Sunday, April 29, 2018

My Sister

Here is yet another monumental gratitude post, this time to my sister; one of the most amazing women I know. Since both my siblings are older, they have served as role models to me, each in their own special way.

An avid language enthusiast, my sister not only speaks French like a frenchwoman, but has successfully raised a francophone family in the midwestern United States. As our own parents can surely attest, cultivating bilingualism in a country outside the language-culture can be challenging, and her dedication is an inspiration to me. 

There are so many things I am grateful to my sister for, and I know that there is no list I could write that would ever be complete. Below is my attempt, although I know I will think of many more things afterward 😊

Sister, I am grateful to you for:
Your laughter. It brings joy to my heart, and I love trying to make you laugh as often as possible when we are together.
The love of puns that you have bestowed upon me, since I was a little pipsqueak playing around in your room. Bonus for bilingual and even trilingual puns! 😀
The loyalty, thoughtfulness, and caring you show for friends and family.
Your wholehearted support for me and my personal goals- including this current adventure into living a grateful life. No one has read and acknowledged my posts more than you! 
The strength and awareness you demonstrated during your pregnancies. I am certain that the knowledge you shared with me made my own pregnancy and birth experience so much more empowering and less scary than it would have been otherwise. 
Your love of beauty and willingness to stop and appreciate it. 
Your strong sense of fairness, justice, and advocacy for freedom of thought and expression. 
Your empathy and support as I stumbled through- and eventually learned to navigate- early motherhood.   
The way you lead by example as an amazing mother.
Your genuine curiosity for learning about other cultures and people's life experiences.
Your delicious baked creations- and willingness to share 😁
The sweet and thoughtful handwritten cards you send on every occasion. 
The love and affection you shower on your niece, our little lotus blossom.
The physical and mental endurance of your running practice, and how it inspires others.
Your strong sense of existing for and working towards a higher purpose in life.  

Last of all, I am so grateful for . . . your gratitude! All my life you have told me how grateful you are for me, the late little surprise of our family. The many times you have expressed joy at my existence is second only to that conveyed by our mother, and that is saying a lot! From the time I was a little girl, your words have made me feel so very loved- and I will be forever grateful. 

Thank you so much Elke (meine beste 'Schwest'), Ich liebe dich! 💕
This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
May all beings be happy!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Society at a crossroads

Looking back on a post describing my extensive (often uncomfortable) immersion in the conflicting views and opinions of others, I realized that there is a larger issue worth discussing- the ease by which someone can challenge -even rock- our core beliefs via social media. 

Although sites like facebook engage in extensive data mining and targeted ads to increase the probability you see what you "want to" see, they do not fully insulate us from every post we may disagree with (which really doesn't seem to be their goal anyway). I realize now that, to some, this 'accidental insight' into friends' thoughts and opinions could be upsetting. 

While part of me wants to roll my eyes, I also recognize that something really interesting is happening. This is the first time in history where we as a society can very quickly and easily access a myriad of opinions about every topic imaginable- whether we want to or not. When we compare the current dynamic to our collective past, it is clear that our society is currently at a crossroads.

If you are from "Generation Y" and older, you remember a world before social media. You may recall running into someone you hadn't seen in a while and they let slip who they voted for/what they thought about ______. You then went home to your spouse or S.O. and said, hey I saw so and so today- did you know she voted for _____?! Tsk, honestly . . . (or something like that).

And that was the end of it. No likes, no comments, no shares, no checking back to see what others responded. Sure, you could have argued with your spouse/family about it a little, but in the privacy of your own home, (hopefully!) unobserved. With the exception of those who lived within the public eye, this was the case for everyone.

Fast forward to now, the internet and social media give us access not only to so. much. information, but also an instant, far reaching megaphone. To anyone who feels isolated or that their opinions don't matter, having the ability to finally communicate about important issues can feel really good.

But we also know that this newfound freedom has a flip side, and it can be an ugly one. You know the saying that true character is what you do when no one is watching? Well, now everyone is watching (or can be)- except this time it is anonymous players performing upon a virtual stage. 

Cloaked in this anonymity people can say nasty, vulgar, and hateful things with little or no consequence. A few malicious individuals can launch thousands of 'bots' to intimidate real people with opposing views, or gather information for digital censorship. On a more personal, less sinister level, although we wouldn't necessarily walk up to someone we (would otherwise) consider our friend and say, "I hate your political views, so you are no longer my friend" we can neatly terminate our virtual friendship with a single click. 

I have been thinking about this for a while, especially in regards to people who appear not able to handle opposing views they encounter, particularly on social media. Are they all intellectual dwarfs who need a good verbal smackdown? For some, perhaps the answer is yes, but I refuse to believe that this is the case for everyone. Looking at the big picture, the fact is that as a society this new 'normal' is very different from what we have ever known, and it might take some time to adjust and accept as part of our reality. Stepping out of my own shoes, I also realize most people have also not experienced the intellectual isolation that I (and others like me) have encountered in so many different contexts. That means that I should give others a bit of a break, because I now realize that, unlike me, they might not yet be over the shock.   

Does this excuse immature, cowardly behavior on the internet? Certainly not. Personally, I am tired of it, and I am guilty of sometimes adding fuel to the fire by responding with my own special blend of teasing and sarcasm (don't worry, I recognize my need to review Right Speech just as much as everyone else- see below!). But this is why I am writing this post, because I am passionate about this issue, and I want to be part of the solution, not the problem. I now recognize that it is not necessarily the 'instagram' generation who is at fault, that the fragility we often see is part of a an (understandable) human reaction to being challenged in ways we never have before.

So the question remains, will we reach a point as a society where we can handle this constant exposure to the thoughts and opinions of people with different views? Or will we retreat back into our intellectual 'tribes', banishing anyone with the audacity to challenge us? OR, will we toughen our fragile egos to let go of fear and selfishness and actually listen to someone else's story? Right now we are at an incredible, vulnerable moment in history where our sense of fairness, openness, and forgiveness is on the line. Humanity, let's try not to blow it . . . again.
I end this post with a timeless statement from the Vaca Sutta about Right Speech, a component of Buddhism's Noble Eightfold Path.

"Monks, a statement endowed with fine factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?

It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will."

Vaca Sutta, A Statement
May all beings be happy!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

No safe spaces

Recently someone 'unfriended' me on social media in response to a difference in political opinion. It is not the first, second, or even third time this has happened. Although initially surprised, this time I am pretty indifferent about it. This is not because I do not care about the person, but it is becoming quite clear that many people have trouble navigating a world outside their own echo chambers. 

This is evidenced by the creation of 'safe spaces' that insulate people from potentially upsetting topics and hushing or marginalizing those with controversial or countering views. Counseling services have even been offered to youth in the wake of election outcomes. Although I think the real question is, "What the heck has happened to our society?!" I will save that for another day. What I prefer to discuss now is the pervasive climate of shutting down those with differing views, and my experience with it. 

Socially and ideologically, I have lived most of my life as an 'outsider', and it has not always been easy. In middle and high school, I was taunted and even threatened because my family spoke a different language at home (I know, kids will find anything to pick on!). In college, I was opposed by peers who enjoyed regurgitating without question whatever they learned in class. In graduate school and beyond, I would listen as those in authority mocked Christian values and ridiculed people for the books they read. But here's what takes the cake: hearing divisive remarks made by Buddhist Sangha 'leaders' prior to practicing loving-kindness meditation! 

Believe me, I am no martyr, and these situations sucked. They could be incredibly frustrating, and often felt very isolating, especially in the latter context. However, I do believe that I (eventually) benefitted from these experiences. This is because not only did I learn to defend my views and thoughtfully challenge opposing ones, but to actually listen to people with different life experiences, and to recognize when someone else is being singled out the way I was. I have also learned to determine when nothing will be gained from a debate (especially on social media!), making it wise to disengage from the conversation. 

My current attitude about other people's views (or my lack of concern for what they think of mine) didn't happen overnight- it was definitely a process. These days the main problem that arises is when I expect the same courtesy of understanding and openness from others. Moving away from this expectation without developing additional suspicion and ego attachment will be beneficial, but also difficult. 

So, no safe spaces for me, but I do believe that being a 'sore thumb' has made me a stronger, more reflective person. For that, I am grateful. 
This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
May all beings be happy!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Proud, yet humbled

While taking some time to reflect on the gratitude-focused posts I have written, I am confronted with a variety of emotions. First of all, I am proud of my resolve to let go when it mattered. No one told me to do this, but on that cold December day I took the time to stop and think about the emotional road I was on. I didn't like where it was headed, so I decided that I needed to take action-though at the time I didn't know what those actions would be.

A few days later I knew what I had to do, and I let myself do it. I didn't let denial or complacency stop me. I tapped into the strength that walking the Buddhist path has given me, and allowed myself to feel humbled by all the amazing people, things, and opportunities in this life. After making that crucial decision of opening my heart to gratitude, I burst forward with an uplifted spirit.

Does that mean that my life is perfect right now; that everything is exactly how I want it? No, and no. Gratitude is not a magic wand that makes every problem go away, but I have found that it does play an important role in diminishing them while highlighting all that is good. Neither dark nor rose-colored glasses, I have found that viewing the world with a grateful eye is my lens of choice.

As such, I find that I am now suspended in a Middle Way-esque balance: feeling proud and confident enough to keep going, yet humbled enough for things to stay real. I am grateful for deciding to embark on this journey, and for allowing myself to finally take a step closer towards seeing things as they really are.

This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
May all beings be happy!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

My dad

This is another one of those posts, where the depth of the gratitude I feel is difficult to fully express. This is for my dad, who has taught me so much about life and the world around us. Like many from his generation and national origin, he grew up in incredibly difficult circumstances. An immigrant who came to the US facing many challenges, he persevered through education and hard work. Though I have from time to time glimpsed an understandable nostalgia for his homeland, he has always emphasized the great privilege- and responsibility- that comes with being an American. Never one to back down from a challenge, he not only taught me to question authority, but how to confront it in an honest and appropriate manner.

He is one of the most hardworking people I have ever known, and my awareness of his constant toil is what I use for a reality check when I allow myself to think that I have 'worked hard'. His knowledge of technology and how it has changed is mind-blowing, and I marvel at his deep understanding of all the advanced tools we now use on a daily basis. His quantitatively-based expertise has been an inspiration to me, and has given me a unique perspective on both the benefits and perils of technology.

Along with the gift of bilingualism that my parents have bestowed upon my siblings and me, was the gift of travel, fueled by his and my mother's wanderlust. Instead of prioritizing material purchases, my dad used any extra funds towards our education and family trips to both new and familiar places. The enrichment of our lives that resulted cannot be measured, and I will remember those experiences for the rest of my life.

Thank you Papa, for everything you have given me. Ich liebe dich! 💕
This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
May all beings be happy!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Showing restraint

The news has a way of upsetting people, and for good reason. In addition to the fear, worry, and even panic that knowledge of current events can create, they can also serve as a powerful springboard for discussions.

Whether it is abortion, drugs, or gun violence, many of these discussions can easily become heated between people with differing views. I must admit that in the past I wholeheartedly engaged in these discussions, which sadly, often quickly devolved into full-blown (and completely unproductive) arguments. As a result, I gradually let go of the need to try to convince those with opposite views- and was happier for it. 

Recently I was confronted with the possibility of another argument because of an (admittedly provocative) article I posted on social media. Though the article content was my desired focus, some insisted on discussing issues I specifically stated I wanted to avoid, simply because of the volatility (and predictability) of the course of the argument that would ensue. Those requests went repeatedly unheeded, and, after first trying to diffuse the situation with humor, I eventually had to shut the thread down completely. 

Not a very happy conclusion, but I have enough experience to know that things were only going to get worse. What I am happy about is the way my reaction to the barrage of comments (on a topic that I did not wish to discuss in the first place!) has changed. Fifteen years ago, I would have been livid, and would have launched into all kinds of verbal retaliation- that'll show 'em! But now my current practice is to remain calm (more or less) and strive to show restraint in my responses. 

But don't worry, I will refrain from patting myself on the back too much. That is because this human still sometimes gets angry or annoyed by conflicting views (natural, perhaps, but not always great in terms of clarity). I also know that in the future I can be more proactive about asking people to stay on topic and be civil to one another, and to more promptly close the conversation if those requests are ignored. Finally, I must continue to work on navigating the fine line between being civil and allowing myself to be bullied- which is where careful balance of indignation and restraint may actually come in handy! 😀

Although I know that some of the changes in my response are due to continued life experiences (sometimes called 'maturity'), I am grateful for the enhanced sense of perspective and calm that walking the Buddhist path has placed within my reach.
This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
May all beings be happy!