Archive | December 2013

Shifting

I have been shoved out of complacency. I am helping my friend look for jobs on the East Coast.

I do not believe we can stop life from changing, but I do believe that oftentimes we can help steer the change. For example, we didn’t have power eight days ago. There were many things I simply could not do, such as read at home. But I could admire the beauty of the ice storm and be grateful we had the money to eat out that day and that nothing in our freezer would spoil. The cold sucks, but it also preserves. I can still find useful the very thing annoying me.

I have been learning about medical intuition and healing. I am experimenting with psychic abilities with my friend, sending her specific messages and seeing if she notices and/or comments on what she may be receiving.

Can you imagine someone with an MBA having these kinds of abilities? I could be one handy person to have on staff pretty much anywhere.

Things can shift. That prevents you from doing A, B, or C, but gives you the opportunity to do D, E, and F, things you never thought you could do. Adaptability is survival in times like these.

 

Shifting

I have been shoved out of complacency. I am helping my friend look for jobs on the East Coast.

I do not believe we can stop life from changing, but I do believe that oftentimes we can help steer the change. For example, we didn’t have power eight days ago. There were many things I simply could not do, such as read at home. But I could admire the beauty of the ice storm and be grateful we had the money to eat out that day and that nothing in our freezer would spoil. The cold sucks, but it also preserves. I can still find useful the very thing annoying me.

I have been learning about medical intuition and healing. I am experimenting with psychic abilities with my friend, sending her specific messages and seeing if she notices and/or comments on what she may be receiving.

Can you imagine someone with an MBA having these kinds of abilities? I could be one handy person to have on staff pretty much anywhere.

Things can shift. That prevents you from doing A, B, or C, but gives you the opportunity to do D, E, and F, things you never thought you could do. Adaptability is survival in times like these.

 

If it can happen to my friend…

I am reeling from the news that one of my best friends is moving to the East Coast in January. I am envious (because I thought I would move before her) and stunned (because she had no intention of moving until her hours got cut).

Here are some of her circumstances. She got her JD last winter, but failed the bar in July, as did 2/3 of the people who took it, including all but one of the six people who sat for it where she works. She has worked with all of her creditors to be on payment plans. She has cut back in every way imaginable. She gets her eggs from having her own chickens. Who has their own chickens? She heats her house with firewood. She has no cable or even internet. I gave her gas money to spend Christmas in Jackson with her daughter. She owes 200k+ in student loans. There can be no more economizing. She can cut back no further. She has been just barely scraping by.

Her qualifications are amazing. She types close to 100 wpm. She can whip out divorce judgments and hearing decrees faster than anyone else at her office. Her bosses love her. She can handle the most difficult of clients (due to her years as a welfare worker), tell when someone is lying, and come up with the best possible strategy. She was working 40 hours a week at $10/hr.

Then her hours got cut, along with everyone else’s. OMG.

There is little keeping her here. She has no TV or internet. She’s broke. Her bar fees are coming due. She can just as easily go to another state and make 15 or 20 dollars an hour doing over-qualified secretarial work while she studies for that state’s bar exam. Her children are grown, with families of their own.

I am so angry. Particularly at companies that didn’t give her a chance. And now Michigan is losing a hard worker and future attorney. This is another thread in Michigan’s social and economic fabric that is unraveling, one less reason for the people who love her to stay.

If it can happen to her, I may be next. I’ve watched so many people be forced out of Michigan. Things can change frighteningly quickly. We all live like things will continue as we have become accustomed to. We are so kidding ourselves. Never underestimate the power of denial. La la la la la la.

Dukkha and My Friend Leaving

I am very sad now. One of my best friends will be leaving Michigan. She has been looking for employment elsewhere, but she was just informed that her hours will be cut at the non-profit she works for. I will help her pack. I am helping her look for jobs in Maine, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.

This is how bad it is. People who are serious about paying back their student loans are forced to seek employment out-of-state. She does not want to leave. Most of her children live here. Others where she works are also leaving the state.

One is moving to Wisconsin, for a job that pays 70K. For some reason, that’s where he wants to live. It wouldn’t be my choice.  It’s no warmer there than here. If I am going to go to the trouble of packing up all my crap and relocating, it will be to somewhere with better weather, not some other northern-tier state. I got an MBA so I can find work any darn place I want.

I never thought she would leave the state before me. But she has to go. Eventually, I will as well.

Buddhism’s word for suffering is “dukkha.” I love the translation of “unsatisfactoriness.” The original meaning is all about a wheel that does not turn properly; in other words, it is stuck or makes noise. The recipe for suffering is this: life changes and you do not change with it. Instead, you pretend things haven’t really changed.

That’s the strategy of Michigan businesses: demand graduate-level qualifications and offer $10/hour in return and then whine that qualified applicants for positions cannot be found. When Michigan was full of good-paying factory jobs, educated spouses could be underpaid with no negative consequences. There is no “skills gap.” Don’t buy the business community’s propaganda. In reality, it is a “compensation gap.” The “skills gap” theory explains nothing and mystifies the obvious: employers demand MIT qualifications and offer Burger King wages.

My heart breaks. I miss her already. As for Michigan businesses, I have no pity. They brought much of this upon themselves. Let’s see what they have to say when they can’t pay enough to keep educated people in the state, no matter how they offer.

The Urgency of Now

“In his historic speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King said, “We have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.” He knew deeply about this. His whole life was devoted to the fierce urgency of now. It’s like the all-embracing, fierce love of the mother who protects her child. She does not equivocate. The protection is complete, the fierceness is complete. It takes that kind of dedication.

“Sometimes it takes the kind of ferocity that you see in the guardian deities at the front of Asian Buddhist temples. They’re frightening beings, because sometimes we have to face our own demons with that kind of fierceness. At other times, what is needed is much more subtle. Whether it’s strong or gentle, it’s the intention that makes all things possible. Unwavering: I will not be turned away. I will not be defeated. I will not defeat myself.”[All emphases in original.] Tending the Flame, Dharma Discourse by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei, Book of Serenity, Case 53, Huangbo’s “Dreg Slurpers”

As most of you know, I live in Mid-Michigan. We had an ice storm last Saturday night. My house did not have power restored until late Sunday evening. I spent all Sunday driving my husband around to places to eat and places to drink coffee (including, of course, Biggby) while awaiting the return of electricity.

Was that the end of the drama? Hardly. It was so stressful that I ended up getting really sick. Many people around me still do not have power. The battered women’s shelter was out of power for a few days. Many critical traffic signals still do not work. I am on the upswing, but many power lines are still down. Utility workers from as far away as Washington, DC are working to restore power.

What is taking up press space? Phil Robertson. Can anyone say “Slow news day”? People have a sense of urgency, but about relatively trivial issues. I never watched Duck Dynasty, nor have I ever read The Da Vinci Code. I am clearly outside the cultural mainstream, and have been for a number of years. The greater culture’s priorities are not mine.

Take care of your neighbors and yourself. Don’t defeat yourself by majoring on minors. Keep a sense of perspective. I don’t care whether Duck Dynasty continues to be aired. I have bigger fish to fry, such as getting well and taking care of my husband—electricity or no electricity.

Michigan Zen

Michigan Zen

What do you think is urgent now?

Listening and Independence

“Even deaf mutes have expressions. Do not judge that they cannot possess any expression. Those who create expressions are not necessarily limited to those who are not deaf mutes. Deaf mutes do express themselves. Their voices should be heard and their utterance should be heeded. Unless you identify yourself with them, how can you meet them? How can you talk with them?” Not a Single Word, Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori Roshi
True Dharma Eye, Case 165, The World Honored One Did Not Speak a Word

Are we listening? To anyone? Or are we just speaking to hear ourselves speak or to make our point?

When people don’t feel heard, they stop speaking…to us. They simply go speak to someone else.

I stopped going to church a couple months ago. A big part of it was that speaking was pointless. There was a certain status quo. It worked for some people. I was not among them.

I was tired of hearing excuses or simply not being noticed in the first place. The status quo had zero transparency or accountability, which served those in charge very well. There were no limits to their irresponsibility. And no one remaining with a voice to call them to account.

People were always saying, “That’s just so-and-so. That’s their way.” I heard tons of excuses and watched as people with integrity and self-respect left, one-by-one. People who thought for themselves left, leaving the good, obedient sheep behind to tend church. The average emotional age dropped from probably 30 to about 12. Good, obedient children are fabulous if you want to be in control of them. But let life hit them—hard. See what happens. When the chips are down, no one will be left with the emotional maturity to solve the problems that inevitably arise. What happened to the creative, intelligent people? They went somewhere they were heard.

Eventually, I realized that these dysfunctional systems were not exceptions to Western Christendom. They are the unavoidable result of following various authority figures’ interpretations of a book. The interpretations always manage to fuel the self-serving agendas of those in charge. These dysfunctional systems are the sum and substance of American Christianity. They are unapologetic. So am I. If thinking for myself and leaving this insanity behind makes me a heretic or pagan, I’m good with that.

Incubation Space

“Regardless of how long formal training takes, there is after that a period of maturation called “the nurturing of the sacred fetus.” This is a period of time in which the teachings are allowed to penetrate one’s flesh and bones and blood so that they become a manifestation of our being. It’s only then that a person is really ready for the seal of approval.

“In the literature of Zen there are many examples where after the transmission, the teacher asked the disciple to disappear and let his or her understanding mature. The Sixth Ancestor, Huineng, spent sixteen years in hiding before he emerged and began to teach. The process of training takes a long period of time. There are no quickies in Zen.” Chasing Buddhas and Ancestors, Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi, Koans of the Way of Reality, Master Yunmen’s Zen Warnings

Creative people everywhere know about “nurturing the sacred fetus,” although I have never heard it put like that. Students are also familiar with the concept. People normally call it “incubation.” I use it.

What I do is cram my head full of information. And then I do nothing. The information knits itself together. I make connections I never contemplated. The subconscious is truly amazing.

I’m in the process of doing it now. I am studying New Age-y medicine. I am learning about chakras and intuitive diagnosis and things like that. I am fascinated by it. I do not understand all of it by a long shot. Worse yet, I cannot even see auras!

I don’t care. I want the understanding at my disposal when needed. What if I saw someone’s aura and didn’t know what it is? I want the foundational understanding just in case it happens someday.

 

Persistence

“We are so prepared to surrender, to give up our own power. We have no idea how powerful we are. No sense of it. We’re endowed with an incredible mind, incredible potential, incredible strength, incredible determination. And we’re ready to give it up. There’s no other animal on the face of the earth that seems so willing to give up. Other animals will scuffle until they take care of the barrier or they’re crushed in the attempt.

“It’s that kind of determination that we need to settle the most difficult things we carry around with us. It’s no small thing, the things that we deal with–our demons, our barriers, our hesitancies, our fears, and our anger. Nobody is going to do it for us; nobody is capable of doing it for us. We must, of necessity, accomplish the barriers ourselves. When you really push “I can’t let go” to the edge and you finally do let go, the next time becomes that much easier. Each barrier you encounter is that much easier to deal with.” Can Do, Will Do, Done, Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori Roshi,True Dharma Eye, Case 143, Touzi’s Clarification of the Ancestor’s Intention

Only we humans give up so easily. I’ve been guilty of it myself. “It’s just too hard. It’s not worth it.” Most things aren’t worth it, but a few things are: enlightenment, doing what you believe is the right thing, getting your vehicle out of the ditch, etc.

I believe we give up too easily because our energy is already going in twenty different and unworthy directions. One more demand elicits the “screw it” response. We’re already tired.

Going to school endlessly has taught me to push for those things I believe are worthy of an investment of my time. I’ve seen so many people fail at classes and it is almost always for the same reason: the student has too many other demands on their time, many of which are pure BS.  Students grossly underestimate the sheer amount of time many classes demand, even the easy ones. Homework, discussion questions, and term papers apply to even the easiest of classes. Then there are the classes that you have no natural affinity for, which can take up to three times the time to do the homework than it takes other students. For example, I am not naturally talented at accounting. I’ve had accounting classes that sucked up 25 hours per week for homework. Other students could do it in eight hours.

I remember one girl telling me, “I have the right to party.” I responded, “The teacher has the right to fail your ass, too.” She was hurt I never called her again, but I wasn’t wasting my time trying to help someone whose highest priority was partying. I, unlike her, did not live in a bad Beastie Boys video. I took fewer classes than she did. She failed all of hers. I aced most of mine. I had no intention of failing. I removed any obstacles to my success. Hangovers were never part of my academic strategy.

As a tutor, I have found that the students that practice eventually catch on, no matter how little natural ability they may have at a particular subject. They may never be great at it, but they don’t fail. It’s about persistence, not ability. People are capable of so much more than they realize.

I believe success at pretty much anything demands a reduction of other competing priorities. Nobody can be everywhere at all times. Choices are made. Consequences are dealt. Persistence does not guarantee success, but the alternative is to always wonder if you could have succeeded, had you just tried harder. I would rather fail honestly than to regret just not trying.

 

 

 

Zen, Space, and the Mind

“When we take stock of all these ideas, beliefs, and habits, we see them for what they are: constructs, figments of our imagination! By seeing that these things have no substance at all, we create the space to discover who we truly are.”  The Path of the Human Being, Dennis Genpo Merzel, p. 79

Despite not being a great housekeeper, I have an abiding interest in sacred space. In the Greek, the word for forgiveness is about making space for the other person. I am that space. You are that space. What is the clutter making the space unusable? Our thoughts. Zen is a big-ass broom.

But you can’t see the dust needing to be swept if your brain is full of unmovable and battered furniture made of unexamined beliefs. The beliefs seem solid, and perhaps they were at one point, but time and life have knocked the rivets out of their joints, one by one. That’s what happened to my Christianity: brick by brick, the foundation of my belief system was removed. I examined each one and marveled at how solid it had seemed. I made that brick! I fashioned it out of my own unmet needs. And I had so many. It is a wonder I didn’t become a Hare Krishna or Scientologist.

As I put my broken-down beliefs into the recycling bin one piece at a time, I found the change previously trapped in the cushions. A veritable treasure trove of coinage. The money didn’t come with the furniture. It was my money all along! I had been giving the furniture credit for possessing the cash, when it had fallen out of my pockets over the years, leaving me wondering where all my money had gone. I am retrieving my money even now.

And I can see it now that I have removed most of the larger pieces of beliefs.  There was no point doing Zen and sweeping my mind when I couldn’t even move around in my mind due to a lack of space. I’ve gradually done a great haul-away of my mind. I thought the furniture provided solidity to my life, but the truth was that it wasn’t even as valuable as the space it was occupying.  I kept hurting myself banging into it. Every piece removed made my mind more peaceful and safer. I have a lot more space now, but wow is my floor buried in dust-bunnies. Time to get out the broom and dust pan.