Keeping current in wellness, in and out of the water
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I recently gave thought to the question “What is the opposite of gratitude?” I decided it is entitlement. This exercise works well for all kinds of grand concepts and world events. Our violent world is punctuated with opinions and some bravery, but the violence itself looks more powerful all the time. I am a believer in Chinese medicine and the power of understanding opposite forces. I go to acupuncture every week for my health to balance the chi in my body. There are macro and microcosms of chi as well, like the environment, social order, etc. Energy balances energy and life continuously flows. Balance depends on constant movement and exchange, like inhale and exhale.
With the bigger picture in mind I wonder what is the opposite energy to contradict and balance violence. I don’t own weapons or use them. My life is easy, comfortable, and fun. I don’t think about encountering violence even though there is plenty of it right in my neighborhood as well as across the globe. I agree with the sentiment of the Parisians who believe that fear to go out and live it up is what terrorists want to see in their victims. Caving in to fear may be the worst reaction, but what is the best one? I live in Tucson where we were shaken by mass shooting early in the game. Our city is plenty violent all the time with the full time smuggling at work here. Most people go about our business without any thought of the crime and violence we know happens. I have started to wonder if this is unrealistic or healthy.
As long as I stay aware of the shadow of violence I think it is healthy to be happy and free of fear. The only thing that has worked in my life as a cure for big and little violence is patience. Patience must be the opposite of violence. Patience develops into empathy if practiced for a long enough time. When you restrain your emotions long enough to see the bigger overview you always find ignorance was the cause of all problems. Ignorance continues to cause trouble, but if I sincerely practice patience I can stop myself from adding my own portion of violence to the boiling pot of trouble. What do you think, gentle reader? Have you found any new truths by observing all the horror lately?
Some very good examples were set for me early in life by teachers in school. My high school choir director extended great praise and patience to all his students. When you think about how awful a chorus of high schoolers can sound …..most of the time, this man was a true saint to struggle through each number until we finally could sing it. He loved music, and was still willing to hear it massacred year after year, day after day. He was generally good natured, and very dapper in his fashion. He was by far the best dressed teacher we had at our school, and seemed to be the most sophisticated somehow. He was generally fun and upbeat, but insisted on discipline in class. When he was upset with us he would say “Frank, C., Elephant, Coulter never forgets an infraction.” His stern delivery of that line was always enough to handle any issue. We never actually witnessed the elephant bring up past offenses. He worked to make our roles in the choir a constant source of pride and mutual understanding. He taught us all the value of practice, precision and harmony. He was a living example of patience as virtue.
As an adult I have been very fortunate to study in person with His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet. He came to Tucson in September 1993 for a teaching on patience. That was my first introduction to the meditation practices of Tibetan Buddhism, which are complicated to say the least. I studied for a year previous to his visit to get some background and study under my belt before he arrived. He covered a lot of material and empowered us to Green Tara, all of which was new to me. The crash course was not intended to convey the entire teaching in a few days, but to instill the value of practice. Like my high school choir director, His Holiness teaches all kinds of people who have no previous experience or ability to meditate. He teaches each person and group from scratch, using the ancient texts on the Bodhisattva’s way of life. He reaches each mind according to the readiness of the student to comprehend. One question he took from an audience member was about the best way to begin a personal meditation practice. His answer was simple. He told her, “Be nice.”
Since 1993 I have made efforts to be nice, and have recognized that it is easier said than done. To transform anger into patience is the ultimate practice. If anger has no hold on your mind you are free. If what bothers you about people and life can be surmounted by a practice of patience in all things, you have reached Nirvana. This teaching, so pure, simple and true, provides a lifetime of practice. He taught us that the folks in your life who make you angry also teach you patience. They provide a special gift without which we could not become enlightened. Nipping anger in the bud, transforming it into patience, is compassion in action. Anger may be a natural sentiment, but it is helpful to nobody, least of all to the person who harbors it. Compassion is a conscious choice, starting with one’s own inner demeanor.
Each month on the 20th a round of compassion is raised here. Please join #1000Speak to add your voice to the choir.
This week I decided to try this fad about which I have heard so much..butter in black coffee. The admirers think this produces a perfect high. Some people have told me about using coconut oil in black coffee, but I decided to go with dairy butter for my taste test. I began with a very small dab of butter, slightly afraid of what it might do. It was hardly perceivable, so I used about a tablespoon total in a cup. I was hankering after the taste that was described in the literature by the proponents. The taste of dark rye toast with butter, dipped in coffee was, more or less, the flavor of the drink. It felt greasy, but I think cream in coffee too slick and thick, so that was similar. It was rich, but not in a way I appreciated. For me, this was something I could do without for the rest of my life. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. When both butter and coconut oil are added this drink is called bulletproof coffee. People are going wild for it.
The morning at my desk produced two different reasons to call my banks..somehow both of them had issues on line the same day. Both issues with both banks took much longer to resolve on the phone than I had expected. My cranky attitude swelled as I listened to too much phone hold music for dummies. I noticed that I was full of angst at these trivial problems. I wondered if this high level of anxiety had something to do with that wonder coffee. My gut feeling was distinctly unpleasant waiting for the bankers to take care of my accounts. I was in no real danger, but had a high level freak out in mind and body.
I recently declared patience to be one of my three words for 2015. The assault to test my patience began as soon as I made the statement. Events aligned to make me wait for everything, not just this banking. The high performance bulletproof life is a conflict of interest with my patient, persistent, poetic self. I have returned to sipping small cups of coffee and milk that I keep nearby in a thermos all morning. I like the light, steady dose of tasty hot richness for hours. I do not aspire to be bulletproof in any way. I leave that to those who want to take off like rockets and feel invincible in the morning. Invincibility is just not poetic.
There are many forms of mediation followed in the world. I was lucky to study in Tucson with the Dalai Lama of Tibet who visited us in September, 1993 to teach patience. We had instruction for a year leading up to the visit to give us an introduction to the Tibetan view of meditation and cosmology. When the teaching finally took place at the Sheraton Conquistador when it was new and lovely we were in for both a treat and some deep concepts new to us. The Tibetan monks all sit down in front, as do many Tibetan civilians who prefer the floor for meditation. The room was full of all levels of understanding and experience, as is always the case with His Holiness. The teaching was wonderful, memorable, and inspiring.
He asked students to submit questions in writing for his consideration. He answered some that he thought best for his teaching. One woman asked how she cold begin a meditation practice, given all her stressful and distracting activities. He responded jokingly at first, saying that he also was too busy with stressful activities like leading a nation in exile. He continued quickly after the laugh to make sure he was not ridiculing the questioner, but seriously folks style, to praise her very valid question. His answer was simplicity itself. He told her that if she had time for nothing else, “Be nice.” He explained that if one did not karmically doom oneself by creating nasty thoughts, less meditation would be required to feel good. Meditation in any form is a practice to observe the mind and focus in spite of distraction. It destroys the delusions of the ego. It purifies consciousness. It turns irrational anger into patience. Meditation is the source of equanimity and deep wisdom.
You do not need to sit still or chant mantras to begin a meditation practice. If you have access to a teacher you can be taught many techniques to deepen your practice. If you want to start at the beginning and reap all the benefits, start by being nice.
We are asked to give in many ways. It is important today to regognize one of the meanings of the word charity. Charity bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, according to Paul. This charity is the virtue of charity, not at all the same as the generosity and giving of gifts. This charity is the one that thinks of all other people charitably, or with kindness. We have been on a rampage of enemy creation around here. The enemy is not a group of people you don’t know, or another nation you can not even locate on a map, as you may believe. The enemy is your very own inability to be patient and kind, and think of all strangers charitably.
It is an internal rather than an external practice. Your tax exempt giving does not exempt you from generating kindness and compassion for strangers. Your participation in public service does not give you a pass when it comes to being patient and loving. Your bright and shiny holiday lights do not prove that you are in some positive spirit, but only a willingness to electrically decorate. Loving kindness is a state that can only be shared. This year as you budget your end of the year donations, find willingness in your practice to think kindly of others you have never met. Do your part to keep the nation from hurdling off the charitable cliff. I am not asking you to do the difficult job of thinking kindly of people you know and think are incredible jerks. Start with something easy, like political parties, Europeans, the Congress of the United States,or other groups of perceived enemies about which you honestly know nothing. Just love them up and start to bring the concept closer to home as you get stronger in your ability to be patient and kind.