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Archive for the ‘Buddhism’ Category

On Smushing Bugs

Posted by tinako on March 6, 2015

16MENAGERIE-blog480I think this book excerpt from The N.Y. Times, “On Smushing Bugs,” is just beautiful.

I love his wording – a “karmic broken-window theory,” “the oubliette of the vacuum bag,” and his natural compassion tested by “the tiny black turd in my mug.”

I love the picture; this man is about to kill, but he is looking, peeking even though it is painful, and he sees.  He sees an anthropomorphic cartoon ant, but… more metaphorically, he sees himself in the ant, as the Buddha said:

All beings tremble before violence.
All love life.
All fear death.
See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt?  What harm can you do?

But mostly I love his humility, his questioning, his looking deeply into himself, looking for the truth no matter where it takes him, even to a cliff or dead end of choices he doesn’t want to make.

This isn’t a how-to essay, and claims only to ask questions, not answer them, so he doesn’t mention that prevention adds a choice between re-washing all your dishes every day or pulling on your executioner’s hood.

I must admit to mixed results with prevention.  But maybe we don’t need all the answers right away.  Maybe looking, within and without, is the path to figuring out how we want to be in the world.

 

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Posted in Animals, AR, Buddhism | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Hunter Accidentally Shot in the Face

Posted by tinako on November 24, 2014

A local hunter was accidentally shot in the face on opening day here; I guess he’s going to be OK.  Some in our AR community struggled with their feelings following this news; how does it make you feel?  After about a week of online comments, I offered the following:

With understanding that it is normal and natural to have many different reactions to this news story, but that we can choose which paths to follow, I wonder if anyone would be interested in my understanding of karma, which others here have been mentioning?  If not, click delete.  Nothing here is new, just hopefully clarity on a concept that is often muddled with several meanings, and how karma can work for us.

By my understanding: Karma was originally Hindu, and that is the idea most modern people have of karma: divine justice, something (“the universe”) or someone who keeps track and evens the score.  The Buddha, who lived in Hindu India, found this unhelpful because it didn’t allow room for change.  He understood that even good people may have to suffer for their past harmful actions, but that they would be better off because of the good they were doing now (example: Angulimala) – pertinent to any of us who ever screwed up!  Anyway, Buddhist karma can be seen in two lights: One is the ripple effect, that the kind acts or speech or even “vibe/energy” we put out, affects others and has a chance of coming back to us – we are making the world a better place, and that’s the place we live, so it’s better for us.  Even if the effect is small, we are not making things worse.  I think this is pretty evidently true.  The second way Buddhist karma can be understood is that no matter what effect our acts have “out there,” they have done something to us on the way out.  For example, loving someone who hates us is better than hating them, because we will be happier filled with love than with hate.  I have found this “instant karma” to be true as well, and the effect will probably be huge, life-changing.  So you see, Buddhist karma is more like a law of nature than a faith in justice.

Celebrating accidental violence may fill us with a much-needed sense of satisfaction that the scorekeeper is on duty, but how does it impact us under the Buddhist understanding?  What do we set into the world when we express gladness at others’ misfortunes (what kind of world are we creating), and what does this Schadenfreude (harm-joy) do to us on the way out?

None of this is to say that a person struggling with feelings of joy is a bad person, just that an understanding of the harm it does to ourselves and others may be useful in letting it go.  And we can choose to be glad that the man is not hunting right now, without being glad that it’s because he was hurt.

Namaste.

Posted in AR, Buddhism | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dairy Dilemma

Posted by tinako on January 19, 2013

As part of a local environmental organization’s initiative to increase packaging recycling in school lunchrooms, I’ve been taking a turn going in to our school district primary school once a month and helping the kids recycle their lunch materials.  These are first and second graders, so they are sweet and fun but need a good deal of assistance.  In case you’re wondering about the details, there are about 200 kids eating at once, and every table gets a bin to toss their recyclables in, and in one cafeteria a student from that table brings their bin up to the sink and recycles everything with my help.  In the other cafeteria, I go and collect the bins after lunch and process them myself.  We recycle rinsed milk cartons, plastic cups and lids which fruits and veggies come in, plastic “silverware,” milk/juice boxes and pouches, water bottles, and chip bags.  Unfortunately they still use Styrofoam trays which we can’t recycle.  It is painful to watch the trash fill up with those, used for 15 minutes and lasting 400 years.  Of course it would be great if the district used reusable items, but they got rid of their dishwashing (and cooking) abilities when they shrank the kitchens to make room for more students 10-15 years ago or so.  So we are doing the best we can.  About half the kids bring their lunches and don’t generate much trash.

I didn’t anticipate when I signed up for this just how much milk I’d be handling.  Each needs to be opened up and given a quick rinse, but frequently the milk needs to be dumped first.  I pour a lot of milk down the drain in my two hours.  In addition to coming home smelling like it, it makes me very sad to think what the cow went through to provide what I’m dumping.  She desperately wanted to give it to her calf, who wanted desperately to have it, but the USDA school lunch program forces it on children who don’t need it, want it, or drink it.

Well, most drink some of it.  From memory, I estimate that about 40% of the kids get milk, 90% of the milk chosen is chocolate (even when the kids don’t open it), 30% of the cartons are completely consumed, another 40% are partly consumed, 25% opened but pretty full, and 5% are unopened.

This last time I went in, the leader told us we had the option of saving the unopened milks either for our families or the food pantry.  And so here is my dilemma.  Do I save milk, which I don’t think is particularly healthy, especially the 90% that is chocolate (22 grams of sugar, almost two tablespoons, in one cup of milk), to provide to hungry families, or open this junk the cows suffered for and pour it down the drain?  Is this sugar-milk less wasted if it is processed through a human gut than directly down the drain?  Am I a vegan promoting milk by providing it to the poor?  Is it arrogant of me to presume to choose for them, or is it caring to not dump USDA surplus sugar-milk on them?  What if it was candy instead?  Is it my right as a volunteer to decide according to my own deepest value, compassion?  If I don’t pass on this milk, will someone purchase or donate replacement milk, at the cost of further animal suffering, or will an alternative be more or less healthy, compassionate, and wasteful to the environment?

Having to make a quick decision, I thought that if I was this conflicted, either choice was probably acceptable – the choices that would best serve one and all had already been bypassed by others, and it was not my fault that I was not left with good options. I decided to collect the milk in my cooler and let people who visit the pantry decide.  I delivered about a gallon and a half.  I tried to remember the lesson of Torn and deliver it cheerfully.

What do you think I should do next month?

Footnote: Food Pantries Request Healthy Food Donations has milk in the yes column and sugary beverages in the no column.

 

Posted in Animals, AR, Buddhism, Schools, Social Justice | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

New Year’s Resolution

Posted by tinako on December 31, 2012

I’m usually pretty good at sticking to things.  I don’t often make my resolutions exactly at New Year’s but I guess I make them reasonable, because whatever time of year I make them, they usually keep.  Past successes:

  1. Vegetarianism (20 years)
  2. Flossing daily (going about 8 years now I think)
  3. Running 2 miles 3x per week (5 years now)
  4. Veganism (4 years)
  5. Strength training 3x per week (3 years ago.  OK, after two years I settled on 2x per week)
  6. Getting back into Tai Chi after a year off (I stopped taking classes again this spring, but I still do it alone 1x per week)
  7. Wasting less time on the computer (1 or 2 years)

But I’m nervous about this year’s resolution, even though I know it’s important:

Meditation.  Sitting there a minimum of 10 minutes every morning when I want to do something else.

I used to do it, and the results were great.  I could feel that my brain worked differently, different thoughts tended to arise, and when I slipped out of the habit I could feel wisdom flee, and old patterns return.

I’m an introvert very comfortable with silence and stillness, I feel competent at meditating, know a variety of ways to settle in, know how to stay awake, I even have the time to do it: I’m a stay-at-home mom and artist, having deliberately chosen these paths to reduce stress.  I put on my workout clothes when I get up early to see the kids off to school.  Then I exercise, have breakfast reading the paper, and… have plenty of time to meditate before I go take a shower.  But the pull of my day and the things I want to do is too strong.  Ten minutes, can’t my day wait ten minutes?  And yet I find I’d rather do laundry and clean the kitchen than sit.

Ah, my old nemesis Patience, I will face you tomorrow.

Posted in Buddhism | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Putting Eating in its Place

Posted by tinako on June 3, 2012

I read an article my dad clipped out of The Wall Street Journal for me, “A Divine Way to Resist Temptation,”which is about how it seems to be easier for people to control what they eat when the restraint is religious-based, such as kosher rules.

We’re not Jewish, and my dad probably recognized that I would appreciate this not from a religious law basis, but from a values perspective.  It is not hard for me to resist eating animal products, because they are so dissonant with who I want to be.  A friend, standing with me in front of a non-vegan dessert display, once told me I must have a lot of willpower.  Her comment took me by surprise because willpower doesn’t enter into it.  These products represent misery and do not appeal to me at all.

This brings me to something I heard in a Buddhist talk.  Gil Fronsdale made the point that sometimes what seems like patience, isn’t.  For someone whose buttons are being pressed, say by a long ticket line, they have to actively be patient, but if their buttons have been deactivated through practice, there is no call for their patience – the wait in line is just not a problem.  And Starbucks desserts don’t press my buttons any more.

Returning to the title of this posting, when we forgo the pleasure of certain foods or accept the boredom of waiting, whether for a higher power, compassion, or just to remind ourselves of the Buddhist concept that waiting in line is a perfectly fine place to be, what we’re doing is taming our sense that we have to have what we want when we want it, being slaves to pleasure of all sorts.  (Do you understand the difference between pleasure and happiness?  This seems like a good explanation.)  One of my favorite parts of my daughter’s choice to become vegan is that she will get lots of practice saying no thanks; I believe this will make her stronger in every aspect of her life.

Veganism was the big push – it was a painful decision, but then I was highly motivated to say no to a lot of food.  Since then I’ve found that every time I decide to reduce another food in my diet, it gets a little easier, counter-intuitive if you consider that with each restriction the pool gets smaller.  But I’m just not that attached to any particular food that much any more – I love my choices and the taste of food, but none of it has hold of me.  What a feeling of liberation, and this from someone who couldn’t have candy or tortilla chips without gorging.  I find this decrease in attachment translates over into other parts of my life as well – I could just as well call this post “Putting Pleasure in its Place.”

So if your habits seem too hard to overcome, try to find a more compelling reason to let them go.

Posted in Buddhism, Nutrition | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Long Day

Posted by tinako on September 17, 2011

I shared a fortune cookie with my mom tonight.  She’s had Alzheimer’s for twelve years now.  There weren’t enough cookies for everyone, and so as I opened it, I said Here’s a challenge, fortune cookie gods: Make this a fortune for two very different people.

Our fortune read, “Even the longest of days will come to an end.”

Well done.  We split that cookie, she and I.

Posted in Buddhism, Musings | 2 Comments »

The dance of delusion

Posted by tinako on April 7, 2010

Believe not on the faith of old manuscripts, your master’s teachings, or national belief.   Believe not on the faith of traditions, popularity, or your own dreamings, persuaded that God inspires you.

No, reason truth yourself.   Examine it, test it, and if you find it does good to one and all, live it, and believe.

– my paraphrase of the Buddha, responding to people asking him how to know which prophets were telling the truth

I was reading a chilling article in the NY Times Magazine recently, “How Baida Wanted to Die.”  It was a series of interviews with Baida, a foiled Iraqi female suicide bomber.  The Iraqi woman was in prison, and the American woman interviewer was told by a police director that she would like Baida.  “She’s honest.”

Of course, this was a very odd thing to say, but the interviewer came to agree with him.  I think they both missed the point.  This woman freely and calmly admitted what she had tried to do and said she couldn’t wait to get out and get the explosive vest waiting for her.  She said it was in revenge for a military raid (including Americans) killing her father and four brothers, all of whom she was helping make IEDs (bombs).  She was making the bombs in revenge for seeing the Americans shoot a neighbor.  She felt these IEDs were all being used against the military, and when the interviewer told her the vast majority killed ordinary Iraqis, she would only say that was forbidden.

This woman may have been honest with the police, and she may have been honest with the interviewer, but she was not honest with herself, and I did not like her.  I feel compassion, yes, for her being immersed in a patriarchal and religious extremist culture of violence, where revenge seems like a reasonable use of one’s life.

But what I found most interesting was a fascinating part of the NY Times article where Baida begs the interviewer to come visit her in prison.  The journalist is warned that Baida, who has a cell phone, may be setting her up for a kidnapping by relatives.  The interviewer is careful and does not tell when she’s coming and does not stay long.  She asks Baida if she wants to kill her, and the woman says, “Frankly, yes.  Not specifically you, because I know you.”  The interviewer pressed her, would she betray her to her family?  “I won’t sacrifice my friendship.  But if they insisted, yes, I would, yes.  As a foreigner it is halal (good) to kill you.  If they kill Americans, they will do a big huge banquet for dinner.”  And she smiled.  She went on to tell how her relatives had called to get information about the journalist, and promised to help Baida escape if she gave it to them.  She seemed excited.  “They do not want to kill you, but to torture you and make lunch of your flesh.  I could not do anything to help you.”  She described seeing an American tortured, his eyes gouged out, and added “God keep you safe.”  She smiled again and continued pleasantly, “If I had not seen you before and talked to you, I would kill you with my own hands.  Do not be deceived by my peaceful face.  I have a heart of stone.”  The journalist left hurriedly, knowing Baida had called her cousins when she arrived, and they were on their way for her.

Baida’s speech sounds psychotic, but it’s just torn.  She has a wall up in her mind between two things that she believes: “All Americans are evil and I want them to die.”  “Some Americans are friendly and helpful and I don’t want them to die.”  This wall is crucial to her daily functioning because obviously these two things are mutually exclusive.  In this fascinating speech, you can see her dancing back and forth from sentence to sentence, peeking first on one side and then the other side of this wall.  Baida has three choices.  Her first choice is to continue to wobble back and forth in this dissonant way, believing two incompatible things.  The alternative is to knock down the wall.  It will be painful to knock it down and see both sides at once, because she will see that her model doesn’t work, that she must give up one of these ideas.  So her second choice is to believe all Americans really are evil and must die; she will then have to convince herself that each American that she meets is evil, from the soldiers handing out candy bars, to the aid workers, and even friendly interviewers.  She will have to mock anyone who supports a more compassionate path.  Her third choice is to knock the wall the other way, to see Americans as they really are, the good and the bad, and to decide what is the best way to respond.

Think Baida is unusually deluded?  As a vegan, I see this dance all the time right here in America.  I used to do it myself.  On one side of the wall is loving animals, wishing them to be happy and free of suffering.  On the other side is eating them.  Those two things are incompatible.  For a long time, I did something like what Baida was doing in the prison.  I gave animals a hug, and then I sat down to eat them.  Oh, little piggy, you’re so cute and so yummy.  Ugh.

So if we recognize that this wall is keeping two incompatible beliefs in our mind, and we set out to be more consistent, what shall we do?  First we knock down the wall, and confront the painful contradiction that we love animals but we eat them.  It hurts too much to see this clearly, and something must change.  Some people knock the rubble down on the compassionate side, burying it, hardening their hearts, at least to food animals.  They are the ones who call pigs lazy and dirty and turkeys stupid.  They mock animal-supporters as sentimental “Bambi lovers.”  They may even work with animals, but they are blinded by the stereotype.  Or they feel they have no choice; there’s a part in Gail Eisnitz’ Slaughterhouse where she quotes a slaughterhouse worker.  I couldn’t find the text just now, but I think his job was to deal with the pigs who fall off the killing line, alive.  He went down into the pit they fall into, and one of the pigs nuzzled his leg and looked up at him.  He said he looked down and thought something like, “This was probably a really nice animal, but in another 30 seconds it would be my job to bash its head in with a pipe.  So I did it.”  Do you suppose that job takes a toll on a person?

The stories trump the obvious truth.  People somehow convince themselves that cows are for eating but cats are not.  People may even tell themselves that we need meat, even though they know lots of people are healthy without it.   People picture animals having a good life on Old McDonald’s Farm, even though they suspect that their meat comes from factory farms.   There is a fine line between ignorance and indifference, and sometimes we nail that line down so it doesn’t get away from us.  We don’t want to know.  The truth isn’t the only victim of this choice.  When we bury our compassion or shackle it to certain species, a heavy price is paid – a part of us, I would say the best part, is dead.

There’s a third choice.  When we confront this inconsistency – love animals or eat them, one or the other, can’t do both – and decide to love them, we can open our eyes to the truth.  I think you will find that vegans and vegetarians can more easily discuss animal body parts and watch difficult movies about animal suffering.  Everyone knows, deep in their hearts, that the “food” on the table is a bowl of arms and the animals in the videos are suffering, but the vegetarians have already faced this truth.  We don’t have the pain of dissonance, of inconsistency, of complicity.  For us it is just raw compassion, mixed with an affirmation of our decision.

Two years ago I knocked down the last of this particular wall, and I embraced love and compassion instead of cheese.  As the Buddha suggested, I find that this truth does good to one and all.  I will live it, and believe.

Delusion

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/magazine/16suicide-t.html

I was reading a chilling article in the NY Times Magazine recently,

“How Baida Wanted to Die.”  It was a series of interviews with

Baida, a foiled Iraqi female suicide bomber.  The Iraqi woman was in

prison, and the American woman interviewer was told by a police

director that she would like the Iraqi, “She’s honest.”

Of course, this was a very odd thing to say, but the interviewer

came to agree with him.  I think they both missed the point.  This

woman freely admitted what she had tried to do and said she couldn’t

wait to get out and get the explosive vest waiting for her.  She

said it was in revenge for a military raid (including Americans)

killing her brothers and her husband, all of whom she was helping

make IEDs (bombs).  She was making the bombs in revenge for seeing

the Americans shoot a neighbor.  She felt these IEDs were all being

used against the military, and when the interviewer told her the

vast majority killed ordinary Iraqis, she would only say that was

forbidden.

This woman may have been honest with the police, and she may have

been honest with the interviewer, but she was not honest with

herself, and I did not like her.  I feel compassion, yes, for her

being immersed in a patriarchal and religious extermist culture of

violence, where revenge seems like a reasonable use of one’s life.

It may have been this article or another where the author was

matter-of-factly listing off some recent bombings and casualties,

and I had to stop and take a deep breath.  It was all so insane.  As

Doctor Phil, would say, “How’s that working for you?”  Who is helped

by killing and revenge?  The dark mind finds brief satisfaction in

the suffering of one’s enemy, but is it joy?  Is it happiness?  It

is tinged with hate and anger – it cannot be good.

There was a fascinating part of the article where the Iraqi begs the

interviewer to come visit her in prison.  The journalist is warned

that the prisoner, who has a cell phone, may be settin her up for a

kidnapping by relatives.  The interviewer is careful and does not

tell when she’s coming and does not stay long.  She asks the Iraqi

if she wants to kill her, and the woman says “Frankly, yes.  Not

specifically you, because I know you.”  The interviewer pressed her,

would she betray her to her family?  “I won’t sacrifice my

friendship.  But if they insisted, yes, I would, yes.  As a

foreigner it is halal (good) to kill you.  If they kill Americans,

they will do a big huge banquet for dinner.”  And she smiled.  She

went on to tell how her relatives had called to get information

about the journalist, and promised to help Baida escape if she gave

it to them.  She seemed excited.  “They do not want to kill you, but

to torture you and make lunch of your flesh.  I could not do

anything to help you.”  She described seeing an American tortured,

and added “God keep you safe.”  She smiled again and continued

pleasantly, “If I had not seen you before and talked to you, I would

kill you with my own hands.  Do not be deceived by my peaceful face.

I have a heart of stone.”  The journalist left hurriedly, knowing

Baida had called her cousins when she arrived, and they were on

their way for her.

Baida’s speech sounds psychotic, but it’s just torn.  She has a wall

up in her mind between two things that she believes: “Americans are

bad and I want them to die.”  “Americans are friendly and helpful

and I don’t want them to die.”  This wall is crucial to her daily

functioning because obviously these two things are mutually

exclusive.  In this fascinating speech, you can see her dancing back

and forth from sentence to sentence, peeking first on one side and

then the other side of this wall.  Baida has three choices.  Her

first choice is to continue to wobble back and forth in this

dissonant way, believing two incompatible things.  The alternative

is to knock down the wall.  It will be painful to knock it down and

see both sides at once, because she will see that her model doesn’t

work, that she must give up one of these ideas.  So her second

choice is to believe all Americans are evil and must die; she will

then have to convince herself that each American that she meets is

evil, from the soldiers handing out candy bars, to the aid workers,

and even friendly interviewers.  She will have to mock anyone who

supports a more compassionate path.  Her third choice is to knock

the wall the other way and turn to peace.

Think Baida is unusually deluded?  As a vegan, I recognize this

dance all the time right here in America.  I used to do it myself.

On one side of the wall is loving animals, wishing them to be happy

and free of suffering.  On the other side is eating them.  Think

about it.  Those two things are incompatible.  For a long time, I

did exactly what Baida was doing.  I gave animals a hug, and then I

sat down to eat them.  Dick King-Smith is a chldren’s author (think

“Babe” who is a master at expressing people’s discomfort with this

dissonance, often showing the switch within two sentences.  In this

excerpt, from Ace, the Very Important Pig, Farmer Tubbs is delighted

his piglet is communicating with him, and remembers he’s the

grandson of Babe: “‘So you never know, young Ace – you might be an

extraordinary pig when you’m full grown.’  Except you never will be

full grown, thought the farmer.  I shall sell you…when you’m eight

weeks old, and a few months after that you’ll…be pork.  He was

careful…not to say this out loud…  The piglet might understand

what he was saying.”

So if we recognize that this wall is keeping two incompatible

beliefs in our mind, and we set out to be more consistent, what

shall we do?  First we knock down the wall, and confront the painful

contradiction that we love animals but we eat them.  It hurts too

much to see this clearly, and we must change.  Some people knock the

rubble down on the compassionate side, burying it.  They are the

ones who call pigs lazy and dirty and turkeys stupid.  They mock

animal-supporters as sentimental “Bambi’lovers.”  They may even work

with animals, but they only see the stereotype, not the honest

animal.  They have to willfully enforce their delusions.

There is another children’s story that I recently read to my

daughter that I found illuminating in its simplicity.  “The Three

Erics” is in the wacky book Wayside School, by Louis Sachar. There

are three boys named Eric in the class.  Wikipedia puts it well:

“Each one is given an inapproriate, stereotyped, and just plain

wrong nickname.”  Two of them are fat, and everyone thinks that all

three Erics are fat, so they call the skinny one Fatso.  The kids in

the class make judgements about the Erics based on some of them,

instead of directly seeing and understanding.  They see two mean

Erics so they tell themselves a story that Erics are mean, and when

they come to nickname the third Eric, instead of seeing how nice he

is, they are blinded by their story, and they call him Crabapple.

Similarly, two of the Erics are bad at sports, so the one who is

good at sports is nicknamed Butterfingers.  At first listen, this

just seems silly, but it isn’t hard to think of real-life

situations.  You’re walking down a dark street in a bad part of town

and a group of African Americans is approaching you.  All the

stereotypes pop into your head and you become afraid, but these guys

may turn out to be a pastor and his boys choir leaving evening

services.  Remember the police who killed an innocent immigrant in

his doorway?  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadou_Diallo)  The

police just saw the whole scene differently, and missed all the cues

that this wasn’t a thug.

So when someone says “Pigs are stupid,” they aren’t basing this on

any direct experience.  Pigs are actually probably smarter than

dogs.  Turkeys can be very affectionate.  At least the Erics’

classmates based their stereotypes on direct experiences with some

Erics – what experience do we have with turkeys?  All these kinds of

statements are an attempt to keep the wall pushed over that way.

Because it if falls on the other side, we have to change, not only

our minds, but our behavior.

Two years ago I knocked down the last of that particular wall, but I

embraced love and compassion instead of cheese.

Posted in Buddhism, Musings | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Podcasts

Posted by tinako on November 16, 2009

I’m not an expert on podcasts, but I really like them and I’ve had a few people ask me about them.  A couple that I like have to do with food, so that’s the connection here.

A podcast is a series of audio or video files available online for people to download for free.  They can be a minute or an hour long, whatever.  There would usually be more than one from the same people, and they are posted periodically, like a newspaper or a TV show.  Visit the web sites of your favorite media and you may very well find a podcast that you like.  You can also Google for podcasts on topics that interest you or browse through directories such as this one.  There are kids’ podcasts, too, often people reading stories.

Most podcasts offer a variety of ways to listen.  Sometimes they may be embedded in your browser window so that Internet Explorer, for instance, will play them for you right on the page.  For example, this site offers you the ability to do that (press the green triangle under the podcast episode title to play it).  But next to that you see you can also Download it to your computer and play it through Windows Media Player, or save it for later, etc.  It’s just an audio file.

You can subscribe to a podcast using your browser bookmark.  Look around the podcast page for “Subscribe” or “RSS.”  This will let you add a bookmark tab that keeps changing to show you the available podcasts (usually your bookmarks stay the same, right?”).  Then you can quickly see what’s new without visiting a bunch of sites.

But I don’t do this.  I use podcatcher software that came with my MP3 player.  Mine is a Creative Zen so the podcast catcher is called ZENcast.  I tell it what podcasts I like and when I open it it automatically downloads the latest ones.  I can use it to transfer to my MP3 player, or I can listen or watch right at my computer.  iTunes does this for iPod players.  There are also free online ones – I think Google Reader is one.  (I recommend making sure any MP3 player you buy comes with good software – we bought a Sansa and it comes with nothing, leaving you at the mercy of a patchwork of freeware and Microsoft applications.)

So that’s what I do.  I already have the podcasts I like set up.  I run ZENcast, it downloads the latest, and I transfer them to my player and take it out for a walk.  I mostly listen to podcasts while I walk, run, or drive.

Here are the ones I like:

Two podcasts that have changed my life:

  • Vegetarian Food For Thought: Series of talks on vegan issues, including ethics, communication, nutrition, recipes, and literature
  • Zencast: This is a series of very approachable lectures on Zen Buddhism, including a five-week meditation course.

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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Posted by tinako on September 20, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

I went with my family to see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs today (no spoilers).  This was a very funny movie which I highly recommend.  I think most of the jokes were over the heads of our children, but they enjoyed the action and we loved the writing.  I had quite a few thoughts about it, so I will jump around and hopefully make some kind of sense.

I was apprehensive because I wondered if as a vegan I would find all the raining meat upsetting.  I also wondered whether it would make my kids, who are vegetarian, want more of the junk foods that the trailer seemed to be so full of.  I know they wouldn’t want meat, but there was lots of ice cream and candy.  There were very few whole foods.

I paid attention to my thoughts as I watched the movie, and found that since the food really was (mostly) all vegan, it didn’t bother me at all.  Except for the sardines, which did bother me, it did not come from animals, but from water, converted by a machine in the sky.  So when bigger and bigger “steaks” flopped on the ground, so what?   I also considered it carefully and decided that, vegan or not, I had no interest in eating any of it.  I don’t miss steak.  At all.

I’m not really sure why.  I can’t figure out if it’s because craving steak is just a bad habit I have lost, or if I have so fully ingrained my long-time habit of not eating steak, that even when given a completely ethical one, I don’t want it.

An acquaintance of mine, who is really very nice, does not get this.  I see her every few months or so, and each time, she is excited to tell me that she visited some farm and they were treating the animals well there.  “Hmmm,” I say.  She takes that as encouragement and goes on to say, “So, I’ll get you the address, and then you could have it!”  For a moment I don’t know what to say.  I take a second to see that from her point of view, I am deprived of this wonderful product and thanks to her sleuthing I can have it again.  As kindly as I can I tell her that I’m not interested.  She will ask why, and I can point out some of the problems that are still involved, but I can’t seem to convince her that I really, really, really, truly, do not ever want to consume that product again.  Between you and me, I do not want to put in my mouth: dead animals, mammary secretions, or the waste byproduct of a reproductive cycle.  Thanks anyway.

I think I got the point across once when she asked if I would eat a chicken if I had kept it as a pet and which died of natural causes.   I was actually speechless for a few seconds.  Do people eat their pets?  I pointed to my Dad’s dog, who was staying with us, and replied that I would no more eat a dead chicken than I would eat Hallie.  Then I apologized to Hallie for dragging him into it.

This stuff is no longer food to me.  Animals are not food.  It sticks in my craw to call animal flesh “meat,” as though it is something to eat.  There may be cannibals living somewhere in the world today, but how does it make you feel to refer to their victims as “meat”?   Does it feel fine just because they call it that?  I give in and call animal flesh “meat” because if I called it a carcass or a corpse people would get all uptight.

Anyway, all of this rambling is to the point that steak is not food to me any more, whether it comes from a raincloud or a factory farm.

Which brings me to the second thing I noticed about this movie.  Most people give no more thought to where their food comes from than if it really did come raining down from the sky.  The horrors of factory farming, or any slaughter at all, are as far away and as unconsidered as a magical machine over the rainbow.  There was no mention in the movie of the difference in origin of this new food.

Another thing I noticed was that despite eating at least three huge meals per day of junk food, nobody but the Mayor gained weight.  Only one boy overate candy and got sick.  Maybe this water-food was healthy, too.  Oh, except that it was made by mutating the water by exposing it to radiation.  Or something.

Another question I asked myself: Will it make non-vegans hungry?  Will it inspire unhealthy habits?  There was an enormous liquid cheese fountain that made me laugh and gag at the same time, so afterwards I asked my family if that looked good to them, did it make them want to have some.  The vote was one yes, three no’s.  My daughter said none of it made her hungry, but my son liked the ice cream.  I didn’t have the heart to ask my husband what he thought of the 5 lb. steaks.  So, inconclusive.

My last point.  I have been reading up on Buddhism, which I’m finding to be a fascinating psychology, and they make the point that attachment to desire is the cause of all suffering.  The townspeople in this movie were so wrapped up in their desire for this food.  They would desperately pester the inventor to send their favorite meals.  They would gorge themselves on it.  They were only happy when it kept coming, and the thought that the inventor might not continue made those who knew frantic, practically insane.  It was just so important to them.  And it was all great until it wasn’t.

We’re human.  We need food.  We like good food.  We desire certain foods.  But let’s get a grip.

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Parzival and Luke

Posted by tinako on August 28, 2009

ParzivalI just finished reading Parzival, The Quest of the Grail Knight (originally written around 1200, retold by Katherine Paterson) to my kids.  (Warning: spoilers)

Parzival was a great knight, but had been given the advice to not ask so many questions because it made him appear to be a simpleton.  So one day he was at a castle where there was great sickness and sorrow, but, earnestly remembering the advice, did not ask what was wrong, though he desperately wanted to know.  Because he did not show compassion and ask what was wrong, the spell was not broken and their suffering continued.  He was cursed by all, and, though still undefeated by any challengers, wandered the world miserably for four years, a failure.  He cursed God and wanted to die.

When he finally realized what he was supposed to do, he returned to the castle and asked the question, breaking the spell, and lived happily ever after.

We discussed the story afterwards, and realized that for all his strength and skill as a knight, it was compassion that was the trait that mattered most.  We also realized that sometimes we get advice that isn’t so great, or that we misunderstand, and that we should follow our hearts and think for ourselves.

Luke Skywalker

By coincidence, my son and I are reading The Dharma of Star Wars by Matthew Bortolin, in which the author explains that at the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke has been told by Obi-Wan and Yoda that he must kill his father or the Emperor will win, and is told by the Emperor that if he kills Darth Vader, he will have turned to the dark side and be under the Emperor’s power.  Luke sees another path, that of compassion.  He sees the good in his father and throws aside his lightsaber, refusing to fight him.  All his strength, fancy footwork, and lightsaber training are for nothing when it comes to the pivotal moment of his life.  He throws off the advice he was given by those he trusted most and follows his heart, thereby saving the galaxy.

Any one of us could have done these things.  No Force training, no Yoda or Obi-Wan, no midichlorians, no lightsaber, no bulgy muscles were necessary, nor was the ability to fly a fighter jet ludicrously fast.  You don’t have to know how to joust or look good in armor.  All that was needed, by both Luke and Parzival, was to let loose the compassion that is within all of us.

It’s true that these are just stories, written by someone.  Neither one of these heroes actually saved anyone with their compassion in reality.  But these stories endure because they resonate with us; they tell us something important about ourselves, about what we believe in, about what we aspire to.  What kind of world would we live in if, when the going got tough, the tough got compassionate?  What if instead of being afraid to help someone on the street in need because everyone else was stepping over him, we were to follow our heart and the values we think are important?

Because I only post things here that relate to what I eat, of course I have a food angle for this.  What if we ignored the babble we hear about farm animals?  “Cows are so stupid, they deserve to be eaten.”  “I don’t feel sorry for turkeys – they’re dumb.”  Pigs are fat/dirty/lazy.  “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner.”  Dairy makes strong bones.  Are you getting enough protein?

We hear all this junk from people and institutions we trust, or we absorb it without question.  What if we ignored the ads, the USDA, the farmers, friends, teachers, and our mothers, and, in the face of the incredible suffering inflicted on our fellows, simply did what we felt was right?  What if we found our compassion deep within, and unleashed it?

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