Friday, September 15, 2017

A Plea for the Animals

I recently finished reading the book A Plea For The Animals by Matthieu Ricard.  He is a French born Buddhist monk that lives in a monastery in Nepal.  His book is, just as the title says, a plea for the animals.  He talks about the many ways the animal industry harms the environment and harms our health but the focus of the book is how animals are inherently worthy of compassion and decency.

He writes at length about how animals are treated in order to provide for our present day mass consumption of meat.   In the rich countries 80-90 percent of the animals we eat are produced in industrial breeding operations.  We kill approximately 60 billion land animals a year and a thousand billion aquatic animals a year for our use.  And the suffering that is involved in this is immense.  These animals most often, with few exceptions, are living terrible lives and have terrible endings.
Calves are torn from their mothers just after birth, chicken's beaks are chopped off without anesthesia to prevent them from pecking each other to death in their craze induced cramped quarters and pigs, likewise, have their tails cut off for similar reasons as they live their lives in small metal boxes.  This is heartbreaking and hard to write and to read.  And that was just once sentence.  There are pages that could be filled with descriptions of the suffering. There are photos and movies.  We don't want to see it.  We don't want to know about it.  We just want to live like it doesn't happen.  But it does.

Horrible things are happening to people too.  I know this and my compassion is not like a pie that can only be divided among 8 slices and then there is no more.  Just because I care about animals doesn't mean I don't care about human suffering too.  Probably the suffering of humans is more important that that of animals.  Certainly, I believe, the life of a human is more valuable than the life of an animal.  If I am on a cliffside road and a rabbit jumps in front of my car and if I swerve the people in my car die then I am going to hit that rabbit.  But if I have a safe choice then I will swerve.

Not eating animals is such an easy way to significantly lessen the suffering of these fellow earth beings.  It isn't hard at all.  I wish there was such an easy way to lessen the suffering of humans.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the descriptions of animal's intelligence and compassion.  Macaques use human hair as dental floss and when the mother macaques use the floss in front of their offspring they do it longer and slower, evidently, teaching them how to floss.  Chimpanzees,by drumming on trees, tell other chimps where they are, what direction they're going and when they are stopping to rest.  Elephants recognize music melodies and remember them for years.  Crows can judge if other crows know where they have hidden food and if the crow believes his food is well hidden he takes his time in getting it and if not then he rushes to retrieve it.  He makes judgements!  These examples go on and on, including ones of animals showing care to other animals.  Animals feel pain, yes, but they also feel joy and compassion.

We don't want to see.  But imagine if a dog was treated like a pig.  Pigs are just as intelligent if not more so than dogs.  They are loving and playful.  Imagine, if like pigs, dogs were crammed in small cages, abused and killed by the millions.  Would you protest?  Would the taste of that dog bacon be worth it?

I am not perfect.  I don't blame people.  We don't want to see this.  Of course, slaughter houses and egg production facilities and pig houses etc are behind walls, blinded to the outsider.  It is illegal to even show what happens and most people don't want to look.

It's not just the animals that suffer.  The workers at these plants suffer immensely and take these jobs as a last resort.  Like the animals, their voices are not heard either.

We all suffer.  It is too much to look at this.  It hurts too much.  I just don't want to know about it and I want to go along like before.  But the suffering... it continues.   How can I ignore it?  How can we ignore it?

From the Metta Sutta, The Buddha's words on Loving Kindness:
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!

To See and To Love is the name of my blog.  I see what is happening and love in my heart is the answer.  I will love, no matter what I will love.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

In the seventh century, a Zen Patriarch said that to live without anxiety about non-perfection is the key to happiness. I find it enlightening that people were dealing with the same issues in the seventh century as we are now and the statement itself is profound.

How often do we worry about our imperfections?  It is what most of our negative self talk is about.  When I look in the mirror I sometimes think I look beautiful but often I see my wrinkles, my blemishes, the pouch on my belly or other faults and I think if only...  If only I was thinner or younger. But then what?

And we aren't comfortable with our imperfections in so many ways. At work, we may feel we don't measure up. Or as a parent, we may feel we are not patient enough.  As a friend, we may feel we don't fit in.

In the book, Awakening Joy by James Baraz,  he writes that Abraham Maslow, the famed psychologist, states that beyond the need for the basic necessities of food and shelter our number one priority is to feel that we belong.  I think the feeling of belonging and the acceptance of our imperfections go hand in hand. It is hard to have one without the other.  And if Maslow is right that the feeling of belonging is a prime necessity than it follows that we need to learn to love ourself.

Forgiving ourself for not being perfect or not living up to some standard that we ingrained into our psyche is a key to letting ourself be authentic. It is only when we can love our true self, faults and all, that we can feel we belong in our family, our work life,  our friendships and the world at large.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Seeing by listening

A few months ago I was seeing a patient for the first time in my office.  She had on a traditional religious clothing item and she confided to me that she was waiting for marriage before having sex.  She was in her mid to late twenties.  From these pieces of information I, regrettably, made a judgement that she was naive and perhaps uninformed on sexuality issues.  It can be tricky in these situations.  You don't want to assume people know more or less than they do because either way can be harmful to the patient-doctor relationship and therefore to helping the patient.  But I must have insulted her because she came out and told me she wasn't uneducated or stupid because of her religion or background and I shouldn't assume so.   I was flabbergasted, really.  I couldn't help but laugh out loud and apologize too.  I was amazed by her confidence and power in setting me straight.  Needless to say I haven't seen her again.  I am sorry for that.  But I did learn a powerful lesson from her.

The other day I read this in Karen Armstrong's book, Twelve steps to a Compassionate Life; "we may find that if instead of retreating from the stranger and rejecting his insights out of hand, we allow him to change our perceptions, our understanding of our own traditions may be enriched by the encounter and we too may have moments of numinous insight."

On Facebook, I saw a video by an African American woman who declined to attend the Women's March because it didn't feel inclusive to her and her issues.  I can't fully verbalize what her feelings and thoughts were but she moved me to try to understand and to try to listen to other points of view.

And lastly a few weeks back I was in the doctor's lounge at Palomar Hospital.  The TV in the lounge is almost always playing Fox News.  ( the TV in the nurses lounge is never on Fox, by the way).  Anyway, for months it has bugged me but I have never said anything.  This time I did.  "Excuse me" I said, " but why do we always have to have Fox on?  I don't put on MSNBC, couldn't we try CNN or maybe sports?"  The other doctors were agreeable and we changed the channel.  We then went on to have a conversation about politics that was civil and non-threatening. And now, Fox is still often on but occasionally it's not.  

All of these situations illustrate a few things.  First of all, it is powerful to listen.  And it is a lot easier to listen when your viewpoints are not held so closely that it threatens who you are to talk about them or to explore them.  It used to make my heart pound when I talked about what I thought was right or true.  But now, somehow, that has lessened.  I was once afraid to speak up but now I am much less so.  I can't be proven wrong or shamed because I feel right in my heart and am open to hear the other side or many other sides.  If I can see another way that is better, great, and if I find my way is still best, then that is okay too.  

Secondly, I have a lot to learn.  I am seeing that I have biases and prejudices that I didn't realize.  We all do, all of us.  But just as they are learned so can we unlearn them.  That young woman in my office taught me that.  The woman in the FB video showed me too.  I remember as I watched that video my defenses started to rise. That's not me... but then I listened and learned.

The title of my blog is To See and To Love.  I can't tell you how often I think of those words.  We need to see what is happening.  And we can't see it if we are blinded by biases or closed off by fear.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Thoughts on a Rainy Day

A while back I read a quote that said "I am the mountain, not the weather".  It has stuck with me for months.  I repeat it often in my head when I feel overwhelmed with all the feelings and emotions that swirl around me.

I googled the quote and all I could find is a reference to a Christian scholar named Martin Laird.  So, perhaps he said it first.  I don't know and it doesn't really matter.

I imagine the mountain with all the weather that can hit it: storms that blow with lightening and thunder, rain, snow and then suddenly bright blue sunny skies.  It can all happen so fast or then at times it can be dark for days.  But there the mountain sits.  And yes it may be affected a bit by the weather, a rock or two may fall, but essentially it remains the same.  It is what it is despite all that is thrown at it.

I have sat on my cushion meditating and chanting, I am the mountain, not the weather.  It feels good.  So much of spirituality is just remembering.  It helps to meditate just to remember what is true.

I may be feeling sad or upset or even super happy and then my mind interrupts that with a thought of how much I'd like to have a vegan BLT.  One Buddhist teacher, Joseph Goldstein, comments that our minds have no shame.  One minute they can be thinking a profound thought and then the next minute something completely mundane.

Just as the weather changes so do our feelings.  But we are not those feelings.  They are something that goes on around us, they come and go.  And when we are immersed in them it is immensely helpful to remember that they are dynamic.  The sun will shine again.  But, of course, the opposite is true too.

We are the mountain.  Which is not to say we are permanent or even solid.  I think the importance of the metaphor is that we are not the weather.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Loving Kindness in this Moment

The theme of the recent meditation retreat I attended was summed up by this mantra: May I meet this moment fully, May I meet it as a friend.  The wonderful teachers of the retreat laughingly stated about 10 minutes into the retreat that this was pretty much all we needed to know and the rest of the retreat would be just repeating this theme.

When you think about these words you realize how profound they are.

May I meet this moment fully.  In other words, breathe and be here now.  Meeting this moment, I can no longer worry about the past.  I can forget about what happened yesterday or last week or many years ago.  We all hold on to so many memories that don't serve any purpose for us.  I was especially touched by a story one of the teachers told at the retreat.  The teacher was Sylvia Boorstein, a very well known Buddhist educator, who is also 80 years old.  Despite being 80 she could recall in detail a humiliating experience she had in elementary school.  That would be more than 70 years ago!

I think we all have those certain episodes that replay in our mind of when we were embarrassed or ashamed or saddened.  And sometimes elated too.  And it isn't that memories are bad but when they pop up and still create anxiety or sadness then they take away from our contentment with the present moment.

It may not be a long festering memory either.  Often it is what happened yesterday or this morning that we are still fretting about and missing the experience of the moment.  When I went on retreat last week I flew to Oakland and rented a car.  At the rental agency they asked if I wanted to fill the tank myself or pay for a tank ahead of time.  I thought I might not have time to fill it myself so I agreed to pay for the tank.  I wasn't sure but it seemed like it was $40 for the tank.  As I drove to the retreat, I realized I would only be driving a small amount.  I anxiously watched the gas monitor not dropping, ridiculously annoyed that I was using so little gas.  Even at the retreat it kept popping into my mind that I made a wrong choice about the gas!  Finally, at the end of the trip, as I dropped off the car, I mentioned to the woman at the agency that I used less that 1/4 of the tank. Guess what?  She gave me half my money back which it turned out was only $24 anyway.  So I only paid $12 but stressed over it off and on the whole weekend.  It was so silly and I tried to reason with myself to not worry about it or think about it but that didn't work.  What does help?  I'll get to that in a minute.

Meeting this moment, I also no longer worry about the future.  We get swept up by stories of what could happen.  And so often, it doesn't happen like we think it will.  I've mentioned this before but one of my favorite quotes attributed to Mark Twain is "I've had a lot of worries in my lifetime, most of which never happened."

The second part of the mantra, May I met it as a friend, is about love.  May I meet this moment with kindness.  Even if in this moment you are worrying about the past or the future, meet it with love. Be compassionate toward yourself for forgetting to really be here and then take a breath and see what is. To see and to love.  To meet the moment in kindness.  It is all the same.

So it is about being here and now but it is also about how you are in the here and now.  Be a friend to yourself and to others.  Is this moment, whether you are arguing with your spouse, hugging your child, or driving to work, greet the experience with kindness.

I mentioned above that I tried to reason with myself to not worry. I told my self that I was being ridiculous and stupid to worry about the gas tank.  I have learned that "reasoning" doesn't really work.  It is not really nice to chide myself or berate myself for thinking or feeling something.  In fact, what does work is to, wait... you got it... greet it with kindness!  I can say oh hello painful memory, I love you, now I am going to take a breath and be in this moment.

May you meet this moment fully.  May you meet it as a friend.

Monday, November 14, 2016

We Are One

The title of this blog is To See and To Love.  Both are essential.  To see is to be aware, to know, to understand.

This seeing can be internal. Who am I?  What are my deepest desires? What are my unconscious habits?  The questions abound. Some say our purpose in life is to uncover who we really are.  It is in this finding of ourself that we can find freedom.  And it is in this freedom that our suffering lessens.

On the surface, it seems to me, the purpose of life being to find yourself sounds awfully selfish.  However, with more thought, I find that it means to live with more truth.  In so doing, you can express yourself honestly without fear of not being genuine and also without fear of what the response will be. You know who you truly who you are so you can express your authentic self.

The more you know yourself perhaps less time needs to be spent in self-discovery.  This may be why people report being happier as they age.  You express yourself with less fear because you have learned to accept who you are.  You are also more free to put energy in the second part of my title, love.

One meditation teacher writes, "Our full attention is our deepest expression of love."

Seeing can also be external.  Do we see what is happening around us?  The social and political times of late have been scary and sad but also exciting in their potential.  We are seeing so much of what has been hidden.  Yes, we are seeing racism, sexism, and bigotry and under that we are seeing fear.  And how will we answer that?

Just like when we see parts of ourselves that we find unacceptable, it is in giving these issues attention and love that we can evolve.  When you have something inside of you that you don't like, have you ever found hating it more to make things better?  No, it is in loving attention that things change. This isn't something that happens quickly.  Very few are enlightened to the point that there is no more work to be done.  We may go to church or meditate on a cushion or take a walk in the woods but over and over again we witness and then we forgive and we love and we grow.

So, too, in our world we face these ugly truths.  And, as it is with ourselves, we give notice and care to these longstanding problems.  This leads to a path towards growth and change.  It has been said by all the great leaders that love is the answer.  These  outside problems like racism and sexism are complex but if we see them, just as we see our own inner depths,  we can work on them and we can little by little grow together.

We can find ourselves in each other.

And in giving ourselves love and each other the same we will find freedom.  And in freedom we will find peace.

Monday, October 24, 2016

It's okay and I love you

We sure do judge a lot don't we?  It seems like every other thought is a judgement of some sort.  Most days I meditate for 20 to 30 minutes in the morning.  After I meditate I write in a journal an intention for the day.  I also write a few words about a dream I may have for the future and lastly I write 5 things I am grateful for.  What I write down for intention is often words like breathe, present moment, loving kindness or forgiveness.  But lately, I have been declaring my intention each morning as non-judgement.

I write these intentions down but, honestly, I usually forget them as the day goes on.  But since I have been choosing non-judgement daily for the last couple of weeks I have carried it with me through the day a bit more than usual.

For instance, I may be driving and catch myself thinking,"what a f*&**g idiot" and instead think,""he must be stressed and in a hurry, some days that's me,".  Or I may be waiting to buy groceries and a person is taking forever to pay, writing a check and filling in all the details and I think "what the hell is she using a check for? Hasn't she heard of atm cards?" and instead think "it's okay, but really, checks??" Okay, I'm not perfect.

Of course, judging others doesn't just happen in these classic situations described above.  It also happens at work.  In the morning I get a list on the computer of all the patients I will see that day.  It has the patient's name, medical record number, age, etc and it also has the reason for the visit. When I am not mindful I find myself judging how the encounter is going to go just by the little tidbit I know from the description of the visit.  For instance, routine ob is good (easy), pelvic pain is bad (hard), routine gyn exam of a long time patient is awesome(love my patients!) and recurrent vaginal infection for 15 years is horrible (how can I fix it if every other doctor has already tried).

But the amazing thing about this is that most of the time when I actually see the patients that I think are going to be difficult it either is good and satisfying or at least not nearly as bad as I anticipated.  So that judgement really only caused me anxiety and stress and sometimes if I don't let it go prior to seeing the patient it caused a less helpful visit.

Most days now, I say to myself, prior to seeing each patient,"may I be present and may I be of most service to so and so" and I say it for every patient.  It helps me let go of my judgements and be in the moment with the person.

Another concept that has helped me let go of judgement is the phrase 'just like me".  Most of us want the same things, care about the same things.  We may have different ideas on how to get there.  This certainly is apparent during the political season we are currently wading though.  We all want our families to be safe.  We want enough to house and feed our selves and our loved ones.  We want good schools.  We all, I think, even want peace.  So when I am ready to judge someone for their beliefs I think they are "just like me".  It doesn't mean I don't express or fight for the way I think things need to be done but it gives more common ground and more love between me and the other person.  I am not always able to practice this but I like it as a goal.

We judge others and we judge situations before they ever happen.  A famous quote attributed to Mark Twain is "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."

And lastly we judge ourselves.

The funny thing, though, is as I am more aware of my judgements of other people and situations and practice letting these go I find I also have more compassion for myself.  I judge myself less too.  Loving kindness, compassion, non judgement; these spread like wildfire.  The more you practice them the more you have.  It's a sweet phenomenon.

From Tara Brach, "When I am in judgement I am no longer in the flow of grace."  May we all be more in the flow of grace.