Continuing Faith | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

To accept is easy; to continue is difficult.
But Buddhahood lies in continuing faith.

Nichiren wrote The Difficulty of Sustaining Faith to one of his most trusted disciples, Shijo Kingo. Shijo was being pressured to give up his practice of Buddhism, and Nichiren reminded him that difficulties were predicted in the Lotus Sutra – that he must bear this firmly in mind and remain steadfast.

Although this letter is about maintaining faith in Buddhism, the encouragement is applicable to anyone. Victory lies in never giving up. It requires one to be relentless in her commitment to a task.

How many times do we start something – anything – with energy and verve, only to be to swayed when difficulty comes along? For instance, let’s say your goal is to run a marathon. You’ve found a training plan that makes sense for your level of fitness. You’ve chosen the perfect marathon, one that is bound to have great weather and a relatively flat course.

After a few weeks of training, you need new shoes, but your funds are low. You simply can’t run another mile in your current kicks, and you must put off training until you can get a new pair. Obstacle? Or maybe your training isn’t progressing as planned. You can’t seem to break 10 miles without hitting a wall. Obstacle. Or here it is, a couple of weeks away, and you sustain an injury that will force you to miss your race. Obstacle!

These obstacles must be signs, right? You think to yourself, Maybe marathons are for other people.

Maybe. But the obstacles don’t decide that. You do.

To accept is easy; to continue is difficult.
But Buddhahood lies in continuing faith.

As human beings, we can’t control our environment, our circumstances or the timing of things. The only thing we can control in a given moment is our ichinen – our single-minded determination. For various reasons we might not be able to run the marathon we intended. But we can still run a marathon.

Choosing to strive again another day, even to start all over if circumstances warrant – that’s continuing faith. It may seem more than merely difficult – it may seem Herculean. But the decision to keep moving toward your goal, undaunted by the inevitable setbacks; to keep believing in yourself even in dark times, that, that is enlightenment.

It Counts (TW Sexual Violence) | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

So this happened:

And aside from the fact the man sounds ignorant – he wants to enact laws about pregnancy when he doesn’t know how it works – he qualifies rape. If there is legitimate rape, it must follow there’s such a thing as illegitimate rape. And one wonders what that might be, exactly?

Akin has issued an apology video, trying to make amends for his word choice, yet one wonders if he still believes that some rapes are real, while others, are somehow fake? If only he could express the concept more artfully?

Jezebel documents and simultaneously mocks this dangerous discourse here. Tanehisi unpacks the power and privilege underlying the claims here.

Rape is rape. Full stop.

It becomes a stranger invading. It becomes a thief stealing. That is not intimacy any more. You have changed it. It is something else. It is something brutal and violent and mean…

This is from a much longer work-in-progress. In it, I recount a dysfunctional relationship, echoes of which still reverberate in my consciousness decades later. It’s appalling, really. The idea that such an assault is subject to scrutiny – not on whether it happened, but on whether it was legitimate. Whether it matters. Whether it counts.

It counts.

It counts even though it was not with a stranger. It counts even though the perpetrator was my boyfriend, whom I loved at the time. It counts even though I only show up in the “underreported” statistics because I never reported him. I was too busy trying to convince myself that my feelings were legitimate. That I mattered. That I counted.

And I do.

Stream of Consciousness Monday | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

  • I’m writing for 5 minutes.
  • I’m fixing it up for 5 minutes.
  • I’m posting it.
  • I have no topic in mind yet. I’m just going to start. Right. Now!

This weekend, someone asked me if I were a dancer. I responded yes, but I realized after the fact that I’d misheard the question. I figured it out after I asked her how she knew. “Your physique, and the way you carry yourself. You just look like a dancer.”

I get told that on occasion, but usually during a danceless stretch of time. This is one of those times. I haven’t danced in weeks. I take it as a nudge from the universe I should dance more. So noted.

The first time I was called a dancer, I was stretched out on my living room floor. Friends were sitting around, talking about nothing much, when Iyabo asked, “Are you a dancer?” I found the question strange given my reclined state. “No, but I dance all the time in my head.”

It was true. Over the years I’ve spent what must be hours performing ballet, modern, jazz, or some combination thereof on the stage in my head. I always knew it was “too late” to start dancing professionally, but it didn’t stop me from dancing full-out in my imagination. I vowed to return as a dancer the next lifetime.

“You should dance. It’s written all over you,” she said.

Shortly after that I discovered casino salsa, quite by happenstance. I am not a modern dancer, a jazz dancer, or a ballerina, but I am a casinera!

Heading Home: A Freewrite. | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

Between Dallas and Tampa.

I’m a rebel. I took out my approved electronics before the flight attendant told me I could. Mainly because we had been cruising above 10,000 feet for several minutes and she was past due with the announcement.

As timing would have it, as soon as I began typing, she gave me the official okay.

A baby’s laugh is the best sound known to humankind. Seriously. I challenge you to tell me a better sound. I’m not sure there’s a runner-up either.

Speaking of babies, I love to see men holding them. I’ve witnessed that often in recent months. Sometimes man and baby are with a partner, and sometimes not. I spy them cradling, caressing, tickling, kissing, feeding the little one. I credit feminism (smile).

This weekend has been a long slog in over-air conditioned spaces. Seriously. No, I’m not anemic, but when I’m too cold my fingers turn purple. And it wasn’t just me! Numerous people were hidden beneath fall layers in summertime, shivering all along. Many of us reside in warm climates. We like a bit of cool to temper the heat, but there’s no need to engage in refrigerator mimicry!

My friend told me she juices. No big deal until the bit about not using a centrifugal juicer. She presses her juices and this is, apparently, a superior way of going about it. It is also an expensive way of going about it. An investment, she explained.

I would like a glass of fresh juice right now (and not just because I’m writing about it). Unfortunately, there’s the small, yet inescapable matter of being mid-flight with no juice bar! Shady. I’m all about utopian thinking. I say we imagine airlines with juice bars and see what happens. If Whole Foods begins partnering with airlines, I expect a generous cut of the profits.

When I get home, it’ll be too late to visit a juice bar, and I do not own a juicer, centrifugal, presser, or otherwise. Tragic.

The best thing about being on the west coast was jet lag. It was so easy to wake up at 5 a.m.! My hotel had a comfortable bed, and I enjoyed talking with my roommate about Buddhism and fitness and safe spaces and life, but I am so excited to be on a plane headed home. Tomorrow I shall pick up my cat. I’m sure she will catch me up on all that went on while I was away.

5:49 PT. Midair.

Treasures of the Heart | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

The treasures of the heart can never be destroyed.

Daisaku Ikeda wrote a message to fellow Buddhists and other Tohoku residents whose surroundings were decimated in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. His message included these words, which were meant as both solace and inspiration.

I’m attending a Buddhist lecture this weekend, and the members of Tohoku were used as an example of maintaining faith – the spirit to remain hopeful and cheerful – in the most dire circumstances. Ikeda wrote to encourage them to remain undefeated, even in face of devastation. Now, over a year later, many people have temporary housing and still don’t have jobs, yet they maintain high spirits.

Ikeda’s encouragement was based on this well-known passage from the gosho:

More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are the treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all. From the time you read this letter on, strive to accumulate the treasures of the heart!

Nichiren, Three Kinds of Treasure

As noted above, there are three kinds of treasure elucidated in Buddhism:

“Treasures of the storehouse” are material treasures. They include such things as property and financial wealth.

“Treasures of the body” are attributes that endow our person, such as skills, knowledge, educational background, etc. They also include perceptions that are attached to or associated with us, such as social standing, reputation, position and fame.

We can define “treasures of the heart” as the mental and spiritual capacities to achieve mastery over oneself and to have genuine concern for others. This equates to such attributes as a solid sense of fulfillment, a brightness of spirit, a warm and attractive personality, self-control, conviction, a sense of justice, courage, empathy and compassion.

In the course of daily life, tragedies and mishaps occur, each with the power to demolish material treasures. With financial crises, natural disasters, and the like, houses, cars, clothes can disappear, almost without warning.

When it comes to the treasures of the body, these are more stable, but still susceptible to outside influences. A careless word or action by another can ruin our reputation. An accident, illness, or other obstacles can diminish the functioning of our bodies.

But the most durable, and according to Nichiren, the most crucial treasures, are those of the heart.  In other words, your determination to continue in adversity. Your capacity to care for others in need. Your ability to nurture hope even when situations seem hopeless.

Each of us has the capacity to develop a strong state of life – one that can withstand difficulties with composure and good cheer. I pray that we all strive to amass treasures of the heart. They are the most valuable and indestructible of all.

Off the grid. Writing anyway. | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

I’m off the grid today, and all day tomorrow. My blogging is compromised a bit, but something is better than nothing.

As most of you know by now, I’m participating in Tayari’s WriteLikeCrazy challenge. My goal was to write a minimum of 15 minutes a day toward a goal of 4 hours a week. I also wanted to publish one blog per week. Those may seem to be low goals, but for someone who wasn’t even approaching those numbers, it was a stretch. My underlying goal was to build a writing habit.

Almost at the same time, Aliya invited us to participate in the 30in30 blog challenge, with the goal of writing one blog a day for 30 days. Talk about kicking it up a notch! I decided to do it because the thought of it made me uncomfortable and I’ve been striving to push past my perceived limitations.

Sidebar: that’s also the reason I lift weights – to steadily and tangibly increase what I’m able to accomplish.

As I’ve mentioned before, the daily commitment to publish something has made me prioritize writing in a way I never have. It’s the reason I’m spending my “free time” writing.

I’m at a Buddhist study conference and it’s an all day, all weekend affair. Two-hundred SGI members from North America and Oceania are present including people from the continental United States and Hawaii, Canada, New Zealand, one brave woman representing Barbados, and another representing Palau.

We’ve gathered to learn more deeply about the theory of Nichiren Buddhism and how to apply it in practical ways to improve our lives and society at large. Indeed, at the root of our work is the development of a peaceful society – something not too far afield from a caring community.

Restorative Justice and the Caring Community | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

I’m at a conference, so I’m on and off the grid this weekend. While traveling, I had a short, but productive bout of writing-as-thinking. I decided not to push myself to finish either of the two pieces I started, but they are definitely seeds, firmly planted.

One of the pieces was a follow-up to my post on a caring community. Even now, I’m still thinking about it. It all goes back to love, methinks. I sometimes wonder why love is such a revolutionary act. But why wouldn’t it be? We are submerged in a world of violence. We see violent images on our televisions. We use violent language with people we love. Sing songs with violent lyrics. Think violent thoughts. Send violent energy with looks and gestures.

And then we are surprised when violence appears in more tangible forms. We demonize the perpetrators for choosing violence. For succumbing to violence. For mirroring it.

My statement is not meant to absolve aggressors of their responsibility. I simply would like us, as a community, to acknowledge our complicity.

I believe much begins with a theory and practice of love. I wonder if we can ponder such a thing, rather than dismiss it out of hand. After all, where have hardened hearts and an appetite for revenge gotten us?

That brings us again to the caring community. How to we go about creating it? Or how do we enlarge the caring spaces that exist? Mikhail posed a question this afternoon:

Do abolitionists have an alternative vision for how to respond to harmful behavior? That’s what restorative justice does.

As a newbie, I cannot speak for the community of abolitionists. I’m still investigating at this point. But the idea of restorative justice holds promise:

I will continue to share as I continue to learn.

The Caring Community | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

As a new abolitionist, I often imagine the reasons people might oppose abolition. I hear all the why nots they silently levy. I compose responses to these imaginary rebukes, and in so doing, I look to established abolitionists for guidance.

In Instead of Prisons, the authors note several questions abolitionists confront. Two stand out:

  • What do we do about those who pose “a danger” to society? Don’t we have to solve that problem before we can advocate the abolition of prisons?
  • How can we work for needed prison reforms which require structural change within the society, before a new social order comes about?

Two assumptions seem to underlie these questions. Firstly, we can only work on one thing at a time, and after the attainment of a perfect solution, can we attempt something else. Secondly, abolitionists advocate a thoughtless and rash process by which prisons are torn down and people run, pell-mell, to freedom.

Both of these ideas are false. As explained in the attrition model, abolition is a long-term goal with several allied processes:

  • gradually reduce the current inmate population beginning with extreme sentences,
  • reconsider criminality and decriminalize certain behaviors, and
  • develop alternatives to imprisonment (mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, etc.).

There is little in this explanation about the human rights issues prisoners face. This is purposeful. The abolitionist’s goal is not simply to make prison more humane, but to stop caging except when there is absolutely no viable alternative. I want to state clearly, 2.3 million people behind bars should not suffer cruel and unusual punishment. And I do not see a conflict between supporting human rights and working to abolish prisons. However:

Our goal is to replace prison, not improve it.

But one does not dismantle a prison system without a corresponding change in the societal status quo. Society is as sick as the individuals who often wind up exiled from it. That brings us to a topic of personal import: creating a caring community. Drawing from my Buddhist leanings, I believe this to be the most difficult and simultaneously most important part of a successful abolition strategy.

From the handbook:

Abolitionists advocate maximum amounts of caring for all people (including the victims of crime) and minimum intervention in the lives of all people, including lawbreakers. In the minds of some, this may pose a paradox, but not for us, because we examine the underlying causes of crime and seek new responses to build a safer community. The abolitionist ideology is based on economic and social justice for all, concern for all victims, and reconciliation within a caring community.

How do we begin to create a caring community? Is such a utopia possible?

An Unlikely Pairing | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

Scalzi’s post on a feral kitten made me think of my kitty, Missy.  I am allergic to said cat. More than a few have inquired into the origins of such an unlikely pairing.

I’m not sure exactly when I got Missy. Perhaps around 2004, not long after my mother died.  I had inherited and moved into my childhood home.  An only child living alone before she died, I didn’t feel particularly lonely in this new arrangement. This was irrelevant to my well-meaning coworkers, who seemed to think I needed something to love on.  Plants, pets, a boyfriend. Something.  Plants were not an option.  I wasn’t really a pet girl. I dated off and on, but nothing serious.

But I shared an office with three women with husbands and pets. Three friendly, yet persistent women.  They were determined I’d have one or the other before long. Two of the three had cats, the other, a yip dog, and we all decided that if, for some strange reason, I should desire a pet, a cat would be the way to go.

Cats are self-sufficient, yet entertaining to watch.  They like to mind their own business but they enjoy gossiping and cuddling from time to time, too. On top of everything, they’re self-cleaning!  A cat could provide company without being too consuming.

Michelle, The Cat Broker, was the most determined. Emails about cats needing a new home always found their way to me. There were slide shows of available cats. I was mildly interested, but remained unconvinced.

One day The Cat Broker announced she had found the perfect kitty.  Missy was shy, and often hid in her house of three children and two large dogs.  The family was moving and decided it would be best if they and Missy parted ways. She arranged a trial period.

Test the waters. See how it goes. Turn her back over if catastrophe ensues.

I’ll spare you the long story of us getting to know each other. But I will say I never knew cats could throw punches.

Early swipes aside, we bonded.  Shortly thereafter, my breathing became noticeably labored. A trip to the allergist was in order once I became scared to fall asleep at night. A skin test revealed the news: I was allergic to dust, dogs, and of course, cats.

The thought of giving up my cat made me sad, so I didn’t. And although I did try to about a year later (that’s another story), it’s completely out of the question now.

So there you have it. And here you have us:

Every Tiny Bit | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

I’m proud of myself.

I have written daily, without fail, during the 30in30 and WriteLikeCrazy challenge. Today, I don’t have much to say, yet I remain committed. So here I am, showing up, even though I’m sleepy and am not up to writing any of the brilliant ideas germinating.

I have no harsh words for myself. Only love and congratulations for continuing to forge ahead, one word at a time.

I wish the same for you.

Never for an instant forget the effort to renew your life, to build yourself anew. Creativity means to push open the heavy, groaning doorway of life itself. This is not an easy task. Indeed, it may be the most severely challenging struggle there is. For opening the door to your own life is in the end more difficult than opening the door to all the mysteries of the universe.
                                                          Daisaku Ikeda