I was in the Middle East last week for meetings and work related to a project exploring the recent tensions regarding the Holy Esplanade (the Noble Sancturay to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews) and the ways in which this holy site figures into the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict and possibilities for its resolution. It was a fantastic, intense productive week, which included many related activities, like visits to the site and time spent in the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank, from which the first and second Intifadas began. The Second Intifada was sparked by Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Holy Esplanade.
My post yesterday began “BoWZ Dharma Teacher and Theravadan teacher Bikkhu Boddhi will be speaking . . .”. It should have said “BoWZ Dharma Teacher Julie Nelson and Theravadan teacher Bikkhu Boddhi will be speaking . . .”. Though we’re big fans of Bikkhu Bodhi and would happily have him as an honorary Zen type, he is in the Theravada tradition, not the Zen tradition.
BoWZ Dharma Teacher Julie Nelson and Theravadan teacher Bikkhu Boddhi will be speaking Thursday night about Buddhist responses to climate change. This talk is part of Harvard Divinity School’s Religions and the Practice of Peace colloquium speaker series. For details, see:
Professor Ali Asani and I will jointly be giving a talk titled “Beyond the Headlines: Understanding and Misunderstanding Islam” tomorrow at Harvard’s Wearherhead Center for International Affairs. This talk is part of the Kelman Seminar speaker series, established in honor of my mentor in the conflict resolution field, Herb Kelman. It’s also part of the Islam and the Practice of Peace initiative at Harvard. For details, see:
Love is the frequency of the universe.
We vibrate to it whether we know it or not.
Some people seem to oscillate (in their own ways) in that frequency without knowing it, and without needing to know it.
Some people, at some points in their lives, seem to feel out of sync.
Zen practice is one way to tune in if we feel out of sync, if we doubt.
(Deep bows to great doubt! Doubt that softens hard hearts, helps timid hearts find courage.)
Zen practice helps us deepen that sense of synchrony and to celebrate and honor this once the feeling passes (and even if it doesn’t).
If and as we tune in . . . no separation.
Buddhahood, Enlightenment, Awakening: a quality of the universe, not something we attain.
So lovely, so reassuring, to know it, if ever we’ve doubted.
We’ve just returned from a goodbye celebration for James Ford at the Boundless Way Temple in Worcester. James and his wife, Senior Dharma Teacher Jan Seymour Ford, are moving back to California to retire. (Jan is already there.) James is the senior founder of Boundless Way Zen, shaping it from inception. He is one of the kindest, most gentle, most down to earth, wisest people I’ve ever met, and he’s a brilliant institution builder and religious innovator. I feel so fortunate to have him as a teacher along the Zen way — which is to say, in this one life. Deep, deep bows of gratitude.
Paul Ryan, my best friend and the godfather of our son, died Saturday after suddenly falling seriously ill about a week earlier. We’ve just returned from Denver, where I’ve spent the past four days with Paul’s wife Pam and surviving siblings helping prepare for the memorial service, at which I spoke.
Paul would have been 50 on May 1st. “Great guy” doesn’t begin to describe what a joyful, inspiring, giving, loving, and loved person Paul was. There are the merely great people one knows, and then, for so many, including me, there was Paul.
How lucky I was to have Paul’s close friendship for 33+ years. I was a year ahead of him in college. He used to say half-jokingly that I raised him.
Paul was the first person Denver Mayor Michael Hancock asked to join his cabinet upon his election. He was the driving force behind many of the Hancock administration’s priority initiatives.
About 1,000 people attended yesterday’s memorial service for Paul. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper told me afterwards that he can’t remember a memorial service for a Colorado public official that drew more people. President Obama sent a lovely, personal letter about Paul, which the mayor read. The Colorado legislature observed a moment of silence yesterday. The city has named the 11th hole at Paul’s favorite municipal golf course after him. He shot a hole-in-one there last season. Paul was a humble guy, but he did a lot of playful boasting about that one.
There was a story about the memorial service in today’s Denver Post, which has been writing something about Paul nearly every day since Saturday, when he passed away. My opening remarks from the service, for which I served as the officiant (or whatever one calls it) and first speaker, appear below. I’m pleased that the stories we all told drew laughs. The service was emotional, but not somber. Paul would have come back from beyond to give us all a whack on the head if it had veered in that direction. It was the perfect send-off for a friend who always kept people smiling and laughing.
Here are the words I wrote (and mostly stayed true to) for the memorial service:
Welcome. Thank you for being here to remember our dear friend Paul Ryan.
Thanks especially for coming in a snowstorm. This is quite a gathering. We’d need the old McNichols Arena, not the McNichols Building, for this service if the weather had been good.
I’m Jeff Seul, one of Paul’s close friends from college.
This morning we’re going to hear reflections by Paul’s family members and other close friends
. . . including his friend, the Mayor.
I suspect we’ll hear a story or two – or ten or twelve or twenty. Paul loved stories.
We’re also going to hear a few songs that Paul particularly loved. Not your typical memorial service stuff.
(Memorial cards. Silence cell phones.)
We’ll gather for lunch downstairs after the service. We hope you can stay for that.
Let me start things off with some brief thoughts of my own . . .
and perhaps a story or two.
A couple of words that spring to mind when I think about Paul are smile and loves.
Smile, the noun, singular
Loves, then noun, plural.
That irrepressible smile.
Perhaps you noticed while watching the slideshow that was playing a moment ago that Paul was always the guy with the biggest smile. That beaming smile.
And what a versatile smile.
Paul could make a stranger an instant friend with that smile.
Snap you out of a funk with that smile.
Lure you into some good-natured mischief with that smile.
Cajole, persuade with that smile.
Like the time, when we were just kids, that we decided to try to ride our roughly five-foot long mountain bikes off the end of Paul’s roughly eight-foot long – and three-foot high – front porch. Paul flashed that smile and said, “You first.”
The laughs more than compensated for the basketball size bruise I had for months.
Paul was a guy with many loves.
His love was concrete, and it was exuberant.
He loved what he loved, and he loved it big.
So many things Paul loved concretely.
Paul loved his family and us, his 16,000 or so genuine friends.
Paul’s first job out of college in which he had any hope of making a decent living was selling and leasing commercial real estate.
He earned his first commission check after a couple of months – a whopping $900, as I recall.
I was living in San Francisco at the time. Paul called to say he was going to buy a ticket to come see me for a couple of days.
Paul blew his entire, first paycheck just to pay a visit to a friend.
This continued for several months, perhaps the better part of a year. Paul would make some money and spend it to visit family and friends, and to live it up a little. He bought an old Mercedes, a piece of junk that created years of headaches for him, but which he absolutely loved.
It all came to an ignoble end the following April when his accountant explained that, as an independent contractor, he should have been setting aside money to pay Uncle Sam. He had a big tax bill that took years to pay off.
Paul loved Denver.
El Chapultepec. The Stock Show. Wash Park.
New York and Paris have nothing on Denver, in Paul’s view.
His position in Mayor Hancock’s cabinet was the perfect role for him, and he couldn’t imagine any job he’d rather have – ever. He’d achieved career nirvana.
Paul loved dogs, particularly a series of adopted dogs named Bailey, Olive and Graham.
I now live in Boston, and I travel to the west coast frequently. I had a brief layover in Denver several months ago. Paul and I met for lunch at the Cherry Cricket.
Paul asked me to walk him to his car after a quick meal. He wanted to introduce me to someone – to Graham, Paul and Pam’s adorable, three-legged golden retriever, who they’d adopted from the pet shelter recently.
For Paul, dogs are human, too, as the saying goes. The fact that Graham couldn’t join us for lunch was something of a civil rights issue for Paul. I had a flight to catch, but he insisted that I get into his car and sit for a while, so that Graham and I could have a proper visit and really get to know one another.
We did, and I damn near missed that flight.
And, of course, Paul loved Pam.
I still remember when Paul got the nerve to ask her out, having worked up to it for weeks, or even months. He was head-over-heels, when she said yes.
And those of us who know them together have seen how their relationship flourished from there.
Many of us justifiably regard Paul as among our closest friends, and know that Paul also regarded us that way. Paul loved us all, and he knew which of us was his very best friend.
Smile and loves.
Two teachings from Paul’s life, for me, are:
And love big.
It’s now my honor to introduce one of Paul’s very close friends, the Honorable Michael Hancock, Mayor of the City and County of Denver.
This is a picture just texted to me by a very close friend in Watertown. This is the view from my friend’s front door.
(This friend is a well known peacemaker. I’m not identifying my friend for now in an abundance of caution.)
Ten swat team members searched my friend’s house a short while ago. My friend said they were as young as the young man they are trying to catch. My friend said they looked very frightened. My friend told them to be careful. They asked my friend to pray for them.
Early this morning I tried to make my way to Logan airport to get a flight to Denver. I learned yesterday that my best friend from college is on life support, in a medically induced coma, in a hospital there. I want to be at his side. Traffic ground to a halt around Quincy, and I knew from the developing news story that I wasn’t going to make my flight. Now the FAA has closed the airspace over Boston.
As if this situation — the manhunt, my friend’s serious condition — weren’t strange and scary and sad enough, the place where the marathon bombing suspects lived in Cambridge is on the same street as the Greater Boston Zen Center, just a couple of blocks away. I’ve walked by their home any number of times. Our sangha sits and chants for peace a short distance from where this tragedy seems to have been planned.
Strange. Scary. Sad.
I just discovered one on my credit cards was stolen earlier today.
Perhaps I walked away without it at a store.
Perhaps it fell from a pocket.
But it made its way into the hands of someone who put over $500 in charges on it before I discovered it missing and cancelled the account.
Over $500 in charges for . . . groceries.
Not frivolous things, as we saw when this happened with another of our cards several years ago.
Food and other necessities, it seems.
This makes me sad.
Sad that someone who likely knows he or she will only get one or two chances to use the card needs groceries badly enough to use the card for that purpose.
Somehow sad not to know this person.
And sort of sad to cancel that card.
Reincarnation is one of those flash point metaphysical concepts in Zen, rather like resurrection in Christianity. It has its would be defenders, its would be debunkers, and its would be reinterpreters/metaphor makers.
I’m in the latter group, to the (very little) extent I’m in any of them. Mostly, I think the whole discussion is uninteresting, like just about any other metaphysical discussion, and certainly not where the real action is.
This said, I’ve long carried an image of what may happen when I die. It’s the image of a kid at the end of a trip down a slide or a roller coaster ride, with a big smile on her face, saying, “Can we do it again?”
Do I really expect this to happen? I don’t know. But this is my disposition toward life now, and, whatever happens when this life ends, I hope it’s my attitude then.
I love this life.
I realize how fortunate I am to feel this way.
I recognize it’s relatively harder for some (perhaps many) people to feel this way, due to varied socioeconomic, political, genetic, environmental, and other factors.
And feeling this way isn’t necessarily the measure of a good life or a worthy life.
Will I feel this way as I die? Again, I don’t know.
Life is hard. My life has been hard in some ways, at times.
Attitudes can change as things change, and though I do believe many of us have a significant capacity to determine our own attitudes, even in challenging circumstances, I don’t know the limits of that principle as applied to my own life.
This attitude generally has remained a constant for me during challenging times, or has eventually returned in full force when the challenging times were especially challenging. I do think there’s a fundamental resilience that’s widely (though not necessarily universally) shared among us humans. Researchers like Daniel Gilbert seem to agree.
In my experience, there is something fundamentally solid and trustable about this ever-changing existence, if only we allow ourselves to trust.
Whatever the proximate or cosmic scale future may hold, for now I’m grateful for this attitude, and for the ingredients of my life that help sustain it: family, friends, meaningful work and other commitments, relative good health (despite some significant challenges in that arena the past couple of years), Zen practice, etc.
I have found Zen practice helpful in sustaining this attitude. If Zen is about anything, I think it is about learning to love this life, and expressing this love by honoring this life, and helping create the conditions in which others can do the same.
Here’s a short video of my daughter and me tubing in the snow yesterday. We kept doing it, again and again, for 90 minutes — an accomplishment for a four-year old, I think.
At the end of each ride she asked, smiling, “Can we do it again?”