A Donald Trump of the Mind

A blogger [The Buddhist Christian] described his temporary inability to write by saying he had laryngitis of the hands. Here it is, the day before the Ashfield News article is due. My fingers rest uselessly on the keys. I’ve tried: over the past few weeks I’ve started writing about mercy – “Mercy me!” “Merciful heaven!” “Heavens to mercy!” etc. The article floated to a merciful end. The next subject I tried was about how Trump videos have replaced cute cat videos on Facebook – why IS that? That one bumped to a unsatisfactory close.

Writing this article monthly is a spiritual practice. But what happens when a person’s spiritual practice gets laryngitis?

Someone said that we try to live our lives with our hearts and try to keep our minds from screwing things up. I disagree. Only our minds can illuminate our hearts. Yes, okay, being cut off from our emotions, is bad and very 1950’s. But if we can’t learn from our hearts, our emotions (hearts), what’s the point? My own emotions hit a logjam this month. I haven’t been able to make sense of all my own heart has gone through over the past few years, and now feel a little dumbfounded and dull. I can tell because my sense of humor is a bit dim.

Our minds are great lassos. They lasso emotions to give them shape, to see them clearly, to pull them in, to illuminate them. Unilluminated emotions can be poisonous, or at least irritating. Unilluminated emotions can lead to….well, Trump for example. I am suffering from a Donald Trump of the mind.  A little 1950’s distance is needed to clear up the logjam. Not only in my own psyche, but I daresay, the country’s.

The path to our well house gets clogged with water streaming from further up the mountain. Not a big lake, just enough to make your socks wet and cold. How satisfying it is to take a stick and scoop aside enough leaves to free the stagnant water! Watching it suddenly burst out and rush down the hill is just about orgasmic. My March spiritual practice is to take a stick, gently stir things up, to not stand still in dumbfoundedness.

And to vote for……………

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Continuation Day, June 17, 2015

Our friend, Kate O’Shea passed away on July 17.

On our birthdays, Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to say “Happy Continuation Day!” The day we are born is not a totally fresh beginning of new life, but a continuation of life. Not just inherited genes, but the web of the families who raise us, they all are reborn at our birth.  When I look in the mirror, I see Mom and Dad; sometimes I hear Dad’s words coming out of my mouth; unfortunately I sing like Dad, not Mom. The people who passed their lives to me were/are kind, loyal, racist, people who speak out against prejudice, full of life, lazy, alcoholic, generous, at least one thief, brave, funny, cynical, affirming, cold, calm, hot-tempered, loving. And they are just the ones I know about. Which seeds will I water?

As Jeannine’s mother was dying, her mother muttered, “Push, push…” as if giving birth.  As if she was being reborn. Jesus’ life story begins with a list of the generations he sprang from; it ends with Resurrection. Buddhist call this insight of Christianity, and of Jeannine’s mother, “No Birth, No Death.”

June 17th is Kate O’Shea’s new Continuation Day. She passed from our known to the unknown, leaving the trail of her soul for us to follow.

On June 17, we witnessed another Continuation Day. Not of an individual, but of a community. The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, “Mother Emanuel,” carries the lives of her congregants down generations. In 1822, one of her founders, Denmark Vesey, attempted to start a slave rebellion. Denmark was executed, and black churches were burned down. The congregants rebuilt their church; after which all black churches were outlawed in South Carolina. So the people worshiped underground. All of this history, as well as their worship, their service, faith, their music, flow through Mother Emanuel.

On the 17th,  a terrorist killed nine of Mother Emanuel’s children. Mother Emanuel knows exactly which seeds she wants to water. Mother Emanuel mourned her lose, and forgave, and demands our whole nation shake off hate and turn to justice. For a start, she demands that the Confederate Flag, banner of a slave-holding regime, be removed from government buildings.

Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, called for the killer to be executed.The continuation of a misguided belief in the “justice” of retaliation.

And a nation has “Continuations of Values ,” passing down hate, powerful faith, retaliation and true justice.

Which seeds do we water? I know which Kate O’Shea would choose.

Despair is a Funny Thing

I once had a tee-shirt that read, “Boredom is an interesting thing.” A new one is in order: “Being down-in-the-dumps is a funny thing.”

Why? I just finished listening to “The Confederate in the Attic,” a disheartening book about the legacy of the Civil War in the U.S.  Now I’ve started chapter two of Bill McCabe’s “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.” Its conclusion: global warming is now irreversible. And I have a toothache, and I’ve pickled too many beans.

            Buddhist practice advises us to watch the constant change of one’s own emotions. On a car trip to Connecticut, I listened to a CD by Mary Chapin Carpenter.  When she sang a sad song, I felt sad. When she sang a wistful one, I felt wistful, etc., etc. For an hour, Mary Chapin was in complete control of my emotional life. And I don’t even know her!

I live with someone who tells stories that make me cry from laughing so hard. The same night I’m convinced that she’s Satan because she’s vacuuming at 11 p.m.

At this moment, the end of the natural world as we’ve known it (McKibbon) and another bag of beans awaiting pickling are bringing me down. The sun is shining in the south windows and this afternoon we’ll finish painting the barn doors, so I feel a faint stirring of cheer. Who’s in charge here? Bill McKibbon? String beans? The sun?

The point of observing my emotions is to make me see the never-ending change of all things. And to begin to enjoy the ride. I have emotions, but I am not my emotions. We are bigger than just our emotions, so there’s no need to get attached to them. Just realizing that is enough to start to lift the doldrums.

This practice is considered to be the ability of the Buddhist practitioner of “ordinary capacity.” A practitioner of “great capacity” will look deeply at the essence of an emotion, realize its true nature and unlock the wisdom within it.

“ It is like placing a tiny spark into a heap of dry hay: it will immediately burst into flames and be completely destroyed. Although the original spark is tiny, it can burn away any amount of hay. Similarly, just one tiny spark of wisdom can burn away completely all the mind’s confusion and the emotions associated with it, until all that is left in the mind is ultimate reality.” (Lama Gendyn Rinpoche)

Jesus put it in a more prosaic way: When someone hits you, turn the other cheek. He’s advising us not to react, not become attached to anger and resentment. Not to let them own us.

We turn away in order to see and experience those emotions’ true power on ourselves. Turning the other cheek must be the most difficult and most illuminating of Christian practices.  We can interpret it as “doormat” submission, or as denying our emotions, or as an excuse not to act for justice. If we don’t take his advice as a wisdom practice, we may miss the point.

No pickled bean has smacked me in the face…yet. It just feels that way.  So the advice is the same. Being of exceedingly “ordinary capacity,” I watch the play of emotions with curiosity. I see that despair, annoyance, physical pain can lead to ultimate wisdom, but I’ve a ways to go before fully stretching out to my fullest Buddhist and Christian capacity.

Excuse me, I’ve got to go call the dentist now.