Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Step Four on the Eightfold Path

4. Right Action
The second ethical principle, right action, involves the body as natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Again, the principle is explained in terms of abstinence: right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively formulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others. Further details regarding the concrete meaning of right action can be found in the Precepts for Buddhism.
Basically, Right Action, means: don't kill, don't steal, don't be sexually stupid, and don't lie. And, it's way deeper and broader than this. It means living life mindfully, with careful and explicit thought about everything I do, every step I take every single day of my life. Do I do this? No. I work at it. That is my spiritual practice. I am becoming a better person. Practice, practice, practice. Pick up the spider and take it outside -- IF it is bothering me. IF it's going to bite me. Really, a few spiders can live in my house without harm. Those big garden spiders? They belong in the garden. Juicy gossip? Keep it to myself. No one needs to hear that. I try to avoid hearing it myself.
Stealing? Of course not. It also means if I find something, I do everything possible to locate the owner of the lost property. Or give it to someone who is in charge of Lost & Found. Sexual conduct? I could have done better in my past life. I won't talk about now, thank you. Suffice it to say I'm not hurting anyone. Lies? I do my best to adhere to Thich Nat Hanh's training: "Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small."
Have a great day, and please share your own dharma!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Step Three on the Eightfold Path

3. Right Speech
Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however it IS essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently, don't gossip and -- basically: to talk only when necessary.
Everyone knows she shouldn't lie. Everyone knows she should speak in warm, gentle tones and be friendly. Not gossiping is harder than you think. Oh, I don't gossip, you think. I don't talk about people behind their backs. For most of my adult life I have honestly believed that I NEVER engaged in gossip, never spoke negatively about people behind their backs. Then I became a Buddhist. I learned about Right Speech. It was explained to me that to truly honor the intention of Right Speech I should never talk about people at all. Good, bad or indifferent, it was not my place to discuss other people. Not my business. Okay, try going one day in the company of other people not saying one word about someone who is not there. Don't mention your mother, your sister, your children. Don't talk about the bus driver or the guy who cut you off on the way to work. Don't mention the doctor you saw, the cute baby in the stroller who kind of winked at you. What? But that was so cute! What's the harm? I don't know. There could be a hundred reasons you shouldn't mention that baby. I'm a writer and I can think of ten off the top of my head in an instant.
Right Speech is my biggest challenge every day of my life. I want to say bad things about bad drivers. Or slow drivers. Or drivers who don't use their blinkers. Why am I in such a hurry? I always leave in plenty of time. Slow down, de Helen. Breathe. Using malicious words against others -- even if they can't hear me -- means I lack moral discipline. Therefore, I have to refrain from using malicious or harsh words. It helps if I can remember that we all want the same thing in this life: we want love, we want happiness. Taking a deep breath, putting a smile on my face, these things help me maintain my moral discipline. Help me become a better person.
By the way, it's time to check in re the walking and veggie commitment. I have kept my veggie commitment and have slacked off on the walking. I let migraines and rain and cold keep me confined to the indoors. I promise to get back to the walking. Even when it is rainy and cold, when I go out and walk I always feel better about myself. And I also have the alternative of going to the gym and walking in the saltwater pool, or even (shudder) on a treadmill. So I have zero excuse. How about YOU? How are you doing? How will you do this week? I am starting my gratitude list for US Thanksgiving Day this Thursday. You?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Step Two on the Eightfold Path

2. Right Intention
While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.
Last Monday, I wrote about Right View, about keeping in mind how everything is a sentient being, and operating from that point of view, so that I can have compassion for all beings. Remembering that we all suffer, that we all want love and happiness. So this week, I am working on Right Intention. Making sure I keep my commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Let's look at Buddha's three types of right intentions: 1. renunciation. Well, I gave up sugar 7 months ago, and yesterday I allowed myself to fall off that wagon. Why? It was Harvest Potluck. I made a special cake that took me 4 1/2 hours to build from scratch. I ate two small slices, plus I had another garden club member's special dessert. Then I got a migraine which still has not abated, in spite of two doses of meds. Was it the sugar? hm. Maybe it was not keeping my commitment. 2. Resisting feelings of anger. As I was driving yesterday with a migraine, I said (aloud) in the car "I should not be allowed to drive with a migraine," because I was calling people idiots and stupid drivers. They couldn't hear me, but that is no excuse. I was not resisting my feelings of anger. Oh, and it didn't help my headache in the least. 3. The intention to harmlessness...to develop compassion.
I'm always working on developing more compassion. I actually did do a better job of that yesterday, even after I got the migraine.
I hereby declare myself RE-COMMITTED to my intention of renunciation of sugar, in spite of the upcoming holidays. And I will resist road rage. I will have compassion for my fellow drivers. They are not idiots, they are drivers, like me. They may be having a bad day, or a migraine. They all want love and happiness, just like I do. I will keep that in mind.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Barbara Grier, dead at 78

Probably every lesbian author has a Barbara Grier story to tell. I first met Barbara when I was a budding playwright in Kansas City, MO in Actors' Sorority. I was one of the co-founders of that theatre company. Barbara came to show her support, as did most of KC's lesbians. She learned that I was one of the playwrights, and told me that if I ever wrote a lesbian novel to send it to her at Naiad Press, which she had just started with her partner Donna McBride.
I learned from other women in the company that Barbara was well-known, not only in our community, but across the nation. She had been an early leader in the lesbian community. She was also well known for owning every lesbian novel in and out of print. Her personal library was the envy of every lesbian I knew.
Years later I finally wrote that novel, a mystery. Not exactly a lesbian novel, but one I thought all women would enjoy. I sent it to Barbara. She called my house and left a blistering message on my machine. Told me to throw it out and start over. I had just spent 18 months writing this novel. She said my premise was politically incorrect and I would be shredded by animal rights people and there was no hope for it. All this on my machine. I called her. I didn't agree of course. I'm a HUGE animal lover, and something of an activist myself. She was wrong. And I was CRUSHED. Barbara Grier was telling me to toss out my work.
Well, she told me the same thing on the phone, only louder.
I didn't write for months.
But then, I realized I could send it to other publishers and test my theory that I was right, I wouldn't have to start over. I did get the book published. But my heart was broken. I had so wanted to join Barbara's stable. To be published by the great Barbara Grier. Rest in Peace, great Barbara.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Occupy Portland

I'm agitated today. Mayor Sam Adams of Portland has given Occupy Portland a deadline to vacate the two parks (across the street from each other) where they have been encamped. They have until 12:01am 11/12/11. What will happen? Is the protest supposed to end? We all know that is not going to happen. What are the alternatives? Are we supposed to imagine that rich benefactors will provide safe haven indoors for protestors to encamp for the winter where Portland Police will not have to watch over them? Who is provoking whom here? What is happening in other cities right now? What are the words being shared in the inner sanctums on both sides? I so want to know!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sharing my Practice of Buddhism for Eight Weeks

I share a lot of my life here on this blog. I've kept my daily commitment to walking and eating more fruit and vegetables for a solid month now. I hope I've inspired some of you to do the same. I will continue that commitment and will continue to check in periodically to let you know how I'm doing. I look forward to hearing from you here or on Twitter (where I hear from you more often, I have to say!) As of today, I plan to share with you weekly about my renewed Buddhist practice.
If you're curious about Buddhism, you can go to www.thebigview.com for the basics: the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path. There, they will be spelled out for you in detail. Here are the 4 truths in brief:
1. Life means suffering.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

4. There is a path to the cessation of suffering.

The path to the end of suffering is of course The Eightfold Path. The first step on the path is called Right View. Right View means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right view is not necessarily an intellectual capacity, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Instead, right view is attained, sustained, and enhanced through all capacities of mind. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.
So how will I put Right View into action this week? I'm thinking today about the preciousness of all sentient beings. I'm thinking about how last week in NYC two carriage-pulling horses collapsed on the streets. People have been fighting for years to end this needless cruelty, but others find it "romantic" to be pulled through the streets by horses. I'm thinking how thoughtlessly people kill "pests" that do no harm to them, how many animals are "farmed" for their flesh and fur, and it makes me both sad and angry. I look forward to the day when all the meat that is consumed by humans is grown from cells, as is now possible.
I am grateful for all the wonderful human beings in this world who make it their jobs, their passion to save the lives of animals, birds, fish, plants, species of all kinds for today and for the future. I am grateful to share my own life with the world's best cat, Stanton. And to have had the privilege of sharing the lives of so many companion animals over the years. And to be friends with so many more.
I have learned more about unconditional love from animals than from any human being, and I strive every day to be more like Stanton in that way. Greet my loved ones with love, no matter how much they have ignored me today or in the past. Be loving, always. Forgiving, always. Let everyone know when I'm happy, whether they care or not. State my feelings, then get over them. Sincerely over them. Be affectionate. I'm trying to be these things. I have a long way to go to reach Stanton's level of evolution.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Seeing my name in print

I never thought about getting my name in print by editing, but tonight when I went to read the reviews of a book on amazon.com that I edited, there indeed is my name listed as editor. I don't know why I was so surprised except that I hadn't thought about getting credit for my work. That wasn't why I did it. Still, it was a thrill because I really like the book, I think it's smart and funny, and lots of fun. In fact, I think many of the poems, and sayings inside should be plastered on refrigerators, tee shirts, mugs, and bumper stickers across the country. It's possible to actually buy some of them through Cafe Press, and I'm gonna get myself some to have around the house. They won't have my name on them.
If you're curious about the book, it's "SnarkyKu" by Michelle Shy. Delicious, really.