Saturday, May 30, 2009

What sign were you born under?

Tom Rush credits Judy Collins with saying, “If you remember the '60's, you weren't there.” Well, though I am most pleased that I have come to know Tom Rush through his music, his lyrics and his humor, I don't remember him from the '60's. I remember Judy. Where does that leave me? Well, like I've always said, I lived on the periphery of two cultures, remembering a little bit of both and not much of either. Actually, I do remember the '60's. I graduated from high school in 1964. I entered the seminary in the summer of 1964 and I joined the U.S. Army in 1965, then back into civilian life with an honorable discharge from the Army in February of 1969. Those were good years. I remember them well.

I remember in the 1970's I'd go to parties and people would ask, “What sign were you born under?” I remember the entry way to the old St. Mary's Hospital in Roswell, New Mexico where I was born in 1946. Arched over the entry way was a blue neon sign, “St. Mary's Hospitial.” Guess what I told people. Of course, I was born under a neon sign. And, by the way, Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. was born there, as well, a mere three years earlier. You don't know Henry Deutschendorf? Surely you jest! Oh, wait, you know him as John Denver.

I didn't take astrology seriously back then. I do now. I have given you two items of information that will reveal who I am to you, if you understand astrology, and have a bit of intuition to boot. Actually, you need to know the date and time of my birth as well to have an accurate summary of me. How accurate is it? Well, the astrologer that read my chart was able to identify the big event I told you about in my last post. The big event being my experience in the Chiricahua Mountains. He was able to tell me about my relationship with my parents. He was able to help identify the issues that I currently face, and he was able to show me the issues that I need to resolve before I move on to another dimension. It all makes sense.

So why did I, a Libra, marry a Scorpio? If you compare our personality traits, we had no business getting married at all.

Let's start by proposing a scenario that some suggest as our cycle of life. We are immortal spirits seeking to mature. We mature by accepting “tests” in the physical life. We are born into this physical dimension. We live, we struggle, we are tested, succeed or fail, we die. We stand a review and decide if we want to continue to grow, or to just stay at our current level. If we chose to grow, we go back into the physical world.

So, in theory, I came into this life with a mission to learn certain things. To get into a life that would test and teach me, I selected a life path from the stars and planets. It is like buying a plane ticket. If I want to be in Chicago, I look at the airline schedules and select a flight that will get me to Chicago. So I selected the life path that starts from Roswell, New Mexico at 11:45 AM on September 28, 1946. Keep in mind, selecting this path gets me to the location, the rest is up to me to respond appropriately to the situations I encounter.

When you read my blog, you read about the journey I have chosen, and my responses, good and bad, right and wrong, to the situations set up for this particular “flight.”

The question remains, “Why did I marry a Scorpio?” Was our marriage a wrong choice for the mission I selected? I don't know. I'll ask the astrologer the next time we have a session together.
Be Peace. Be Love.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Love is....

Do you know what “love” is? I make a habit of asking friends that very question because I want to know if I'm the only one wrestling with the question, and I want to know where the question has led others.

Long story short: most of my life, love has been defined in terms of “me.” I “love” anything or anyone that pleases—ME. Even if someone pleases me, they usually have something about them that prevents me from loving them in all things. I'm sure by now, you see exactly where I am going with this.

Let's go back in time, the summer and fall of 1979. A major event had taken place about five years prior—a divorce. A divorce from a woman I thought I loved, with the exception of a few things that caused a large amount of stress between us. By 1979, I had lost all hope of a reunion with the ex-wife, and the meaning of life totally left me. I set out to kill myself. The high level summary of the event: I ended up in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona, sitting on a large boulder waiting to die from a rattlesnake bite. As my wounded leg burned, throbbed, and rippled with spasms, I delighted in the thought that I had only a few hours of misery left. In the mean time, it occurred to me that just maybe I should examine why I was so terribly unhappy.

You see, from the time of my earliest recall, I have been “God aware.” From the time of my earliest recall, I have wanted to be a servant to the Most High God. Never-the-less, I lived moment by moment, never thinking that I should plan anything. I was tossed daily by the whims of materialism and self gratification. As my thoughts progressed, I brought God into the conversation, “God, I simply do not want to live anymore if I have to live without you in my life. If you can still use me, you can have me, otherwise, just let me die.

Suddenly I felt gentle arms around me and a feeling of being totally and unconditionally accepted. All my sorrows and burdens suddenly left. I had never felt that--no, never--in my recollection of life. It felt so good. "Lord, if this is you, you will have to heal my leg as a sign to me. I will not seek any medical attention. If I die, so be it."

Did I say that God healed my leg right then and there? No, I didn't; He didn't. That leg remained in spasms and cramps for the next two months, and to this day, it suffers the most pain from arthritis and inflammation of the lymph nodes from the bottom of the foot to the connection at the hip. I have a constant reminder of that day in the Chiricahua Mountains.

The story is much larger than this, and would take many pages to describe everything that had happened prior to that day, and how obstacles, physical and emotional, were slowly removed and continue to be removed to this day, because I know without a single doubt, that I am in God's beneficent hands.

In remembrance of that day in the Chiricahua's, I now have a simple and complete definition of “love.”

Love is a complete, one-hundred percent acceptance of the person. Love does NOT say, “If you change this or that, I will love you more.” Love says, “I accept you just as you are, without any exception, without any anticipation or expectation of what you will be tomorrow.” Love does not change in degrees. Love does not change over time. Love is total and absolute acceptance or it is not love at all. Love by definition must be unconditional acceptance. The moment one puts conditions on acceptance, it ceases to be love and becomes a tool for self gratification.

The apostle Paul helps me to understand love in slightly more practical terms in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails....”

Now, I am going through a list of people I claim to love. I ask a simple question: What would I like to change in this person? If the answer is anything but nothing, I know my acceptance has conditions and that I do not love that person. Believe me, the results of that test are revealing, disappointing and humbling. I now know the depth and width of my ability to love. I have been a very selfish person for the most of my life.

One can ask then, “So, when someone you love brings harm to you, you accept that and do not do anything about it?” The answer is in how I treat my dogs. I accept my dogs one-hundred percent. I love them. I would change nothing in them. They sometimes soil the carpet. When they do, I know they are sick and I seek to help them get well. My puppy continually picks up unhealthy things into his mouth; I gently remove them as quickly as I can so it does not cause trouble for him. Both dogs prance proudly into a street without looking; I restrain them until I know they are safe. I even get tired of doing those things time and time again, but, dogs are dogs, and dogs behave like that. I could even train them so they don't do things like that. I have nothing against that. The training is not for my sake, but for theirs. The same, I would think, applies to my family, and to my friends, in as much as they chose to accept any wisdom I have. I also recognize, that when it comes to wisdom, I have scant little. They are more often my teachers, than I am their teacher.

I have a friend in Second Life that has given me some sound advice as relates to my family members. I have to consciously assert myself and consciously seek to honor and love them. I do this supported by daily meditations and daily reading to help me understand how true love will manifest. In the finest Mahatma Gandhi tradition, if I want love, I must be love. That is one of my goals and I work at it daily. Yes, I said, I W-O-R-K at it daily. Love is not a fleeting feeling. It is a cultivated skill. For me, it is a total mind work-over. Love does not come to me naturally.

And by the way, I DO love my ex-wife. I am thankful to be able to say, we are still respectful friends.

Be Peace. Be Love.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Violation of Trust

Has anyone ever shown you disrespect? Has someone recently violated a principle you hold to be true. Has anyone ever violated your trust? It causes so much pain, does it not? It seems recently that I have had to endure an inordinate amount of such stress.

I have mentioned Byron Katie in one of my other posts. She has developed a reliable method for confronting such situations – not with the offender; with yourself. She leads you through defining the problem and describing what you think about it. Then she asks, “Who would you be without the thought?”

Of course, most people respond, “Well, I would be very happy if I didn't have that thought.” For example, let's say a friend named Clay did not want to be a reference on a job application. You are offended and think, “Clay doesn't trust me. Clay thinks I'm going to blow it and reflect poorly on him. Clay is so selfish!”

Now imagine for a moment that you are talking to Clay and you no longer have these negative thoughts about how Clay doesn't trust you, and Clay is not your best friend. Wouldn't it seem that it would be much easier to talk to Clay about anything once again?

Byron Katie's method is effective. It works for me. But, what if I could have prevented ever making a judgment against my friend, Clay, altogether? To be able to do that takes a realistic understanding of a relationship. On one level, you know and understand the relationship with Clay well enough that you know what you can and can't ask him to do. That is not a judgment against the friend. It indicates a mature evaluation of the relationship, and accepts the limitations of the relationship without taking it as a personal affront, or as criticism of the other person.

This brings to mind the third principle of mindfulness training I found in Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Being Peace.

Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are committed not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever—such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination—to accept our view. We will respect the right of others to be different and to choose what to believe and how to decide. We will, however, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness through compassionate dialogue. (Thich Nhat, Hanh, Being Peace Pages 92-93)
*see the note below

"How does this apply to a friend who has violated my trust?" you ask. Simple. Somewhere in your mind you have formed a definition of what a friend is, or of what you expect of a friend. In so doing, you impose upon that friend this set of expectations. Stated another way, be aware of your expectations in friendship. Adjust them as necessary so that you are not subconsciously imposing those expectations on your friends. This is a quality of true love--and true love by definition is unconditional. It will save you grief in the long run.

Now, you have two paths you may follow as far as dealing with the feelings of having been disrespected or having your trust violated. The first and most preferable, is be realistic about the limitations of a friendship. All friendships have their limitations. Know them; respect them; respect and honor the views of your friends as well as your so-called “enemies.” In so doing, you will not set your friend up to disappoint you.

The alternative and less desirable path is to deal with the feelings after a trust has been violated. Check out Byron Katie's site.

Byron Katie has written many books. The only one I have read thus far is Loving What Is It is an excellent insightful book. Read it.

OK. Confession time. There is one part of the principle with which I struggle: “We will, however, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness through compassionate dialogue.” It sounds like a great ideal; at least until you ask, “What does 'fanaticism' and 'narrowness' mean?” I remember laws against “excessively noisy” vehicles in cities around the U.S.A. Most people would rally behind such laws. However, in most cities, those laws were declared unconstitutional because there was no real legal description of what “excessive noise” means.

In other words, the meaning of “fanaticism and narrowness” is too open to interpretation. Anyone can arbitrarily determine what is fanaticism and narrowness and engage in a “compassionate dialogue.” It also sounds like, “You have a right to say or do anything unless I think you are being fanatic or narrow-minded.” Don't get me wrong, I'm not a legalistic person. However, I have found myself in various situations through out life where vague rules have been challenged, rendering them almost unenforcible. Even so, let's not preclude the scenario wherein a patient and loving soul could lead a fanatic and narrow-minded person in a dialogue that includes agreeable definitions, and from there arrive at a resolution and liberation from fanaticism and narrowness.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Dalai Lama and Open-mindedness

Have you ever read anything by the Dalai Lama? Listen, if you have not, you need to. The tiger has not yet been disappointed by anything by, or about the Dalai Lama. The man can converse with anyone about anything from an amoeba to quantum physics. He can talk to theoretical physicists and he can talk to a simple tiger. He has read and digested volumes of all kinds of books with all kinds of focuses. He is simply amazing.

Thich Nhat Hanh in Being Peace presents fourteen principles he calls “Mindfulness Training” which may explain why the Dalai Lama is such a scholar. Here is the Second Mindfulness Training principle.

Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We shall learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to others' insights and experiences. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives. (Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace page 92)

Just how open-minded is “open-minded?” The Jew In the Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz, is a moving non-fiction book that provides a great insight into the mind of the Dalai Lama: The setting of the book is in Dharamsala in the state of Himachal Pradesh in northern India in the fall of 1990 where the Dalai Lama had organized a dialog with Jewish leaders. The purpose of the dialog was to understand how Jews have survived persecution after persecution over the last two-thousand years or more. While the book is more about Mr. Kamenetz's spiritual journey of returning to his Jewish roots after watching the Dalai Lama and the proceedings, Mr. Kamenetz describes in detail the person of the Dalai Lama.

Imagine that! A religious leader being open-minded enough to seek guidance from the leaders of another religion!

Now, if you get the chance, read a book by Dr. Daniel Goleman called Destructive Emotions: How Can We Overcome them? This book details a conference with leaders of Western psychologists, neuro-scientists and philosophers and the Dalai Lama. The Dalai and some of his associates demonstrated to these scientists his breadth of knowledge, for one, but more interestingly, he demonstrated a life style that has proven to be effective in mitigating destructive emotions. It is a fascinating book.

Can you think of a leader of a Western religion that could function as a peer on a committee of psychologists and neuro-scientists?

This tiger is impressed and will adopt at least the first two principles of mindfulness training.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Freedom, Grace, and Learning

Did you know tigers can read? Well, especially seeker tigers. The tiger has mentioned before that he doesn't know anything, yet. He is in the learning mode. So, tiger reads, tiger looks, and tiger listens, then tiger does some form of thinking about all of the input. He synthesizes, comparing what he holds as truth now to what he has just ingested. Several weeks ago, the tiger read Thich Nhat Hanh's Being Peace.

Many who recall Mahatma Gandhi also recall the notion that suggests you must be what you want the world to be. If you want peace, you must be peace. Thich Nhat Hanh offers some very basic “guides” for being peace. At the top of the list is the following:

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help us learn to look deeply and to develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. (Being Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh, Page 90)

Have you ever recalled a time in your life where you were absolutely convinced that you had “truth” and you thought you had an obligation to bring others to that truth? Have you since come to a point in your life where you look at those times, slap your forehead and scream in pain and embarrassment, “Dang! I was stupid.”

Well, if you could see the tiger now, you would probably wonder why there is red between the black stripes instead of that rich satin orange you normally see on tigers. Dang! He was so stupid back then. He will probably continue to replay those nightmarish years in his mind for three more incarnations.

Listen, tiger will recover. And the tiger understands that the recollection of that experience is precisely what keeps him from the arrogance that can come from learning.

Indeed, learning is a humbling experience. If it is not, then one is not really learning. One is most likely on the precipice of humiliation, which may, thankfully, result in learning. Mahatma Gandhi suggests that freedom without the freedom to fail is not freedom. There is grace in true freedom.

The tiger needs grace. The tiger loves grace.