Friday, February 21, 2014


I have been reading and re- reading a number of interesting books lately. One theme that I would like to reflect upon, enumerated in two excellent books The Open Path  and Emptiness Dancing is the importance of sincerity. It strikes me that indeed, that is very true, yet often overlooked. Sincerity is a wonderfully nuanced and complex word.  It packs a lot.  To me it evokes a humility and curiosity as well as an authenticity and devotion.  For  me there is a deep longing and yearning in sincerity.   Dictionary online defined sincere as free from deceit, hypocrisy, falseness.  These also ring accurate. Perhaps sincerity is our greatest yearning. The beauty of sincerity is that it is a process.  It is something which must be renewed time and again.  In the same way that authenticity is a process sincerity requires continuous renewal. One is not sincere and then done.  Sincerity is a quality of openness and discovery as one part of mystery encounters another part of mystery. When put that way it strikes me that it is synonymous with life itself, for what more is life than mystery meeting up with all of it of itself. To be sincere is to live in reality, is to see clearly, is to recognize all.    It is easy to overlook the mystery though. It is easy to let our jadedness and protective shells orient us to action. We forget our divinity. But really what could we even protect?  The lure of slumber is steadfast.  We believe it is easy to dull pain.  Sleep seems to beckon us.  It seems easier to avoid what we know deep down, to pull the wool over our own eyes; to live with our own hypocrisies,  to embrace the fallacious over the truthful.  But is it?  What is the cost to our own lives?  What is the cost to life itself?  What freedom is bought with any lie?  I think sometimes when I am less than relentless and ruthlessly truthful that its ok. It's better to tell a white lie than to hurt someone’ s feelings. Why would that be true?.  I think it could be a supreme failure to recognize who the other person ultimately is and it is an equal failure to see yourself. It is also exceptionally lazy (or more likely frightened way to approach relating). 

Relentless and ruthless in this instance do not mean that one is unskillful IF one needs to tell someone else something that one thinks may be hurtful.  We still approach it with three times the amount of compassion that it took to be "ruthless" about broaching it.  This is to say that if something is difficult to say to another I cannot avoid it but I say it from a place of wholeness.  The relentlessness and ruthlessness apply because my inclination is to circumvent those topics.   I do not like conflict.  Few do.  And those that seek conflict, look for power -- over.  We need to let Truth’s unrelenting power move through us.  If it is truth we will find the “right” words, if it is anything less we will simply have to "clean up" that which missed the missed the target. 

Parents often get anxious or concerned or angry with their kids when they lie to them.  We have seen it in countless movies. We may have experienced it in our own lives. Kids sneaking in late and lying about coming in before their curfew.  Kids lying about what they have had to drink or how they have behaved. Little ones lying about something that they have done or haven't done.  It is nearly cliche.  It strikes me that perhaps the most painful part about lying is that it severs our link with reality.  We knowingly choose something not real over something real.  Usually we do this in fear and sometimes we even try to convince others of this reality. This is the height of insanity though many do it often.  When we willingly sacrifice truth to lie we bind humanity.  We make it that much harder for the next person to feel the permission that always exists to surrender into freedom.  We make it that much harder for ourselves to recognize the freedom that always exists. We trade reality for fear of a consequence that may never happen.  We play a reproachful and bitter God.  It is no wonder we do not trust ourselves.  It is no wonder we do not trust each other.  It  is no wonder we are so dis-eased.  We wrestle with ghosts -- and lose when we lie, for ultimately the lie separates us from the very things we most need. To lie is to fail to accept the moment as it is, as such, it is perhaps the antithesis of enlightenment.

 I remember when my little one told a "lie". He was too young for the children's textbooks to actually call it a lie per se since the sense of self was not developed enough for the full recognition of a something to protect or of any kind of consequence from his actions.  At that point it was more like a creative exercise and arguably perhaps a primitive and rudimentary sense of trying to protect something.  Putting aside the motivation and challenges in childrens' lying, it is interesting to examine parents behavior.  It is interesting to remember my own sense of fear.  It is interesting how out of touch I became with the times I've lied or distorted the truth in my own life.   I was not alone in my internal freak out.  I suspect at one level it is about wanting to protect the child both from the behavior itself but that it is also  about a desire for genuine communication.  Lies stymie communication.  Every parent wants to believe they are trustworthy enough for their child to come to them with their problems and challenges. Not all are and certainly not at all times. They want to believe they make it safe enough for their children to be authentic and sincere.  Sadly, there is much that works to undermine that sense of safety in the world. 

What would it be like to truly be yourself with no fear of being judged?

What would it be like to truly be authentic and not worry about how you were perceived by others?

Does this change when you think of the reflections of those close to you?

Sincerity to me feels like a powerful driving force.  It feels like a force I can align "my life" with. It feels like it can propel and direct, guide and steer "this me" where it needs go.  It is both gentle and fierce at the same time.  It is gentle in that it is an ever open invitation to be in reality.  It is fierce because it never wanes and is always there whether we choose to befriend it or not. It is precious because it is the gravity that enables my heart's desire to live truth over and over again.


Prison of A Lacking Self

How sad it is, how much time I spend feeling unworthy, feeling like my voice does not matter, my thoughts don’t matter or that my very existence is in some way a problem or troublesome.  It is heartbreaking really.  I am not speaking of depression or mood disorder.  In those states the feelings of unworthy become especially acute.  They are real but not what I am discussing here.  Nor I am  looking for pity or sympathy. What I speak about here is much more subtle and much more pervasive.  It is raw.  I am speaking of a more general orientation to the world that in many ways is falsely at the core of my being. It is a false anchor upon which I hang a self, a self that lacks.  I suspect it is the dukka about which the Buddha speaks.  It’s a quiet malaise.  It’s as if the question “what did I do wrong” lurks behind my every movement thought and action. It truly colors so much of how I have operated. Even as I am writing this now I am wondering if people will review this and think is he sane?  Is he depressed?  Still I write.  Still I question.  I know I am not alone, but rather than move towards generalizations and theory, or even quick resolution, I am going to stick with my own experience as closely and intimately as I can.  Sometimes I generalize, and philosophize to keep pain at bay.  This is also not something that anyone else can help by trying to point out the many ways that I am good.  It is a more primal feeling that only can be unraveled.

In how many of my interactions with people is there a subtle attempt to control? I ask this question because it is at the heart of  the feeling of "what did I do wrong" or "what is wrong with me".  Whether its trying to control what they think of me or trying to control the outcome of the situation? or simply trying to control what they do?  I desperately want to be liked.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Its part of my conditioning.  The obsession with being liked though is at the heart of my feeling unworthy.  Its as if I look to others to tell me that I am liked and worthy because I am not courageous enough to do it myself.  If that sounds harsh (I assure you it is not).  Grace is fierce sometimes. I need constant reaffirmation  and feeding because I have not digested its truth.  My heart will not be happy sacrificing itself for the opinion of others it needs to know from the inside out of its own unshakeable integrity. Then what others said about my goodness would not hold so much sway.  Who would I be if I were not nice?  Who would I be I were not good?   It is a paradox because it is the attachement to being  and acting good which is the root of not "knowing" the goodness that I already am.

What is it that keeps me from truly being the compassionate space that I am?  What keeps me from being the opening , listening, loving, silence that is capable of connection with all things? Its that mask that feels like it must do good to be good, which is a failure to recognize or see my own nature and everyone else's.  Somehow I must figure it out, must for once and all time get it right.  Such arrogance, that is the barrier. The hole, the abyss of that hurt of "lack" cannot be filled though everyone sang my praises because it is a hole of separation, a hole that must be filled by this mind/body.  Others can shine a light that helps me to see but ultimately I must do the work.   Ultimately wholeness cannot be given to me for I am never without it.  It is simply mine to see, to feel, to cherish.

What exactly is a self? What exactly is being selfish? What if I were selfish?  What would that mean?

What is it about selfishness that is so painful for me? Why is that that the only two options for me around selfishness are to either deny that I am being selfish, pretend that it is something else eg. justify it in some way or to shut down and go into global "I must be a horrible person" mode.  Middle ground and other options exist.  I stand so fearful of selfishness that it is like it is anathema to being loved.

I must believe that when I am selfish I cannot be loved.  I think it must run that deep. 

Is that true?  That I cannot be loved when I am selfish - not only is that not true it probably flies in the face of evidence.   I am sure that I have been loved by others even when I am being selfish (though I can't think of any examples at the moment) The rose colored glasses of memory hold those remembrances at bay.

What would I gain from such a belief? What would I gain from believing that I could not be loved if I were selfish - Well I would gain a lot of external sympathy and love and appreciation for avoiding the appearance of selfishness. At the time the belief crystallized (confirmation) I would gain a sense of belonging?

Surely though there is a role for selfishness? Right?
What role does selfishness play? Why would I be selfish,

Answer: Because I feel a need to protect my boundaries, I feel a need to assert who I am, because I want to address needs, feelings, my existence in the world.

I then have two questions.  When or what causes those boundaries to come into existence or to become rigid?  Can I notice when the boundaries come into place?  I do not have to do anything about them but can I notice when they come into existence - bragging, showing off, putting someone down, measuring people, comparing people, when I get hurt?

Question: You can't live if you cannot compare people, ideas,  right from wrong,  fact from fiction.

Answer:  Perhaps true, but the more interesting question, the more compelling exploration is not whether we can live with or without boundaries.  That is an abstraction that takes us from the truth.  The more interesting question is whether you can become aware of when those boundaries come into play and become curious about all aspects of that. 
What is it that feels the need to compare?  What does it want? What does it need? What does it want to express?It seems to me that comparison goes hand in hand with judgment and oft generates problems when value is assigned, which we often do.  We can compare red to blue and most of the time it does not engender a values hierarchy.  If I attach the word politics however, see how quickly value is assigned.  Comparison is as natural as difference and diversity. It's the unconscious assigning of value that goes along with it that gives rise to separating thoughts and behaviors.

Question: But aren't some ideas truly better than others? like its better to not kill than to kill? That is a comparison. 

It is perhaps a better way of being in the world but it is not TRUTH.  Nothing that can be stated is truth though some things can be better pointers than others.  It is more interesting if  you can become curious about where that question is coming from and what its presence in your psyche may be asking?

Why is that an important question to you?

Question: Its about control. I want to know that things will be ok.

Question:  What if they are not going to be?

Then you are not ready to surrender.

I wonder if all places where I lack intimacy stem from a fear that what is here is not enough, that what is here is not good enough, that I am not good enough. That is an incredibly painful place. It's not that I believe I do not deserve to have the joys of the world but it is to say that I am in a continuous state of proving myself.  I must be perfect because  only then might I be good enough.  But good enough for what?  Good enough for whom?  What does good even mean? That said I still, as one dear friend once said, “ apologize for my existence”  It does not matter what I do or don’t do, I am always leaning in to the "fall from grace", awaiting for people to discover the fraud that I am, anticipating when the mask will be revealed and I will be seen for the fatally flawed fiasco I am.  That is a lot of weight to live under.  That is a heavy burden to carry. To believe that one is not good enough makes authenticity impossible.  How can I be authentic with anyone when I am always measuring myself and failing. How can I honestly hear what people are saying if I am busy protecting myself by comparisons or platitudes or aggressiveness. When I believe I am not enough I move to put others down, make others wrong, bolster myself by using my relationships.  That is nothing short of a sort of violence.
Intimacy is connection.  It is exquisite.  Its what I long for most. It is the intimacy of being more connected to my partner but it is more than that. It is intimacy with ten thousand things; intimacy with all of life, from work, to friends, to hobbies, to nature, to family.  I know I am not alone.  We are a massively populated society of lonely hearts. Intimacy is what we long for most as humans and yet it is most difficult and very frightening too. We want the world to accept the parts of us that are hurt,  that are unsure, that feel unworthy.  We want to be comforted and know that all is ok.  At our deepest core often we do not believe it.  At our deepest core we do not believe/understand that all is ok.  I do not believe/understand that all is ok.  It is a knot worth unraveling

From the earliest ages I remember my parents working with me to try to get me to speak to the store clerk to ask for help.  At the time I would rather do without than put myself in such a precarious position

At work it has always undermined my ability to be candid.  I have had a hard time telling things like they are.  On the good side I have built a lifetimes worth of diplomatic skill and a keen understanding of the power of words and expression to move people.  On the other side it has compromised a certain quality of authenticity and truthfulness in my interactions and relationships.  I have spent years being afraid of rocking the boat, years afraid of making sure that I am liked, years monitoring and trying to control what people thought of me.   It has robbed me of life and essence I stand now in a middle way, learning the skill of truth-telling which is more confessional than judgmental .  I stand learning a new way of being and relating.   It has always hard for me to ask for what I need. 

It is not that I believe that I won't get what I want.  There have been plenty of things I have wanted and not gotten and many, many more that I have.  What do I think will happen if I don't get something? Does that not happen all the time?  It is more that it is easier to step over how something is making me feel than it is to contact it or the feelings surrounding it.   it is more that If I don't ask for something I don't risk being cast out of someone's heart.  Therefore I don't ask for it.  I just do it myself.  But this is the antithesis of intimacy.   It is a self induced prison of loneliness whose only key is my own courage and willingness to ask the jailer if I can be free from bondage.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Reflections on Race

I've  been thinking a lot about racism. This post has been in draft form for several months now.  My ruminations are not finished  but  as February is Black History Month I decided I would post what I had written thus far. 

Race in the United States is too often a tangle of crossed wires and missed connections when sadly it has the possibility of carrying the charge and fueling spark for great understanding and achievement.   With the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and the tragedy of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and even the spectacle of Paula Dean, I've been thinking even more than usual about race.  What exactly is racism?  Who exactly is racist?  How would you know racism if you encountered it? 

The history of our beautiful nations is intertwined with racism.  Black slaves provided free labor that propelled the US to the apex of the world's power.  Blacks were not even  considered people and at best they were  "less than" Slaves were chattel bought and sold, whipped, beaten and treated as livestock.  There is no doubt this is racism. There is no doubt about the injustice.  Racism today though, is often more subtle. Statements that assign value based on physical characteristics of race are, well, racist.   When someone shifts their wallet from their back pocket to their front pocket as a tall black man passes by is that racism?  When time and again the seat on the train next to me goes unoccupied  or is the last to be claimed is that racism?  When it seems to take an unusually long time to get seated or the host gives you an odd but enigmatic frown is that racism? When the Supreme Court which has only two people of color upon it strikes out crucial elements of landmark voting legislation calling it as justice Scalia did a “perpetuation of racial entitlement”  or when that same Supreme Court suggests in the majority opinion that the formula is outdated for the determination of which states needed pre-clearance based on their history of racism is that racism?

Part of what makes modern racism so challenging is that its hard to pinpoint exactly.  Many causes could potentially generate similar outcomes in each of the above situations, some factors probably do contribute but on the other hand on the receiving end, one is always left wondering.  One is always left with a sickening feeling in the gut that something is hidden or masked or one doubts  herself or her sanity.  Today's racism only leaves trace elements of having been present yet is still radioactive in its toxicity. It still leaves pain and doubt in it wake.  The suffering it inflicts still needs witnesses and justice.  Sometimes it is helpful to have others to remind and reflect experience back to us. Perhaps that is one reason why people of the same race or ethnicity often hang out together.  It is perhaps why the table at lunch sometimes fills with kids of one race or any other nameable difference.  It becomes important to name your experience among others who have likely had similar experiences.

I spent all of therapy talking about the Trayvon Martin tragedy.  As a middle aged black father of a black son, this case hurt immensely.  At first  I bracketed the pain, minimized it, but soon realized that that was not possible for me. It touched too close to home and detachment (in this narrow sense) is never a long term strategy.  I realized I was angry, very angry .  I did not know exactly why but it became clear that a deep anger resided near my pain.  Anger is not something I am comfortable with.  In session we tried a few sentences like :

I hate it when. . .

It makes me really, really angry when. . .

It was fascinating to complete with emotional integrity.  At some level I knew I was angry but my mind kept trying to tell me but. . .  and it would fill in reasons for why my anger was unjustified, not peaceful, unspiritual, unwarranted.

Anger is the key to my power and freedom.  Anger is something  of which I am terrified.
Anger feels out of control. Anger feels like it must be acted upon, it is compelling; like a red hot molten ball in my stomach.  I feel like I must rid myself of its fiery presence but really its just energy.  Why is its flavor so bitter? Acknowledged anger can be a driving force.   That kind of anger both recognizes its place as powerful energy to make change while at the same time know that all is fine.  It comes from the whole so it understands the language,  it speaks.  It is anger but the quality of "righteousness" is missing.  It strikes me that righteousness is born of a very concretized me whose ideals are assaulted.  In "whole" anger the identification  with anger is less or isn't present.   The anger- energy simply exists, is expressed and leaves like every other phenomena. Selves sustain anger. They carry it through a cycle of thoughts that fuel it. 

I am revisiting racism and this blog draft several months later.  In the last week among people in my circles I've been essentially asked 'how did I get into Williams" instructed on how there are too few slots for "regular smart folk to get into top notch graduate schools these days" The number of slots for kids from other Ivies has remained the same while the number for minorities has expanded.   In the first conversation it came up as I tried to deflect my little one from being grilled about what he know in  math.  The adult who was asking the question did so from a mindset of tripping my little one up.  It was not a joyful curiosity of I am proud of you it was a "prove it to me".  To take the heat off him I joked how I knew I had had enough math when in 11th grade they let us use calculators.  The person then flat out asked - "how did you get into Williams" - and looking back I proceeded to defend by talking about being well rounded in a variety of subjects including math.   I took the bait.  Perhaps this was a simple conversation about math and aptitude?   Perhaps these are just my projections.

The second conversation, just a few days later, was part of a broader conversation about the education system and how it is failing everyone.  It struck me a little as one of those conversations that had the tone of "back in my day we used to walk to school in the snow, uphill both ways - without any shoes".  That is to say it was a romanticization of a former time.  In that conversation the individual spoke about how Ivy league graduate schools  had a certain number of slots for people from other Ivies and for all different kinds of categories including race.  His point, if I heard correctly was that it was harder and harder for "regular smart people" (insert white) to attend these institutions.   This conversation also left me with a sinking feeling. 

Each conversations has potential racial overtones.  Was the first conversation simply about not taking math in 12th grade and it putting me at disadvantage for a school like Williams or was it more subtly about race?  Similarly was the second conversation about how the education system has changed or was it about race.  Without asking more questions it is very hard to know for sure. 

The difficulty however is the enormous courage it takes to broach the subject of race.  Part of the challenge is that the hurt is so deep that it is difficult to traverse a path that is not fraught with anger,
misinterpretation.  It is difficult for others to broach for fear they may be labeled racist.  I do not pretend to have answers here.  I can say with confidence however that we need more authentic conversations.

Dialogue is needed even if often it is very difficult to have honest, candid, safe conversations. 

Take a look at this collection done by NPR of "the most ridiculous questions folks have ever been asked -- and you then answered about racism"  It is a collection questions that are frightening, heartbreaking, sincere but misguided and misinformed and everything in between.  It is a good starting point for more and continued dialogue around race in these United States.  I would love to hear your thoughts.