Troops on the Ground

by Denise Bike 0 Comments
Troops on the Ground

It’s funny, the things that stick with you. The things that run through your mind at odd moments.

Growing up, my friends and I babysat a lot on weekends. Friday and Saturday nights. My mother, who taught aerobics and racquetball, brokered my gigs with mothers in her classes. It was fun being a part of their kids’ lives as they grew up. As we grew up.

Nancy, my best friend growing up, and I babysat a lot. One girl she took care of called her “Itsy.” There was a boy I babysat whose toddler-speak included “taw-daw-LEE-nee” for tortellini and “boops” for boots. Things like this stick in the mind, re-appearing years later. Like when boiling pasta for dinner.

Other things have a way of creeping into being so gradually as to be nearly imperceptible. For example, I quit television a few months ago. Close to the time the three-month meditation experiment began. My evening meditations were spent calming a brain I’d overstimulated with TV. (“Doc, ever since I began hitting my head with this hammer, I’ve had these horrible migraines…”) The logical thing was to commit fully to meditating and stop watching TV.

I’d quit twice before in my 20s and once in my 30s. Now in my late 40s, I was due. Quitting TV is different in the age of the Internet, though. You don’t need one to watch it. Bit by bit, shows crept their way back into my nightly routine. The Great British Baking Show. The Rachel Maddow Show. Not nearly to the extent they’d overtaken my life before quitting. But, still I cannot currently say that I don’t watch TV.

Another example of incremental steps escalating circumstances imperceptibly. Rachel Maddow did a piece last night about troop deployments in Iraq. She built the story bit by bit. The impact of what she was saying was experiential. She’s skilled at that.

“…sending 300 soldiers to Iraq” 

“…another 475 U.S. troops…” 

“less than a month later … another 1500 more Americans into Iraq.”

News clipping graphics accompanied each statement one by one on the screen. She did a piece similarly about the White House’s recent reluctance to admit to “boots on the ground” in Syria, my mind observed. Over the course of two minutes of her story last night, the screen filled with clippings. Quick math in my mind tallied 3400 troops gradually deployed in the past year. Rachel Maddow then pointed out that this happened under our noses.

“A tacit, steady, undebated, undeclared expansion of this U.S. war effort…”

A big issue built up in such a small and gradual way. Masterfully reported in kind.

Last night, laptop away, I sat in meditation. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I digested that news and other accumulated bits and bobs deluging our lives these days. Incrementally our politics grow increasingly incendiary. Innocent people regularly being killed. Earnest efforts at meaningful change appear thwarted in big and small ways. Tears continued to roll down my face onto my chest. Amelia meowed and took a comforting place on my lap.

Boops. A small voice in my mind offered as a mild relief. Boops on the ground.

A small smile emerged as I kept sitting and the tears kept streaming and I continued to breathe.

Wk12, Day7: The Warrior’s Path

Wk12, Day7: The Warrior’s Path

Aggression has been on my mind. In my heart. With the recent events in Paris and ongoing conflicts taking place throughout the world, how could it not? Thinking about the familiar distorted expressions of power, at times I can become disheartened about my role in making a shift in humanity. I sit at home, with meditation groups, and in local classes meditating, but what difference does it make really to cultivate kindness, self-knowledge, and compassion?

Some days I’m optimistic about the contribution this human makes to the shared pool of humanity. I am one person. Charged with stewarding this being may be as worthwhile and meaningful a cause as all others’. Other days, especially this week, I feel drowned in futility. I imagine myself an ineffectual drop in this deep, wide ocean.

Tonight in KM group, a member shared a reading from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. It’s a book by Chögyam Trungpa. Trungpa created the Shambhala communities of practice found in many large cities worldwide. Last week, I wound up at a dinner with what turned out to be mostly Shambhala Center members. We had a wonderful time. The hostess explained that Trungpa created the centers for people to experience meditation teachings and practices without religious indoctrination.

In his book about the Sacred Warrior, Trungpa wrote this.

“The sacred warrior conquers the world not through violence or aggression, but through gentleness, courage, and self-knowledge.”

This is a new conceptualization for me: one of presence as power.

Presence as power provides a host of alternative choices to the old ways. (Meeting aggression with similar force fueled by vengeance and anger.) Instead, we begin to conceive of meeting distorted uses of power with the substantial strength of presence and the qualities it cultivates. As we meditate, we can re-examine aggression, fear, and anger that arise. Qualities we may normally ascribe to warriors. By sitting with them, they transform. We transform. Into Sacred Warriors.

Wk12, Day6: Offerings

Wk12, Day6: Offerings

The new Pausing Practice (pausing to dedicate an activity to all beings everywhere) has shifted two things. It calls into question the worthwhileness of what I’m doing. It changes the way in which I do things.

I was surprised to realize the extra level of contemplation this new practice would add to my life. It’s a form of presence that deepens my engagement. If I’m going to offer an activity to all beings everywhere—a daunting invitation—it makes sense to consider if that thing is worth doing.

I offer this reading of a gossip magazine article. I offer this second doughnut. I offer this complaining journal rant. Pausing before taking these actions calls into question their necessity. If they have nothing to offer all beings everywhere, why am I doing them?

The other lesson in pausing before acting is an invitation to act with greater intention. If I offer up this phone call I’m about to make to the plumber to discuss his negligent work to all beings everywhere, I’m given pause about how I plan to speak with him. If I offer up this time spent in traffic, will I dedicate frustration and aversion or take the opportunity to be more present during the drive than I’d planned for—a gift the Pausing Practice has serendipitously given.

Including all beings everywhere in each day’s activities brings a new angle to the acts of witnessing and being witnessed. I may be spending my day on my own, but I’m not alone when I dedicate each act to all beings everywhere. We are suddenly brought together in this.

Pausing Practice raises questions of how I want to be in communion with others. What is it that I want to offer? What is it that I’m able to? Much more, it turns out, than I realized before starting this practice.

Wk12, Day5: Human Beings

Wk12, Day5: Human Beings

One of the first days after moving to the Midwest in my late 30s, I was at a stoplight in traffic waiting for red to go green. As I waited, I looked around, reviewing my knowledge of the area. I mentally rehearsed the path to school to the left and the path to the town’s one sangha to the right. It seemed enough time had passed, so I returned my attention to the light.

My car was second in line. The light was already green, but the car in front wasn’t moving. More astonishing to this northeasterner, no one was beeping! We all just sat there, waiting patiently for him to go. Or not. I’d lived in Texas for twenty years, but even polite southerners did not demonstrate this level of charm. So this is the Midwest, I thought.

Last night, driving home from Wild Women Writer’s group, I decided to try letting traffic do what it would. I’d choose a lane and stick with it all the way home. This experiment lasted about four blocks up Connecticut Ave.

Bobbing and weaving and repeatedly choosing the left lane just at the car ahead put on its blinker and jockeying back to the right just as the next car decided to parallel park. Exasperated and only halfway to the beltway, I returned to my original experiment and chose the left lane as my fate. I challenged myself further to note my internal response to not lane-shifting: how I tensed with the thought that someone was getting ‘there’ faster, how I tightened at the idea of each ‘missed opportunity.’ Who was I trying to beat anyway, where was I going that I needed to get there fast, and what was so important when I arrived? No one, nowhere, nothing.

Five minutes later as I neared the traffic circle, the lane I’d chosen was the clear loser. My hard-earned zen dissipated quickly. I hit the blinker and started to nose in to the right. Then I caught myself, took a deep breath, and reclaimed my commitment. This lane was slow, yes, but I had no where to be, nothing to do, no one to see. All was probably well.

And besides, I was only two cars from the circle’s entrance.

I did not think it possible for my lane to go slower until the man in front of me suddenly braked to a full stop and hopped out of his car. What is happening? The car in front of him had done the same, as had the car in the next lane to the right. Can they do that? Who does that? What is happening?

It was then that I saw, to my left on the median, the three drivers together lifting a man who had fallen to the ground after crossing the street. They got him upright and restored his cane beneath him. Assured he was okay, they returned to their cars and merged into the circle.

Washington DC. During rush hour. And there wasn’t one beep.

Wk12, Day4: Hurricanes & Control

Wk12, Day4: Hurricanes & Control

Nearly 40 years ago, Hurricane Belle hit the east coast. My family lived in Connecticut near the Long Island Sound. Afraid of the storm’s damage potential, my parents took us to stay with Uncle George, Aunt Martha, and our cousins Pudgie, Karen, and Pat. Their house was safely inland.

We didn’t know our cousins well; we only visited on Easter. Each year that Sunday, after church we’d head over for what seemed like an interminable visit. They had a grown-up’s house, and we were kids. All the cousins were in high school, but Pat was the youngest, so by default his room became our hangout. Still, there was little of interest: model pieces, a reptile tank, baseball cards most likely.

These days, with kids in the center of their parents’ lives, juice boxes, treats, and toys would have come with us. In those days, we toughed it out.

I was 9-years old back in ’76 when Hurricane Belle descended. It was fall, not Easter, and our worried parents shuttled the family to Uncle George’s for safety. They had a Cape Cod house, red wooden shingles, with punch out windows in Karen’s second story bedroom. I slept on her floor that night, under one of those eaves. I mention this because, although Belle left Fairfield’s seashore relatively unscathed, further inland one large tree crashed down, felling power lines and blocking the street. Right on top of Karen’s room, to be exact. Just to the left of her window.

As much as we try control our circumstances, life has a way of reminding us our mind’s illusions are just that. Breathing in, breathing out, objects tease our attention as they rise into and fall out of awareness. There and gone in a moment, if we choose to release them, just like the illusion of control.