Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘suffering’

Our Slithery Friends

An excruciating excerpt from Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Sister Bonsai and Abbott Tova were on their hands and knees digging up the soil in the garden to plant some hemp seeds. When Sister Bonsai lifted a rock to make way for the next row, a cobra raised its head and spit in her direction. She fell backwards just in time to miss being hit in the face. Abbott Tova grabbed her arms and quickly pulled her farther away from the deadly snake.

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“Oh my!” exclaimed Sister Bonsai. “That was close.”

The Abbott nodded. “It’s good you’re fast on your feet or should I say rapidly falling? At least you fell in the right direction.”

“Thank you,” Sister Bonsai exclaimed.

“No problem,” the Abbott replied. “I thought we’d weeded out all our slithery friends.”

“Friends? How can you call that awful creature a friend? It almost killed me.”

“They probably thought you were trying to kill them. How would you react if you were sleeping in a cool shady spot under a large solid mass and suddenly the roof was lifted away and a giant shadow hovered over you?”

“You’re right,” Sister Bonsai replied. “I never thought of it like that.”

They both watched the cobra slither away, down towards the gully to find another safe shady area. As they stood and made their way to the shed for the bag of seeds, Sister Bonsai looked puzzled, still a little shaky, and deep in thought.”

“What are you thinking?” Abbott Tova inquired.

“Why were such deadly creatures created and other nuisances like fleas and mosquitoes?”

“They just are. I’m not sure if they were ‘created’ as such, but perhaps existed previously in other forms.”

“And why,” Sister Bonsai continued, “do some animals eat their prey while they are still alive? It seems especially cruel and barbaric.”

“Why does suffering exist?” replied Abbott Tova. “Why is their pain, loss, sickness, discomfort, old age, and death?”

“Those are deep questions Master, but your question does not answer my question.”

“Nor should it,” said The Master, as she scooped some seeds into the bag they were both holding.

“If there are no answers and only more questions, then what’s the use in trying to make sense of anything?”

“Indeed.” Abbott Tova grabbed another spade, as she and her student walked back to the field.

“So, you’re saying there is no need to figure anything out or make sense of the world we live in?”

“As a famous songwriter and activist once said,” The Master surmised, “We’re just sitting here watching the world go round and round.”

“That’s sounds nice, but doesn’t solve any of our problems.”

“He also said, ‘There are no problems, only solutions.’”

“Then what’s the solution?” Sister Bonsai asked.

“Ah, that’s a good question.” Abbott Tova replied thoughtfully. “Here, take this.” She handed the Sister the bag. “Let’s plant these seeds and give them some water.”

More abundant wisdom at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

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Slap the Abbott

A stinging story from Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

images-1A woman who had her crops and family washed away in a flood (which had been caused from a break in the levee, which the government had previously said could withstand any amount of rainfall) came to Abbott Tova for comfort and advice.

“I’ve lost everything,” the woman wept. “I have nothing left.” The Abbott remained silent. “There is no where to go and no one left to comfort me.” The woman continued to cry. The Abbott did not reply. “What am I to do?” After sobbing for another ten minutes, the woman looked pleadingly at the Abbott. “Why did this happen? Why did it happen to me?” Abbott Tova closed her eyes for a few moments, opened them again, and smiled, but did not utter a sound. “Why won’t you say anything? Please give me some words of wisdom, some advice, some hope.”

“I do not have what you seek,” the Abbott finally said. “I cannot dish out false hope or advice and we have no means of helping you. The fact is that we all lose everything sooner or later. In this instance, you have lost the people and things most important to you, sooner rather than later.”

“Yes. Yes,” the woman replied. “I’ve heard The Buddha’s teachings about impermanence and change, but have you no compassion or care? I feel lost and hopeless.”

“Listen to what you are saying. You ‘feel’ lost and hopeless and are ‘labeling’ your experience as suffering and grief. Who you are, who we all are, is but a compilation of elements in temporary co‑operation, with whom we identify as our self, as our ego, our me.”

The woman shook her head in disbelief.

“Okay. Okay,” the Abbott said. “Come here.” She opened her arms and nodded for the lady to come forward. She hesitated. “Come.” The woman arose and fell into the Abbott’s arms, who encircled her with her robe. The woman began sobbing once again. “Now. Now,” the Abbott soothed. “Everything will be alright.”

As Abbott Tova held the woman she spoke to the other sisters in the hall. “This shows how easy it is to get attached to people, personalities, situations, events, and things. I’ve done so myself, many times. If you are mindful however and pay close attention to what arises and passes away, you will see that it is all an illusion, a temporary state that comes and goes. It’s all a dream, make-believe.”

The woman who had lost everything and was being held, had had enough. She slapped the Abbott. Some nuns started to run forward, but the Abbott held up her hand for them to stay put.

“Was that an illusion!” the woman yelled. The Abbott smiled. “Does it sting?” The Abbott’s check had turned red. “If life is a dream and nothing matters than what are we here for?”

The Abbott smiled with a jester’s grin. “Thank you,” the Abbott said. “I was wondering how much longer I’d have to keep mouthing that nonsense before you’d snap out of it.”

The woman suddenly realized that she wasn’t crying any longer, nor feeling sad. Her emotion had turned to that of anger and rage. She backed away from Abbott Tova, bowed deeply, and returned to her flooded land to start her new temporary and illusionary life once again.

More unbearable words of insight: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

The Suffering of Others

Trance of “Unreal Other”
by Tara Brach
From Tara Brach’s Blog
14 May 2014

The truth is: without a genuine willingness to let in the suffering of others, our spiritual practice remains empty.

Father Theophane, a Christian mystic, writes about an incident that happened when he took some time off from his secular duties for spiritual renewal at a remote monastery. Having heard of a monk there who was widely respected for his wisdom, he sought him out. Theophane had been forewarned that this wise man gave advice only in the form of questions. Eager to receive his own special contemplation, Theophane approached the monk: “I am a parish priest and am here on retreat. Could you give me a question to meditate on?”

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“Ah, yes.” The wise man answered. “My question for you is: What do they need?” A little disappointed, Theophane thanked him and went away. After a few hours of meditating on the question and feeling as if he were getting nowhere, he decided to go back to the teacher.

“Excuse me,” he began, “Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. Your question has been helpful, but I wasn’t so much interested in thinking about my apostolate during this retreat. Rather I wanted to think seriously about my own spiritual life. Could you give me a question for my own spiritual life?”

“Ah, I see,” answered the wise man. Then my question is, “What do they really need?”

Like so many of us, Father Theophane had assumed that true spiritual reflection focuses on our solitary self. But as the wise man reminded him, spiritual awakening is inextricably involved with others. As Theophane focused on the needs of those he had been given to serve, he would recognize their vulnerability and longing for love—and realize that their needs were no different than his own.

The question the wise man suggested was wonderfully crafted for awakening in Theophane the true spiritual depth that comes from paying close attention to other human beings.

Like Theophane, whenever we are caught in our own self-centered drama, everyone else becomes “other” to us, different and unreal. The world becomes a backdrop to our own special experience and everyone in it serves as supporting cast, some as adversaries, some as allies, most as simply irrelevant. Because involvement with our personal desires and concerns prevents us from paying close attention to anyone else, those around us—even family and friends—can become unreal, two-dimensional cardboard figures, not humans with wants and fears and throbbing hearts.

The more different someone seems from us, the more unreal they may feel to us. We can too easily ignore or dismiss people when they are of a different race or religion, when they come from a different socio-economic “class.” Assessing them as either superior or inferior, better or worse, important or unimportant, we distance ourselves.

Fixating on appearances—their looks, behavior, ways of speaking—we peg them as certain types. They are HIV positive or an alcoholic, a leftist or fundamentalist, a criminal or power-monger, a feminist or do-gooder. Sometimes our type-casting has more to do with temperament—the person is boring or narcissistic, needy or pushy, anxious or depressed. Whether extreme or subtle, typing others makes the real human invisible to our eyes and closes our heart.

Once someone is an unreal other, we lose sight of how they hurt. Because we don’t experience them as feeling beings, we not only ignore them, we can inflict pain on them without compunction. Not seeing that others are real leads to a father disowning his son for being gay, divorced parents using their children as weapons. All the enormous suffering of violence and war comes from our basic failure to see that others are real.

In teaching the compassion practices, I sometimes ask students to bring to mind someone they see regularly but are not personally involved with. Then I invite them to consider, “What does he or she need?” “What does this person fear?” “What is life like for this person?”

After one of these meditations, a student approached me to report that a wonderful thing had happened since she’d begun doing this practice. When seeing colleagues at work, neighbors walking their dogs, clerks at stores, she’d been saying in her mind, “You are real. You are real.”

Rather than being backdrops for her life, she was finding them come alive to her. She’d notice a gleam of curiosity in the eyes, a generous smile, an anxious grinding of teeth, a disappointed and resigned slope to the shoulders, the sorrow in a downcast look. If she stayed a moment longer, she could also feel their shyness, their awkwardness, or their fear. She told me, “The more real they are to me, the more real and warm and alive I feel. I feel a closeness in just being humans together. It doesn’t matter who they are … I feel like I can accept them as part of my world.”

When we stop to attend and see others as real, we uncover the hidden bond that exists between all beings. In her poem “Kindness,” Naomi Shihab Nye writes:

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

We are all journeying through the night with plans, breathing in and out this mysterious life. And, as my student discovered through her practice , the more we can learn to pay attention to others, and truly see them as “real,” just like us, the more we can allow the “tender gravity of kindness” to naturally awaken and bloom.

Adapted from Radical Acceptance, 2013

Read more from Tara at her blog. TARA BRACH

In Order To Survive

Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide – Part 6 of 6
by Mira Prabhu. 22 July 2013
From Metaphysical & Mundane Musings of a Maverick Female Scribe

My own emotional reactions to perceived suffering—mine and others—were always so intense that I was often paralyzed into depression. By the time I was a teenager, I already knew that in order to survive, I would have to make peace with the patriarchy.

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Random investigations into the nature of reality proved to me that the foul concept of brawn over brain had distorted the collective psyche; everywhere—among rich and poor, educated and illiterate—I saw perverted masculinity. Instead of cherishing their womenfolk, men seemed to want to triumph over them. And by doing so, they smashed feminine self-esteem to smithereens. It was as if their own sisters, wives and daughters were arch rivals to be diminished and trounced. As a result, sexual union was often reduced to the usurpation of the female body, and marriage, in many cases, to no more than a legal form of rape.

To read entire article and series, go to Mira’s blog.

Superb Story and Scribe

0670026638.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_A Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans
New York Journal of Books

“Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being is one of the best novels of 2013—and will surely inhabit that position for years to come.”

However you envision or conceptualize life, you will never see it quite the same once you’ve read this brilliant story. “Brilliant” is a strong and suggestive superlative, but it fits this story like the insistent tolling of a bell calling for one’s attention.

Down to earth and intellectual. Filled with judgments and acceptance, separateness and interdependence. Complicated, yet simple. Ms. Ozeki’s characters question their thoughts, feelings, and actions—even how they respond to suffering. They ask whether their choices and lives make a difference, what is the meaning of conscience, and how to explain the nature of existence—and they do so in the pages of a beautiful tale of families struggling to survive, understand, and share their love.

Ruth, a novelist who lives on an island in British Columbia with her husband Oliver, happens upon a diary she finds in a sealed lunchbox she discovers among some kelp that’s washed to shore. The diary is that of a sixteen year old in Tokyo, Japan, named Nao.

As Ruth begins to read the diary—which describes Nao’s family, her thoughts of suicide, and her close connection with her 104-year-old great grandmother Jiko (who is a Buddhist nun living in the area of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami)—we are pulled into Ruth’s thoughts and feelings about what she is reading as well as its impact on her, her husband, and others living on the island.

Every person, animal, life form, building, city, town, and forest in this story feels real and congruent. You can almost reach into the book and pet the cat, yell at the bullies, shake Nao’s father, hear the wind, see the crow take flight, and feel the ancient, chilly, wooden temple floor beneath your knees as you bow.

There are so many exquisite lines of prose within A Tale for the Time Being, that it is difficult to choose a few that will give readers’ a taste of this sweet, caustic, entertaining, and captivating novel. Nonetheless, here are a few morsels.

When Ruth first reads the diary, she describes the letters. “They were round a little bit sloppy (as she now imagined the girl must be, too), but they stood more or less upright and marched gamely across the page at a good clip, not in a hurry, but not dawdling, either.”

Nao writes of a moment when she is holding Jiko’s hand. “I was still thinking about what she said about waves, and it made me sad because I knew that her little wave was not going to last much longer and soon she would join the sea again, and even though I know you can’t hold on to water, still I gripped her fingers a little more tightly to keep her from leaking away.”

Ruth speaks of time and how it interacts with attention. “At the other extreme, when her attention was disengaged and fractured, she experienced time at its most granular, wherein moments hung around like pixels, diffused and suspended in standing water.”

It sounds like Haiku poetry when Jiko is telling Nao about her son (Nao’s great uncle) who died in World War II. “A single frog croaked, and then another. Jiko’s words dropped like stones into the silence in between.” Jiko explains to Nao (who had told Jiko about it feeling like there were fish flopping around in her stomach when she felt grief or was being bullied) that the loss of her son was like a whale in her gut and she was learning to open her heart so the whale could swim away.

A Tale for the Time Being is more than a lovely piece of literature; it also explores science, philosophy, nature, history, psychology, biology, physics, Japanese culture, and the nature of consciousness. There is also a healthy dose of Buddhism and meditation thrown in with subtle precision integrated into the characters and storyline without dissemblance or force.

Read complete review and others, at New York Journal of Books.

Don’t Turn Away

Every day, thousands of people die and/or are injured, tortured, starved and/or neglected. Thousands of people are also born every hour. Some are people we know personally and most are folks we’ve never met. There is only one of us here on the planet (a living organism), so whatever is happening to another is also happening to us (who we call you and me). It can feel overwhelming.

“I” suggest that instead of turning away or only focusing on the positive and the future, that we take it all in, honor the lives of those presently suffering or dead and give full voice to grieving our losses. It is by honoring and remembering the dead that we can truly be fully alive.

Here are some headlines and information from one day of stories, not including your own. If we are all one, then these stories are about our brothers, sisters, lovers, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and friends. It’s not something to read quickly and then turn away. It’s our family.

Girl Charged with murder in death of baby.

Coroner’s Report: Santa Cruz woman was strangled, beaten.

Police Search For Teen After Woman Shot Killed.

Syria: ‘Six killed’ in Deraa as troops tighten grip
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US tornadoes: Death toll rises as more bodies found.

Fatal Bomb in Morocco Shows Signs of Al Qaeda.

Roadside Bomb in Karachi Hits Navy Bus.

Argentine writer Ernesto Sabato dies, age 99.

Violence in the age of innocence.

UN: Sri Lankan Bloodbath Much Worse Than Government Admits.

Someone to Blame

Someone to Blame by C. S. Lakin (Zondervan Publishing, 2010) Review by Gabriel Constans.

How do you survive and find meaning, when the worst that can happen has happened? What do you do with the memories, visions, pain and suffering that follow you wherever you go, regardless of how many miles you’ve put between the tragedies and your self?

Those are the questions and circumstances facing the Moore family. Mother Irene, her husband Matt and their daughter Casey, make their way to a seemingly sleepy small town on the coast of Northern California called Breakers. The wonderful opening line sums up their feelings. “Irene once heard that if you fell off a cliff in your dream, you would always wake before smacking the ground. If only real life were that merciful.”

What has driven them so far from home and built walls of false protection between them is the loss of their 2 sons (Casey’s brothers Jesse and Daniel). What happened, how and perhaps why, are revealed as the story progresses. Each member of the family carries the burden differently and rarely allows them self to share their fears, grief and sadness with one another, out of self-protection and thinking they are protecting one another. Into the mix comes Billy Thurber, a damaged young man who comes to town and is immediately judged and quartered most everyone in the community for various incidents that occur.

Sheriff Joe Huff, pastor Luis Munez, Irene Moore and her daughter Casey, are the only people who give Billy a shadow of a doubt and perceive the possibility of his innocence. Whether he is innocent or guilty and of which crimes, is cleverly written by Ms. Lakin and leaves one in a constant state of anticipation to see what awaits the reader around the next corner. At one point Irene thinks, “Suddenly, it became clear – that every little action had immeasurable potency, creating a hundred repercussions that could set off any number of events.” Out of fear and helplessness, many members of the community begin to act out and become the very people they are afraid of.

Brief quotes from the Bible are interspersed throughout the novel in thoughts and conversations, as various characters (most notably Irene and Pastor Munez) try to come to terms with events that are spinning out of control, as well as losses which have already occurred. Though Someone to Blame clearly has a Christian bent, it is always within the stories context and never insists that readers’ have the same beliefs. The only questions that may arise in this regard are lines such as, “And sometimes you had to use violence to protect yourself and those you loved. Only society determined which violence was acceptable and which wasn’t.” This reasoning flies completely in the face of Jesus of Nazareth’s words and life of love and non-violent resistance, which some Christians seem to turn a blind eye to when they are justifying the use of violence. It also takes away any responsibility for individual choice and behavior, when it says, “Only society determined which violence…”

Other than the time that Billy says to Irene (while speaking about a broken sand dollar) that, “I’m broken – like this. Stop trying to fix me,” the people and dialogue that inhabit Someone to Blame are well rounded, complex and keenly written. The author’s understanding of the human condition and how we often react to suffering, are insightful and realistic. One of the many moving sentences in the story was, “She (Irene) drew Casey into her arms and released that love, swelling and overflowing, a torrent of need. Her daughter fell into those arms, like falling from a burning building into a safety net.”

Whether you believe in God or not, this inspirational novel is a good temporary salve for one’s daily experience and a beneficial exploration of what can cause our emotional pain to heal and/or fester.

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