January 31, 2008

Almost Being Impulsive

I'm not exactly the impulsive type. Not that I'm opposed to the idea, per say. I've just not had much opportunity for it in my life. Impulsiveness generally comes with a price tag I've not been willing to pay.

My design studio class is studying motels. They are going to Las Vegas at the end of February. I have absolutely no interest in Las Vegas. The line of inquiry I am following is about hostels and the phenomenon of couchsurfing (www.couchsurfing.com) and how that type could inform the motel of the future. I thought to myself that maybe I would hop cheap flight up to Chicago and check out a couple of hostels. That is bound to be cheaper than Las Vegas.

While puttering about on the travel websites I happened agross a $250 flight to San Francisco. My eyes lit up! I've never been to San Francisco and that's not much more than the flight to Chicago would have been.

I sit chewing my lip, butterflies in my stomach. Should I book it? The money isn't a problem since I got a job as a teaching assistant this semester. I'd be travling alone, but I do know some folks out in San Diego. Oh, it'd be so fun! Should I do it? San Francisco has way more hostels than Chicago. I'm practically vibrating by this time.

In the end I created a rewards online account (free) and held the booking. I have to make up my mind by midnight tomorrow. Three nights in San Francisco, two and a half days wandering around downtown, and two flights over the Rocky Mountains.

I would jump up and down and squeal if it wasn' so against my character.

DN Article - Being Green in a Sea of Red

One cannot purchase an organic, 100 percent cotton, dye-free, non-chlorine bleach bath towel in the city of Lincoln. Go figure. Being green in a sea of red is not so easy.

A search for "organic" on the Bed Bath & Beyond Web site yields 239 products. Not one of them is carried by the Lincoln store.

The Target Web site finds 484 matches for "organic" - not including 6,559 books - and some of them are carried at the Lincoln stores, including organic cotton sheets in a variety of colors.

Yet, the eco-friendly bath towel remains elusive.

I know, many people right this very moment are thinking only a tree-hugging, tofu-eating, sandal-wearing nut job would care that much about her bath towel. Although I plead guilty to all other charges (though I don't particularly like tofu, and this time of year I trade my sandals for boots), I actually don't particularly care about my bath towel. As long as it is soft, warm and absorbent, I give it about as much attention as I give one of the Olsen twin's latest meltdown.

I do care about the massive amounts of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides being added to our soil, air and water. I care about toxic dyes, which rub off on my skin, and chlorine bleach, which kills just about everything it touches.

I care about petrochemicals, whose manufacture releases particularly nasty greenhouse gases (nitrous oxide) and which are used to create synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon. I care about cancer, which is likely caused by several of the chemicals in acrylic fabrics.

So for the past few weeks I have been searching, in vain, for a local source of the fabled organic towel, as well as sheets, pillows, blankets, mattress pad and curtains. I have been collecting organic and "recycled" clothing, all-natural shampoo and toothpaste, recycled notebooks and printer paper, eco-friendly shoes and bags, responsible electronics and energy efficient appliances.

I am happy to say the fruits of these labors, with which I had a lot of help, are on display in the Nebraska Union this week as a "Green Dorm Room" sponsored by Emerging Green Builders (EGB). In an effort to "Focus the Nation" on climate change, EGB took a look at the lifestyle of a typical college student and tried to determine how we could make it "greener."

The Green Dorm Room will be on display all week in the glass office near the Cafina Café. Open house hours will be 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. every day. Brochures and posters explain each product and strategy for living sustainably.

Finding green products is actually extremely easy with the advent of the Internet. If you want a cell phone made from the latest bioplastics (plant-based, not oil-based), folding recycling bags or bamboo bookshelves, you can find it - and the prices are good and getting better!

Of course, I couldn't do anything the easy way. I had to go one step further and incorporate the "shop local" ethos into my green quest. I wanted to promote the local economy and cut down on vehicle miles and shipping costs.

And while the organic bath towel remains as hard to find as the snipe, I did manage a significant haul.

Eighty-five dollars at Target - the only major retailer with any significant amount of green products - brought me organic cotton sheets, a bamboo/cotton pillow, a CD box and magazine files of recycled cardboard and aluminum, storage boxes and crates of bamboo and all natural canvas and bamboo hangers.

Footloose & Fancy, 1219 P Street, donated shoes by Patagonia and Teva, two companies known for their outstanding commitment to the environment.

Open Harvest, a grocery co-op on 16th & South streets, donated every toiletry, cleaning product and paper product a gal or guy could need. (Also, a great shout-out to them for their fantastic cooperation.)

The Black Market, 1033 O Street, donated "recycled" clothing and Nest Furniture & Mattress, at 1825 O Street, loaned us "recycled" furniture. Buying items second-hand prevents resource depletion and can often be cheaper and much more fun.

Straw Sticks & Bricks, 720 O Street, gave us a floor rug and a staple-less stapler - they exist - while we got recycled sketchbooks from Dick Blick Art Materials, 1300 Q Street, and a great sustainable library on loan from the University Bookstore.

The UNL Computer Shop even loaned us a MacBook to demonstrate how Apple has the best electronics recycling program of all the major computer retailers.

So come to the Green Dorm Room this week and take advantage of all the legwork the members of Emerging Green Builders has done. When it comes time to "green" your home, you'll know exactly where to find what you need.

Next time you check out at a major department store, though, and the clerk asks you if you found everything OK, think of me and answer, "No. You didn't have any organic bath towels." But nicely please - it's not the clerk's fault.

January 28, 2008

Fallacy of Faith

My parents are leaving their church. They feel the United Methodists have been too accepting of homosexuality. They have not attended in weeks. I wonder what they must do with their Sunday mornings now. I have no doubt my father sleeps in. My mother probably reads the morning paper and works in her craft room until Dad gets up and rumbles something about going out for breakfast. I wonder when they will find another church.

I have never seen any problem with homosexuality. It has always been just one more personal choice, like what kind of car one drives, one’s occupation, or favorite ice cream flavor. When the gay community asserts it is not a choice, but an inborn trait, I accept that easily. In that way sexual preference seems little different than introversion or extroversion, right brained or left brained, math or music.

When I was younger and homosexuality was just coming into the light, my mother tried to explain it. So? I wondered. “Well, you wouldn’t want them teaching your children would you?” I was baffled. Why wouldn’t I want them teaching my children? If they want to be teachers, that’s find by me. It is a respectable profession which we desperately need more good people to fulfill. If they want to get married, that’s fine by me, too. This argument some have even carried to absurdum. “If we let them marry, next thing you know people will be able to marry trees or goats.” So? If people want to marry goats, I don’t mind. I like goats. And trees. They’ll be welcome at my dinner parties any time.

My mother has faith. She has faith in God and Jesus and the Bible. Sometimes I envy her. It must be nice to know the answers. She told me once that the Bible explicitly states “man shall not lie down with man.”

“So lesbianism is okay then?” I promptly asked her. (I also recall a time several years earlier when she told me that just because I was a smart mouth didn’t mean I was smart, to which I promptly replied “Well, you don’t hear stupid people saying this stuff, do you?” I seem to recall she was not amused then, either.)

It strikes me that there are a lot of rules in the Bible which very few people follow. I have never seen my Dad with a beard. No one I know wears nothing but white. We eat ham. If anyone suggested stoning an adulteress, I think they would be jailed for terroristic threats. One guy even wrote a book about his experiment to “live biblically” for a year. It seems he was often mistaken as crazy as a result. The Ten Commandments seem pretty straight forward, and I’m sure a lot of the rules (like pork prohibition) made a great deal of sense in the B.C., but why this rule, of all rules, are we choosing to enforce now?

Maybe it even made sense when infant and maternal mortality were so high. In order to a family, a village, a people to survive every effort had to be given to bearing children. Gay pairings were likely to reduce the number of kids. Even so, many ancient cultures still accepted them with no undue harm. Now with six billion plus people on the planet and steadily increasing natal and maternal health (as well as life span), I don't think the same logic could apply.

While my mother has always been more vocal in her conviction, I have no doubt that my father shares its depth, and so they are church shopping. It seems odd to me, that we have this ability to pick and choose. As if there is no absolute right and we are all just making it up as we go along. I, for one, am very thankful for it.

My faith (if it can be called that) is a very different thing from my mother’s faith. It is vague and amorphous and open ended. When I was younger I went through a period of get devotion, of absolute faith, but it was not real. It turned out I was only testing the waters, so to speak. I was told to have faith and so I did, or tried to anyway. I was told to love God and invite Jesus into my heart and I would feel the warmth of their love. I did but I did not. For a long time I felt the fault was mine. There must be some flaw in my faith, some weakness, some crack, so I redoubled my efforts. Every time someone told me to have faith, doubt grew instead. After a time I decided that if God truly existed, this was not the faith He required. So instead I decided to trade in my faith for something both deeper and easier – acceptance. I accepted that I did not have faith.

I have been listening lately to the evolutionism/creationism debate. I’m sure most are already familiar with that territory, so I will not elaborate much, except to say that I have come across a new approach. Someone recently described the scientific fallacies with the theory of evolution. They did so eloquently and logically, but then they said something I found quite at odds with the entire argument. They stated, given the evidence (or lack), they could not have faith in evolution. This seems to highlight what an anthropologist would call and ethnocentric bias.

First of all, doesn’t creationism require at least as much faith as evolutionism? By the good arguments this person has laid down, there certainly seems to be ample evidence for creationism and similar evidence against evolution. Yet, creationism seems just as impossible to prove. One can only rationalize its possibility, but not prove it. Therefore, doesn’t rejecting evolution on the grounds that it requires faith provide equal grounds for rejecting creationism?

Second, and more pertinent to my mind, is the fact that belief in evolution does not require faith. As the speaker so soundly pointed out, evolution is a theory. In order to believe or disbelieve in it one has only to think it more likely than any other competing theories. The idea that belief implies and absolute and unquestioning leap of faith is the product of a theistic mind. It is misplaced in this argument.

I believe in reincarnation. This is not because I have any scientific evidence whatsoever. What I know if it amounts to so much hearsay, no matter how trusted or respected the source. I certainly have no first hand experience of this evidence. Yet, I still believe, mostly because I want to believe. Reincarnation seems to be the most plausible explanation I have yet heard for what occurs after death, and before birth for that matter. It is reasonable to me, but more important, it is hopeful.

And I do have faith. It is not an absolute faith. It is not a leap in the dark faith. It is certainly not an unquestioning faith, never that. It is a contradictory faith, a fallacy. But it is a steady faith, calm and deep. It is a faith I can accept.

I have faith that, in the end, I will figure it out – and so will we all.

January 26, 2008

DN Article - When Grass Isn't Green

Just for giggles - here is my first article published in the Daily Nebraskan, our student newspaper, on January 17, 2008.

Synthetic turf poses health concerns

On Oct. 31, 2007, The Association of Students of the University of Nebraska passed Senate Resolution 16, which supported Campus Recreation's request for funding of new synthetic turf on the Mable Lee grass fields.

Of the $1.7 million dollar price tag, Campus Recreation requests $600,000 from our student fees.

No one can argue against the utility of these fields. They don't get beat up, worn out or muddy. They don't need mowing, watering, fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.

However, despite their color, they most certainly are not "green."

The synthetic turf products, specifically the rubber underlayment made of ground up recycled tires, contains petrochemicals, heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Minor health effects include increases in asthma (from latex allergens and dust), sunstroke and abrasions. Major health effects can include neurological damage and endocrine disruption; the compounds include carcinogens, reprotoxins, mutagens and teratogenic (deformity-causing) effects.

Those are scary words, and their explanations are a lot more scary.

So why would we even consider using this stuff?

Well, the science is incomplete. We know what kind of compounds the turf materials contain. We know they can and do release those compounds into the environment. We know the effects the compounds have on the environment and human health. That's why we don't burn tires anymore and why most landfills won't accept them.

The question is whether these products release enough of the compounds to be dangerous. To make matters worse, scientists have yet to pinpoint exactly how much is too much.

States have set standards for soil and water. PAH levels in rubber granules sampled from synthetic turf fields in New York City were above the concentration at which the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation considers hazardous enough to public health to require their removal from contaminated soil sites. Levels of zinc in these same samples were also above tolerable levels, and lead and arsenic were also present. To be fair, it is possible that PAHs in rubber might not act the same as they do in soil, and their ability to be absorbed by humans or the environment may vary.

These compounds can affect humans through the presence of a soot-like dust, which coats skin and can be inhaled. Testing has revealed, even in extremely well-ventilated sports fields, the proportion of rubber dust in the overall airborne dust sample was between 23.2 percent and 50.1 percent. Compare that to around 7.5 percent found along busy highways.

The Swedish Chemicals Inspectorate recommends that recycled tires not be used in synthetic turf fields. They say high levels of PAHs such as phthalates and phenols which are not chemically bound to the rubber and can leach. They point out that these chemicals are carcinogenic and bioaccumulative.

These chemicals and compounds build up over time. Every new use adds to the cumulative effect. The same is true for the contribution synthetic fields make to stormwater runoff and heat island effects, both significant problems in urban areas. Synthetic fields act the same as an asphalt parking lot, and we all know how pleasant those are on a sunny August afternoon.

Stormwater runoff contributes to flooding when no soil is present to absorb rain and snow, sending it directly into storm drains and requiring large infrastructure development such as the Antelope Valley Project to manage. It also concentrates pollutants into the runoff, damaging our water supplies and harming fish, plants and wildlife.

Heat island effect occurs when the altered surfaces of cities trap heat and release it, warming the surrounding air. Heat island effects increase air temperature, alter weather patterns and can greatly exacerbate dangerous summer heat waves.

Yet, with more than 300 flag football teams last year and fields almost too muddy to play on, Campus Recreation has to do something.

I would imagine that for the extra $1.15 million that the synthetic turf fields will cost, we could come up with something. At $550,000 each we could construct two additional sets of natural turf fields the size of the ones proposed for Mable Lee Fields.

And since 50 acres of university land was recently taken out of the flood plain thanks to the aforementioned Antelope Valley Project, and since the university is diligently lobbying to get our hands on the State Fair Grounds, I'm sure we could find somewhere to build them.

I urge the university to rethink the use of synthetic turf fields. We know this stuff is bad for us, just like car exhaust and ultraviolet radiation is. I don't want to find out how much is too much the hard way, like we did with lead paint, asbestos and DDT.

January 23, 2008

Why We Plan

Why do we plan? That was the question in my planning theory class last night. The answer which leapt to my mind was not what our professor was looking for, so I kept my teeth tightly closed, though today I continue to ponder it.

We plan because we are intrinsically afraid of the unknown. What could be more unknown than the future? So we plan in order to reassure ourselves and, using history as our basis, we have turned this compulsion into a high art. We have even achieved a realistic amount of success, if achieving what was planned for can be called that. However, it doesn’t change the basic fact that the future is still unknown. It only obscures it for a bit.

I plan at lot. I mean, a lot, a lot. I plan my day, my week, my year, my life. I plan my route to run errands, which aisles in the grocery store to hit and in what order, how to arrange my closet, my bookshelves, my refrigerator, when to study for history and when for math, when to call this person and how to write that email, and what will be for dinner. Yet despite all of this, I am not an ultra-organized person. I space off and miss my turn. I end up going down the same aisle twice because I forgot something. My desk is piled with random papers and books. I rarely cook. You see, I am addicted to planning, but not to the plan.

I often wonder how much of my life I miss out on as a result. How much of my time is spent wandering obliviously through the world while planning for whatever is just around the corner? Probably a lot. And for what? I do admit that planning brings me a certain amount of joy – they way other people enjoy good wine or doing the crossword puzzle. It is like my entire life is one big puzzle and I jump at the chance to endlessly recombine the pieces.

How much of it is joy at the activity of planning and how much of it is fear of the unknown and a coinciding need for comfort? How much of it is a learned response? How much is the little girl who could have been out there playing soccer with the other kids but was instead on the fourth branch of a cottonwood trying to figure out how to make the best tree house in case she didn’t get along and needed to live alone?

How much is fear of groundlessness?

January 18, 2008

Westner:Eastern Suffering

There was an odd column in our school newspaper the other day, titled “Suffering Must be Faced Without Fear,” by Luke Fischer a sophomore history and philosophy major. It was not odd in and of itself, but only because suffering is not a topic commonly found in the main stream media. (Not to say that our university paper is main stream, but at least it’s print and circulates several thousand copies daily.)

The editorial seemed to be prompted by the book Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza, which is a personal story of the Rawandan genocides of 1994. Fischer asserts that Ilibagiza chose to fight suffering by neither committing suicide nor allowing herself to be killed and that “in doing so she found great fulfillment. She found a purposed in life, and because of what she experienced, she has been able to change the lives of countless individuals.” I wonder what Ilibagiza would say to that?

I don’t argue at all with the last point, but the first few seem to reveal a somewhat naïve glorification of suffering. I don’t think anyone goes looking for fulfillment hiding in a three foot by four foot bathroom with seven other women for three months. An amazing number of people find fulfillment in much more mundane ways – feeding their baby, assisting the elderly, rebuilding a classic car. It seems that throughout the ordeal, Ilibagiza’s purpose in life was simply to live which is endemic to all beings. That Ilibagiza did live is truly remarkable and what she has done since is no doubt every bit as fulfilling as Fischer suggests and extremely praiseworthy.

However, Fischer’s writing suggests a kind of glorification of the suffering itself which seems to speak to mistaken views. (The Buddha warned of ascetic practices, mortification of the flesh, or purposeful suffering.) Not to say I am any more experienced than he. I dislike glass houses, my own or anyone else’s.

Fischer further typifies three responses to suffering: running from it, accepting it, or fighting it. The first, running, is one we are well familiar with. It is aversion and attachment, lived out loud in fancy cars and clothes, blockbuster movies, diet pills, binge drinking and a number of other self-destructive habits and diversions, most of which are ironically also causes of suffering.

“To simply accept suffering creates individuals and societies that are stagnant and without hope,” Fischer writes. Here he does not distingish between the acceptance as suffering itself and the acceptance of the causes of suffering, such as racism, violence, discrimination, poverty, etc.

Fischer asserts that we must fight suffering. “We should not fear the things that are difficult and sometimes painful. We should be thankful for them and be unafraid to push ourselves to go beyond our comfort zone.” This sounds amazingly similar to the Buddhist practice of being grateful to our enemies (or just that annoying person in the line in front of us who can’t make up their mind) for giving us opportunities to practice. Fischer’s “fight” is to take action against the causes of suffering, with which I agree completely.

In Buddhist philosophy, we recognize that to fight against the suffering itself can only cause more suffering. To accept the existence of suffering, in this present moment, is not to accept the causes of conditions of suffering, nor to fail in working towards to the relief of suffering for all beings.

Fischer ends with “We may hat them as we experience them, but without them life is empty, desolate and not fulfilling.”

How can a life free from suffering be “desolate?”

January 16, 2008


Among the many extracurricular activities with which I fill my time, I am member of the Student Council of the Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Women. What do we do? Well, not much. Or at least not enough for my ambitious and action oriented mind, but I do not wish to belittle the commission’s contributions. It does make an impact on campus, and the associated frustrations seem endemic to committees in general.

Today that impact, or its potential, was brought home to me in a new way. We held our first open student council session, inviting anyone to attend and speak to us about issues affecting women at UNL. Eating disorders, maternity leave, and health insurance were all discussed, but the most moving was the story of a strong young woman who spoke very candidly and bravely about a sexual assault and the ensuing aftermath. The most damning portion of the entire incident was her subsequent harassment by the police entrusted to protect her and the utter failure of all the mechanisms in place here at the university to help bring her any measure of justice or closure.

I am thankful for my fellow council members, all people of great insight and compassion, educated in sociology, gender studies, anthropology and other human sciences. As the woman in question began relating her tale, it became quickly evident that my pointed questions (“Did you file a complaint with the police? What do you mean they wouldn’t let you?”) were not the appropriate way to approach the problem. This was something my ‘fixing’ nature could not so easily rectify. I took my cue from my colleagues and instead listened.

At first I was confused that no one spoke out, calling for action, but soon I realized that by allowing space and continuing to listen, the young woman would fill the silence and we would all learn her story. It was a tragic and horrifying experience and it made me contemplate what it must be like to feel truly helpless.

I remember how helpless I felt a few years ago when I received a callous letter from the University saying they were about to cut off my financial aid. I remember crying and raging against unfair rules and feeling like I could do nothing. Nothing at all. How much worse must it be to feel helpless when confronted not with a threat to your financial security, but with physical violence to your person. To be afraid of retribution for forced complicity in banned activities (fraternization in the dorms), harassed by the people who should be protecting you, threatened with assault charges for fighting the person who hurt you, shunted from department to department, and finally told by women’s advocates and female lawyers that they simply would not help you.

I have never met anyone in person who had undergone such an ordeal. Worry still naws at me, a need to do something, but what can be done when the young woman herself has already lost all faith in the systems supposed to protect her? It has been two years and when asked if she would be willing to revisit the issue, she could only shake her head in sadness, feeling that she had already exhausted all the avenues. She wished, she told us, that the police uniforms were more than just nice clothes.

I have never in my life had so little faith in my police force or my institution. Though I know it happens, it disturbs me greatly that anyone could have gone through such experiences that would cause them to question human nature itself. I have always felt that I had options, choices, actions available to me, even should such violence happen to me.

To know that it could happen and I could do nothing, is a very frightening thing indeed.

January 13, 2008

Reminders of Self

Has anyone ever told you that you remind them of themselves? When I hear this I don’t both to correct them. After all, I can’t judge by their experience which I’ve not had. But in the back of my head I’m generally thinking “not bloody likely.” I’m sure I do actually remind them of themselves in that my presence brings up some small memory of their past, and yet I tend to feel that whatever it is they believe they see in me which they think is familiar is, in fact, a making of their own mind and not me at all. Perhaps that is only vanity speaking.

I saw a girl in the student union yesterday. She was walking with her family, trailing along behind her parents and siblings, just slightly apart. She was too young to be there, maybe thirteen. She wore a long tan coat, a man’s wool overcoat. It was only a little large on her, still small enough not to disguise her slender build and tall frame. She had plain light colored hair, not quite blonde, not yet brown. Her face was calm, almost remote, yet intense and observant at the same time. Her stride was sure and unladylike. Her head swiveled to track me as mine swiveled to track her. Then, blink, she was around the corner and I was outside heading down the stone steps.

She reminded me of myself.

That is a rare thing. Very few people remind me of myself. I can recall three in my life. The first two I could see myself in only after long acquaintance, when friendship had burned through the facades we all present.

Marilyn was one. At first she confused me. I didn’t understand her. She was so unhappy, though in time she was able to start making a new life for herself. It was as she did so that I began to see that we were so much alike. Had I been born earlier, in a slightly different time, to slightly different parents, I could have been her. Perhaps I would have trod the more traditional route. Perhaps I would have let myself be pushed, felt just as helpless, as confused and angry and depressed. Perhaps it would have taken me that extra twenty years to find my self-confidence and start making my own life.

We were so much alike – reserved, fierce, intellectual, frustrated, determined, and caring. I miss Marilyn. The first years of our friendship were rocky and uncertain, but the last few were strong and sure. I could speak to her about anything and she would understand. Listening to her, she made me understand things that seems so strange, were outside my experience. We could be ourselves with each other. We spoke of grief together once and both agreed we weren’t going to fall apart over it. She understood exactly and never felt slighted or diminished that I didn’t cry for her.

The other was a young man at college, the epitome of a geek, so introverted that at times he seemed in another world. He never meant to be rude, or cruel, or uncaring, he simply didn’t comprehend how his actions impacted others. I forgave him many things because I could have been him. Had I not made the conscious decision to engage with others, I could simply have followed my inclination to curl away and shield myself from the world. I could have so easily dived into an obsessive world of fantasy and computers and melancholy mood swings. I probably could have even convinced myself I was happy there. We keep in touch, in a crazy stilted way.

Then there was this girl, who in her look and in her manner what was, fifteen years younger, my twin for that brief instant. How much of that was the girl and how much was the memory of myself I projected on to her? How much of everyone we ever meet and know is ourselves projected on to them? The Dharma always warns of the prejudices and concepts through which we block the reality of the world. How much more so does that apply to people?

They say kindness starts in pain. Compassion is built from our shared suffering. I recently practiced gratitude for sadness, an experience shared by countless others. How much of the suffering we see in others is theirs and how much is ours? The causes and conditions of suffering are so varied and unique. How can I ever be certain what actions I can take to help them? How could I do harm by mistaking their suffering for my own? These are not nagging self-doubts nor recriminations nor despair at ineffectualness in tackling a seemingly insurmountable task. These are simply questions to be born in mind and solutions to be worked towards. If the task is insurmountable, then we have forever to accomplish it.

What is compassion, what is empathy, and what is projection?

January 08, 2008

Thoughts on Loneliness

I find myself lonely tonight, as I occasionally do. It makes me wonder now – what am I really running from?

I have the habit of over-scheduling my time. I make commitments. I take jobs, sign up for classes, schedule meetings, join clubs, find extracurricular activities, try to save the world one line at a time in my appointment book. What time is left I fill with homework. I leave myself and hour or two ever day or so for errands or television shows or a magazine I want to read, but rarely more than that. I have always thought this was to keep myself busy. I have a strong lazy streak and left to my own devices can spend an entire day reading a book and eating junk food, as I’ve done more than once these past few weeks.

Now that is passed. It seems I have gotten lazy out of my system. Now I am ready to be busy again and have set to work rearranging my apartment, cleaning, brushing off my resume, writing articles and papers. But I still have nowhere to go, no one to see, and I find myself very much alone. And I wonder. Am I really running from laziness – or loneliness?

It’s this slightly sad, slightly frustrated, not quite right bit of heartache deep down inside. A hollow echo of a feeling which I am sometimes not even sure is there. It strikes me, even as I chastise myself for being lazy, I’m generally still happy. I nag myself while wearing a naughty girl grin and curling up with a mug of hot chocolate on the couch. But then the sun goes down and I start to get a little bit restless. Especially on nights like this, with nothing really pressing to ready for tomorrow. Then I realize, I’m not happy anymore.

I know exactly what it is, of course. I haven’t been reading that shelf full of Dharma books for these past few years for nothing. It’s want. I want something – something other than what I have at this very moment – another person. Someone to confirm my existence, to feed my pesky ego, to tell me I’m actually here and I’m smart and funny and pretty, in that order. That’s what lonely is.

To make matters worse, knowing all that doesn’t seem to make matters better. It was easier when I didn’t know myself quite so well. When I could brush it off and tell myself I’m just bored and horny. Even in my more honest moments when I might admit that I, my proud, strong, independent self, am actually lonely, that was still okay. The problem was simple. The answer was simple. Get out there, find someone. Schedule more meetings and dinners and etcetera until I actually meet someone. (Not that that has proven a worthwhile strategy thus far, mind you.)

Ah, but now! Now I know that happiness is not to be found in another person. Now I know that my suffering is not caused by anyone else or lack thereof. So what’s left but to laugh at this rotten predicament I’ve found myself in? To curl up on that couch with that hot chocolate and watch some appropriately sappy romantic movie.

Standing still doesn’t make that heart hurt less.


Sit still, like meditation, but with intention. Deep breath. Say it out loud, to the empty air.

I am grateful for this life.

I am grateful for this house.

I am grateful for this cat.

I am grateful for these clothes.

I am grateful for these people driving by, though I do not know them.

I am grateful for this city and its sparkling lights.

I am grateful for these paintings, so different and yet which go together so well.

I am grateful for my family.

I am grateful for the Dharma.

I am grateful for the Buddha, who spoke it.

I am grateful for the Sangha, who remembered that I might know it.

I am grateful for my couch.

I am grateful for my computer, which gives me purpose and lets me work.

I am grateful for the internet, which lets me share.

I am grateful for this cat, who is noisy and loving and soft.

Laughing is an easy thing.

I am grateful for this loneliness.

Harder now.

I am grateful for this sadness.

Hurting now.

I am grateful for this sadness, for it lets me learn compassion.

I am grateful for compassion.

I am grateful for compassion, for it gives me the motivation to help others.

Breath a little.

I am grateful for this loneliness.

I am grateful for this sadness.

I am grateful for this cat, who attacks my foot for no apparent reason and tickles me and makes me laugh instead of cry.

Yet, still, that heart sunk feeling.

I am grateful for this sadness, for it gives me compassion.

I am grateful for compassion, that I might know the suffering of others.

I am grateful to know the suffering of others, for it gives me hope.

The heart lifts a little.

I am grateful for this loneliness.

I am grateful for this sadness.

And life goes on.

January 06, 2008

Loose Ends

I feel at loose ends. I have another week before classes start. I have two appointments with the professors I will be TA’ing (teaching assistant) for this semester, but nothing other than that. Not that I have nothing to do. My list is long and colorful. I simply have nowhere to be. No appointmets, schedules, work, or classes. Just puttering around, cleaning, researching, working on projects, teasing my cat. I am mildly bored, but I am actually rather enjoying that. And strangely, I feel little urge to write, something I often do when I am at loose ends.

I am just enjoying the chance to sleep ten hours a night, do things when I feel like doing them and do nothing at all when that seems like more fun.