Category Archives: slogans

“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. 

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“Nothing is what we thought”: A reflection on grief

Today’s slogan is, “Nothing is what we thought”. I love this quote by Pema Chodron because it has so many different meanings. First, it can mean that things are not the way we thought they were, that our perception of things is wrong. Second, it can mean that we are thinking nothing, that our mind is empty. And third, it can mean that our thoughts are nothing, that they are insubstantial and fleeting.

When this quote comes up in her book, it is the first meaning that she is referring to, and it is that meaning that I want to ponder in this post. A few months ago, I was feeling awfully smug about my ability to handle whatever life could throw at me. I felt that I was comfortable with the way grief affects me and I had a set idea of the losses that I expected to occur in the next couple years. Kosette, our 17-year-old cat with kidney failure, hyperthyroidism, and high blood pressure, would die within the next year or two. Then, five or so years later, our 12-year-old cat Min would die. That was how it was supposed to be. But life makes a mockery of our expectations, and nothing is as I thought.

220709_originalWhen we came home after being away for Christmas, Min had stopped eating. Over the next two weeks, we took her to the vet many times, searching for the cause of her anorexia, expecting it would be something fixable. It wasn’t. It was intestinal lymphoma, meaning that even if she were force-fed, the food had nowhere to go. She stopped purring, was barely drinking, stopped urinating and defecating, and spent a lot of time each day hiding.

On January 13, my husband and I made the decision to put Min to sleep. There was nothing else we could do to end her suffering. There were things we could do to prolong her life, but nothing we could do to actually make her better.

It was a shock. And I learned that grief is not predictable, that life is not predictable. Life doesn’t care about your expectations. All you can do—all I can do—is love as much as you can, because, as cliché as this is, you just never know. And so I start 2014 not feeling smug at all, but feeling vulnerable. And raw. And uncertain.

Because nothing is what we thought, and that’s just the way things are.

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Abandon All Hope, Question Motivation

Today’s slogan is:

“Abandon any hope of fruition.”

This slogan always seems almost unnecessarily morbid to me, very reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” And I always have difficulty with this slogan.

The explanations I’ve read about this slogan speak about being in the present, instead of always looking for some future outcome. I’ve read about how this slogan encourages one to meditate for the sake of meditating instead of, say, meditating to achieve enlightenment.

Rationally, I can accept that; but I’ve had difficulty accepting it on that deeper level where Truth rests.

Last night, I came across this passage from “Making Life a Prayer: Selected Writings of John Cassian”:

“There is a great difference between those who put out the fire of sin within themselves by fear of hell or hope of future reward and those who from the feeling of divine love have a horror of sin itself and of uncleanness and keep hold of the virtue of purity simply from the love and longing for purity. They look for no reward from a promise for the future, but delighted with the knowledge of good things present, do everything not from regard to punishment but from delight in virtue. “

This I understand. When I was young and certain “pious” adults tried to instill in me a fear of hell and longing for heaven, I rejected it. What is the point of doing the right thing if I’m only doing it for a reward or for fear of being punished? Shouldn’t I do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing? I decided then that I would do the right thing, as I best understood it, even if doing the right thing would lead to eternal punishment instead of eternal reward.

This offers me a new understanding of today’s slogan: that it’s not about abandoning hope, but challenging motivations.

Am I meditating because I want to become enlightened or because meditating is worth doing for its own sake?
Am I attempting to practice Right Speech because of some reward or because it’s the right thing to do?
Am I attending Meeting for Worship because I want to give ministry or because I want to open myself to Spirit, whether or not ministry through me will occur?
Am I praying because I want God to do something for me or because praying is a worthwhile activity, even if there’s no discernible end result?

Am I living because life is worth living or because I want to accomplish something?
Do I love because the object of my love is worthy or because love in and of itself is worthy?

Am I listening because I want to know what best to say to change you or because you deserve to be listened to, just as you are?

Will I have the courage to accept things just as they are or will I continue to see the present as just a step towards the future?

(The discomfort these questions are giving me is a good sign.)

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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?

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Death: A Slogan Post

Today’s slogan is:

For one moment,
quit being sad. Hear blessings
dropping their blossoms
around you. God.

(Rumi)

I’m having trouble with this one today. It’s funny… a few months ago, I read a Buddhist book called “No Death, No Fear” by Thich Nhat Hanh. While reading the book, I was feeling kind of smug, the way I sometimes do when I’m reading spiritual books and think “I got this. I’ve accomplished this; I understand it; let’s move on.” (Yeah, I may appear modest, but in my mind? No, I am IT. I am AWESOME. I GOT THIS.) I felt that I really understood already how I view death and that I’d become comfortable with it and accepted it as just a necessary part of life.

Of course, at the time, it had been a while since I’d been faced with death and lost a loved one. (I think you can see where this post is heading…)

Earlier this week, I found out some bad news about a being I care very deeply for, a young being, too young. She’s possibly dying, but no one really knows for sure because there’s no definitive test for the thing she’s suspected of having.

That smugness is laughable now. I’ve been crying. I’ve been sad. I’ve been angry. I’ve felt this whole thing is completely unfair. I’ve felt powerless. I’ve felt despair.

I am trying to see the beauty: that I got the chance to know her, that she is still living.

But comfortable and accepting of her death (which, after all, would have been coming at some point…)? No, I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable at all with this.

I want to be able to end this post with some sort of meaning, but I think that’s at the heart of this discomfort and pain: that perhaps there is no meaning at all to be found in what’s happening. Perhaps it just IS.

All I can do is be there for her now, for as long as I can.

And I can try to remember this horrible feeling of despair, of powerlessness, when I start feeling smug the next time, especially when I start giving in to my ego and believing that I am somehow better than those OTHER people who get upset when someone they love is dying.

Because life, after all, is rooted in impermanence. And there are no guarantees, despite the term “life expectancy”.

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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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Competive: a Slogan Post

Today’s slogan is “Don’t try to be the fastest.”

This reminds me of an experience I had a couple of months ago. My massage therapist (and friend) made a passing reference to my competitive nature, and I was immediately taken aback.

“Wait,” I asked her, “what makes you say that I’m competitive? I’m just asking because I don’t think of myself as a competitive person.”

She chuckled and said, “T, you are one of the most competitive people I know!”

And as we talked about it more, the truth of her words sunk in. My ego flailed at the assault–after all, competitiveness is neither a Buddhist nor a Quaker ideal trait. Surely, I felt, I’d gotten “past that”… hadn’t I?

Casual competition, such as in a game, is, I feel, okay, as long as it stays casual and doesn’t become aggressive. But competition in general is rooted in ego’s power; it’s all about stroking your ego or making yourself feel more important. Even when one feels like one is less than someone else, the more one harps on the competition, the more involved one becomes with one’s Self.

This is a real problem with me, one that’s so rooted in my character that I was completely unaware of it until my friend mentioned it to me. I enjoy winning. I enjoy being “better than”. I enjoy “being more spiritually-accomplished”. I enjoy being “more educated”, “more intelligent”, “more more more”.

More than what, exactly? We all suffer. We all die. We all want to be happy. We all want to be loved.

Lord, may I come to know experientially the truth of emptiness and compassion.

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“What God Has Made Clean”, A Slogan Post

Today’s slogan is “What God has made clean, do not you make profane.” For those of you who don’t know the context of this quote, it comes from Acts of the Apostles. Peter, one of the apostles, has just been invited to dinner at a Gentiles house, but is concerned because Gentiles don’t follow kosher food requirements. He doesn’t want to miss an opportunity to share the Good News with Gentiles, but also doesn’t want to make himself unclean. As he is praying about this dilemma, he sees a vision in the sky of all the animals whose food is considered unclean by Leviticus and hears the words “What God has made clean, do not you make profane”.




More images can be seen here.

“What God has made clean, do not you make profane.”

When we raise animals to be eaten and give them lives of nothing but suffering, their meat is no longer clean, often in the most literal sense. When we participate in the suffering of another for our own benefit, we devalue life. When we knowingly support systems of cruelty and abuse when we can afford not to, it is because we believe our convenience is worth more than the pain and suffering we are supporting.

I’d like to encourage everyone to carefully consider how our individual actions might be perpetuating this cycle of suffering and what we can do to end it.

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Responsibility

At last Meeting for Worship, the state of the economy was mentioned several times, always followed by comments like “their greed”, “they put us into this mess”, “they allowed their greed to overwhelm them”, “they”, “they”, “they”. By the end of Meeting, I felt uncomfortable and a bit of a nudge, so subtle that I missed it at the time.

I rose at Afterthoughts and felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time: the Guide. I paused  before speaking and prefaced my thoughts with an urge for everyone to take what I was going to say as a challenge, not as a criticism. This is what followed, as much as memory allows:

I understand our anger at people like the CEO at AIG, etc. I think this anger is justified. I think it’s easiest, and right in a way, to place the blame for our economy on them. But it’s not just them. And as soon as we make them into a them, we lose sight of the part we all played in this. They are not the only ones responsible. We all are. We all participated in this: wanting the best deal, not doing adequate research on companies we supported… And the thing is, because it’s not just their responsibility to fix this, we all can take a part in change. We’re all a little responsible. And that means we don’t have to leave it up to them to change. We can start on our own.

A few people came up to me after Meeting to thank me for what I’d said. And yesterday’s slogan reaffirmed this for me:

Look upon your treasures and try whether the seeds of war have any nourishment in your possessions.

(John Woolman)

Today, on this historic Inauguration, I want to quote part of Bishop Gene Robinson’s opening, under-televised, prayer from Sunday at 2:

We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking far too much of this one.

Yes, we are. Because if our government and our corporations have control over our society, it is because we handed it to them, slowly but surely. It is time for us to start taking control of our own lives. It is time for us to “be the change we want to see” (Gandhi).

It’s time for change. And not just for them to change, but for us, too.

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This is the day: A Slogan Post

Today’s slogan:

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad of it.

I can’t read this quote without hearing it sung. As a former Catholic, this was one of the hymns that was sung nearly every Mass. Nowadays I only attend Mass on Christmas Eve, mainly to humor my very Catholic grandmother. And each year, this action of family solidarity becomes harder to participate in. I feel like an imposter. Knowing that many of the people in attendance don’t believe everything the Catholic Church wants them to believe doesn’t make me feel any better. Every year, the message is the same: that the greatest gift we’ll receive tonight is Jesus and we need to take him home in our hearts. Unlike most Protestant churches and Quaker meetings, Catholic children stay for the whole mass. I’ve talked about this before, how I think it’s important for the children to be participants in the service instead of whisked away to another room. But I don’t think the Catholics have it right, either, because often the messages feel “dumbed down” for the kids, which harms not only the kids but the adults as well.

Back to Christmas Eve Mass. It’s ultimately an Integrity issue: do I continue attending Mass with my family to make my grandmother happy, letting her live with the delusion that I’m a good Catholic and a strong Christian; or do I break her heart with a decision that she cannot understand? I’ve tried talking with her about my faith before, and there’s just this barrier that’s reached. It’s not just a language barrier, either, as I fumble in French to try to explain my faith, but a perspective barrier. To her, being a Christian means being Catholic. The only other options are Judaism, which is tolerated because one of her sons married a non-practicing (or at least, quiet) Jew, or Islam, which is rabidly vilified. There is no Quaker option. Buddhism is unthinkable.

And so, I stood and sat at the prescribed times. I recited bits and pieces of the Nicene Creed that I felt comfortable with (“I believe in one God… I believe in the Holy Spirit…” I am bashfully silent about Jesus); I refuse Communion, letting my non-Catholic husband be the excuse (Only Catholics can participate in the Eucharist, and my husband was not raised Catholic), an alleged act of solidarity with the man I love; I watch the “Santa” bow before the Crucifix and pray at the life-size creche, and I wonder about idolatry.

The pomp and the ceremony, Barclay called them “shadows” of the real thing. And yet I have to wonder, have to ask myself honestly: do I participate in the real thing, or have I just substituted emptiness for shadow?

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