Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Continued Struggle for Gay Rights

I watched a show on PBS recently. It discussed the current situation for gay couples and what they still face here in America, in terms of getting to the point where they can live in a climate of peace.

In more than half of the 50 states, it is perfectly legal to be fired from the work-place for being gay. This is true despite the fact that, according to recent polls, more Americans are becoming more open-minded toward gay rights—a vague notion, referring generally to the right to legalized union between same sex couples, but includes, as well, the appeal to live in the spirit of equality and acceptance, without the prejudice that allows continued hate crimes and discrimination.

So, if more people are moving in this direction, how can it be that a gay woman can be fired for introducing her life-partner as her life-partner at the company cocktail party?

Because most people are simply unaware that this is true, that this can be seen as grounds for dismissal.

The speaker in the televised discussion explained what accounts for the slow, but undeniable move toward tolerance: simply knowing someone who is gay. He went on to explain why it is so important for gays to “be out.” If personal acquaintance plays a notable role in changing general attitudes toward gays and reducing homophobia, then it is imperative that they tell their stories and make it known that discrimination in most social venues, not only continues, but is perfectly legal.

What happens in the backward parts, where people live sheltered lives and don’t and won’t associate with anyone who seems “different?” That’s where social media comes in. Sometimes television really does serve a useful purpose. In programs like Glee and Modern Family, where the central characters are gay, viewers are able to follow the stories of these characters and as in all forms of this ancient art of story-telling, one comes to care about the characters’ lives and about what happens to them. In shows like Ellen, viewers see a vibrant, funny and all-around good person, and because she is open about it, they also see that she is gay.

Familiarity not only enables the viewer to care about the story, which translates into a growing sympathy toward gay issues “in the real world,” but it lessons the aversion many people have toward gays simply because that feeling has been culturally conditioned.

The take-away? Equality comes from people telling their stories. So, gays must come out and tell their stories. Also, TV is not always bad and it’s good that we have shows in which gays are prominently featured.

A Three-Step Portrayal of the Spiritual Journey

This entry presents Father Keating’s three-step portrayal of the spiritual journey.

The beginning of the spiritual journey is the realization —not just the information, but the interior conviction—that there really is a higher power, or, God. Or, to make it as easy as possible for everybody, that there is an Other.

Second step: To try and become the Other.

And finally, the realization that there is no Other. You and the Other are One. Always have been, always will be.

~Father Thomas Keating

On Writing; Like Dumping Bricks

I have had this analogy of writing in my mind for quite a while. I’m finally putting it to print.

The delivery truck beeps as it reverses into what is about to become your new driveway. It lowers its bed and dumps its contents onto the dirt. A mountain of bricks now sits there, in a heap.

It’s like the beginning of a writing project. You first have to put your ideas down freely. In a very real sense, you are unloading. Driven on by the silent ingredient of faith, you are uninhibitedly saying what you want to say, without regard to style and without hesitation. This is important; it means you are not giving in to the temptation to edit, yet. It means you trust yourself enough to let go of the tendency to say things perfectly. You trust yourself enough to get out of your own way. Unloading freely allows you to clarify for yourself what it is you really want to say. Like the bricks, there is an order to writing. The raw material—the words and ideas—must first be dumped before it can be arranged.

After the bricks are laid out, you begin to examine them. What have you got? Where do these belong? And those? You organize them by size and shape, you lay them out, you arrange them properly and you begin building your structure. In writing, this means you now have your raw material. You clarify ambiguities and eliminate vagueness. You move entire paragraphs, you rephrase, you cross out sentences and other bits that are found to be repetitive, redundant or extraneous.

After the bricks are properly arranged, you begin to add decorative elements. An arch, a spire, a well-placed tier. You chisel, you layer, you alternate pieces. You give it rhythm and color. And you clean up all the messy, oozing cement.

In writing terms, it is time to prettify it. You know exactly which points to stress and where to stress them. You doll it up. Or you don’t. You recruit useful analogies or poetic metaphors to give it flair. As a painter uses pigment to create a desired style, tone and mood, language is your medium. And this is where everyone wants to frolic right away, but just as we were told as kids, there’s a time and a place for everything. Trying to decorate too fast would be as absurd as trying to anchor a building’s terrace before laying the foundation for it.

As an aside, following a logical order counteracts what is known as “writer’s block,” which occurs when you get overly concerned with form and style too soon. You’ve got to have building blocks with which to build before you can shape them and polish them—before you can do anything at all.

An Insightful & Honest 10-Day Meditation Journal

One of my students turned in a 10-day journal, chronicling her first sustained attempt at meditation. It was one of their options for a 50-point feature project. This particular journal was penned by a Japanese girl of about 18 years old. She presents such an amusing, accurate and insightful account—with all her struggles and modest rewards delightfully narrated—that I am reproducing it here without edit, as some of the awkwardly translated phrases only add to its overall charm.

First Day.
Sitting still for ten minutes was the toughest thing in meditation. After five minutes, my legs started to feel numb and my concentration faded away. Breathing is what humans do without even realizing, but I could not breathe well when I tried to focus on my breathing. Moreover, I felt difficulty to even hear the sound of my breath. Another thing I realized was that something that never bothers me could really bother me during the meditation. Sounds of people talking, noise of my neighbors, things in nature really tick me off during the meditation. The more I tried to focus, the more I became distracted. During the ten minutes of meditation, my hatred towards meditation grew and I even started to blame the existence of meditation itself. After the meditation, it made me realize how immature I am.

Second Day.
As I expected, today’s meditation was as tough as yesterday’s. During the meditation, I was wondering how I can improve my concentration during the meditation. I know that meditation helps to purify my foul mind, but only disturbing thoughts came up during the meditation. I just remembered what professor said, that people are rushing and rushing. I think this is a necessary practice in the life. To shorten the time makes more time that I can do other things. Therefore meditation gives me more relax and steady.

Third Day.
Still meditation is not enjoyable for me but I believed that I could find something through it. Today I meditated while listening to music from Youtube for meditation. I could relax and hold steady mind. I used to understand what meditation is, but it was so irritating to my existence on the first day. I read the text book to feel Buddha’s spirit more deeply. It said bodies and minds are strongly related. I feel like I understand the meaning of this. For example, we say “pain is from the mind,” in Japan. For example, if someone trod on my foot and the person was who I like, probably I would not mind and the pain would go away soon, but in the case of someone who I hate, I would feel pain longer than in the previous case and with hatred. Moreover, I might give the same back to the person. I felt that I have to practice meditation in order to control my devil spirit.

Fourth Day.
I don’t feel pain with sitting anymore, although sometimes I started thinking and can not focus on being empty and my mind moves around. 10 minutes passes more quickly than before. It may just be my imagination, but I feel I’m able to be kinder to others than I was. Because I can rethink how I am after meditation.

Fifth Day.
On the fifth day, my attitude towards meditation finally became positive from negative. I was willing to start to meditate to find out what kind of outcome I will be getting out of this session. Once I started to meditate, I realized how clear my mind was. To be honest, I was not thinking about anything during the meditation. I was not enjoying the moment nor hating the moment. I was neutral. When I opened up my eyes and checked how long I had been meditating, I found out that I was meditating for 20 minutes without any thoughts. My mind was so clear that I felt like my brains were washed out. My breathing was so natural and smooth that I could not even tell if I was really breathing. I was so happy with the effects of meditation that I finally started to look forward to the next mediation session.

Sixth Day.
I had a bad day at school and I felt like I didn’t want to do anything. I was chilling on the bed all day after school because fortunately I didn’t have any homework for tomorrow. Still, since I continue to meditate, I did so before I go to sleep. Then I came to realize that meditation gives me opportunities to face myself when I become deflated or have an anxiety. At times like that, I tend to escape from the matter and try to get them away from my mind; though I have learned the importance of facing my problems, not turning away from them. My feeling has become great, even though I was depressed before meditation.

Seventh Day.
Period of wax and wane of the moon.
Cycle of period.
Period of revolution of the moon.
Period of rotation of the sun.
28 days.
28th is cycle of the time of the universe. After I meditated, I was just muddling about the universe, and I came up with these. If we live the life according to the rhythm of nature, physical and mental would be healthy more and more. Live along with universal providence. It is beautiful.

Eighth Day.
I did meditate on the eighth day. I felt great and refreshed. By listening to the sound and wind of nature, I realized I was part of the universe. Human beings are not the center of the universe. If everyone can realize that, confusion and worry would be diminished in the world because all human beings are connected by a big bond.

Ninth Day.
I assumed happiness was always felt when we achieve some difficult goal, though actually, it was not. Truthfully, happiness is always nearby; in addition, it costs nothing and is fuss-free. I was meditating for 30 minutes today. Meditation makes me comfortable, and I can see myself from the third person. If I can keep this sense, I would be able to act with making transgressions because I believe people make transgressions only when they can not see themselves. There is really a lot to learn about meditation.

Tenth Day.
Today is the final day for meditating for this assignment. Before I started the final session, I was thinking how far I’d come already. I could not even stand the idea of meditation on the first day, but I was already addicted to the idea of meditation on the tenth day. I was surprised at how clear my mind was before the last session started and how good I felt about my achievement. Finally, I started my last meditation. Everything was going well until I realized the strange noise my neighbor was making. At first, I tried to shut it off and concentrate again. Funny, I could not. After I failed to concentrate, I started to get mad at the noise because it is ruining my precious last meditation session. I was surprised at the fact that I got ticked off so easy again, just like the first day. I was satisfied with my mental growth just before this session started, but here I am acting like myself as I was on the first day. After I finished meditating, I was embarrassed and decided to be more humble. Another lesson taught by meditating. I have to be humble. A lesson is something we are taught by others. It is amazing how meditation can create a lesson out of myself. The lesson is coming from the deep part of my mind. I really think that is beautiful. I am fascinated with meditation now and I will practice meditation more and more in my life.