The edge: looking at some of the _isms that inform the creation of ‘me’…

The ground for writing this entry, is the soft-inquisitive and tender heart that yearns for understanding. But there is an edge brought by the tenderness and the discomfort I feel/felt. I believe there is potential for growth and finding lightness and joy in exploring this edge. I pray for clarity and courage. The beginning of the path, is simply to write the piece and to be with it, with the understanding that this piece began to write itself through me when I decided to go to my center this past Sunday. The path is to feel the tender heart and to see where it leads in its search for a life guided by compassion.
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I was both positively touched and also somewhat bothered by the talk/meeting I attended. The topic was Difficult Conversations, and it is part of the move to bring in and work with social injustices, and issues pertaining the inclusion and exclusion of people we consider “the other” as we set out to manifest Enlightened Society. Enlightened society is, or rather happens, first and foremost as an encounter between two people, in dialogue, and in the felt presence that occurs in the space-between. This entry is indirectly a result of my own personal search and the sense that something deep within snapped some months ago, allowing certain voices that I thought were long silenced to the surface of my mind-heart, and asking to be heard/seen primarily by myself. So, not everything is completely articulated, since I suspect there are things that may not have surfaced. And I apologize for that.
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Breathe. I also feel the need to add the following note to perhaps better situate this entry. I left Academia, before entering the last stages of my doctorate in education. In my last year of graduate school, right at that moment when I was  thinking about my dissertation and and who I would want in my committee, and while straddling between two departments (Education and Anthropology), the grant that funded the education degree in which I was involved, was cut. I would have needed to pay the rest from my own pocket. So, at that time, I tried to figure out ways for me to complete my degree. And in the time period of searching for ways to do this, two events or stories/narratives informed and helped galvanize my decision to leave the program, at least for the time being. (I witnessed a friend’s dissertation defense which was very disheartening and I also witnessed the faculty egging us, the students to “grill” a prospective professor while presenting a lecture, which was part of her interview process). I searched for a job, found one, and for years, I had put aside the kinds of academic oriented literature that would speak about heart, solidarity, equality, teacher identity, teacher-student relationships, institutional powers, color and race in the school system, consent, age and aging, gender, sexualities, rights within education, feminism, voice and voicelessness, liberation theology, to name a few, because I felt that the American academic world I had witnessed served mostly to strip this literature of its power to 1. guide decisions to be made from the heart, and to 2. inform our decisions of how to be in order to better explore our humanity, and what it means to be human beings in the context of education, and the world at large.
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Fast forward. Around perhaps two years ago, perhaps more, a group was created in our Shambhala center to explore issues of diversity, inequality, identities, and other issues around which we tend to segregate/isolate/exclude other humans, and/or ourselves at times inadvertently.  I participated in the meetings, because I was, and I still am, interested in the dialogue (Paulo Freire’s notion) that can foster deep understanding, and the depth that can stop me/us in our tracks toward further cocooning and aggression. But I remember only  one particular phone conversation as having the potential for that depth to arise. This is to say that most of the meetings left me feeling deflated, sad. And for what it’s worth, I am grateful for that one phone conversation. Time passed. 
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Fast forward again. Last Sunday. Another iteration of the diversity group held a meeting, at what seems an auspicious time: the current American presidency scares me; I feel a palpable threat of nuclear war (North Korea); there have been multiple natural disasters; and, the lids that had been imposed by means of conceptual political-correctness are now falling or breaking allowing fears and resentments previously hidden in the hearts of people of the worlds in which I/we live to surface. So, I went to the meeting. I believe that the work of the group at my center as well as the Sakyong’s initiative to do this work throughout Shambhala is necessary. So it is in light of this, that I wonder why I left that space on Sunday with a feeling of same-ol’. Why did it feel like a repeat of previous meetings? Am I that self-obsessed and cynical? Is my heart so closed that if it’s not my way I will not play? At least I have heart enough to wonder. Keep going.
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Sanity. The very small part of me that understands about the Basic Goodness of myself and others, says: “No. Your heart is not that closed. Just the fact that you are willing to “look” is an indication that it is not.” If I listen to this, I can then take my edge, my discomfort as an invitation to explore (albeit shaking with fear of what I might encounter) the depths of my feelings in writing, without the safety net of another human being within an encounter, or dialogue. Breathe. I don’t want to offend my friends / my teachers, especially those who are brave beyond measure and have begun their own search and put the diversity group together. With that pre-apology I will attempt to further articulate what bothered me, in the hopes that I can contribute something of value, or at the very least, clarity. Breathe.
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Today. I surprised myself by going online this morning and spontaneously searching for “bell hooks and whiteness”.  I surprised myself even further by reading a full article on a website:
http://thefactsofwhiteness.org/whiteness/   It’s been years since I had willingly and spontaneously delved into reading critical thinking and theory. It felt good.
I confess that I was saddened by the contents of the article; I was moved; I was interested; it lent me space and clarity. Within it, I found two embedded quotes that just grabbed me directly, one from author bell hooks, and the other by Foucault. These quotes, wrapped within the thoughts of the writer/creator of the website lent further clarity and fire to my own thought process and feelings regarding our meeting. Here are the quotes as they were embedded in the article on the mentioned website:
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          ...”next to testing rituals, next to the testimony of witnesses, and the learned methods of observation and demonstration, the confession became on of the West’s most highly valued techniques for producing truth. We have since become a singularly confessing society. The confession has spread its effects far and wide. It plays a part in justice, medicine, education, family relationships, and love relations, in the most ordinary affairs of everyday life, and in the most solemn rites: one confesses one’s crimes, one’s sins, one’s thoughts and desires, one’s illnesses and troubles; one goes about telling, with the greatest precision, what is most difficult to tell.” (Foucault: 1990, p.59)
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          ‘As I write, I try to remember when the word racism ceased to be the term which best expressed for me exploitation of black people and other people of color in this society and when I began to understand that the most useful term was white supremacy’. (hooks, 1989, p.112)
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I was struck by the notion of confession in Foucault’s quote and how it applies to our groups’ meeting. I was struck because, I have frequently felt that the power of confession is constantly abused in the west, having become almost a part of speech. Confession of wrong-doings and/or restatements regarding systemic privileges when devoid of 1. regret/remorse, 2. vulnerability, 3. the vow to not repeat the aggression/transgression being confessed or, 4. the time-space in which to feel the heart from where the confession arose, has the potential to become yet another cover/lid/bandaid. In confessing, we  have somehow gotten used to uttering words decrying our privileges or our mistakes in a voice that mostly reflects discursive thought, i.e. sheer surface mental energy. And I fear this. And on the other side of confession, the listener too often jumps to put the speaker or person confessing in the Shambhala cradle of loving-kindness too soon, before s/he has had the time to feel and share the heart behind her/his words and in so doing, perhaps reach the space where resolve can come forth.  I can only guess at the reasons why we do this as listeners in the context of racial/ethnic/sexual-gender related conversations. I can only guess at the reasons why we feel we have to cradle the person confessing before s/he “has reached heart”. And my guess is that we do this in part because we are afraid of our own discomfort, and because perhaps we might habitually fear retaliation, especially if the speaker represents the most empowered group.
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With bell hooks’ quote, I had what I can only describe as a gestalt-moment. In that moment her quote was rendered as follows in my mind-heart:
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I try to remember when any or most _ism(s) ceased to be the term which best expressed for me exploitation of  __people in __society and when I began to understand that the most useful term was unquestioned supremacy’.
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Breathe. I was and am grateful for this brief and relative easy access to clarity. This time I did not have to struggle for years to find out what bothered me and touched me. Instead, this tiny bit of clarity arose, albeit tainted by the fear of worrying about whether or not I might hurt or offend people dear to me. But there is greater good, I think, in just saying this and then letting it be.
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Fears. I fear the degree to which there seems to be an unquestioned supremacy, a lack of willingness to even begin to contemplate that we all embody parts of this supremacy (Paulo Freire’s Oppressor and Oppressed), and that we all speak within the framework of an unquestioned discourse of supremacy. I fear the degree to which said discourse has the power to deafen and blind us to the reality of exploitation and oppression of people within our schools and many other institutions that we hold dear. I fear looking at what the term exploitation means to me, because most of the people I know (myself included) have remained within said institutions and watched our hearts wither as we participate in the silence that harms. I fear the darkness I feel in my throat as I write these words, and I fear that I will lose the lightness or felt sense of basic goodness which guided to start this piece in the first place.
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I fear that as a group we might not be able to reach depth. I fear that the needs of our moderators to keep the group contained within the framework of oneness, sameness, or equalities while exploring the ignorance of our long held and unquestioned assumptions, will preclude the possibility of reaching depth; that we will end perpetuating, by our not exploring, further __isms as we reify them, or as they become taken and reified by individuals or smaller groups as attempt to reclaim their sanity and identities.
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Fearlessness. I believe that as Buddhists I/we need to engage in the exploration of our human tendency to seek comfort by solidifying or reifying identity related concepts. It seems to me, that any reification, any concept reified in the name of name of reclaiming our sanity, any solidified perpetuation of a habit will amount to nothing more than that, i.e. another temporary reification that will necessarily create the exclusion of others, which to me is the same as creating “the other“.
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The fruition of this piece is hopefully clarity, understanding and reflection that bridges the gap between the edge of my discomfort and the possibility of remaining present to further these very much needed conversations. I am not advocating further silence, or stopping this exploration. What I would like to experience in the context of meetings such as this, is a sense of deepening (emphasis on the _ing active, progressive, developmental, ongoing quality of the word). It seems to me that true inclusiveness can only happen in the willing heart, in the heartfelt moments cushioned between the space that exists within polarized tensions or expressions of tensions, and within time suspended, the fourth moment, the now. The teachings ask us to look at anything and everything that happens in life, so that we learn to open our hearts over and over. The teachings asks us to look deeply. Always. But depth is relative to each heart. I hope I have not offended anybody.
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May this entry contribute to clarity. May it be of benefit. May I be pulled by the proverbial pony-tail into learning and opening my own heart.
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New Year’s Eve 2014

December 31, 2014: A weird day… Let’s see…

Yesterday I wasn’t doing too good. I woke up in a bit of a funk, sadness, and of course, with a tinge of anger. I thought about my good ol’ friend, Samsara: Do I get sad around this time of the year just because of the force of habit? Looking back, last year I spent New Year’s Eve by myself in my apartment. I dressed up a little, put music on my computer and I danced. I also played guitar and sang, and I talked with some friends and/or family members. I connected with long distance friends on FB and Skype. I think I had a glass of wine, and that perhaps I even wrote. But I remember being upbeat, happy.

This year is somewhat different. My dogs are with me yet I’ve felt lonely. So today, when I woke up, the funk was still there, keeping me company I guess. I watched an episode of Doctor Who, and it helped. I have always loved stories with heroes and possibilities… I had wanted to bathe my dogs, and when a plan to get some freelance work today failed, it somehow felt “right” to bathe them, today, and one dog at a time. First, Hollins. I always need to use the furminator on him, a tool that helps remove a lot of his shedding. So I locked myself in the bathroom with him, and after furminating him, I helped him get in the tub. He was not too happy about it, but the promise of a treat kept him there until I finished towel drying him. After finishing with Hollins, it was Niki’s turn. She does not like being bathed either, but she will go in the tub on her own and look OFFENDED until I’m done. I took Allegra in order to do this without too much sneezing or itching, and it helped that after finishing with them I got in the tub and purified myself. I felt lighter. The funk did not feel as heavy.

I guess this is my own little tradition. I can start the year acknowledging 2014 on its way out, being clean and dancing or singing. Gerard had asked me if we could take the dogs out together for a walk. I said yes. They were very happy to see him, and to go to the park in spite of it being a very cold day. I had had music going on while I was bathing the dogs, and after Gerard left I turned it on again. It is dance music and music that touches my heart, with a little bit of nostalgia. I know I will dance at least a piece or two (if not more) tonight to celebrate the New Year. I might even call a couple of long distance friends back in the island, connect to FB, or drink some wine.

I had not wanted 2014 to end without my writing and sharing something of my heart, myself. This has been a somewhat difficult year: new job, deciding to declare bankruptcy, some health issues, friends that died, friends that have undergone major surgery, friends having babies… and I have the sense that 2015 will be a year of further opening for this heart/person. While I know that I can always close myself in fear, I also know that the dharma has helped open the wings of this heart, and so it is that I raise the soft voice and I pray:

Beloved Teacher,

Heart of all and mine,

Allow my life to be of service

And continue to rent the veils that keep me hardened.

Take my voice, my skin, what’s left of me

That I may learn new songs of light and joy.

May all beings be happy.

May we all be free from suffering

and the roots from which it grows.

May we rest in the space that can hold it all without naming it

as “mine”, “refused”, “ignore”.

May our actions spring from a heart that thinks

and a mind that feels,

both with and without thoughts.

 

Happy New Year!

 

My first, and hopefully not last, solo retreat

Solo 1, Day 2
[I opened this retreat on the evening of December 26 when I returned home, to my apartment, after I spent time with my friend Linda and two bunnies. The 27th was the first full day.][Note: It seems easier to focus in the morning sessions. My mind seems more scattered in the afternoons] So, these notes uploaded retroactively in January 2014, are just reflections from this beginner’s mind-heart, with the hope that they help others feel less alone or embarrassed.]

So, today, December 28 2013 I am home. Like I was this time last year, I am in retreat. Only this year, this is my first solo retreat, and I chose to do it here at home. I am following the guidance given by my meditation instructor regarding schedule and what to do…but the actual experience is my own. So if I were to look at it from a conventional point of view I’d say, Are you crazy doing this at a time where you tend to feel so vulnerable? But I guess that’s the point isn’t it? We live a life of aspirations in order to uncover the Shambhala Kingdom within us, among us, right here, right now from whatever corner of conventional life and mind we find ourselves.

Yesterday, the first full day was somehow easier than today. Today, it was difficult to wake up, I was really tired and I also woke up in a little bit of bad mood; maybe not bad, maybe just dark. However, I went on. I found that my little cloud shifted towards midday, to become just open, sad…

I felt the weight of these questions: Why was I doing this? Why am I in retreat? Why do I meditate and continue to gravitate towards a life of spiritual study , or simply put why do I gravitate towards a spiritual life at all when the disciplines do not come easy to me?

Nonetheless I am here. Sad. And then I saw / read a question posed by Moh Hardin to the Sakyong in the text Taming the Mind. He asked why he should follow the path of the Budha…He himself concluded that it was (for him) a choiceless choice, and that it was/seemed real. And this touched me deeply.
I am at a point where Buddhism is a choiceless choice. Shambhala Buddhism is ‘home’ in many ways…but I question it, I question the/my choice itself, and recently I find myself frequently questioning my feeble understanding of the Sakyong’s turns/changes. Yet here I am. The sweetness of the path takes me to wanting to go deeper/further, I guess in an attempt to further stop my mind; to further understand; and hopefully to be of use in this world. I am currently on my way to enter the Vajrayana aspect of Shambhala Buddhism. And in my mind, I wonder if I could go and study more deeply in a seminary, monastery type environment; in the context of a longer retreat. Why Not? Why?

So I shed a couple of tears as I was about to resume practice. A phrase from what I had read , in response to Moh’s question, “what is real is intangible”, just got to me. We struggle to understand what reality is, what existence or non-existence really mean, only to be reminded that none of what we/I can fixate on, latch onto, really gets to it. No definition will suffice, but we need teachers to touch our hearts so that the words can point the way to our own understanding, so that we can then touch it, be touched by it and then let it go/be. We are at best, space for the teachings to take place again and again, for the teachings to remain alive and save humanity from itself in this dark age. We are this space. Nothing else but human heart-space.

Solo 1, Day 3 Sunday December 29
Trust that the words that want to come out are the words that need to come out to be heard (if only by me).
So today I woke up with the alarm, but little by little I snoozed it and remained in bed, with the result that I came out of bed an hour or so later than the designated 6:50 o’clock wake up time. I relished being in bed, feeling the warmth of the sheets and the softness. I woke up tired. But how could  I not? Last night I started my distraction around 8 pm, attempting to fix the problem(s) with the applications on this ASUS. I got distracted, looked at Google Books, looked at Apps, downloaded the podcast player and some Dharma podcasts…and by the time I mentally yanked myself from doing this it was already past 11:00 PM. I felt the sense of dread I commonly feel when going to work, to my new school. And almost immediately, I felt the voice of inner reproach saying something related to “you should know better, or do better…you are in retreat….how embarrassing…” And when I finally got out of bed the same voice started saying, “you are not a full human, you’ve never felt alive, or wanted to be alive…”; “the Sakyong would be embarrassed or angry if he knew that you wake up every day without feeling content, without a thought for enlightened society, without a thought for others…” And deep and on it went.

How sad to realize that in general I still rely on the angry voice, on self punishment or self-deprecating, in order to train myself. How sad indeed to see, that when it comes to my thoughts, feelings… I do not honor them but instead corral them almost out of existence.

Having started my day late is interesting. Do I try to catch up with the suggested schedule? Or do I stick to the schedule and end my day later? Or perhaps I should punish myself by not doing Sadhana or stroke practice and just sit there?
There it is. I am not really sure of whether or not I have progressed in my  practice. I would like to think I have progressed but then again, I do live with the thoughts running wild, or with the mind that simply will not sit, choosing instead to wonder amidst its fantasies of love, aggression, enlightenment, disillusionment, going to a Buddhist center to study, or the more mundane, going back to the DR, or wanting to sing again…am not even sure as to whether or not I should be writing this. But I did. It is a kind of suburban contemplation. An acknowledgement of the voice that says:  “YOU should know better or do better. YOU want to serve? You are not worthy!! Not ready!! …Too full of yourself…” And for the brief moments of positive and trusting in my Basis Goodness, there are so many more of the negative self-inflicted messages. No wonder the/my cocoon exists: Why would anybody/I want to hear the same messages coming seemingly from other people, but in truth just being a reflection of my own
thoughts/beliefs….? I guess one good thing has come out of all this blah blah blah. I understand a little better that the cocoon protects me/us, and how it does it. I also understand a little better, that really we all have our cocoons/shells.
Sad to say this is where I am today: Yes, all beings including me are basically good, and by extension society is basically good as well; but we also have our projections and cocoons to deal with. And part of mine is just being so afraid of being hurt by what I think others will have to say to me, that I make it really difficult for the tender-hearted person that I am to come out and BE, just be. And this is somehow related to feeling worthy. This sense of dignity, worthiness, appreciation is hurting; so it tends to manifest in enclosed and defensive ways… But in order to hurt, it must be there. And this is good news, very good news indeed!!! If I could move beyond my self defensiveness and allow myself to truly show up…. but this requires Maitrigetting out of my own way, and bravery… So for now, this is my attempt at being gentle, and acknowledge what is going on with me.

Solo 1, Day 4 Monday December 30
Another day of sad, deeper understanding; of begrudgingly being humbled by the teachings and their depth. It’s  like this.  If I am to be honest, borderline brutally honest, but with gentleness, with myself…I must come to term with this, say it, and then be…

This was another morning of waking up late, though not as late as yesterday. Another day when the auto-pilot of yelling at myself, and putting myself down almost got turned on. But I noticed it, and so it didn’t come as harsh as it would have had I not seen it. The truth is that I have held a somewhat inflated view of myself and what I could do or wanted to do for the dharma…the truth is that I also have held my practice in a high pedestal, while covering it up with modesty. Now here’s the thing: While some of the humbleness, modesty was/is truly felt, it nonetheless confounded the fact that I have delirios de grandeza in terms of my understandings of the teachings, and of everything in general really. I really have over the years prided myself silently on being smart, and this smartness-smugness has shielded me from feeling and being open to the reality of how vulnerable I feel; how scared I am.

At this point, much of the vulnerability, softness, and fear I feel are centered around the issue of there not being time, not simply because there is a lot of work to be done for our world, but because I, me, am getting old; and I am afraid of the loneliness, not having a mate, dying without having made peace with my brother, dying without legacy-childless, without having done anything of consequence. And my fears sometimes paralyze me; and then it all begins again, the up and down merry-go-round of kleshas, depressive negative self-deprecating feelings-thoughts, disguised within waves of anger at myself under the guise of: You should have known/done better if indeed you had been as seasoned a practitioner, or as deep in your understanding as you thought you were. But I see  it with sadness and a small sense of relief. I saw it rearing its ugly head, the habitual self-deprecating thought that truly does not help me or anybody else. And while I know, there is a part   of me that is still trapped by believing it; I can choose to remember that for the most part, it is just a thought, and as such it will come and go, only to come and go again.

When I choose to remember, I can also then see that where I am, or seem to be is just right. No matter how pissed angry confused I may feel at any given time. Even when visited by the trap of doubts and fears that scream: Why is it that you do this? Why are you studying the dharma, seemingly forgetting God, and your place in the universe? Even when the doubts are at their loudest, I am comforted by the notion that the Path touched my heart when nothing else did, and that I want others, anyone that comes through the doors searching for something, to be welcomed thee same way I was. I want to help provide the multiple spaces needed for the Dharma to flourish: the space of place, the space of the mind of the teacher(s) and the space of the encounter, for the Dharma only happens when the space of the student-mind and the teacher-mind come together as one. So, humbled and grateful. Ki Ki, So So…

Solo 1, Day 5 Tuesday December 31, Half Day/Closure
[Contemplations based on reading, Stroke practice; Shambhala Sadhana with Feast; Protector and Closing chants…][Se acaba cuando se acaba…]
So today I step out of the enclosed space of this retreat, and walk back into life…whatever that means…and I suspect I can only find out by living my life as fully as I can. Tomorrow, we start 2014.

I have sadly and perhaps begrudgingly learned in the course of this retreat that my fantasies are disguised as aspirations, and that they stem from my mind wandering into a different now, as if this moment were not precious enough. Today’s stroke practice was simple. My mind-heart dictated that I should read the text The Golden Sun of the Great East. I would read a section at a time, out loud, and follow it with a stroke. It seemed and felt right. As I was doing this, a quiet thought passed by. It illuminated how I picked up the text Taming the Mind and the Heart of the Bodhisattva and have been reading from it, and using it as a source of contemplation. It seems as if I cannot go forward in the path, forward with my studies and the experiential aspects of this path, without touching upon and allowing myself to be touched over and over by some of the teachings I received in the first couple of years in Shambhala.
This human heart-mind seems to exist in the space between the roots of the path and the canopy of leaves from where it breathes and stretches to include all beings. And I say this with care, for during these days of retreat, I have been “visited” by the memory of beings who have passed away: mami, Cunda, Aida, Lola, Buella, abuela, el hermano Alfredo, George Hasty, Lynda Jordan, Harvey Jordan, Stanley Grean….And by the memories of people who while still alive, are not in the circle of people immediately around me: Manolo, my brother who doesn’t talk to me, Paula in Portugal, Kevin Anderson… Indeed, I have lived in the span of this one life what seems to be the experiences and love of many lifetimes. So I am fortunate.

Prayer for the New Year


I pray that I can live my life according to the Dharma. I pray that my understanding deepens. I pray for humanity to open its eyes to its own beating human heart before it is too late, before we reach a point of (environmental) no return. I pray that I can listen to the teachings. I pray that I can be of service when others make the choice to approach the teachings.  I pray for the teachings to multiply, and that for each person that wants to hear the teachings, the right circumstances manifest. I pray for the leaders of this world, so that they may be guided by the truth of a tender-hearted humanity into creating a world for generations to come. I pray that we decide to not wage war against each other as a way to solve our problems. I pray that we walk out of our self-imposed slavery to the principles of greed, and narrow heartedness into a self liberated view of all-encompassing acceptance. I pray…I be.

This is the seed of my prayer for this new year about to start.

May all beings be happy…may they  be free from suffering.

A poem: Súplica

Many years without truly sharing my poetry with anybody, due to fears…the poetry writing muscles have become rusty at best. Poems used to be almost a way of speaking between me and many of my friends, and I consider myself lucky to have had friends for whom this was also true. I started writing in the D.R. around the time when I was 13. I slowly stopped after my return to the US, after completing Peace Corps service. The voice died.

I didn’t want to speak/write anymore and hear myself mostly bitter, angry…I didn’t want my feelings/thoughts to be corrected because I wrote with an accent. But I guess, more than anything, I didn’t want to experience the cold silence of someone reading the words that had come from my heart, and having nothing to say to me, or worse, nothing to share. It felt very lonely…I had seemingly landed in an environment (academia) within a culture where words related to feelings were considered sappy, mushy, non-accurate, weak

However, my own silence is apparently meant to be broken, or at least be punctured by whispers from this heart perhaps poorly carried by these words.

[Written during the Harvest of Peace celebration…a rusty effort perhaps, but a sincere feeling…I guess, this speaks to a kind of yearning…I was afraid of sharing this poem…therefore, here it is.]

Súplica

O Teacher come and let me know that it is your voice that I hear.

Teach me to listen to all of life as carrying the whisper of the Teachings,

the comfort to all my tears.

O Teacher come…I am foolish and I am blind.

With this human, frail and mortal body possessed just by human sight

I can’t always tell the difference between the shadows and the Light.

O Teacher come…

Let me feel the smell of fire and water, wind and sand…

Let me sense your presence in decay, rocks, wood and rust…

Help me know that with these scents, your sweet perfume is close behind…

O Teacher come as lover, teacher, healer, food and wine.

Let me taste your lips, kiss your feet,

embrace the body though which the Dharma courses,

the Mirror through which all perceptions change

And without worldly efforts, become Divine.

 Rita

This Was Hard to Write: More on the Written Voice

     After what seemed like a very long week, I started writing this entry on a Saturday after reading a little, while drinking my morning coffee thinking about how to share what wanted or perhaps needed to come forward. So here I am, at the page.

     Since a very young age, I felt, and believed that the things, people and events around me were or could be connected, and that they all had something to teach me which I may not see immediately as events were happening. I frequently got in trouble, and / or found myself at odds with my mother, relatives, school teachers, college professors and colleagues for seeing connections where they did not see any. While doing graduate work here in the USA, I realized that to me things were linked in ways that I would probably never be able to prove within the scope of academic research alone. And the more I attempted to express these connections I saw within academia, the more I was told that my concerns and the connections I saw did not belong there. So I started to keep much of what I saw to myself.

     As I look back on it, it seems that my written voice started morphing / dying gradually over the years as I tried harder to adapt to those around me. I had initially wanted to share my poetry, short stories and reflections with others, as I used to do with friends and many others in the DR (Dominican Republic) …but here in the US, I would have to write in English in order to do that. For many years I struggled with word choices, syntax and the accent that impacted everything I said, thought or wrote. The accent came from the more than twenty years of living in the Spanish speaking, merengue dancing and plátano eating side of La Española, the Dominican Republic. And as I explore my world(s) through the lens of the Shambhala Buddhist teachings and my new found heart, my ability to see connections, and wanting to share them with others is slowly returning. And that is a little scary.

     As I was reading Path to Buddhahood, Teachings on Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation I was struck by what I can only describe as a “pristine felt insight” or as a felt connection between the memory of events that happened at different points in the past. I had, seemingly all at once, an instantaneous visual and auditory recollection of each separate event, together with what I can only describe as the thread or link that united them for me.

     The events recollected were : 1) While in Kazakhstan (1999), as a training director for the USA Peace Corps, I experienced a wall of numbness that was brought up because I felt at odds with myself. On one of our last weekends in the training site, I allowed the PC vehicle driver, a Kazakh to take me, and some of the trainers both local and Americans on a brief sightseeing daytrip to a desert canyon. The trainers had told me about wanting to do this and needing a vehicle. They invited me to go with them, and since I saw this trip as a moment of cooperation and camaraderie between members of my staff I okayed it, and I happily went with them. Some time later, at the end of training, the evaluation of my work was very harsh. It was the opinion of those that evaluated me, that I had somehow disobeyed the rules by allowing the trainers to go on that trip, and by having gone myself. I remember that the person delivering the evaluation was not one of the people which had that opinion, but he had to deliver the message. And I also remember having told him, that if I had the chance to do things all over again, I would not change anything. I was truly happy with the outcomes of this training.  2) A more recent happening: A couple of weeks ago a teacher friend of mine was scared by having had one of her students run away from her classroom. The young boy decided to leave the school and somehow managed to do so undetected. Just a while after my friend had discovered that the boy was missing, the boy was brought back to school by his baby sitter and his mom. No harm had come to him. My friend cried and was very nervous and tired. And we were thankful that no harm had come to him, and also since then, hyper-vigilant. For my part, I was numb. After feeling that I just wanted to hug my friend while she was afraid, I felt the numbness as it built up. I needed to be numb, to not feel too much, so that I could better help my friend see that what happened was nobody’s fault; that she had done all that she could to have a great class, and that she needed to stop being so harsh with herself, and to take care of herself. She looked exhausted for the rest of the afternoon, and the next day. I understood as I was keying this, that I had gone into hyper-mode-numbness just in case my friend needed me to help out. I could feel the numbness rising, and I realize now that I do not know how to stop it. 3) A week after the previous incident, a similar thing happened to me. One of my students had made it all the way to her home before I heard an announcement through the school’s communication system asking us to count our students and see if we had anyone missing. I counted. I was missing one. I counted again. I figured who it was and ran out to check the bathroom and the rooms of other teachers where I thought she might be. I had engaged the help of the teachers next door to me, so my kids still in the room would not be unattended. And when I did not find my student anywhere, I ran to the office to let them know that the missing student was mine. As this was happening, I felt the familiar wall of numbness building within me. This numbness somehow allows my thoughts to be heard and dealt with, but it does not allow much to be felt. I think it is a form of defense or survival mode that permits me to function for long periods of time, to keep on going without the feelings that might stop me from acting.

     These seemingly unrelated episodes are now tied in my mind by the thread of this beginners’ understanding of emptiness. This is to say that none of these events arises anymore in isolation, but they co-arise, thus helping me to move beyond the anger/fears/pain I had felt when they were actually happening, and that I had since then stored. I heal as I re-cast the events and see them with new eyes, under the lens and heart of dharma.

     In a whiff of insight I saw that while I had reacted to the first of these events with fear, anger, and resentment towards those that passed judgment on me and towards myself for buying into their stories and fears, I can also now recall the joy we felt during our trip, and the sadness / anger / fear that seems to envelop those that are in a position where they need to pass judgment. So I guess there is a small seed of true sadness and compassion in these eyes and heart, and for this I am grateful. I also felt true compassion for my friend when she was upset, fearing how she might be judged by others and when she was very harshly judging herself. I truly wanted to alleviate her pain. She seemed very vulnerable and I wanted to protect her while she hurt.

     This moment of openness has allowed me to see how my wall of numbness built up so that when I was beginning to panic, I could figure out the whereabouts of my own student, go to the office and admit that the missing student was mine, and sit in a meeting that took place an hour or so later where I was told that the “school” had lost its credibility, and that for the school to maintain its credibility we all needed to keep things quiet, to not let the students/parents or other teachers know what had happened, or see us crumbling with tears under the pressure… I felt numb, and aware of how numb I was with the memories of what I have been for many years calling “the code of silence”.

     A side note: After the meeting regarding the third incident, when I went to my classroom I was able to soften. I cried and felt sad, angry and tired, very physically drained. And I was also grateful: friends came to support me. There was nothing I would or could have done differently by the time my student ran away. Only this time, I understood this on the same afternoon (not years later), and though I was tired, I felt warmth towards the person I had been when this happened, and grateful that nothing bad happened to the kid; and then angry again and wondering about what made her run home… And then, all bundled in the same vision / glimpse-of-understanding, I really understood that she had run because she was very afraid. In short, it took less time for the wall of numbness to  drop so that I could feel tenderness regarding the last two events, than when the incident in Kazakhstan happened. And I attribute this softening to the practice of meditation and reflection, and to the baby steps I’m taking to read the world(s) in which my mind inhabits through the lens of Dharma. If there is any merit gained by this practice(s), my experiences or this writing, I offer it so that all beings may benefit. Big hug.

First Words: Hello World!

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          I don’t know why I am finding it so difficult to write this first post on my blog. I stare at the blank space, and all I can sense is fear. So, I guess I should start where I am, right here, right now… I breathe. Perhaps I fear seeing or hearing the accent of my written and spoken voice. Perhaps, I fear that my words may cause harm.  

          But now that I feel again my human heart as it opens and closes, as it beats to the rhythm of its own humanity, the seemingly dense veil that had gradually covered my eyes, my ears and my mind has begun to melt. And I find that I want to share this heart as best I can with  those around me. So here I am, at the page.