Sunday, July 19, 2015

July's KIVA Loan - Oxen in Armenia

Anahit and her granddaughter 
This month we make our 73rd KIVA loan. It goes to Anahit, who is from Lori Berd, a village of Lori region, Armenia. She lives with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. Her shy little granddaughter is in this photograph with her.

Anahit is a nurse by profession and works part time in the local clinic. She and her husband are among the many parents around the world who have to help their adult children care for and bring up their grandchildren. 

Anahit’s family has a small farm which requires a lot of hard labour and is not always profitable due to the many problems that can emerge on any farm, but which is especially challenging when the grinding amount of labour required to farm must be done entirely by hand. They don't even have an ox to pull the plow or transport feed or other heavy items. Currently they keep two cows, calves, a pig and some hens, but are limited in how many animals they can keep by the labour required to provide for them. As a result their income is also limited. 

Anahit manages to sell some meat, dairy products and eggs, to customers in their village, but to be able to increase their production and enrich their farm, Anahit has applied for a loan which the family will use to buy four oxen, which can be used to plow and do other heavy work the family finds extremely difficult or impossible. 

As this is Anahit's first loan, it has been approved within the framework of the joint initiative between KIVA and their field partner in Armenia SEF International. The first-chance loan program provides loans to people who didn't have access to credit before because they have no credit history. Through this joint initiative almost 500 borrowers like Anahit have gotten a chance to have their first loans and develop their businesses. This is Anahit's first loan with Kiva, and she hopes that the Kiva loan will bring success to her agricultural business.

SEF International is a microfinance subsidiary of World Vision International. It extends financial services to Armenian entrepreneurs to fund their small businesses and improve their lives. Through its partnership with Kiva, the organization is able to create sustainable jobs and build brighter futures for families and children.

The majority of SEF clients are located in Armenia’s poorest rural communities. Accordingly, the organization offers a variety of loan products for farmers, urban businesses, start up and non-formal businesses and consumers focused on improving quality of life for children.

From a social impact perspective, SEF has delivered visible results since its founding. In total, it has extended more than $74 million in loans to more than 74,000 clients. It has also created and sustained over 64,000 jobs and positively impacted 109,000 children.

When you think of the intensely hard work this couple, probably in their mid-to-late 50s and their son and his wife, endure to survive, it stirs a deep compassion in your heart. To be able to help lift that burden is a privilege offered by KIVA. And there are a thousand more hard-working women and men and families waiting for a hand up, not a hand out, just a loan which will come back to you. Bread cast on the water, comes back buttered with the satisfaction of knowing that it has helped lift someone out of poverty. Think about making a KIVA loan today. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

Remembered with Love 

   Mary Margaret Isabel born sleeping 17 July 1971

Undercover officer gets the surprise of his life!

Vancouver's Downtown Eastside has a well-deserved reputation for being a violent, dangerous place. When Vancouver Police Officer Mark Horsley went undercover looking for a thug who'd roughed up and robbed a couple of wheelchair users look what happened to him. (when the video finishes hit the escape key to return to this page.) 

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. ~Dalai Lama

The people on the East Side have almost all gone through terrible trauma, some of it self-inflicted, but much of it out of their control. But it's a nasty place to have to live. They aren't there because they work in a downtown office tower and it's a short commute to work. 

People usually have one of two reactions to having living through horrific trauma like the holocaust or residential school, or physical, sexual or psychological abuse by a parent or caregiver. The first group says; I will never do this to anyone or be silent when it happens to others; the second group becomes embittered and twisted and try to "avenge" what was done to them by perpetuating the abuse, again and again on others, as if trying to vomit spoiled food. 

Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds. ~Orison Marden

It's clear that while the people who helped Officer Horsley might not be "successful" by Wall Street's standards, their ethics are far higher than those of the men who run the world's largest banks and corporations, and their compassion is off the chart compared to people like USA presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who seems to think shooting illegal Mexican immigrants from his private helicopter would be a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon and another presidential hopeful, Ben Carson, has just allied himself with a rightwing pastor who advocates killing Gay people and women who use birth control as a way to bring the USA back to "righteousness". Of course Carson would back the KKK if it got him two votes. These two are highly "successful" by the society's standards, but are repulsive as human beings. The members of Vancouver's Eastside Community has them for beat by miles in terms of humanity and compassion. 

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

This Island Earth

I should have waited for an overcast day to take pictures because the full sun on the hot colours of red roses and hot pink petunias make my cheap little Nikkon lens have grand mal seizures, but blossoms are so fleeting, aren’t they? 

We've had a good bit of rain and everything is just bursting into bloom, so I grabbed my camera and headed out to take some pictures of the flowers and shrubs I’ve planted over over the last four years. 

Remember my little run-in some days ago with the woman about dumping 500 pounds of roadfill into the carefully designed and tended Zen garden? Well, her live-in boyfriend is president of the condo board this year, and Monday I received a rude letter from our management company, ordering me to stay out of the flower beds that I have planted and cared for daily for the last four growing seasons.  Since "the work" now primarily boils down to weeding  which hurts my back, I'm not broken-hearted.

I wrote management and told them what needed to be done, and today two of the landscape crew spent well over an hour yesterday being paid to weed and pick up the garbage in the garden, which I'd have done for free. 

But the situation brings to mind a good story, and I'll share one of my favourite songs from Jonathon Edwards called "This Island Earth", plus a good many pictures of the lovely flowers growing in the garden. Enjoy dears… 

                                              Might as well start with the music. 

Gurdjieff was an early 20th century teacher. Students came to live and study with him on his estate near Paris. There was one man in the community nobody could stand because he was impossible to get along with. He was overbearing and boorish, bullied the other students relentlessly, and had such a short fuse that everyone was constantly filled with tension, knowing that any insignificant thing could cause him to explode. The other students just wished that he would go away.

One of Gurdjieff’s teaching methods was to make his students do repetitive tasks that were completely meaningless; with the purpose of making them awaken to their reactions. It wasn't the meaningless tasks that were important, it was his students' inner experiences that mattered.

One day Gurdjieff’ told his students to dig up the grass on one side of a path and replace it with the grass growing on the other side. This task proved to be too much for the man that everyone disliked. Halfway through the morning he blew up, screamed that he’d had enough of Gurdjieff’s useless chores, threw down his shovel, stormed to his room, packed his suitcase, ran to his car and drove away, swearing never to return. The rest of the community was delighted and cheered as his car disappeared down the drive. But when they told Gurdjieff what happened, he said “Oh, no!” and went after him.

Three days later they both came back. That night, when he was serving Gurdjieff his supper, his attendant asked, “Sir, why did you bring him back? It was so much more pleasant here with him gone,” Gurdjieff motioned the attendant to come closer and answered very quietly, “Between you and me; you must tell no one. I pay that man to stay here.”

People like Gurdjieff’s professional irritant and experiences like him, are what are called life's therapeutic irritations. They exist to wake us up. Like the sand in the oyster that is the seed of the pearl, therapeutic irritations stir a reaction in us. They pull off our blinders and teach us what is not possible to learn when surrounded with admiration, peace and harmony. 

Buddhism teaches that the difficult is the best teacher, and that all of us suffer from the same kleshas, mental states that cloud the mind and manifest in unwholesome actions. 

The kleshas are also called the five poisons and are:

1: Passion (craving, greed, lust etc)
2: Aggression: (anger, hatred, resentment etc)
3: Ignorance: (confusion, bewilderment, apathy etc)
4: Pride: (arrogance, conceit, low self-self esteem etc)
5. Jealousy: (envy, a lack of self-worth, paranoia, etc) 

Buddhism teaches that while the kleshas can never be completely eliminated, they can be pacified. Once you realize how these negative emotions are poisoning your health, happiness and well-being you can train yourself yourself to reject them when they arise, and gradually they lose their power over you. 

 This is a universal struggle faced by all of humanity and one that calls for compassion rather than anger when you are faced with “therapeutic irritations”. 

As Jean Vanier, who I admire so much said, “We human beings are all fundamentally the same. We all belong to a common broken humanity. Each one of us needs to feels appreciated and understood. We all need help.”

Let’s face it. Happiness is an inside job. 

Story about Gurdjiieff for Pema Chodron’s book, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, Shambala Press, 1994 

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Thoughts that go bump in the night

If you've followed this blog for any length of time you most certainly are deprived of any quality reading material, but you also know I have been an avid genealogist for over 40 years. 

My 4th g-grdmother Catherine Dorneberger
Genealogy is interesting for a variety of reasons, one of which is that it quickly teaches you that no one gets out of here alive. When 90% of your family photos are of tombstones, you soon understand that the Grim Reaper walks one step behind you, and that rustling you hear is his robe catching against his bony knees. 

Genealogy isn't a hobby with me, it's more like an obsession. Maybe I was called to it, because I was born what the Irish call "sensitive", not that I am an overly emotional person, in fact one of my doctors referred to me as "stoic" recently which made me laugh afterwards considering how much I moan and groan about my pain levels. But sensitive in the woo-woo sense.  

For example, my Dad was a rig supervisor in the oil fields of West Texas.  On any given day he could be on any one of half a dozen rigs, over a 200 mile area. There were no cell-phones or ways to communicate in the 40s and 50s. But several times, beginning when I was about two, when Mother needed to reach him in an emergency, she sat me on the front seat of the car, where I couldn't even see over the dashboard, and asked me to tell her where Daddy was. And I'd listen for him, or feel for him. It's hard to describe. I would open my heart, or that's how it felt, and I could feel where he was, and I'd tell her to go that direction. And we found him every time. 

But I had a coincidental and unrecognized at the time encounter with a family member long since in the spirit world in the late 1970s. We decided to return briefly to the US because my Mother was terminally ill and we wanted her to have some time with our two boys.  

We decided to buy property in Arkansas, a few hours drive from my parents, and build a small house. Land was very inexpensive, and we wanted to be out in the country. We drove through a tiny town in the northeast corner of the state called Berryville. We looked around a little, thought 'not for us' and drove on. But in the night I woke up and felt a strong compulsion to go back to Berryville. 

Long story short, we went back. A realtor drove us around and there was one piece of property that grabbed us, me especially. We bought it, built a tiny house and lived there for about a year. 

At the time I had no idea that my paternal grandmother and her mother had both been born in the next county. There's an excellent genealogy library in Berryville. I would go in there and literally ache, because I could feel family all around me, and all I could do was look at the files in frustration. I even walked the graveyard, with the same feeling of frustration.

Thirty-five years later the bird comes to the nest. With DNA testing I've made contact with a 3rd great-grandson of my 3rd great-grandfather's Lawson's brother Jacob. And with it his family tree.  

In 1850 both Lawson and Jacob and their families were living  side-by-side in Ripley Co Missouri. By 1853 both had moved south into Arkansas. Jacob's son George Washington Smith moved to Carroll Co, just outside of Berryville, next door to the Sisco family. And in 1883 George Smith's daughter Lucretia married William Emberson Sisco and produced eight little Sisco kids. No Lone Rangers apparently.  

On the way to our property, we left Berryville on Sisco Rd. The Sisco farmhouse stood at the junction where we turned to get to our property. in 1979 it was well-maintained and still lived in. 

George Washington Smith and wife Sarah Jane Frederick
The 20 acres we bought may well have been part of the property which belonged to my 4th cousin George Smith 100 years before us. We disassembled an old square-cut log house up the road from it. The logs were not milled, but cut with an adze. The nails were hand-forged. I still have one of them in  a drawer somewhere. Was it the home of George Smith?  I wish there was a better picture of him, this one is torn across his face and no amount of photoshopping will fill in the missing gap. 

But my 3rd great-grandmother Priscilla, and 4th great-grandmother Elizabeth both died between 1850 and 1853, the same time George Washington Smith moved down near the Siscos. Did Lawson and his family go with them? Did Priscilla and Elizabeth die in Carroll County? For the life of me I can't understand why a 4th great-uncle would exert such an emotional pull, while I have searched for the identities of these two women for three decades. 

You have to wonder what ghosts lead you back, but I've seen "coincidences" happen to genealogists I know too many times to discount them. Henry Jones, expert on the Palatine migrations, has written two books based on genealogists finding their ancestors through almost unbelievable "coincidences".
"They want to be found," he says.  


Friday, July 03, 2015

Flickers and Flowers...

Northern Flicker
Yesterday was Canada Day, and the weather was perfect, so in the afternoon Ian and I went for a walk in a local park. We walked to a high point, where we had a view of the entire park, which is a former industrial area that has been cleaned up and left to go back to as wild a state as possible. It's prairie, with grasses, and a bit of marshy area, so the grasses were billowing in the wind. We sat and talked for a long time, and he took pictures of some of the flowers, grasses and vistas, plus a Northern Flicker, a member of the woodpecker family.  

Hackelia floribunda
One flowering plant growing in profusion along the path was so beautiful we stopped and Ian took several picture of them. 

The flowers are hardly bigger than the head of a pin, and the plants themselves were 4-5" or about 11 cm tall. Many were covered with flowers but the little burrs the flowers mature into were already visible. These are Hackelia floribunda, a species of flowering plant in the borage family known by the common name manyflower stickseed. 

Yes, well-named. Walk along a path lined with these later in the summer and your socks will be covered with the little egg-shaped burrs which are covered in velcro-like hooks. Like a lot of bad habits and crazy ideas, they start out looking very attractive, but it isn't long before you can't get the "burrs" out of your life.

We followed our walk with a visit to the grocery store. I had started a yummy chicken soup made from fresh vegetables and roasted chicken in the crockpot before leaving home. So we bought fruit and salad and cat food, and the three of us had a nice meal together and Ian visited with his Dad for a while.

It was lovely to spend time together. He's always so busy, that I miss the long talks we used to have when he was younger and we'd often talk late into the night. Seeing your children grow up into competent, compassionate human beings is the best feeling in the world. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I am very attached to this gravel...

As my faithful readers know Ian built a lovely Zen garden I wanted in a gravel patch near the front door of our condo building in 2012 as a Mother's Day Gift. He bought the tumble stone, and the pea gravel. We went to the mountains together and hiked up a ravine to find the right size and shape of larger stones. And he built it over two weekends. 

It's to the left of the main entrance of our building and is about 8' wide by 20' long. It's a spot where nothing will grow, as the underground parkade roof comes to the surface there and underlies that area.
Standing Stone with "Sedum" forest
It's an odd shape, since one end is a triangle, and it's only large enough for the "Three Stone" style, which means you have a standing stone in an island of greenery, plus two other stones which have a particular shape, and are placed at a certain relationship to the standing stone. 

The land is represented by round, tumbled river rocks 1 - 1.5" in size, flowing water by fine pea gravel you rake patterns in, though raking patterns in this garden would be futile, as people walk through it all the time. 

I've had many positive comments about it, and because we had a resident pass away in particularly tragic circumstances just as we finished it, some residents wrote his name on one of the smooth stones and put it on the garden in his memory. Since then other residents have written the names of loved ones who'd passed on smooth river rocks and left them in the garden, so it's become something of a memory garden. I also wrote baby Isabel's name and birth/death date on a smooth white stone and left it among the others. Since the stones represent the sea this is a rather apt metaphor of the Buddhist saying, “The wave does not need to die to become water. She is already water.”  

As you also might remember the sidewalk leading to the front entrance is about 25 feet wide and 100 feet long. Because some people have no common sense whatsoever, they will drive their five ton moving vans right up to the front door, which is very hard on the sidewalk. We found the only way to prevent this from happening was to place large cast concrete/stone planters to block their way. So we have three big three stone planters filled with road-fill gravel on the end of the sidewalk. We placed two at the driveway end and the third about 20 feet in, in the centre of the drive. These had to placed empty  by a fork lift, and then we filled them with a half-tonne of gravel, so they aren't going anywhere. 

In this climate you can't plant real flowers in them because the moisture gets into the concrete and in the winter the pot cracks, so we put in new topiaries surrounded by iron trellis work last year. These were wired to concrete blocks under the gravel because the wind is sumpin fierce here in the winter, and we had to chase down the previous ones. It cost a couple of hundred dollars for each one plus paying the landscapers to install them.

I still had one to go but hadn't been able to find a matching topiary until last Thursday afternoon I found them on line. I made plans to go buy one on Friday.

But Thursday evening I looked out the window to see one of the residents had taken the topiaries out of the pots, and was shovelling the gravel into buckets. This woman is always belligerent, and has the attitude that she is entitled to anything she wants, and can do anything without consulting anyone. I hated having to deal with her when I was on the board, because her standard answer was, "I don't care what the rules say, or what the board says. I'm doing it this way, my mother is a lawyer and I'll just sue if I don't get my way." 

More than a little trepidatious, I wandered out to ask her what she was doing. She said she was going to plant flowers in the planters. She had already dumped several buckets of stones in the Zen garden. I pointed out that the Zen garden has only two kinds of stone, and they are laid in a design. She said she didn't see any design, and she'd rake the stones flat when she was done.  

When I went out to tend the flowers the next afternoon I was stunned. She literally had *buried* the Zen garden 10-12" deep in the big rough road fill from the planters, which was also full of bark, garbage and cigarette butts. Just dumped in big piles all over the garden. Then I got mad. I actually sat here until 2:00 am and wrote a whiny letter complaining to the property manager explaining how I'd been wronged. It sounded childish even to me. So I deleted it and went to bed. 

I went out yesterday morning and looked at it again and it looks terrible, nothing like the Zen garden I'd planned and Ian had built. But standing there I realized that there's no point in choosing to be angry. All is does is make me miserable and burn off energy I could use for more positive activity. 

So I went to the Walmart and bought a big Boston fern, a transparent plastic "chip" serving bowl about two inches deep which has a "dip" container moulded into one side. It has a rippled surface, so I can sink it into the gravel, bring the gravel right up to the edge, put two asparagus ferns in the "dip" container and turn it into a birdbath. The next neighbour has a feeder and when I'm out with the hose the birds are always eager for a drink and to have a shower.  

One of the landscaping crew helped to rake the gravel down, which took him five minutes, and we sunk the Boston fern into one of the piles. I took the stones she'd tossed aside and re-sited them and gave the entire thing a good wash-down with the hose. 

So now it has a new look, with a fern, a bird bath, and the rocks - aside from the standing stone, repositioned. And it looks okay. 

It's funny, I look at other countries feuding between themselves and say to myself, "Why can't they just get along?" 

And then someone pours a half-dozen wheelbarrows of rock on a patch of gravel which is on common property and thus belongs as much to her as it does to me - and I get my panties in  twist. You know, if you don't laugh at your own ridiculousness at least a dozen times a day you're going to end up in a padded cell. 

The Buddha said, "The root of suffering is attachment." And it gets me a hundred times a day. It's a root that is as hard to dig out as those dandelions we fight with every spring.  

So, the Zen Garden is no longer the austere garden you'd find in a temple. But it's more recognizable as a "garden" to Western eyes. I like it even better now. And the flowers she planted are beautiful.  

Friday, June 19, 2015

If you forget me…

Now, is he just being realistic; I mean, what's the point of pining over someone who no longer loves you? Or is he just the kind of arrogant blowhole your mother warned you about avoiding? (Read his bio, link is at the bottom of the page, and decide for yourself. I didn't put the link here because I didn't want to bias anyone forehand.)  

At any rate, it's the only poem I could find that references garden flowers that wasn't so sappy it was instantly vomit inducing, and I wanted to show off what's been blooming in the garden this past week or so without simply plodding through another tour. For a few days I had nine glorious poppies, some as big as saucers. They usually bloom for a day or two then the petals fall off, but as I write this I still have five, some of which have been blooming a full week. 

If you forget me…
by Pablo Neruda

I want you to know one thing. 

You know how this is: 

if I look 
at the crystal moon, at the red branch 
of the slow autumn at my window, 
if I touch 
near the fire 
the impalpable ash 
or the wrinkled body of the log, 
everything carries me to you, 
as if everything that exists, 
aromas, light, metals, 
were little boats 
that sail 
toward those isles of yours that wait for me. 

Well, now, 
if little by little you stop loving me 
I shall stop loving you little by little. 

If suddenly you forget me 
do not look for me, 
for I shall already have forgotten you. 

If you think it long and mad, 
the wind of banners 
that passes through my life, 
and you decide 
to leave me at the shore 
of the heart where I have roots, 
remember that on that day, at that hour, 
I shall lift my arms and my roots will set off 
to seek another land. 

Oriental Poppy

But if each day, 
each hour,

Neon Lights Hosta, Cranesbill, Daisy, Pink ones ??

you feel that you are destined for me with implacable sweetness,

Purple petunias, Darvona

if each day a flower climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,


in me all that fire is repeated, 
in me nothing is extinguished 
or forgotten, 

Siberian Iris

my love feeds on your love, 


and as long as you live it will be in your arms without leaving mine. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Disorder in the Courts!

How Do Court Reporters Keep Straight Faces?
These are from a book called "Disorder in the Courts: Great Fractured Moments In Courtroom History" by Charles M Sevilla and are things people actually said in court, word for word, taken down and published by court reporters that had the torment of staying calm while the exchanges were taking place.
WITNESS: You mumbled the first part of that question and I didn't understand what you said. Could you please repeat the question?
ATTORNEY: I mumbled did I? Well, we'll just ask the court reporter to read back what I said. She didn't indicate having any problem understanding what I said so she obviously understood every word.  We'll just have her read back my question and we'll see if there was any mumbling going on. Madam Reporter, if you would be so kind.
COURT REPORTER: Mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble. 
ATTORNEY: What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?
WITNESS: He said, 'Where am I, Cathy?'
ATTORNEY: And why did that upset you?
WITNESS: My name is Susan!

ATTORNEY: What gear were you in at the moment of the impact?
WITNESS: Gucci sweats and Reeboks.

ATTORNEY: Are you sexually active?
WITNESS: No, I just lie there.

ATTORNEY: What is your date of birth?
WITNESS: July 18th.
ATTORNEY: What year?
WITNESS: Every year.

ATTORNEY: How old is your son, the one living with you?
WITNESS: Thirty-eight or thirty-five, I can't remember which.
ATTORNEY: How long has he lived with you?
WITNESS: Forty-five years.

ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
WITNESS: I forget..
ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?

ATTORNEY: Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning?
WITNESS: Did you actually pass the bar exam?

ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the 20-year-old, how old is he?
WITNESS: He's 20, much like your IQ.

ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken?
WITNESS: Are you shitting me?

ATTORNEY: So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?
ATTORNEY: And what were you doing at that time?
WITNESS: Getting laid

ATTORNEY: She had three children , right?
ATTORNEY: How many were boys?
ATTORNEY: Were there any girls?
WITNESS: Your Honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney?

ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated?
WITNESS: By death..
ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated?
WITNESS: Take a guess.

ATTORNEY: Can you describe the individual?
WITNESS: He was about medium height and had a beard.
ATTORNEY: Was this a male or a female?
WITNESS: Unless the Circus was in town I'm going with male.

ATTORNEY: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney?
WITNESS: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.

ATTORNEY: Doctor , how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
WITNESS: All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.

ATTORNEY: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to?

ATTORNEY: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?
WITNESS: The autopsy started around 8:30 PM.
ATTORNEY: And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?
WITNESS: If not, he was by the time I finished.

ATTORNEY: Are you qualified to give a urine sample?
WITNESS: Are you qualified to ask that question?
And last:
ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Ten to Zen

Reposted with some edits from May 2009

During a visit Zak and I fell into discussions about deeper issues as we worked. The practice of Buddhism is a frequent topic when we get together. As practiced by most Westerners Buddhism is a discipline, rather than a religion, since there is no worship and no affirmation of a deity. 

And, in fact this is apparently exactly what the Buddha in mind. He was not concerned with religion or the hereafter. When some of his students came to him, saying they were leaving because he had not told them what happened after death, he asked, "Did I ever say I would address the question of the hereafter?" 
"No, Master, you did not," they answered. 

"No," he replied. "I only said I would teach you to deal with suffering, and it is suffering that leads you to worry about the hereafter." 

As I see it (and I am no scholar) my practice of Buddhism serves to discipline body and mind, encourages me to live a useful life, and helps as I struggle to grasp the nature of reality. 

By the time you are in your late 60s you have lost many loved ones. And you've seen three generations of children born, bringing with them the features and gestures of their forefathers, the laughters of aunts and the voices of uncles who died in wars 50 years before them. You see your father's 80 year-old face recast in the joyous innocence of his infant ggg-grandson, and you realize that while we are on a continuum, we are all temporary manifestations of energy, winking in and out like lightening bugs on a summer night, in an unending dance of cosmic energy.  

The nature of reality is that this is the only moment we have, and what we do with it creates our lives as surely as a carpenter uses wood and a box of nails to build a house. We create our lives moment to moment with our thoughts and actions.    

The practice of staying in the moment doesn't mean you don't make plans or lead a normal life, it simply means you stay awake, and pay attention to what you are doing, maintaining a disciplined mental state, rather than letting your mind wander all over the place, in an undisciplined manner. Fretting over past hurts, wrongs done me, tomorrow's potential problems or what tragedies may occur next year all take my thoughts from this moment and destroy my peace of mind. Indulging my ego in angry temper against another destroys my peace of mind, as do feeling guilt, embarrassment and shame, which are just varieties of anger against ones' self. If I have done something genuinely wrong I must make it right, but at the proper time and place, and in a peaceful way.    

There are hundreds of gurus selling hundreds of books promising to reveal how to achieve peace of mind. While some are interesting and offer great insight, I've come to feel that you can't absorb peace of mind by osmosis. You can't get it by reading about it, buying a DVD, or attaching yourself to a guru.

You can only find it by practicing it. You practice by attending to the moment, and by letting go of your expectation that it is possible to acquire it by any other means. You practice it by bringing your thoughts back to the now, attending to, and living in the moment at hand with a calm discipline and deep awareness. Softly, softly, guided like a tiny child just learning to walk, kept safely on a path by a gentle touch when a wobbling step takes her too close to the edge. 

I will not pretend to have achieved this state, and I constantly must check myself, but it is an excellent discipline, one I have gained a great deal of comfort and contentment from.   

Friday, May 29, 2015

On the First 50 Years of Wedded Bliss

We didn't throw a 50th Anniversary party, though we shared very nice dinner with our eldest son, Ian, in the evening. We always have a good conversation and enjoy our time together, and of course it was his birthday too, so we had double reason to celebrate. No cake, since neither of the fellas can eat flour, and Ian is pretty disciplined about his sugar content, but we did each have a wee bowl of Cherry Garcia ice cream. 

I'd spent much of the day in the garden, directing (and helping as much as I dared) a landscape crew of three transform the garden beds into summer dress. Winter casualties were removed and replaced with what may look like lost lambs now, but will eventually be more attractive substitutes.  Annuals were added to fill in the blanks between the bursts of perennial blooms. Pruning happened where branches had died or intruded where they were not welcome, tree wells were weeded and neatened up. It looks much better now. In fact a moving van arrived this morning to move a new set of owners in, and one of the movers took out his camera and took several photos of the plants we'd put in.

My lovely friends A and L from France sent this Medal of Honour for bearing up/surviving 50 years of wedded bliss. Couples celebrating 50 years used to get a letter of congrats from the Queen (or in the case of Canader the Governor General of Behalf of Her Majesty). These days so many of us reach 50 years they don't bother. I think you have to hit 75 years. Lord, we'd be 94 and 99. I don't think we'll make it.  So, as this is likely the only medal for marriage I shall ever receive I am thinking of printing it, laminating it and wearing it on a lanyard around my neck!

The "bearing up under" is entirely on my wonderfully patient husband's part. I certainly got the better part of the bargain. I don't know if I was made for him, but he was made for me! 

We weren't able to see our younger son, Zak, who lives in Europe, but we did receive a wonderfully sweet letter from him. He has a way with words that would make the greatest writers cry. Well, it makes ME cry anyway. I'll admit to crying over many a manuscript, but mainly because seeing the English language butchered in such barbaric fashion was like having a knife stuck in my Oxford, a special organ which only editors and children who compete in spelling bees possess.


Dearest Madre, Dearest Padre,

Growing up in our small family, there were many things that I took for granted. I thought that parents didn't shout at each other or their kids (well, except when I was setting things on fire.) I thought that it was normal for homes to be instantly turned into animal rescue centres, doll factories, herbal compounding shops, solar heater manufacturing facilities, costuming workshops or any of a host of other things at a moment's notice. 

I thought that families read to each other, built models together and spent hours dreaming up the future over popcorn dressed with brewer's yeast and butter. I thought that other children must be encouraged to tackle any creative venture that caught their interest. I also thought that the level of perseverance and devotion that I witnessed day-to-day and year-to-year between the two of you was a normal thing as well.

In the years since I've left home, I've learned that these things (along with many others) were all rare gems to be treasured. I've also learned, ruefully at times, that they are long yardsticks to measure oneself and the rest of the world against.

The more time passes, the more I grow to admire the essential characteristics that define you as individuals and as a couple. The more time passes, the more I understand (but can never know) how very much you must mean to each other and how much we must mean to you.

I would like to be with you both and Ian on this day. I fear that we'll have to settle for our virtual presences later today or in the near future, and a real visit as soon as time and finances permit.

With all my love,