Saturday, November 15, 2008

Time Wounds Old Heels

Blink and you fall several days behind in the blog. To catch up to the present:

Wednesday, I once again sat with the new Kennesaw, Georgia Zen meditation group. It's good that this group exists, and the numbers have even been increasing - we had several newcomers, and I was tapped to provide some first-timer instructions before I got to sit myself for the second period.

It was important to create some stillness and calm in Cobb County, because the next day, Thursday, John McCain came there and led a rally for race-baiting, handicapped-bashing Saxby Chambliss. To add some fireworks to the proceedings, crazy old Zell Miller also showed up. Let's not forget that in 2002, Zell, like McCain, said that Chambliss "should be ashamed" of his campaign against Max Cleland. But apparently time heals old wounds, because now old Zell, who calls himself a "Truman Democrat" (but is in fact further adrift than Joe Lieberman), declared that Chambliss may be the “last man standing” to block the Democratic "far-left liberal agenda."

What Zell apparently forgot to mention was that when he was a senator, he declared that reliance on a 60-member cloture vote in the Senate, needed to shut off debate, was "undemocratic." But now he wants Georgia voters to elect Saxby for just that purpose. Zell also accused Jim Martin of being against a $100 million tax cut that he had proposed as governor, without mentioning the fact that Zell had joined Martin in support of a statewide sales tax increase in 1989. And so on.

Friday, I spent the day in Baton Rouge. I flew out in the morning for a meeting with a client and the state environmental protection agency. The meeting went very well and I was able to make it back to the airport in time for an early flight back, but due to weather delays I didn't leave the airport for another three hours. Just for the record - although it's a perfectly pleasant place, there's not a whole lot to do at the Baton Rouge Airport. I read the current issue of "The Economist" cover to cover.

When my flight finally did leave, it was packed and I found myself squeezed between the window and another passenger. He was a coffee salesman on his way home to Chicago, and somehow I was reminded of the John Candy character in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." But there was more to him than my first impression revealed. He was reading a book on the philosophy of 17th-Century mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, and after a bit of conversation, he told me that he was a follower of The Four Agreements of Don Miguel Ruiz.

I had not heard of this, and he explained the teaching to me. Ruiz' ideas apparently come from the Toltec people of Southern Mexico. The Toltec were 'people of knowledge' - scientists and artists who created a society to explore and conserve the traditional spiritual knowledge and practices of their ancestors. The Toltec view science and spirit as part of the same entity, believing that all energy - material or ethereal - is derived from and governed by the universe. Ruiz was born and raised in rural Mexico and was brought up to follow Toltec ways by his mother, a faith healer, and grandfather, a 'nagual,' or shaman. Ruiz' teaching is summarized, the coffee salesman told me, by The Four Agreements:

Be impeccable with your word - Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Don’t take anything personally - Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Don’t make assumptions - Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always do your best - Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Like many things, I compared what he was saying to my understanding of Zen. I told him how the First Agreement is much like the "right speech" of the Buddha's Eight-Fold Path. The precepts urge Buddhist to "speak truthfully - do not lie" and to "see the perfection - do not speak of the faults of others." A teacher once told me that before speaking, we should always first ask ourselves, "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" and not to speak unless we can answer "yes" to all three questions. (Writing this has made me wonder what would happen if I applied this test to what I wrote above about Zell Miller and Saxby Chambliss.)

The selflessness implicit in the Second Agreement and it's promise of an end to suffering is very Zen, and the Buddha would certainly have approved of the Third Agreement, which he practiced his whole life. The Buddha way is, in essence, a system of inquiry. And the dedication to perfection of the Fourth Agreement is synonymous with the mindfulness of Buddhist practice - "Right Mindfulness" is another aspect of the Eight-Fold Path and intense concentration and attention to detail are hallmarks of Zen.

All of these comparisons made for a lively and interesting conversation between Baron Rouge and Atlanta. Neither one of us expected our seat-mate for the flight to be as open-minded or interested in Zen, Toltec wisdom, and Leibnizian metaphysics. We exchanged contact information with the intention of subsequent conversations; however, friendships struck on airplanes are of the most transitory kind - "single-serving friendships" in the words of Tyler Durden - and it remains to be seen whether we talk again. But the conversation did pass the time nicely, and made up for the long delay at the airport.

Which brings me to today, Saturday. This afternoon, I may have finally found a tenant for the Unsellable Condo in Vinings - a nice 30ish couple, a schoolteacher and a cop. Two civic workers with steady employment - just what I was looking for. They saw the ad in the newspaper (it's last day running) and they liked the condo (with the new hardwood floors, tiled baths, and fresh paint, what's not to like?) but are sleeping on the decision. I'm hoping to hear from them tomorrow.

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