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I reached for the blood pressure kit after being woken early by a racing heart. 3:47 AM flashed as my wrist blood pressure monitor beeped through its cycle. In less than a minute, 98 beats per minutes flashed, followed by 168 systolic and 87 diastolic. Should my BP have increased, I might be at increased risk.

I downed some medications, leaned against the bathroom sink. A momentary look at the toilet produced a soft laugh. “What if I die while using the toilet?” I muttered. A greater laugh ensued thinking of the poor slob who found me sitting on a toilet at the very moment I checked out. Hell of an obituary though, ‘Great guy, bad aim.’

By 9:15 AM my blood pressure had stablized to 117 systolic and 67 diastolic with 57 beats per minute.

Staring at the world from my dining room table, I asked a two-word question, “What’s next?” Having worked in the medical arena for the past decade, there were only a few people who wanted to hear how the patient was honestly doing. Most want to hear hope, courage, and positivity, not how unlikely the chances one would survive or how to live well during the process. For patients like me, there are no breakthroughs. There is no last-minute precision medicine or gene therapy. Such dialogue is written for only made-for-television movies.

I made one attempt to tell a close friend last night of my diagnosis.

Hey Cara,” I started. “I stopped to have some medical tests run late last week.

And of course, you’re doing great.

Well,” I sighed.

Interrupting, “You know my ankle is still bothering me from when I tripped six weeks ago. I have an appointment on Monday. Should I keep it?

Why not?

Because,” she whined, “I am starting to feel better. I know I complained about it, but I believe it’s getting better.

Then cancel.”

Oh well,” she continued. “I still think there’s some swelling. And it hurts if I push on it. But I have to pay a copay and the copay for x-rays. Medical stuff, always robbing anything, supposedly to help the people they serve.

I gave up.

What’s next has been highly contested for several hours. I could complete my 2019 Income Tax Return. Then again, would the effort prove valuable if I die April 14th? There is a humorous part of my soul that wants to die without doing taxes. Or maybe, I would complete them, but not mail it. When the tax man cometh, he will find a handwritten ‘Post-It-Note’ at the top of my folder, “I left $50,000 in the …” An additional ‘Post-It-Note’ underneath would continue, “If you go to my computer, you will find I deleted my browser history …” Those words in and of itself might keep them busy for months.

Many Buddhist teachings and quotes find their way into things, but they sometimes come across as nonsensical phrases meant to sound obscure. There is meaning behind the quotes. Many lessons remain useful today. When I write of all the things I thought, what’s next was answered in one somewhat silly Buddhist quote.

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Many of us are caught in the results of what we’re working toward or the way things will be when we finally achieve something. Truth is, that getting to where you want to go, being successful or even receiving a prognosis of a terminal disease doesn’t mean the work you’re called to do goes away. Up until the transition, I will probably do many of the same things I did before my diagnosis. If I cannot continue the mission called to do, if I can’t take on the simple tasks as best as I can, how can I conquer bigger things God requests?

Do your work. Do it well, and regardless of whether the message is a success or downright depressing, do it again. It’s all about being in the moment.

I was several hours away from a small inter-department speech when it happened.  I wasn’t particularly stressed. The previous night, I had plenty of sleep and my morning was fine. As I started with agenda and opening remarks, I noticed the left side of my face became numb. I could speak, and though the audience never saw, I knew everything wasn’t quite right.

After the presentation, my spelling wasn’t right either. Words like ‘dream‘ were spelled ‘draem.’ ‘Acute‘ became ‘accute‘ and ‘slide deck‘ became ‘sldie feck.

Within an hour, everything returned to normal, as though nothing happened. I knew it wasn’t. I experienced a TIA, a transient ischemic attack, or mini-stroke.

The doctor knocked politely, opened the door, and sat in the standard hospital issued chair. From his look, we both knew his message would suck.

“So,” he started solemnly, “we ran a few tests. We concluded you encountered a mini-stroke.”

“Yeah, kind of figured” I nodded.

“What concerns us is that about 1 in 3 who experience a transient ischemic attack will eventually have a stroke, with about half occurring within a year after the initial attack. We’ve looked at your tests and reviewed your history and previous heart-related issues. We believe you’re more likely to be in that range.”

“Any idea how long I might have?”

“Good question. With proper medicine, a major change in diet, maybe minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or a couple of years.”

“Well,” I laughed. “That narrows it down.”

“We feel it’s going to happen. When? Well, we aren’t sure. Hopefully, we can get you to the years or beyond, but there’s no guarantee.”

I was discharged with medication and a batch of follow-up tests.

Stopped at the Apple store on my way home to pick up a replacement iPhone.

“Would you like Apple care+ or Apple Care+ with Theft and Loss?”

“Huh?” after snapping back from another place caught in random thoughts.

“Would you like Apple care+ or Apple Care+ with Theft and Loss? You know, AppleCare+ extends your warranty coverage from one year to two, and extends phone and chat support from 90 days to the full two years as well.”

Standing dazed for a moment, “No thanks,” I replied with a smile. “The phone will likely last longer than me.”

There are no warranties in life. And while the duration of my life is uncertain, I concluded during my meditation last night to come quietly into this “transition.”  Outside of wanting to take one last Alaskan cruise, I simply wish to feel the presence of loved ones.

I experienced a powerful out of body experience (OBE) during meditation last night. While I will detail that experience in a later post, I realize there is no possible way to escape death. Except for Enoch, No one ever has, not even Jesus, Buddha, etc. And, of the current world population of 5 billion-plus, almost none will be alive in 100 years. So, like others, I will welcome death upon arrival.

Yet, at this moment, my message is simple – it is possible to feel both the beauty of a loved one’s passing, knowing he or she is free from suffering while simultaneously experiencing the relative suffering of my loss. To do anything other than that is to by-pass my humanity in some essential way and listen to the wisdom inherent in God’s love.

I close with this, if my warranty doesn’t expire, I shall write again. But I shall double my effort to enjoy each minute of every single day. I believe we all need to do just that.

Peace …

March 2nd, I wrote I had dropped television for the week. The decision was neither part of lent nor some broader mantra. and there was no oracle declaration from above commanding, “thou shalt abandon thy television.” I only got busy and didn’t watch. I have to say, thirteen days later, I am still going.

Over various seasons of lent, I noticed most sacrifices never make it longer than a few days. Part of me wanted to make some significant sacrifice this year, but I didn’t. I never promised to give up meat. I did not abandon whiskey. Chocolate remains an active part of my day. I wanted to give up laundry this year but would run out of underwear. And having a colleague discuss AOC and the New Green Deal, I then thought of recycling my underwear but decided against it. (Ok. That was a joke.)

I confess, the only thing I ever gave up was the ‘self-imposed sacrifice.’ Others, not so much. One person gave up her diet after realizing she texted for the number of calories in Holy Communion. Announcements did in another, especially after realizing that the announcements were longer than Communion.

When I gave up television, some personal sacrifices occurred as a byproduct. First, I gave up Trump. From February 24th, I haven’t had to see ‘wonder boy’ hugging a flag; no more hearing, ‘…. like you’ve never seen before;’ or ‘… like the world’s never seen been.’ No more signing Bibles, throwing paper towels to homeless people after a hurricane or hearing that Mexico will pay for a wall no one wants. There was also no ‘covfefe,’ no Putin, no receitals of Kim-Jong love letters to Trump’s.

Giving up Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN meant no longer cowering under the kitchen table waiting ‘Rocketman’ to destroy America. I was able to discard my binoculars and found South American invaders hadn’t overrun the country; the war on Christmas remained a war for the stupid; the 157 Democratic contenders running for the 2020 presidency don’t require my attention; and believing fossil fuels is nature’s form of renewable energy (promoted by a Fox News contributor) because those very fossil fuels were once dinosaurs is damn stupid.

Now I realize ‘Morning Joe‘ has transformed into ‘Morning Skype,’ as Joe and Mika ‘phone it in.’ More MSNBC hosts are off more days of the week than some of the best unions in the country, and CNN has become one elongated episode of ‘Crossfire,’ where ten minutes of real news is supplanted with forty minutes of Democratic and Republican spokespeople yelling at each other. News hosts used to present factual news and analysis; now it’s GMO – genetically modified outrageousness. Yelling has replaced anything of value.

Cable advertising and drugs beleaguer me. If it seems as if you are seeing more prescription drug ads on TV these days, you are not mistaken. According to Kaiser Health News, the pharmaceutical industry has substantially boosted its spending on direct to consumer advertising in the last five years. Last year it was estimated at over $6 billion.

I don’t miss commercials of Cialis for erectile dysfunction and BPH (benign prostate hypertrophy), Otezla for plaque psoriasis, Xeljanz XR for rheumatoid arthritis, Eliquis for atrial fibrillation (Afib) and stroke prevention, Namzaric for Alzheimer’s disease, Trulicity for diabetes and Humira for rheumatoid arthritis what these neglects to say, that without prescription benefits, these medications can cost a fortune. For instance, without assistance, Humira costs approximately $6,600 monthly. Lyrica, a drug treating fibromyalgia, is around $650, an increase of 163 percent since 2012.

Like many Americans, I found myself needing television nearly every day to feel okay. I found myself needlessly watching it, even though I knew all the storylines. An otherwise good life was hurt by lost sleep, health, energy, creativity, clarity, and connection to others. A Netflix survey found 73 percent reported positive feelings associated with binge-watching. But if you spent last weekend binge-watching a season of your favorite show, you may have seen yourself feeling exhausted by the end of it — and downright depressed. That was me.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the well-known Vietnamese monk, said, “It is not so important whether you walk on water or walk in space. The true miracle is to walk on earth.” It’s true. In other words, becoming a kind human being is probably the greatest miracle we can perform. For me, television prevented me from joining others.

After 17 days without television, the real miracle is becoming a kinder human being and engaging with those I love.

Blameless

The decision from federal judge T.S. Ellis in Virginia comes less than a week before Manafort’s second sentencing hearing in another case in Washington, D.C., district court. Both cases were brought on charges lodged by special counsel Robert Mueller in his ongoing probe of Russia’s election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Manafort is expected to serve only 38 more months of the 47-month sentence because of time he has already spent incarcerated. In addition to the sentence, Ellis ordered Manafort to pay a $50,000 fine, the lowest fine provided for by guidelines that recommended a fine between $50,000 and $24 million.

Before delivering his sentence, Ellis said Manafort had “been a good friend to others, a generous person” and added, “He has lived an otherwise blameless life.”

A “… blameless life?” Franklin Foer of The Atlantic documented Manafort’s blameless life. Here’s a sample:

  • In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of land mines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees. In an otherwise blameless life, he spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine. This clique hoped to capture control of the state so that it could enrich itself with government contracts and privatization agreements. This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power—thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.
  • In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort came to adopt the lifestyle and corrupt practices of his Ukrainian clients as his own.
  • In an otherwise blameless life, he produced a public-relations campaign to convince Washington that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was acting within his democratic rights and duties when he imprisoned his most compelling rival for power.

So, what is a blameless life? I can only think of a few, two: Christ and Enoch. We’re all pretty familiar with Christ, but Enoch? Enoch who?

Enoch’s life was formally introducted while attending an ethic’s seminar some 30 years ago. His life is not widely discussed, and the Bible does not devote a lot of space to him. About the only biblical information we have on Enoch’s life is found in four sentences from Genesis, 5:21-24.

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more because God took him away.

My spin is that Enoch walked a blameless – meaning he consistently lived in the present moment, completely aware of God’s presence and that his fellowship with God and others was built through faith and love. For Enoch, blameless living was the business of a lifetime, not the performance of an hour. In other words, walking with God is not going to church every Sunday from 10:30 AM to Noon. Faith exercised once a week for an hour or so, and it is not a good walk!

Biblically speaking, the term “walk” is used when dealing with ordinary, day-to-day life. In the Old Testament, we read of one’s “rising and sitting down,” two of the most natural things people do every day. As Buddhist, I might ask, “Can two people walk together going in opposite directions?” Instead, there’s a sense of common direction, common purpose, and common interests. When I rise in the morning, do I walk in love? When I lay in the evening, do I sleep in love?

As Chuck Swindoll once said, “Faith is not a leap in the dark; it is a walk in the light.”

An author noted great works did not mark Enoch’s life; he merely lived in God’s presence. And apparently, God enjoyed the relationship so much that He took Enoch, uninterrupted, into eternal fellowship. Sadly, our lives resemble roller coaster rides than walks. We rise and plunge as emotions vacillate, we collapse from physical, spiritual, and mental exhaustion, only to rise and go back into the fray. We can, like Enoch, learn to walk with Him.

The life that pleases God is one of faith walking—not running faster than a speeding bullet or leaping tall buildings with a single bound. We don’t need to have great faith; we need to have faith in a great God.

Manafort never lived a blameless life. He lived in pride. Contempt. Arrogance. Self-exaltation. It’s a version of life we must learn to never live.

While not personally seeing the news clip, I read about Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen testimony to Congress. Ms. Nielsen was unable to answer about the number of children detained at the southern U.S. border nor was she able to explain how many “special-interest aliens” are detained at the northern vs. the southern border. Nielsen was able to argue that children separated from parents are not held in “cages” – they’re detention spaces.

Nielsen: “Sir, we don’t use cages for children. In the border facilities that you’ve been to, they were not made to detain children. As the children are processed through, they are in some parts of those facilities. I’m being as clear as I can, sir.”

Thompson: “Yes or no, are we still putting children in cages?”

Nielsen: “To my knowledge, CBP never purposely put a child in a cage.”

Thompson: “Purposefully or whatever, are we putting children in cages? As of today?

Nielsen: “Children are processed at the border facility stations that you’ve been at –“

Thompson: “And I’ve seen the cages. I just want you to admit that the cages exist.”

————————————————————–

Bonnie: “Is it [cages] different from what you put dogs in?”

Nielsen: “Yes.”

Bonnie: “In what sense?”

Nielsen: “It’s larger.”

Since I did not see the whole hearing, I will not disparage Secretary Nielsen. However, George Orwell once said, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Orwell’s statement seems to reflect the sign of the times. Through March 4, 2019, Trump has lied 9,014 through 773 days in office. Trump’s averaging nearly 22 false or misleading claims per day.

Society has gotten so accustomed to lying that they do so even when there’s no apparent purpose. And when their lies are easily disproven, they leave everyone scratching their heads. Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of such individuals. When I read of Secretary Nielsen’s testimony to Congress, I remembered one such lie during my days on Guam.

In 1979, our team was stationed on Anderson Air Force Base Guam. One Saturday, we were performing maintenance on our helicopter and required some basic screws. We went to base supply and found they were out of stock. On a whim, we went to the hardware store and found the same bolt and same packaging.

“Sold,” I said.

I was just about ready to install the bolt when a Jeep rolls to a stop. A supply contractor exits the vehicle, waving his hands over his head.

“Stop,” he yells.

“Why,” we asked.

“You have the wrong bolt.”

“What?”

“You,” pointing to the bolt in my hand, “have the wrong bolt.”

“What are you talking about? It’s the same bolt and same packaging.”

“Well,” he said rather factually. “What you have is a bolt. What the helicopter requires is a ‘Thermo-Dynamic Securing Unit.'”

“A What?” I gruffed.

“You need a ‘Thermo-Dynamic Securing Unit.’ You can’t use that.”

“Oh,” I said. “And would I be correct in presuming that these ‘Thermo-Dynamic Securing Units’ come from your company?”

“Yes.”

“And how much are they?”

“Oh, well …” he fumbled. “$250.00 apiece.”

In my years of living, I’ve had my share of lies, untruths and crimes of the heart. Seems like a long time ago, but as Bagger Vance might, “It was just a moment ago.” In finding the truth, I had to go through my own dirty dishes. There’s no dishwasher in the mind. No one was there to wash the dish piles of consciousness. There’s no reality-based TV show mental makeover that will re-veneer guilt. In the process, I became more accepting of myself and learned to be more open and flexible.

Unfortunately, many members of our current legislature have not found the legitimate way in truth. Kristen Nielsen’s lack of candor is a broader reflection of America. She will have to live with that. Unfortunately, we will as well.

Dots

Trudeau thought he could change the world. When Justin Trudeau was elected Canadian prime minister years ago, he became an instant international celebrity. The charismatic and photogenic politician made headlines for everything from his feminist views to his tattoos and past jobs — which include being a bungee-jumping coach.

Sounds like me. When I was young, I was convinced I would change the world. And I did. For few I met, I did change their world – completely. Some positively, some negatively.

Most days of my life, I merely explained ‘dots.’ Allow me to explain.

One day, a professor entered the classroom and asked his students to prepare for a surprise test. The professor handed out exams with the text facing down. Once handed out, he asked the students to turn the tests over. To everyone’s surprise, there were no questions – just a black dot in the center of the sheet of paper.

The professor, said, “Write what you see.”

With no exception, everyone defined the black dot. After all were read, the classroom silent, the professor started to explain:

“I’m not going to grade you. I wanted to give you something to think about. No one wrote about the white part of the paper. Everyone focuses on the black dot.”

The moral is that the same happens in our lives. Excluding those with PTSD or health issues, our lives can be a piece of paper to observe and enjoy. For years, I chose to focus mostly on one particular thing, event or period. I neglected my gifts, forgot the reasons to celebrate, abandoned renewal, tossed away friendship. By focusing only on the dot, I failed to see how little those events are when compared to everything else. These polluted my mind, took our eyes off my true calling, and neglected my true blessings.

Want to change the world, be like Flintoff.

John Paul Flintoff worked to help protect the environment and prevent global warming. He realized he could make an immediate difference by reaching out to his neighbors. Every year, he offered extra tomato seeds to neighbors. Doing so, Flintoff changed his slice of the world. You could too.

Want to change the world? Pay it forward.

From giving someone a smile to holding a door open for someone, doing chores for others, volunteering at a charity, or buying lunch for a friend, it doesn’t take a lot to make another’s day.

Want to change the world, come alive.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. (Howard Thurman).” Be authentic. Be true to yourself and everyone else.

When I first heard the following story, I didn’t feel like I changed anything. I was earning a paycheck, merely surviving. However, while consulting at a hospital on the west coast, I saw a senior woman sitting alone in the cafeteria at the same time each day.

One day, sipping coffee, I asked if she would like company.

I’ve seen you every day for the past several weeks. Do you work or volunteer here?

Heavens, no.” she chuckled. “I am visiting my husband.

Oh, I’m sorry” I replied.

No need,” she replied while raising a cup of tea to her lips. “My husband doesn’t remember me anymore.

Hmm,” I nodded sympathetically.

Straightening up, “My kids say, I shouldn’t make too many trips. Since he has Alzheimer’s and is declining.” Blowing softly across the cup, she pierced me with cat-like laser eyes, “But I remember him. So, I make the trip.

Enlightenment! She changed my world.

Go change the world, even if it is only one person at a time. The power comes from love.

Interpreting God

I was dining one night when I overheard two people discussing the best way to interpret God. After a brief pause, one said, “Maybe there’s an app?

Reflecting on my youth, I first read the Bible cover-to-cover at age 18. Having no theological training, many of the thou’s, tho’s, thus’, thereby, shalt’s, coulda’s, shoulda’s, woulda’s were way over my head. It was a weird feeling. I could take apart an M-16, clean it, and reassemble it in 20 minutes, but somehow, Biblical verbiage escaped me.

The Bible was never read in my home. As a kid, English was the only chosen language. One semester, I was registered in a French class. Any hopes for entering the diplomatic corps were dashed on the blackboard as I could barely comprehend Merci (thank you) or S’il Vous Plaît (please). I once said Merci to my father. The look on his face was priceless. To him, French was best left in school, and generally, everything outside our home and conversations of Coors beer barely registered. Foreign films, short documentaries and other attempts to introduce any ‘refinement‘ were quickly forgotten, mostly within minutes.

I was so inept at Biblical reading that I was convinced, that after prayer, God would respond, but respond in Tongues. Damn, then I would have to find someone who could understand Tongues. How would an 18 year find such a person? Place a classified ‘Help Wanted’ ad?

18-year-old, first-time bible reader, received a message from God. Unfortunately, the message is in Tongues. Need interpreter. Will pay, but can’t pay much.”

Comprehension was always a challenge. I have to admit; I learned conversational Spanish. However, even conversational Spanish had difficulties. On a fraud investigation in Southern Chile, my driver asked if I wanted to go to the cocina (kitchen). I laughed heartily. “Knowing he did not understand English, I replied, “It’s 10:30 PM. What the hell do I want to go to a ‘casino’ for?” Wasn’t until I repeated the story to a coworker in Atlanta that I learned my error.

There were many times I thought God must believe I’m incompetent. This personal level of insecurity dates back to 1999 when I worked with a colleague who spoke 12 languages and could easily skip, with ease, between dialects. He smoothly transitioned from Arabic to Darija, to French, then Hindi, Bengal, Spanish and so on. Elderly Egyptians recount how in Alexandria, in the early 20th century, they would switch between Arabic, French, English, Italian, and Greek, depending on what they were doing and whom they were addressing.

For some time, I remained rudderless. While able to speak to God, I often did not hear the response. In truth, none of us who commit to prayer and the spiritual life enjoy those periods during which prayer, liturgy, or spiritual reading seem dry or dull. But such moments are necessary—or so it would seem—for God permits them. It turns out I wasn’t alone.

St. John of the Cross wrote of “the dark night of the soul.” So did Mother Teresa. And Terese of Avila discussed “the period of aridity.” It’s typical for the religious life, to be plunged into not knowing. I don’t lead an overtly religious life. However, what most are looking for: some way to let real life, with the pain, not blow us apart. And in the wake of such great forces, many quit.

Then again, how many times do both the prayee and responder misinterpret the message?

A rather old-fashioned lady was planning several weeks of vacation in Florida. Being quite elegant, she wanted to ensure the campground was adequately equipped with “toilet” facilities. Feeling too dignified to write the word “toilet,” she thought of an old fashioned term “Bathroom Commode,” and abbreviated it as “B.C..” Her letter included the request, “Does the campground have its own ‘B.C’?”

Upon receipt, the owner couldn’t understand what ‘B.C.’ meant. He came to the conclusion she was asking about the Baptist Church. So, he responded:

“Dear Madam: I regret the delay in answering your letter very much, but I take pleasure in informing you that the “B.C.” is located nine miles north and is capable of seating 250 people at one time.

As a Buddhist, I learned every person has a personal language which provides a unique prism through which to interpret God’s wisdom and experience. We’re not in the position, as human beings, to figure out the mind of God. It is our shared humanity and fellowship with other humans. I now believe God communicates not with mere words alone, but through culture, shared experience, laughter, tears, music, books, blogs, and joy.

It’s important to realize God shares our condition of humanity. God became one of us and poured himself into our human experience so that we are never alone, so that God is with us even into the worst of times, even when we do not know it. God is there. God will equip you with what you need when you need it.

CPACI didn’t want to ruin any mega-karma flowing my way. So, I wasn’t going to write about it. Then a Twitter writer wrote, “Can the flag sue for harassment?

When I heard of Trump’s speech at Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), I went to Youtube. “God Bless the USA” blasted over the speakers Trump stood next to an American flag and hugged it. Grinning and rocking the flag back and forth as idiots gave him a standing ovation.

It was a big hug to the American people. God bless president Trump,” a Twitter user gushed.

Then angel opined. Angel (@fun4u909) March 2, 2019, “Can the flag sue for harassment?

The two-hour speech rivaled some dictators.

This wasn’t the first time Trump embraced the American flag. In June 2018, Trump gave a speech before the National Federation of Independent Business, during which he discussed immigration at length, including his “zero tolerance” policy that separates families at the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump concluded his speech by praising small business hugged the flag as he walked off stage.

CNN Anchor Brooke Baldwin noted all the February headlines. Here’s the list.

Cohen Testifies; Roger Stone Gag Order; Summit Sequel; Klobuchar Enters Race; Sanders Enters; O’Rourke’s Road Trip; Green New Deal; State of The Union; Trade War; Venezuela Power Crisis; India and Pakistan; New UN Pick; Believing another Dictator; Whitaker Hearing; Barr Confirmed; R. Kelly Charged; Robert Kraft Charged; Jussie Mollet Charged; Massacre Plot; Presidential Emergency; States Sue Trump (Over Presidential Emergency Declaration); North Carolina New Election; McCabe Book Tour; RGB Returns; El Chapo Sentenced; Amazon Bolts from NY; Bezos Pictures; Virginia State Government Crisis; Trump vs California; ISIS Bride Returns; Pope’s Advisor Convicted; Congress Rebukes Trump; Omar Apology; Tax Cuts Cause US Debt to Skyrocket; and Lady Gaga and Cooper’s Academy Award Duet.

Let me ask a few questions. How many steel jobs were created in February? How many jobs were talked about during February? How many job bills were generated and passed by Congress during February? Anyone?

How many jobs lost? 25,000 if you count Amazon’s departure from New York. Wisconsin’s Foxconn deal is on shaky ground.

In June 2018, Trump claimed US Steel was going to build six new steel plants.  In 2017, there were only nine US steel plants in total. At the time of Trump’s claim, I believe US Steel owned four of those nine steel plants. Here’s the truth, no U.S. company has announced new steel plants.

Here’s the real news, our president announces the opening of new factories that major U.S. companies have not announced? Likewise, for February. Over 35 different news-breaking stories and all we get from Trump is a collapsed Korean Summit, claims that the Russia investigation is a hoax, and a flag hug. The tariffs and taxes Trump implemented have resulted in little to no benefit and colossal debt.

If I did that in my business, I’d be fired.

Watching Trump hugging the U.S. Flag at CAPC was cringeworthy. The President purposely intermingles faith with politics. However, no political system, no matter how idealistic, can bring about peace, prosperity and happiness as long as the people in the system are dominated by greed, hatred and delusion. But, as Trump said CPAC speech:

This is how I got elected …

Buddhists and other spiritual leaders have long known the inherent problems when intermingleing religion with politics. The basis of religion is morality, purity and faith. For politics? Power. In the course of history, religion has often been used to give legitimacy to those in power and their exercise of that power. Religion has also been used to justify wars and conquests, persecutions, atrocities, rebellions, destruction of works of art and culture.

When religion is used to pander to political whims, it has to forego its high moral ideals and becomes debased by political demands. At trhat point it’s nothing more that a s***show.

But maybe … just maybe … we can hug a flag, and everything will be okeydokey.

The Twitter writer was right, the flag should sue for harassment.

Freedom From TV

I gave up watching television, listening to news, expensive technology and eating any junk food this past week. This wasn’t a broader, well thought out decision saying, ‘I must abandon all for the sake of humanity.’ However, I will say that after just one week, I feel saner and probably more humane. I feel less anxious and my housemate, ‘Speakeasy,’ who never speaks (hence his name), sleeps better. It’s hard to know; he’s a cat. Sleeps when I’m there, sleeps when I’m not.

Allow me to explain.

Over the years, I’ve read various experts claiming to profess that abstinence is the key to happiness. Booze, sugar, smoking, caffeine, smartphones, tablets, sex, drugs, vaccines, UV, AV, DVDs and CDs must be eliminated. More than likely, toilet paper, toothpaste, and car wax are next.

As mentioned in a previous post, I confess that I have not achieved victory over all my attachments, as have enjoyed some immensely – with chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and a good, soft, warm raisin cookie being two of many.  All of these are attachments.

The word attachment has long been used by spiritual traditions to describe this process. It comes from the old French attaché, meaning “nailed to.” Attachment “nails” our desire to specific objects and creates addiction. In this light, we can see why traditional psychotherapy, which is based on the release of repression, has proven ineffective with addictions. It also shows why addiction is the most powerful psychic enemy of humanity’s desire for God.

Spiritually speaking, it has been said addiction, in its basic form, is just a deep-seated form of idolatry. These addictions become our false gods. These are what we worship, what we attend to, where we give our time and energy, instead of love. Addiction, then, displaces and supplants God’s love as the source and object of our deepest true desire. It is, as one modern spiritual writer has called it, a “counterfeit of religious presence.”

Not that I’ve covered all that gobbledygook, I’ll be honest, I love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but unless they are in a bowl next to me while watching a Cubs game, I’ve given neither time nor energy. But that’s not to excuse them either. Likewise, associating a warm, fresh baked raisin cookie to a golden calf … ah … appears to be a stretch. On the other hand, new cell phones, the flash of lights from a new computer, the bink, bop, boink as the hard drive carves out commands hooks me.

I didn’t give up technology because I was addicted. Rather, the desire to abandon television came as a result of being busy. The effect, however, was impressive. And I learned a few lessons along the way.

Creative Bursts of Energy

I didn’t have a love affair with TV, but I placed a lot of mental effort into television programs I watched. While meant to be entertainment, I realized how much of it isn’t. I used television to decompress. Thus, instead of being entertained, I re-purposed those hours toward creating something of value.

I also moved more. Instead of sitting, I walked. Humoring Speakeasy, I danced, read to him as he slept on my lap and played hide and seek with him. In return, he moved more, chased more and rested easier.

Relationships Are Important

Real relationships are more important than television. Life situations and people are overwhelmingly better. A lot of what we do is done because we’ve imitated TV. We unconsciously become our actors. You might socialize in person versus via Twitter or Facebook. You might able to eliminate the “text me before you call rule.”

Returning Time

I gained time and felt ridiculously wonderful. Cutting meaningless tasks meant empowering the meaningful.

Some countries are treating television and other handheld devices as a public health crisis. In the U.S., tech companies are developing code and apps to help limit screen use. Apple has developed Screen Time. With Screen Time, you can access real-time reports about how much time you spend on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, and set limits for what you want to manage. However, I presume that will wear off and slowly die.

During the week, I noticed other changes. Instead of junk food and soda, I opted for salads and tea. Coffee got cut. By the third day, I felt more awake and aware. I also put away the massive pseudo-6.4-inch cell phone/dinner platter and dropped back into a 5.8 iPhone. Again, this wasn’t a conscious effort, but something I did. Now, I look only at email, a few Internet searches, some quick news and listen to soft jazz.

What I’ve noticed these past several days is the number of people who walked past while texting. We don’t even look up anymore. Have we forgotten how to live life?

My phone does not cruise Facebook posts or other social media because I don’t have a personal account. I gave up such social media accounts because they were not satisfying. Buddha urged followers to live simply and rid themselves of luxury and attachments. I’ll admit, I still use cellphones and other computers, but I don’t use them for happiness and fulfillment. Fulfillment via cellphone is just an illusion.

So, make time. Get up and play. As the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson, wrote in the strip’s last panel,”Let’s go exploring.”

Speaking of play … Coming Speakeasy.

What Lucky Taught Me

“And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”

~ Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories ~

Lucky was acquired. Living in Mendota Heights, MN during the winter of 1993, I noticed a 15 pound stray, orange long haired tabby. Of the few times was seen, he drank from standing pools of water on the street. Finally, on one ‘lucky night,’ I nabbed him. Capturing is misleading; he came willingly. I named him Lucky because it was pure luck we crossed paths.

Unlike ancient Egyptian pyramids, Lucky came with no ‘warning sign.’ Though I certainly could have used one, he had no user manual. And while I looked quite extensively, there was no ‘off’ button. For all the world’s Yang, you know, those loving, wholesome thoughts, Lucky received a double dose of Yin. To this day, I believe Lucky woke in the morning and ate nothing but a quarter slice of lemon. That was the high note, and it dwindled quickly thereon.

He was perpetually cranky. One might say Lucky was prejudice. But after having lived with him much of his life, I can honestly state Lucky was not prejudiced – he hated everyone. Almost equally. As one friend phrased it, “Those aren’t ears, they’re horns.

Still, Lucky taught me just as many lessons as Figaro.

Real Love Does Not Require Complete Understanding
We all want to be loved. Behind the grump, Lucky just wanted to be loved. On most days, his real personality came out, and he was often happy and affectionate. As Norman Maclean observed, I didn’t always understand him, but I loved him completely.

The Truth is Easier To With Those We Love
With little fear of repercussion, its easier to share the dark, deep troubles of those we love. Whatever life Lucky lived before me, maybe we drift more towards truth as we age because we realize “truth” is what cuts through the weighty, granite fortresses of life. As Maclean said, “But maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.” In truth, after all these years since he’s gone, I believe Lucky loved someone trying to help him, even if I couldn’t wholly cure whatever ill hurt him.

Interconnection Means Sharing an Life’s Arc
The lake just off Concord Way was perched adjacent to my patio. Watching Lucky follow geese across the clear blue water reminds me that the arc of flowing water symbolizes the arc of life. Lucky and I were connected by that lake, and while living upon the shoreline, we etched deep patterns of life’s harmonic vitality into one another. I was amazed at how we lived through the seasons, and torrent weather with a philosophical exploration of a spiritual dimension. Through it, we believed in each other, because we lived in each other. He was an anchor for me, just as I was an anchor for him.

Relationships Require Work
Lucky and I worked hard at building trust. I didn’t know him; he didn’t know me. He didn’t choose to like me just because I was black or white. He didn’t care how tall I was, my education, my social status or wealth. We connected because we both chose to trust. As a result, our lives became an intimate story between souls. We shared something beautiful. And now that I think about it, it was always about love and relationship – about how we became brothers and formed one common bond. Even in death, his sense of self-transcendent interconnectedness still lives today.

I am humbled to have been a participant in his life. For all his gruff, Lucky still moves me in a positive, meaningful, and profound way. I’m moved to a different level each time I reflect on him and of our unspoken love.

God, I miss him. And it’s that level of love both Christ and Buddha would honor.

Thank you Lucky.

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