Everything is Everything

Hola mi Gente,
Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Hope you have an exciting, fun-filled summer!

Dependent origination is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea, I admit, but there’s something to it… or not. LOL

Dependent Origination

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The fear of letting go prevents you from letting go of the fear of letting go.

 

This is the doctrine at the heart Buddhism. You see, my dear reader, it goes this way: you are an unstable collection of coincidences held together by a desperate and irrational clinging. There is no center — no center at all. Everything depends on everything else, your body depends on the ecology, your thoughts depend on whatever conditioned debris floats in from the media, your emotions are mostly from the reptilian end of your DNA.

Your intellect, dear reader, is a chemical computer that can’t add up a zillionth as fast as a pocket calculator. Even your best side is a superficial piece of social conditioning that will fall apart as soon as your significant other leaves after emptying the money in the bank account, the economy fails and you get the sack, or you get conscripted into some village idiot’s war, or they give you the news about your brain tumor. To name this combination of self-pity, vanity, and despair “self” is not only the height of conceit, it is also proof that we’re a deluded species.

We are in a trance from birth to death. Burst the balloon and what are you left with? Emptiness.

It’s not only us — this radical principle applies to the whole sentient world. While dependent origination is somewhat hard to take (or grasp), it does have a compelling point: stop for a moment, still yourself, listen — in other words, pay attention just a little — and you will find yourself on a planet you no longer recognize. Those needs and fears you thought were the very foundation of your existence turn out to be no more than bugs in your software.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Sunday Sermon [Redemption Song]

Hola Everybody,
Today’s blog art is by the great Salvador Dali. There’s another Dali work that’s of importance here. Dalí once made a gift to the men’s jail in lieu of a personal appearance there. He was supposed to give an art class to the inmates in 1965 but canceled due to illness. He donated the then new gouache-ink-and-pencil sketch, specifically “For the dining room of the Prisoners Rikers Island,” as he inscribed it. And he sent some encouraging words for the men: “You are artists. Don’t think of your life as finished for you. With art, you have always to feel free.”

It was stolen by correction guards in 2003 and is believed to have been destroyed.

Here’s a photo of the work being presented to then commissioner Anne Kross (seems like she doesn’t  get it):

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Redemption Song

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Woman, why are you weeping?
— Jesus to Mary Magdalene (John 20:15)

 

For a long time I refused to go to funerals. I simply wouldn’t go. On one level, I didn’t want to see my loved ones garishly made up lying in some casket. I have seen many, many people leave this existence. Most of the people I was raised with are dead or dying. I grew up in a violent world and quite a few were taken in the prime of their lives — victims of violence, disease, or addiction. On another level, I didn’t want to come face-to-face with death. Especially death warmed over as I used to call funerals in mainstream US culture.

I didn’t like funerals. Didn’t like death… So I never went.

Then one day, I was shopping with a lover and she picked out a dress she loved so much she said, “This is the dress I want to be buried in!” We laughed about it. We, she, was young and beautiful, full of life. She was the Bonnie to my Clyde, committing crimes of life in that devil-may-care way only the foolish and young can justify. We didn’t last long together, less than two months, but we created so much drama in one another lives that we would become forever attached. Years later, after all had been done between us, she died in my presence.

People have a fucked up knack of dying around me.

When it came time to make preparations, her sister confided in me that she knew what dress to bury her in and when I saw it, it cut me deep because it was that very same dress we picked out that day so many years before. When I told her sister, she smiled because my former partner in crime had told her sister the same thing. I wasn’t planning on attending her funeral, but her sister insisted.

I am not a practicing Christian. I don’t accept Jesus, or anyone else, as my savior, nor do I believe in a literal translation of the Bible, Old or New. However, I do think that some of the teachings attributed to the person called Jesus of Nazareth are sublime. My personal belief, borne of personal experience, is that the core teachings of Jesus were corrupted for personal and political gain. Thomas Jefferson held similar views and he wrote a version of the Gospels, now known as the Jeffersonian Bible. In it, he excised the parts he felt were contradictory to the core message of hope and love of the Nazarene. And believe me, there’s lots of contradiction in the Gospels.

According to people who wrote the story hundreds of years after the fact, when Jesus finds Mary Magdalene crying at the door of the tomb, he says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” As I see it, Jesus wasn’t asking a rhetorical question. He wanted to know why we worry and sob and fret when hope is always present, if we could just tap into it.

For me, Easter is about liberation, and it’s especially meaningful for a person like me who sometimes feels chained to moodiness and negativity too much of the time. The celebration of the resurrection is a chance for us to acknowledge Jesus’ message of hope and in so doing, grab the hope that is already there.

Anyone else notice that of all the people he showed himself to, it was the women first? In fact, of all the women, it wasn’t his mother, but Mary Magdalene to whom Jesus appeared first. I don’t take Jesus’ resurrection literally, but there is a message there that resonates with my own life. Jesus’ life, like mine, was a redemption song. And like Jesus, it was the women in my life who tended to me — tended to me through my own passage to a new life. Maybe this is saying something about the Feminine Principle and how far we have moved away from that healing force. For me, this was no accident of the Gospels. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene because she, more than any other disciple, believed in him. All those other bums, betrayed and denied him, didn’t they? LOL

When I cried at my ex-lover’s funeral, it seems as if I cried for all the loved ones I had never said good-bye to — the one’s whose funerals I didn’t attend. It was as if all that loss I was holding on to came out like a river. It was at once one of the saddest and most liberating experiences in my life. I read somewhere the other day that the opposite of loss is finding. It’s a deceptively profound statement.

Grief is what we add on to loss. It is a learned behavior, specific only to some cultures. It is neither unavoidable nor universal. In some cultures, for example, you will never see someone cry at a cremation. Their cultural perspective on death is one of acceptance in a way foreign to Western theories of grief and loss.

Similarly, when Jesus appeared to the disciples he asked, “Why are you troubled?” Jesus says to the disciples in Luke’s gospel when he appears to them after his “resurrection.”

My Buddhist practice has slowly transformed my view of grief — has actually opened the door for me to see that there’s an alternative to grief. It’s not that grief is wrong, only that there’s another possibility. Loss of a loved one can be viewed in another way, a way that avoids the long days of aching, oftentimes crippling grief.

Over the years since my ex-lover’s death, I have attended many funerals and have had two others die in my arms. I sometimes cry at funerals but I understand death differently today. A teacher once explained it to me in simple terms. “Have you ever been to a concert and experience the shouts of ‘more!’ coming from the audience when it came time to end?” he asked. “Usually, the musicians will play one or two encores, but eventually they have to pack up their gear and leave. I’ve experienced this many times and when I’m going home, I usually reflect on how great the music was and how lucky I was to have been there. I never felt grief at the end of a concert.”

And that is exactly how I experience life and death today. I see it as if a magnificent concert had come to an end. I revel in the wonderful performance. I was there shouting loudly, “More!” when it came to end the performance. My loved ones struggled to stay alive a little longer, but eventually they had to let go — they had to pack up their instruments and “go home.” Today, I choose to see instead what magnificent lives my friends and loved ones led. What powerful inspirations they were in my life. Their shining power of example. I reflect mostly how fortunate I was to have been in their lives to witness their glorious and beautiful power. Today, I walk away from funerals feeling a lot like I do after watching a great performance: exhilaration. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Grief is seeing only what has been taken away from you. The celebration of a life is recognizing all that we were blessed with, and expressing that gratitude. When I die (and we all will die sooner or later) I hope this is what people will feel for my own performance and that people will celebrate life and not just mourn my death.

Whatever your belief, this has to be part of the message of the resurrection, whether you understand it as literal or not. That the concerts of our lives continue reverberating and in that way create more life. That our lives are never ended, but live in our deeds and actions… and our memories.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

The Freak

Hola mi gente,
Things are starting to get busy at work, but this is a good thing. LOL

The Freak and the Process

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When I talk about the work I do, you have to understand that the “I” I am referencing is a lot bigger than just me. I see my work as being a part of a process that’s larger and more powerful than I. In fact, I perceive who I am today to be the product of many people who have helped me along the way. In other words, who I am and what I do is the result of the work of too many people to count. Today, when I say “I” it is with the clear realization that I am connected on so many levels with so many people. Yeah, I’m freaky that way.

In fact, if you’re reading this, you have probably helped make me the human being I am today. No shit.

So! The other day, I was headed to a meeting when a woman stopped me and said, “You probably don’t remember me, but… ” Now, in a past life if a woman, or anyone for the matter, approached me with that line, it usually wasn’t positive. I was about to tell her, “Hey, it’s not my baby,” or “If I owe you money… ” LOL But then I remembered that was the old Eddie.

In any case, she went on:

You changed my life. I remember that before I met you, the way I thought about incarcerated people was very narrow-minded, but working with you, and seeing the passion and intelligence you brought to the work and how people responded to you, changed the way I saw people. You changed the way I looked at the world in a very fundamental way and that’s why I’m here today. The funny thing is that when you first met me, you predicted you would change my life. Well, I never got the chance to tell you, but you did. You changed my life and I want to thank you.

Wow, she almost made me cry!

But here’s the thing: it wasn’t me, but the “process” that changed her. In fact, I’m constantly being changed by the process myself. What I try to do — on a daily basis — is to be a conduit for the process of change. Most of the time, that’s about me getting out of the way of the process and being able to channel something much more powerful than me.

So, I turned to her and told her:

“Thank you so much for saying this, it means a lot to me. But here’s the thing: now you have to become an agent for change and be part of that process.”

And the look in her eyes told me she understood everything I was saying. She was actually crying. My hairs are standing up as I write this. No, I’m no Jesus freak, but I know that all of us working together can bring about big change. We can make tremendous changes. This is why I get pissed off when I see people giving away their power to neoliberals. We are the change, not Her or Him. I know this because I have experienced it every day for the last 25 years.

This I know is true: You are more powerful than you give yourself credit for and together? Man, that story has yet to be told.

Who loves you?

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Engaged Spirituality

Hola! Everybody…
You have to stop blaming Trump. If you want an answer to your problems, a solution to your fears, look in the mirror. Trump isn’t possible without you. Remember that.

Engaged Spirituality

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How do I bear witness to the unbearable?
Why are people so deliberately cruel?
How do I not bring more rage into the world?

 

I tackle these questions as a way of life. For years now, I have bore witness to enduring cruelty. Over the years, I have learned to be present — listening. I have sat with a woman, for example, while she told of a gang rape — something she had never shared with anyone else, except for her mother whose response was to blame her for being a “slut.” I have heard grown men and women tell stories of childhood abuse of such horror that some nights, I was so troubled by these stories, I couldn’t sleep — forced to reconsider human nature. It got to the point where I didn’t want to hear any more stories. I couldn’t stand to hear one more horror. But when it got to that point, I would tell myself that if they had experienced it, then the least I could do was listen.

I have been to many conferences and speeches and have even delivered a few myself. Sometimes I feel I can’t listen to another summit or conference. We don’t need more sessions; we already know what we need to do: we have the solutions. Why can’t we use what we know already works? Where is the courage to stop doing what is destroying so many?

I committed to the path I walk to day partly as a way to stop from going insane in an insane world. I needed to be free from these cries of despair. I quickly realized I could never be free while the fate of the children of this country and of the world — the legions of child soldiers, the children leading lives indentured to industry, the millions orphaned by AIDS, nine-year-olds as head-of-households struggling to keep their siblings together — continues. We are not only silent, but also craven and brutal.

This is a world that does not care about its children…

People not so engaged often ask me how I am able to sustain myself in the face of such horror. Sometimes my answer is that it’s increasingly difficult to keep my own rage from eating away at me. Sometimes I silently wonder how long I can continue to do this work. I especially become discouraged when so many people show such absolute indifference and ignorance in the face of the horrors of the world. There is a Buddhist saying that goes: For those whose hearts are closed, the world’s suffering is like sticking a hair in their finger: it is hardly noticed. But for those whose hearts are open, it’s like a hair stuck in their eyeball: it is acutely painful.

Only the very naïve or those steeped in a profound denial, believe that spirituality and politics don’t come together. One only has to look around in this country to see that we’ve become that runaway train in Emile Zola’s story — we’ve become a “runaway society” in which our leaders have abdicated their responsibilities while we worry about finding “the one,” or getting that new gadget, career, car, or whatever, while trapped in an out of control train. And you know what? We can’t blame our children for the current state of affairs, though our collective narcissism compels us to use our children as scapegoats.

Profoundly spiritual people have midwifed some of the greatest changes in history. In Latin America often the only voice speaking out against US-controlled violence were priests and nuns who practiced “liberation theology” and sacrificed their lives and sanity in the process. I have a good friend, who’s steeped in liberation theology and he was part of a criminal justice reform campaign he created that drew on the resources of regular men and women spanning several states.

I don’t need to mention, Gandhi, MLK, and the many unknown, untold others — all members of the “aristocracy of the considerate” — who gave their lives so that we could enjoy ours. These are a different kind of soldier. They are spiritual warriors and their lives aren’t remembered by merely raising a flag because they transcended the imaginary borders of nation and religion.

I know deep inside I have no choice: I have to be a part of a change process because that is what life consists of: energies, processes. You’re either a force for positive or negative change, but you have to choose. You can’t be neutral on a moving (or runaway) train, as the historian, Howard Zinn, once observed. Some of us do what we can: donate to a cause we believe in, or walk, run, ride for one thing or another and I won’t belittle that. You do what you can.

However, walking/ riding/ running for breast cancer for example, doesn’t absolve us from accountability. There is a difference between blame, responsibility, and accountability, you know. We like to say, “Well, I gave at the office…” and then go on our blissfully ignorant way as though we were separate from the runaway train. However, it’s not that simple, shit still happens — all the time. Right now, this very moment, some kid in some God-forsaken land just stepped on a landmine that was paid for by our tax dollars.

Blame is burnout and let’s get it right: pointing out that something is wrong and the causes of that wrong are not blame. Blame is rooted in ego, outrage, anger. Many of my ex-lovers liked to blame me, but here we are all these years removed from not being together and they’re probably still blaming somebody.

And you might say that you’re not responsible for the way the world is today and you’re probably right. I like to make the distinction between responsibility and accountability in this way: if you were diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, you were probably not responsible for getting that disease. However, having been informed of that disease and then being educated in how to arrest that disease, aren’t you then accountable for your disease?

Accountability… what are you accountable for? What will you stand up be counted for?

I have ceased to do things with the hope of having an effect. I have to because hoping for results is a sure-fire way to burnout. Expecting outcomes or results is hell. The fact is that my work may not make a difference.

I remember being part of a huge protest rally in DC and walking next to an elderly woman and I asked how she could still do all this without being discouraged. Her answer is one I’ll never forget. She reminded me that we all have ancestors who fought against slavery though they knew they would probably never be free themselves.

That was a powerful reminder for me…

The reality is that the work that I engage might turn out to be worthless and achieve no result at all. It might turn out that my energies will produce the opposite effect. Outcomes don’t matter. People do. The more I engage the work of my life, the more I realize that what matters are not so much the results, but the value, rightness, and truth of the work itself.

I had to give up trying to save the world. I had to give up hope and fear because once you hope, you bring fear into the process. Besides, hope is a piss-poor strategy. Beyond hope and fear — freed from the twin illusions of success or failure — I am learning to act skillfully. I still get angry, enraged, and frustrated, but now I go back to that space beyond expectations and fear, and try my best to act righteously — or as justly as I am able…

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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