My Dog Vs The Street Sweeper

I have a little dog. He’s a barrel-chested, bow-legged little white weirdo with an Orc-like underbite and a wonderful, friendly demeanor. He’s a rescue; he was found on the streets of the San Gabriel Valley wandering alone, and I adopted him from the good and kind people at Good Dog-Dog Talk. I named him Oliver Reed because he sort of looks like the Werewolf of London, and also because he drinks a lot and gets into these unstoppable humping fits.

Oliver is a good guy, and he’s my best friend. He’s the sweetest dog you could hope to meet; I stopped taking him to the dog park because rather than run with the other pups he would cuddle up with the other owners to get and give love. I was taking him there for exercise, not to two-time me! Oliver just wants to get pet and to cuddle up with you. He loves everybody.

But there are some things he just hates. He flips out over certain things – he flips out over bigger dogs, for instance. He loses his mind when motorcycles ride by. And this morning he went fucking berserk on his morning walk when the big street sweeping Zamboni came down my block. He was barking and jumping in the air, almost flipping over as he hit the tension point on the leash. Here’s this little dog (he’s 16 pounds but should be like 12. I know, I’m a bad dad) trying to KILL this one ton metal monstrosity going down the street.

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Kindness Is Subversive

Lately I’ve been getting very into kindness. I used to think kindness was something that you deployed on occasion, like an umbrella. Then I thought kindness was something you used like a weapon, a cudgel with which you could smite your enemies, leaving them bloodied with your superiority.

In the past year my thoughts on kindness have changed. I think kindness can be constant and invisible, like radiation coming from a pellet of plutonium (maybe I can come up with a more positive version of that simile at some point). Kindness is something you not only project but that you also apply to yourself. And kindness, I believe, is the most radical and subversive thing in the world today.

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We Must Fix Our Hearts Or Die

Something is wrong. You can see it manifesting in a million different ways, in your immediate life as well as in the state of the world. No one is unaffected by the current wrongness; it hangs over our lives like a miasmic cloud of toxins. Even the people who have things good feel uneasy and off, and for the people who have things bad this has been a catastrophic addition to their problems.

We can see the symptoms of the wrongness all around us. We see it in the big stuff, like the bizarre way we just ignore climate change as someone afraid of the doctor ignores a lump. We see it in the cruel policies of the US government and in the ways supporters of that government seem unfazed by the suffering of others – no, more than unfazed, they seem encouraged by the suffering of others. We see it in the rise of angry, hate-filled racist politics. We see it on Twitter, where the righteous destroy other human beings in order to get the thrill of dominance from purity, turning the platform into a kind of democratized Spanish Inquisition in which anyone can take on the role of Inquisitor and prove their moral high ground by crushing others. We see it in our friends and ourselves as sadness and isolation become the norm, as everybody we know is in a funk of some sort and so many seem to be struggling just to get through the day.

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The Impossible Beauty of Human Kindness

These have been bad, hard days so I want to share with you a story I listened to while taking a walk that is so full of the beauty of human kindness that it made me cry in the middle of a crowded street. This story is taken from Jack Kornfield, who tells it in his lecture series “Awakening Is Real.” He was told this story by a man who works with juvenile offenders – especially killers – in Baltimore.

A young man in Baltimore joined his local gang when he turned 15, and as part of his initiation he had to kill someone. He did it, he went out and killed another young man that he didn’t even know, a total stranger to him.

The cops caught the killer and he was brought to trial. Every day of the trial the dead boy’s mother sat in the gallery, watching. When the jury returned the guilty verdict the mother stood up and loudly said to her son’s murderer: “I am going to kill you.”

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Open Minded, But Not “Flat Earth” Open Minded

“You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

I am trying to keep that in mind more and more these days. One of the main concepts behind Buddhism is to hold no preferences, and thus to have no strong, set-in-stone opinions. To keep an open mind and to be able to hear and process other points of view is an ideal towards which to strive; always walking into a situation with the understanding that you might be wrong is the best way to keep learning and become more right.

Of course there are some opinions you just gotta hold on to, like for instance that the Earth is a globe. But that’s why I joined a Flat Earth group on Facebook – partially I thought it would be sort of funny*, but partially I wanted to practice open-mindedness in the most extreme setting I could (with the lowest stakes. I didn’t join a white supremacist group).

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The Mustard Seeds

A woman named Kisa gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and then, three months later, he suddenly died. Devastated she pulled his tiny, blue-tinged body from his crib and stumbled through the town, asking anyone if they could help her son.

People looked on her with pity or turned away, but finally a man said, “The Buddha is in town. He’s been wandering the countryside teaching, and he is here now, and I hear he is incredibly wise and holy. Perhaps he can help you.”

So Kisa found the Buddha and, eyes red and wild with grief, presented him with the corpse. “Please sir,” she begged. “Can you help my son?”

Why Buddhism?

Okay, so… why Buddhism?

If you’ve been following me/friends with me for a while you’ll know that I’ve been outspokenly atheist in the past. Making a commitment to Buddhism may seem, on the surface, to indicate a huge change in my cosmological thinking. That actually isn’t the case, and I’d like to quickly explain why I chose to take refuge in Buddhism (that’s what they call it when you become a Buddhist) and maybe why it isn’t that big of a deal, when it comes to ‘religious conversions.’

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