Showing posts with label Buddhism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Buddhism. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Black and White: Talk About Race

You might have already guessed this by observing my rugged self reliance, but to give your suspicions confirmation, I was a Girl Scout from before I started Kindergarden until I graduated from high school.  I didn't belong to a troupe when I was in Phoenix living with my mom for the school years; I only really participated in the summer time while I was living in Salinas with my grandmother, so for most of my childhood, I got to do all the fun summer camp stuff without all the meetings and uniforms and cookie peddling.  I think that's why I lasted so long.

But, I started living in Salinas full time when I was 15, and I finished high school there.  So, around the time of my Junior year, I suddenly found myself trying to sell Girl Scout cookies (for the first time) with my new troupe at a booth in Northridge Mall.

Somewhere along the way, I had seen this old, silent, black & white Girl Scout movie.  I can't find it online, and I don't remember what it was called, but the moral of the story was that all Girl Scouts were sisters.  So when a black girl came up to our cookie booth in the mall and said she'd been a Girl Scout for a few years, I got excited and called her sister.  We chatted for a short while, and after the girl and her friends left, our troupe leader (who was white) scolded me - she was furious that I had called a black person "sister."  I was completely confused and tried to defend myself.  She hissed something at me about how black people call each other "sister" and "brother," and as a white girl, doing the same would look as if I was mocking them.  I was mortified.  I was embarrassed.  I felt like a fool.

After that day, I had a hard time going to Girl Scout meetings.  I felt like the troupe leader and I held each other in suspicion.  Whether it was true or not, it seemed as if she never got over being mad at me for calling a black girl my sister.  And I don't suppose I ever got over being embarrassed for my perceived mistake and angry at how unfair the whole situation was.  After being a Girl Scout for nearly my entire life, I stopped actively participating, and I walked away from the opportunity to earn the Girl Scout Gold Award (Girl Scouting's highest award) in my Senior year of high school.  That same troupe leader said I'd always regret it.  I was never too fussed about awards, so I can't say she was right.  But, I certainly never forgot it.  It's just that, until the moment of writing the above paragraphs, I never really recognized why I stopped going back.

Now I realize that experience left me irrationally afraid to talk about race.   But that's finally changing.  Whether or not that troupe leader saw my heart and knew my intentions were good, I know they were.  In fact, I now know that my innocent "mistake" was far more equalizing than her knee-jerk reaction.

There is a huge problem in the United States.  We never properly healed from the national trauma of slavery and all the other miserable stuff that has come with it over the centuries.  After reading the excellent article by Ta-Nehisi Coates, "The Case for Reparations" (you should read it too), I find myself energized to come out of the closet as a white lady who wants to talk about race relations.  I want to talk about it, and I want to do everything I can to help our country heal these national injuries.

I know from Buddhism, the only way I can do that is to start with myself.

It won't be easy - we're all trained by our society to have certain pre-judgements.  And by "we," I mean everyone - all of us.  In the academic world, these pre-judgements or prejudices are called "hidden biases."  We might think we treat people with equality, but when someone says "doctor," most of us likely assume the doctor is a man.  When you stop to think about it, that's not fair, is it?  That's an example of our hidden bias about doctors.

But I'm not just talking about professions and gender!  I'm sure we can think of all sorts of hidden biases we and our society hold along racial lines.  In fact, I was listening to a podcast last night and heard a great segment about the "Carefree Black Girl" movement - which aims to correct our hidden bias towards seeing black women as either over-sexualized or struggling through massive adversity.  Carefree Black Girl makes a space in our society for images of happy black women, possibly even wearing flowered dresses, riding bicycles, picking daisies...

You (and I) have hidden biases towards certain types of people and against others.  We were trained to have these hidden biases by living in our society, and we can un-train ourselves by understanding our own thought patterns and by being mindful of our own biases and those we observe in others.

If you want to get scientific about it (I know I do!), you can learn more about your own personal hidden biases by participating in Harvard University's Project Implicit study.  It's free.

So, here's my plan: I'm going to take a good look at my own hidden biases and prejudices so that I can root them out and learn to see each person as fairly and completely as I see myself.

This is the first post in what will become a series of posts, written to document my thoughts and experiences around hidden bias and race as a 43-year-old gay white Buddhist American woman living in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, United States of America, North America, Northern Hemisphere, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way, The Universe.  Now you know where things stand.

Here are some flowers from the green roof:

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Paleo update

If you're wondering how our whole "paleo diet" thing is going, I'll tell ya.  It's still going.  I absolutely love it.  I can see in the mirror that I've traded some fat for some muscle.  And my clothes are fitting better.  I wouldn't mind dropping a bit more weight, but I'm not in any rush, and I don't care about it enough to make a big push (such as experimenting with intermittent fasting).  I'm staying the course.  The biggest difference for me is that my thought and hunger patterns have changed.  I rarely find myself mentally eating stuff I shouldn't have, like bread or desserts.  And I'm not negotiating with myself for permission to eat stuff I had told myself I wasn't going to have anymore.  It feels like a strange sort of freedom, and I'm learning what it's like for people who can stop eating when they're full - even if there's more food on their plate.  I am learning what it feels like to be clear of addiction thinking and to listen to my body.

Furthermore, I had a visit with my chiropractor this morning - Dr. Christopher Mango of Mango Chiropractic.  I've been seeing Dr. Mango for a while.  He is the last in a long line of doctors, physical therapists, etc. to whom I had been visiting to treat nerve pain and numbness I had in my hand and arm (history here).   I started out seeing him once a week, and there were times when I would have been happy to see him more than that.  But since getting my sugar levels under control, I can feel the difference in my arms and shoulders as my inflammation reduces.  I'm now down to visits every three months, and my joints feel progressively more oily and flexible.  I've also noticed that my recovery time from hard work is unexpectedly faster.  If you're in New York and have some stuff to work out with your health, I highly recommend visiting Dr. Mango.

Speaking of hard work, I mentioned in my 40 Paleo Days and Nights post that I don't like "working out."  I thought I'd say a couple of further words on the subject.  In my opinion, our lives are full of too much luxury.  We have machines that do almost everything for us, and that's good.  But much of the time, it's TOO good; we're getting flabby.  So then people go to the gym and lift heavy things or climb staircases that aren't there... I say we should do more real work instead.  Take walks.  Do stuff around your house.  Better yet, do favors for people!  When my neighbor's giant fallen tree branch needed to be cut up for our little backyard fire pit this weekend, I spent an hour or two breaking and sawing it into pieces by hand.  It was great!  It was also hard, but what's wrong with hard?  When you're doing hard things, you can always take breaks.  And, then, if you're like me, you can practice the art of determination, because the Sirens always come singing their Song of Lazy, trying to convince you to quit before you're done.  If you persevere, you can make a pretty little wood pile like this:

Besides using mostly hand tools around the house, I cycle commute in dry weather.  Both avenues present ample opportunities to practice patience, focus, and perseverance while allowing me to avoid the gym.  That's Buddhism on the go!

Anyway, it was a lot of sawing this weekend.  Before I started getting my sugar levels and such in order, it would have taken me days to recover.  But I woke up the morning after my sawing project pain free.  Proper diet... exercise in a way that makes the world better... this shit is starting to come together.

Cindy's also still eating mostly paleo, although she bought a box of matzoh for Passover, and she occasionally buys a sandwich or sushi for lunch.  Cindy has never had troubles with food addiction, so she is free of some of the "slippery slope" problems I have, and she can adopt a more "80% - 20%" approach.  She is also keen to lose a little weight, so she's putting a bit of effort into it and restricting her calories.  Cindy is down about 8 pounds from where she started, and she seems to be having a lot of fun.   In addition to challenges, Keiter really likes counting and keeping track of things.

There are a lot of opinions about the Paleo Diet out there - both positive and negative.  As I've said before, we got our start with and Mark Sisson's book, The Primal Blueprint.  But if you're interested in learning more about what we're doing specifically, feel free to ask us questions in the comments below.

P.S. My sincere thanks go to Bernadette, who found and recommended Dr. Mango to me a couple of years ago.  Thanks, sister.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Offering Up A Life Lesson


A Korean scenic designer in college told me that each person could expect 3 very difficult periods in their life.  I mention that he was Korean, because he gave me the impression most Koreans believe this.  I don't think he made it up personally.  It sounded reasonable to me.

In my experience, when a person (or even a whole country) goes through a truly traumatic experience, we can become unusually flexible and adaptable of thought.  When we are in those moments, we can be more open to making lasting changes in our habits and our perspectives.  We face Truth in a way we normally avoid.

If what my Korean friend told me is true, and we really do get 3 exceedingly trying times in our life, 2005-2006 was one of my 3.

In the Spring of 2005, a colleague that I thought was a close friend and whom I loved, turned on me professionally.  It broke my heart and sent me into a tailspin of fear and self-doubt at work.

In the Fall of 2005, I fell in love with a woman who was not my wife.  I'm going to focus more on that in a minute.  In the meanwhile, It is important to me that you know I never cheated on my wife (and, in fact, have never cheated on anyone).  PLEASE NOTE: The wife to whom I am referring is not Cindy.  I was married and divorced once before I married Cindy.  Cindy and I are both on our second - and final - marriage.   Still, the process of facing the fact that I had married for the wrong reasons and wanted a divorce broke my first wife's heart and shook my own sense of identity to the core.

In the Winter of 2005, my beloved grandmother succumbed to Alzheimer's Disease.  To me, Alzheimer's is a slow, unstoppable thief.  I felt robbed.

Twelve days later, my best friend, Aimee, died from cirrhosis of the kidneys and liver.  Her family and I watched her undergo this process for the 4 days that it took.  She was 38.  It was another terrible robbery.

Over the coming months, there were times when I was so sad, guilty, confused, full of longing, and full of grief that I wanted to pee, shit myself, vomit, and cry simultaneously.  It was a desire to evacuate my body until it was as empty and hollow as I felt emotionally.

In the Nichiren Buddhist tradition from Japan, "shakubuku" is the sometimes-forceful process of breaking one's misguided attachments and facing Truth.  The practice can be done to you, or you can do it to yourself.  In historical point of fact, it is used as a method for Buddhist conversion, and I suppose without knowing it, that's what it did to me.  But that's neither here nor there.

A more American perspective can be found under Urban Dictionary's alternate spelling:
And, from there, we naturally come to this scene in the movie Grosse Pointe Blank:

What could be more like a swift, spiritual kick to the head than heartbreak, death, and divorce?

During this time of personal tragedy, I had no spare energy.  I had no spare brain space.  Everything that I had in me was spent on the act of survival - keeping myself (relatively) functional at work, putting one foot in front of the next as I walked down the street, trying to find the stomach to eat...  My feelings were too giant for me to ignore, so I was forced to stop and feel each one as it came and went.  As we say in Buddhism, I was fully present in each moment, although I would never have been able to put it in that context at the time.


The trick is not to waste it.  When you've been kicked, don't ignore it, don't waste your life in ignorance; a kick is a fact.  Kick.  It's the Truth.  The Truth is never not true.  You might as well quit your bullshit and really look at it.  If you look deeply enough, you'll see Truth you've probably been ignoring for a long time.

One of my newly discovered, un-ignorable Truths?  I had organized my life and my career so that I was "Lory The Strong".  I was "Lory The Rescuer".  I was "Lory The Fixer".  I spent so much of my life needing to be needed, seeking approval and validation, I wasn't paying attention to or taking space to express my own needs, aims, feelings.

Let me highlight that for a second:
In many ways, I was purely focused on discovering and care-taking the needs of others at the near-complete expense of my own.  I didn't even know what I felt or needed.

Deep down, I was afraid my own feelings were too big.  I was afraid they would hurt people.  I was afraid expressing my feelings would be seen as impolite or selfish.  I was afraid that by focusing on my feelings, I would disappoint others who needed me.  I didn't understand that care-taking one's self is really the only person you CAN care-take.


The whole construction of my self-identity (who I thought I was) broke open in 2005-2006.  I was married, and I was in love with a woman who wasn't my wife.  You can ignore a lot of kinds of feelings, but love is impossible to ignore or suppress.  I was finally forced to listen to the unspeakable voices in my heart that had been telling me all along that my marriage wasn't right for me.  I knew I had to break the most important promise I had ever made in my life - my wedding vow... When I finally faced THAT Truth, when "Lory The Fixer" wasn't fixing someone else anymore; I was, in fact, breaking and dismantling my own marriage - doing the things I had been most afraid of: hurting someone's feelings, tarnishing my own identity... Well, I realized no other Truth I could face would ever be so destructive, and if I could say THAT Truth - I wanted a divorce - I could finally say any Truth to anybody - even myself.

Bold statement: There is never any benefit to delay when facing Truth.  Now is always the answer.

There were other life lessons from that difficult period, but learning to make care-taking myself my top priority, learning to make space to identify and (when appropriate) to express my feelings, and learning to stop avoiding Truth - those lessons have been the foundation for everything good in my life since that time.


Our apple tree has blossoms for the first time.