Archive for February, 2019


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.

What Figaro Taught Me

Many years ago, I adopted Figaro, an orange tabby. It turns out Figaro may have been named after Mister Geppetto and Pinocchio’s cat. I speculate, for Figaro was Walt Disney’s favorite character in Pinocchio; he loved the kitten so much, he wanted Figaro to appear as much as possible. Once production on Pinocchio was complete, Figaro became Minnie Mouse’s pet.

In real life, Figaro and I had a great relationship. During the time Figaro allowed me to rent space in his pad, our one-bedroom apartment in downtown Chicago overlook a bank of elm trees. Ever dutiful, ‘Guard Cat,’ as nicknamed, was always on the prowl for stray birds wandering too far or those that dared to land on the adjoining window ledge. Sometimes, in the depth of REM sleep, one could find Figaro running through high timberlines, chasing fowl near or far. It was hard not to be fascinated by enjoyment.

Figaro was spoiled, and he knew it. However, I learned so about life from him.

Live in the Moment

Since his adoption, Figaro never had to worry about the past or future. Instead, he made my ‘present’ better.

Made His Own Toys

No entertainment is as good as our imagination. No cell phone, text, tweet, Nintendo game or John Madden, Version 12,216 can replace our own ability to find joy. I bought Figaro many toys. He ignored most of them. Instead, he made his toys. His favorite you make ask? Leftover plastic strips that held newspapers. He’d play with those things until they started to shred and were thrown away. I would acquire another, and the same process would repeat itself.

Rest

Figaro was rarely tired. He knew when to lie down and sleep. He never got burned out, never had a nervous breakdown, never had to use drugs or alcohol to make it through the day.

Love

True love came from sharing and caring. He wore his heart on his sleeve. Cheek rubs, belly rubs, purring and head bunting and other small things meant constant love and affection. Figaro lived and died by them.

He would also hang out. Friday and Saturday movie nights were not complete without Figaro. Each week, a few friends would gather and watch the latest movie. The night would neither start nor end without Figaro. Sometimes, it is merely the joy of sharing the same interest and passion.

Lifelong Learning

In days long gone, communities would have gathering places where children listened to older men and women as they told stories of life, of life’s challenges and the lessons that can be drawn from the edge of survival. People knew that sometimes our greatest lessons lay in our greatest pain. Figaro and I were lifelong buddies in learning.

For instance, one night, instead of dishwashing detergent, I mistakenly placed Spic and Span into the dishwasher. While the dishes were immensely cleaned, soap suds escaped the dishwasher and rolled throughout the kitchen floor. On hands and knees, mopping suds, up popped Figaro onto the dishwasher. His look said it all.

That was pretty stupid.”

Like a great Buddhist mentor, Figaro taught that life’s lessons involve working on our smallness, getting rid of our negativity and finding the best in ourselves and each other. These lessons are the windstorms of life and made us who we are. We are here to heal one another and ourselves. Not healing as in physical recovery, but a much more profound healing. The healing of our spirits, our souls.

Deep inside all of us, there is someone we were meant to be. And we can feel when we’re becoming that person. Unknown to me, Figaro pushed me to become better and knew when something was off. Consciously or not, we are all on a quest for answers, trying to learn the lessons of life. We grapple with fear and guilt. We search for meaning, love, and power. We try to understand fear, loss, and time. We seek to discover who we are and how we can become truly happy. Sometimes we look for these things in the faces of our loved ones, in religion, God, or other places where they reside. Too often, however, we search for them in money, status, the “perfect” job, or other places, only to find that these things lack the meaning we had hoped and even brought heartaches.

After all these years, I found these answers in my cat.

When life crashed in 2010, I had to relive lessons from a generation ago. During such time, one can think of inadequacies as terrible defects, if we want, and hate oneself. But we can also think of them affirmatively, as doorways through which the power of grace can enter our lives. When I returned to the times when Figaro roamed the rooms of my heart, I realized I no longer had to be perfect. Now, I’m authentic and live life profoundly.

Thanks, Figaro.

For the past several years, I used a Galaxy S8 Active. You know, it’s the phone you can drop from an airplane, hit and crush a car’s roof, land in the neighbor’s pool, pull it out, wipe it off and make a call. However, with my entire family possessing a hoard of iPhone’s, there I stood, an outsider looking in.

Longing for love and acceptance, I ventured into an Apple store in November 2018 and purchased an iPhone XS Max. Yeah … the ‘Max.’ The ultimate. The coup de grâce. It will be the phone I will die with, the phone that will outlive me, one that will let me enjoy my retirement looking for cheap buffets, and garage sales. I felt the slick golden beast in my hand and Apple’s seduction oozed through my body. Apple was subliminally saying; God has an Apple. He will even text you if you ‘BELIEVE.’

I believed. “Sold,” I said to the Apple Expert. I had to have it.

My first several connections with my mother via FaceTime were fantastic. Then I upgraded. 12.1.whatever. Then came 12.1.1.whatever. And more ‘whatevers’ after that. And for the last four months, FaceTime has been challenging. FaceTime with friends or family is perfect until the four to five-minute mark. After that, I get Apple’s equivalent to Microsoft’s Blue Screen of Death, “poor connection.” Regardless of effort, FaceTime would only recover if the phone was restarted and try again.

I turned to Mr. Genius. Mr. Genius called on my home phone and subliminally confirmed I was no smarter than the fish in my aquarium, “FaceTime error is a fairly simple error and fairly simple to correct.”

Before doing anything, he checked Apple’s System Status page to ensure FaceTime Servers were up and running. I presume if the servers weren’t up, he’d have a crisis and wouldn’t bother with an old, bald, fat, sixty-year-old from Washington.

Yup. Good,” he noted. “Let’s try restarting the device.”

Ok,” restarting.

Now, let’s test FaceTime.”

Five minutes passed, “Poor Connection.”

In the course of attempting to repair this, here’s a list of attempted steps Mr. Genius requested I perform, in order.

  • Run a speed test on my networks to ensure that they are reaching 5mbps or greater. If not, low data rates cause problems with FaceTime
  • Toggle Wi-Fi off and back on again
  • Connect to a 5 GHz Wi-Fi signal and not a 2.4 GHz or vice-versa
  • Turn Cellular Data Off
  • Toggle Airplane Mode on, wait 20-30 seconds and toggle Airplane Mode off–the quick method is via Control Center
  • Toggle FaceTime off and back on again, then sign in again
  • Change internet connection to cellular data by toggling off Wi-Fi
  • Turn off Wi-Fi Assist
  • Restart or reset my home router
  • Force the FaceTime app to close and launch again
  • Restart device and then force restart
  • Change DNS info, as may fix FaceTime connection issues
  • Set Date & Time to a time that is at least one year ahead and try again
  • Delete the FaceTime App and reinstall it via the App Store

Phillip Moffitt wrote that cultivating the two paramis (perfection and completeness) are found in patience and persistence are essential. The two go hand-in-hand.

Patience is the ability to abide by things the way they are. It allows you to tolerate failure, disappointment, defeat, unpleasantness, and confusion without giving up—both on the meditation cushion and in life. Persistence is the capacity of energetic resolve—the determination to hold steady to your intentions. Persistence brings into play the essential energy for directing your attention to what needs to be done right now. Deliberately placing attention on patience gives you the strength to cultivate patience; steady attention on being persistent will yield the energy to nurture new habits of mind.

I must admit, it was only through patience and persistence that I finally found an answer.

Hey, Mr. Genius. I found the soultion.

Great,” he paused. “What was it?

Well,” I stated. “You know that SIM Card in the iPhone?

Yeah?

I took it out and placed into my old Galaxy S8 Active. Works like a charm.

But sir, FaceTime does not operate on Android.”

Yup,” nodding to myself. “If they want me, they can call.”

I’ve watched both the Smollett and Stone cases in the past several weeks. Both Smollett and Stone wish to position themselves as victims. Yet, neither are textbook victims. In Smollett’s case, police announced that the “Empire” actor is officially a suspect for filing a false police report in regards to his alleged attack in Chicago. And for Stone, he was kicking himself and apologized profusely for his shortcomings. “I am kicking myself over my stupidity,” Stone said, abandoning his infamous “never apologize” mantra and tough guy demeanor. Legal analyst Jack Quinn said, “… if stupidity were a crime, Roger would be in jail for the rest of his life. This was just monumentally dumb on his part.

In truth, both Stone and Smollett were incredibly stupid.

At the outset, I must confess that I have by no means claim perfection in my own life. As mentioned in previous posts, I am riddled with faults, and I further admit that I’ve critically hurt many friends. But I came from a perspective that’s been there and did it. But unlike Stone or Smollett, my work is done away from the public spotlight where I no longer have present ant false veneer.

I’ve witnessed glimpses of myself in other events. For the most part, I ignored them. However, one such incident leaps that leaps to forefront involves an auto dealer’s son. It was late summer 1996, and I was invited to a dinner party by the owner of a car dealership. The owner’s dealership included Acura, Lexus, and BMW.

After mingling with guests I’ve never met, I walked to the back where several of the serving staff were taking a break. Chit-chatting back and forth, one server drew a breath from a cigarette and nodded toward a young man walking with a younger woman.

“Ah,” he said sarcastically, ” There goes Capt’n Cessna.”

“Who?” I responded

“Capt’n Cessna,” he pointed. “We’ve nicknamed Jason J., the dealer’s son, Capt’n Cessna.”

“Why?”

“Well,” said a server sitting on a swing. “He tried to make a BMW fly.”

“Oh,” I replied. “I heard about that. The brakes failed on his BMW and car got totaled.”

“Ah ha ha ha ha ha,” laughed everyone. “You don’t know s***.”

“Really?”

“Hey Jimmie,” the woman to the man next to me. “Tell him. You tell good.”

“See sir. Capt’n there,” he pointed, “wanted an Acura NSX for his birthday. But his father got him a BMW. So, one day, he gets this great idea to release the parking brake in hopes the car would roll and get damage so he could buy another car.”

“Didn’t quite work out that way, huh?”

“Nope. No sir,” said one server.

“He tried to blame it on bad brakes,” claimed Jimmie. “But the car creased in-between the street’s V-shaped storm drain, slid backward, completely straight, and rolled downhill. Police estimate the vehicle started going about 9 miles per hour, gained speed, and maximized at 40. It hit two garbage bins, clipped Ms. McGurdy’s summer azalea’s, pulverized a copy of the Morning Gazette into the pavement before losing its driver’s side mirror against the U.S. Post Office Mailbox before becoming forever immortalized into Morningside folklore.

Once the vehicle traveled past the road’s end, the BMW’s $20,000 value quickly plummeted. Any lingering thought that the street curb would reverse destiny was thwarted, as ‘bla-blup, bla-blup’ emanated from underneath, followed by a quick ‘phooom,’ and a brief second of silence. And there, against the backdrop of an early morning sun, the BMW momentarily floated, and in dawn’s silhouette, dove outward, toward the shore below.”

Everyone cracked up.

“Car buffs along Morningside Drive claim that was the greatest event ever to occur, even when comparing it to Danny Butterfield’s errant 4th of July bottle rocket landing in ol’ Quester’s Wagon Ride. Even today, during hot summer afternoon’s, ol’ folk sit, sip cool tea, and reminisce of the day when Capt’n there confirmed, without question, that BMWs don’t fly.”

In Buddhism, being truthful goes beyond merely not telling lies. It means speaking truthfully and honestly, yes. But it also means using speech to benefit others, and not to use it to help only ourselves — this is where Roger Stone and Jussie Smollett failed. Speech rooted in the poison of hate, greed, and ignorance is false speech. If your speech is designed to get something you want, or to hurt someone you don’t like, or to make you seem more important to others, it is false speech even if what you say is factual.

The tricky thing we must do is forgiveness. In the case of Stone and Smollet, when all is adjudicated, and sentences are over, we must forgive. However, many holy words one reads, or however many are spoken, what good will they do if we cannot act on upon them? Therefore, my friends, if we fail to forgive, then holding on to our anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you get burned.

Firgiveness is never easy. For Stone and Smollet, forgiveness will not be a single event. Rather, it will be a series of decisions repeated many times over.

Anxiety and the Power of Hope

Maybe if I fall in love with my anxiety, it will leave me too.”

~ Posted on August 7, 2017 ~

I have a friend who suffers from anxiety. She read an article where the author instructed the reader to list out all the things that provide worry. Her list consisted of one word: Everything. For some time, she’s felt an ‘overwhelming sense of doom.’ And true to its nature, fear of impending doom is a common anxiety symptom. It often precedes or accompanies panic and anxiety attacks – which she’s had.

Many experience anxiety’s intense feelings and sensations. They are especially powerful when they occur for no seemingly good reason. Consequently, many people react to these ‘out of the blue‘ feelings with fear, which only serves to inflame.

As an healthcare technology guru, I either know a lot of common medical statistics or know where to find them. So, trust me when I say that just by knowing someone’s age, gender, geographic location, and a few other items, I can look at current data and predict how one is likely die.

These calculations are neither unique nor have I written such programs. In fact, these calculators are fairly common. Google has a calculator. So do many insurance companies. One of the most insisightful ones for the average person can be found at FlowingData.

On a whim, I calculated mine. And theoretically, I have thirty more years of life. Really? Thirty? Jesussssss Chhhrrrriiissssst.

Sorry, God.

Truth be told, most of us will die of old age, not from some unexpected doom. Popular culture focuses on the most spectacular possibilities: think of the hurtling asteroid in the film Armageddon or the alien invasion of Independence Day.

Still, my chances dying from some unknown doom-like event stands at 3%. Let’s suppose I walk out the door tomorrow and got hit by an aircraft wheel that fell from the sky. Such an newsworthy event falls into the 3%. How about getting whacked in the head by a rock flung from a lawnmower three houses down? 3%. Wait? Wait? How about falling down a flight of stairs while carrying laundry and yelling at my brother’s kids? 3%.

While a dramatic end to humanity is possible, focusing on such scenarios means ignoring the most serious threat we face today: Stupidity.  And guess what? Those dying unexpectedly – from something like stupidity – hovers at 1%.

The following childhood story is just an example of one ‘stupidity‘ event, a 1 percenter.

During late spring, my father and I decided to rise near dawn and head to the waters of Senachwine Lake. Unfortunately for us, and everyone, else, the water was relatively quiet. For fisherman anchored 20 to 50 yards apart our biggest problem was the smell.

The fish smell. Your bait smells. And should you be fortunate enough to catch anything, your nets will smell (especially if you leave them in the sun). Your clothes will stink. Finally, and most incontrovertibly, I stunk.

A fisherman in a rowboat 25 yards to our left caught something huge. His fishing rod bent, swayed left, swayed right, and zigzagged under his boat. Onlookers were captured by the excitement. He fought hard. Exhausted, he finally hauled a two-foot Northern Pike onboard.

And then … he learned there’s more to fishing than catching fish.

While receiving congratulatory salutations from admirers, he reached to unhook his catch. Without warning he suddenly stood up, blood pouring from his finger. I estimate there was a five-second delay between bite, blood, and realization of said bite.

Screaming and stomping ensued. With the realization his catch had yet to die, he reached to his waist, pulled a revolver.

The fisherman emptied all the bullets and said fish went from Pike to sashimi in seconds. However … while sufficiently eliminating the threat, he created a secondary problem.

As a fountain of water arose from inside the boat, the fisherman realized the boat was sinking. Screaming in pain, holding an empty revolver, with newly homemade sashimi, and sinking boat, he concluded only one option – jump. Thus … while sufficiently eliminating the self-sacraficing act of going down with the ship, he created a tertiary problem – contamination of an open wound.

The fisherman was rescued, but the finger was lost.

Reflecting upon fear and the thought of impending doom, minus stupidity noted above, none one is more likely than another to suffer a doom-like demise. After exhausting all available false repositories of fear, it is possible to turn to God with a true sense of who we are, with an integrity that is both humble and confident, with a dignity that knows itself because it has met its limits.

In his book The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, Jack Kornfield, quote from Buddha’s own diary:

“How would it be if in the dark of the month, with no moon, I were to enter the most strange and frightening places, near tombs and in the thick of the forest, that I might come to understand fear and terror? And doing so, a wild animal would approach, or the wind rustles the leaves, and I would think, “Perhaps the fear and terror now come.” And being resolved to dispel the hold of that fear and terror, I remained in whatever posture it arose, sitting or standing, walking or lying down. I did not change until I had faced that fear and terror in that very posture until I was free of its hold upon me … And having this thought, I did so. By meeting the fear and terror, I became free.”

In the battle of dispair, hope can sometimes appear elusive. Yet, even in pain it comes. It is there, irrevocably. And like freedom, hope is a child of grace, and grace cannot be stopped. I refer to Saint Paul, a man who, I am convinced, understood such pain: “Hope will not be denied, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.

Remember to help everyone for it is only through facing fear together that we all become free.

Peace

Heirs of Our Actions

What distinguishes humans from other species is our inherent ability to examine our character, to decide how to view ourselves and our situations, and to control our effectiveness. To be effective one must be proactive. Reactive people take a passive stance — they believe that the world is happening to them. “That’s just the way I am.”

Yet sometimes, fate intercedes.

The ‘average joe‘ calls it ‘Karma.’

Thirty years ago, I visited a major shopping mall in Schaumburg, Illinois a few days past Thanksgiving. Being just at the start of the Christmas season, the mall was crowded, and I parked quite a distance from the store.

Walking down a parking row toward the store I came upon an older woman in Cadillac waiting patiently for an owner to enter her vehicle back up and leave. With blinker on, she just started rolling forward when a younger driver in a Honda CRX skidded into the parking space.

Flummoxed, the elderly lady rolled down the window, “Young man. Didn’t you see I was waiting for that spot?”

With a sneering laugh and the flick of his wrist, he waved, “Well, that’s what it’s like to be young and quick.”

He turned and continued walking. Fifteen seconds later, there was such a loud crash that nearby shoppers stopped in their tracks and looked. The young man turned, mouth agape and noticed his Honda CRX was completely smashed.

Running to the Cadillac, he screamed, “What did you do?”

The woman calmly rolled down her window. “Young man,” she lectured with a twist of her finger. “That’s what you do when you’re old and rich.”

For a Buddhist, Karma is the law of moral causation and is a fundamental doctrine in Buddhism. This belief was prevalent in India before the advent of the Buddha. Nevertheless, it was the Buddha who explained and formulated this doctrine in the complete form in which we have it today.

The Buddha once explained:

All living beings have actions (Karma) as their own, their inheritance, their congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is Karma that differentiates beings into low and high states.”

In our world, proactive people recognize they can choose how to respond to a given stimulus or situation.

Hence, the significance of the Buddha’s statement is that “We are the heirs of our actions.”

I close with the following story.

When a bug crawled across his desk, an adult education teacher gave an impromptu lesson in safety. The teacher had an unusual paperweight: a 40-mm shell he found when hunting. Using opaque reasoning, he assumed the ordinance had to be ‘inert.’

As the bug crawled across his desk, one would presume the teacher would use a flyswatter. Nope. Instead, he lifted his ‘inert’ artillery shell and slammed it onto the insect. 

The impact set-off the primer.

The resulting explosion caused burns and shrapnel lacerations on his hand, forearm, and torso. Fortunately, no one else was hurt. To the teacher’s consolation, the bug was killed.

So, was that an act of God, fate or karma?

How about inheritance?

Humility

As a consultant, I’ve worked in hospitals across the country for years. Every once in a while, I see a physician with a pager. For all the high-tech equipment to use, one thing seems pretty archaic: pagers. Yet, 85 % of hospitals still use pagers.

There are significant reasons hospital staff still use one-way pagers to get in touch. For one important reason is that hospitals can be dead zones for cell service. In some areas, where the walls are built to keep X-rays from penetrating, heavy-duty designs make it hard for a cell phone signal to penetrate exterior walls.

A few days ago, I was sipping coffee in the cafeteria and overheard a physician complaining that the pager’s battery drains too quick.

A person at the adjacent table leaned in and said, “Excuse me, sir.

Yes?” he queried.

Do you need your pager at night? Meaning, are you always on call?

No,” he responded.

Well, you might get better battery life if you place the battery in the freezer. This might slow the discharge rate.

Oh great. Thanks for the tip.”

Visiting Information Technology for a wiring diagram, I saw a pager laying on the table. The pager’s casing was cracked, and the screen had broken.

Pointing to the pager, “Dropped pager, huh?”

Nah,” said the technician. “Some doctor put his pager in the freezer believing it would extend battery life.”

Buddhism emphasizes the importance of service on the Eightfold Path. By serving others, one cultivates compassion and washes away past sins. Particular emphasis is placed upon service to parents, teachers, learned persons, fellow monks when they are sick or need of help, assistance to animals, friends, servants, ascetics, and others.

Fortunately, doctors, while specifically listed still make the list. In the course of assisting the physician, I found ‘humility‘ still exits. Anthony de Mellow highlighted the message.

To a visitor who described himself as a seeker after Truth the Master said, “If what you seek is Truth, there is one thing you must have above all else.

I know. An overwhelming passion for it.”

No. An unremitting readiness to admit you may be wrong.

As a young twenty-year-old fresh out of college the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), was my go-to ride. Whether by bus or rapid transit, my typical work route from the city’s north side to downtown was approximately 40 minutes. During my years as a commuter, it wasn’t out the ordinary to encounter drunks, beggars, dirty jokes, fights, thefts, robberies, drug sales, arrests and several dozen claiming to be Christ, Buddha, the Archangel Michael or superhero. I’ve seen bus drivers stop mid-route, leave the bus, get coffee, newspapers, and grab lunch. All the while, riders remained frozen in time and space, on the bus.

By the time I received a living wage, I had an established proof positive test for anyone claiming to be a deity. If (fill in the blank) ______ (God, Deity, Superhero) can fix the CTA ‘s Red Line, said ______ (God, Deity, Superhero) would have established a new church by ride’s end. Thus far, the challenge remains just that – a challenge.

One ride remains memorable.

It was late fall, and the sun began setting early. As usual, riders piled on near downtown, often mashed against one another, holding anything within reach. Rounding a corner near Sheridan Road, the train suddenly stopped and leaned right. The doors suddenly opened and one rider lost his balance and began drifting outward, sixty feet from the ground. Just before becoming flightless, three passengers reached out and pulled the man back.

Are you all right?” asked a woman.

Jesus Christ,” replied the man. “Thanks.

Damn, that was close,” said another.

Yeah,” the young man smiled. “I saw an attorney down there holding a business card.

Laughter swallowed the nearly fatal horror.

Why me?” muttered the man as the train started.

No one can ascertain why this world is destined for so much pain. At some point in time, all of us will ask, “Why me?” And truthfully, the whole dialogue about Adam and Eve, the great apple (i.e., fruit from the tree of knowledge) seems like a used car salesperson selling an Edsel. God promised a time when ‘evil’ will be defeated. Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen today or tomorrow.

Other religions teach that evil is a force outside ourselves which seduces us into sin. This force is sometimes thought to be generated by Satan or various demons. Thus, the faithful are encouraged to seek strength outside themselves to fight evil, by looking to God. I take a more nuanced approach to Buddha’s teaching:

“By oneself, indeed, is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself, indeed, is one purified. Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one purifies another.”

Buddhism teaches us that evil is something we create, not something we are or some outside force that infects.

My ‘why me’ point came after a back injury. Strapped to a body board, I underwent various medical tests, poking, prodding and other indignities of the medical world. Why? In essence, to keep me from having to ask that question for the remainder of life. After a year of therapy, I was able to walk. Eventually, I ran. And now, later in life, I return to pain. The cycle of my life nears its end.

Fortunately, the sum of those I know does not experience trials experienced in my life. Every life has a story receives their form of tests, moments marked by pain, loss, and sorrow. What connects us to god is our humanity. Jesus, suffered, and died. Near death, Jesus offered a question, “My God, my God? Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus question, much like our own, is not a sign of faithlessness. Instead, the problem comes from the soul of humanity. And that humanity is like a version of iMessage.

Working in hospitals, I’ve seen a lifetime of pain. But I’ve seen enough of life to know that where there are scars, there’s love and compassion. It’s the same love and compassion that reached for the man in the rain. It’s the same love of clinicians that restored me.

Nothing in this world brings us closer to ‘why’ – I stopped asking decades ago. Instead, I ask what do I choose to love and how can I positively impact others?  Now that I reflect upon it, that might be my own personal ‘why.’

Accessibility

It’s been announced our company is moving to the cloud. How’s your fear of heights?

~ CloudTweaks.com Cartoon ~

As suggested by CloudTweaks, technology hits everyone.

Several years ago, I read an article in Digital Trends indicating Buddhism was embracing technology with by installing a Buddha-bot. In hopes of luring a younger generation, a Buddhist temple in China welcomed a robot monk to its order. Xianer was designed to promote the wisdom of an older order. Xianer has a touchscreen that helps answer 20 questions. On a humorous note, if you’re the one person requiring 21 questions, this monastery is far too advanced.

The theme of it all centers upon the notion that Buddhism and technology are harmonious. According to the creator, there are plans for future expansion. In the past year, the electronic monk has learned English, established a WeChat account that was reportedly acquired 1.5 million followers. It also likes ice cream. “Wish I could have 100 ice cream cones at one time.” Me too, Xianer. Me too.

Pay no mind to the fact the Chinese government monitors WeChat. One wrong chat Xianer, and you’ll likely be hacking foreign governments, implanting ransomware and gathering secrets, including wqho really shot J.R., what’s really in that beautiful Bush bean recipe and is there an ancient Chinese secret to Calgon? Wait … the ancient Chinese secret was Calgon.

Sorry, I digressed.

All this made me ponder how Xianer could assist me. Like a company purchasing carbon offsets to balance carbon emissions, maybe Xianer could offset uneven meditation days. For instance, I usually perform forty-minutes of meditation per daily. Should I only get thirty-minutes, Xianer can offset my footprint. Fail the abstention from intoxication? “Xianer, come here please.” Maybe Xianer could answer the client who writes at 3:00 AM in the morning asking why I haven’t responded to his email at 2:00 AM.

Inevitably, women will daydream of Xianer. So many questions: Can Xianer cook? Can he cuddle? Or better yet, can he listen to any conversation longer than three minutes in length? Will he leave the lid up? Seriously ladies, there are easier things in life than trying to find the perfect man … like nailing jelly to a tree. Maybe – just maybe – Xianer is your guy.

The Longquan Temple introduced Xianer in 2015 in hopes of using cutting edge technology to spread Buddhism. Companies volunteered their expertise for the unusual project.

Developing Xianer wasn’t for promotional or commercial purposes,” said Xianfan, the head of the temple’s animation studio.

We only wanted to explore how to fuse Buddhism with science better, to convey the message that Buddhism and science aren’t contradictory.

And the tactic works well with China’s younger, digitally savvy generation.

It’s super cute…I feel it is like a temple mascot, making Buddhism much more accessible,” said Liu Jiyue, a college student who went to the temple to meet the robot.

What? A robot making Buddhism more accessible?

Technology has been available for years. A cursory review of the Apple Store has apps such as Breethe, Buddha Quotes, Buddhist Scriptures, Chill, and iDharma to name a few. If you’re Catholic, there are apps such as Abide, Laudate, Catholic Daily Readings, and Daily Bible Verse Devotional are available. Likewise, if you’re an Atheist, one may find apps such as Atheist Pocket Debater, Atheism, and American Atheist Magazine may be helpful.

The point being, technology isn’t new. And almost every religion has been, quote, ‘accessible.’ Buddhism has been accessible for hundreds of years. The problem is that many are too obsessed with celebrity teachers and practice validation. There’s nothing wrong with having a specific technology, a teacher who isn’t famous, or just practicing with a group of fellow travelers on the path. It’s about commitment: commitment to a group, commitment to keep showing up, and commitment to keep trying even when there is no financial incentive or approval of a famous teacher.

Simply put, if you want to make Buddhist (or any religion for that matter) more accessible, do it.

Visions and Visitors

It was nearly 5:36 PM. The sun had set in the western sky, and the temperature dropped almost 20 degrees from its 6:00 AM high. I sat to make a near nightly FaceTime call to my parents. I powered on my iPad, noticed only 38% battery life remaining.

Hi,” answered my mother.

“Hey, mom. How are you?”

“Dad is out walking Skip. But, listen,” she interrupted, “I have to tell you something.”

Having noticed seriousness to her look, “Ok,” I affirmed. Living with an 86-year-old dementia patient has its challenges, with trying to keep your sanity being challenge number 1.

“Last night dad and I decided to go to bed about 8:30 [PM]. After a few minutes, I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to go to my recliner and read. A few minutes later, Dad started talking.”

Wow,” I said, relieved upon hearing nothing major, for 86-year-old’s commonly talk in their sleep.

Wait,” she interrupted. “I heard a woman’s voice talking back.

What?” unsure what to say.

Yeah,” briefly pausing, “I got up, tried to sneak up to the open bedroom door, glanced just past the door. The talking stopped. There was no one there.

Hmm,” I breathed. “Amazing.”

Yes, but,” she interrupted again. “I went back to my recliner, started reading. Moments later, Dad started talking. And then, the woman’s voice returned. After some minutes, Dad said, ‘I love you.’ The woman’s voice replied, ‘I love you too.‘”


While it’s hard to confirm, I wonder if his mother visited my father.

After working in the hospital field for all these years, I know it’s not unusual for the dying to have visions of someone already passed. As David Kessler, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s longtime assistant noted, the dying are often visited by a mother or father. Kessler hypothesized parents die before their children to lead the way when it’s their child’s turn.

Comforting my mother, I noted such stories are common, meaning, a lot of people have such visions. In many ways, these visitors offer tremendous peace, not only for the patient but also for relatives. These helpers affirm another life beyond our earthly borders. In my industry, this stage or phase is called Nearing Death Awareness.

Nearing Death Awareness often includes visions of loved ones or spiritual beings, although they don’t necessarily signal death’s imminence. It’s a path, a path we cannot lead, but a path we can help them walk.

Between the fragile beauty of fire, water, air, and wind, there is no discord. Between the supple silence of life and death, there is only harmony — no two elements of nature conflict. In every loss, there is gain. And in every gain, there is a loss. When such visitors arrive at our door, we may lose this world yet gain a unity of love and spirit that flows throughout the universe. My father will become part of this beauty — a universe full of love, full of peace.

At the end what remains is not riches, not structures of stone but remembrances of those few people we joined in spirit.

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