter as much as it should have.

I felt like a 3-year-old jumping up and down while waving my arms and shouting, “LOOK AT ME!!! LOOK AT ME!!! LOOK AT ME!!”

It wasn’t pleasant. I could feel how unusually self-centered I was, but seemed completely powerless to stop the onslaught of ego.

It’s still there, really. It’s kind of hard to contain it. Turning 30 is made out to be such a big deal in American culture, like it’s the “end of youth and the beginning of the slow march into middle age”, as Dr. Bashir stated so eloquently on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And I honestly have mixed feelings about turning 30, because of my physical issues. I’m used to people being shocked by how young I am to be dealing with these kinds of physical problems, and the older I get, the less shocked people become. It’s like I want the credit of having dealt with these issues for 30 years instead of people assuming they’re a new problem somehow related to my current age. (I know that 30 is still young to be dealing with the level of physical issues I deal with, but it’s not as young as, say, 12.)

The teacher of the meditation group I attended suggested treating my ego with some compassion. This is a good suggestion. I often talk about my body parts as if they have their own thoughts and desires and have found it helpful, e.g., “My left hip isn’t happy with the amount of walking I’ve done.” I will begin relating to my ego in the same way, as if it’s a body part: one that I need to care for, but, like all body parts in pain, one that I need to realize is just a part and not as all-encompassing as it seems.

So, ego, I just want you to know that I know you’re there. And I don’t want to destroy you or harm you in any way. I just want to understand that you’re not the center of everything. Just like if I favored my left hip and completely ignored the rest of my body, I’d end up injuring myself: just so when I favor you above all others, it’s harmful.

Happy 30th birthday, ego.

Leave a comment

Filed under daily life, ego, physical pain, practice, vanity

The Return

It’s funny: I’ve had this blog title floating around in my head for months now. I thought the title was going to be referring to my return to Meeting for Worship after my hip surgery.

It’s not, though: it’s about my return to Jesus.

Five years ago, I began an annual tradition of reading the New Testament, starting on Christmas and finishing by the end of Lent. Two years ago, after I finished my annual reading, I felt that I was being called to take a break. I didn’t seem to get anything from that reading—I’d become too familiar with the text and had read it too frequently. So, last year come Christmas, I didn’t start reading the New Testament. Actually, I don’t think I’d even picked up my favorite translation (Richmond Lattimore’s) for over a year.

Today I had lunch with a dear friend of mine—I’ll call her R—who I hadn’t really gotten to visit with for several months. During lunch, she mentioned this worship meeting she attends every Tuesday night. She’d mentioned this a few times before. They read a section of the Bible, talk about the word or phrase that pops out at them, and then pray together. It sounded a lot like a modified lectio divina group.

Coincidentally, I just finished a book called “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening” a few weeks ago that spoke about lectio devina, as well as centering prayer. (Centering prayer deserves its own entry, but I will chime in briefly that apparently centering prayer is what I’ve been doing at Meeting for Worship for years and just didn’t know what to call it. If you want to read a book that really, really explains just what we’re trying to do at Meeting for Worship in concrete, practical steps, this is THE book. And surprisingly, it’s written not by a Quaker, but a contemplative Episcopalian.) Lectio divina is a practice I’ve read about in quite a few books now, but never felt motivated to really try. I found the idea interesting, but just didn’t feel an urge to try it then and there.

After lunch today, I suddenly found myself interested in attending R’s worship meeting with her. But I didn’t know when my husband would be getting home tonight (he’s often out doing service calls at locations over half an hour away, so when we eat dinner is not predictable), so I told her I’d have to let her know later if I could come.

Shortly after I got home from lunch, my husband calls to let me know he’s coming home early.

Way opened!

Tonight’s focus was on two selections from the Gospel of John, chapter 1, lines 6-8 and 19-28. We read three translations: the NIV (1:6-8, 1:19-28), the King James (1:6-8, 1:19-28), and the Message (1:6-8, 1:19-28), in that order. For the first reading, we were encouraged to focus on a word that drew our attention and then share our thoughts about it.

The word that jumped out at me was “light” in lines 6-8:

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

This term has particular meaning to Quakers—we talk a lot about the “inner Light”, the “Light within”, etc.—but the source of our history with that term is biblical. I happen to be reading J. Brent Bill’s book “Mind the Light”, so the word “Light” really popped out of the page.

But that was the… somewhat predictable response. Looking at the same text a second time as seen through a different translation encouraged me to move beyond the predictable and the practiced responses and find something new.

The second word that called out to me was the word “through”:

The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him believe.

What struck me was the idea of coming to believe in something through another being. “Through him, all men believe.” It almost felt like the “through” was the verb in that clause, not a preposition. It is often “through” other people that we come to have faith; and Light works through us… We can be conduits to that Light and catalysts to the Light in those we meet.

The third reading revealed to me a pairing of phrases: “completely honest” and “plain truth”, from lines 19-20 in the Message translation:

19-20When Jews from Jerusalem sent a group of priests and officials to ask John who he was, he was completely honest. He didn’t evade the question. He told the plain truth: “I am not the Messiah.”

These phrases sound synonymous, but they’re not always. Sometimes when I’m focused on being “completely honest”, I speak too much and too long. I’m speaking honestly, but my overabundance of words obscures the truth. So there’s a difference between being “completely honest” and living “plain truth”.

What struck me the most, though, about the entire experience tonight was how different an experience it was to read the New Testament in this way. Hearing what words or phrases struck others—hearing the Spirit behind those words—made this text that I’ve now read or heard over a dozen times feel new. I was able to see the text with new eyes.

And what also struck me at the end, as we were praying out loud in a circle,one after another—which is a new experience for me!—was how centered I felt, how centered the entire group felt. It was the same sense that I’ve experienced at Meeting for Worship… but with people whose theological beliefs and practices are different than mine. Yet the Spirit was there, just as it is at Meeting for Worship.

I was called to put myself in an uncomfortable position, to be around people whose beliefs I believe to be different than mine, and to be open and vulnerable with them just the same. I expected to find it challenging—it was. I didn’t expect the experience to be so enjoyable and spiritually refreshing.

Friends, we are called not just to the Light, but to the Light through discomfort. Only by being uncomfortable can we be given the opportunities to respond to the Light within others who reflect the Light differently than we do.

But it is the same Light, Friends.

4 Comments

Filed under bible, christianity, christians, different faiths, discernment, faith, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, leadings, light, ministry, practice, speak and listen with love, that of God, the bible

Integrity and Right Speech

The slogan I pulled for today is:

“I take up the way of speaking truthfully.”

which was one of my Precept vows.

As a Quaker, we have a Testimony of Integrity that has its roots in Jesus’s command to “let your yea be yea and your nay be nay”. This is a testimony I’ve always felt strongly about and have practiced since I was a child, though I didn’t know about Quakerism back then. I’ve always prided myself on my honesty: I’m the type of person who, when accidentally buying a gift card with 2 envelopes, will be uncomfortable until I’m able to return the extra envelope to the shelf (true story: I felt a huge sense of relief when I was finally able to put the extra envelope back in the store).

But there may be times when telling the truth can be harmful:

Sometimes we speak clumsily and create internal knots in others. Then we say, “I was just telling the truth.” It may be the truth, but if our way of speaking causes unnecessary suffering, it is not Right Speech. The truth must be presented in ways that others can accept.
“The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” by Thich Nhat Hanh

For example, my grandmere (grandmother) is old, traditional, Catholic, and English isn’t her first language. She grew up in a location where the only Christians were Catholics, and the only other religions were Muslim, Jewish, and Druze. Those 4 religions encompass her entire understanding of religion, and she, while a wonderful person, is neither smart enough to understand how Quakerism is different from Catholicism and yet still Christian (I consider Quakerism a Christian religion even though one can be Quaker and not Christian), nor is my French quite good enough to explain the differences adequately under such circumstances. When I first joined my Quaker Meeting, I attempted to explain to Grandmere about my new faith, because I felt it would be dishonest not to do so. This effort led to a lot of confusion and frustration.

But now, I don’t try to explain the differences. When she says things like, “God be with you”, I reply, “And with you, too, Grandmere”, even though I know that her understanding of God is different than mine. I focus on what we have in common–our faith in God, that we are both very committed to our faith–instead of worrying about whether she really understands how my faith is different from hers.

I don’t feel this is dishonest or an affront to my Integrity. Instead, I feel that this approach speaks to the Truth my Grandmere and I share.

There are other times, too, when I can see the truth in a situation, but know that the person I’m speaking to is not at a place where they can hear the truth and that telling the truth when a person is unable to hear it can be harmful. Instead, I try to nudge that person gently towards the truth, step by step, with the hope that one day, he or she will be ready to accept it.

Have any of you had similar experiences?

Leave a comment

Filed under belief, buddhism, catholicism, discernment, faith, family, integrity, practice, slogans, speak and listen with love