Stream of Consciousness: Planting

Feminist Thought, Spirituality

A bitter heart is fertile ground for the dream of revenge. It can extend beyond heart and mind, into body, into world. Enact the vengeance, and the recipient may agree, yes, this is justice.

Or she may not.

Her family may agree, or they may not. Her friends may agree, or not.

What if?

The wronged heart, too, grows bitter then. Poison cultivates a new dream of revenge. Imagination and courage dance, a perverse action.

Then.

Pain inflicted on another.

What if…

Newly wounded burn with anger, rot with pain, and poison the ground for a dream.

And so it is, the potential in actions born of bitterness.

With life comes pain. But in pain, do you seek restoration or destruction?

But what of a family, community, or nation? What is in the heart of those who act on behalf others? Does the seed inspire healing and wholeness? Or hurt?

How do you cultivate your heart? What fruits will it bear?

Food for thought

Zaimu Challenge

The Japanese word for mission (shimei) means to “use one’s life.” For what purpose do we use our lives? For what purpose have we been born in this world, sent for from the universe? ~Daisaku Ikeda

Some people spend years seeking, but never really finding, their mission. Others seem born understanding their place in the world. I believe each life, no matter how many breaths allotted on this this plane, is here to accomplish something. Perhaps  some are more fortunate than others in being able to discern (and even work to fulfill) their mission early in life.

When you can’t perceive your mission, you may feel your life is meaningless. But this is false. Reflecting on the events and the nature of your life can provide a window.

Even when, or especially when, your overwhelming experience is pain, you can find a way to use the events of your life to create more peace – for you and for those around you.

This is I think is the key from the statement above. It says “For what purpose do we use our lives?” This implies choice and effort rather than a passive anointing.

You needn’t await permission or a special phone call. You can look at your current circumstances and ask yourself, what can I do where I am, as I am? How can I create value here and now? Your answer may evolve over time, and based on your capabilities. It can be as simple as creating a more hopeful environment at work, or as complex as finding ways to eliminate lupus.

The point is to use your life in a contributive way. In so doing, you can better discern what you can do best; how you can help best.

For what purpose do you use your life today? How will you develop yourself to do even more tomorrow?

The wise will rejoice

Zaimu Challenge

I watched a short video this weekend, and it featured excerpts from a piece by Buddhist philosopher and peace activist Daisaku Ikeda. I haven’t felt anything resonate so deeply in a long time. I quickly jotted down all the words I could remember and then found part of the poem excerpted online:

Morning sky by nicole denise.
Morning sky by nicole denise.

Quietly ask yourself
if it isn’t in fact true
that each of us,
before being defeated by an external adversary,
is first defeated by ourselves.

The weak in spirit,
the cowardly,
even before wandering reluctantly
at the foot of the wall
that towers in their path,
shrink first before the sight
of their own shadow.
Terrified of illusory figures
of our own creation,
we are defeated by the bandits
that infest our heart.

The strong-willed,
the courageous,
are always the conquering masters
of their own minds.
Thus, they fear nothing,
remain unbowed, unflinching.
Whatever occurs,
they live in perfect accord
with the Daishonin’s counsel:
          The wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat.
They know that they themselves
are like that brilliant monarch, the sun.
Shooting bright beams
through the clouds
of impermanence and change,
they advance, heads held high
into the raging tempest.


From Be an eternal bastion of peace in Journey of Life: Selected Poems of Daisaku Ikeda

Puzzle Pieces

Zaimu Challenge

lotus-304976_640If you pursue a question or an idea and are open to the myriad whispering voices in your midst, it’s almost miraculous how you’ll begin to receive information, encouragement, something to bring you closer to understanding.

Almost miraculous, but on further reflection, it seems more of an equation. The first part, of course, is the question itself. The curious mind, the curious heart, desires to know; to understand. If there is no desire, even if the information is close at hand, it remains invisible. Undiscovered. Present, but ultimately useless. It’s a glass of water for one who has no thirst presently, and none approaching.

So a seeking spirit is the first key.

Aside from the question, there’s the matter of receptiveness. This is related to a curious heart, but it’s a separate consideration. Many people express interest in this, that or the other, but due to trauma or maybe ego or the like, they can’t receive. She thirsts. Water is plentiful. But it’s as good as invisible. She cannot drink.

So openness/receptiveness is the second key.

But what of wisdom? It’s of no use to to seek jewels and collect them, never realizing their true value. This is when one foregoes the offered water in favor of something sweeter or bubbly, but ultimately unsatisfying. It may be yummy, but does not quench the thirst. You must be able to discern the truth when it comes, whether you read it in a book, hear it or overhear it in conversation, or simply come to know it in the silences of your mind.

So wisdom must be the third.

I jotted these ideas today over lunch, after receiving a few puzzle pieces this morning. What, if anything would you change or add? 

Artists for Peace

Zaimu Challenge

I think a lot about art for peace and scholarship for peace, and what it might mean to design a sustainable future. Lately it’s been a mostly private investigation, but I may explore these ideas more publicly in the coming weeks.

hancock-shorterToday I want to share a quote from an open letter by world renown artists, fellow Buddhists, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. The letter is meant to inspire and provoke artists, but the encouragement is food for thought for us all. They share 10 points, ending with the hope that we live in a state of constant wonder. They begin with this:

FIRST, AWAKEN TO YOUR HUMANITY

We are not alone. We do not exist alone and we cannot create alone. What this world needs is a humanistic awakening of the desire to raise one’s life condition to a place where our actions are rooted in altruism and compassion. You cannot hide behind a profession or instrument; you have to be human. Focus your energy on becoming the best human you can be. Focus on developing empathy and compassion. Through the process you’ll tap into a wealth of inspiration rooted in the complexity and curiosity of what it means to simply exist on this planet. Music is but a drop in the ocean of life.

Read the letter in full here.

Getting Free

Personal Narrative

It’s such an amazing feeling – freedom. Freedom from my own thoughts of limitation. Freedom from an old path. Freedom from what no longer serves me.

I’ve felt this freedom in recent days, swelling in a joyful crescendo this evening. To celebrate and reaffirm my recent decisions, I started tossing and recycling items long outdated. Tomorrow I get to cart them away.

There’s new space in my garage where anchors used to be. There’s new energy and mental clarity where there was once clutter and dread. It’s wonderful.

Embracing my true self.
Embracing my true self.

Even an individual at cross purposes with himself is certain to end in failure. Yet a hundred or even a thousand people can definitely attain their goal, if they are of one mind. ~Nichiren

Although many quote this passage from Many in Body, One in Mind to highlight the second half, I reference it most often for the first. More than once, I’ve found myself wavering about a decision. I have clear thoughts about where I want to go, but take steps at cross purposes with my own desires. It’s like stepping on the gas and the brake the at same time. You don’t go anywhere, and if you do, it’s a jerky, unpleasant experience.

It’s liberating to choose life over fear. Now it’s time to be who I’ve always said I wanted to be… 

The Ethics of Jazz

Personal Narrative

When I talk about leading through art, one exemplar comes immediately to mind: Herbie Hancock. Many of a certain age are at least familiar with the jazz great, but may not realize the complex ways in which he weaves faith, daily life and art. To that end, I’d like to share the first in a set of his Norton lectures.

Harvard University declares an annual Charles Eliot Norton Professorship of Poetry. Poetry, in this case, is broadly imagined, and professors represent various of the fine arts. In 2014, Herbie Hancock became the first Black American to receive the honor, and he titled his lecture series the Ethics of Jazz. (It’s worth noting here, Toni Morrison is the 2016 Norton Professor and her lecture series opens March 2, 2016.)

Hancock’s opening lecture is titled the Wisdom of Miles Davis. He begins by introducing himself, first by familiar labels – musician, spouse, teacher and friend. But then he posits a question:

What is the single factor that connects all those aspects of me? It’s the fact that I’m a human being.

He goes on to explain that this, being human, is not a trivial matter. He encourages us to make the most of that human experience, and purposely seek a life of expansion rather than stagnation:

Most people define themselves by the one or possibly two things they excel at and are recognized for – perhaps a job or a hobby. There’s a tendency to live inside these self-made walls and not be open to the myriad opportunities that on the other side of the fortress…

To develop wisdom that will foster creativity in every aspect of life, it’s essential to entertain the idea of being open to possibilities. Second, explore how you perceive yourself, and recognize and investigate opportunities that lie outside of your comfort zone.

He continues, moving now to explain his choice of ethics as the foundation of the series. Ethics, he confirms,  is a system of morals:

The study of right and wrong. Good and bad. The wise and empathetic. How we use our power to protect the rights and self respect of all people. It’s how we behave in the world among society – our brothers and sisters. And the values we hold dear and enable us to collaborate and interact with curiosity, compassion and righteousness. Without a moral code, the world would be overflowing with selfishness, apathy, greed, cruelty, environmental problems, violence…

He slows down here to note the irony, and goes on to proclaim our planet is on a slippery slope. Despite this, most people, regardless of race, religion or creed, “want to create ethical societies.”

Over the course of his life, Hancock has connected the values inherent in jazz with his Buddhist faith. He promises to share the lessons he’s learned in this multi-decades long project through autobiographical accounts.

A couple of things to listen out for as you watch this first one:

  • Don’t play the butter notes.
  • Listen to what you can leave out.

What other lessons does he share? What will you apply in your daily life?

Lead Through Art

Personal Narrative

Before my blogging break, I had the wondrous opportunity to attend the Aspen Institute’s Seminar on Leadership, Values and the Good Society. I found the experience a rewarding, albeit challenging one. It stretched me well beyond my introverted comfort zone. (Read my series about it here).

The seminar was geared toward leaders, and I found myself uneasy that I was not a leader in the traditional sense. There was one professional artist – a novelist – in attendance, and she admitted she felt the same. It was something I pondered throughout the experience.

I tend to take labels, categories and rules quite literally. And although I sometimes bend or break or mold things to suit me, other times I allow myself to feel confined and constrained. Quite often, the more constrained I feel, the more likely it is I’ve built the prison myself. In other words, I’m free to be or express myself, but I impose the limitations. It’s a lifelong struggle. In some moments I am able to break through, but others find me longing for true freedom.

I’m working on it.

CCI10142015
Aspen Seminar Cohort

In that setting, I gave up a lot of my freedom and power to external circumstances. I had a sense this gathering was important, that I was somehow lucky to be there and although smart enough to understand the content, not really “qualified” in the technical sense. Classic impostor syndrome: What if they find out I don’t belong?

I know and understand many models of leadership, especially those on an intimate scale. Leadership in a classroom. In a family. In a situation. Still, in this group, I felt as if that wasn’t enough. That maybe, I wasn’t enough.

These were my internal demons. Lies. And yet there I was, chipping away at the lies each moment of the Seminar. Each session found me reframing my internal dialogue, encouraging myself to participate. Reminding myself I belonged. I was leading myself to Truth.

In the closing session on March 8, 2015, we were to handwrite a letter to ourselves, responding to the following questions:

  1. What take-aways do you want to remember?
  2. What commitments will you make to yourself?
  3. What personal goals/changes do you want to make?

The seminar organizers promised to mail those letters six months later, and I received mine right around Labor Day this year. I won’t share all the details, but I will share my closing determination:

Lead through art!

Looking back on the experience, I feel more confident of my ability to contribute in the future. To be myself. To realize that in a room of leaders with highly regarded and diverse experiences, I belong.

Three Poisons

Text Talk

The past couple of days and today especially, my thoughts have turned to the three poisons. They are a subject of daily inquiry as I reflect upon what is good and how to create more of it in society.

In Nichiren Buddhism, the three poisons are greed, anger and foolishness. In brief, greed is the desire for excess – more than one’s share, to the detriment of others. Anger is grounded in ego. It’s the distorted belief (and behavior) that one is better than others, and is often brought on by lack of self-confidence.  Foolishness is ignorance of the true nature of oneself.  It’s unawareness or disbelief in the potential for enlightenment.

Aspen-Meadows-Resort_711428_imageI believe all of what ails society can be traced to one or more of these poisons. Today’s session was on property and efficiency, and featured writings from Plato, Locke, Khaldūn and Bolívar. For various reasons, Bolívar’s Angostura Address was the most impactful for me.  Two lines from his fiery speech:

Hence, legislators, your task is all the more difficult in that you have to reform men perverted by the illusions of error and unhealthy desire. <and>
…purify the corrupted aspects of our republic, denouncing ingratitude, selfishness, coldness of affection for the country, idleness and negligence on the part of citizens, and condemn the causes of corruption and pernicious examples...

In both cases I see the three poisons alluded to as corrupting influences. He seeks to provide an antidote through the reformation of government.

The seminar method of discussing these texts is an interesting one.  Each of the participants pulls out very different things as inspiring, or problematic or food for thought. Our constant task is to make sense of what we’re reading and discern the lessons for leadership locked within.

Tomorrow we continue with a double session. More to come.


Read the next post in the Aspen Seminar series.

On Reading and Pondering Deeply

Freedom Friday, Personal Narrative, Text Talk

Second Sokkai Gakkai president Josei Toda urged young people to read good books and to ponder things deeply. Even though Toda died in 1958, this advice is relevant today and is great encouragement for everyone. And, in fact, is a way to stay youthful despite your physical age.

What makes a book “good” to begin with? Is it informative? Inspirational? Energizing? Does it make you see things differently? Laugh? Perhaps good books do all of these things. Perhaps something else entirely.

books-158066_640A good book enriches me. It nourishes me in some way. A good books speaks to me, even if it’s a psychological thriller with a love story at its center.

A good book is not only worth reading, it is worth rereading. You come to it again to unlock new lessons, discover new images, uncover subtle nuances. It may touch you differently because of who you are this year, or what happened to you last season. Or because you’re finally ready to deal with that twenty-year old trauma. But sometimes you just want to check in on your favorite characters and reminisce about old times.

As for pondering deeply, many  refuse ponder at all, much less deeply. Social media platforms are filled with incoherent ramblings from knee-jerk reactions to hearsay. Some who claim to have researched a hot-button issue have limited their reading to the title of click-bait, which is designed to be sensational rather than informative.

Pondering is slow. Much slower than the skim-swipe-share culture of today. It requires one to engage with one’s brain and with a variety of ideas.

Pondering is dialogue, not declaration.

It is inquiry rather than assumption.

It is research and reflection, not regurgitation.

I wonder if in 2015 we can slow down, read good books and ponder things deeply. Let’s engage each other in conversations (on social media and in real life) grounded in wisdom, thoughtfulness, and respect for diverse views.