I Am. I Can. I Shall.

images (1)A friend of mine recently introduced me to a weekly Buddhist meditation group.  The attendees get together, and we have two silent twenty-minute sitting meditation sessions with a ten-minute walking meditation between them.  After the second sitting meditation, we recite some Buddhist philosophies and have an open discussion.

Meditation isn’t something that is natural to me.  I’m a high-strung, hot-headed, anxiety-carrying, self-doubting dude.  My brain never stops obsessing over minutiae of all the things in my life, over possible outcomes of different scenarios, over money and bills, over the wrongs of the world, over all the things I need to do.  I also constantly berate myself inwardly for not living up to the high standards, especially moral ones, that I have placed for myself.  Attempting to be “quiet” inside is a challenge.

I’ve been told that you can’t control having thoughts during meditation, but that when you catch yourself thinking about something in particular, you acknowledge to yourself that you had the thought, but not entertain that thought.  You must let it go.  It has been described to me as watching a train come to a stop in front of you.  You know it’s there, but you don’t have to board. 

Last Sunday night, one such thought came to me during the first meditation session.  The thought was six simple words:  “I am.  I can.  I shall.”  While I was supposed to be thinking of nothing, I was writing this blog post in my head.  But I will gladly accept inspiration whenever and wherever it comes, so I don’t mind having boarded this train. 

As I mentioned above, I’m an individual plagued by serious self-doubt, and self-affirming statements are an uncommon occurrence.  But there it was.  I am.  I can.  I shall. 

I wrote a poem in 2009, which was a bit of wishful thinking in rhyming form, and even as I was writing it, I wondered whether it was something I could actually enact myself, actually make real.

                              At Peace  

                   Peace from all the voices,

                   Peace from crushing noise,

                   Peace from inner rumbling

                   That mania employs- 

                   I seek way through the river,

                   I’ve turbulence inside.

                   I yield too much to chaos;

                   Within, my thoughts collide.

                   I pray to God and Buddha,

                   To divinities that may be,

                   To help me find the hidden path

                   To a peaceful reverie,

                   To be placid as still water,

                   To rest when things seem grim,

                   To endure as does the oak

                   Despite the weather’s whim.

                   As a rock amidst the rapids,

                   Though buffeted, still prevailing;

                   It’s time I learned to simply live

                   With all that Life’s entailing.

                   Too long at war inside my mind

                   (Often war begets no peace),

                    I become as stone and waters pass

                    ‘Til the voices simply cease….

Lines from this poem also ran through my head while meditating. 

There was a time after my separation from my wife when I would constantly wallow in depression, and I would try to pull myself out of it by repeating the word “endure” to myself.  It was like a lifeline that I threw to myself.  I’m not in the state I was at that period of my life anymore.  So perhaps it’s time I had a new mantra, not one to help me simply survive, but one to help me grow.

Will I ever find a greater level of inner peace, be in a better mental place with reduced anxiety and fear and greater self-assurance?  Will I be the better person I strive to be?

I suppose my meditating mind already answered that.

I am.  I can.  I shall.

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Why michael vick Proves There Is No God or Karma

Alrighty, how’s that for a title?  Provocative, I know.  But it’s how I feel.  I couldn’t think any lower of vick for his past.  In fact, you’ll notice I’ve taken a friend’s suggestion and disrespecting him by never capitalizing his name.

Yet with Sunday’s win over the New York Giants, and his team’s 3-1 start to the season, the fervor for this monster grows.  To have been reinstated into the NFL in the first place after electrocuting, beating, drowning and hanging innocent lives while also forcing them to fight to the death is unbelievable enough.  But how easily the Phickle Phans of Philthadelphia have been won over by his self-proclaimed “redemption” is simply maddening.  I have admittedly never been a person given to the ways of faith. But I’ve always wanted to be, believe it or not.  What little chance I could have had to move beyond the need for things to be scientifically tangible and incontrovertible, to believe in something greater, has been eradicated by the lack of Godly wraith or bad Karma to come vick’s way.

Sure, he spent 19 months in a minimum security prison for illegal gambling.  But he served ZERO jail time for animal cruelty and abuse.  The prosecutor in Virginia (from where vick hails and also where his dogfighting operation was) didn’t want to be the bad guy for going after the local sports hero.  If he had his way, vick would have served no jail time or at least less than the sentence given.  So the arguments I always hear of “he did his time” are extremely inaccurate.

Then Roger Goodell, the football league’s commissioner, could have set the standard by not allowing vick to return to the NFL.  Goodell entered his position as a man on a mission.  He fined and suspended people left and right, wanting to set the example of “zero tolerance” on behavior detrimental to the image of the league.  Yet, given the chance to ban vick forever and setting the bar where he claimed he wanted it, Goodell allowed vick’s return.

Now, I will admit some bias here, but my favorite team’s quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, has had his own legal issues:  he was twice accused of sexual assault.  He was never found guilty on either charge.  I know it’s possible that he simply paid off the accusers as most believe.  But I also know that athletes and celebrities are targets for those seeking a payday.  I honestly don’t believe basketball’s Kobe Bryant raped the girl that accused him of such  in Colorado.  He did sleep with her, yes.  And he gave a woman the best paycheck of her life as a result.  So there is a 50% chance that Roethlisberger is innocent just as there’s a 50% chance he committed the crime.  But the only thing of which I KNOW he is guilty is being stupid enough to put himself in that position to be accused, especially after the first accusation.  I hope he didn’t do it, but I’ll never know one way or the other.  vick, on the other hand, is unquestionably guilty.

I bring this up because, after the second accusation, Goodell suspended Roethlisberger 4 games for being such an awful role model and potentially tarnishing the league’s image.  That same summer, vicky-boy threw a birthday party in which someone was shot.  vick didn’t do it, but the person who did was one of the crew with whom he hung out during his dogfighting days.  Goodell did nothing, though vick, already a controversial person, had shown an equally poor example of off-the-field decision making.  There is the possibility that Goodell didn’t want to look bad for having to punish the dirtbag he just pardoned.

Additionally, upon vick’s reinstatement and subsequent signing to the philadelphia eagles, his jersey was one of the top 2 in sales.  The fans didn’t care what he did.  His jersey to this day is still anywhere in the top 20 in sales.  I believe there are a great amount of his fans that love the fact that such a thug made good and went back to earn millions.  I will be fair here and mention that he doesn’t get to keep all of that money.  He has many debts to pay as part of his sentence.  He has even become richer, however, by many companies signing endorsement deals with him.  These include Nike, Musclepharm, and Subway.  He even has his own clothing line.  I and others I know have boycotted these companies, and have informed those companies as to why.

But here he is, making more than I ever will short of a lottery win, being adored by the masses (and not just in Killadelphia), and unfortunately succeeding on the field to such an extent that his inhumane and simply INHUMAN crimes are a distant memory to most.

So, if there is the God of which Judeo-Christian faith speaks, and/or there is a celestial force weighing Karma, why is this the case?  I don’t want to hear that the guilty are punished in the next life.  Why is he being so rewarded in this one?  And I’ll make the same argument for Roethlisberger if he is, in fact, guilty of sexual assault.  Why is he, too, rewarded if so?  

And why does all of this matter to me so much?  I often wonder if I’m wrong for fighting so hard against injustice, and for taking injustice so personally.  I’d definitely be a much happier person if I could let it go.  Should I just be one of the many uncaring citizens of the Philadelphia area, and only worry about the entertainment value of the game, and forget about the rest?  Should I just let sleeping dogs lie, and let dead dogs die?

As I said, I believe some buy into the sick following of vick BECAUSE of his past.  Dogfighting in this area has actually gone up 300% since his arrival.  Maybe they figure they’ll get off with 19 months, too, should they be caught.  Some truly believe that he is a transformed man, and that there is sincerity in his monotoned PSAs and court- and agent-ordered charity donations.  And many, like a girl with whom I work, simply can’t be bothered with thinking about him as more than a win or a loss for her team.  I tried explaining to her that I no longer support the eagles because they signed vick, and that I will never forgive him for his disgusting past.  She said, “I don’t know anything about that”, and walked away before she could be educated about “that”.  She knew, but didn’t want to deal with it.  It was literally an inconvenient truth.  I feel that this is the category in which most fans reside.

I find myself thinking that perhaps I should also ignore all of the truths and just deal with wins and losses and championship titles.  But then I think about a dog being tortured in the most agonizing ways.  I think of a man who admitted the pleasure he got watching them tear each other to pieces, and feeling the lives leave their bodies as he did away with those who lost fights or showed no aggression.

I also think more and more of just never watching a sport I love ever again, because it hurts my soul to watch injustices of the most heinous nature be rewarded in every possible way.