Thursday, January 11, 2007
Here's a picture of Maroon Bells at sunset in autumn:
And here's a picture of Maroon Bells in winter:
It's a truly amazing place. The beauty of it, and the amazing scale of the two peaks (each over 14,000 feet), fills me with a sense of humble connectedness with the rest of the universe. I love it. It makes me feel proud to be a Coloradan.
One more picture:
Saturday, January 06, 2007
I took these photos in December 2004 when my husband and I visited the south rim of the Grand Canyon. They do not do justice to the breathtaking scale of the Canyon, but nicely illustrate the principle of impermanence.
Even the earth under our feet is dynamic and ever-changing.
I like the way the band Kansas described it in song:
I close my eyes
Only for a moment and the moment's gone
All my dreams
Pass before my eyes, a curiosity...
Same old song
Just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do
Crumbles to the ground
Though we refuse to see...
Now don't hang on
Nothin' lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away
And all your money won't another minute buy
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
Impermanence and its consequences (aging, death, erosion, disintegration, decay, etc.) are inevitable. Our best strategy is to experience the present moment like wind blowing through your hair, accepting it with open-heartedness and curiousity, then letting it go.
Easier said than done, but a good goal.
Below is an excerpt from a teaching by Pema Chödrön regarding the Tibetan principle of shenpa. If you like it, I encourage you to check out her audiobook called Getting Unstuck. Pema is a wonderful teacher with a down to earth style and a terrific sense of humor.
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Shenpa is the urge, the hook, that triggers our habitual tendency to close down. We get hooked in that moment of tightening when we reach for relief. To get unhooked we begin by recognizing that moment of unease and learn to relax in that moment.
You're trying to make a point with a coworker or your partner. At one moment her face is open and she's listening, and at the next, her eyes cloud over or her jaw tenses. What is it that you're seeing?
Someone criticizes you. They criticize your work or your appearance or your child. At moments like that, what is it you feel? It has a familiar taste in your mouth, it has a familiar smell. Once you begin to notice it, you feel like this experience has been happening forever.
The Tibetan word for this is shenpa. It is usually translated "attachment," but a more descriptive translation might be "hooked." When shenpa hooks us, we're likely to get stuck. We could call shenpa "that sticky feeling." It's an everyday experience. Even a spot on your new sweater can take you there. At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That's the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy and other emotions which lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us. Remember the fairy tale in which toads hop out of the princess's mouth whenever she starts to say mean words? That's how being hooked can feel. Yet we don't stop—we can't stop—because we're in the habit of associating whatever we're doing with relief from our own discomfort. This is the shenpa syndrome. The word "attachment" doesn't quite translate what's happening. It's a quality of experience that's not easy to describe but which everyone knows well. Shenpa is usually involuntary and it gets right to the root of why we suffer...
"Shenpa thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing. We experience this insecurity as a background of slight unease or restlessness. We all want some kind of relief from that unease, so we turn to what we enjoy—food, alcohol, drugs, sex, work or shopping. In moderation what we enjoy might be very delightful. We can appreciate its taste and its presence in our life. But when we empower it with the idea that it will bring us comfort, that it will remove our unease, we get hooked. So we could also call shenpa "the urge"—the urge to smoke that cigarette, to overeat, to have another drink, to indulge our addiction whatever it is. Sometimes shenpa is so strong that we're willing to die getting this short-term symptomatic relief. The momentum behind the urge is so strong that we never pull out of the habitual pattern of turning to poison for comfort. It doesn't necessarily have to involve a substance; it can be saying mean things, or approaching everything with a critical mind. That's a major hook. Something triggers an old pattern we'd rather not feel, and we tighten up and hook into criticizing or complaining. It gives us a puffed-up satisfaction and a feeling of control that provides short-term relief from uneasiness...
"Those of us with strong addictions know that working with habitual patterns begins with the willingness to fully acknowledge our urge, and then the willingness not to act on it. This business of not acting out is called refraining. Traditionally it's called renunciation. What we renounce or refrain from isn't food, sex, work or relationships per se. We renounce and refrain from the shenpa. When we talk about refraining from the shenpa, we're not talking about trying to cast it out; we're talking about trying to see the shenpa clearly and experiencing it. If we can see shenpa just as we're starting to close down, when we feel the tightening, there's the possibility of catching the urge to do the habitual thing, and not doing it. Without meditation practice, this is almost impossible to do...
"The Tibetan word for renunciation is shenlok, which means turning shenpa upside-down, shaking it up. When we feel the tightening, somehow we have to know how to open up the space without getting hooked into our habitual pattern. In practicing with shenpa, first we try to recognize it. The best place to do this is on the meditation cushion.
Sitting practice teaches us how to open and relax to whatever arises, without picking and choosing. It teaches us to experience the uneasiness and the urge fully, and to interrupt the momentum that usually follows. We do this by not following after the thoughts and learning to come back to the present moment. We learn to stay with the uneasiness, the tightening, the itch of shenpa. We train in sitting still with our desire to scratch. This is how we learn to stop the chain reaction of habitual patterns that otherwise will rule our lives. This is how we weaken the patterns that keep us hooked into discomfort that we mistake as comfort. We label the spinoff "thinking" and return to the present moment.
Once we're aware of shenpa, we begin to notice it in other people. We see them shutting down. We see that they've been hooked and that nothing is going to get through to them now. At that moment we have prajna. That basic intelligence comes through when we're not caught up in escaping from our own unease. With prajna we can see what's happening with others; we can see when they've been hooked. Then we can give the situation some space. One way to do that is by opening up the space on the spot, through meditation. Be quiet and place your mind on your breath. Hold your mind in place with great openness and curiosity toward the other person. Asking a question is another way of creating space around that sticky feeling. So is postponing your discussion to another time...
"We could think of this whole process in terms of four R - s: recognizing the shenpa, refraining from scratching, relaxing into the underlying urge to scratch and then resolving to continue to interrupt our habitual patterns like this for the rest of our lives. What do you do when you don't do the habitual thing? You're left with your urge. That's how you become more in touch with the craving and the wanting to move away. You learn to relax with it. Then you resolve to keep practicing this way. Working with shenpa softens us up. Once we see how we get hooked and how we get swept along by the momentum, there's no way to be arrogant.
The trick is to keep seeing. Don't let the softening and humility turn into self-denigration. That's just another hook. Because we've been strengthening the whole habituated situation for a long, long time, we can't expect to undo it overnight. It's not a one-shot deal. It takes loving-kindness to recognize; it takes practice to refrain; it takes willingness to relax; it takes determination to keep training this way. It helps to remember that we may experience two billion kinds of itches and seven quadrillion types of scratching, but there is really only one root shenpa—ego-clinging. We experience it as tightening and self-absorption. It has degrees of intensity. The branch shenpas are all our different styles of scratching that itch.
I recently saw a cartoon of three fish swimming around a hook. One fish is saying to the other, "The secret is non-attachment." That's a shenpa cartoon: the secret is—don't bite that hook. If we can catch ourselves at that place where the urge to bite is strong, we can at least get a bigger perspective on what's happening. As we practice this way, we gain confidence in our own wisdom. It begins to guide us toward the fundamental aspect of our being—spaciousness, warmth and spontaneity.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Although I was just a small child during his presidency and while I did not always agree with his political views, Gerald Ford seems to me to have been a great human being. I believe he did our country a great service in leading it with decency and integrity during a difficult chapter in our history. He was a man of humility and humor, and he will be be missed.
The journalist Tom Brokaw gave a moving eulogy today at Ford's funeral, and I reprint it here because I think it captures President Ford's basic decency and wit. If only more of our leaders were like him...
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Mrs. Ford, members of the Ford family, President and Mrs. Bush, Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, President and Mrs. Bush, President and Mrs. Carter, President and Mrs. Clinton, distinguished guests, my fellow Americans, it’s a great privilege and an honor for me to be here.
For the past week, we have been hearing the familiar lyrics of the hymns to the passing of a famous man, the hosannas to his decency, his honesty, his modesty and his steady-as-she-goes qualities. It’s what we’ve come to expect on these occasions.
But this time there was extra value, for in the case of Gerald Ford, these lyrics have the added virtue of being true.
Sometimes there are two versions to these hymns — one public and one private, separate and discordant. But in Gerald Ford, the man he was in public, he was also that man in private.
Gerald Ford brought to the political arena no demons, no hidden agenda, no hit list or acts of vengeance. He knew who he was and he didn’t require consultants or gurus to change him. Moreover, the country knew who he was and despite occasional differences, large and small, it never lost its affection for this man from Michigan, the football player, the lawyer and the veteran, the Congressman and suburban husband, the champion of Main Street values who brought all of those qualities to the White House.
Once there, he stayed true to form, never believing that he was suddenly wiser and infallible because he drank his morning coffee from a cup with a presidential seal.
He didn’t seek the office. And yet, as he told his friend, the late, great journalist Hugh Sidey, he was not frightened of the task before him.
We could identify with him — all of us — for so many reasons. Among them, we were all trapped in what passed for style in the 70’s with a wardrobe with lapels out to here, white belts, plaid jackets and trousers so patterned that they would give you a migraine. The rest of us have been able to destroy most of the evidence of our fashion meltdown, but presidents are not so lucky. Those David Kennerly photographs are reminders of his endearing qualities, but some of those jackets — I think that they’re eligible for a presidential pardon or at least a digital touchup.
As a journalist, I was especially grateful for his appreciation of our role, even when we challenged his policies and taxed his patience with our constant presence and persistence. We could be adversaries but we were never his enemy, and that was a welcome change in status from his predecessor’s time.
To be a member of the Gerald Ford White House press corps brought other benefits as well as we documented a nation and a world in transition, in turmoil. We accompanied him to audiences with the notorious and the merely powerful. We saw Tito, Franco, Sadat, Marcos, Suharto, the shah of Iran, the emperor of Japan, China with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping all at once, what was then the Soviet Union and Vladivostock with Leonid Brezhnev, and Helsinki at one of the most remarkable gatherings of leaders in the 20th century.
There were other advantages to being a member of his press corps that we didn’t advertise quite as widely. We went to Vail at Christmas and Palm Springs at Easter time with our families. Now cynics might argue that contributed to our affection for him. That is not a premise that I wish to challenge.
One of our colleagues, Jim Naughton of The New York Times, personified the spirit that existed in the relationship. He bought from a San Diego radio station promoter a large mock chicken head that had attracted the president’s attention at a G.O.P. rally. And then, giddy from 20-hour days and an endless repetition of the same campaign speech, Naughton decided to wear that chicken head to a Ford news conference in Oregon with the enthusiastic encouragement of the president and his chief of staff, Dick Cheney.
In the next news cycle, the chicken head was a bigger story than the president. And no one was more pleased than the man that we honor here today in this august ceremony.
When the president called me last year and asked me if I would participate in these services, I think he wanted to be sure that the White House press corps was represented. The writers, correspondents and producers, the cameramen, photographers, the technicians and the chicken.
He also brought something else to the White House, of course. He brought the humanity that comes with a family that seemed to be living right next door. He was every parent when he said my children have spoken for themselves since they were old enough to speak — and not always with my approval. I expect that to continue in the future.
And was there a more supportive husband in America than when his beloved Betty began to speak out on issues that were not politically correct at the time. Together, they put on the front pages and in the leads of the evening newscasts the issues that had been underplayed in America for far too long.
My colleague Bob Schieffer called him the nicest man he ever met in politics. To that I would only add the most underestimated.
In many ways I believe football was a metaphor for his life in politics and after. He played in the middle of the line. He was a center, a position that seldom receives much praise. But he had his hands on the ball for every play and no play could start without him. And when the game was over and others received the credit, he didn’t whine or whimper.
But then he came from a generation accustomed to difficult missions, shaped by the sacrifices and the depravations of the Great Depression, a generation that gave up its innocence and youth to then win a great war and save the world. And when that generation came home from war, they were mature beyond their years and eager to make the world they had saved a better place. They re-enlisted as citizens and set out to serve their country in new ways, with political differences but always with the common goal of doing what’s best for the nation and all the people.
When he entered the Oval Office, by fate not by design, Citizen Ford knew that he was not perfect, just as he knew he was not perfect when he left. But what president ever was?
But he was prepared because he had served his country every day of his adult life and he left the Oval Office a much better place. The personal rewards of his citizenship and his presidency were far richer than he had anticipated in every sense of the phrase.
But the greatest rewards of Jerry Ford’s time were reserved for his fellow Americans and the nation he loved.
Farewell, Mr. President. Thank you, Citizen Ford.