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This post is dedicated to those who lived and died. Especially, on this day, those who died in the name of politics, fear, and hatred of the other.

My dear friend and mentor Father John McNeill told me a story about being in the war and when he tried to give food to a starving so-called “enemy” he was chastised and punished heavily and tagged an enemy of the state.  But it never deterred him from being the kind and loving man he was. Thus, for me he was the epitome of peace, love, and compassion on planet Earth.  If only all people treated each other as Father John did there would be NO wars, hatred, or killing.

My fiancé Dennis Cama died in Viet Nam he too was a kind and loving man who was forced to kill and die for the politicians of the world.  May they both be in peace on this Memorial Day 2019. My mom and dad both served in the Army Air Corp during WWII and dad earned the Silver Star as a belly gunner on a B17 bomber.

More thoughts on the passing of my mentor and friend: Father John J. McNeill

Wednesday September 22, 2015 Father John J. McNeill went to meet his friend and guide, Jesus.  When I heard the news I thought it was just what Father John would have wanted—to make his transition the day that Pope Francis was in the country voicing his support for the LGBT community around the world.  Good going John!

Father John was silenced, sanctioned, and finally asked to leave the Jesuit Order by the former Pope Ratzinger because of his support for the LGBT community and for living a life of truth and compassion as a gay man with a wonderful supportive and loving partner Charles Chiarelli.

Father John has written many books and counseled many people in and out of the LGBT community.  He was my mentor and friend for many years as I worked as an associate pastor at Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, FL and as a hospice chaplain.  As one of the founders of an interfaith clergy group for those serving congregations in the Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach Counties I had the pleasure of picking Father John up for our meetings and events when he needed a ride.

To be with him and hear him talk was an amazing thing.  It did not matter what topic he was speaking about or even if it was just a causal conversation about life–I was blessed simply by being in his presence.  If you have not had the opportunity to read any of his books I recommend them highly.  His knowledge of scripture and Christianity was amazing.  Two of my favorite books by Father John are Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair: My Spiritual Journey and Sex as God Intended.gassho

In memory of Father John, Dennis, my Dad and Mom and all those who have died in war I would like to leave you all with this poem by Kuan Hsiu, Zen Buddhist monk and master poet who lived from 832-912.

This is for you my dear friends…

So, say my way differs from yours,
We both have old men’s hair and beards.
They say words can kill faith.
I like to arrange spring blossoms in a rough old
  funeral jar.
In gassho, Shokai

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light-and-dark-poem-mushinIn the wonderful book A Guide to the Buddhist Path Sangharakshita writes about peace in such a beautiful way. In Pali there is a word “Upeksa which is tranquility or, more simply, peace.” He writes:

“We usually think of peace as something negative, as just the absence of noise or disturbance, as when we say, ‘I wish they would leave me in peace.’ But really peace is a very positive thing.  It is no less positive than love, compassion, or joy—indeed even more so, according to Buddhist tradition, Upeksa, is not simply the absence of something else, but a quality and a state of its own right.  It is a positive, vibrant state which is much nearer to the state of bliss than it is to our usual conception of peace (page 162).”[1]

And yet most of us have never experienced “bliss” itself.  Sometimes we can feel something similar with help from drugs or alcohol but that is not the Buddhist idea of “bliss” for sure.   But we all have experienced the idea of peace. What would the world be like if every morning every person on the planet woke up filled with peace, joy, and compassion for self and all others?  No one would go hungry because if we had one piece of bread–we’d share it with someone who had none.  There is a very powerful saying, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”  I cried because I had no peace until I met a family who lived in a war zone, or walked thousands of miles with their children to leave gangs and death, rape, and poverty.

The author goes on to write, “We shall have to regard ourselves as citizens of the world in a more concrete sense than before, and rid ourselves of even the faintest vestige of nationalism.  We shall have to identify ourselves more closely with all living things and love them with a more ardent and selfless love.  We shall have to be a louder and clearer voice of sanity and compassion in the world (page 132).”[2]

If it’s to be it’s up to me!  I must be it, live it, and honor it in all that I do, and think, and say.  I must be the example of peace and love and not to just the nice lady down the street, or the kind man who held the door for me when my hands were full of packages.  Not just when the person agrees with me.  There is a great story attributed to Mahatma Gandhi and told by Chuan Zhi in 2003.

“When we achieve true restorative balance within ourselves, we are happy and content and can live without regret, remorse, or guilt. We are at peace. The enlightened approach is to always be vigilant, to guard against committing sins—those violations of our Buddhist Precepts.  But when we slip and fall into error, we must go that extra mile into positive areas and not only make restitution and correct the damage, but we must also correct ourselves.”

Chuan Zhi goes on to write:

Gandhi is near death from starvation when a crazed man, a Hindu, arrives with food that he insists Gandhi must eat. He demands, “Here! Eat! Eat! Eat! I’m going to hell—but not with your death on my soul!” Gandhi replies, “Only God decides who goes to hell.”  “I killed a child!” the man confesses.  “I smashed his head again a wall!” Gandhi asks, “Why?”

“Because they killed our son…my boy! The Muslims killed my son!” Gandhi sees the man’s unbearable grief and remorse.  He gently tells him, “I know a way out of hell. Find a child, a child whose mother and father have been killed—a little boy- and raise him as your own.  Only be sure that he is a Muslim…”

And thus, came peace in the heart of the man and the child that he raised.  What do you need to do to find peace in your heart?  Now go do it….

[1] Sangharakshita, A Guide to the Buddhist Path, Windhorse Publications: Birmingham England

[2] Ibid.

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adult asian bald buddhism

Pema Chodron in her book Awakening Loving-Kindness wrote, “The point is not to try to change ourselves.  Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better.  It’s about befriending who we are already (page 3).[1] Often times I find myself not being very kind to myself, questioning my abilities, my finances, my friends or lack thereof, and I could go on and on.  But of what value is that and what peace derives from it?

There is a situation going on in our neighborhood where many are trying to harm others because of their loneliness and personal pain for which they have no answer or insight. They are sad and mad and lonely and have lost all connection with peace, love, and compassion.  They feel if they put you down and make you feel as lonely and helpless as they do it will make them feel better, or more in control, or righteous.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work and thus they end up on the merry-go-round whirling through a lonely and desperate life with no way out.

I am a Zen Buddhist priest and thus I find solace in the teachings of the Buddha as Pema Chodron writes, “Gentleness is a sense of goodheartedness toward ourselves (page 5).”[2]  When we practice this principle, we enter into an awareness of peace that is in us and has always been in us even when we thought otherwise.  Our world is enmeshed in fear and hate and pain but the solution is not out there in others.  The solution lies within me in my heart, my words, and my deeds.  Until I recognize and become aware of who I really am I too will be led by my fears and anxieties and not my joys, and passions, and love.

She goes on to write, “Basically, making friends with yourself is making friends with all those people too, because when you come to have this kind of honesty, gentleness, and goodheartedness, combined with clarity about yourself there’s no obstacle to feeling loving-kindness for others as well (page 6).[3]

Peace in the world begins with me right here right now with who I am not with who I wish I was. I hope you’ll join me in this awareness of being who you really are…loving-kindness itself.

[1] P. Chodron (1996) Awakening Loving-Kindness Shambhala Publications: Boston & London
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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cookie with sunglassesJan Chozen Bays in her wonderful book Mindful Eating writes about something she calls “heart hunger.”   She wrote, “I became aware of heart hunger through the comments of participants in our mindful eating workshops. They talked longingly of foods they had eaten for family holidays, foods their mothers had made for them when they were ill, foods eaten with people they loved.  It was clear that the particular foods were not as important as the mood or emotion they evoked.  Hunger for these foods arose from the desire to be loved and cared for.  The memory of those special times infused these foods with warmth and happiness (page 60)”[1]

I know that this idea has worked both in a positive loving way sometimes and also in a negative fearful way in my life depending upon the person who made the food and/or the way it was cooked, what it tasted like, or what ingredients were involved in the dish.  I’m sure you have had similar relationships with food throughout your life as well.

So this may be a great time to stop and take a look at your relationship to food, why you have that relationship, and what can you do with the things you discover from this personal inquiry.  I only had very limited relationships with my two grandmothers.  My maternal grandmother lived in Kansas and we lived in New Jersey I only saw her twice once when we visited her in Kansas and once when she visited us in New Jersey.

When we went to Kansas, I finally found out why my mother was a such a bad cook.  The first night in Kansas my Grandmother told us she was going to make chicken for dinner.  I thought, great I like chicken.  So I decided I would watch to see how she made hers.  First thing she did was take out some flour and cover all the pieces.   Yeah, we’re going to have a wonderful fried chicken dinner!  NOT! She then proceeded to put it in a pot of water throw a few veggies in and turn on the stove…yikes.

My heart was still there for my Grandmother, but my hunger quickly disappeared!  I asked dad for some money to go to the Dairy Queen for supper!  That Dairy Queen hotdog was the best I’d ever eaten!

Our feelings are held deeply in the darkest part of our psyche.  Are yours helping or hindering you?  Don’t let your past affect your present moment—especially if they are based on fear, anger, or ignorance.  Decide where you want to focus your thoughts—in the now or on that silly pot of chicken so long ago?

Be here now! The choice, of course, is fully yours. Lunch time is here for me, where is my “heart hunger”—chicken or hotdogs…hmmm.

[1] Bays MD, Jan Chozen. Mindful Eating. Shambhala, Boulder, 2017

 

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In the The Little Book of Zen the editors have taken this wonderful yet simpperson eating reading newspaperle koan to illustrate the importance of being mindful all day—even when you are eating. I might say “especially” when you are eating since this is a series on food.

Joshu’s koan goes like this:

A monk said to Joshu, “I have just entered this monastery.  Please teach me”
“Have you eaten your rice porridge?” asked Joshu. “Yes, I have, “replied the monk.
“Then you had better wash your bowl,” said Joshu. With this the monk gained enlightenment.[1]

It seems that the young monk was to start each day with a good bowl of porridge eaten quietly and then begin his meditation time.  So what was the motivation for Joshu to ask that question to the young man? The editors indicate that Joshu was saying since the monk was no longer eating, he should be paying attention to the now moment or his meditation or his breath, and not that sometime in the past he had eaten breakfast.

As silly as that may seem one of the great teachings in Buddhism is “being here now!”  Once your breakfast has been eaten, or dishes washed, or relationship has ended keep moving forward. You do this by staying in the now moment and experiencing what is in the here and NOW.

Alas, we spend so much time going backwards in our lives ruminating over the failures of the past or bragging about the successes we’ll have in the future.  When we do this we are not enjoying this current moment hearing the sounds around us, smelling the smells, tasting the food that is in our mouth, or feeling the touch of our friends’ hand in ours.

Stop for a minute and close your eyes: can you hear the voice of someone that you love, feel their laughter vibrating the air, or hear them praising the cook for the fabulous meal? Were you really there or were you simply thinking about the past or the future during your time with them?

We miss so much each and every day because we are not being present in this now moment. What have you missed today when eating with your friends and family?

Now go wash your bowl.

[1]Manuela Dunn Mascetti (editor). The Little Book of Zen. Fall River Press, New York, 2001

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Once again I opened up this wonderful book “Teachings of Zen” getting ready to write the next section of my newest blog.  It is the first week of our new year 2019 and I was thinking about what I accomplished in 2018 and what I might accomplish in 2019 and then I read these words:

book cover Teachings of Zen Thomas Cleary“You do not plunge into sentiments of the ordinary, nor do you fall into the understanding of the sage. Empty and spiritual, serene and sublime, you do not tarry anywhere but attain fulfillment everywhere.

At this time you should know there is a final statement; only then are you a mature person. Completing the task of the mature person is called transcending the world in the midst of the world, highest of all. Hai-yin (page 142).”[1]

The first paragraph resonated with me as I thought about the juxtaposition of these two ideas. The ideas that we hold in Zen Buddhism are just exactly as Hai-yin describes: empty and yet spiritual, serene and at the same time sublime.  It is exactly like all of our lives the opposites that seem to attract each other, the time on the cushion when we attempt to “empty” the mind and yet think of our spiritual character and that being the reason we are trying to “empty” the mind.  Yikes!  The juxtaposition of the conundrum of the teachings of Buddhism.

And yet Hai-yin ends these thoughts saying: Empty and spiritual, serene and sublime, you do not tarry anywhere but attain fulfillment everywhere…. Completing the task of the mature person is called transcending the world in the midst of the world, highest of all (page 142).”[2]

Your challenge of this year will be transcending the world while being in the midst of it.  Let’s not be bogged down in this process and adding to our troubles and woes.  Let us just be aware of the juxtaposition of life and stroll through it with ease, peace, and compassion for self.  Let’s look down on our selves as if we were out of our bodies simply watching and listening without judgment.  Let’s transcend our fears, likes, and dislikes and remember it’s “just this” and nothing more and nothing less.

[1] Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc

[2] Ibid.

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ying and yangIn Part 8 we talked about True Speech and once we’ve mastered that we can move on to what Pei-chien (1185-1246) calls “Action and Stillness.”  Cleary quotes him as saying “Let your actions be like clouds going by; the clouds going by are mindless.  Let your stillness be as the valley spirit; the valley spirit is undying.  When action accompanies stillness and stillness combines with action, then the duality of action and stillness no longer arises (page 116).”

I just love the visual of the clouds floating by with ease and grace not caring in which direction they go as things out of their “control” move them through the sky or cause them to disappear without worry or frustration.  They simply have no clinging and once in a while they may shed a “tear” or block the sun but before we know it things will change.  Another cloud may have taken its place, or the cloud will have moved so we can see the sun shining once again. Such is life as we realize, “and this too shall pass” like the movement of the clouds and the sun in our lives.

Thus to focus our attention on the stillness, as Pei-chien says, when the action and the stillness combine, they negate each other and neither arises and both arise simultaneously as one.  We can not have success without an action.  We may have finished our college classes and graduated and got hired by a great company.

We may have married the one we love and created a wonderful life partnership.  To be successful there will be times of actions together and actions alone. There will be stillness when all you do is sit quietly in each other’s arms or in each other’s memories if you are far apart. The duality no longer arises, and we are one.

Regardless of how long the new job lasts or the relationship lasts the stillness and the actions will continue in your life. It is how we see them that determines our life course. It is how we deal with them that makes us who we are. It is where we put our focus on the actions or the stillness or both that can make all the difference.

[1] Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc

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