Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Eating apples in a flying chair

Vision is a tricky thing. We don't see what is really there, our brains just sort of "ya-ya" us and fill in the details from experiential memories whether or not they match the reality of the present. This is why it can be so hard for witnesses to agree on details, siblings to remember the same family history, or to recognize someone we have only met once or twice. This problem with vision can also extend to how we imagine we appear to others.

It's too cold to ride the eZip very far. Even though I have added insulation to the batteries, the cold lowers the range so much that most days I have to take the bus. Not because the eZip couldn't handle the short trip on most days, but because the 2 hours it would have to sit in the cold between coming and going would mean going would turn into pushing. So I am taking the time to get ready for the next round of modifications and to also document what I am doing.

Just about everyone who buys one of these things winds up making changes. Before I bought mine I watched endless videos of what other people had done to theirs. Since I have a slight different angle to my modifications (range is god, not speed), I want to post my two cents as well. Last Sunday, it was overcast but warm enough for me to do my grocery shopping on it so I took pictures and made a small video.

Then I watched it.

And realized why so few of the videos I had seen showed an adult riding the eZip. I could barely stop laughing after seeing what I looked like and totally understood why the kids have nicknamed it "the flying chair." You see, in my mind's eye - I looked much cooler. Naturally, I then hunted around for the proper sound effect and voila!

The Flying Chair

A large part of the meditative practices of mindfulness and compassion involve developing the willingness to see things as they really are, not as we wish them to be.

It is easier to get an understanding of this with a very basic mindfulness exercise of practicing mentally acknowledging everything you see on your way to work, school or a store without passing judgment on it. You can say to yourself "There is the tree on the corner" but not "There is the beautiful tree."

The goal of the practice is to reduce your minds ability to cover vision with experience and encourage you to be present in the moment. Another easy way to practice is to set an interval timer that rings a bell or tone every 3 seconds for 3 minutes. Calm your breathing and every time the bell rings, shift your focus to something new and name it to yourself.

Developing the ability to practice compassion without projection is much harder. It can be difficult to truly desire freedom from suffering without your mind quickly filling in what that would look like. Or to practice loving-kindness without a limited definition of what love and kindness will appear as. It is one of the reasons that the four lessons of Liao Fan has been one of the most widely read books in the Eastern world, and least known in the West. Liao Fan's lessons start by outlining what we commonly expect with compassion, that somewhere it is connected to either a personal reward or retribution. As the lessons progress, the explanation is explored that the only type of compassion is that which is uncertain of its own act. This book has been popular in the East for centuries, not because they are more spiritually advanced or enlightened then the West, simply because they have been around longer than most Western societies.

What I hear, as I travel through my days, is a deeper questioning of the nature of compassion from people of a Western descent. We don't have a history with much teaching on it; we are just starting our explanation of it.

In America, perhaps the youngest of all Western societies, we are just tentatively finding our ability to stand on our own without the infants need for unconditional love and support. That need is solely person centric and excludes anyone else; until you reach it in its highest form when it excludes all individuality and separation.

In many of the economically marginalized communities in the US there is an informal index used to gauge if something is truly meant to benefit them, or if it is a vision of kindness and compassion wearing some very foggy glasses and incapable of seeing itself in the mirror. I was reminded of this the other day during a nutrition discussion. Fruits and vegetables came up and different ways of trying to afford them in your diet. This led to the mention of the farmer's market, which oddly enough I had just had someone talk to me about at another recent event.

The farmer's markets here, as in many other places, issue tokens or allow for food stamps to be used for purchases. Very few of the people who need food assistance take advantage of this. Why? It boils down to the apple index. As one woman put it,"If I go to the Farmer's market I will pay $3 for a lb. of apples, that's about 3 apples. They may be organic and locally grown, but that's a dollar an apple. I can get a 5 lb. bag for 99 cents at Save-a-lot. Maybe they aren't as good for me but I get to eat and apple or 2 a day."

Farmer's Markets work best when they know what they are. A wonderful way to support local farmers and artisans. Rather than try to hybridize them into food vehicles for the poor and reveal a gross misunderstanding of poverty and the role of food in culture - let them find a venue to provide other support. It doesn't take much. One of the most successful ones (in regards to benefiting all strata's of society) simply included a free area to sit and eat and hang out with your kids whether you had purchased anything or not.

Creating instances of community around what we already share goes much farther toward creating compassion than constantly trying to serve or negate differences. Instead of trying too hard to be everything, simply be what you are in that instance. You will be surprised at the benefit to others that appears.

As one very famous man said, "the poor you will always have." As another commented, "Save one dish and I will wait to teach the dhamma until the last farmer has set right his fields and can come share with us, who are provided for, without causing harm in his life."

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