The Glass is Always Full

Someone posted this

on Facebook where I saw it recently. I love it. The reason I love it is it perfectly describes the kingdom of heaven for me.

I have a friend who is going through a tough time lately. The death of his wife’s child (his step-son) this summer has widened the cracks and fissures of their marriage until he’s found his way out the door. Things have gone downhill from there. It’s painful, even sitting in the cheap seats where I am, so I can’t imagine the gut-wrenching either of them feels.

In our communications—gosh, I can’t say “talks” because most of it has been texts and private FB messages—I’ve had the opportunity to share some of my beliefs with him. I’m not evangelical by miles but this seemed to be a right season—and that is really what “witnessing” is, isn’t it?—to speak the truth when asked. So I have spoken my truth, as love.

Now, this isn’t any kind of way about counting one’s blessings in the face of stark adversity. That ranks right up there as one of the most unfeeling ways to “console” someone in their time of challenge. The conundrum of the half-full glass has fueled debate that I think is supposed to be about being optimistic or not—your worldview, if you will. Okay, that’s fine as far as it goes, but it’s not very useful in the case of my friend.

We look at situations around us and do the woe-is-us thing because we don’t or can’t sense the other half of the contents of the glass. Our glass is not something that can be empty or full. An omnipresent God is, by definition, all present, right? So where is there a corner (or a glass) for evil to reside in? God created it all and pronounced it all good. At no time did he say it was now bad. The after-effects of Eve’s ego dancing with the serpent and fruit of the tree are described as EXPERIENCES.

God told Adam he would experience the toil of labor to meet his needs. The truth was that God had given them in Genesis 1:29 every seed-bearing plant in the whole earth and every tree bearing fruit. Eve was told that her experience would be desire that would end in the pain of childbirth. The truth was that God was creating mankind (Gen. 1:26). God wasn’t being some ol’ meany-head. He simply laid it out that because they were not convinced of God’s All-ness—all-power, all-knowing, all-presence, that that’s what they would encounter—a world where power would be a struggle, knowledge would be carved out piece by piece through trial and error, and people would cry out to know God as if He were at some far remove. (We know that God never left because He rhetorically asks, “Adam, where are you?” It’s like asking your child, “What happened?” when the cookie jar is in pieces all over the floor. Jesus answers him back…from the cross. Matt 27:46)

The experience of the glass being half-full isn’t the truth. The truth is that molecules of air inhabit the glass above the water surface. When we experience life as half-full or half empty—either way, we’re neglecting the truth. Our glass is always well full. Our experience of it may not be if we rely on ego and its little “r” reality (which is “the world pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth”). I love the idea of it always being full because upper case “R” Reality is always full, good, perfect, not lacking any essential element. Our senses will report either a half-full or, more often, a half-empty orientation, but the truth is that air is a “something.” The glass is always full and can’t be otherwise.

Eve wouldn’t have encountered the “serpent” if her heart had been 100% God-centric. She didn’t recount to the serpent the exact truth; she embroidered it with how they were not to touch it the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God never said. (I guess some would counter that this was Adam’s fault because close reading shows he was told about that way before Eve came along. Maybe that’s why women complain that men never talk enough.). But I digress. Back in our story, the crafty serpent appeared embodying Eve’s doubt and she fell for it, hook, line and tree fruit. She manifested what was already in her heart and mind. She had already decided there was only water in the glass (and she was probably a half-empty-er) long before that serpent slithered up. She didn’t have the truth to tell; she told a story about the truth. The serpent only made that abundantly obvious. Had her glass been full, she would have spoken the truth because that’s all there was.

My friend is clinging to the life raft of his pain and that’s just the way it is for him right now. When it gets too painful, I hope he’ll realize the truth is here for him—apart from suffering, despair and all the rest of it—because those are not our portion from God. The dilemma of the debate about full or empty is not to even notice the air for thinking about water.

(And if you think about the glass symbolically, the water can be thought of as Spirit and the air as the breath of God. So it’s all one thing in the glass really, after all.)

Won’t Catch Me Dead in a Wal-mart

Already the countdown to Christmas has started—at least on Facebook. And one headline today is that ASDA—Wal-mart in the UK—is getting complaints for selling Christmas stuff already. Those people should come over here where Christmas merchandizing starts in July.

You won’t catch me EVER in a Wal-mart, by the way.

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That might seem a bit rash but it’s a decision borne out of facts and experience, versus as some might guess, a quest for good taste. When I worked in a financial counseling office, two employees of different Wal-mart stores needed to file a Form W-5 to be able to collect Advanced Earned Income Credit. Both stores refused to file this IRS form. Both of their personnel offices gave me a ration of it when I called to explain that they needed to accept and file this form for their employees. The experience gave me an extremely bad taste in my mouth. I’ve transcribed Wal-mart focus groups and all I can say, due to my confidentiality agreement, is they know their consumer demographic. My skin starts to crawl when I enter the store and it’s not because of my fellow shoppers.

Beyond what a single Wal-mart store will do to a local economy, does anybody really think those prices come without a cost? Just because it’s a price you’re not paying the simple truth is this: There are NO $4 shirts, folks. Someone in the supply chain—be it underpaid seamstresses, truck drivers who are paid too little and worked too much (how would you like 11-hour days and 34-hour “weekends”?) for what they’re responsible for, the folks in your community who work at your local store, your local retailers who loose their businesses when a Wallie’s comes town, or even yourself when you get lured into store for the shirt and end up walking out with heaven-knows-what-all-else—someone’s paying. Wal-mart customers even financed a $2 million (yes, $2,000,000) legal battle over a $7,000 OSHA fine levied when an employee was trampled to death in a Black Friday stampede at a New York store in 2008. (I guess Wal-mart doesn’t like to pay the cheaper price?) I mean, really?

While not always being upfront about their legal problems, you have to hand it to the Walton family for marketing brilliance, though. Even though any connection or ties are solidly disavowed, let’s look at the timelines for the Wal-mart stores and the television program “The Waltons.”

  • Spencer’s Mountain, written by Earl Hamner in 1961, is the story of the Spencer family in Appalachian Virginia; the first true Walton’s store opened in 1962 by Sam Walton who opened his first store in 1950 as a 5-10 (Five and Dime for those of you too young to remember—kind of like dollar stores now) in a small town in Arkansas. The movie, Spencer’s Mountain, came out in 1963, now set in Wyoming.
  • Walmart incorporated on October 31, 1969; the show aired from 1971-1981 starting with the first Walton family movie—The Homecoming, a Christmas Story, which aired December 19, 1971. The family name is now Walton and are back in Hamner’s Virginia, though in a fictitious town and county. Walmart went public in 1972.
  • The Walton’s TV series ends, 1981; Sam Walton was Forbes’ Richest Man in the U.S., 1982 (to 1988).

The television Waltons are the most squeaky-clean, quintessential American family that was ever conceived of. George H.W. Bush even quipped (1992) that he wanted “to make American families more like the Waltons and a lot less like The Simpsons.” Uh-huh. You go first, George. The rest of us are real people.

Coincidence? Maybe. But, in spite of how roundly the connection is denied, why on earth did they change the name from the Spencers of no fixed address to the Waltons of Walton’s Mountain?

GIGO

A principle of computer programming exists that says, essentially, that the computer is only as good as the stuff humans put into it. Everyone’s heard the phrase: Garbage in, garbage out. Makes a lot of sense, really. Recently, with smart phones and all, I don’t even know is this axiom is still true. It does seem that our computers have minds of their own, if not sentience. But, for now, we’ll assume it’s still true.

A couple of ways to think about this idea are, first, that if you put garbage in, you may expect garbage out. This is probably how most people think about it—what you sow is what you reap. But a second way to consider this is that if you’re getting garbage out, obviously there’s garbage having gone in at some point. This is the mindset of a troubleshooter, the one who’s going to figure out why your computer screen is displaying purple aliens…or not displaying anything at all. To make this more simple, you can’t correctly solve 2+3 if you state it as 2-3, 2*3 or 2+2. Your output is not what you want? Look at your inputs.

It’s this reverse engineering model I want to examine. Reverse engineering is used quite a lot in programming and is sort of related to what Stephen Covey stated: “Begin with the end in mind” only it’s working backward from the end to determine the beginning. The computer geek starts at the unwanted end and discovers what programming bug or glitch is responsible. Reverse engineering is also being used as a tool in patent infringement on both side by figuring out how something works, tweaking it and coming out with a similar product, or by reverse engineering a product to see if someone has done RE with YOUR product.

So how am I thinking about this today? Well, we’re winding down to the autumn months of 2012 here in a few days. The very air is rife with speculation about the end times, the Mayan calendar, civil unrest, personal insecurity. We’re also here in North American heading into another winter of “recession” while more and more people are suffering from the terminal economy. More and more soothsayers predicting things like polar shift, unleashed global warming, bio-terror—the news is pretty much all bad. If you watch the nightly news (which I haven’t since 1984) your head is filled with horror and gloom. Here’s a video to watch if you’d like to become frightened and dismayed by what’s going on.[This isn’t the most terrifying on the Web by a long shot. I refuse to search for that and put it out here.] We all know about the stress of modern life. It’s well-documented, if not well “managed.”

So, if we reverse engineer a world clearly careening to hell in a handcart, and you believe as I do that thoughts are things—when we resolve the “things” around us into thought, we come up with so many people thinking about murders, swindles, lies, and even hatred. And if that wasn’t bad enough, we even pay to have our heads fill with terror when we watch so-called “action” movies and TV shows. With a mental diet such as this, is it any wonder that there is an ever-escalating incidence of stuff to be fearful and worried about?

We say we want peace but how much time do we each individually spend on a daily basis do we spend thinking out, envisioning and loving peace, especially as compared to the time we spend contemplating its opposite. We say we want peace—and this is on one level so true. We are in want of peace. And even when we pray, we pray “for peace” instead of praying peace. The first implies its absence; the latter creates the reality. Praying peace or rain or health or anything else, is the contemplation of the place that quality has in your life and “real”-izing it.

So garbage in—the “terrors of the night” filling our minds and hearts, while outwardly we spiral into a fire pit oblivion. Any coincidence there? I think so. Resist?—heaven’s no! That keeps the terrors in front of you. You’ll be constantly thinking about what you’re resisting, instead of the goal of peace and contentment. You say you want peace—here’s the instruction manual:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. ~Philippians 4:8-9

It’s doesn’t get much more clear than that. What a promise!

Faith

I’m currently reading this book by Robin Meyers. I’ve been taking the Munchkin to various different libraries in our county system to get her summer reading club passport stamped. I picked it up from the New Books shelf at one of the more distant libraries.

This isn’t going to be a book review, mostly because I haven’t finished reading it yet. The main thing to know about the book is that the author is urging a return to the early church—but not the one that has  become mired in the embroidery of history, of Constantine, and of interpretation and tradition.

One idea that Robin Meyers brings out is the tangled knitting box of the words “faith” and “certainty.” I have set myself to unraveling this for myself. I mean, isn’t faith the same as certainty? Doesn’t having faith mean you have a certainty that specific things are true? Or do we actually need to amp “faith” up a notch or two?

Meyers poses that having certainty precludes having faith. If you’re certain of something, you need have no faith in it, he says. “A person who is certain about something is a person who needs no faith whatsoever.” While not a central idea in the book and he doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on it, it’s still an intriguing notion that I’m still chewing on.

“We may not be absolutely certain about them, but we say we ‘believe’ that such-and-such is true.” Now we toss “beliefs” into the mix, as well. Meyers pries “faith” away from “beliefs,” calling the latter the problem in the church, by saying you can believe something to be true as an intellectual assent and so we make our “faith” cheap and easy by confusing the two.

So what is faith? Meyers calls it “a radical form of trust.” He goes on to say it’s the imitation of God. We’ve already thrown out belief—so it’s not the popular “believing in something with no evidence” type of thing. (Who would sanely do that?)  The Merriam-Webster includes words like “allegiance,” “loyalty,” “fidelity,” and I’m challenged to ask myself if these are part of my faith because, while I’ve grown spiritually since I walked the aisle, and “confessed and professed,” I’m not sure these aspects of faith are ones I’ve considered. Now the word gets political and social traction as in “faith-based” this or that.” Here’s something Martin Luther had to say about faith.

“The religion of Jesus is not the same as the religious systems that were later created about Jesus,”–Robin Meyers

The Underground Church touches on these ideas and has challenged my thinking. A lot of what I had been “taught” in church, it turns out was never a part of the ministry of Jesus but later additions. It’s kind of like that whole “God helps those who help themselves” which many people think is iron-clad Bible. (It isn’t. Ben Franklin said it in Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1757) “The religion of Jesus is not the same as the religious systems that were later created about Jesus,” Meyers says. Thoughts, anyone?

Disconnect

kindly refrain from cell phone use

Three months ago I posted here about my cell phone’s imminent demise. In fact, it didn’t die of natural causes. I euthanized it.

At precisely 1:43 a.m., Boost Mobile sent me a text message on that phone advising me to attend to the credit card on the account. It was, in fact, due to expire in 60 days. So I need a message waking me up in the middle of the night? I couldn’t even do anything about it since I hadn’t received my new card in the mail yet.

I don’t know if you, while reading the paragraph above noticed but I got that text in the early morning hours. And, while I know there are reasons to “explain” such an interruption of my sleep, they are none of them valid.

I keep a phone handy at night for two very special reasons. They are my son and my daughter. My daughter lives next door but her house backs to the woods where there have been bears. Bears on decks trashing stuff. Bears, bears. I keep a phone on for a listen in case there’s trouble down the way. And my son is a police officer of recent enough standing that he’s out nights mostly. That’s the phone call I never want to get. So when the stupid phone went off in the middle of the night, I jolted awake wondering which disaster had fallen—not even thinking about the void of despair of Boost Mobile that my credit card might at some future point decline the monthly charge.

When I looked into ways to register my displeasure with Boost Mobile, there frankly isn’t any. Oh sure, you can dial up their number but you’ll be led into a cavernous puzzle of automated menu selections, none of which says “If you’re ticked off at Boost and would like to complain about it, press 9.” “For sympathy, dial 0.”

I went to the Boost Mobile Web site. Now there’s a laugh. They do, in fact, have a place for an e-mail (which most likely goes into some vast ether bin of forgotten digital notes). I would have written one anyway, if only to cool off from their labyrinthine customer service menu, but for the fact of not knowing my four-digit pass code. I simply cannot remember ever having gotten one. I mean, I probably did since a nice friendly place like Boost wouldn’t ask me for it otherwise, but I was shucked if I knew it.

Silly me—I then sallied off to the local Boost Mobile store. That was far less enigmatic as a BIG sign at the door says that they only “sale” Boost Mobile phones. For anything account related, you have to call the number I had already called and cursed. Apparently there have been other less-than-satisfied customers visiting–this was, for me, a consolation in some weird small way.

Upon returning home, I found a Facebook page for Boost Mobile. I poured out my distress in a Wall post. The oh-so-diligent poor soul sent to mind the Facebook that day replied weakly, misspelling my name. Those of you familiar with Facebook will know that your name is RIGHT THERE. When I not-so-serenely pointed this out in a reply of my own, yet another minion of Boost now gave me the brilliant option of turning my phone off at night. I wonder, then, would they reduce my bill by a third, since I have to turn it off so as not to be needlessly disrupted by them?

After a short side trip into a Cricket phone which service is a joke in my particular area, I am now sans cell phone. At first it was a little creepy, but I’m getting the hang of it. I do now, though, have to go get a watch. Do they still make those?

Taking Charge

Published in 1977 by the American Friends Service Committee Simple Living Collective, this book

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has had a profound impact on my life. I had graduated from high school and probably bought it brand spanky new at the bookshop I managed. I’ve dragged this book around through 35 years of life, pulling it off the shelf here and there—to re-read quick passages while a young mother, drinking in longer views and rereads as my children and other changing responsibilities shape-shifted my life. I crafted my outlook on economics, politics and just how one is to live in a society largely based on the queries, analyses and ideas contained in it.

The last portion of the book is devoted to The Shakertown Pledge, which was originated by a group of Friends (Quakers) at a meeting at a retreat center on the site of the restored Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, in response to concerns around global poverty/ecological crises. I typed out my own copy on my old Remington typewriter, inserted a signature line and thoughtfully signed it. I’ll type it out again for you to see:

The Shakertown Pledge

 Recognizing that the earth and the fullness thereof is a gift from our gracious God, and that we are call to cherish, nurture, and provide loving stewardship for the earth’s resources.

 And recognizing that life itself is a gift, and a call to responsibility, joy, and celebration.

 I make the following declarations

 1. I declare myself to be a world citizen.

2. I commit myself to lead an ecologically sound life.

3. I commit myself to lead a life of creative simplicity and share my personal wealth with the world’s poor.

4. I commit myself to join with others in reshaping institutions in order to bring about a more just global society in which each person has full access to the needed resources for their physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth.

5. I commit myself to occupational accountability, and in so doing I will seek to avoid the creation of products which cause harm to others.

6. I affirm the gift of my body, and commit myself to its proper nourishment and physical well-being.

7. I commit myself to examine continually my relations with others, and to attempt to relate honestly, morally, and lovingly to those around me.

8. I commit myself to personal renewal through prayer, meditation, and study.

9. I commit myself to responsible participation in a community of faith.

The world has changed a lot in many ways since I signed this, but things like income disparity, wasteful and downright hateful treatment of the planet, and First World maldevelopment and consumption are still around. Other voices of the time like John Denver have gone. It doesn’t really seem like this book did much to influence the world to “kick the habit” of consumerism and the hubris that lies at its root.

Still, I think the essential message of the book is the inestimable influence of the individual. When I score myself on the Pledge, I haven’t pushed through any legislation, won any pivotal grants, nor have I been responsible for innovation or reshaped institutions. But I do wear simple clothing, support local farmers and businesses, and spend time rereading this little book for that one more shiny nugget that I can put into service. And maybe that’s okay.

Waiting to Inhale

I love my yoga. The local Unity church has yoga sessions a couple of times a week. I especially like the evening one because I come home ready to curl up in bed and so that’s basically what happens. I say I love it but if anyone even told me they’d pay me to stretch, bend, twist, fold and otherwise origami my body, I’d have to pass. But I do leave the mat feeling like a million bucks and you can’t just do that anywhere.

I don’t know much about yoga really, but I have caught on that breathing is a key thing. We begin with breath awareness. I don’t know about you but I don’t actually often think about breathing, preferring to let it do its own thing unless I’m blowing up a balloon or blowing birthday candles, at which time you really start to notice the inverse relationship of the scope of that job compared your aging respiratory capacity. In yoga, though, we are taught to be aware on a critical level about this thing we mindlessly do going on 20,000 times or more each and every day. Exhale doing this, inhale doing this other. Match the rhythm.

Breathing is a fairly complex set of operations, not all of which are completely understood. The chest muscles contract and release in a symphony of air exchange. The diaphragm pulls down and reduces the pressure in the lungs which lets air tumble down the bronchial passage, into the lungs, and expanding out into the tiny alveoli where, as luck would have it, equally tiny capillaries come coursing by with loads of methanol, ethanol, acetone, water and other stuff which depart the vein train and vaporize into the lungs for the final leg of the their trip out of the body. Muscles then contract, essentially wringing the lungs of air. Repeat as necessary.

Last night, Debra, the yoga leader, had us pay special attention to that pause when the exhalation is complete and the whole system goes to all-reverse to inhalation. In that pause when all that bad stuff has left the building, the pressure inside is too high for air to return. The passing blood goes by without so much as a wave, no passengers can be discharged, no oxygen to be loaded for the trip back around the body. There is only the pause and faith that the next inhale will occur. Here there is nothing to do.

I’m sort of at that pause in my life right now. I’ve gone along hardly thinking about how it goes, but right now I can see I’m at that moment.  Some people, situations, and lots of things have been whisked away like a tornado picking up houses and cows in Kansas, as increasing pressure of circumstances and events squeezes them out. I’ll miss those folks and things who are now gone from my life, but I have to guess they were only good for me until they weren’t.  Now it is only their absence that makes the next filling possible. If those things hadn’t whooshed away, it’s an absolute fact there could be no more good air. I’m sure it’s been that way all along. I simply hadn’t often noticed.

Now I’m at that apogee between exhale and the hoped-for inhale. Empty. Expectant. Waiting to inhale.

Everything I Know About Economics I Learned Playing Poker

Back in my young adult days, those carefree days BC (Before Children), some friends and I played an informal poker game almost every week. We’d play all night on a Friday, settle up as the sun was rising and crawl to our beds with our winnings. This went on for a while until children started coming, jobs were too exhausting, mortgages taken out—in other words, we soon enough had less time and little money to play.

The game was a quarter to open, nickel bets—pretty low stakes really but the game was for fun and this was, after all, the late 1970’s. We were mostly in our young 20’s and this level of wager was acceptable to our wallets. My friend’s boyfriend, Josh, served as “banker” every week. It was his house (well, he lived there) and his poker chips and he was insistent. So, okay. Didn’t matter.

Or did it?

During the course of the game, if you ran out of chips, you had to dip back into your wallet, toss it to Josh, and he’d count you out some more white, blue or red plastic disks. When I didn’t have money in my wallet, which was frequently, I was out. At this point, I became the runner for snacks and drinks and simply enjoyed observing the game. This was true of anyone in the game—except Josh. As the game went on, when he was out, he simply grabbed more chips out of the box and said he’d settle up with the bank at the end of the game. His wallet was in the other room or something. Because we trusted Josh as one of us, nobody minded.

True to his word, yes, he settled up at the end of the game—but after many weeks it became apparent that he was usually the big winner. Not that he was that great a player. He was fair—as were we all. Since I was sitting out A LOT (testament to my own card prowess!), I noticed something very interesting.

What really happened was that Josh would be out and out and out again. He “borrowed” countless times during the game—even to bet bigger when he got an especially good hand. What I slowly realized over the course of time, was that his endless ability to obtain more chips meant that Josh was able to outrun the chance aspect of the game and wait out everyone’s ability to buy chips until everyone went out and he “won.” Most of the money that had come to the table, left in Josh’s pockets.

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Oddly enough, this is what happens in finance today. Every time you play by depositing money, taking a loan or using a credit card, bankers get to legally create money where they had none. They get to loan out, theoretically upon promise of interest payments, $10,000 for every $1111.12 in the vault. They’re “banking” on several assumptions: that not all the depositors would ask for the money back at the same time; that borrowers will pay the interest on those loans, and mostly that they control the government (ironically by debt!) that regulates the “fractional reserve system” that lets them create money out of thin air anyway. They produce nothing and that’s exactly what comes out of the banks’ pockets every time they issue a mortgage, a loan or run a credit card company. Instead, an account is created for you. Numbers go back and forth between accounts without anything of actual value being involved. Ultimately, fear of personal (and to a certain extent global) economic collapse keeps everyone running as fast as they can chasing an ever smaller pool of dollars as the mathematics of principal and interest spiral out of control. The cards, however, are in the bankers’ favor since they possess a nearly limitless resource of credit.

In other words, if we had all had Josh pass us chips on our promise to settle up at the end (like he did), players could then say “Oh, silly me. Don’t have it.” Then Joe would have been left holding the EMPTY bag as it were. As it was, we all ponied up and Joe pocketed a lot of money where he only had maybe a fiver on him to start.

If Josh were a real banker and we didn’t pay, he might then whine, “Okay, but you’ll owe me $2 more since I have to do without that money” (more revenue from nothing!) or even hold a gun to our heads, saying, “Pay up or else.” If he managed to frighten us enough, we’d say, “Okay, man, Sheesh! Don’t get all weird,” and go get the money by whatever means. Or we’d ask to play again in hopes that Lady Luck would shine on us this time. In Josh’s game, as in modern “finance,” she’s nowhere around.

Of course, economics is much more complex than this but only in shades of this theme. For more explanation, YouTube “Money as Debt” and watch the movies by Paul Grignon.

*Maybe the names have been changed to protect us all. Maybe not.

The Dalai Lama’s Wardrobe

I was thinking the other day about the Dalai Lama. This simple monk has been the famed Dalai Lama of my 60’s-70’s childhood and youth, and the leader of the Tibetan people since before I was born. He has come to stand for peace and compassion in a world where there is precious little of either. While I’m not Buddhist, I have the utmost respect and admiration for the Dalai Lama as both a leader and spiritual teacher.

Since I wear religiously observant dress, I was curious about what the Dalai Lama wears.  He always basically looks the same with minor variations in headgear—though he favors the visor to preserve his unadorned head which is also symbolic. If you can’t think of what he (and many, many other Buddhist monks) looks like, here he is:

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The robes are dyed from all natural materials and the fabric made from six kinds of natural fibers. There are three parts:  a waistcloth, upper robe and outer robe. The robes can be worn in different ways depending on the occasion and depending on the sect. When seeking alms, for instance, the waist cloth is worn alone or the outer robe is worn around both shoulders. For doing work, the monk would wear the simple configuration of the bare right arm. The outer robe would be more draped over the wearer during ceremonial or traditional occasions.

I was also curious about the colors*, which seem fairly consistent across Buddhism. I had naively guessed that the gold colored upper robe was meant to represent the divine (with gold’s associations with wealth, nobility and prestige) and the maroon outer robe was indicative an earth color. I romantically presumed that the dress was conveying a message about the inner divinity covered by the outward Earth reality. Actually, I had it exactly backward.

Not like my native clay soils here in the Mid-Atlantic, U.S., Asian soils are yellowish in color. However the color is also both associated with death and dying and also, obviously, great wealth. It can also be related to discipline. The dye for this color is made from onion skins. The gold or actually saffron color of the upper robe connects with the earthly existence or experience. The maroon, made from lac and madder root, conveys a fire and victory. The saffron is only a small part of the uniform and almost completely covered by the victorious Reality of the Divine.  In other words, the maroon speaks of our true essential spiritual nature being more than this physical existence.

The robes themselves are practical for protection, for a ground cloth for sleeping or praying, and for decency. They are easy to clean and simple to repair. They are objects of reflection—reminding the wearer both of his connection to the Buddha and a long past heritage and also his vibrant Buddhist community, but also that he or she has committed him/herself to higher spiritual ideals.

The simplicity of wearing a basic robe partly symbolizes the vow they have taken to live a simple life. It is like their “uniform” in a way. A symbol of their non-status that they are no longer partake in the material aspects of society. from The Buddhist Blog

Except for the robe reference, that could be said of Plain people, as well. The clothing we wear matters (ask any teenager!) because it’s individual and it “makes a statement” no matter what you’re wearing. How does your wardrobe convey what you want to be said?

 

*The tiny blue armhole edging on the Tibetan robe is thought to indicate royalty as in a prince or it could be an addition to signify ultimate triumph over Chinese occupation of Tibet.

Sources:

http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhistworld/robe_txt.htm

http://www.khandro.net/tibbud_colours.htm

http://thebuddhistblog.blogspot.com/2007/10/reasons-why-buddhist-monks-wear-robes.html

Hello, Operator….

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My cell phone, at barely two years old, is starting to make “noises” of its impending demise. First, there have been the here-and-there turn-offs. Pick up the phone and there’s nothing but a black screen. Emergency measures include hitting the start/end button several times and, if not successful, an emergency battery-plasty. I think also the sound quality is going on it (or maybe I’m just getting old, too). I caught it downloading a “firmware update” that hijacked the phone for several hours until I cancelled it—so now my firmware is out-of-date, too. It’s only a matter of time, I guess.

I looked on my carrier’s Web site to shop a new phone. Only a few of the phones were what I, in my currently under-employed situation, would even remotely consider affordable. I think most of the people in my family have swqanky touch screens and get apps and their e-mail on their phones and all that so I’m already on an obsolete model. I went on Facebook once on my little dumb (non-smart) phone and about went blind just putting in my status: “I’m changing my status on my cool phone.” I never could see text messages on this stupid phone out in the sunlight, but I guess people are rarely out in actual sunlight so that’s hardly a consideration. It probably didn’t even come up in a focus group.

 In 1995, when my children were in elementary school, our microwave burned up one morning. My daughter had put her hotdog in there, hit the button, and all that was produced was an exceptionally impressive light show. It shut off, never again to cook. The kids were aghast. You WILL be bringing one home tonight when you get off work, right? They were completely flummoxed as to how we would manage to survive without it.

I pondered this state of affairs and summoned the audacity to arrive at home without a replacement model. Heck, I was a single mom at that point and didn’t have the bucks for an unscheduled microwave crap-out to begin with, but I thought I would use this situation to teach my children something about how to live without modern “conveniences.” We would live without the modern marvel microwave for 30 days.

Well, apparently I was the only one who considered it a convenience as opposed to a dire necessity. Self-sufficient breakfasters, they now had not the first idea how to make breakfast unless it was cold cereal (which they hated). This required a few handy lessons in using both the stovetop and the oven. Also avid snackers, they didn’t know how to warm up leftovers and forget about those boxes in the freezer that said, “Microwave Only.” My standpoint that it was food (sort of) and, once thawed, it could possibly be heated in some fashion with the technology on board as it had for millennia, was met with alternating pleas for the new microwave and deadened glares at my hopeless irresponsibility of making them do without. I was told unequivocally that we were not indeed living in the “olden days like you did.” By the time the 30 days were over, however, they could reluctantly heat stuff up and even make popcorn in a covered saucepan. Equally reluctantly, I followed through on my end of the deal and bought the new microwave.

So, now, as my cell phone lies dying, I wonder how many things I don’t know how to do because of it. I know I used to memorize vast listings of phone numbers, and the ones I didn’t know or needed to be community-accessible were on a very much annotated sheet of paper that hung inside the nearest cabinet door to the phone. I used to use the time in the car alone to ponder and muse and also maybe just empty my head. I used to have to sit still and possibly have a cup of tea if the phone reached (yes, this is going way back but no miles of snow trekked to school) to have a phone conversation with anyone. (And we won’t even discuss that I can remember the time of party lines!). I used to have to consult a human being or be resourceful enough to find a pay phone in a emergency. I used to walk over to a friend’s house; now she texts. In my newly formed research project, I have learned that people are now late more often and actually have fewer actual resources available to them because they rely on their cell phones. People even started talking faster when the first phones were introduced. Are we saying anything all that important really?

The saddest thing, though,  I’ve ever seen in my life was a family at Baker Park taking a walk around the lake. The mom was yakking away on her cell phone and so the rest of the family schlumped along silently alongside, looking more like servants or prisoners than husband and children. I once had a conversation with a young woman who averaged her texts each month in the tens of thousands, but who also was amazed that I was crocheting an afghan and asked how I could do that. Well, I guess I don’t spend all that time texting. And even though my current resume lists my cell number, I’m thinking about letting it go. A landline in the house came with the “bundle” for the internet. I hear Skype is pretty cool though I haven’t actually done it. And it would figure—the state where I live is hands-free (no hands-on cell phone use when driving) and I just got a Blue Tooth that broadcasts my calls on an empty FM band on my car stereo.

So, yes, I’m considering joining the dwindling ranks of those without a cell. This phone I have could last until 3:06 p.m. tomorrow or another six months, but I want to have a decision in place. I might just try and go “cold turkey” for a while to see what it would be like. Film at 11.

(I should probably also add that I don’t have a microwave now and don’t miss it.)