Jam Baby

A random smattering of ideas and events all melded into one in my mind this weekend. Berry picking, farm to table, neil young, making homemade jam and Father’s Day all collided into a beautifully sad day.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of my father’s disappearance. He was never found and probably never wanted to be found, but we will never know for sure. The last we heard from him he had dropped my brother and sister off from a short vacation to the Wisconsin Dells, he left to go back to his job as a line cook on an oil rig off the coast in Louisiana. Shortly after my mom received a crude hand written note saying he had run into some trouble.

I don’t know much about Jeff because even before he was missing he was missing. If you have an addict in your life you know what I am talking about, they are never really present. He worked for the Northwestern Railroad as conductor/ticket taker, his routine involved walking to the train, bringing people into the city, two round trips, playing poker, drinking and smoking in the break room until rush hour hit, two more round trips and then home to continue the drinking. You always knew he when we was home, he would bound through the door either yelling and screaming or laughing – you never knew what you were going to get mood wise. He would take off his rancid shoes and socks and the room would immediately fill with the smell of hot rotting trash. If he was in a good mood he would grab you and hug you a little too hard and hold on a little too long, the smell of bourbon and cigarettes sticking to your face. If not it was a good idea to get the hell out of the house.

It’s funny, because after all these years I rarely think of him anymore, except when I smell him, the combo of bourbon and cigarettes triggers me every time. And then there is Father’s Day, it is never the first thing on my mind, but as the day goes on and I notice my restlessness sometime before the day is i over, I slow down enough to remember that it is Father’s Day and that brings it all back. The good memories that I have of my dad mostly involve food. We were poor, but during his manic episodes you would never know it. He would take us out for extravagant dinners, allowing us to order whatever we wanted. I was introduced to oysters, crab, lobster, grilled filet mignon with bernaise, rabbit from traditional german restaurants, you name it. He had an obsession with good food and was the skilled cook in our family, but he rarely cooked. Instead he would butcher my mothers cooking every night, complaining about every little detail.

When you grow up with such a force in your life you do what you can to differentiate, to separate, to detach – at least I did. I spent many hours of my day standing at my kitchen counter, painstakingly hulling 4lbs of strawberries that my son and I had picked fresh the day before, measuring out organic pure cane sugar and juicing the organic lemon before measuring out the 35 year old balsamic vinegar. I sliced the strawberries and added the sugar, allowing them to macerate for a few minutes before plunging my bare hands in to mash them and release their juices. With the stove on I slowly added the lemon juice and stirred methodically until it had reached the jell point, when I added the magic touch, the perfectly aged balsamic. I finished it off by canning it and setting the pints on the counter to rest until the next day.

Rye bourbon in hand with not just any cherry, but a luxardo cherry I moved out to the deck to rest when “old man” came on…”old man look at my life, I’m a lot like you, I need someone to love me the whole day through…I have been first and last, funny how the times goes past”.

Happy Father’s Day, for just when we think we are so different we realize we aren’t.

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Watching

watch your thoughts for they become your actions, watch your actions for they become your habits, watch your habits for they become your character, watch your character for it becomes your destiny

– paraphrased from Ghandi

Simplicity

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Happiness is playing in the mud –

Yesness

Pain is not punishment, and pleasure is not reward – both are equal parts of life as it is. The more we accept things as they are and work to become more responsive and less resistant the easier it gets.

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Light in the shadow

In the light of emptiness we are all one (borrowed from the Prajnaparamita) And yet it is so easy to see ourselves as set apart either in the shadow, unequal, unworthy or the beaming light, out-shining all beings around us, creating the shadows and blinding the seekers.

I had the great fortune to learn a valuable lesson this weekend. One of light and love and room for all. I invited my teacher, guru, learned friend, lama, whatever you want to call him, to my house for lunch. He is quite a famous guy in the world of western Buddhism, so I never expected him to agree as I thought he may not find little me worthy. But he did agree. And as the big day came closer I sent a confirming email, assuming he may need to back out, and didn’t hear back. And so I sent another, the day before the big lunch. And didn’t hear back. So as my mind filled in the blanks and created a story I told myself this was bound to happen and he’s very busy with more important things and people. So I didn’t prepare for his arrival. I worked and played with my son and gardened on the sweltering 90 degree day. And then sat at the kitchen counter dripping sweat, cooling off with a beer when a little voice in my head said “what if, just what if he still comes?” Ignoring it I chatted with my mother in law visiting from out of town and my wife – as I casually checked my email to find an email from said guru. “Beam me in Scottie- I am 20 minutes from your house and need directions.” Shit!! I hadn’t made the promised lunch, beer and chips were on the counter and he was minutes away.

We managed to clean up and throw a blueberry tart in the oven just as he pulled into the driveway. When I greeted him and mentioned that I didn’t think he was coming he was perplexed. “I said I was coming, why wouldn’t I come?” I explained the email exchange and of course there was some technical issue with his email and his responses didn’t go through. But that isn’t the point, the point for me is two fold – what my mind does when something seemingly goes awry, the story I concoct is usually not a positive one. In this case I assumed something/someone more important came up. Which leads me to the second point, Lama embodies equanimity – to him I am a person, just like him. He doesn’t differentiate between beings, he sees the inter-being of all of us.

It was a lesson for me in seeing the light and the shadow as two sides of the same, one not better or worse than the other, not more or less worthy.

If we shift our thinking of light and of shadows and of emptiness we can see it is all one. You cannot have one without the other – thus we can learn to ebb and and flow and make space for the great equanimity of life.

Namaste my friends

We never change, do we…

We never change, do we…

This could be posed as a question or a statement, and I am not sure where I fully stand on it yet. I believe that we only uncover our true selves when we change, so are we really changing or just shifting?

Our conditioned existence poses so many challenges to us, and many of us decide that there is nothing we can do about it. Maybe we are worriers, or defenders, or yellers, or overeaters, or drinkers, lazy, pessimists…you name it, we have a label for it. But we do not need to be embody these habits, they are untangle-able, undoable, movable, shiftable. For any habit that has formed can be reformed, gently nudged, replaced, a different choice uncovered.

The key here, however, is recognizing the choice in the matter. For when we say “this is just who/how I am” we are implying that we are victims to some set of circumstances or DNA that made us who we are, when in reality, we are choosing to think or feel or behave a particular way. Or maybe you will argue that we don’t choose our thoughts and feelings, in that case, we still choose our reaction, and thus the ensuing behavior.

I recognize in myself the habit need to be right and as a result resist. For example, when a decision of mine at work was challenged and overturned, I grasped at all the reasons why the new decision was wrong. I spent hours, maybe even days searching for evidence to support my position. Over the course of that time the situation hadn’t changed, and I only found my self deeper in my self pity, anger and frustration. For every bit of evidence I collected I felt self righteous, and concluded that I was right and they were wrong – but still the situation didn’t change. So where did I find myself? Bitter and angry and stuck with all of the bits of evidence in my misery. And so when all else failed I finally surrendered and meditated. I found some space in my breath, and I looked closely at my need to be right.

Settling in, awake, alert, aware. Just breathing. Letting go. Letting be. Ahhh. What was my real motivation? Was it moral, ethical? Did I want to feel important? Had I really considered the other perspective? What would it mean for me to let go? And I found a mix of answers. Number one, It wasn’t an ethical situation, and that was hard to differentiate. Sometimes when something feels right or wrong to us we assume they is an ethical or moral implication. But really, is there? In this case the real answer was no. I wanted to feel important, that was clear – my ego was standing strong. I also truly felt the wrong decision was being made, and that other people may suffer because of it. But when I looked at the greater context it was clear what the motivations were (right or wrong) and it was clear that nothing was going to change that reality.

So I decided to surrender and to accept the situation as it was, to find a way to work within it, not against it. After all, that is the ultimate teaching of the dharma, isn’t it? To surrender to life as it is and to find a way to weave into it, not to fall down and not to push against – but to ebb and flow within.

In recognizing my habit of resistance I had a choice to make. We don’t and won’t always make the choice to behave differently, but we can allow for the possibility by;

recognizing we are making a choice
driving a wedge between the stimulus and response by cultivating self awareness through mediation (this concept of the wedge between stimulus and response gracefully borrowed from Lama Surya Das)
being as honest and we can with ourselves about why we are reacting or behaving a certain way

If we can start with those first three simple steps we can start the journey of shifting our habits to lead a happier life.

“because of ignorance our minds are obscured. We falsely divide reality into subject and object, self and others, existence and non existence, birth and death” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Separation

Separation, differentiation, comparison and competition, these are all ways in which we must have survived from the beginning of time, in order to evolve and survive. I can’t help but wonder why we haven’t stopped to ask ourselves if these means are still critical to survival, our habit to separate has continued yet I think instead of propelling forward it is now holding us back. What drives us to think that our well being, happiness, ect… feels greater if someone else’s is less than? You making more money than me, or being happier than me does’t take away or add to my reality. I think in the end it is a zero sum game, we don’t need others to “lose” in order to “win”.

Our conditioned ego’s have taken over and many times we only feel good when we think we are smarter, happier, richer, funnier, better looking, kinder, more loving, wittier, than the next person. My triggers are endless, probably like yours. When I find myself being particularly triggered by another person and I can pause enough to make the choice to separate or come closer to together, I imagine both the person and myself as children. For me it works almost every time. When I picture the person as an innocent two year old playing in the grass and smiling and only needing love and protection I can’t help but soften.

We are all part of one another, nothing exists by itself. The Prajnaparamita or better known as the Heart Sutra, tells us that there is no attainment, nothing is produced or destroyed. This paper that I am writing on is part of the sun, without the sun the tree could not grow, without the sun the logger would not have food, without the logger the tree would not be transformed into paper, and so on.

In emptiness is everything – it isn’t nihilistic, devoid of anything, it is that we are all part of one thing. We all just want to be happy, healthy safe and free at the very core of who we are – and that brings us together. Ponder that for a while.

With love.

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