Monday, June 27, 2011

How do we see the "other"?

The "other"...

It is truly amazing how the concept of the "other" defines the way we operate in society. It shapes our government, our families, our jobs, our friendships, our financial dealings, the food we buy, the movies we watch, the books we read, etc.

Why do I say this? First, let us look at the word "other":

1 : not being the one or ones first mentioned or included <broke my other arm>
2 : having one come before that is not included or counted : SECOND <every other day>
3 : not the same : DIFFERENT <any other color would be better>

Look at all three ways to see the "other". Is this what the "other" is?

Now we have to ask: who is this "other"?

And here it gets interesting because you can say:
"You are the other"
and I can reply
"No, you are the other."

Let us look at an historical example:

In Boston, before the "Great Famine" or "Irish Potato Famine", there was a certain number of immigrants from Ireland in the city that already included both Protestants and Catholics. Then the tragedy of the famine triggered a massive emigration from Ireland; for a lot of people the choice was to die from starvation or to try to escape from it. Some went to London. Others crossed the Atlantic. In result, the numbers for the Irish population in Boston exploded along with the population of other cities like New York and Chicago. Many of these new Irish immigrants were Catholic, poor and did not speak English.

Does this situation sound familiar?  They were the "other".

But is that what the "other" is all about? Is it just a matter of where I come from, the language I speak, the faith (or lack of it) I have, what 'side of the tracks' I come from?

Well, sometimes the "other" can be the Democrat on television and one of us may yell: "liberal idiot".
The "other" can be the Republican on the radio and one of us may grunt: "conservative moron".

Maybe the "other" is closer to home: a family member that you do not speak to anymore or an ex-husband, an ex-girlfriend, an ex-lover, etc.

And yet, the "other" does not have to be someone you perceive as an adversary...

The "other" can also be the teacher that believes in you.
The "other" can be a friend that gave you a ride when your car broke down.
The "other" can be the stranger that calls 911 when your house is on fire.

So when we meet the "other", what should we do?

I would like to share the following from the French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, as he himself was once 'the other' in a most extreme and terrible way when he was a prisoner of the Nazis during WWII:

To approach the 'Other' in conversation is to welcome his expression, in which at each instant he overflows the idea a thought would carry away from it. It is therefore to receive from the 'Other' beyond the capacity of the 'I', which means exactly: to have the idea of infinity. But this also means: to be taught.

Do not be afraid of the "other".

Perhaps you have something to teach him...
Perhaps she has something to teach you...

Monday, June 20, 2011

My daughter gave me a present for Father's Day :)

Yesterday was Father's Day. And so, presents, cards and other things were given as part of this day across the land...and my little girl gave me the perfect gift.

She called to wish me a happy Father's day, and as we were talking about a few things she said:
"Hey Daddy, you know what?"
"What's that?", I asked.
She said: "I love you and I miss you very much."

The power of words, the power of words...

Truly, a few words can make a difference and can cause an impact in such a way that material things can't even compare. Now, don't get me wrong. I like getting material gifts and I live giving material gifts.

Perhaps some you (received or gave) an Xbox 360, a book, tools, a gift certificate for a favorite store, etc. Maybe it was simple card.

As human beings we interact with the material things in this material world, and there are good things in this world. Sometimes it breaks my heart to see religious leaders saying how this world is an evil place. This is very tragic.

To disregard and/or condemn our world as evil is to fall back into a Manichean/Gnostic view of the world; true, there are things in this world that cause many of us to suffer but that does not make the world an evil place.

Just like a person in physical pain receives an important medicine to either ease the pain or combat the source of that pain, I believe many of us (sometimes in our darkest times) can recall a moment when we were angry or sad and a few words, if only for an instance, took away our pain.

The power of words...

There is something about words that reaches us to a level that material things cannot, in the same way as music, and other arts transcend the domain of the material world.

To hear those words from my little girl yesterday well, it's hard to describe. All I know, is that my daughter gave me the perfect gift for Father's Day, and I will never forget it.

Happy Father's Day to all (yes I will say it today too) including. The same goes to all non-biological parents, including unmarried couples and all human beings that decide to open their hearts and homes to children every day with love.

With all my heart I say to all of you, thank you.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

To recognize happiness...

All of us have problems and all of us have/will suffer during our lives. Yet, sometimes we forget those moments when we are happy.

I am not saying that I welcome suffering, but rather I have to force myself to go back to my mental hard drive and recall those moments when I was in pain, and then later I was happy. The trick, the rub or whatever you want to call it is to be aware, mindful and to remember to do that. 

No, is not easy, believe me I know...yet sometimes it is possible. :)

I have included two postings below. The first was taken from a talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh (Buddhist monk, writer and teacher) where he speaks about suffering and happiness. The second was taken from "Transforming Suffering" by Father Thomas Keating (Trappist monk and priest with the Order of the Cistercians), a founding member of the "Centering Prayer Movement" that developed a contemporary method of contemplative prayer.


"There are times when we are very sick, we are not allowed to get up and to go out, and we are too weak to do so. We are confined to our room, in the hospital or at home, and we know that the morning is very beautiful. The birds are singing, but our condition is not good enough. We have no strength in order to go out and enjoy the sunshine and the birds. We are confined to bed for ten days or twenty days, and our deepest wish is that we get well so that we can open the door and walk out into the garden and enjoy everything there.

Now, as we are not sick, we are not confined to our bed in hospital, we have the freedom and the happiness of going out, walking in our garden, recognizing every tree, every bush of flowers, and making beautiful and peaceful steps, touching the beauties of life around us, but we don’t enjoy, we don’t remember that we enjoy health, we enjoy solid feet, we enjoy our lungs, and if we think of the time when we were very sick, when we wished very much to go out for a walk in the garden, then suddenly we feel happy, and we enjoy right away.

So suffering can serve as the background for us to recognize happiness, and that is why suffering plays a role in happiness, like the mud is crucial for the making of the lotus flowers. And this is an art; even if you have plenty of conditions of happiness, you are not happy because you don’t know how to recognize these conditions of happiness against the background of suffering."

(Thich Nhat Hanh)


"I appreciate the many insights that come on the spiritual journey, whether in Buddhism or Christianity. But these insights are not the goal of the journey. I have been wondering whether in the Buddhist tradition there is something that corresponds to what in the Christian contemplative heritage is called the dark night. This is a passive purification by which, without effort of our own except to quiet the mind or shut off interior dialogue, we become vulnerable to the contents of the unconscious. Then the repressed material that is talked about in depth psychology begins to emerge in the form of painful or primitive emotions that bombard our consciousness. This kind of purification is much more important than reliogious experiences, for the goal of this purification is a permanent state of freedom from the false self.

I once was conferring with Trungpa Rinpoche, and I raised the following question with him: "In the Christian scheme of things, we believe that there is a normally intense spiritual suffering that one needs to pass through to reach union, and especially unity with God. "Is there something similar in your tradition?"  And he said, "Oh yes, we have a word for that. We call it 'old-dog spirituality'."

I was fascinated by the term. What I understood by the image of an old dog is one that has been reduced to a state of utter powerlessness. All it can do is lie around most of the day, get up maybe once or twice. wag its tail, have a sip of water or eat something, and lie down again. It's the radical experience of powerlessness or, if you prefer, nothingness, in the process of spiritual purification. This is the level, it seems to me, to which our practice should bring to us. And it is only a great love of the spiritual journey and of the Ultimate Reality that can lead one to put up with this kind of suffering through which one must pass to reach the true goal of the spiritual life."

(Father Thomas Keating)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rest in peace Daniel...

Last weekend a great guy passed away and his name was Daniel. (The link to the article and to the work that Daniel was doing can be found here.)

I have many things to say but for now I will simply post this:

Almighty God, we remember this day before thee thy faithful
servant Daniel; and we pray that, having opened to him the gates
of larger life, thou wilt receive him more and more into thy
joyful service, that, with all who have faithfully served thee in
the past, he may share in the eternal victory of Jesus Christ
our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of
the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(From the Book of Common Prayer)

Descansa en paz, rest in peace Daniel...