Archive | May 2013

Fragmentation and Denial

“ We need a realistic awakening to the fact that these conditioning processes have fragmented Humanity to the extent that we are  in complete opposition to each other and Nature.” Rob Taylor


I saw this on Fragmentation, isolation, and disconnection are all the same concept: something that should be connected or together is somehow separated. It is the primary technique of abusers—to isolate their victims from family and friends so their abusive behavior cannot be held to account. Buddhists talk about overcoming “conditioned existence,” which essentially means to become aware of one’s conditioning and to learn how not to react to it.

Disconnection is my practical definition of “problem.” Most problems, if not all, come from something being separated that should be integrated: people’s minds, hearts, and bodies; people and nature; ethnic groups; and people’s awareness of other people. I’m sure there are other categories, but the point is the same.

People compartmentalize for a reason; to deal with all interconnections at once is overwhelming. If people allow their actions to affect their emotions, they might develop a conscience and that could be costly financially and with one’s family. Imagine the shame descendants of slave-owners would feel if they truly felt the wrongness of their actions. Abusers always want to put the past behind them; victims, on the other hand, demand justice. Forgiveness does not mean a lack of consequences for one’s own or one’s ancestors’ horrific actions. “So we’ll just pretend none of it ever happened….” This creates a blind spot for perpetrators: others easily see what’s going on while the guilty are the most clueless of all.

The disconnection from nature is scariest of all. I remember, in the 1980s, there was this huge deal regarding the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest. Logging companies acted like it was jobs versus a few stupid birds. They so missed the point. The point is about our interconnectedness with nature. For example, coal miners would take a canary into the mine with them. If the bird died, it was time to get out of the mine because it wasn’t safe for humans, either. If the spotted owls all die, is human habitability next to go? Do you want to live there and find out first-hand?

The more we isolate ourselves from each other and isolate our hearts from our minds, the more problems we create for ourselves and others that must be dealt with. This is why “divide and conquer” is such a losing strategy in today’s world. People are more connected than ever and such divisive techniques are the transparent losing strategies of people who know they do not have logic or the facts on their side.

Connections are reality. To disconnect something always involves some level of denial. To be in denial creates a Texas-sized blind spot for that person and makes their behavior more obvious to all others. “I know nothing about this machine I am tinkering with. I don’t care to, either. Oh, look at this shiny red button. I wonder what will happen when I press it….”


A theme keeps recurring. Part of me feels like I am flopping around without a point or purpose, but then something happens to remind me of what I can do at this point. What can I do that’s so important? I can be available.

That sounds so obvious, but what could be more profound? Earlier today, I took Barry to a meeting and a friend of his informed me that they would be late getting out of the meeting and not to worry. No problem. I just sat in the lobby and waited. It turned out that the friend had gotten some bad news from the doctor and wanted to tell a select few, which included Barry. Where do I come into the picture? I am Barry’s transportation and not creating a distraction gives them an opportunity to be available to each other.

Then we got home and the phone rang. It was my friend who is studying for the bar exam. She was panicking and wanted to know which of the various urgent priorities she was dealing with would be at the top of my list if I were her. I talked her through the emotional distress. She felt better.

At this point in my life, I do have certain experiences under my belt and some degree of wisdom. That is what I have to offer an overwhelmed world. People seek me out. I don’t need to seek out opportunities as much as I used to. People are more aware of what I can do. Keeping my cool and being logical give me experience helping others that could not be gotten from a more emotional acquaintance.

 It’s not like I spent today passively waiting for someone to want my assistance. I went to various big box stores to get environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies. I am still chipping away at my own goals of being more organized and clean.

It’s about what I can do, but it’s more about who I am. When my Orthodox Christian friend seeks advice from this budding Buddhist, that says everything, as far as I’m concerned.

Influence and Involvement

As those who read my blog know, at this moment, I simply have too much time to think now. I am now a ridiculously over-educated wife of a disabled GM/UAW retiree. My thinking can be razor sharp, as long as I don’t allow my mind to go into an obsessive direction. Good luck with that.

I’m old enough now to have some discernment in terms of whom I want to emulate. For example, I’ve related the story of the obnoxious Protestant guy that treated his children poorly in front of everyone and yet people in that congregation were in awe of him because he had so much of the Bible memorized. His behavior showed me that Bible reading is not necessarily transformative, like I had been told it would be. This guy’s life was a testimony that one could memorize vast quantities of scripture and still be someone no sane person would like to become like. I also lost some respect for those church members that were in awe of this blankety-blank. Integrity? Kindness? Respect? Who cares? Character was not the issue; low-level memorization skills impressed these people.

I saw an article in a magazine at my regular visit to Barnes and Noble that criticized Les Miserables because it demonized conservative Christians. I haven’t seen Les Mis. However, I wonder about what they mean. Les Mis is not exactly a new play, created with the express purpose of making conservative Christians look bad. It probably has a character or two that might remind me of the obnoxious Bible memorizer. I don’t think it’s “demonization” to showcase people’s behavior as one has experienced it, like the writer or Les Mis probably has and I have. Les Mis is popular for a reason. I don’t know what that is, but it clearly resonates with people. If it didn’t, people would vote with their feet and not watch.

The article reminded me of why I walked away: conservative Protestants still don’t get it. It’s about people’s attitudes and behavior, not their theology so much. If worldview and theology influence behavior as much as conservatives say they do, then many of them are walking, talking exemplars of why their worldview and theology are losing the culture wars. I don’t want to be like many of the ones I’ve seen. I skimmed through the article and was like, “I am so glad I escaped that culture and don’t feel obligated to defend it anymore.” The author might be a wonderful human being, but I haven’t met him. All I know is that I haven’t been overly impressed with the behavior of many people that share his views. I can only speak from my personal experience.

There’s my point: it’s all about personal experience and relationship. That’s where real influence comes from, not the articulation of religious opinions. My experience at school and the workplace has shown me how to get along with many different people. Social isolation is the death of influence and relevance.

I’ll never forget Bible study event that showed me the hazards of social isolation. It was the regular Wednesday night Bible study. It’s the early 1990s. This older gentleman says, “If we conservative Christians would just stand together, we could take over this country. We are the silent majority.” I almost laughed, until I realized he was dead serious. At the time, I was attending the local community college. I was surrounded there by young people, non-whites, and non-Christians. Sitting at the Bible study, I could only think, “Good grief. How isolated do you have to be to seriously believe that conservative Christians are a silent majority?” Conservative Christians, then as now, are neither silent nor a majority.

One of my problems with many conservative Christians is simply their complete lack of discernment in terms of whom they follow. They watch the same violent TV shows as everyone else, gamble at the casinos like everyone else, follow TV preachers without knowing squat about the private lives of these preachers, listen unquestioningly to Rush Limbaugh, and often only hang around other people exactly like themselves. Then they are mystified as to why no one takes them seriously.

Everyone needs to ask themselves, “Would other people want to be like me? Do I want to be like me? If my own answer is no, then what do I need to do to become someone I feel good about?”  What you may discover, like I have, is that how you live speaks more loudly than any words that you could ever speak. “Two hands working can accomplish more than a thousand clasped in prayer.” I saw that saying online last week and all I can do is say, “Amen.”


My life is in transition, but, to some degree, everyone’s is. It’s just that most people don’t see the “up in the air” aspect of normal human existence. You think you’re in charge. Ha ha. Life can change in an instant.

However, that doesn’t mean that we are excused from having a plan. I believe in having a plan A, B, C, etc. To not have a plan puts your time and energy at the mercy of those people that do have plans. Much of what we think “just happens” is carefully orchestrated somewhere by someone. That’s part of what business school has taught me. Smart businesses do their homework and know what you are looking for and what you will respond to. Vendors compete for precious space near cash registers where customers make impulse purchases.

I feel like I am in a cocoon, to some degree. I feel stuck, but am changing all the while. I am shedding more and more stuff, which gives me heightened clarity.

Watching TV tonight gave me questions about my life purpose, but the answer always seems to come back to the same thing: start where you are with what you have. One thing leads to another. Questions lead to more questions and problems lead to searching for solutions and creativity.

I was watching “Long Island Medium” and Theresa was trying to figure out why she was a medium. I thought, “Why don’t I see or hear spirits?” Then I thought, “Yeah, that’s what I need: to see dead people. Perhaps if you neaten up your house, then you will have a clearer energetic sense of what is going on or what you want to go on.” I want to make things complicated because what I want most is to escape my life of caretaking. Sadly, many times, any distraction will do.

However, escape is anti-Zen. Zen is all about dealing directly and forthrightly with this minute’s reality. Being in-between life phases is hard and annoying. I want things to be simple. Good luck with that, I think to myself.

Summer Goals/Contentment

I have said previously that I frequent the website. Right now, Leo is talking about contentment. Also, I have been seeing a lot of postings regarding summer goals.

Contentment is part of that whole Zen aspect. Pema Chodron says there are six aspects to cool loneliness: less desire, contentment, avoiding unnecessary activity, complete discipline, not wandering in the world of desire, and not finding security in one’s discursive thoughts.

I feel like I should have goals for the summer. It’s hard to not have a concrete goal after years of business school. However, at this moment, my life is not really about me. I envy a little those young people that can simply have goals and move toward them, without always having to take someone else’s needs into consideration. Barry is having a progressively harder time doing most things and I need to be available to him. These are his last years and I didn’t think he would be around this long.

I am in between lives and it is hard to have solid goals when I know things can change any second. I used to be evangelical Christian, then Orthodox, now more Buddhist. My Michigan life is coming to an end. But I can’t really start the next phase of my life until I am clearer as to what and where are next for me.

I continuously work at being a less horrible housekeeper. My technique has been to get rid of things. Why organize crap I don’t plan on taking with me when Barry dies? I don’t know when I’m leaving, but I can still ditch things I can’t imagine needing in my next phase of being.  I’m still a bad housekeeper, but I have much greater access to the dirt now that I have fewer layers of stuff on top of it.

Life changes and I want to change with it. Stagnation is the internal perspective of being left behind. Been there, done that.

Boy Scouts and the Christian Bubble

I’ve seen that the Boy Scouts are allowing gay scouts, maybe not leaders, but scouts. I suspect that they must have been seeing a gradual drop in scouting in the past few decades because you don’t change what works; you change what you know or suspect doesn’t work. I could be wrong. I have no statistics on scouting in the past half century.

This is what I think might have happened. Back in the 1950s, and even up to the 1980s to some degree, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) reflected the American population in general. Waves of immigrants arrived, with different customs and religions. America was becoming less white and evangelical. Meanwhile the BSA remained the same, oftentimes supported by ultra-conservative churches. Gradually, the BSA became part and parcel of the “Christian bubble.” It was a safe place for white, super-conservative parents to send their sons because their religious opinions would not be questioned.

The same reasoning that made the BSA was a safe choice for super-conservative parents is precisely why other parents gradually stopped sending their sons to the BSA. The number one skill young people need today and for future employment is the one the BSA could not teach: how to get along with a variety of people, even and especially if one’s parents disagreed with them. The lack of diversity led to a lack of relevance to the larger culture. Moderate and liberal parents, not to mention parents of different religions, did not see the BSA as teaching the social skills needed in the larger world. The larger culture was changing, leaving the BSA behind.

I do not believe the gay lobby is so strong that it can just snap its fingers to make the BSA change its policies. Someone at the top of the BSA, or a group of people, made a calculated gamble: even if we lose some conservative boys, we will probably gain far more boys that have been held back (or held themselves back) from joining. Are they right? Time will tell, but it is hard to imagine them changing their policies if their ranks were growing steadily.

Having been both inside of and outside of the “Christian bubble,” I can say that being outside of it is so very much better than remaining within: less paranoia, less circling-of-the-wagons, more variety of human contact, and an intellectual freedom that bubble-bound Christians are unaware even exists. No amount of money would be enough to make me live in it again, even if someone volunteered to pay off Sallie Mae for me.

What is Presence?

I’ve been thinking about what presence is and isn’t. My answers will no doubt show a Buddhist bias, but that’s where I am right now.

My first thoughts are about what presence isn’t: distracted. To be thinking about some other time or place is to not be here totally.

Then, I thought, “Presence is focused.” But I’m not sure that is right. I can be absolutely focused on something and unaware of anyone else in the room. That’s being task-oriented; I don’t think that’s presence.

I think presence is about awareness: of one’s emotions, other people’s behavior and emotions, and maybe even of larger undercurrents. I am greatly influenced by Daniel and Tara Golemans’ perspectives. They are management/psychological/Buddhist thought leaders.

I am also influenced greatly by Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge. They’ve written books on systems thinking and management. I absolutely love Scharmer’s Theory U, which shows the different levels of awareness, what they look and sound like, and how to maneuver between them. It is amazing and the only book that I’ve ever seen that so articulately explains everything in a way anyone can understand. He is a serious organizational genius,  in my opnion.

How does one develop the elusive quality of presence? Silence, stillness, meditation, and/or prayer are all methods. At some point, the never-ending input has to end. Electronics need to be turned off. Walk away from the glowing screen. It’s all about becoming aware of one’s own thoughts and not simply reacting to them. That helps to develop the self-control that is non-negotiable when it comes to keeping one’s cool. And if you can recognize your own thoughts, you are more likely to empathize with other people’s similar thoughts. This is the opposite of living on automatic pilot.

These are just my biased opinions. 

Above Average but Missing the Point

Recently, I went to a Protestant service. A friend invited me to a Saturday evening service and I said, “Why Not?” It was at a semi-mega-church not too far away.

The service was very nice. The worship leader was this very worshipful, enthusiastic black lady who led us in a bunch of choruses, mixed with one identifiable old-time hymn. The preacher was a young black guy. He was very easy to relate to. I was impressed with the fact that the worship team and the audience were predominantly white and had black leadership. I had never seen that before. He talked about the hazards of tolerating and even embracing our sins. He even did a Kumbaya with one of them. It had everyone laughing. He mentioned how some people can go to church and not be transformed. His solution? Read the Bible more and go to church more.

I don’t see those ideas as solutions, but as part of the problem: never-ending input. Catholicism and Orthodoxy have a monastic tradition that can ground an individual in silence. A person can go to a monastery and bathe in the silence. Protestantism has no such tradition and, hence, often not much depth. The problem is that silence used to be built into people’s lives. It was a given. Stores simply weren’t open Sundays. When the sun set, your day was over, for all intents and purposes.

Unfortunately, American Christianity has devolved into Protestantism and Protestantism is becoming nothing more than Management Theory. It’s all orchestrated, timed, and measured. It patterns itself after TV. People spend enough time in front of screens. To go to church and follow the instructions on the screen is helpful, but not necessarily inspiring or holiness-inducing.

Part of how I got attracted to the Dharma was through my fascination with such things as silence, solitude, and stillness. Christianity says, “Do this because the Bible says so.” Buddhism says, “Let me show you how this works.” To be a practicing Buddhist is to meditate regularly, to become familiar with one’s feelings and thoughts. Silence, solitude, and stillness are built into Buddhism, not monastic add-ons that the majority of followers never experience for themselves.

For a Protestant service, I was actually quite impressed. It showed some of the strengths of Protestantism that the Orthodox and Catholics still struggle with: enthusiasm, ethnic diversity and acceptance, and an effort to be relate-able. The “altar call” was a little odd, given that no altar existed, but I understood the invitation.

My only problems were the ones I have seen in all of American Christianity: no solutions to the lack of transformation and the overly-choreographed presentation. Lots of American egalitarianism and practicality (both good things) can lead to superficiality. All in all, it was a nice service that confirmed to me that Buddhism will likely be my primary spirituality for the duration.

Intellect versus Spirit

I found an interesting post about the intellect warring against the spirit:

I personally think the intellect is the best servant ever, but a sucky manager. When it is allowed to rule, there is no end to the trouble it can create. Which dog will win? The one you feed the most. I call Spirit “the heart.” Purification of the heart is essential. Left to its own devices, the intellect is truly scary.

This is because it is capable of justifying anything imaginable. Even a look at the scientific method reveals the limits of the intellect. The first step to research or looking for a solution is to define a problem. Stop right there. Who gets to decide what a problem is or isn’t? Solutions from one political party become the next set of problems for the opposing party to solve during their time in office. And on it goes.

Science can be dangerous. Hitler used all sorts of science to justify extermination of people he disapproved of. The KKK will use science or the Bible to prove whatever agenda they may have.

The mind can take any bias, resentment, hatred, love, or emotion and find logical and scientific justifications for it. The only thing that grounds the mind to reality is empathy with others that one shares the planet with.

The only science I respect is the kind that lists its assumptions right up front. The first time I found a scientific paper listing assumptions, I was thrilled. That’s a level of honesty seldom seen in normal discourse. Most people have zero awareness of their assumptions; they simply assume their perspective reflects the facts. However, the Internet has taught us that, if you look long enough and hard enough, you can find facts that support the most ridiculous ideas ever. A few weeks ago, I found a website that defended a geo-centric version of the universe. That’s right, the same earth-centered version of the universe debunked centuries ago by regular science, represented by Galileo.  Of course, it was a religious website. Go Cardinal Bellarmine! If you can sound smart enough, you can put anything out there and someone somewhere will eat it up.

The mind has the ability to justify anything the heart desires, no matter how wonderful, horrific, and/or just plain ignorant. Never underestimate the danger of being unaware of one’s assumptions.

My feeling is that the bigger picture you can get (one that includes other people and creatures and their wants, needs, and feelings), the more likely you are to make choices that help, or at least not hurt, everything and everyone around us. The bigger picture includes spirit, a willingness to admit that one does not know everything, and, in my opinion, a sense of mystery and beauty.

The hazard of the intellect is that it can falsely believe that it knows everything. Having an MBA means I know more about Strategic Management than the vast majority of people; beyond that, it means absolutely nothing. The higher you go education-wise, the narrower and more specific your expertise. You can become the world’s foremost authority in some tiny sub-discipline of a larger field. My theory is that you’ve used your brain cells all right here and don’t have a lot left over for use in other areas. I know a PhD in anthropology that cannot pick out clothes for himself. He would come to class wearing striped pants, a plaid shirt, and one of those blazers with elbow patches. But nobody explained anthropology in such a clear and concise manner, the mark of a true genius in my opinion. He is the nicest guy in the world. Needless to say, I would never ask his opinion regarding marine biology (unless we’re talking submerged ancient civilizations and their effects on the local biosphere).

Nobody knows everything. Worse, the more you know about one specific area, the more likely you are to know zero about anything else. Many experts in one field are the opposite of jacks-of-all-trades. It’s all about how you use your mind and for what purposes. The point is that the mind is to be used, as a tool, not obeyed, because it has no vision of its own.

How I can Help the South

I’ve always planned on moving south. My parents spend half the year in Florida, but Florida would not be my choice. Why? Because it is Michigan in July: a hot, sweaty, oppressively humid peninsula. I can deal with some snow, but I don’t like looking at the snow that fell in November the following February. Also, I have gone to Grand Rapids in white out conditions before Halloween.

So, where would I go? I’ll probably go to Virginia for all the heart reasons I’ve given already: my Indian friend’s parents live in Lynchburg and I have a friend that will likely move to the DC area. However, there are other choices. I have thought about Colorado because of Naropa University (America’s first Buddhist-founded university), but Colorado gets as much snow as Michigan, therefore there is no point to that. I may visit there someday, but moving there is highly unlikely. I want something between the Snow Belt and the semi-tropical Gulf of Mexico region. This includes Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, the Carolinas, Arkansas, and perhaps Missouri.

Most of these states are highly evangelical Protestant. Having been one in the past for over a decade, I can blend in. I look conservative (with long skirts and a high degree of modesty). I can speak Christian-ese. Lynchburg reminds me of a Baptist Grand Rapids. West Michigan is the snow-bound Dutch Reformed capital of America. One of our cities is even named Holland. (Calvinists must like getting snowed on.) Grand Rapids is squeaky clean, with people hanging out in Panera’s doing Bible studies. My business school is headquartered there, so I have spent substantial time there. Many teachers and students have last names that start with “Van Der.” Lynchburg felt like a sunnier version of GR when I visited a few times. Lynchburg has Liberty University and GR has Calvin College. When I move, I will be widowed and celibate, making me even more personally conservative. I don’t plan on ever dating again.

Also, we Michiganders are hardy. As Midwesterners, hard work is not a problem. We can deal with snow. We bring our own ice scrapers. An inch or two of snow does not intimidate us or keep us home from work.

In addition, diversity is no problem. It is difficult to look down one’s nose on people getting paid the exact same amount as you get paid while they work on one side of the car and you work on the other. My school’s GR campus is younger and Dutch-er, but my campus is more about people going back to school. Factory rats, welfare mothers, and new immigrants from all over the world share the same classes. For example, the Lansing area had an influx of Sudanese “lost boys.” Michigan has a large population of Muslims, some Sikhs, increasing Asian Buddhists, and all the regular varieties of Christians, with an emphasis on Northern European denominations (Dutch Reformed and old-school German Lutherans). I am accustomed to dealing with a huge variety of fellow-humans.

Part of my passion to help people has been work-readiness. I have been a college math tutor. I love tutoring. My passion comes from seeing so many unskilled people become unemployable in the new economy after they have lost their good-paying factory jobs. Regardless of who is in the White House, a high priority needs to be getting this new underclass of people trained to do the jobs employers have available. Not everyone can get a degree, but I believe most people are capable of doing and being more than they currently do or are. I can help with training and organizational development. I want to help America into this new flattened economy, but that means a serious level of inclusivity. The people you reject for a position due to social factors may have skills your organization cannot do without. There is simply no guarantee that the most qualified person for a position will be white, Christian, straight, or have English as their first language. I want to help a great variety of people into this new economy. That will be so cool.