Today Maia posted on The Jizo Chronicles information about how to support the many beings affected by the gulf oil spill. Because of the urgency of this situation, I've decided to publish Monday's cartoon today (Saturday) so that collectively we can respond as quickly as possible.
I spent several hours today looking into ways to donate and volunteer. Here are some ideas:
Volunteering Opportunities to volunteer are quite limited. An organization known as Oil Spill Volunteers coordinates volunteer activities on the Gulf Coast. Their site asks those who do not live in a Gulf Coast state to refrain from traveling to the coast - they have adequate volunteers at present.
The Official Deepwater Horizon Unified Command, created by federal agencies, BP, and other businesses and organizations, has links to a variety of state-based volunteer opportunities. Click here for more information. This organization also maintains a Facebook page.
Donations Here are organizations that are working directly on the Gulf Coast and in support of other organizations with a local presence:
Please keep in mind that BP and other responsible companies will ultimately be responsible for the cost of the disaster response. But the need is urgent and these (and other organizations) cannot wait for what will surely be a protracted settlement process.
You might also be interested in the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, a department of the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Medicine Wildlife Health Center, that provides information on supporting oil-impacted animals.
Again, Maia's post earlier today describes a number of ways in which you can help. And she concludes with these moving words from Penny Alsop, a Florida-based student in the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program:
Send your love. Take action anywhere that you can.
Look at those pictures of oil covered animals and let it break your heart, then take the next steps that make sense to you.
Zen Master Seung Sahn used to refer to the body as a "rental car." We only get to keep it for a while and, no matter how much we invest in maintenance, it will eventually break down for the last time.
It's a funny description, but not a joke.
All vehicles (great, small, rental) eventually break down. That's a fact.
However, I've only recently accepted that the rental's steady deterioration requires an equally steady adjustment in maintenance.
Recently, Susann and I strolled around the neighborhood to admire gardens and
kitties. Later that day, I discovered that my shoes had worn an enormous ulcer on my right foot (a painless result of neuropathy).
now I've incorporated foot exams into my daily practice.
Foot exams? I never thought it would come to this.
I can no longer hustle across busy streets. Instead, I have to wait until a spacious opening appears so I can hobble across.
One of those old folks who crosses slowly? I never thought it would come to this.
When I was a younger Zen tyro, I did 108 bows every day and sat long retreats. Now I limit myself to 9 careful prostrations. Walking meditation remains, quite literally, a pain. It even hurts to stand during chanting.
Modify my beloved Zen practice? I never thought it would come to this.
So this old injury now offers a perverse gift: the concrete demand for adaptation.
Of course, this is most unwelcome news. I never thought it would come to this.
No matter how wonderful our intentions, life takes its own course.
Some folks probably comprehend this at an early age but I was 50 years old when I got the message.
Appropriately, the message was delivered in the Zen hall - when my left foot developed so much pain that I couldn't walk barefoot in the meditation line.
Curiously, no one - including me - connected this pain to the spinal cord injury 30 years before. I just got some orthotics and slippers, and got back in line. (Funny, how we selectively deploy our delusions!)
As uncomfortable as this new pain was, however, there was worse ahead.
One winter morning two and one-half years ago, Susann and I went for a run. Only . . . I couldn't run. My right foot wouldn't work. Although I had no awareness of any progressive decline, my leg had crossed a major threshold. That caught my attention.
This led to physicians and the procedures that come with them. The diagnosis was clear: the initial injury - now forty years past - had returned for its reprise. My lower right leg had entered a period of active degeneration and loss of function.
And there was no remedy beyond palliative and compensatory care.
Although dismayed, I can't honestly say I was surprised. Despite my willful ignorance, I had a faint memory of a physician saying, shortly after the accident, that nerve damage would appear as I aged.
As I reflect on this now, I'm somewhat stunned at how easily I turned away from one of life's turning points.
So perhaps it's not accurate to say that life doesn't cooperate.
Life just does what it does. I'm the one who doesn't cooperate.
The image above shows how how neurons branch to stimulate multiple muscle fibers. As we age, some of these branches die back (lower center of the image), leaving parts of the muscle without stimulation. These fibers then atrophy, reducing strength and stability.
Because the accident left me with many fewer neurons than normal, aged-related loss is substantially magnified.
The accident turned my life in a new direction, although I had no awareness of this at the time.
My immediate concern was with the loss of context - friends, college, political activity - as I was airlifted from Texas to Southern California.
I certainly had no insight into the deeper significance of the injury, namely, that life is fundamentally unpredictable and unknowable. We can die at any moment. (Nowadays I like to think that if I had understood this in 1965, I would have immediately sought out a Buddhist teacher!)
After a long recovery, my body seemed stronger and more invincible than ever. I began a 25 year period of rock and mountain climbing, punctuated by a "near-career" as a modern dancer. Other than occasional knee pain, the body carried me along as desired.
Time passed, as it does, and I married and had a daughter. I even held a few steady jobs. (Oxymoron alert!)
Then, one day in the mid-1990s, my lower right leg began to change. And - typically clueless - I didn't know why.
Today, when I consider the 30 years after the original injury, I'm astonished that I didn't look more closely, didn't make an effort to connect the larger arc of life to the daily experiences of the body/mind.
Of course, everything seemed fine - or, at least, normal - during that period. Why would I look?
Now the persistent sense that "everything is okay" seems more like a deceit perpetuated by the ego to defend against deeper examination. Self-deceit comes so easily.
To be sure: everything is okay. Each moment is complete, just as it is.
And yet . . . delusion . . .
The x-ray image shows the L4 and L5 vertebrae, from which emerge the neurons that innervate the lower right leg. The spinal cord injury occurred at T12. From this location, the neurons travel down the vertebral column to emerge at L4/L5.
In 1965, I drove with some friends to protest the Vietnam War at Lyndon Baines Johnson's ranch in the Texas hill country. Along the way, I steered onto the soft shoulder of a narrow country road and the car rolled several times. When it stopped I was suspended upside down, feet entangled in the steering wheel, and couldn't move.
After 30 minutes, an ambulance arrived and rushed me to the nearest hospital, almost an hour away. I had a broken vertebra and a spinal cord injury.
The good news: I was only 19 years old. My body healed remarkably and within just a few years I was fully active.
But now, over 40 years later, the injury has returned, an outcome of normal aging processes.
I'd like to write about life with a rapidly changing body and so this week's Ox Herding will be more personal than usual. I don't quite know where the posts will lead, but together we'll see what appears.
Believe me, when the doctor taps my leg with his little hammer, the results are quite surprising. And not always very welcome.
Susann and I recently watched Unmistaken Child, a beautifully-filmed movie about a young Tibetan monk in search of the reincarnation of his master, Konchog Rinpoche. Whatever you might think about reincarnation, I suspect that this movie might shift your view just a bit.
In today's short excerpt, the young monk, Tenzin Zopa, rides a helicopter to a distant valley to search for an unmistaken child. I hope you enjoy it.
Thank you for reading Ox Herding. Best wishes for the weekend!
Note: This YouTube clip is in a widescreen format that Ox Herding cannot accommodate. To watch a properly formatted version of the clip, double-click on the video and go to YouTube.
Over the past few weeks, I've had many thoughts and feelings about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Yesterday, driving to meet a friend for lunch, I realized that some of the hydrocarbon molecules powering my car might well have come from the Deepwater Horizon rig. And, even if not, I remain implicated in the disaster's loss of life and the still-unfolding devastation.
The owners and managers of the rig initially responded by placing a "containment box" over the broken pipe at the head of the well.
As we know, this didn't work, since the emerging oil and gas formed hydrate crystals that clogged the box outlet.
There's a good metaphor in this failure of containment.
Buried within each person, under pressure, sits a vast and unseen pool of feelings, impulses, thoughts, and perceptions. If these were to emerge unchecked, we would risk polluting our lives. And who wants that?
Thus, most of us make an enormous effort to contain and manage these aspects of ourselves. (The Western name for this containment effort is "ego.") Yet, in so doing, we risk freezing up and crippling our true nature.
So how do we respond to this upwelling of life itself? How do we use this natural energy, created through our own internal sedimentation, to live with honesty, vitality, creativity, and kindness?